Revolution Of Hope
By Joshua Frank,
Kim Peterson & Sunil K. Sharma
14 August, 2006
hadn’t been in Venezuela for more than three hours and we were
already traversing the brilliantly spotless subway system in hope of
catching a Sunday Presidential celebration. Earlier, we caught a red-eye
flight from Atlanta to Caracas and hadn’t had a wink of sleep.
That, and a few beers, will make even the most intrepid of travelers
a bit weary.
Fortunately, we managed to
pull it together and make it in time to see Hugo Chavez’s entourage
and the rally that led up to one of his long-winded speeches. But no
matter how long Chavez stands at the pulpit and talks about his political
philosophy, his followers always seem to be asking for more.
The event itself was an eye
opener for us. Pictures of Chavez and Che were everywhere. From t-shirts
to posters, the icons of revolution were ever present. Hope with a “red”
flare filled the damp air that day, as did a new brand of socialism.
It would be hard for one to walk away from such an experience, where
the poor and less fortunate had gathered to hail their leader, and not
feel something profound. It was something extraordinary. The only thing
that compared to this, for most of us, were the antiwar protests leading
up to the second Iraq invasion and the anti-WTO actions in Seattle.
No matter what you may think about Chavez or his policies, there is
no doubt that Venezuelans adore him.
We were fast waking up to
something we hadn’t felt before as we battled Bush day in and
day out in North America: revolutionary hope, Bolivarian style. And
we hadn’t even had our first sips of Venezuelan coffee yet.
From there we traveled southwest
by subway and bus to Caricuao with baseball aficionado Cesar Rengel,
an activist and organizer with the Bolivarian Revolutionary group Frente
Francisco de Miranda. Rengel was our guide and translator to the Missions,
the hugely popular anti-poverty and social welfare programs instituted
throughout the country by the Chavez government. We proceeded first
to a modern full-service medical clinic, Clinica Popular Caricuao. The
lines were long and doctors were extremely busy when we arrived, so
we spoke to a patient waiting for service. Zulay, a raven-haired, middle-aged
woman, dressed in a tank top with track pants and baby blue sneakers
attested to the improvements in medical care under the administration
of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. She said that the clinic
was staffed with 60-70 doctors and provided medical care without charge
for Venezuelans. To alleviate the waiting times, a new clinic is being
erected nearby which will be staffed by Venezuelan and Cuban physicians.
The Cuban doctors, we were told, are a temporary measure until Venezuela
has enough of their own to staff the clinics.
Close by the medical clinic
under construction is a government mercal (store), Mercado de Alimentos.
Lisbeth l. Pineda is the administrative assistant at the mercal with
13 employees. Pineda, sporting in a comfortable gray sweatshirt and
jeans, is also pursuing a college degree at one of the Bolivarian universities,
created by the Chavez government to do away with illiteracy and make
education available for all, something people of impoverished background
were previously unable to do. She proudly showed us her university ID
card, all the while glowing with a smile that could melt steel. To us,
that proud smile neatly symbolizes the sentiment of the Venezuelan masses:
a sense of pride that comes in benefiting from and contributing to something
revolutionary and life-affirming.
The mercal opened two years
ago to provide durable foodstuffs such as rice, beans, dried vegetables
and cooking oils. Other mercals also have fresh vegetables and fruits.
The products here were often labeled with revolutionary messages. Meat
featured Argentinean beef and Brazilian chicken, at 15 percent of the
retail cost to Venezuelans. Pineda mentioned that the retail capacity
had recently been doubled due to the popularity of the store. The Chavez
administration does not want Venezuela’s food needs to be dependent
on outside sources, so a concerted effort has been made to produce all
Many such missions were dispersed
throughout the region. Pineda averred, however, that the mercals, although
in competition with local shops, had not affected small business appreciably.
Pineda led us downstairs
to where low-cost pharmaceuticals were also sold. Dayana Rosario runs
the pharmacy in this Mercal where she showed a variety of Venezuelan
and imported drugs for assorted maladies, including contraception.
While strolling outside,
Rengel said that the changes in Caricuao have been substantial: "In
two years everything has changed." He pointed out how the low-cost
housing has been and is being upgraded. The new coats of paint that
have been applied to the high-rise complexes, which appear to have never
been painted before, were very apparent.
Rengel brought us to an unassuming
building where we ascended to the fifteenth floor apartment of a vivacious
revolutionary matriarch, Nancy de Ramon. Her passion for the revolution
and Chavez were readily apparent. She beamed as she displayed a Chavez
photo set in a heart-shaped frame. She also showed a Christmas card
Like so many other Venezuelans
we met, Nancy said the people were happier under Chavez government because
significant changes were being made to their daily lives. She extolled
the country's president. Chortled de Ramona, "Chavez has four balls.
He has the balls of [turn-of-the-eighteenth-century revolutionary leader]
Simón Bolívar's horse and his own balls."
When asked what she thought
of George Bush's nut sack, she indicated clearly by the downward crushing
motion of a clenched fist into the flat palm of the other hand.
On March 16 we visited the
Casa de la Alimentación, a mission soup kitchen in Valencia,
a town located 115 kilometers (71 miles) west of Caracas. The mission
is housed in a modest brick structure with corrugated tin roof, the
structure like its patrons, was weathered. It has been open since October
17, 2004 and is looked after by a stout woman with a red revolutionary
ball-cap, Corina Torres. Torres explains how the mission, supported
by the Ministry of Agriculture, provides two meals a day for homeless
and needy people who cannot afford their own food. There is a weekly
menu to ensure nutrition and variety for the clientele, which grows
as the word of the mission spreads, according to Torres. The mission
has a five person staff to run from 6am to 2pm every day. According
to records shown to us by Torres, the soup kitchen provides about 85%
of the basic daily caloric needs of the people it serves.
Torres sees Chávez
as key to the entrenchment and expansion of the missions. "If Chavez
is removed from power, the social improvements might end" fears
A man selling frozen treats
in front of the mission was interested to share his thoughts in broken
English. Gustavo Gottberg, who describes himself as a writer of mixed
German-indigenous descent, is more optimistic about the social changes
happening: "If Chávez [is] dead, there are too many people
who have learned [about the revolution for it to end]."
Noting the enmity between
the Venezuelan and US leadership, Gottberg states that Americans are
"very good people." Leadership is a different matter, however.
Venezuelans likely view George W. Bush similar to how Americans view
Hugo Chávez, he says diplomatically.
The missions are prioritized
to providing essential social services to Venezuelans. The clear impression
from us all is that the missions are tangible evidence of the Chavez
government's commitment to improve the lot of the Venezuelan masses.
The missions do something more than look after the educational, medical,
and nutritional needs of ordinary Venezuelans. The missions give the
people hope for a better tomorrow.
Hope is what threatens US
power. Hope is what drives the revolution forward.
*Photos of this trip can
be found at http://brickburner.blogs.com/photos/viva_chavez/index.html
author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common
Courage Press, 2005) edits www.BrickBurner.org.
He can be reached at: BrickBurner@gmail.com
Co-Editor of Dissident Voice, lives in the traditional Mi’kmaq
homeland colonially designated Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached
Sunil K. Sharma
is the Editor and Publisher of Dissident Voice, based in Santa Rosa,
California. He can be reached at: email@example.com