David Raby wrote a review on Alan Woods' book The Venezuelan Revolution: a Marxist Perspective for Hands Off Venezuela. David Raby is an Honourary Research Fellow at the Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Liverpool.

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Although many Marxists and progressive activists in general are still reluctant to recognise it, a real social revolution is under way in Venezuela, and this places the country at the centre of the international political struggle between capitalist globalisation (or imperialism, as it used to be called) and popular movements throughout the world. Moreover the unquestioned leader of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution”, President Hugo Chávez, is already (and deservedly) an international figure of comparable stature to Fidel Castro or Che Guevara.

The great virtue of this book, and of Alan Woods as a leader of the Revolutionary Marxist Tendency, is to have recognised this fact at an early stage and to have acted accordingly by promoting the Hands Off Venezuela (HOV) campaign. Like this reviewer, but unlike legions of sectarian dogmatists and wishful idealists, Woods understood that revolutions do not develop according to a preconceived formula, and that the people (or the working class) cannot sit around for ever waiting for a perfect Marxist-Leninist party to appear, any more than they can make revolution as a spontaneous and unorganised mass (as some dreamers in the international anti-globalisation movement seem to believe). From my perspective Woods is still hampered by a somewhat doctrinaire view of the revolutionary party and the nature of revolution and socialism in our times, but any deficiencies in this respect are more than compensated for by his understanding of and support for the Venezuelan revolution.

In Venezuela, at least since the time of Chávez’ first election in December 1998, and more especially since the failed coup of April 2002, the masses have burst on to the scene and become leading protagonists of the political process. Indeed, as argued by retired General Jacinto Pérez Arcay, in a sense the people took to the streets during the Caracazo riots of 27 February-5 March 1989 (against an IMF deflationary package imposed by the social-democratic President Carlos Andrés Pérez), and have never looked back (Rosa Miriam Elizalde & Luis Báez, Chávez Nuestro, Havana 2004, p. 84). But the people involved in this spontaneous and directionless popular revolt (brutally put down on orders from Pérez with hundreds, indeed possibly thousands, of dead) found the leadership they lacked with the unsuccessful military-civilian uprising led by Lt-Col. Hugo Chávez on 4 February 1992. In the absence of an effective revolutionary party, it was Chávez and his Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement (MBR-200) who became in effect the vanguard of a popular revolutionary process which is still continuing, and the crucial point is that this vanguard role is recognised and accepted by the masses. It is no use lamenting that this is not the type of vanguard party conceived by Marx, Lenin or Trotsky; as Woods points out, what many self-proclaimed Marxists have failed to understand is ‘the dialectical relation between Chávez and the masses’. They mumble about ‘populism’, but ‘show their complete inability to connect with the real movement of the masses’ (p. 69).

It is this same blindness to the real dynamics of popular movements which leads many sectarians to condemn participation in the Bolivarian Movement and call for building a revolutionary party outside it; as Woods comments ironically, ‘So three men and a dog (or a drunken parrot) gather in a café in Caracas and proclaim the Revolutionary Party’ (p. 83). This is precisely what many dogmatists in Venezuela were doing for years before the Bolivarian movement developed, and some of them like Bandera Roja (Red Flag) have ended up as counter-revolutionary provocateurs, which is the logical conclusion of such arrogance.

Woods and the Revolutionary Marxist Tendency are taken seriously in Venezuela, including by President Chávez himself, precisely because they have shown an understanding of the real situation in the country and of the practical leadership provided by Chávez and the Bolivarian Movement. Woods also correctly stresses throughout the need for the revolution to be further radicalised and to take more decisive measures against the bourgeois oligarchy and imperialism. But where I part company with Woods is in his assessment of Chávez as a representative of ‘petty-bourgeois revolutionary democracy’ who, while being supported in his progressive actions, must be pushed to the left by building ‘an independent revolutionary proletarian current’ (p. 93). This in my view is to underestimate the political capacity of Chávez and his intimate bond with the popular classes; it is this bond which is the real motive force of the Venezuelan revolution and which is driving it forward to take ever more radical actions. Just as with Fidel Castro and the 26th July Movement in Cuba in 1959-61, so in Venezuela it is Chávez and the Bolivarian Movement who are leading the process forward together with the people. It was after all Chávez who surprised everyone in December 2004 by declaring, in his closing speech at the World Congress of Intellectuals and Artists in Defence of Humanity, that ‘we have to reclaim the legacy of socialism’ and ‘find the way forward to build the socialism of the twenty-first century’. Since then he has repeatedly returned to the theme of socialism, while taking measures such as the expropriation of the Venepal and National Valve factories and their conversion to a combination of state management and workers’ control, the acceleration of the agrarian reform and the signing of the ALBA agreement with Cuba which strengthens ties between the public sectors of the two economies. Of course popular pressure was also involved in these decisions - Chávez cannot do things alone - but this popular pressure takes place primarily within and through the Bolivarian Movement, which is as Chávez has explained nothing else than the organised expression of the social movements themselves: the Circles, the Urban Land Committees, the Local Public Planning Committees, the UBEs (Units of Electoral Battle, now converted into Units of Endogenous Battle, i.e. grass-roots committees for the promotion of self-sufficient development). The people in the barrios have made it abundantly clear that they believe in Chávez and the MBR-200, but not in political parties of any kind. In Cuba, the old Communist Party and the Directorio Revolucionario ended up uniting with the 26th July Movement under the leadership of Fidel Castro, and other parties and organisations disappeared or became irrelevant; I predict that something similar will happen in Venezuela. Unlike Cuba, however, Venezuela will not be subject to the geopolitical pressures which led Cuba to adopt the Soviet model of socialism, leading to distortions of the Cuban process.

But these disagreements are part of the ongoing debate in Venezuela and outside about the future path of the first triumphant revolution of the twenty-first century. What is most important about this book is its contribution to the understanding and defence of the Bolivarian Revolution. As Woods himself recognises, ‘The greatest danger for the Venezuelan Marxists is impatience, sectarian and ultraleft moods. The revolutionary Marxist current is at present a minority of the mass movement. We cannot impose our solutions on it...’ (p. 132). And outside Venezuela, while being analytical and critical, our main duty is to build solidarity with the process through HOV and other organisations.

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The country of Venezuela is a startling paradox of immense suffering and extreme wealth. According to a private Caracas-based polling company, Datanalisis, over 58% of the 25 million people in Venezuela live on less than $253 (Cdn) a month. The level of poverty becomes all the more damning when factoring in that Venezuela is also the world’s fourth largest oil exporter. This glaring contradiction remained unchallenged until the election of Hugo Chavez as Venezuelan President.

In 1998, Hugo Chavez was elected Venezuelan President with an approval of 56%. His electoral success came about because if elected he promised to immediately instigate land reform and to put the countries oil revenues back into public services like education and health care. Since his Presidential victory Chavez has made good on his promises. The government under his leadership has:

a)      built 657 new schools, created four universities, hired 36,000 teachers and given the opportunity for a formal education to three million new people

b)      distributed 5.5 million acres of land to 116,000 families organized in cooperatives

c)      traded oil to Cuba in exchange for 13,000 doctors in an effort to expand health care to 1.2 million more people

These are just some of the many things President Chavez has done in order to combat poverty in Venezuela. Unfortunately for Venezuelans these social programs aimed at giving the 15 million previously neglected people a decent standard of living comes into direct conflict with national and international business interests.

Before the election of Chavez, Venezuela was just another waypoint for the United States to get below market-value oil without having to give anything significant back. According to the Energy Information Administration of the US governmental department, in 1997, approximately 17.4% (1.773 million barrels a day) of all American oil imports came from Venezuela, making it the largest and most reliable oil source for the US in the world. This also accounts for over half of all Venezuelan oil exports.

By Chavez’s second year in power in 2000, Venezuela dropped from being the largest oil exporter to the United States to being their 3rd largest, sending over approximately 400,000 less barrels a day. Chavez, by actually enforcing OPEC quotas through decreasing oil production while maintaining the same level of profitability meant financial benefits for Venezuela at the expense of cheap oil prices. This was not a conscious effort by the Chavez government to undermine the United States but a means for Venezuela to redistribute oil revenue into social spending. In addition to this and putting heavier regulations on the public oil sector, Chavez raised taxation on the private oil sector to an average of 25% from the previous average of

7% as well as giving the state oil company, the PDVSA, a 51% stake in all new private oil developments. Once again, all the extra revenue generated by the Venezuelan State went back into social spending instead of private business subsidies. Under previous US-friendly governments this would have been unheard-of.

The wealth had always been in Venezuela, and now, under a more planned out economy, it was genuinely being used to benefit the whole of Venezuelan society instead of just acting as corporate welfare or private sector investment. All of these accomplishments were done through legal means and without violating the sovereignty of any other countries. Regardless of this, Chavez became the victim of imperialist manoeuvring and domestic sabotage.

It is no secret that in April 2002 a coup was orchestrated by the CIA to be carried out by the Venezuelan business congress and right-wing elements within the Venezuelan military. Chavez was kidnapped and many of his cabinet ministers were put under arrest. The head of the business congress, Pedro Carmona, was named President, the Constitutional Assembly was dissolved and the Supreme Court was virtually fired. The next day, the New York Times and Washington Post ran articles claiming that popular mass anti-government protests forced Chavez from power. No mention of a coup was made.

Meanwhile, private media outlets, which make up 90% of all Venezuelan media, were hailing the coup as a “triumph for democracy” and the “defeat of the dictator”. The majority of the Venezuelan populace had no idea what was going on because the one state-owned television station and all state run radio was ‘mysteriously’ cut. Long story short, within a couple of days the word spread throughout Venezuela and millions marched on the Presidential palace in opposition to the new illegitimate government. At that moment, palace guards sympathetic to Chavez stormed the palace and placed under arrest any members of the new government who had not yet fled. By the end of the day Chavez was returned safely and sworn back in as President.

The political intrigue did not end there. Less than 8 months later a lockout was organized by anti-Chavez high-level government bureaucrats to shut down the national oil company, the PDVSA. The concept was that if the economy was sabotaged Chavez would be forced from power. What the lockout organizers didn’t take into account was just how much the workers supported Chavez -- so much so, that they actually broke the lockout and ran the facilities themselves, without management, to keep the economy alive.

The list goes on.

Later still in August 2004 a national referendum was held on Chavez’s Presidency. The Carter Center, who helped monitor the vote, reported that over 90% of the eligible voting public voted, of which approximately 60% were in favour of keeping Chavez in power. This was yet another example of how the people of Venezuela have never failed to defend Chavez with their mass support whenever he has come under attack, legal or otherwise.

Despite his continual victories over local capitalists and US imperialism, the struggle is far from over for the President and people of Venezuela. The CIA is still, to this day, going on record making completely unfounded claims that Chavez is a threat to stability in South America and that Chavez is “aiding and abiding” terrorists and the drug trade in Columbia. The US state department has even invented a new set of terms just for Chavez by referring to his government as an “elected dictatorship” or an “authoritarian democracy”.

Anyone following the political situation in Venezuela should not be tricked by the unfounded rhetoric of the United States. Interested parties should also be aware that the anti-Chavez forces will not rest until he is defeated by whatever means necessary; the US conducted assassination of the democratically elected leftist President of Chile, Allende, in 1973 is just an example of how far the US has been willing to go in the past to enforce their agenda. It is for this reason as well as others that supporters of the reforms being made in Venezuela must be diligent in helping build international solidarity to support Chavez and the Venezuelan people against foreign intervention and to make any extreme actions on the part of the United States government an impossibility.

The New Democratic Youth of Canada is doing its part by endorsing the “Hands off Venezuela!” campaign, which is organized in almost 50 countries. The campaign is endorsed by Chavez himself and is so far operating in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Peterborough, Waterloo, Toronto and Montreal. The campaign aims to educate people on the history of Venezuela and the current political situation. Raising awareness on the plight of Venezuela acts as a means to expose the not-so-hidden agenda of the US, the corruption of the Venezuelan oligarchy as well as provides a forum by which to promote the legitimacy of the struggle for participatory democracy in Venezuela.

Against imperialist intervention in Venezuela! For the defence of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela! For the victory of democratic socialism in Latin America!

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"We are going to hit a Cuban airplane," said Luis Posada in Caracas, Venezuela, according to a recently declassified CIA document. On October 6 1976, just days later, Cubana Airline flight 455 exploded off the coast of Barbados, killing all 73 passengers.

Posada, who is 77 and has dual Venezuelan and Cuban citizenship, was arrested in Miami on May 17 for illegal entry into the US. He is claiming asylum and, so far, the Bush administration has refused to extradite him to Venezuela, where he is wanted for the terrorist bombing.

Until 1974, the ex-CIA agent, who specialised in explosives at Fort Benning, Georgia (later home to the infamous School of the Americas), was head of the Venezuelan political police — DISIP — from where he, reportedly, oversaw the assassination of prominent leftists.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has threatened to sever diplomatic links if Posada is not turned over, which the US is obliged to do under bilateral treaties. He has accused the US of harbouring a known international terrorist, making a mockery of its “war on terror.”

“We demand that the US government stop its hypocrisy and its two-faced attitude and send this terrorist, this bandit, to Venezuela,” Chavez insisted last month. “The world is watching.”

This case has become a major headache for George Bush, who is loth to give up such a loyal veteran of the right-wing cause.

Posada is hailed as a hero among Miami’s rich, Castro-hating Cuban exiles, who form a key component of his base of support, as well as that of Bush’s brother Jeb, the governor of Florida.

A policeman in the Batista dictatorship, Posada also participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion as part of “Operation 40.” Their mission was simply to assassinate Castro.

He also freelanced for the Las Vegas mafia, at one point, supplying mob boss Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal with detonators and fuses for car-bombs, according to the FBI.

Two Argentinian founders of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, a movement which supports parents of missing or tortured people in south America, are also demanding Posada’s extradition. They accuse him of involvement in Operation Condor, the US military plan which co-ordinated the bloodthirsty dictatorships of the 1970s in the region.

After bribing his way out of Venezuelan jail in 1985, he worked for Oliver North, directing terror against the people of Nicaragua, supplying the US-backed Contras with weapons in an illegal war against the Sandinista government.

The main focus throughout his life, however, seems to be an obsession with overthrowing Fidel Castro.

Posada masterminded a string of bombings in Havana during an international youth and student festival in 1997, resulting in the death of an Italian tourist at the Copacabana hotel.

“We didn’t want to hurt anybody,” he claimed in an interview with the New York Times the following year. “We just wanted to make a big scandal so that the tourists don’t come any more.”

“I sleep like a baby,” he famously boasted, showing little remorse for the misery he caused. “That Italian was sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

In 2000, he was caught red-handed in Panama, preparing to assassinate Castro by blowing up a packed auditorium of over 3,000 students with 33 pounds of C-4 explosives. Although found guilty, he was pardoned in 2004 by outgoing President Mireya Moscoso, who promptly moved to Miami.

Reports that he was back in the US began surfacing earlier this year, but the government denied any knowledge of his whereabouts. However, after Posada held a press conference in Miami, this illusion was impossible to sustain and it was forced to act.

Appearing in an El Paso, Texas, courtroom last Monday, dressed in a red prison suit and bullet-proof vest, Posada renewed his request for asylum. His lawyer argued that his green card is still valid and requested that the case be moved to Miami.

The judge set an August 29 trial date and will decide next Friday whether to grant the self-confessed terrorist bail. The immigration trial is seen by Venezuela as a stalling tactic to obstruct the far more serious issue of extradition.

“The US government should not believe that, because it is delaying the process, the people are going to give in,” said Nicolas Maduro, president of the Venezuelan parliament. This week, Maduro announced that a parliamentary delegation had been sent to Washington to demand Posada’s extradition.

That message was echoed by protesters around the world, with millions taking to the streets in Cuba and Venezuela. Outside the El Paso courtroom on Monday and in 13 other cities across the US, demonstrations were held by anti-war coalition ANSWER.

On the same day, solidarity activists from Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia campaigns picketed the US embassy in London. Protests have also been held in Mexico, Spain, Portugal and the Philippines.

The problem for Bush is that, if he backs down, it will be seen as a major propaganda victory for Chavez and Castro, whom he views as deadly enemies. Both are left-wing charismatic leaders who give their people hope instead of fear and invest their nations’ resources in health care and education rather than weapons and the stock-market.

The US backed a failed coup against Chavez in 2002 and it has consistently labeled him a “negative force.” As well as providing an energy lifeline to Cuba by bartering oil for doctors, he has successfully torpedoed the neoliberal FTAA agreement, promoting his own “Bolivarian” alternative based on co-operation not competition between countries. The US imports 15 per cent of its oil from Venezuela.

Luis Posada is an old man who has dedicated his life to terrorising progressive movements in Latin America on behalf of the US. But one of the most dramatic allegations against him centres around some terrorism a little closer to home. Compelling evidence exists suggesting that Posada was part of the team that assassinated John F Kennedy, on whom he blamed the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

“Who, in 1963, had the resources to assassinate Kennedy? Who had the means and who had the motives to kill the US president?” asks Fabian Escalante, former head of Cuban counter-intelligence. “CIA agents from Operation 40 who were rabidly anti-Kennedy.”

Maria Lorenz was briefly Castro’s lover before being recruited by the CIA. In 1985, she testified under oath that, the week before the JFK assassination, she travelled from Miami to Dallas with members of Operation 40 in two cars carrying weapons in the boots.

In a videotaped interview made shortly before he died, Chauncy Holt, a self-confessed CIA asset and mobster, identified Posada as one of the Cuban exiles who were in Dealey Plaza at the time of the assassination.

Whether he was involved or not, it is clear that Luis Posada is a dangerous, vicious psychopath who should not be able to freely wander the streets no matter who he works for. As Chavez puts it, “The US has no choice, either send him to Venezuela or be seen by the world as protecting terrorism.”

The US corporate elite, who are no fans of Chavez themselves, seem to agree that Posada must be sent to Venezuela or US credibility in the “war on terror” will be completely lost. All major newspapers support the extradition, even the right-wing Miami Herald — aka the “Coup-plotters’ Journal.”

Bush himself put it best when he said bluntly, shortly after September 11, “If you harbour terrorists, you are terrorists.” But will the CIA ever let someone as knowledgeable as Posada spill the beans on all their dirty tricks over these last four decades in Latin America?

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For the last four weeks, Bolivian workers and peasants have been mobilising demanding the nationalisation of the country's oil and gas reserves. This movement represents the will of the majority of Bolivians to win control over their natural resources. The oil and gas multinationals have been benefiting from the country’s natural resources through illegal contracts for years, while the majority of Bolivians live under the poverty line.

Far from being a “radical minority” as president Mesa said, those who demand nationalisation of gas are the majority, as was shown by the open mass meeting that took place on June 6th in La Paz, with half a million people present, and the continued strength of the general strike, road blockades, mass marches and demonstrations.

We wholeheartedly support the legitimate demands of Bolivian workers and peasants and give support to their movement and organisations and the decisions they take about how to conduct their struggle.

We reject any attempt of the government or sections of parliament to impose a military solution or the use of repression to put an end to the protests. We also reject the attempts of the so-called “Civic Committees” in Santa Cruz and other regions to use paramilitary gangs against the peasant mobilisation.

We reject any foreign intervention. The solution to the problems facing the Bolivian people must be in the hands of the people themselves, without any interference from the Organisation of American States, the United States, etc.

We appeal to the labour and trade union movement worldwide and to all progressive people to show solidarity with the Bolivian workers and peasants in these crucial moments, send solidarity resolutions, pass motions, organise pickets of the embassies and oil multinationals, and in general support our Bolivian brothers and sisters.

Further details from
Bolivia Solidarity Campaign
53 Fladgate Road
E11 1LX

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Ft. Lauderdale, FL, June 5, 2005—The representative of the host state, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, spoke at the 35th General Assembly of the OAS this Sunday night.

Referring to Secretary General Insulza, Rice said she and US President George W. Bush looked forward to working with Insulza towards making the OAS a “very effective organization for the promotion of democracy and prosperity in our hemisphere.”

Rice cast the US conflict with Venezuela as a divide between “nations that promote democracy, good governance and free trade, and those that do not.  Washington is eager to have good relations with all nations…provided that they agree on those core concepts.”  Her paring of democracy with free-markets provides a particular contrast to Venezuela, given that perhaps the most fundamental conflict between the US and Venezuela is over the neoliberal model.

"The last time the OAS met in the US in 1974," noted Rice, "10 of 23 members were dictators."  "For seven days leaders of non-democratic countries waxed hypocritically on the ideals of 'democracy,'" she said, criticizing the 'old OAS' for being “long on talk and short on action.”

At the time, many of the military dictators Rice referred to were the US government’s closest allies in the region.  The meeting in 1976, when the OAS held its 5th General Assembly in Santiago, Chile, was home of the US-supported Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Rice also reiterated a now common statement, generally understood as a reference to Venezuela, saying, “Governments that are elected democratically, must govern democratically.  And as Secretary-General Insulza has rightly declared: governments that fail to reach this crucial standard must be accountable to the OAS.”  When Insulza made this statement, it was, according to an aide to Secretary Rice, insisted upon word-for-word by Secretary Rice as the condition for US support for Insulza’s leadership bid at the OAS.

"We at the OAS must be impatient, we must replace excessive talk with action,” said Rice.  “We must never accept that democracy is merely an ideal to be admired instead of a purpose to be realized.”

OAS Interventionism

In a press briefing given on the plane to Florida this morning, Secretary Rice did not mince words on what she sees as the necessary teeth the OAS must develop.  Rice responded to a question regarding the adverse reaction of a number of Latin American ambassadors to US proposals to create a mechanism for OAS intervention, saying “let me say again the OAS has intervened in the past…this is not a matter of intervening to punish; it is a matter of intervening to try and sustain the development of democratic institutions across the region.”

For his part, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said “if any member-government of the OAS should be monitored, it’s the government of the United States.”  “A government that supports terrorists, invades countries, that tramples its own people, that is trying to impose a global dictatorship,” said the Venezuelan President, “is the government that should be monitored for human rights violations.”

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