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“One car each? Our planet won't stand that - that model of capitalism, extreme individualism and consumerist egotism. The destructive so-called developmentalism destroying the planet is, quite frankly, a thing of stupidity - una cosa de tontos.” -President Hugo Chavez
A couple of years ago I watched the documentary 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised', which is about the 2002 coup against President Hugo Chavez. Since then I have taken a personal interest in the progress of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. My party, the Green Party of England and Wales, is affiliated to the Venezuela Information Centre (VIC), which is a solidarity organisation that campaigns against foreign interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs. I have a lot of links with friends in Caracas and a Green Party delegation, including our chair Richard Mallender, went to listen to Hugo Chavez when he spoke in London last year. Caroline Lucas, who represents our party in the European Parliament, is a patron of VIC, and I travelled to Caracas with my partner Sarah Farrow as part of a VIC delegation in 2006.
So I think it is fair to say that on the whole the Green Party is pretty supportive of solidarity with Venezuela.
To my mind, the Bolivarian process is important for several reasons. First, for decades Latin America has been the playground of right-wing death squads supported by the US. The number of invasions, coups, plots and ‘interventions’ is too long to list. Think, though, of how Michael Manley’s attempts to build a more socially just Jamaica in the 1970s were countered by the IMF and US interests, and how in South America proper, the ITT company fomented a coup in Chile in 1973 that killed thousands. The 1954 coup against the democratic government of Guatemala, which incidentally accelerated the radicalisation of Che Guevara, is worth noting because of the close collaboration between the US transnational, the United Fruit Company, and the CIA.
Venezuela’s central role in opposing human rights abuses and freeing Latin America from the corporations and US control, must be defended.
Second, there is growing awareness that capitalism is simply ecologically unsustainable. Companies have to maximise profit and cannot focus on other values. So the creation of a social economy based on workers control and grassroots participation in Venezuela, provides an almost unique experiment in the construction of an alternative economy which is focussed on more than the bottom line. In turn, while previous forms of ‘socialism’ have been top-down, the more anarchic (in the best sense) approach of putting power into the hands of ordinary people as a form of economic democracy, has to be applauded.
Third, there is a green element. It is impressive to hear the president of a country whose main export is oil, explicitly arguing that ever increasing consumption is ecologically unsustainable. Ecological concern is central to the Venezuelan approach under Chavez.
'Organopónico Bolivar I' city farm, Caracas
Energy wasteful light bulbs have been outlawed and oil revenue has been put into a new railway line in Caracas. In order to encourage citizens to get out of their cars and use the new service, the fares were cut to zero for the first few weeks! I have talked to workers at a reclaimed factory who were enthusiastic about such green projects.
I am not uncritical of anyone and I can see why some Greens would be critical of some aspects of Venezuela policies. For example, despite a recent victory in the north of the country there are still plenty of dirty open cast coal projects. However, the progress in Venezuela towards the kind of demands in the Green Party manifesto is impressive. Even if this were not the case, it is important to defend the rights of Venezuelan’s to make their own society and not to play into the hands of those, who when they point to defects, forget the massive institutional corruption, institutional inequality and total disregard for social justice and ecology of previous Venezuelan governments.
Greens don’t like oil, but London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s recent oil deal with Venezuela which will halve bus fares for London’s poorest citizens in return for London’s expertise on city planning, including advice on how to make Caracas less dependent on the car, sounds good to me!
I love the slogan ‘Venezuela Ahora es de Todos’, which in English means ‘Today Venezuela is for Everyone’. I wish that the UK was run for ‘todos’. Imagination runs through the Bolivarian process. What other government would print and distributes thousands of copies of Don Quixote as part of a literacy programme, and distribute them for free? I have seen 21st century socialism in action, and I like what I have seen!
I would urge anyone interested in green Venezuela to read Chavez's speeches on ecology. As Green Party Principal Speaker I don’t fly, but I am not ashamed of the fact that my one transatlantic return flight in the last 40 years was to Caracas and back. I have learnt a lot.
Prezident Chavez on ecology: http://www.thedrawbridge.org.uk/issue_2/no_more_voomvoom/
Derek Wall’s personal blog can be found at: http://another-green-world.blogspot.com