arrival in Caracas came off the back of a hectic
week travelling around the Basque Country and Catalonia
so the intense heat here compounded the burden of
my heavy backpack. Walking through the airport,
I notice a sign that translates as, "The Bolivarian
Republic of Venezuela, now for all." I came
to Venezuela intrigued by the reports I had been
reading of the "Revolutionary Process"
that the left in Ireland and Britain had been debating
argue that Chavez's radical programmes aimed at
alleviating the poverty suffered in this oil rich
country fall far short of revolution given the huge
wealth gap that still exists since his coming to
power. Others argue that one must look to what came
before Chavez to appreciate the radical nature of
coming to power in 1998, Chavez began to slowly
deconstruct the corrupt political system that served
the selfish purposes of the mega-rich minority.
He instigated a nationwide consultation with the
poor population of Venezuela that gave birth to
a new Constitution that enshrined the right of poor
in the country to a more dignified existence.
sacked the corrupt executives of the National Oil
Company that oversaw the annual "disappearing"
of $40 Billion per year of oil revenue.
recaptured this huge amount of national revenue,
he began spending it on a number of "misiones"
or programs aimed at alleviating the deprivation
suffered by the majority of the country's population.
Most notable amongst these programmes are the free
medical programmes in which oil is exchanged with
Cuba for medical practitioners who operate out of
specially built clinics in the country's poorest
districts. Free education programmes at all levels
have seen schools in the poorest area open to almost
eradicate once widespread illiteracy in only a few
land reform legislation that allows the Government
to seize land that has not been productive for a
long time has been passed. 80% of the country's
land is owned by approximately 15% of the wealthy
elite. On top of that, there is further legislation
that makes easier for small farmers and cooperatives
to access grants and credits to develop the agricultural
production of the country. It is incredible to think
that this fertile land with vast plains imported
80% of its food before Chavez's reforms. This is
now changing. National food production is on the
up and is helped along by a new chain of nationalised
supermarkets that offer staples grown in Venezuela
at cheap rates to the country's poor.
along with countless other initiatives have paved
the way for the true revolutionary aspect of Venezuela's
recent history, the revolutionary change in the
consciousness of the country's poor.
of Chavez's programmes have awakened a sense of
pride and dignity in the Venezuelan people that
had been suppressed by the oppressive neo-liberal
puppets of the USA that had come before. People
are taking a more active role in their affairs.
Poor inner city areas are heaving with community
organisation similar to that witnessed in the past
in the Bogside of Derry and Ballymurphy in Belfast.
Fierce community pride reinforced with a deep suspicion
of parliamentary politicians is pushing the people
to create a dignified and promising future for themselves
and their children. Aided with assistance in the
form of educational and medical resources supplied
by the national government, the Venezuelan people
are at the baby steps stage to a truly democratic
and grassroots socialist society.
picture is not entirely rosy. There remains a huge
reactionary presence in the country's civil service
and government structures. Despite the Chavez government's
sincere commitment to radical social change, there
are those who wish to destroy the process totally,
as well as those claiming to be for the process
but frightened by the mass organisation and self-sufficiency
being shown by the people in the poor "barrios".
This has lead to tensions and conflict between the
people and the conservatives within the revolutionary
government- the revolution within the revolution
as it has been called.
Juan Batista Alberdi School in a poor barrio in
western Caracas lay in near dereliction due to a
lack of investment from the anti-Chavez mayoralty
and was run by anti-Chavez teachers who joined in
the "national strike" organised by the
rich elite aimed at ousting Chavez. The people of
the community responded with a counter-strike and
ousted the teachers. The local community then organised
and embarked on a renovation of the school so that
it could serve to educate all in the area, children
and adults alike. A democratically elected and administrative
staff and teachers for the school was put in place
and the school has expanded its alumni and curriculum
since. It was a huge achievement; all of the labour
and academic help was totally unfunded for the initial
few years and is a credit to the community.
children are responding well to the community approach
to their education. There is a somewhat relaxed
atmosphere in the school with no real atmosphere
of austerity and discipline. The children love their
teachers and openly display affection to them. Gabby,
a voluntary teacher at the school, was greeted with
hugs and kisses by laughing and smiling children
when she guided me through school to show me where
I will be working.
Alberdi School is where I have volunteered to, in
a small way, participate in the revolutionary process
here in Venezuela, which, despite the dogmatic ramblings
of those who profess the contrary, is taking place
directly where revolutions do - on the very streets
of the poorest areas of Venezuela. I have committed
myself to basic English lessons for the primary
school age classes and hope in return that the kids
can improve my awful Spanish. After I finish my
classes, I will then volunteer the rest of my day
to help out the volunteer caretaker staff with the
many logistical tasks required in running a school.
work is the least I can do for the people in the
Manicomio area where the school is situated. I have
been received here like a local and been afforded
lunches, dinners, and endless hospitality in many
houses. I stress however the term, "like a
local." There has been no exception made for
me. This sense of community and sharing is the norm
here and whilst my efforts are welcomed, I am just
another helper in their efforts to improve their
existence and I am grateful for that.
my first full day here in Caracas I was invited
to Oscar's house for a tasty breakfast of "arepas"
(a bread dumpling made from corn flour), cheese,
and coffee. After breakfast, a friend and "good
comrade" called Luis and the three of us sat
and drank coffee. I struggled to understand as Oscar
and Luis sat and discussed the local community issues
vigorously. Two men armed with the knowledge that
they were affecting the affairs and changing things
for the better for themselves and their community.
It reminded me of the times I sat listening to my
father and his friends discussing community and
political issues at home in the mid-eighties. I
was a child then and did not quite grasp the nuances
of the politics they discussed but I
sensed the feeling of community and popular struggle.
Sitting with Oscar and Luis I sensed the same powerful
feelings and longed for them to return to Belfast.