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Eyewitness Venezuela: People Reap Benefits of Bolivarian Revolution

by Kati Ketz |
March 1, 2006
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Supporter of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, with photo posters.
Supporter of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. (Fight Back! News)

Editor’s note: In January, Kati Ketz traveled to Venezuela on a delegation of youth to show solidarity with and learn about the revolutionary process underway there.

Caracas, Venezuela - A new Venezuela is being born. With the 1998 election of President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela began a revolutionary process that brought hope to working people. Over 70% of the population was living in poverty under the old government. To combat this, Chavez launched a host of programs or “missions” to directly help the working class.

The people of Venezuela have always resisted poverty and exploitation. The Chavez-led Bolivarian revolution is using oil revenues to serve the people.

Bread, Land and Freedom

The first youth solidarity delegation to Venezuela, which happened in January, was able to witness these results first hand. While in the Lara State, we stayed in communities and visited different missions - government programs to help the lives of the people in these communities.

One of the first missions we saw was a specific kind of grocery store, called a Mercal. The purpose of Misíon Mercal is to end hunger and educate about nutrition. Mission Mercal provides government-subsidized food and has shops located in communities whose needs cannot be met by the private sector. Unlike the government food program in the United States, you do not need to have a pass or food stamps to shop at the Mercals. Anyone can shop there. With this new system, everybody is guaranteed enough food so they do not go hungry. I spoke with Corine Delaudier, a woman who runs a Mercal in a community in Barquisimeto. She said, “I believe that this mission is the most important one in Venezuela right now. Everybody needs to eat, and this promotes proper nutrition, education and helps so that the health clinics are not overflowing with patients.”

Local struggles, many of which began before the election of Chavez, and are being pushed forward by the Bolivarian Revolution. Bario La Antena, a poor community in Venezuela where we stayed, has a rich history of revolutionary action. The neighborhood’s land was originally owned by a bank, but not being used. Local people started to live and farm there. When the bank found out that people were living on the land, they came to try and forcibly remove them. The people fought back in an armed struggle and drove the owners of the bank back, claiming the land as their own. Soon thereafter, they started building a true community. They turned the main building where the bank is located into a community center. The community radio station and local Missions have offices there. Kids from the neighborhood run in and out, grabbing water or saying hi to people working in the center before going back outside to play soccer. This community center existed before Chavez, but now it receives funds and other resources from the state and federal government, doing even more to help the people of the community.

Medicine for the People

Misíon Bario Adentro - ‘inside the neighborhood’ - is a mission to address local healthcare concerns. Although healthcare in Venezuela was free for decades, hospitals and clinics were only found in a few locations. It was impossible for workers in the barrios to obtain regular healthcare. In Bario La Antena, we saw two healthcare clinics set up specifically for the people of that neighborhood - complete with both Cuban and Venezuelan doctors and nurses.

This new medical mission employs over 1000 Cuban doctors to help set up community health clinics in neighborhoods. Cuban doctors are helping in these clinics because many Venezuelan doctors will not work in these barrios. Eventually, the Cuban doctors will be replaced with Venezuelan doctors who they are now training. To date, this mission has helped over three million Venezuelans. Without the revolutionary government these working people would still be isolated from any form of healthcare.

Study and Struggle

Illiteracy is on a rapid decline in Venezuela. This is due in part to three missions dedicated to education - Misíon Robinson, Ribas and Sucre. Misíon Robinson is dedicated to fighting illiteracy at the primary education level. Hundreds of Cuban literacy experts came to Venezuela in 2003 to train teachers. Using a reading system based on numbers, children are taught how to read and write. Each family is given a free ‘library’ of a dozen books to practice their reading skills.

Misíon Ribas is a high-school program for people who have dropped out of high school. Mission Ribas offers night courses and intensive help so that people can complete this program and get their degree within two years.

Our delegation visited one of these schools. A 45-year old student attending one of these night classes through Mission Ribas said she has been trying to complete her high school degree for over 20 years. She told me, “Whenever I would try to go back to school, I could only attend some of the classes because I had to work, and the school is an hour away from my home. President Chavez has given me the chance to finally finish school.”

Misíon Sucre is the final step in this education revolution, aimed at fighting the obstacles many students face in trying to go to college. Mission Sucre has set up thousands of scholarships for people who otherwise could not attend college. Through Sucre, free universities are being set up all around Venezuela. These three missions ensure that any Venezuelan can obtain an education.

The Venezuelan People Awake

There is a Venezuelan national plan called ¡Misíon Vuelvan Caras! It takes in all the other missions and is designed to steer the Venezuelan economy towards meeting human needs, not profits. According to President Chavez, the ultimate goal of Mission Vuelvan Caras is, “A dignified and quality life for all.” Mission Vuelvan Caras is symbolic of the Bolivarian revolution itself. Its goal is to eliminate poverty, to provide health care, education, housing and jobs to the working class and to build communities that thrive. The struggle of the Venezuelan people, the struggle that Chavez is part of and leads, is now in power and ruling in the interest of the workers and oppressed.

Finally the people of Venezuela are awakening. The government of Venezuela led by President Chavez works for, not against, the people’s dreams, providing the resources for them to build their own communities and a better life.