Venezuela - The Country Of Parallels
by America Vera-Zavala
ZNet, May 12, 2005
I - The parallel revolution
On a parallel street, within walking
distance from the presidential palace, you can find a squatted
building taken over and run by communities. It is an old office
building, very close to one of the most touristic squares in downtown
Caracas: Bellas Artes and the huge hotel Hilton, which nowadays
also hosts Bolivarian conferences and friends of the revolution.
A theatre rehearsal is the activity on the Saturday afternoon
when I visit the building. People of all ages are represented
on that main floor built to be a fancy reception and not a centre
for community activities.
The building was squatted one year ago,
and apparently there seems to be quite a few central squatted
buildings, but no network exists between them to serve you with
more facts. This one has been flourishing ever since it was taken
over. In this building people live, eat, make political and cultural
meetings and most of the campaigns the president has set off are
functioning there. El proceso, the process, as the revolution
is popularly called is at work there.
The proclaimed Bolivarian revolution
in Venezuela is a revolution made up of parallels. To win elections
is not the same as to take state power and in Venezuela opposition
still holds many posts in the various departments, state owned
companies and media, and control much of the economy. The over
cumbersome bureaucracy within the government although not partisan,
is slowing down the process as they go on doing the way they always
did, and they have not received an education in new Bolivarian
In fact a new Bolivarian Public Management
School doesn't exist. Leaders of the revolution; governors, mayors,
ministers, officials, bureaucrats, members of parliaments are
persons that should be executing the paragraphs in the constitution
and making them real, planning and organising the process, guaranteeing
that the objectives are met but for various reasons it doesn't
seem to be working as smoothly as it should. Together they constitute
a thick middle layer in society making change hard. The president's
answer to that has been parallelism - a political strategy not
yet labelled. Parallelism is being practised by the president
as well as on a grassroots level - the people.
An important part of what is actually
being won in the process is created through parallels. If the
health sector in the country is not willing to serve poor people
- the president creates a parallel, brings in hundreds of Cuban
doctors and lets them work.
If the educational sector is working
poorly and apparently has not been fighting illiteracy - he creates
a parallel, develops education programs and makes the communities
responsible for their functioning.
If the shops are not selling affordable
food - he creates a parallel, creates subsidised shops, and if
people are still going hungry - he creates another parallel, provide
food and make the communities responsible for cooking and sharing
And the parallels are working - soon
illiteracy will be exterminated. The left-wing theory of creating
parallel powers to break down and end the old order is here taken
to new breathtaking heights.
President Chavez is not only creating
a parallel bank, health and education programs, and a parallel
to the CNN - Telesur. There is even a very popular soap opera,
Amores de Barrio Adentro, (which is the same name as the health
program) about love over class boundaries set in the political
Venezuelan atmosphere - as a parallel to other soaps.
In the squatted building on the parallel
street to the presidential palace, the community run revolution
is effective. "Here we have mission Robinson and mission
Ribas, people come here to learn how to read and write, we coordinate
the Cuban doctors and we provide food for poor people. We also
have Bolivarian circles, popular education and cultural activities,
like the theatre you saw. I am an educator, and give courses on
cooperatives. But we don't want anything to do with political
The man who shows me around in the community
centre underlines that they are not political. On the walls there
are several Che Guevara posters, Arafat's face with a message
of a free Palestine, Bolivar the liberator, and Chavez, of course.
I smile and repeat: so you're not political and nod at Che. "We
are not political because we don't like political parties",
After the No victory in the 2004 referendum
Chavez proposed that all campaign activists should become social
activists. The people in the occupied house have successfully
taken on that transformation. "In many places it has not
worked, the electoral units have ceased to exist, but here we
work even harder" the man tells me. Some time ago the squatted
house faced a possible eviction. The municipality wanted to do
something else with the house. "We called for a big assembly,
to talk about the situation and decided to fight to stay, and
until now we are here, making the revolution", he says with
The various parallels launched by the
president are all dressed in either a military language or named
after historic personalities from important moments in liberation
struggle. You could divide them into two main fields: electoral
campaigns and social transformation movements.
To win all elections he has had to trust
the base. He set up parallel actions to guarantee the votes from
all those supporting the process, but not being touched by traditional
campaigns or possibly facing harassments for being chavistas.
The outcome has been a great success every time and for the 2006
presidential election Chavez has set up the goal of 10 million
The social missions, misíones,
could be divided into four main areas: education, vocational training,
health and nutrition. Misíon Robinson is for basic education
and is the weapon to erase illiteracy in the country. Misíon
Ribas prepares high school students for university education.
Misíon Vuelvan Caras is to train workers and prepare them
for future employment. Misión Barrio Adentro has taken
in Cuban doctors to serve in small community built clinics in
the barrios, the Venezuelan word for slums. Misíon Milagro
(miracle) performs operations on patients with cataract and glaucoma
and makes people see again. Mercal is the name for the subsidized
food shops you find all over the country. Another food program
provides free food to barrios, community members prepare it and
give one cooked meal a day to children, single mothers, pregnant
women, elderly people etc.
All the missions are run by communities.
They organise the set up of the clinics, the education halls,
recruit voluntary teachers, make schedules and solve thousands
of problems that come up. They do it on voluntary basis and they
reach out to many. The health program, Barrio Adentro I, was launched
in April 2003 and has already passed over 100 million consultations.
People who have never seen a doctor in their entire life before
has now had multiple encounters.
The parallels and their effects are an
important reason for the massive popular support of the process.
Interviewing a community activist in the legendary neighbourhood
23 de Enero, I ask what he thinks makes the process important:
"The process has dignified people and given us an opportunity
to express what we think, without being ashamed of ourselves.
The Bolivarian revolution has also succeeded in mobilising people,
and making us feel that this process is ours, we are co-responsible
for it. If it doesn't work I am responsible for that failure too.
And we are included in education and health programs."
People here know repression and exclusion;
they have lived it on a daily basis since the squatting of the
newly built colourful modern blocks on January 23rd 1958, the
day the dictator, Perez Jimenez, was overthrown. That was a time
of mobilisation and popular democratic aspirations, until the
people were betrayed and the neighbourhood repressed. This time
there has been no treason.
On my way down from 23 de Enero I see
a slogan, written big in red and black on a wall: Al pasado no
regresaremos jamás! We will never return to the past! This
seems to be very well rooted in people's minds. They know things
have changed, and to the better, that is why they are the ones
making the revolution real, but not without criticism.
The opposition in Venezuela is called
escualidos, and that term has been generalised to be used against
anyone making the process difficult. People want the elected politicians,
mayors, governors and officials to work properly for a common
good and too often they see things work in the bad old way, with
corruption, positioning, and meaningless fights over power. The
parallels are the new tracks created to go around the old ones
- parallel lines never intersect. In that way, you avoid confrontation
in a country were opposition has been violent and people need
time to consolidate and build and not only confront. But people
are impatient to see the parallels become the main tracks.
President Hugo Chavez is a phenomenon,
not so much for 8 hour long speeches which is rather old school,
but for an amazing way of directly communicating with the base.
Somehow he avoids the thick middle layer and puts forward the
people's thoughts and ideas.
President Chavez is the initiator, the
developer, the ideologist and at the same time, the hardest criticiser
of the process. The ideas he refines and puts forward in speeches
are thoughts being formulated at the grassroots level. In the
memorial speech three years after the coup president Chavez said
that what has to die has not yet died, and what has to be born
has not yet completed its naissance.
That is the core of the present Venezuelan
parallelism - the old tracks are still parallel with the new ways.
A change of tracks is not easy but it can be done. The squatted
house is as close, or as far, as the various government institutions
are to the presidential palace. If they are the ones stimulating
the process maybe they should be recognised as a community centre,
fed with resources, and on the other hand the institutions slowing
down the process should be put on a diet.
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