As another fascist Franco takes the stage in the world conflict
of greed versus social justice I write this report from Venezuela
as a member of diverse research delegation of seven women from the USA who are visiting Venezuela to listen to the Venezuelan people about their lives in the new Bolivarian Republic.
We are here to see and experience the lush and busy capital of Caracas and satellite cities. We represent faculty and students from Northeastern Illinois University Justice Studies program and board and staff members of the Alternative Education Research Institute which provides research and programs focused on those formerly incarcerated re-entering communities in the USA.
Our primary research interests are the social and economic reforms of the Bolivarian Republic underthe leadership of Hugo Chavez with a specific interest in how these innovations impact the lives of indigenous first nation peoples, African-Venezuelans and women.
My first informal but intense political discussions have been with a middle-class 26 year old African-Venezuelan male track professional, an upper class 24 year old woman whose family owns a clothing store and our guide, a middle class professional in tourism who also has a law degree. We are staying at a hotel in Barlovento, Venezuela, a town whose colonial history centers on the cocoa and banana plantations of slavery and colonialism. This is where the African-Venezuelan festival annually celebrates liberation combined with African and Colonial religions honoring San Juan.
This country is incredibly lush and green and busy and once people learn a bit about who we are the discussion turns immediately to crime and the youth and the Venezuelan government’s new mission aimed at combating Venezuela’s problem with citizen insecurity and crime – considered a critical issue by the majority of Venezuelans who often cite crime as one of their primary concerns in polls. According to Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs, Tareck El-Aissami, the new mission is centered on a policy of prevention, the creation of new values, addressing social exclusion and rehabilitation. According to the young athlete I with whom I talked who summarized the problem as a policy of the Chavez government dividing people against each other he expressed a belief that racism has increased with the rhetoric of inclusion and exclusion. He said that many of his black friends and family have been killed directly because of the hyperbolic attention to race and class divisions. Echoing the young man’s point of view our guide is also critical of the government for supposedly ignoring the issue of crime in Venezuela and being too “soft” on violent crime. He also cited the majority of crimes committed by youth and pointed out on our trip out of Caracas to Barlevento the youth acting out on motor cycles and cars on the road in a traffic jam caused by an accident as they forced traffic to move so their funeral procession could turn around on the highway. However, the government maintains, and I agree, that the opposition and those expressing this opinion have a “reactionary” stance to the issue as they are seduced by capitalism and accept the models of punishment of the poor to protect the rich and “wanna be” rich.
The focus of the new government “Venezuela Full of Life” mission is restorative and preventative according to officials in an effort to reduce the risks of young people who unfortunately end up resorting to street crime. The mission is one more effort in a series of measures and political strategies implementing tactics in a nation wide campaign. Yet while the official sources say that the Bolivarian police are founded on a new model of policing with recruits working directly with communities and receiving classes on human rights have decreased the crime rate by 57% my young informant says the police are completely corrupt and easily bribed and these statistics are lies fabricated by the government. He said that the only believable press is the opposition press.
While pointing out the new rows of government housing for the poor our guide discusses the laws passed last Friday, by Chavez. A series of 11 far-reaching laws relating to communal government, tourism and housing the pros and cons of which are a major topic of our discussions. Our guide approves of the social equality programs and socialist efforts ending inequalities but changing the name and colors of the country was over the top for him. One of the new laws, entitled “Law for Community Management of Functions, Services and other Powers,” opens the door for organized communities to have greater responsibility in the running of local life and access to more direct funding from the government. In our visit to a Women’s Center in Higuerote, Venezuela today we are sure to hear more about these programs from the perspectives of working class and poor women.
Of serious concern for social justice advocates in Latin America today is the unconstitutional ousting of President Fernando Lugo from office. The right wing lower house of the Paraguayan Congress moved fast to impeach Lugo on Thursday in a coup. The right wing majority used clashes last week in Curuguatay in which 11 farmers and six police officers were killed as an excuse to legally blame him of mishandling the conflict. The Senate opened his trial on Friday and quickly reached a guilty verdict, ousting Lugo. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced that his government would not recognize another Franco as president“, referring to Frederico Franco, a name remembered historically for the fascist dictator of Spain. The government of Ecuador will not recognize any president of Paraguay other than Fernando Lugo,” said Correa, adding “true democracy is based on legality and legitimacy.” Vice-president Elias Jaua described the attempt by the Chamber of Deputies of Paraguay to topple President Fernando Lugo as a new attack sourcing from the bourgeoisie and the United States. During a ceremony to deliver resources to the state of Miranda, Jaua denounced the sectors trying to weaken the South American revolutionary process.
“The battle of the Paraguayan people is that of the Venezuelans, and we are committed to thwart this new attempt by the oligarchies and imperialism as we did in Venezuela in 2002, and also when they tried to topple Evo Morales (Bolivia) and Rafael Correa (Ecuador),” he said. In Jaua’s opinion, it is all about the struggle of the peoples and governments so that the will of the peoples of the region is respected and about “letting imperialism know that our Latin America is no longer their backyard,” he said.
“Here we have a people and a government ready to defend the sovereignty and independence of all the countries in the region,” stressed Jaua.
The celebrations we attend this weekend start today and are dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. They are a mix of Carnival, Christianity, Paganism for three days during the summer solstice to pay homage to the Saint and to celebrate this holiday and tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation for more than three centuries of festivals for the Afro-Venezuelan communities from Barlovento and Yaracuy.
“During the time of slavery, in Venezuela, for three days in June, Venezuela’s slaves where allowed off. Three days during the San Juan Festival to do whatever they pleased. Three days to celebrate, to plan revolts, to flirt and make love: the sensuality of the dance, the power of the drums and the song, the emotion- for three days. “So” they said “we had better make the most of it, because it will soon be over.” The spirit has not been lost.” (Michael Fox)