We want to introduce our first photo set from our visit to the Caribia Commune about 30 minutes outside the city of Caracas. This commune was structured and built to serve a socialist community. Included in the photo set are the various sites we visited throughout the day: a health clinic, a primary school, a community garden run by a local mission,a bakery run and funded by the government, a small textile factory, a local radio station where we did an interview, a water tank factory, a secondary school, and a second primary school campus. A more detailed post is to follow! You can find this gallery, and all future galleries on our new page.
Month: July 2019
Our delegation visited several schools including this elementary school which is part of the Caribia Commune. We met with students, teachers, and administrators to gain ideas on their curriculum, school structure, ideologies and their connections to socialism. We will publish more on these visits in the coming days.
Yesterday, we had the amazing opportunity to meet with Jacobo Torres de León, the president of the Central of Bolivarian Socialist Workers. In his compelling interview, he spoke about his journey alongside President Maduro, his union brother and now Venezuelan President, and how they worked together to improve the rights of workers and unions. Torres de León played an important role in starting collectives for unions to have more voice in the government. He also spoke of Maduro’s struggle to establish himself as a reputable and credible president in the wake of former President Hugo Chavez’s death, which, like everyone else we have met here, affected him deeply. A rough translation of his account is as follows:
The USA thought they could crush us when Chavez died by starting economic war. Chavez was family to all of us. Usually, you need time to mourn family. We had no room, no time to mourn him. We couldn’t because the USA attacked us immediately. We couldn’t mourn in peace. The USA’s economic war first went after feminine products and diapers. Then when that didn’t work, they went after hygienic products like soap and toothpaste. When that didn’t work, they started to gouge the prices of food.Jacobo Torres de León
It’s hard to be Maduro, constantly being compared to Chavez. We said, ‘You are Maduro, start finding your own vision.’ Luckily, having a leader like Maduro, who was a worker, a union leader, and a lefty his whole life, you know the direction the country is going in.”
Torres de León also spoke about the struggles they faced restoring the power grid after the US sabotaged the electrical system on March 5th, 2019. Dozthor Zurlent recounted listening to the cheers of the opposition and seeing the richest neighborhood in Caracas still glowing with power, while the rest of the country sat in darkness. After assessing the damage, they estimated that restoring power to the entire country would take two full months. He described the story of their fight to repair the damages, being attacked while they were trying to salvage as much as they could from the remains of the first assault. It took them five days to fully restore power to the country. They admit that the power wasn’t constant and that blackouts were occurring, but at the very least, the entire country had access to some kind of power. They are still working to restore power to its full capacity, but are proud of the work they have done in the face of extreme adversity and despite the economic war.
These men are heroes, but they wouldn’t accept the compliment. They still thanked us for helping tell their story. Torres de León said, proudly, the true leaders and heroes of the revolution have and always will be women.
A full audio recording of the interview will be posted as soon as it is transcribed. We are so excited to share more of this story with you.
Our elections are very unique with many checks and balances. They are one of the most secure in the worldDozthor Zurlent
Before Chavez, most poor people could not vote, since they did not have IDs. In Venezuela, you need an ID to vote. In the preChavez period, when poor people wanted to get an ID, they would have to go the night before or in the early morning to the place where IDs are made. People would lose a whole day or night, waiting in lines for an ID.
Then, if they made it through hours of waiting in line, they would only receive a paper receipt showing that they applied for the ID. To people’s frustration, it could take weeks or months for them to actually receive their ID. In some cases, the government would even “lose their application” and they would have to wait in line again. The wealthy didn’t worry about waiting in line because they could pay the workers to receive their IDs immediately.
This wasn’t the conservative government’s only way of suppressing poor people from voting. They also placed the voting centers mostly in middle class neighborhoods. Many poor people had to walk very far distances to find a polling place and when they arrived at the polling places, lines would go on for blocks and blocks.
If people were able to overcome all these obstacles and arrive at the polling station, they were greeted with more hurdles. At the entrance of the polling station, everyone is given one card for each political party or person. To vote, they had to place the card of their preferred candidate in the ballot box.
To exit, they had to return all the cards of candidates they didn’t vote for to militants of right wing political parties waiting at the exit of the voting centers. The people collecting the cards then knew exactly who they voted for. They would proceed to bully or threaten people who didn’t vote for their candidates. If someone was a government worker, they could be threatened with losing their job.
This cumulation of voter suppression and the frustration with corrupt candidates of the ruling class caused extremely low voter turnout of the poor Venezuelan people, living in las favelas. Since over 60% of Venezuelans lived in poverty, the ruling class preferred them staying home, rather than voting.
What most people don’t realize, in 1998, when Chavez was elected, it was mostly middle class people who voted for him. Many poor people did not vote for him because of the voter suppression. Many middle class people favored Chavez since they were becoming increasingly worried about how the conditions of Venezuela could cause a poor person revolt against them. Many liked that Chavez was from the military and could “restore order” to the country. They did not know that he would spend the rest of his life and his presidency, fighting for the rights of the poor people, improving their living conditions and strengthening their voice in determining the direction of the country.
After Chavez won the 1998, election, he was determined to fix the voting system, so ALL Venezuelans could vote, without difficulties. He started by creating a program that would provide people with immediate IDs, so they didn’t have to wait in line or wait months to receive their IDs.
Chavez also made voter registration almost automatic. When children are 9 years old, they are brought to an office to get an ID number. When they turned 18, this number meant they were already registered, so they were able to vote. They just had to register their voting center based on their address of residency.
This ID number also prevented voter fraud. When a Venezuelan leaves the country, the ID is checked off. This way, someone else in Venezuela cannot pretend to be them and vote. The person traveling is able to vote abroad. Also, when someone dies, their ID number is immediately marked as deceased to prevent people from voting for the dead.
But presenting the proper ID is not enough to vote. There is a fingerprint machine checking the real identity of the voter. When people arrive at the polling room, they cannot vote without placing their fingerprint on a fingerprint machine and matching that fingerprint with their ID. Each ID number is assigned a specific room to vote in. If the voter passes the fingerprint test, then the fingerprint machine would activate the voting machine allowing the voter to exercise their vote.
To make voting more accessible in every neighborhood, Chavez opened up voting sites in poorer areas and added more voting rooms in each site, so voting would be faster and people wouldn’t have to wait in line for too long.
All these improvements helped people arrive at the polls to vote, but Chavez’ administration knew he had to fix the internal voting ballot system. To find the system that could provide the results faster, they analyzed voting systems from around the world. Also, companies from various countries submitted voting machines to the Venezuelan government. Interestingly enough, the Venezuelan government caught several loopholes in some of the proposals submitted by US corporations.
In the end, Chavez administration chose a system that was most democratic, with many checks and balances. The system changed where the candidate/political party cards still existed but the voter had and electronic sheet with all the candidates cards included. They just had to press the option or options of their preferences depending on the type of election and then press the VOTAR button. It was an electronic vote.
Immediately, the machine would print a paper stating how they voted. They would then proceed to deposit the paper in a sealed cardboard box. Afterwards, they would go to a table to sign the voting notebook on the page and row corresponding to their name and ID number, stating that they voted.
Once the voting process ends, the members of the voting room would proceed to electronically transmit the local results to the national servers center. Once the transmission is successful, they proceed to print the machine local results on a paper roll. They would provide a printed copy to all political parties witnessing the process which are allowed to be present during the whole journey. They would then proceed to turn off the voting machine and open the sealed box with the printout voting papers and proceed to count them. The total results on the paper roll, the signatures on the voting registration, and the voting papers must add up to be the same number.
Fifty percent of the voting rooms results are audited in the presence of the public willing to participate and the political parties witnesses, by counting the voting printout papers and matching the results with the voting machine paper roll. They must match again for every political party or individual candidate results.
While this counting is taking place, there are plenty of national and international observers from all over the world. Every Latin American country usually sends observers as does the UN.
Unfortunately, not everyone is happy with this new democratic process. The opposition wants to return to the way elections were run before Chavez, to disenfranchise poor black and brown voters once again.
During the 2018 Guarimbas, President Nicolas Maduro called for people to elect a National Constituency Assembly. The opposition had, again, organized this Guarimba to create conditions for a civil war, by inciting violence. They built huge barricades, started to burn tires and placed armed gangs all over Venezuela’s voting areas. These Guarimbas blocked the streets so people could not drive. They would not even let people walk past, they would threaten to shoot them if they wanted to vote. If you read the previous blog posts, these armed gangs were funded and supported by the CIA.
The electrical system was also attacked during the time of the election through bombing and burning of electrical poles, towers and stations.
I had to leave my house at 3am, with no electricity, to go vote. It was pitch black outside. The opposition had also cut down several trees so cars couldn’t pass. My friends and I used brooms to sweep the ground to find our way and get rid of spikes that the opposition had put all over the ground to destroy the tires of vehicles daring to try to pass through. We had to cut tree trunks in several pieces and collect the spikes to open the road for people to be able to reach the voting centers. In some places, things got worse, and when armed gangs saw people willing to vote, they started shooting at them. A lot of people experienced this. In Tachira State people crossed rivers to bypass the armed gangs and be able vote. At the end of the day people had elected a new National Constituency Assembly. Peace won and guarimbas were finally defeated.Dozthor Zurlent
EDIT (07/14/19): This post previously stated that the Carter Center supported the Venezuelan elections, as stated by one of the members of our collective. It has been brought to our attention that this was not the case, and the statement has been redacted.
Today we were taken to the Foreign Ministry to meet with North American expert, Laura Franco. Laura told us of the stunning effects of the U.S. economic blockade on Venezuela. She also expressed the importance of solidarity with the people of North America. Since Trump expelled Venezuelan diplomats from the United States, Venezuela has redoubled its outreach to activitsts, to the labor and peace movement, and to other movements throughout the United States.
The people of Venezuela are in a struggle. However, this struggle is nothing new; since president Hugo Chavez’s death, the U.S. doubled down on its economic attacks on aiding those that were trying to overthrow the government. The blockade and sabotage of today have led to blackouts, water shortages, and shortages of insulin and other important medicines. To add to that, food suppliers from Colombia (with the U.S. support) have sought to drive the prices of food beyond what working class Venezuelans can afford. Trump is trying to create the conditions for a civil war outside his own country.
As Laura states,
“Sanctions are the new war consistent with Trump’s colonial new attitude.”Linda Franco, North American Expert at the Foreign Ministry
The United States and nearly 50 of its client countries have recognized the cartoonish Guiadó, who has no respect amongst the populous, as the legitimate president of Venezuela because it better fits their agenda. In fact, the Venezuelan people are insulted that the United States will not respect their democracy or their democratically elected president, Nicolas Maduro.
Despite this blockade and its effects, Venezuela has increased its trade with China, Iran, Russia and India. It also continues to have good diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador and many other nations. Not to mention the Bolivarian government has also sought to increase the production and distribution of Venezuelan food to local grocery stores in addition to providing food subsidies to all who need it for a healthy diet. Bolivarian socialism also calls for women at 55 and men at 65 whose salaries are insufficient to receive an extra government bonus deposited into their accounts.
These responses of the Venezuelan people are only small brushstrokes of a much larger political mural that depicts the solidarity, class consciousness, and mobilization of their community. For the majority of the people have a spirit of peace and as Laura said, “their will will not be broken.”
We, the people, learn to adjust, we keep the struggle going and we continue to follow El Plan de la Patria (The Plan for the Motherland).Vladimir Castillo, Director of International Affairs for the Ministry of Communes
During our meeting with Vladimir Castillo, he shared an interesting anecdote when beginning the conversation of Hugo Chavez and his relation to communes.
While on a trip to Italy, Chavez and other Venezuelan leaders were walking around after a ceremony when someone offered them olive oil and an olive plate.
Chavez loved it and asked, “Where is this made?”
The vendor replied that it was made in his commune.
In that seemingly minor interaction, Chavez was introduced to the very idea of communes. Communes are a community of people living in a specific area that make collective decisions on projects they would like to work on.
In that vendor’s area, they had a plethora of olive trees, so they used the funds to set up their own business selling olive oil, etc. After the people submitted their proposals, the mayor or a council of mayors had the power to approve the proposals.
This idea of communes was based on a structure that came from the Roman period.
Chavez liked this idea of collective participatory democracy, but was critical of the mayor having too much control over how the funds were used. Chavez reflected on this idea of communes and researched more into communes in China and other countries.
We discussed communes and community councils a lot today in our meeting with Vladimir Castillo, the Venezuelan Director of International Affairs. Chavez started to talk about socialism in 2005, at the World Social Forum in Brazil. A few years after 2007/2008, community councils emerged as part of the vision that Chavez had about how to build socialism in Venezuela.
Community councils are comprised of around 100 families living in the same area, 400-500 people. Chavez also has communes in mind, as a fundamental part of the new Socialist State. Communes were organizations stretching several community councils. When communes began, there were a lot of difficulties to channel funds to them. They were neither part of the state nor corporations. They were just organized communities not able to exercise the full strength of their power. The government ended up creating a new set of laws, the Popular Power Laws, which allowed the government to provide money to them directly, and by doing so, the government empowered communes.
Projects received different amounts depending on the needs and the scale of the projects. The funds would go to a communal account under the direct responsibility of 2 members of the communes, and the supervision of the commune board and the community as a whole, to be sure that it is correctly being managed and going to the stated projects.
Vladimir stated that it was easier to form communes in the countryside, since many were naturally working together to farm, and to produce goods. It also came naturally to indigenous people, since they often live in collective communities working together. The essence of communes was to produce goods and services, to obtain sustainability, and to address community issues in order for people to improve their own living conditions.
A major benefit of the communes and socialism is that it makes society less individualistic since groups of people are working together to decide thier needs and how to work collectively towards solutions.Vladimir Castillo, Director of International Affairs for the Ministry of Communes
This is why Venezuela became a threat to the USA. The USA do not want people to realize that another world is possible with justice and love.
Our world of justice and love in Venezuela includes 2.6 million families, receiving housing units for free or for a symbolic price. It means 10 million people set free from a life of deprivation and discrimination in the favelas(poor shacks). Dignify housing is a Venezuelans right now. The economic war has decimated our salaries. We earn an average of $40 dollars a month but we are resisting. If someone would tell you that they can live with $40 a month, you would think they are crazy. Here you can live with $40 a month since so much is free or subsidized. Most of our utilities and what we need to live is free or incredibly cheap, such as electricity, water, gas, gasoline and housing. Once you own a house you do not have to pay taxes on it. Another program the government is implementing is the CLAP (Production and Delivery Local Committees). Boxes with food, like rice, spaghetti, beans, powder milk, cooking oil, corn flour, wheat flour among other items are delivered to 6 million families on a monthly basis. Our schooling, college and healthcare are also free. This is why you can live on $40 a month.VLADIMIR CASTILLO, Director of International Affairs for the Ministry of Communes
The Venezuelan government has transformed their state budget where 75% of the nation’s budget goes to social programs. What country in the world does that? In the USA, 50% of our budget goes to war. Imagine if that money was put into education, healthcare, etc?
Unfortunately, all is not rosy in Venezuela. The mainstream news is right that there are some issues in Venezuela, but where they are wrong is who has created those issues. Thousands of people have died here because they do not have insulin. Who is the biggest vendor of insulin? The USA.
USA and European sanctions against Venezuela have caused thousands of deaths. USA imposes these sanctions on other countries too. If another country trades with Venezuela, the USA will threaten to cut off trade with them or impose sanctions on that country.
Luckily, even with these sanctions and the crisis caused by the imperialist USA, Venezuela is friends with (and can trade with) countries, such as Russia, China, Turkey, South Africa, India, Iran and Cuba, among others. But since the USA has frozen and stolen Venezuela’s money in international banks, the Venezuelan government has serious difficulties to pay for medicines and for food that other countries sell to it.
Maintaining trade with countries that have fought against US imperialism & continuing the social programs, even during difficulty times, has prevented the crisis from destroying the advancement of socialism.
Before Chavez took over in 1998, 60-70% of the inhabitants were in poverty, 53% of the poor were in critical poverty. After 14-15 years of Chavez’ leadership, 12-14% of Venezuelans were in poverty, and only 5% were in critical poverty. Social programs have not dwindled or stopped, they actually advanced. None of the schools or clinics were closed even during the most severe times of the US’ economic war on Venezuela. Money going to social programs actually increased and more houses being built to remove people from the poor shacks.
This is all part of “El Plan de la Patria” (the Plan of the Motherland) that was created collectively by Chavez and the Venezuelan people. Maduro is continuing to carry out this plan even under very difficult attacks.
“Maduro has not had one day of peace. Every day he is fighting attacks. He is not alone. We, the people, we learn to adjust, we keep the struggle going.”VLADIMIR CASTILLO, Director of International Affairs for the Ministry of Communes
Dozthor Zurlent explained how a Venezuelan university professor did a study on Venezuelan’s health and how the economic war has affected them. He found that Venezuelans actually became healthier. The percentage of big diseases decreased. Due to the economic war, people found alternatives and ate healthier food.
Before, Venezuelan’s food mostly came from Colombia. When the economic war started, the opposition was taking the food, especially the staple food and bringing it to Colombia. They were hoarding food and also daily items like toothpaste and toilet paper.
Dozthor explained, “When this economic war began, I had just gone to the store to buy a couple of toothpaste containers for 68 bolivares. While I was walking, a guy stopped me and asked if he could pay me 300 bolivares to buy my toothpaste. I questioned, “Why would he want to do this if I just bough the toothpaste for much cheaper.”
Later, we realized the opposition was hoarding the food and supplies to cause a crisis.
After the opposition thought that people were fed up with the food and supply shortages, they started direct violent actions with the intent to provoke a civil war like in Syria. They called them Guarimbas a Venezuelan name for the hide and seek game. Armed gangs began to burn tires and form barricades to block streets and entrances into neighborhoods.
Where did these armed gangs come from? The bourgeoisie and CIA paid poor people money to carry out Guarimbas and this violence. They would go into these very poor areas and find boys who were already in trouble or involved in violence or selling drugs and the CIA would provide the money to pay them.
Dozthor spoke of how they were able to one day stop one Guarimba from starting. The Chavistas went into a poor neighborhood where some other poor people had told them that boys were going to get paid to start a Guarimba. They brought a soccer ball, and then took them over to a soccer field. The boys ended up playing soccer instead of participating in the violence.
Other participants included members of the middle class neighborhoods, and radicalized university students. The Colombian paramilitaries were also involved in telling these armed gangs what to do.
The gangs would block access to the street, so people could not drive into or out of their neighborhood. People had to walk instead. Armed gangs would often make people pay to pass or they would threaten to kill them.
The Venezuelan government wanted to use peaceful measures to stop these armed gangs. Maduro publicly told the police that they could only use water and tear gas. First, the police would try to reason with them. If that did not work, they would use water or tear gas. Then, the police would wait a few days to see if they would leave. If the Guarimbas continued, the national guard would intervene.
Eventually, many of these gangs would halt their criminal activities because ordinary people convinced them to stop, because they got tired of police and armed forces not confronting them, or because the opposition leaders stopped paying them, usually because they would steal the money the CIA would funnel through them to support the Guarimbas.
There were 4 different times where these Guarimbas started. Each time, they would follow a period of extreme economic pressure on the Venezuelan people. First in 2008, then in 2013, followed by one almost immediately in 2014 and lastly in 2017.
The economic war was accompanied by cycles of the CIA pushing negative social media and news propaganda, followed by violence with the Guarimbas. The CIA expected that the the people would join these opposition forces, but it has never worked. Civil war did not happen. The people wouldn’t stand for it. They saw that the US backed opposition was violent and not for the people.
“The USA wanted to remove the idea of socialism from our hearts and minds, but it only grew stronger. Even during these intense attacks, social programs only grew.”Dozthor Zurlent, EDUCATOR FOR THE VENEZUELAN MINISTRY OF EDUCATION
Before Hugo Chavez’ election in 1999:
- 65% of Venezuelan people lived below the international poverty line
- Only 30% could afford meat, coffee & basic goods
- 1.5 million adult Venezuelans were illiterate
- Nearly half the population was forced to live in the barrios
By 2013, the year of Hugo Chavez’ death:
- Poverty had fallen by more than half
- Food consumption was up by 80%
- In 2005, the country was declared fully literate
- Quality housing was declared a right and public housing began to replace the unsatisfactory living conditions
This spring, the Chicago Teachers Union Executive Board and House of Delegates each unanimously passed a resolution condemning Donald Trump and U.S. intervention in Venezuela. Resources that never seemed to find their way to our classrooms are being used to intervene in the democratic processes of other countries instead.
This blog represents the members delegation of the Chicago Teacher’s Union that are currently in Venezuela to learn from educators and activists on the ground. We are three rank and file charter school teachersand one CTU organizer. We organized this delegation ourselves and fundraised for the trip independent of the CTU. While CTU did pass a resolution in support of Venezuela, they did not plan this delegation or give any type of financial support.
The rest of this week, we will be reporting on what we learn and see while we are here. We are being aided by Dozthor Zurlent (former CPS Substitute and Educator).
We especially want to thank Financial Secretary, Maria Moreno, and former Recording Secretary, Michael Brunson, for drafting and bringing the resolution to the executive board. You can read and download a copy of the resolution at the link below:
Fresh from the picket lines at sister schools Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy (IJLA) and Instituto Health Science Career Academy (IHSCA), we witnessed a lack of money going into our classrooms while piles of money were going to disrupt progressive governments around the world, including Venezuela. Many in our community have been inspired by the Bolivarian revolution occurring in Venezuela, which resulted in us wanting to learn more. We are excited to learn from this opportunity and anxious to share this information with you.
Already on our first evening here, we’ve been having beautiful discussions with Dozthor Zurlent, an educator who works for the Venezuelan Ministry of Education. He was also a part of the revolutionary wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. We also had dinner with Professor Miguel Ángel Nuñez, who spoke significantly about Simón Rodríguez – Simón Bolívar’s teacher and Venezuelan philosopher (his name while in exile was Samuel Robinson).
Tomorrow we are meeting with the Minister of Education and with those working on Mission Robinson, which eradicated illiteracy in Venezuela (UNESCO declared this in 2005).
In a reflection of the first day here, CTU Area Vice President Sarah Chambers states:
“I’ve already learned so much just within a couple of hours of being in the country. I’m excited to learn more tomorrow about the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela and how it has improved the lives of the Venezuelan people.”SARAH CHAMBERS, CTU AREA VICE PRESIDENT
In response to our work here, Dozthor Zurlent emphasizes the importance of showing solidarity and unity with teachers in the United States.
“Solidarity is at the core of every important action that people carry on for each other.”DOZTHOR ZURLENT, EDUCATOR FOR THE VENEZUELAN MINISTRY OF EDUCATION
Special thanks to Sean Orr for making this all possible. We wouldn’t be here without you.
Did you know?
Did you know thousands of private and public companies have been taken over by rank and file workers in Venezuela? Companies like GoodYear and Kelloggs locked their gates to stop production and sabotage the economy in an effort to make people’s lives harder. However, the result of this attempt was the exact opposite of the companies expectations – workers returned the next day with bolt cutters and reopened the locked gates to run the companies themselves.
A lot of this was due to the new law passed in 2018 by the Constituent National Assembly (ANC) and the Constitution Law of Productive Worker Councils. This gave workers the support of the state to form worker councils (CTPs) to take over and change production to meet the people’s needs rather than the profit motive. To be very clear – this was already happening in many Venezuelan factories. The difference is that there is now a law that provides the state’s official support.