Venezuela’s Democracy: an example to the world


Richard Moore

(Contributed by William Bowles) 

    Venezuela's Democracy is an example for the world to follow
    by Katherine Lahey

VHeadline special correspondent Katherine Lahey writes: With
so many missions, Bolivarian circles, and grassroots community
and governmental organizations on the ground carried out by
the people, it's hard to imagine how anyone could get away
with calling Venezuela communist Š and further, people
believing it.

But alas, this is the power of the fascist media which
controls the ideas that circulate among the people and within
our societies.

This is particularly true in the United States, my home
country. Before I came to Venezuela, I had of course read in
the mainstream media of Hugo Chavez' dictatorial tendencies;
and of course I had seen the ways in which the people of
Venezuela were painted as agents of populace uprisings,
rebellion, and instability.

I sought and found information in the alternative press
that exposed a more accurate setting of the threads of
Venezuelan society; one of hope, redistribution of wealth, and
'participatory democracy' Š which at the time remained a vague
idea in my head.

But it was not until I arrived here in Venezuela and began to
interact with the people that I began to understand and
develop my own ideas about what democracy is Š what democracy
looks like Š and more Š what democracy means to the Venezuelan

The alternative media spends so much time cleaning up the
dirty diapers of the mainstream press and setting the record
straight that rarely is there room for the real details of the
revolution to seep through, the news of the community. There
is a curtain that draws itself over one's eyes simply when one
lives in the culture of the United States; when immersed in
another culture, different realities are revealed.

There is a starved mass public in the United States craving
truth and access to another reality and understanding Š and
there is a huge gap to fill. However, we can start, and have
started, by filtering the word person to person to bridge this
gap; this is my intention in writing this essay.

I have been here in Venezuela for about six weeks now Š out of
an approximate six month stay. I'm a university student from
California doing a thesis project to graduate Š but even more,
I have begun to see my stay here as a very unique opportunity
to develop my own political understanding through the eyes of
a Bolivarian lens, and to be able to bring back this
information and point of view to my own community as an act of
solidarity with the process here.

What I have encountered here, thus far, is nothing shy of a

I continue to be uplifted each and every day by what I see and
by how others interact with me - these interactions contest
much of what I had come to believe about the way in which my
presence as a US-American would be received. We are told that
these are dangerous times to travel and announce yourself as a
gringa or a person of the United States.

Šand of course Š this is very true in many, if not most, parts
of the world.

However, my experience here has been completely opposite.
Instead, I am cloaked in the joy of the process by others, who
exclaim how thrilled they are that I am here to see for myself
the beauty and the strength of the revolution Š and are even
more delighted that there are people here to bring back the
information. Moreover, my immersion in the Bolivarian
revolution continues to shape the way in which I view the
state of the world, shifting from a state of sadness, despair,
bleakness, and frustration to a vision of hope, possibility,
resistance, and community, and above all, success and
long-term perseverance.

The stitching of the fabric of the revolution is unmatched in
its strength and breadth of anything I have ever seen.
Throughout the country, not just in the urban barrios, social
programs called 'misiones' - a social development strategy
borrowed from the Cuban revolution - are being implemented by
the people with the support of government resources.

What takes place behind the scenes of each mission is simply
incredible and inspiring beyond words. These campaigns include
education - from literacy to university level, health,
employment, citizenship, support for indigenous groups and
their reincorporation into society, economic justice and
resistance to neoliberalism through development of grassroots
and community cooperatives and businesses, to name a few.

I have had the blessed opportunity to work with several groups
of these folks who have begun to organize in their communities
around these missions. I first began working with two
muchachas (girls) who are facilitators of the missions
Robinson 1 and 2 Š Robinson 1 which is the basic literacy
campaign, and Robinson 2 which builds upon the skills learned
in 1 - it serves as a basic educational foundation from which
participants can grow.

What I witnessed in this 'classroom', which was what would be
a living room in their home but has been converted into a
classroom space, with a chalkboard and desks, was beyond
explanation. Every day, students arrive hours early, eagerly
waiting for class to begin.

One of the facilitators Š a beautiful and energetic muchacha
named Illiana Š relayed an illuminating story of the passion
of her participants, that on the first day of Robinson 2, when
all the returning students of Robinson 1 reunited, many of the
students began to cry out of happiness for the mission itself
and for the joy of the opportunities and empowerment it has
given them.

And when you watch the mission itself in action, you know that
this is true.

I have experienced many conversations with people here, when
talking about the process, get teary eyed out of pure
happiness. People are thrilled to be there in the classroom,
compared to my educational experience in the US, where many
times we schemed of how to get out of class.

Bright eyes, lasting attention, and energetic participation
fill the room as I watch the mission in session Š it is truly

Robinson 2 is followed by Ribas, the equivalent to high
school, and then by Sucre, the university level class. Each
mission is equally impressive in terms of the strength and
spirit of the participants and their eagerness to continue in
their education and in their efforts to further social change
in their homes and communities. Their breadth of political
analysis is way beyond the general knowledge and passion of
folks in the US, and they are adamant in defending their
revolutionary process and their right to self-determination.

The missions are facilitated with an emphasis on democratic
participation, and the facilitators are just that - they
facilitate, which is a very different model from the more
top-down teacher-student dynamic. Anyone can sign up to become
a facilitator, a process that involves a one-day workshop.

This is another way in which democracy spreads itself through
the community and encourages the participation of each person
in the revolutionary process. These folks continue to shine
the light on the revolutionary example from which we as
foreigners can learn so much and begin to organize our own
communities from a place of love, hope, positivism and hard

Another equally important and extremely significant program
being carried out is mission Barrio Adentro, the health
program bridged by Cuban doctors, the Cuban and Venezuelan
governments, and community organizers here who form 'comites
de salud' (health committees) to support the efforts of the
Cuban doctors working in the community. The mission once again
is not a stranger to the more rural parts of Venezuela,
although their presence is more strongly realized in the urban
zones Š an incredible example of the solidarity between the
two countries, on the national level as well as the
individual, as thousands of Cubans have sacrificed living with
their families and in their land to come and support the
revolutionary process here in the community.

These clinics practice preventative medicine, along of course
with whatever immediate care is needed, and have many programs
of alternative healing, relaxation, and integrative care, and
in turn, help to produce a healthier community that can
continue to organize and develop itself knowing that they are
not alone in their efforts. Celebrations of the mission itself
and of the efforts of the community are often held with the
barrios as an affirmation of the process and a celebration of

Yet another essential part of the process is the mission
called Vuelvan Caras, which is a mission that prepares people
for employment by training them in a particular sector that is
specific to their location of residence (for example, in the
city folks are trained in areas such as construction; in the
countryside, in agriculture to enter cooperative work). After
completing the mission, they are eligible for a job in their
community, and because of their particular skill, are
basically guaranteed a job.

Many folks simultaneously undergo Misíon Vuelvan Caras while
attending the educational missions, and so are basically
saturated in the process all day. This is one of the most
powerful tools in the community that destroys the myth of the
'dictatorship' of Chavez and that he is responsible for the
unemployment in Venezuela. Just the opposite - he is
channeling government funds to a mission that supports the
growth of employment within the community and giving people
the opportunity to create channels of their own empowerment.

As many people involved in the missions have pointed out, the
1999 Bolivarian Constitution says that each citizen is
responsible for the building of a participatory and democratic
society Š but it doesn't say how to do it Š this is the
incredible system the people have come up with and begun to
implement in their communities.

Perhaps one of the most impressive missions underway is Misíon
Identidad, which is a mission involving the National Guard
(GN) and groups of people organized via grassroots clusters to
register everyone as Venezuelan citizens. This mission is
particularly pertinent in the countryside, where people and
families have been living for generations without citizenship,
and thus, without access to government programs and benefits.
The process of this mission is a beautiful one Š and one very
grounded in basic need Š as people begin to realize their
capacity as Venezuelan citizens and that there is a process of
empowerment and development in which they can participate
through exercising their rights as citizens.

As the August 15 referendum neared, and the energy was growing
and momentum harnessing itself in the streets and in the
mountains Š a beautiful, vibrant, positive reality that
carries a strength and a force that cannot be extinguished by
the opposition, here locally or internationally.

"No Volverán!", they cry in the streets, in the Metro, out of
the windows of their cars. People here are experiencing a
process of political empowerment that is changing the lives of
each person, each family, each community, and is bringing hope
and the realization that another way is possible.

August 8 was a powerful example of the livelihood of the
revolution and one that reveals a sharp contrast in the
avenues of political expression between here and the United

Everyone took to the streets, in an event that was described
not as a demonstration, but as a beginning of the celebration
of the victory of August 15. It was a party that reached for
miles on end, filled with the vibrancy and spirit of the
people Š unlike marches in the US, which generally serve as an
avenue for people to vent their anger, frustration and
dissatisfaction with a fascist and imperialist government that
really provides no outlet for political participation.

Here, it is common understanding that democracy cannot
exist unless everyone participates.

Ultimately, this is the mission of missions; to build a public
with a solid foundation and capacity to participate in their
own democracy, in the creation of their reality, and in the
manifestation of their vision. What I saw in the march in the
interactions between Chavistas and escualidos (the name here
for the opposition) is that everyone is encouraged, at least
by the Chavistas, to express their opinion, regardless of
which side they support.

I was prepared for tense interactions between the two parties
Š a conclusion logically developed from the painted image of
violence, hatred, and tension. What I encountered instead was
one of laughter, light-hearted camaraderie and teasing Š
again, at least on the part of the Chavistas.

As almost every single Chavista I have spoken with here says,
they have nothing against the opposition; they do not hate
them nor do they wish them harm. But they do understand, very
profoundly, that they must defend their country against
fascist and elite infiltration, and that Venezuela is for and
of ALL Venezuelans and that the revolutionary process must be
carried out. They are not against the escualidos; on the
contrary, they are for a democratic Venezuela that serves each
and every citizen Š and they are prepared to defend this
vision against whomever or whatever stands in the way.

Even Channel 8 Š the state channel, airs commercials
supporting the "Sí" campaign (to recall Chavez). At first I
was bewildered, why on earth would the state channel air ads
soliciting its viewers to vote for the dismantling of the
governmentŠthen I remembered the slogan of the channel - "el
canal de todos" - everyone's channel. This is an enlightening
example once again of the strength and faith of a democratic
government, and also an example that shatters the myth of
dictatorship and censorship.

Every perspective is given a space to express itself, because
in a democratic society, no viewpoint can be censored, no
matter how outside of mass public support it lies. This
respect for all parties is also what gathered more support for
the process itself, because people have faith that they will
be represented. And of course, values are learned through

On a micro level, the government is breathing life,
respect, fairness, and representation into the fire of the
revolution, even if some of those to whom it gives space are
too blind to see it.

It is very obvious that if Chavez loses the election, it would
be because of fraud. Living here, it's plain to see that the
overwhelming majority is Chavista. But of course that does not
secure a win for the "No" campaign - there does exist a very
real and grave threat against a fair election Š something as
we as US citizens can understand from our own elections in
2000 Š and which of course almost every Latin American nation
knows all too well.

For me, as someone from the US trying to organize in my own
community and trying to raise awareness on a more mainstream
level, what is most tragic about US-Venezuelan relations is
that the point is entirely missed.

At this time in history, we ALL Š not just those of us in the
activist community Š have a tremendous opportunity to study
and learn from the Bolivarian revolution and process and the
democratic example it upholds, and to bring the process to our
own communities. Instead, people continue to believe the lies
that Venezuela poses a threat to our "democracy," and continue
to support policies that in reality attempt to undermine a
very democratic process. But the Bolivarian example will never
be buried, because even in the possibility that the opposition
succeeds in its fraudulent attempts to oust Chavez, the people
will not give an inch.

Because they know that with or without Chavez, the revolution
continues with the people Š because the revolution is of the
people, it is not the transient dream of one person.

However, the chance for a peaceful process is more likely if
the government and military are on your side, and so the
people continue to singŠ¡Uh! ¡Ah! ¡Chávez No Se Va!

Katherine Lahey


Katherine Lahey is a community studies major at the University
of California Santa Cruz where her area of interest has always
been Latin American resistance and organization.  Katherine's
passion for further examination of relationships between
actions and policies of the US government and Latin America
was sparked on a visit to El Salvador.  As part of an
independent study on the revolutionary process and how the
people organize within their communities, Katherine is
spending six months in Venezuela aimed at conveying a better
understand of the context for resistance and organization
within the Venezuelan community and why it should take a more
active stance against US intervention in Venezuelan affairs.
You may email Katherine at •••@••.•••

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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland
    "...the Patriot Act followed 9-11 as smoothly as the
      suspension of the Weimar constitution followed the
      Reichstag fire."  
      - Srdja Trifkovic

    There is not a problem with the system.
    The system is the problem.

    Faith in ourselves - not gods, ideologies, leaders, or programs.
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