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