News and Analysis

Caracas, January 14, 2005—Amidst escalating tensions between Colombia and Venezuela over the recent abduction of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (FARC) foreign minister, Ricardo Granda, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Colombia, Carlos Santiago Ramirez, was called back to Caracas yesterday, for “consultation.” Also, President Chavez, during his annual report to the National Assembly, announced that bilateral business deals, such as the Venezuela-Colombia gas pipeline, would be put on hold as long as the Colombian government does not apologize for its actions in the kidnapping.

Consultation is a step below an official protest between governments. Venezuelan Vice President José Vicente Rangel noted, “For now, our ambassador, Gen. Carlos Santiago Ramirez was called back,” deeming that Colombia’s actions “constitute a crime that could have international implications.” He went on to criticize the Colombian government for “committing a huge mistake by legitimizing these criminal acts,” adding “This is bringing back the law of the jungle in the Andes.”

In a statement was released by Chacón yesterday, five members of Venezuela’s National Guard’s Anti-kidnapping Force (GAES) have been detained in relation with the kidnapping, as well as three police officers. He went on to allege that at least one member of the Colombian police force was directly involved. The kidnapping “was planned some time ago from Colombia, by Colombian authorities”, adding that the Colombians crossed the Venezuelan border ahead of time to coordinate the abduction.

The recall of the Venezuelan ambassador follows a statement released on January 12th by Colombia’s Defense Minister, Jorge Alberto Uribe, in which he retracted his prior position that Granda was captured in Cúcuta, Colombia, on December 15th, 2004 and confirmed that the high-ranking FARC member was indeed apprehended in Caracas two days prior.

Chavez, in his speech to the National Assembly, said, “With much pain I have withdrawn the Venezuelan ambassador in Bogotá and the ambassador will not return as long as the Colombian government does not apologize and rectify what it has done.” Chavez also explained that he sees himself “obligated” to suspend bilateral business deals. “It cannot be. It is unjustifiable from any point of view that high officials of the Colombian state are instigating Venezuelan officials to break the law,” said Chavez, adding, “they are buying Venezuelan military personnel who betray their homeland and these will be punished with the full weight of the law.”

“This definitely signifies a violation of the sovereignty of the Venezuelan state, which we categorically reject,” said Venezuelan Minister of the Interior and Justice, Jesse Chacón in a press conference. “Colombia’s government, or at least Colombia’s national police, planned this.”

Granda was kidnapped in Caracas on the 13th of December around 4 in the afternoon by a Special Task Force of the Venezuelan National Guard that was closely cooperating with the Colombian National Police. After the kidnapping, Granda was in to Captain Francisco Antonio Rojas Bejarano of the Colombian police, on the morning of December 14th in Cúcuta, Colombia.

Although Chacón admitted that the Venezuelan investigation has not yet identified the Colombian police involved in the incident, he informed the Colombian Minister of Defense, Jorge Alberto Uribe, that there was proof linking the Colombian police to the kidnapping of Granda.

Chacón went on to emphasize that Granda was not wanted by the Colombian government nor any other government until January 9, 2005, in order words, 25 days after his capture in Bellas Artes, Caracas. For the Minister, this procedure is ironic. “I do not understand why they are making the request for his arrest since they have already detained him.”

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As was to be predicted, London's Financial Times reacted negatively to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's announcement of a speeding up of land reform (see: Chavez announces “war against the latifundia”). On January 13th they published an editorial comment (see: Chávez slips into demagogy again) full of distortions of the truth and pontificating advice. We did not expect less from the FT, a paper that has always unashamedly defended the interests of capital. However, what we did not expect was for the FT to argue that the "best way to address rural poverty", was for businesses to "pay decent wages and guarantee good working conditions for its workers"!

The editorial piece contains a number of factual errors, which are introduced for the purpose of backing their argument against land reform. Let's look at those:

1) The FT says that "Land reform ... has been on the statute books for more than three years. But it is only now, ... that Mr Chávez is implementing it." This is plainly wrong. The National Land Institute has already distributed some 2.2 million hectares of land (approximately 5.5 million acres) to peasant cooperatives in the last three years.

2) The FT further says: "First, the government itself is the biggest landowner in Venezuela and has huge amounts of empty land that could be settled by the landless". This is correct, but what the FT does not tell us is that there has been no expropriation of privately owned land in Venezuela so far, so the 2.2 million hectares of land distributed have all been state owned land. The government is therefore, already distributing land it owns.

3) The FT then talks of "The expropriation of Vestey's Agroflora subsidiary is an inauspicious precedent since the government has so far failed to show that the estate was unproductive". Again, this is wrong, since Vestey's Agroflora ranch has NOT been expropriated. On Saturday, January 8th, there was an “intervention” by the Venezuelan authorities at the El Charcote ranch, belonging to Agroflora, precisely for the purpose of determining if the land titles are correct (since the government claims that at least a third of the land is state property) and if any parts of the estate have been left idle. The intervention entails a number of troops from the National Guard being present at the ranch carrying out the investigation, during which the ranch is allowed to operate normally. Despite the FT's correspondent Andy Webb-Vidal’s talk of the ranch being "seized", this is clearly not the case.

The Financial Times is obviously entitled to have its own editorial views on land reform in Venezuela, and we expected them to be on the side of the landowners. To resort to twisting the truth to fit their arguments is very poor journalism indeed. To do so three times in a 7 paragraph editorial is quite a lot. However, what is really hilarious is that the FT, in order to further their argument against land reform, end up advocating workers rights! The editorial piece in fact ends up by recommending that "ensuring these [agricultural] businesses pay decent wages and guarantee good working conditions for its workers would be the best way to address rural poverty." How nice of them to think of rural workers! Whose demagogy then? Chavez's or the FT's?

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At a mass rally of 10,000 people on Monday January 10, Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez announced a new decree aimed at speeding up land reform. He was speaking in front of a massive banner with the slogan of 19th century peasant war leader Ezequiel Zamora "Free land and men - War against the latifundia". This comes after the Christmas period, during which a number of regional governors, elected in the October 31st elections, passed regional decrees along the same lines.

Since the Land Act was passed in December 2001, the National Land Institute has already distributed 5.5 million acres of land (2.2 million hectares) to peasant cooperatives. But up until now all the land distributed has been state-owned land and there have been no expropriations. The new decree, called Decreto Zamorano, and passed on the anniversary of the death of Ezequiel Zamora, is aimed at the large landed estates (latifundia) that have been left idle or are poorly used. But even so, the Decree is not based on expropriation of private land. A special land commission has been appointed to look into the issue of land ownership and usage. This commission will then issue reports on the following two aspects. The first is whether large landed estates which are privately used actually have proper land titles. In Venezuela, over the years, there have been many cases of private landowners occupying land that belongs to the state and de facto appropriating it. The other issue will be whether the land is being used or is being left idle. If landed estates are found not to be productive, then they can be seized (with compensation) and distributed to peasant cooperatives. Chavez has made it clear, both now and during the October 31st regional election campaign, that his preferred option is to solve this through negotiation with the land owners (in which they can give up land they do not use), but also that if no agreement is reached, the full strength of the law and of the army will be used to implement land reform.

On the face of it, this is in fact quite a moderate decree and in its wording is far from a wide-ranging threat to private property, as has been presented by the Western media. The Financial Times for instance has talked of "what is likely to be a number of Zimbabwe-style expropriations of big estates", when referring to the intervention at the El Charcote estate. The FT chose to describe this move, which took place on Saturday January 8th, as "seizure", when in reality what happened is something else completely. The El Charcote estate is owned by AgroFlora, a subsidiary of the British Vestey Group. The Vestey group, belonging to the family of Lord Vestey is a major meat and food multinational which has been operating in South America for decades.

The El Charcote estate has 13,000 hectares (32,000 acres) of land and produces some 450,000 kilos of beef every year. The Venezuelan government argues that a large part of this land is not actually owned by the Vestey group and that they are illegally using property belonging to the Venezuelan state. Local peasant leaders argue that the land was bought by dictator Juan Vicente Gomez in the 1930s and that subsequently, all land owned by the dictator was passed over to the Venezuelan state. Vestey Group administrators complain that parts of the ranch have been occupied by peasants since 2001 when the Land Act was passed. The intervention at the El Charcote estate was carried out by the governor of Cojedes, Johnny Yánez, with about 200 national guardsmen and police along with helicopters which will allow them to survey the ranch.

As part of a regional review of land ownership the Cojedes regional governor sent a commission of enquiry to El Charcote. The ranch has not been "seized", as the Financial Times claims, but rather there has been an "intervention". There is now a technical team on the ranch which will investigate the claims of the British group over the land titles and whether the land is being used to its full capacity or whether parts of the ranch have been left idle.

As Chavez explained in his speech on Monday, the structure of land ownership in Venezuela is scandalously unfair. A 1998 census found that 60 percent of Venezuelan farmland was owned by less than 1 percent of the population. Chavez yesterday said that nearly 80 percent of the country's land is owned by 5 percent of landowners. Meanwhile, the smallest landowners representing 75% of agricultural holdings have to share 6% of the land. The 1998 census also revealed that 90 percent of farmland given to the poor under a 1960 agrarian reform had since returned to large landholders. "A democracy that permits such a situation of injustice will lose its democratic character and will end up turning itself into a pantomime of democracy. A revolution that permits this injustice cannot call itself a revolution," said Chavez.

This is at the same time that Venezuela, despite having large extensions of very fertile land with a benign climate, imports about 60 to 70% of all the foodstuffs that it consumes. Some have called it a "harbours' agriculture", since most agricultural products come from ... the harbours through which they are imported. For instance, every quarter, 14,000 tonnes of black beans (caraotas) and other pulses, which are an important part of the staple diet of poor Venezuelans, are imported. Production of caraotas actually collapsed in the 1990s, from 31,376 tonnes in 1988 to 18,627 tonnes in 1999, while the Venezuelan population increased by 20%.

In fact, agriculture is one of the most extreme expressions of the backwardness and parasitical character of the Venezuelan oligarchy, this reactionary alliance between capitalists, bank owners, landowners and multinational corporations that has ruled the country since it achieved independence. For them it is preferable, and more profitable, to live off the state and oil resources, gamble on the stock exchange, buy government bonds, invest their money abroad, and import luxury goods, than it is to develop national production in any field.

In these conditions it is difficult to see how an amicable agreement can be reached with the landowners to voluntarily distribute land to the hundreds of thousands of land hungry families that need it. The struggle for the land has been one of the most contentious issues of the Venezuelan revolutionary process so far. It was the passing of the Land Act in December 2001 (together with the Hydrocarbon Act and others) that triggered the opposition to organise the April 2002 military coup against the Chavez government. The hopes of thousands of peasant communities were again lifted during the regional election campaign last October, when Chavez delivered belligerent speeches against the latifundio and instructed the Bolivarian gubernatorial candidates to tackle the problem of land reform straight away.

No meaningful land reform possible within the boundaries of private property

The president of the ranch owners association, Betancourt, reacted strongly to the decree, saying in an interview on the Globovision television station that "If they eliminate private property rights, they will also be eliminating the peace in Venezuela''. This is an ominous threat. Some 100 peasant leaders and activists have been killed in disputes over land property with big landowners in the past 4 years. In some areas along the border with Colombia ranch owners have for some time armed white guards modelling themselves on, and sometimes getting advice from, the infamous paramilitary gangs from neighbouring Colombia.

If you have a situation in which 5% of landowners control nearly 80% of the land, then it is clear that one cannot carry out a land reform policy that will please both the owners of large landed estates and landless peasants. Even the Cojedes governor, Johnny Yanéz, had to say that private property "is a right, but not an absolute one, since the collective interest, public need, and food security are parameters that must justify this private right".

This is not just about land. If the conflict over land reform deepens, as it is bound to do, and land is expropriated and given over to landless peasants, then workers in industry are bound to draw similar conclusions. Instances like that of the Venepal paper mill, which the owners declared bankrupt and the workers took over and are now demanding to be nationalised under workers control, will spread. On the other hand, Venezuela's landowners are an inseparable part of the Venezuelan ruling class. An attack on them will be rightly seen by the capitalists as an attack on the very principle of private property of the economy.

The analysts of the ruling class can clearly see the implications of these moves. According to business analysts Bloomberg, Benito Berber, an analyst with HSBC Securities in New York said: "The erosion of private property rights may undermine long- term economic growth as capital inflows slow and investors lose confidence in the country's future".

mass peasants rally in El PoliedroThe problem is precisely that, as in other areas of the progressive government of Chavez, any social justice measures implemented, no matter how "moderate" they might be, clash head on with the vested interests of the owners of industry, capital and the land. We must remember that, even though the Bolivarian revolution has not directly infringed on the rights of private property, the capitalists and landowners have attempted the violent overthrow of the government on several occasions. The fact is that the basic needs of the working people of Venezuela (to free health care and education for all, to a roof over their heads, to decent food on their table, to means of earning their livelihood) are in direct contradiction to the existence of the capitalist system based on private profit and the benefits of a wealthy minority. And this is why the very existence of a revolutionary movement in Venezuela is seen by the oligarchy, rightly, as a threat to their interests.

The Bolivarian revolution should understand this basic fact and move to wrest from the oligarchy the levers of economic and political power they still control as the only guarantee for the victory of the revolution.

January 11, 2005

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Caracas, January 12, 2005—According to Venezuelan police who are investigating the kidnapping of Rodrigo Granda, the "Foreign Minister" of Colombia's FARC guerilla, two bounty hunters captured him and delivered him to Colombian authorities. Colombia's Defense Minister, Jorge Uribe, confirmed today that the Colombian government paid a reward for Granda's capture.

The Venezuelan newspaper El Mundo reports that police officials involved in the investigation have said that the two bounty hunters had plenty of previous experience with this type of operation and know how to travel throughout Venezuelan territory with their victim without being stopped at military or police check points. It is thus assumed that the individuals in question are active duty police officers.

FARC "Foreign Minister" Rodrigo Granda under arrest by Colombian security forces.
Credit: AP

Rodrigo Granda was kidnapped in the middle of the day, in the center of Caracas, on December 13, a few days after attending a conference of Latin American supporters of the Bolivarian project. Two days later, on December 15, Colombian authorities announced that they had captured Granda in the Colombian border town of Cucuta. Colombia's rebel force, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), denied he was captured in Colombia and demanded an investigation on the part of Venezuelan authorities. Last week Venezuelan authorities confirmed the Granda was kidnapped in Venezuela and then taken to Cucuta.

Luis Tascon, who represents Chavez's party in the National Assembly and is from Tachira state, which shares a border with Colombia, said today that Venezuelan intelligence forces have found out that members of Venezuela's investigative police (CICPC) and a Colombian military officer participated in the action and that they received a $1.5 million reward that had been placed on Granda's head.

Jorge Uribe, Colombia's Defense Minister, confirmed that the government paid a reward, but denied that it was $1.5 million. Also, he did not specify who received it. In an interview with the Colombian television channel RCN, Uribe said that the Colombian government specifically sought out Venezuelan bounty hunters and thus Colombian state security forces never violated Venezuelan territory in the action. Furthermore, this type of action is not new for the Colombian government, said Jorge Uribe, and that they would continue to employ such methods whenever the Colombian government considers it necessary.

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Commander William Izarra is a retired air force officer, with long standing links with left wing movements, including with leaders of the PRV. He was in charge of ideology in the National Maisanta Commando, and is seen as one of the most consistent and left wing elements within the Bolivarian leadership. This interview was conducted by comrades of the Revolutionary Marxist Current for their paper El Topo Obrero, on December 7th, in his Caracas home. (January 12, 2005)

"Endogenous development demands going towards a new peoples' institutionality"

"The organisations of the people must replace the bureaucratic apparatus"

"The Bolivarian Revolution in essence, draws from Marxism"

El Topo Obrero: How do you see the "new stage" the Bolivarian revolution is going through after the victories in the recall referendum and the October 31 elections?

William Izarra: Once the President was ratified on August 15th, a new phase of the Process opened up. This has been called by Chavez himself the "Leap Forward". This means the transformation of the capitalist state along the socio-popular endogenous model. It is just a month ago that the president skilfully explained the conception of the new phase of the Process.

Ministers, governors, local mayors, MPs, directors of state-owned companies and leaders of organisations of the Process gathered in Fuerte Tiuna to receive instructions for collective and coordinated action. The highest echelons of government decision-making were present. They all as assimilated the thesis of the President and what needs to be done to materialise it immediately. Jointly and with the humanism of revolutionary fraternity and solidarity, a high morale prevailed in relation to their goals and plans after the elections.

In my opinion, there are three global aspects which summarise the brilliant exposition of the President. The first aspect, in the political field, is the democratisation of the participation of the people. The president eradicated "the finger of the core" [note: an expression which refers to the way in which candidates were appointed by the ruling clique]. He annihilated the rule of the top layers as far as decisions affecting the communities is concerned. One of the tasks in the short term is the selection of candidates to publicly elected positions through primary elections. They will be elected by the organised communities and no longer by party cliques. In fact, the president decided to use this mechanism of election by the rank and file in the forthcoming Council and Parish Junta elections in the first half of 2005.

The second global aspect is the conscious stimulus to promote the building of a model of endogenous growth, with the aim that this will become in the medium term the new economic system of production. One of the aims of the revolution is the change in the relations of production, and endogenous development would be the first collective level of social production. In order to achieve this aim, endogenous development demands advancing towards a new "institutionality" of the state apparatus.

The third aspect is continental geopolitics. The US, presently in a truce regarding Venezuela, will continue to seek ways to destabilise the government, to put an end to the Bolivarian Revolution. The re-election of President Bush, the extension of their military plans for Latin America, the domination of the national security doctrine, the plan to replace the armed forces of Latin American countries with national police forces and the appointment of Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State, Porter Goss as the new CIA director, and general Bantz Craddock as Commander of the Strategic Southern Command, are just some of the examples which show the new direction the empire is taking regarding the Bolivarian process. To this we must add the continuation of para-militarism. Bush's visit to Colombia and the prominence given to the Southern Command in the decision-making process for hemispheric affairs. We could say that the US SOUTHCOM has replaced the State Department in the development of policies towards Latin America and the Caribbean. Therefore, the national community, the revolutionaries and the community leaders must be ready for any surprise action that might come, openly or through covert actions, from the empire. This is also part of the Leap Forward.

El Topo Obrero: In this "leap forward" within the revolutionary process, don't you think that there are sections within the process who lack revolutionary consciousness, are reformist and might put obstacles to the change in the structures?

William Izarra: The Revolution is a change of structure. The political model of the Bolivarian process is revolutionary. The change of structure means the building of a new political system (State, productive apparatus and power relations). The structure is the dimension of how society works, where the genetic factors inter-relate and which produce the visible actions (observable facts). The structure is the genesis of the phenomena. A revolution acts on the structure while its opposite, reform - or reaction - only operates on the level of phenomena (that which is visible and verifiable). Reform does not transform the structure. Reform is contrary to revolution. The political model of representative democracy is reform. It does not seek change in the political system. The revolution is going to create a new system of relations which will establish a new "institutionality". Representative democracy is based in the representation of the people. On the contrary a revolution has no representatives, only spokespersons. In the revolution decisions are taken directly by the people, not the representatives. In Venezuela representation led to cliques which took over power and isolated the people.

The aim of representative democracy is not revolutionary. It has been conceived to satisfy the aims of reformist cliques. The whole of the bureaucratic state apparatus of representative democracy -governorships, mayors, municipal councils and the other bureaucratic political units - is reformist. The reformist state imposed a political culture based in cronyism and dependency. Despite the existence of the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution, the reformist state still exists. Despite the growth of the Bolivarian model, the reformist state is still the body that regulates the nation. This contradiction produces the current stage of transition towards revolution.

The revolution, in order to find its own way must operate at the level of the structure of representative democracy. It must change and eradicate the present State. It must replace all these bureaucratic political units (for instance the mayors) which dominated over the people. In the revolution, the organisations of the people must replace the bureaucratic apparatus. The managers of the State (bureaucrats) will not be the ones who decide. They will only be tools of the people. The power of decision-making will be in the hands of the people. The people will create a new organisation of the State. The people, further to the expressions of participation already instituted by the 1999 Constitution, has to invent other forms of organisation and decision-making in order to take hold of its own destiny. The essence of the revolution lies within the creative power of the people.

Currently, representative democracy still has a very significant space within Venezuelan reality. Reformist culture has assimilated a lot of "revolutionaries". Ideological weakness alters the attempt to deepen a process. The absence of values, beliefs and principles based in the spirituality of the human being, limits the advance of the Venezuelan revolution. Ideological weakness forces us to take circuitous routes. It delays the fulfilment of the phases and stages of the project. The guarantee of the revolution is ideology. This is what stimulates the inner forces of the being not to be seduced by the fascination of reformist power, power is to be used (not based on attachment to the material order of things). The ideology is the lever with which to catapult the revolution forward. It is the channel through which to build peoples' power. This is the challenge facing the revolutionaries, to build the road of the revolution or to fail to the ambitions of power. And this can be achieved with revolutionary consciousness.

El Topo Obrero: Don't you think that the oligarchy, the Venezuelan ruling class and US imperialism will try to prevent this "leap forward", stop any attempt to improve the living conditions of the population?

William Izarra: It is true, in fact this apparent calm, this "truth" dictated by the US to the Bolivarian process is based on two factors: first that the opposition did not fulfil the expectations. This opposition did not serve the Empire and, therefore, they are looking for a new, more effective opposition without obviously abandoning the road of destabilisation and "self-destruction" of the Bolivarian process. For instance, the assassination of Danilo Anderson has links to the CIA. The truce declared by the Empire towards the Bolivarian revolution is the result of a new political situation in the Venezuelan scenario: (i) victory of the NO with a margin of 20%; (ii) economic stability with an economic growth which could reach 12% compared to last year; (iii) the price of oil which has contributed to the development of the social programmes; (iv) big popular support for the revolution; (v) the attachment of the President to the Bolivarian Constitution. All this forces the US to tolerate the terrain won by the Bolivarian process. But, while the truce is, their covert operations continue unhindered. The covert actions, the speciality of the CIA, are still going ahead, although they are disguised and hidden, waiting for a more favourable conjuncture to come to the surface.

El Topo Obrero: What legacy has Danilo Anderson left to the Venezuelan people?

William Izarra: He is a symbol of revolutionary struggle. Danilo Anderson has gone from being a brave public figure, of institutional commitment, of proven ethical and moral righteousness, to a martyr of the revolution.

His assassination is a warning to us. It tells us to expect the most despicable actions of imperialist sabotage. The Empire wants to destabilise, to uproot the Bolivarian Revolutionary process. The assassination of Danilo Anderson is proof of the opposition of the Empire. The CIA does not rest, does not cease in its work. It keeps seeking the possibility of "mass murder" against the President of the Republic.

El Topo Obrero: Recently you spoke at a forum in the Venepal paper mill in defence of the workers and against the closure and the plans of the multinational Smurfit.

William Izarra: Yes, this case must be taken as a symbol. We could even draw a parallel with the years of Independence; with the battles fought in the years between 1810 and 1821, when the forces of the opposing camps lined up for a head on confrontation. This is very similar to what is happening at Venepal now. This, in the near future, may underline the very essence of the Bolivarian revolution, in its idea of giving power to the workers. Furthermore, at Venepal the workers have shown themselves not only to be capable of running their company, but also to increase the quality of production. On the other hand, Venepal should become a nucleus of endogenous development and thus transform itself into an example and an emblematic spearhead of the dignity and strength of the revolutionary workers.

It might happen that Venepal will go down in history, one hundred years from now, as the Battle of Carabobo did in the past. At that time it was the lancers, carrying their lances and machetes, today it is the workers, waiting, seeking the nationalisation of the company so that it can be run by the workers. Venepal is not only important for the Venezuelan revolution, but for the whole of the continental movement for emancipation.

El Topo Obrero: Is the President aware of the problem of Venepal?

William Izarra: The president is aware of the situation the workers at Venepal are facing and there are good prospects for the aims that the workers have given themselves. He knows of the project that was drawn up by the workers. He is an untiring generator of whirlwinds of actions in support of the process. Venepal is one of the aims he wishes to achieve.

El Topo Obrero: In the field of the ideological battle, what do you think the ideas of Marxism can contribute to the Bolivarian Revolution.

William Izarra: I think that fundamentally the Bolivarian Revolution draws its essence from Marxism - if not directly, at least in its conceptual content. Although it also draws inspiration from early Christianity, from the original ideas of our liberators and from the advanced thought of progressive currents which have been inspired by Marxism. This forces us to deepen the process and to be in constant contact with all the currents of revolutionary thought throughout the world. For its materialization we count on the Marxists.

To develop the idea of revolutionary democracy, the core of direct democracy, demands the study of Marxism and to take from its postulates the precepts which sustain peoples' power - to base ourselves on its scientific definitions those which show us the best way of achieving the common good of the whole.

How can we achieve that? One of the tasks that the President has assigned to me is to continue to advance in the ideological field and one of the proposals we are going to launch immediately, at the beginning of the new year, is a gathering with the Marxists of the world. We need to see the contribution of Marxism to the Bolivarian revolution, seeing the continental and worldwide sweep that the Venezuelan process - led by its leader Hugo Chavez - is starting to have. We have to see what contribution the

Marxists can make to our process, the Marxist criticism of the process, the incorporation of their more viable ideas, all that which can be incorporated within the framework of the postulates of the Bolivarian Revolution.

El Topo Obrero: Let's talk about the latest trip of President Chávez. An important point in that visit was the meeting in Madrid with Spanish workers of the Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) trade union. What was your impression of that meeting with Spanish workers at which you were also present?

William Izarra: The answer, in the main, can be found in the good mood of the President. Obviously, diplomatic relations can be many times charged with calmness and even coldness. But when a revolutionary identifies with the mass, with that symbiosis which takes place between the leader and the mass, there we can see the disposition of the mood, the spirit embodied, the materialization of the dreams. With the Spanish workers the President reached a level of motivation generated by the perception of those moments. The whole scenario was draped in an openly revolutionary mood.

El Topo Obrero: To end, what would you like to say to readers of El Topo Obreros and the comrades of the CMR?

William Izarra: I would say that from the point of view of the concepts expressed, the ideas and the role that you play by circulating El Topo Obrero, it is important to stimulate the creation of the network of Ideological Education Centres (CFI), which we are creating nationally. We are entering the stage of the Leap Forward which allows us to position ourselves in a new dimension of revolutionary attitude and aptitude. It is time to go back to the school desk, to study, to read, to analyse, to compare positions, to reach new conclusions, in one word, to invent the revolution. The CFI therefore, are looking to follow the ideas of Simón Rodríguez, and to say, as the teacher of our Liberator said: "... either we invent or we make mistakes".

El Topo Obrero is one of the fundamental tools, needed from the point of view of theory, the evolution of thought, the creation of ideas for all the revolutionary militants. Therefore, from the pages of El Topo Obrero, we make an appeal to all genuine revolutionaries to join with us, to contribute their grain of sand, to create the ideological education network nationally.

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Caracas, January 4, 2005—Several state governors of Venezuela have either recently passed or are in the process of drafting decrees to accelerate the country's land reform process. The decrees are meant to eliminate large landed estates (latifundios) and to clarify ownership and usage of agricultural land in Venezuela.

In late 2001 the Chavez government had passed a controversial land reform law, which was aimed at redistributing land holdings of over 100 to 5,000 hectares (250-12,500 acres), depending on its quality, to landless peasants. So far the government has redistributed state-owned land to over 130,000 peasant families, of about 10 hectares (25 acres) each. Except for disputes over which land belongs to the state and which to private landowners, no privately owned land has yet been officially redistributed.

Venezuela's land reform law specifies that large landed estates, especially if they are not being cultivated, are to be redistributed. In response to the decrees being passed in several states, Venezuela's Vice-President, José Vicente Rangel, said, "The struggle against the latifundio makes social and economic sense, which is why it is of the highest interest to the state." The Chavez government hopes to increase both social justice and "food sovereignty" via the land reform program. Venezuela currently imports 60-70 of its food stuffs and agricultural production makes up merely 6% of the country's GDP.

In Cojedes state, in Venezuela's North West, the recently reelected pro-Chavez governor Jhonny Yánez Rangel, passed a decree that called for the "intervention" of uncultivated private land. The decree does not specify what it means by intervention, but says that the state government will intervene in "all lands, urban and rural land, public and private, that presumably is uncultivated or classified as part of the latifundio regime..."

Other pro-Chavez state governors, such as in Monagas, Yaracuy, Apure, Barinas, and Portugesa, have either passed similar decrees or are in the process of drafting them. While they vary in how they would be applied, they all involve the creation of technical commissions for identifying and redistributing the land.

Meanwhile, Vice-President Rangel has convened a special meeting to coordinate the efforts taking place in the different states. Also involved in this meeting was Eliecer Otaiza, the director of the National Land Institute (INTI), which is responsible for the land reform. Otaiza said that his institute recently conducted a study and now estimates that there are about 500 estates with uncultivated agricultural land, of which 56 would be classified as latifundios, the large landed estates that used to dominate Latin American societies. In Venezuela latifundios are defined as estates of over 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres). "We hope to issue 100,000 land grants within the next six months," said Otaiza.

Land owners whose land is expropriated under the 2001 Land Law would receive market value compensation. Despite this, opposition leaders have criticized the law as being "communist" and as a violation of private property rights.

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Just two days before George Bush's second electoral victory, someone Bush and his administration apparently cannot stand, Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, celebrated his ninth consecutive electoral victory in six years. The vote was for state governors and city mayors and Chavez's allies swept the vote, winning 20 out of the 22 contested state capitals and 270 of the 337 city halls. Altogether, pro-Chavez factions won the same percentage of the vote, about 60%, in these elections as Chavez himself did two and a half months earlier, when he defeated a recall referendum.

In contrast to Bush, Chavez's ninth electoral victory (including various referenda on the new constitution) has once again confirmed that he does indeed have a mandate to remake Venezuelan society, to continue his "Bolivarian Revolution"—which is named after South American independence hero Simon Bolivar. More than that, Chavez can now accelerate the implementation of his program, as his allies now control nearly all levels and branches of government. The main domestic obstacles that remain to his program, now that the political opposition has been decisively crushed for the time being, are within the government itself, such as saboteurs, corruption, inefficiency, and cronyism. It is well known, for example, that much of the government bureaucracy is staffed with oppositional civil servants who, if not actively prevent the implementation of programs, often do much to slow them down. To complicate matters further, many public servants who actively support the government do not have adequate training and experience, which also contributes to inefficiency.

Chavez is aware that he must accelerate the pace of reform, now that he has reached the height of his political power. The 75% of the population that lives in poverty and that has overwhelmingly supported him are clamoring for more and faster government action. They support Chavez because they believe that much has been done and because they hope that much more will be done soon. Realizing that the above mentioned internal obstacles to his political program represent a significant problem in responding to the hopes of his supporters, Chavez has promised to crack down on corruption, inefficiency, and bureaucratism within his government.

Shortly after the regional elections, Chavez gathered the entire leadership of his movement in an intense strategy session and outlined points for "deepening the revolution." However, the concrete plan for how the government intends to fight inefficiency and corruption still has to be presented. The government's other objectives, though, such as increasing social justice in Venezuela, implementing a non-neo-liberal economic development path, and working towards Latin American unification, are receiving more attention, especially now that oil revenues are at their highest point of the past 20 years (even if, due to population increases and higher production costs, the state's per-capita oil income is still only a quarter of what it was in the late 1970's).

These plans, though, continue to unfold against the backdrop of strong criticism from the media, some human rights groups, and the U.S. government. These opponents say that Chavez is preparing to turn Venezuela into a dictatorship via measures that Chavez and his allies say are designed to outlaw many forms of intervention and sabotage that have been used in the past to prevent the government's proper functioning. Two of the more frequently mentioned examples of the supposedly repressive new measures are the case against the U.S.-funded opposition organization Súmate and a new law to regulate broadcasters.

Súmate is one of the main organizations behind the August 15 recall referendum against President Chavez. They organized the logistics of collecting the 2.4 million required signatures, audited the voter registry for this purpose, and handled many of the legal issues that arose around the recall referendum. According to recently obtained documents, Súmate received $54,000 from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and another $85,000 from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) for this work. According to Súmate and its U.S. government funders, this was supposed to be non-partisan democracy-building work. To anyone in Venezuela, though, it is obvious that Súmate is part of the opposition that is dedicated to removing Chávez from office.

On the surface of it, it is blatantly wrong for a foreign government to fund efforts to have the president of another country recalled from office. The Attorney General's office is thus accusing Súmate not only of organizing a political campaign with foreign financial support, but also of setting up a parallel institution to that of the National Electoral Council (CNE), which is illegal according to Venezuelan law. For those opposed to the Chávez government, these accusations are a blatant attempt to harass legitimate opposition activity. For Chavistas, though, it is a legitimate effort to prevent foreign interference in Venezuelan affairs.

The other example of supposedly repressive measures is the law to regulate broadcasters: the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television. This law introduces many provisions that exist in most countries in the world, regulating such things as the scheduling of sex and violence on television—so as to protect children—, the prohibition of alcohol and tobacco advertisements, and stipulations for the proportion of domestically and independently produced content—so as to maintain diversity and Venezuelan culture. Many of these provisions have been relatively uncontroversial for most people. What the opposition objects to most is the setting up of media boards to enforce the regulations because they fear that the boards would be dominated by Chavez supporters. That is, according to the opposition, any minor infraction could be used to politically sanction the broadcast media, which are essentially part of the opposition and do not respect the traditional norms of journalistic objectivity or even factual accuracy in their efforts to get rid of the government.

For pro-Chávez lawmakers, however, the law fills an important gap in Venezuelan media law. According to them, there are sufficient checks and balances to ensure that the law is not applied as a political instrument to censor the opposition. As evidence for Chavista restraint, a pro-Chavez former Supreme Court judge, Carlos Escarrá, recently pointed out that there is a presidential decree still on the books, written by President Jaime Lusinchi (1984-1989), that is much more restrictive than the new media regulation law. In theory, Chavez could have applied this decree for political purposes on numerous occasions (as did Lusinchi when he temporarily closed two TV channels), but has not done so, even though the media has violated this decree repeatedly, often going so far as to distort and falsify the news, as happened during the April 2002 coup attempt.

While the Chavez government's domestic and international opposition loves to present these supposedly authoritarian tendencies of the government in the most one-sided manner possible, it generally completely leaves out the more positive developments in Venezuela under Chávez. Most important of these are the so-called "missions," which are designed to provide literacy programs to Venezuela's illiterate, free community health care, especially in the remotest and poorest neighborhoods, large-scale financial aid for the poor to attend a university, subsidized supermarkets in poor neighborhoods, and employment for graduates from the educational missions. Also very important in the Chávez government's efforts to institute greater social justice are the rural land reform program, which has redistributed land to over 100,000 families, and the urban land reform program, which is providing barrio inhabitants with titles to their self-built homes and terrain.

The opposition looks down upon these programs, arguing that they constitute nothing more than "populism," "vote-buying," and "patronage." Whatever the government's motivation, the fact is that these programs represent a significant investment in the country's human capital. That is, while previous administrations sunk the country's oil income into expensive investments outside of the country, such as the purchase of refineries and gas station chains (e.g., Citgo in the U.S. and Veba Öl in Germany), now the government is investing the oil income directly in the Venezuelan people, by improving their health and education and by reversing some of the country's grossly unequal distribution of wealth. It should thus come as no surprise that in almost every one of the nine elections since Chávez was first elected in 1998, he and his supporters have won about 60% of the vote.

Of course, the Chavez government still has to confront the U.S. government's low intensity intervention, perhaps even more than before, given the probable triumphalism of the recently reelected Bush administration. While both sides have said that they hope that relations will improve, it is likely that Bush will continue to covertly support Chavez's opposition, while at the same time take a more pragmatic approach of overtly engaging the country that is one of the U.S.'s largest oil suppliers with the largest oil reserves in the Western Hemisphere. This strategy has recently become public, as documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (available at www.venezuelafoia.info) prove that the U.S. government, via the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID, has been funding Venezuelan opposition organizations to the tune of $5 million per year. Also, the recent discovery of CIA documents that show that the CIA knew of the planning for the April 2002 coup, even while the Bush administration pretended that it was no coup, demonstrate a clear pattern of U.S. intervention in Venezuelan affairs.

The U.S. government's aid to the opposition is more important than the cash implies, and that is perhaps why the Bush administration has been loathe to give it up, despite the obvious illegitimacy of such efforts and the fact that they have backfired by helping Chavez to paint his opposition as agents of a foreign government. While the opposition has plenty of money (including billionaire Venezuelans like Cisneros) to finance its own activities, U.S. agencies are able to draw on decades of experience in destabilizing, discrediting, and even overthrowing various governments. This is a knowledge base that exists probably nowhere else in the world, and its importance in situations like Venezuela's should not be underestimated.

Meanwhile, despite this low-intensity intervention, the Chavez government is focusing on moving beyond the reform of Venezuela's appalling levels of inequality by transforming the country into a more democratic society. Its first steps in this direction have been the support for the creation of tens of thousands of cooperatives, community organizations, and community media outlets. Now the government must finds ways to institutionalize the gains in democratization, by developing more and better institutional ways in which these organizations can participate in both the polity and the economy. Also, Chavez and his supporters must find better ways to institutionalize the Bolivarian movement so that it is less dependent on Chavez. In this new phase of the Bolivarian project there appears to be an interest in both of these forms of institutionalization—of democratic participation and of the movement—but it is still to early to say whether they will actually be pursued.

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CARACAS: Shortly after he appeared on national television in October 2001 holding aloft bloody photographs of children killed by the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, President Hugo Chavez Frias of Venezuela received a visit from Donna Hrinak, then Washington's Ambassador to the oil-rich South American country.

Recalling his meeting with the U.S. envoy at an international conference here last week, Mr. Chavez said his televised message had simply been that one could not fight terrorism with terrorism. "But the Ambassador came to me and demanded, `You must rectify your position.' I replied: `You are talking to the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. You are dismissed. When you learn what the job of an Ambassador is, you may come back'."

"As for our position," he thundered before an audience of artists and intellectuals from around the world, "we did not rectify it. We ratified it. We condemn 9/11 and the Madrid train bombing, but also the bombing of cities like Fallujah and the assassination of children." The "anti-terrorism" of the U.S.-led `war on terror,' he said in reply to a question, "is simply terrorism. Justice is the only road to peace."

At a time when most countries are vying with each other for a place under Pax Americana, the Venezuela of Mr. Chavez is an aberration, a rude and insistent interruption in the otherwise triumphant march towards the End of History. From the war on terror to free market economics, privatisation, cutbacks on social expenditure and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, Mr. Chavez opposes the Washington orthodoxy on just about everything. He has embraced the Cuba of Fidel Castro, supplying the socialist island petrol in exchange for doctors, which the urban and rural poor in Venezuela never had access to despite their country's vast oil wealth. "When Aznar (the former Spanish Prime Minister) told me not to be friendly with Castro," herecalled: "I said you have forgotten you are not Ferdinand VII."

But if Mr. Chavez and his supporters — he handily won a recall referendum earlier this year with a plurality of 60 per cent — speak out against the new imperialism of Washington, the Bush administration too considers the Venezuelan leader an implacable foe. The U.S. resents his efforts to get Latin America to unite and is afraid his subversive social and political experiments might prove contagious in a region that has been impoverished by more than two decades of neo-liberal economic policies. "In order to defend humanity," Mr. Chavez declared last week, "we have to go on the offensive. And now is the time to say that another world is possible."

More than anything else, of course, the U.S. does not like the fact that an independent-minded leader such as Mr. Chavez is sitting astride one of the largest oil reservoirs in the world. Indeed, at 2.6 million barrels a day, Venezuela is currently OPEC's (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) third largest producer of crude, behind only Saudi Arabia and Iran. And the U.S. is its biggest customer.

In 2002, the U.S. supported a short-lived military coup against Mr. Chavez, a former paratrooper who was elected President in 2000. The putsch was defeated by a combination of people's power — with thousands of poor Venezuelans taking to the streets to defend their leader — and infighting within the traditional elites of the country.

Central Intelligence Agency documents recently released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Washington knew of the coup plot well before it was carried out. And once the coup failed, the U.S. used the bipartisan Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy to funnel money to the recall referendum campaign against Mr. Chavez.

Even his bitterest critics concede that Mr. Chavez's `Bolivarian revolution' — which combines elements of Marxism and Christianity with the military populism so unique to the region — makes him virtually unbeatable politically without intervention from outside. "That's assuming, of course, that the money he's pouring into unproductive social programmes doesn't bankrupt the `revolution' first," a businessman told The Hindu .

For Mr. Chavez, however, it is these social programmes — in education, health and food support — which provide the main line of defence against U.S. intervention.

At the graduation ceremony for Mission Robinson, the country's new adult literacy programme on which several million dollars are being spent, he handed out certificates and chatted animatedly with dozens of graduates for several minutes each.

Many of the men and women were in their 60s and 70s and had just learnt how to read and write.

"Some people say, hey Chavez, why are we spending so much on adult literacy and not on physical infrastructure," he said later. "My answer is that before buildings and highways, we have to build a sovereign people who can live with dignity."

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Caracas, Dec 29 (Prensa Latina) The Venezuelan state of Monagas decreed the expropriation of idle lands in its territory and issued a release against large estates, affecting near 50,000 hectares, 45,000 in private hands.

The decree issued by Governor Jose Gregorio Briceño said the regulations are effective on all arable lands within large estates in conflict of property or distribution to foment development and food safety in accordance with domestic need.

The statement has given an ad hoc high level technical commission 90 days to advise the Governor on land estates, illegal occupation and establishing the legal status of properties.

Monagas becomes the second state to adopt such measures following Cojedes that affected 25 large estates, some of them in the hands of politicians and private businessmen.

President Hugo Chavez stated his public support to the decision adding that the ad hoc commissions will hold talks with the owners to reach an agreement if possible.
When President Chanvez took office, 75 per cent of the arable land was private property while much of the country"s farmland remained idle. These will be the target of the new agrarian reform to rid the country from the unjust traditional landowning system.

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