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Announcement :: International
Boston's Encuentro 5 - Report From Venezuela - Saturday 30 July 2016
26 Jul 2016
When: Saturday, July 30, 2016, 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Where: encuentro 5 • 9A Hamilton Place • (near Park Street Red Line T) • Boston
Please download and distribute the flyer posted on our website: www.us-venezuelasolidarity.org
The People's Resistance to the Venezuelan Food Crisis
Report back and report from the trenches
Maria Sanchez, report back by a Maine resident who visited Venezuela recently to witness the efforts being made in alternative agriculture.
She experienced the "Back to the Conuco" movement, Venezuela's traditional version of permaculture (ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient) and their seed saver collectives. These farming efforts are organized in cooperatives to process and distribute food equitably.
Maria also witnessed the work of the new Urban Agriculture Ministry created by President Maduro (1/6/16) and led by a young woman urban gardener, Lorena Freitez. They are working on creative ways to empower the people, in particular youth, to do urban gardening. She also met with agricultural professionals from CIARA ("Training and Innovation in Support of the Agro Revolution Foundation") and saw initiatives of urban gardening in Caracas.
Venezuela is in the throes of a deep economic crisis fueled in large part by the collapse of world oil prices. The economy contracted by 10 percent last year and is projected to shrink another 8 percent this year. More than 95 percent of state revenue comes from oil exports, while the country relies on imports for most food, medical supplies and other necessities.
There are shortages of many basic goods--for example, rice, beans, diapers and toilet paper--which, while subject to price controls, are strictly rationed. Venezuelans are assigned scheduled days to line up outside stores to try to obtain such goods, but it is common to wait for six or seven hours only to get nothing. Many items are siphoned off by speculators who resell them on the black market at much higher prices. Inflation has hit triple digits and could surpass 700 percent by the end of the year. While the official bank exchange rate for the national currency, the bolivar, is ten to the U.S. dollar, on the black market a dollar now costs more than 1,000 bolivars--about three days' pay for a minimum-wage worker.
The U.S. imperialists are salivating at the prospect of ousting Venezuela's long-ruling bourgeois-nationalist regime, which was run by Hugo Chávez from 1999 until his death in 2013 and is now led by his hand-picked successor, Nicolás Maduro. Chávez, a military officer turned populist strongman, used some of the country's oil profits to institute social programs that benefited the poor and consolidated his support by denouncing Washington's barbaric economic and military policies in Latin America and elsewhere.
The economic crisis that has engulfed the country has now been compounded by a political crisis. A U.S.-backed right-wing opposition coalition won December's legislative elections and now threatens sweeping attacks on the workers and the poor. The country's economic collapse and the gains of the reactionaries expose the bankruptcy of the nationalist populism of Chávez and Maduro. During Chávez's presidency, a host of reformist leftists internationally hailed his policies as a model of supposed resistance to U.S. imperialism and even of "21st century socialism." Though targeted by the U.S. rulers and hated by the dominant sectors of the local bourgeoisie, which are closely tied to Washington and Wall Street, Chávez, as we emphasized from the beginning, headed a capitalist government, as does Maduro today. Despite cheap "socialist" rhetoric and demagogic claims to be leading a "Bolivarian Revolution," Chávez himself made clear over ten years ago that his "revolution" was "not in contradiction with private property."
Chávez's main concern upon taking office was to shore up the country's faltering oil profits, long the lifeblood of Venezuelan capitalism. He moved to discipline the oil workers union and to increase the efficiency of the state-owned oil industry, while pressing the OPEC oil cartel to raise prices. Thanks to such efforts, and in the interest of political stability, he was initially supported by much of the Venezuelan ruling class.
As oil prices climbed, Chávez used some of the huge profits to finance his reforms. He tripled the education budget, instituted paid six-month maternity leave for women and set up free health clinics staffed by well-trained Cuban doctors as well as food distribution programs for the poor. But far from representing a social revolution, such measures were aimed at binding the dispossessed masses more firmly to the Venezuelan capitalist state. Chávez's policies also permitted a section of the local capitalists--the so-called boliburguesía (Bolivarian bourgeoisie)--to line its pockets.
From two years ago:
"Chávez was lucky: the price of oil rose from $10.87 per barrel in 1998 to $96.13 in 2013. However, the price of oil is notoriously unstable and the United States, the largest recipient of Venezuela's oil, has cut its imports. The social welfare programs introduced by Chávez cannot be sustained in the long term under capitalism."
--"Venezuela: U.S. Imperialism Fuels Right-Wing Protests," WV No. 1043, 4 April 2014
This projection has now come to pass. As oil prices have plunged to less than $30 a barrel, the plight of Venezuela's workers and the poor has worsened and social programs are unraveling. Some 26 percent of households were in poverty in 2008, a sharp drop from the early years of that decade. But by the end of 2014 the rate had climbed back to almost 50 percent. With many prices skyrocketing, gas was kept cheap enough to be affordable for the masses, but now the regime has hiked the price by 6,000 percent. On top of all this is the country's looming debt crisis. Tens of billions of dollars are owed to American and other imperialist bankers, and an installment of $2.3 billion is due by February 26, mainly to hedge funds and other capitalist vultures.
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