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Aiding Venezuela


Once we stop Shunning Venezuela and we start broadly Understanding Venezuela, what can we do to aid Venezuela?

You live in France, Mexico, Thailand, Spain, India, South Africa, Brazil – the U.S. – where I live – or perhaps even in a sleepy London town – or wherever else. What can you/we do about events in Venezuela, and, more pointedly, regarding the whole Bolivarian project?

That we should want to help the Bolivarian project, at least within our means and circumstances, should be evident to serious anti capitalists, socialists, anarchists, feminists, and anti racists. First, there is the morality of the immediate situation. Second, there are the broader and longer term implications for where the current situation might lead.

To my eyes there is no large scale experiment in social change that warrants more hope and, currently, more worry, than Venezuela. So, what might we do?

We should try to prevent outside interference, as usual. We should try to correct the lies flowing through media, as usual. Yet, before proceeding to less obvious ways we might engage, even those two self evident steps are not occurring at nearly the level needed.

Some analysts suggest that people who might otherwise be doing such work have reservations about aspects of the Bolivarian project. That is certainly true, and it applies to me, too. But so what? Even ignoring that in many cases people’s reservations might be ill conceived outgrowths of lies and silences – why should even totally warranted concerns about Venezuela’s project preclude trying to correct lies and silences and even working/marching to prevent outside interference? It shouldn’t. There should be rallies and marches supporting Bolivarian progress. There should be an outpouring of articles, interviews, blogs, and comments correcting prevalent lies and silences. And, indeed, proactive communications have indeed been picking up, though they are still well shy of what is needed. The marching, however has lagged.

Maybe one problem is that many Venezuelans in countries outside Venezuela favor the opposition. They even rally and march against Venezuela’s Bolivarian project. Who am I, the reasoning may go, to express supportive views about the Bolivarian agenda when Venezuelans in my city urge the opposite? Answer – you are a thinking person, able to arrive at your own conclusions, which should cause you to realize that you do not share either the interests or the biases of the oppositionist Venezuelan “exile” communities.

But still, and now we come to the main point of this article, what about the “critical” part of “critical support”? To voice criticism, or not to voice criticism, that is the question.

Consider the Vietnam war. “One side’s right, one side’s wrong, Victory to the Vietcong,” was one attitude. And, indeed, it is easy to slide into an uncritical stance when one pours oneself into supporting a population. An advocate typically denies problems with their favored side. Yet there were certainly anti war activists who saw that the Vietnamese project was very far from the anti authoritarian effort one would unreservedly celebrate. Yet, most who saw that it had problems, chose not to talk about them. The logic was, if we say anything critical now – particularly those of us inside the U.S., but elsewhere too – it will abet the horrible violence against the Vietnamese by providing rationales to critics and sowing doubt in defenders. Beyond that, Vietnam era anti warriors also felt there was no reason to think our words could have a positive effect inside Vietnam. We chose to focus on ending the war while setting aside even constructive criticism as being counter productive, however well motivated and insightful it might have been. And I do believe that at that time, during that war, that hands-off approach made considerable sense.

Some people would go to Vietnam and literally be so polarized by the violence and vileness of U.S. war-making and by the hypocrisy of U.S. and international media coverage that they could not even see, much less accurately register, very obvious serious problems with the Vietnamese project. Their hatred for the wickedly huge injustice of the war blinded them to even seeing, much less admitting, disturbing truths about “our side.” That “ostrich effect” was not good.

Other people kept their eyes open and internally registered flaws they saw, but kept quiet about them, and unreservedly poured themselves into opposing the imperial violence. That was, in that context, exemplary, I think.

I believe Venezuela’s situation is, however, quite different. While Venezuela is in considerable turmoil, it is not being carpet bombed into the stone age by a merciless and near totally unrestrained America. Merciless we are, yes, but near totally unrestrained, no. Also, the Venezuelan project, perhaps shockingly to the perceptions of some, has been far closer to what a serious internationalist and anti authoritarian left ought to gleefully and nearly unreservedly celebrate, than was Vietnam’s project. This includes, as well, there being a far greater likelihood that observations from outside Venezuela might have positive impact inside Venezuela than that observations from outside could have had positive effects inside in Vietnam. Even more important, whereas avoiding discussing the flaws of the Vietnamese did them no damage and avoided enlarging damage done by others, avoiding discussing the flaws in the Bolivarian project has, I think, an opposite effect. It not only misses opportunities to be heard in Venezuela and perhaps positively impact events there in ways that would strengthen and otherwise aid Bolivarian aims, it misses opportunities to learn lessons that can be valuable elsewhere, in turn extending the benefits that ultimately flow from the Veneuzuelan endeavor. And finally, and ironically and perhaps counter intuitively, in the case of Venezuela, being quiet about its problems doesn’t help to reduce dismissiveness toward Venezuela, but instead tends to fuel it.

If one accepts those claims, what might one say about Venezuela that is critical, but also helpful?

A bit about hopes, first. The perhaps surprising truth is that I hope the Venezuelan government bears great blame for what is occurring. That might sound strange, but consider the alternative. Suppose the most scrupulous, objective, and insightful survey would reveal that the Chavistas have done everything right. Suppose it would show that they have done as well as could be hoped for. After well over a decade of their holding the federal government, they face the situation now unfolding. Assuming they have been operating brilliantly, that would say that you can courageously seek a wonderful outcome virtually perfectly, and nonetheless have chaos unfolding and pain being endured, even after having so long to make things better. The irony is, therefore, that those who find no fault in the Venezuelan project and who blame all the turmoil on the U.S. and on Venezuelan elites are telling a far more depressing story than those who admit to Bolivarian faults.

And, most sadly, I think those saying the faults don’t extend to the government may be nearly true – though I hope they aren’t. Indeed, I hope that instead of all the turmoil, opposition, and, most important, the limited margins of support the Chavistas still hold being attributable to forces of internal and external opposition, the turmoil owes considerably to bad choices by an imperfect government so that after over a decade in office, if there had instead been a nearly optimal project at work, it would now have far greater support and be far less vulnerable to elite machinations.

More, I believe that in the relatively near future people on the left are going to have to decide where the answer lies. If what the Chavistas have done has been everything that a non violent project, utilizing elections, abiding laws, and seeking participation and grass roots structures of democracy and self management could have done, then the implication many will quite reasonably take from Venezuela’s plight is that fully successful change is going to require a very different approach. They will say that this type project, even done perfectly, as is assumed in this line of thought, suffers far too many problems to be a model for elsewhere.

But since I think a project that seeks to avoid violent confrontation, that seeks participation, that seeks to build new institutions, that abides laws, that uses elections and also grass roots activism and institution building, and so on, is the best hope for escaping oppressive structures without devolving into erecting new ones, here are my nominations for mistakes by the government – which is to say my nominations for policies that accomplished less for change than different policies, undertaken instead, could have accomplished.

And I am not asking about proximate issues, such as behavior over the past month, but rather about long term choices. And, again, I am not there, and I have no doubt that many who are there, including folks who I know and think brilliant and committed, and other folks who I don’t know but would feel the same about if I did – will say: no, Michael, you overlooked reasons why what you propose couldn’t be done, or wouldn’t have worked if it had been done, or would even have been harmful had it been done. Maybe so, but I hope not. And I hope they hope not too. I hope they realize that instead of themselves thinking they have no fault for what is happening, and being happy about their “innocense” – and instead of their spending all their time opposing elite opposition from within and without (they must do that, but not exclusively that) – they should assume they have made real and substantial errors and should not glory in denying them, but rather glory in finding them and working to correct them. Revolutionaries shouldn’t be in the business of finding no fault with themselves. They should, instead, hope to find fault, lots of fault, and to then improve, and proceed.

So what might the faults be?

This gets tricky. First, one could rightly claim that deciding to shift power and wealth from its traditional holders to the previously poor and weak led to both internal and external opposition. That is true, but then again, that is the whole point, so while backtracking in that agenda could have forestalled dissent until now, or could even now reduce dissent and disruption, it is not something I or any leftist or anyone with human dignity and concern for populations and not just for the rich, should welcome. So that isn’t a fault to correct – that is the key virtue to preserve and enlarge.

What about so many years with Chavez as President and lynchpin of the process? Was that a big fault, weakening support, provoking needless opposition, blocking development of other talents? Maybe, but honestly, though it certainly had its ill effects, on balance, I doubt it. This is a case where an abstractly less than optimal choice – since one should of course ideally prefer a steady emergence of great new talent and a steady broadening of participants and especially of the range of influential voices at every level – was arguably sensibly trumped by the need for wide popular support and the benefit of Chavez’s special relation not only to the poor but also to the military (neutralizing it as a potential opposition force). Was Chavez so uniquely suited to leading and so uniquely able to galvanize desires that on that basis alone he had to be elevated and retained? Maybe not. But were his ties to the military plus his special talents sufficient to warrant his elevation and duration as President – and longer had he not died? I suspect, probably yes. So maybe this was an error, maybe not, but it was certainly not definitive.

So what should we consider as possible problem areas that might be definitive? I would focus on communications with the base of supporters; communications with the opposition base; development of highly trained, committed, self aware, well informed advocates; media policy; and attitudes toward residual owners and other “oligarchs.”

Why these issues?

Because for me the deep problem for the Bolivarian project isn’t today’s riots per se. It is, instead, that after well over a decade of anti capitalists holding the national government, support for the government and more pointedly for Chavismo is still only a bit over 50%, or perhaps at the outside, 60%, rather than being, say, 75% or 80%. And it is because international support from leftists is incredibly low and ill informed. And it is because there are too many instances of people inside the project who are taking advantage of opportunities for personal gain.

Of course thugs from Colombia, plus U.S. funding and guidance for the opposition, plus homegrown capitalist sabotage and media machinations, are implicated in the current turmoil. And of course that is important to realize and reveal. But that these dynamics exist is unavoidable. They are part and parcel of change. How could they not arise to try to obstruct such an effort at change in our world? What troubles me is rather the considerable success these reactionary agendas have had. Rather than being problems largely dealt with by now, their impact is growing. Which is why I focus on the areas of concern mentioned above.

Okay, let’s take the areas one by one.

Communications with Supporters

Of course there have been the TV shows by Chavez and now Maduro, plus public policy discussions, and new schools and the Bolivarian university approach, and perhaps more importantly at least in intent, the Bolivarian Circles of earlier years, and so on. But I have in mind something more.

Consider that the government discerned a serious problem of consciousness: illiteracy. The government embarked on a massive campaign to overcome that problem: literacy training undertaken all over the country. This project entailed getting people ready to help the illiterate and also generating space, time, and desire to undertake the effort – organizationally – as well as attracting those in need of the training to accept and participate in it.

By analogy, suppose the government thought: we are trying to build a new society and we want people to control their own lives in an informed and solidaritous manner. We know this entails that people are confident of their understanding of social relations and aims – both society’s and their own. We know the old society did not give people the needed knowledge, skill, and confidence. Therefore, we decide that we must embark on a massive campaign, even larger than the literacy program, of political and social discussion, education, and sharing. We know we have to spread known talents and insights, but also, in concert with the population, develop new ones.

To my knowledge while thoughts like that may well have spurred the campaign for Bolivarian Circles, which were to be study groups throughout the country, the follow through was insufficient and no campaign on the needed scale occurred. Why not? Resources? I don’t buy that. Lack of motivation of the base of people who would be learning? I think that is very real, but overcoming that is, of course, a large part of the task, not a reason to forego trying. Motivation of the Bolivarians/Chavistas in government? Perhaps, but I suspect there were more than enough who would have eagerly embraced such a project, had it been really pushed and persisted in by Chavez, say. The opposition stigmatizing such efforts by branding them indoctrination, as happened with the Bolivarian Circles? Sure, that is a factor, but again, that is the Opposition’s job and the relevant issue is not having overcome such stigmatization. What about not realizing to a sufficient degree that this was a task that needed doing, and not feeling there was a curriculum, so to speak, to convey? I suspect this was a big part of the reason. And I think it has been a big factor in the population having support that only goes so deep.

Little clarity among leaders in government and serving in institutions throughout society, about where Bolivarian struggle is trying to go, and thus little spreading of that understanding throughout the population, plus little refining of it and improving it in light of insights that that larger population would generate, is, to me, a very serious problem. I know everyone points to things like crime, or mishandling the exchange rate, and so on. And all that is most certainly very real. But the way the population regards circumstances and owns policies, adapts policies, sees and acknowledges and understands mistakes, and acts to correct them, is the key. And a population that is not confidently involved, and that lacks relevant knowledge, cannot play such a role. Yes, it can vote. Yes, it can go into the streets to rally in support, or to complain, or to celebrate, or even to defend or dissent – but that is a far cry from the public seriously participating, knowledgeably, and wisely. More, uninvolved involvement doesn’t last.

Each new election in Venezuela that has occurred, the Chavistas have celebrated their new victory. I always thought this was horribly ill conceived. It seemed to me, and it still seems to me, that “if you aren’t busy being born, you are busy dying,” and to have your margin of victory steadily decline – or even just not climb – is not a reason for celebration, but a reason for very aggressive correction. The above would have been one such choice for correction.

Communications with Dissenters

What about communications with the opposition’s base? Here too it certainly has happened, to a degree. But, I suspect, very little. Rather, it seems that for years in neighborhoods and among students, there has been little sustained and serious effort to communicate across constituencies. Partly this owes to the absence of shared clarity and confidence mentioned above. How do the Chavistas in a neighborhood engage with those in their neighborhood who dissent, if the Chavistas lack the confidence and knowledge to make a full and compelling case? It is very difficult to communicate convincingly, through extreme tensions, unless one is very confident and well informed. And yet even beyond spreading the needed skills, noted above, there were other possibilities.

Why not have meeting days across campuses? Why not have athletic events, local teams, across neighborhoods? Why not have such “meetings” and gathering and events occur in ways that allow real exchanges of experiences and concerns?

Admirably, the Chavistas didn’t build councils and communes with the intent of having them serve only their supporters. Quite the contrary, councils and communes have been sought in all neighborhoods – opposition and Chavista – but, what wasn’t done, at least that I know of, was to constantly and quite steadfastly and intently, address the opposition. I could be completely crazy about this – but while I understand that students wanting to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, and even CEOS have understandable pressures from families, from many faculty, and from their own narrow material interests pushing them into opposition – we also know that students are young, energetic, and at some level likely feel considerable social concern. I bet if those who have become the bulwark of violent dissent had been experiencing first hand, from direct testimony – the views of students with different backgrounds, as well as the views of barrio residents and the like, things might now be different.

If the now opposition students had been hearing the implications of the Bolivarian changes on people’s lives from the people affected, and especially hearing clear discussion of where it is all headed – as compared to having convinced themselves that they live in a country that is occupied by Cuba – many, and perhaps even most of them, would, by now, be unreceptive to opposition machinations. It doesn’t suffice to say they have backgrounds that dispose them to dissent, which is true. It doesn’t suffice to say that they have been lied to, which is also true. That is just reality. That comes with the territory of trying to revamp society in the interests of the poor and excluded. It is unavoidable in such an undertaking. The locus of “blame” and main focus of discussion and action always has to be, instead, what could the movement have done differently.

Even with those background realities, why weren’t these young people better informed, better educated about events, by personal engagement, and perhaps even made into allies rather than enemies? We are talking about people who were not even teenagers when the Bolivarian process began. Could they not have been treated differently? I am not saying the Chavistas could have won over the owners. No. But many owner’s kids, yes. And many professionals and also kids seeking to be professionals, yes. And not by pandering to them at the expense of the poor, but based on unleashing real knowledge and solidarity into their midst, while honestly hearing their feelings and addressing them. If a vote goes roughly 50-50, or even 60-40 for the Chavistas, it doesn’tt mainly mean they won again – though that is true. It mainly means the reactionary side has support that extends way too deep into places where it ought not be welcome.

There is another issue relating to elections. They have been a kind of distraction disease. There are so many, so often, and with such contested campaigns – all really leading nowhere, when you think about it – yet taking so much time and energy and attention. I am not sure the what might have been done in this regard. Certainly the answer wouldn’t be to have no elections. But perhaps a refinement of the electoral process to reduce its duration, eliminate aspects of substance-less engagement and expense, and prioritize contrasts of actual program and debate of real differences.

Creating Effective Agents of Change

What about developing really effective activists among those who are working to create change as their main involvement? This is a related issue to what is discussed above, clearly, but also adds another dimension. Sure, again, it happened somewhat. There were education efforts, for example, in the PSUV. But has there been the kind of internal education, debate, discussion, distillation of shared views, exploration of those views, refinement of those views, and finally carefully cultivated, nurtured, and tested ability on the part of all folks heavily involved in political and social work to further spread the views? Not in what little and admittedly quite modest experience I have had with the situation. And again, I suspect the biggest factor may be the absence of a curriculum, so to speak, as well as not recognizing the importance of this task – which was paramount – but which for the most part did not happen, at least to my knowledge.

I have been told by quite a few folks that for the most part – of course with some exceptions – Chavistas who went through years of opposition struggle are typically far less susceptible to pressures to lie and steal. They are far less likely to be among the corrupt. On the other hand, Chavistas with a short tenure – folks who have come on board without the longer background and without the social ties and relations and understanding those ties brought, are far more susceptible to corruption. What is it about being in struggle for a long duration that generated greater loyalty, insight, and commitment? One might answer that question many ways, but the point is, the new folks didn’t experience those dynamics. So they needed to experience something in the less conflict ridden years of their growing involvement, that would have a similar effect. I think very serious and in depth training, learning, and participation at every level, plus cresting and acting in even larger grassroots activist campaigns, are likely the only compelling answer for what that should have been done. So that too was needed, and was largely absent.

Dealing with Media

The Bolivarian approach to media has had two driving priorities, I think. Commitment to freedom of speech, and fear of provoking dissent at home and international criticism that would abet opposition activity or even lead to intervention.

The government has abided a private media that has been and remains incredibly skewed toward the agendas of its rich and powerful owners. Perhaps some will disagree, but I don’t think that has anything to do with respecting freedom of speech. Rather, freedom of speech should mean that there are venues and means for citizens throughout society, no matter their views, to express their views, offer their insights, debate and criticize policies and events and whole agendas, and to also have access to information of all sorts. Freedom of speech can’t mean simply that one isn’t beat upside the head by the state for things one says. It must include people having a means to say things, and access to information needed to have things to say.

If you have a private media in which a few people decide what is conveyed, and they even do so with blatantly obvious agendas governing their actions – not a concern for truth, but instead pursuit of private power and wealth – then that is not a free speech setting. That is true if the few people overseeing communications are government elites but it is also true if the few people overseeing communications are corporate elites. So, to face the problem, what could the Chavistas have done differently?

My inclination is to think that as with many issues the Chavistas should have proposed for media a very public and transparent positive set of intermediate aims, and also a long term vision. They then should have begun not only building new media (and they have done a lot of this, very admirably, though more and more support are needed) but also altered the media which exists right up to nationalizing, and, much more to the point, for all media including the currently very narrowly conceived statist media, steadily transferred editorial power to public and grassroots oversight and control, plus establishing workers self management.

Would steps of that sort have unleashed howls of (hypocritical) protest? Of course. But the issue has to be broached at some point, and to allow privately held media to distort communications year after year or to settle for state media that is uncreative and restrictively narrow each in hopes of reaching a point where moving to a better system would be less disruptive because the media sway would have already been diminished due to on the ground gains in constructing new grassroots media by the movement, was, I think, an error.

Rather, media matters more than that approach suggests – and more thorough steps should have been initiated and pursued when Chavista strength was greatest, not after the opposition managed to tear away some of that strength – but better late than never. It needs doing now, too.

Dealing with Residual Oligarchs

And then there are the residual owners and other highly elite reactionary elements. This is the media issue writ larger. The reason to allow owners to persist in having grotesquely disproportionate power and influence, as well as massive income by way of control over their businesses, was to avoid overly provoking them and overly provoking forces outside of Venezuela, on the one hand, and to avoid a slip side toward authoritarian structures due to the spread of the kinds of coercive behaviors that would be needed to remove them – to other inappropriate domains than that single action. But this, like with media, is a delicate dance. Because the other implication of going slow is that the owners persist in their power and use it to try to subvert the Bolivarian agenda, and do so quite effectively, over time.

My own inclination would be that the government could have and should have been far more explicit about aims for the economy, not just about particular polices for addressing excess imports, reforming destructive exchange rates, combating inflation, etc., as important as those steps are, but far more basic in the sense of institutional aims for the organization of work and allocation. The government could perhaps have made absolutely binding that any sabotage, any price gouging, and any resistance to worker programs seeking greater workplace well being, equity, and openness, would be cause for expropriation of productive property from owners to workers. There were elements of this mindset. A Supreme Court Judge told me how in the courts there was a new mentality – legal contracts were binding on employers, but not on employees when they were contrary to the interests of employees. Why? Because the imbalanced situation between owners and workers meant that employees agreed to contracts lacking information and more so, lacking alternatives. It was understood that justice isn’t just abiding formal agreements. Justice includes moving toward equitable remuneration and real self management. That attitude, writ larger to the whole economy, and implemented, would have mattered greatly, I believe.

In a struggle to change society there is a kind of contest or race regarding both media and private ownership of other businesses as well. On the opposition side, the idea was to retain control of as much “high ground” conveying power and outreach capacity as they could, and to use it to steadily subvert Bolivarian agendas, influence, and popularity, hoping to reach a point where the opposition could win an election, or, if need be, welcome in external forces to help them reclaim power. On the Bolivarian side, the idea was to avoid a head on clash, violence, and civil war, and even to avoid just getting into a situation of having to be coercive, even with owners, lest the habits of coercion become permanent and subvert more participatory aims – all while building up alternative institutions that would strengthen support, so that at some time in the future full transition might occur with only ineffectual resistance.

I do believe that was an exemplary desire. But I am inclined to think that a better course would have been a major investment of time, energy, and especially edification and creation of new structures that could offset any pressures and tendencies toward centralization – so as to be able to take on private owners far more forthrightly, and early, while guarding against centralization.

If the above suggestions, or any part of them, are correct, it is of course too late to have done things perfectly all along, but it is certainly not too late to take up needed tasks now. And if that is the case, then one hopes that this is the kind of thing we will soon see.

21 Comments

  1. willi uebelherr April 1, 2014 8:07 pm 

    Dear Michael, dear friends,

    you don’t understand the real conflict in Venezuela. We can concentrate:

    Poder Popular versus Poder Estado and Poder Capital.

    In all the time it was the same conflict. Senor Hugo Chavez understand it very clear. But he had a big error. He support the state. He support the state institutions. He thought, with these apparatus, it is faster and easier.

    In his last speaking, “Golpe de timon” he analyzed the situation. And he formulate a very strong critic on the state institutions. And he say, we have to change totaly the structures.

    The basic conflict is between the state apparatus together with the private capital groups against the people of Venezuela, contra el pueblo de Venezuela. Again her self-organisation, self-determination.

    You don¿t see in your english publication the daily fighting of the people local against this groups. And that’s why you follow the theater.

    many greetings, willi uebelherr
    Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
    [email protected]

  2. Simon Wood March 25, 2014 5:31 am 

    A great article! I agree with Michael Albert’s advice.

    However, Michael, I suggest you write in a more condensed way, so that more people will read it, to make a bigger difference in the world. :)

  3. gerard lynch March 19, 2014 4:58 am 

    Good article Michael.

    I have long had a relatively distant interest in Venezuela and been a supporter of Chavez in a general way as I viewed him as doing his best and have defended him occasionally throughout the years on a political bbs.
    My only exposure to progressive thought was occasionally reading articles on venezuelanalysis.

    However, your article of about a month ago about the larger progressive audience being afraid to really support Venezuela due to past disappointment with other movements or ideologies hit home.

    Compared to the above posters I have been woefully ignorant of most details regarding VZLA, but have been steadily immersing myself in the last month ion Venezuela, catching up and will try to lend my support to the Bolivarians. Fortunately I speak Spanish well enough to follow Apporea, watch Telesur etc. I am trying to get involved in a fledgling support group in my city for the Bolivarians in VZLA

    Z magazine has greatly aided my self education on VZLA.

    Keep up the good work.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert March 19, 2014 2:01 pm 

      I don’t read Spanish, but from all I know Apporea is a very good source – as well as Venezuela Analysis. Glad you liked the piece. By the way, Telesur English is coming soon.

  4. Rich Potter March 19, 2014 3:14 am 

    Michael -

    I’m responding as I take a break from writing my doctoral dissertation on community media in Venezuela.

    I absolutely agree that Venezuela’s state media apparatus is “restrictively narrow”, though “uncreative” is perhaps too harsh. I’d say “insufficiently creative”, out of respect for some of the creative, although all-too-often unsuccessful, attempts to produce engaging content, especially at ViVe.

    On that note, but in support of your assessment, one example of the government’s errors that is not widely known outside of Venezuela is the case of Ávila TV. In the several years after it went on the air in 2006 as a Caracas municipal station, Ávila TV’s young staff produced very creative, irreverent, and popular programming (http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/4519. Unfortunately, the station has since been absorbed into the national state media system and its content restricted. I don’t know the ins and outs, but the change in control had much to do with political battles between the federal and municipal governments, and the shift in the station’s editorial line, which I understand to have resulted in less edgy and hip material, is said to have been imposed from above. When I was there in 2011, Ávila TV had lost much of its appeal with young urbanites.

    I disagree, however, with your suggestion that the private media should have been restricted to a much greater degree even in the absence of significant “on the ground gains in constructing new grassroots media by the movement”. The examples of Chile (1970-73) and Nicaragua (1978-90) all demonstrate in different ways how intervention in private media by a socialist state provides powerful and dangerous leverage for oppositional groups. The problem is that most observers accept the narrow liberal conception of freedom of expression and believe that commercial media systems adequately fulfill it. They understand the only other option to be authoritarian control by the state. (A version of the TINA argument you often cite.) This is evident in conservative criticism of public media in the US and any attempt to regulate, much less nationalize, the private media by an avowedly socialist state is all too easily construed as evidence of totalitarianism. As you note, such criticism involves significant hypocrisy, but it can be very potent. Moreover, most chavistas in Venezuela are consumers of the entertainment produced and/or distributed by private media companies and many of the less committed were unhappy with the non-renewal of RCTV’s license in 2007. Tves, the state-run attempt to fill the void, has so far left much to be desired. Until there is a viable democratic alternative for the consistent production of engaging media content, interventions in private sector media should be exercised with caution.

    I’m an advocate of growing the community media sector into a truly participatory national system (with Pareconish principals guiding organizational self-management) that will be able to displace the hegemonic commercial and state systems. Venezuela officially recognized community broadcasting in its 2000 telecommunications law and in 2001 established a largely liberal set of regulations to govern the sector. This allowed for explosive growth, with over two hundred and fifty radio and three dozen television licenses being granted over the next six years. The regulations, however, cast community media in the mold of liberal civil society, which is to say wholly autonomous from the state, including in terms of funding. The expectation was that they would subsist on advertising (primarily local) and grants. In actual practice, however, the state – primarily through the regulatory agency (CONATEL) and the Ministry of Communications and Information (MINCI) – has provided the bulk of the funding, not only to broadcast but also print outlets. This funding has been irregular and dependent on the vision of whoever is in control at MINCI, a post that has rotated a dozen times since 2003. This inconsistency has left the community media sector anemic and the lack of institutional transparency has left it vulnerable to charges of co-optation and bias.

    Since 2006 the Bolivarian community media sector has sought greater integration with the burgeoning commune system and backed initiatives to restructure the legal framework. In 2011 the sector proposed a Law of Popular Communication that was taken up by the National Assembly. The law would have established a national fund for community media (drawn from a tax on advertising companies) and established a network of Popular Communications Councils (PCCs) to enable participatory governance of community media resources in conjunction with the commune system. The first five articles of the law were approved, but it stalled thereafter for reasons that have not been explained publicly. It seems likely, however, that it is connected to opposition from the community media movement itself. Although the proposal came from the movement, Bolivarian legislators in the National Assembly made significant changes. Those included the introduction of the PCCs, which I personally view as positive, but they also included altering the governing board of the national fund to include 8 representatives from the state and 7 from the PCCs. Ostensibly, the movement’s ultimate opposition to the law was directly linked to this loss of control.

    I am, of course, leaving aside a multitude of significant details, but I offer this to suggest both the hope and frustration I have felt in relation to Venezuela’s community media sector. I could provide other examples in which state officials have moved to tether the community media sector more tightly to the state media apparatus. I could also point to government officials who seem committed to a vision of community media as a truly participatory and radically democratic system. What’s certain is that the vast majority of community media practitioners and activists are committed to the latter, even if their support for the government sometimes manifests in overtly propagandistic content.

    My point, hopefully reinforced by the above, is that if we want to support the Bolivarian movement in relation to media, we should not advocate for increased government control. This would only add fuel to tired old arguments that pit freedom of the press versus totalitarian control using an oversimplified binary. Rather, we should advocate for a participatory media system that is integrated into a broader system of civil governance. This requires state assistance, not state control. The commune system and the existing community media sector are important building blocks, but much remains to be done. We should celebrate their achievements, critique their shortcomings, and do what we can to support the Venezuelans who are laboring to bring them to fruition.

    On that note, spanish speakers – especially those working in participatory media – may be interested in learning more about AlbaTV, a transnational initiative of the Bolivarian community television sector:

    http://www.albatv.org/-Canal-Comunitario-.html

    • avatar
      Michael Albert March 19, 2014 2:23 pm 

      Of course you are right that restricting private media has two horrible downsides. First, it provides grist for attack – claims that you are censoring, etc. Second, it may in fact be censorious or top down, in which case it is a dangerous process that can slip slide into even worse authoritarian trends.

      But – what about doing it creatively, intelligently? The point is, leaving private media intact also has downsides and I think Venezuela shows them to be quite substantial. First, there is the actual impact of lies, manipulations, etc. etc. Second, there is ratifying the idea that it is wrong to restrict the options of the rich and powerful – which is horrible thought – if they can’t be restricted, then the poor suffer. It is not wrong to take power and wealth from the excessively powerful and wealthy – though it must be done carefully – the minute one considers social outcomes, and outcomes for all citizens, not merely for the rich and powerful. I think we probably agree about all this. Though the devil is in the details, of course.

      So the issue becomes how to do it. And I think we probably agree there, too – the brief discussion I offered didn’t say take over a private newspaper, station, or whatever, and then run it by replacing the owners with a narrow group of political functionaries. The idea is to transfer the media from owners to employee and public oversight – not to the federal government’s oversight, but to relevant communes, constituencies, etc. and the workforce. It is not easy, but the alternatives seem so bad that the innovative ways must be tried sooner rather than latter – or so it seems to me.

      So take a private newspaper. Suppose, for the sake of discussion, it has 100 writers all of whom are opposition identified. The paper has as its agenda not edification of the public, not anything like sincere debate, not even creative entertainment, but, rather, blocking and even overthrowing the whole Bolivarian process on behalf of the rich. What to do?

      I agree with you that simply marching in, taking it over, shipping off the 100 writers, and then running it top down has all the bad ingredients – it is a lighting rod for (justified as well as hypocritical criticism) and it would be very likely to feed into an authoritarian approach.

      So how about, instead – depending on the particular paper – taking it from its owners when they demonstrate their narrow priorities, but then putting it under the overall auspices of a workers council and some kind of pubic vehicle for the citizenry – plus, adding another 100 writers, Chavistas. I am just winging it, but you see the point. The rich owners do not have any moral right to have so much media power. The steps to take are to dilute and even eliminate that centralized power, and, in its place, to establish something moving toward a far better ideal – which ideal should also be forthrightly discussed, refined, etc. This was a path that could have been undertaken, I believe.

      Your knowledge is far greater than mine of the facts of specific cases, I am quite sure. But beyond the facts, there is need to think in terms of very different options, rather than simply choosing among horrible ones.

      • Lary Fuku March 19, 2014 6:26 pm 

        Michael you write: “but then putting it under the overall auspices of a workers council and some kind of pubic vehicle for the citizenry – plus, adding another 100 writers, Chavistas.

        So do you feel that every media outlet should have balanced workforce (that represents full spectrum of opinions in a society) – or just those outlets whose opinions are contrary to your own?

        Why doesn’t ZNet add equivalent number of pro-market writers – or at least publish their works in same quantity?

        Why are you assuming that opposition publications are inherently Rich and powerful? You don’t suppose that even not rich people may hold views contrary to Maduro’s government and band together to form a media group?

        Take FOX news for example – do you really believe that if you take FOX news and turn it over from owner to workers the content would change dramatically? Even if you switch to public funding – current FOX viewers will happily fund the channel.

        Also you keep suggesting “massive campaign” as a way to turn opposition to supporters. Even in so far as to suggest “curriculum” which is more commonly known as a talking points and propaganda when you get down to it. This is wrong on so many levels. First, treating serious national issues as a PR problem is hardly promising. Imagine advocating BP that the way to solve oil spill issue is by simply conducting a powerful positive PR campaign instead of addressing the actual spill. Second, this idea that you can convert dissenters to supporters via “communications”. How many people were able to convince you that Parecon is a bad idea? Seems none, and not for the lack of trying. So while you can be so adamant about your ideas in the face of so little outside acceptance, yet you think that “communicating” will convince students to give up their “narrow material interests” like toilet paper and milk.

        • avatar
          Michael Albert March 20, 2014 3:44 am 

          I think perhaps you should read with a bit more effort to discern the meaning.

          Regarding your points…

          In the u.s. 99 percent of media is mainstream. So Z and other alternative media need not try to redress an internal imbalance, which is needed, but instead a societal one.

          In Venezuela, and more generally, mainstream media is private corporations that are indeed owned and controlled by the rich and powerful. In a society as divided as Venezuela, having media that has voices from the two key sides, with variation on each, makes sense.

          And yes, I would love to see American mainstream media far far far more under the auspices of public influence and workers self management. It is conceivable as near term program in. Venezuela, regrettably not yet, here.

          As to the rest, I think the gap in our perceptions is so large that discussion, may, as you say, not yield much.

      • Rich Potter March 19, 2014 10:47 pm 

        Thanks for your reply, Michael.

        While there are definitely substantial downsides to an active and oppositional media, one upside is that it allows the government and its supporters to deflect accusations of dictatorial repression – as witnessed by the NY Time’s recent correction in response to Weisbrot. Being able to point to an active oppositional media and a track record of free and fair elections has gone a long way toward defending the Bolivarian project and maintaining space for continued experimentation on the ground.

        In any case, I agree that there exists a creative and intelligent solution for organizing a media outlet in accord with socially just principles. This would indeed be ideal, but in the various cases where the opportunity presented itself, it didn’t happen.

        As I tried to express above, Ávila TV was a successful station, already in public hands. When the federal government took control, it did not apply a creative and intelligent solution. Things took a turn for the worse.

        Tves is the state TV station that took over the frequencies that had been used by RCTV. The decision to not renew RCTV’s license was about as defensible of a mechanism for taking a private station off the air as one could imagine – RCTV facilitated the 2002 coup attempt. It nonetheless inspired widespread condemnation and allowed the international media to cast Chávez as a dictator. (I was teaching a course in international media at the time and had an undergrad student who, having watched Keith Olbermann on the “liberal” MSNBC, decided that Venezuela was a dictatorship and would not be convinced otherwise by any of my arguments.) In any case, Tves is hardly “under the overall auspices of a workers council and some kind of public vehicle for the citizenry”.

        Neither is ViVe, which was established by Blanca Eekhout and Thierry Deronne, two longtime participatory media producers and activists (Deronne was giving workshops in Nicaragua in the 1980s; Eekhout wrote her undergrad thesis on the collective that became Venezuela’s most renowned community TV station, CatiaTVe, which she co-founded). ViVe was conceived as an explicitly “popular” TV station. While it has done some good things, including adopting a semi-decentralized regional structure, it remains a very hierarchical, bureaucratic network. The focus has been on content, not organizational structure.

        Meanwhile, a strong social movement has been working with the government for over a decade to establish the creative and intelligent solution we both believe is possible. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that the community media sector has produced a viable and replicable model, especially in relation to funding and sustainability. This is not to malign the community media movement; it has done some great things, but it has not yet figured out how to structure a media outlet that responds to citizen governance and consistently produces thorough investigative journalism and engaging cultural / entertainment content. If it hasn’t been done there, where committed and idealistic workers have received substantial government support, why should we believe it will happen if MINCI steps in to reorganize a formerly commercial operation? What I’m trying to say is that the community media sector is precisely where the ideal you and I have in mind has been “forthrightly discussed, refined, etc.” The path was undertaken. Unfortunately, for a host of reasons, some of which I tried to indicate in my previous post, it has not yet been successful.

        Yes, there is a need to think in terms of very different options. I believe that the best option is to grow a participatory media system from the bottom up. For all it’s flaws, and so far as I know, the Venezuelan community media sector represents the most advanced participatory media system ever established within a socialist state, not least because it has begun to integrate with a parallel system of citizen governance (the commune system). I recommend that we focus our attention and assistance on improving that system, on defending it from those in the opposition who would dismantle it, as well as those in the government who would appropriate it as part of the hierarchical propaganda apparatus. To my way of thinking, supporting the continued development of participatory media provides power to the people and their social movements. Calling for the government to step in and organize media outlets diverts resources from the existing participatory media project at the risk of providing more negative examples of the hierarchical, perhaps even authoritarian, impulse that continues to exist within the Bolivarian state.

        Once we do have a proven and replicable model, I don’t think there will be much need to take over commercial media outlets. They will be progressively displaced by an alternative system whose merits can’t be denied.

        • Gerry Conroy March 20, 2014 3:52 am 

          Rich, I read an interview last week with the minister for the communes, Reinaldo Iturriza, which you’ve probably seen. Among other things, he was asked what was being done to get the message out about the communes, of which there are now some 200, with about 44,000 smaller, more local communal councils. He answered that efforts have been moving in very slow steps and so the president has been insisting a lot with them that projects like VTV Communes are needed and that very soon there will be tv programmes from this channel.

          He also said they’d been very self-critical and that they realise that they have been hugely lacking with regard to informing the public about the ongoing work of building the ‘popular power’, as it’s called. That it’s about telling the many stories happening at the moment in many places right now. Thousands and thousands of people who have much to say. That interview is here (but in Spanish):

          http://elotrosaberypoder.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/los-colectivos-son-sinonimo-de-organizacion-no-de-violencia-entrevista-en-ciudad-ccs-10-de-marzo-de-2014/

          You said about Ávila TV above: “…Ávila TV was a successful station, already in public hands. When the federal government took control, it did not apply a creative and intelligent solution. Things took a turn for the worse…”

          Would you say the VTV Communas project will now be more likely to get past this kind of error – and that enough lessons have been learned? For instance, it’s easy to imagine a lot of dull but worthy programming about the activities of the communes, which would be incapable of competing for attention with the flashy soap operas on the private stations. Also, I wonder about the organisational structure of VTV Communas, given what you’ve had to say about more top-down approaches in other media projects in the country.

          • Rich Potter March 24, 2014 2:32 am 

            This is actually the first I’ve seen about the VTV Communes project, Gerry. I thank you for pointing me to it, but I don’t have much information with which to respond to your questions.

            I’d also like to know more about the project and its organizational structure. VTV is the flagship state TV station and my perception is that is very hierarchical and prone to propagandistic programming, but I haven’t watched it for a couple of years. It’s possible things have changed or that this particular initiative is looking to implement something different.

            I have previously read Iturriza’s blog and I met with him personally in 2011, when he was not in the government. I find him to be one of the best Bolivarian media critics, in that he is unafraid to be openly critical of Bolivarian media and seems to truly believe that the movement needs to be more publicly self-critical. Also, he was involved with Ávila TV when it was creating it’s best programming and he did not support the changes I mentioned above. So if he is talking up VTV Communes, I think it bodes well.

            That said, Bolivarian media is caught between a rock and a hard place, because any criticism is always vulnerable to being used by the opposition, s there is considerable reluctance, even among those who recognize the need.

            If I manage to learn anything else about this, I’ll post it here.

        • avatar
          Michael Albert March 20, 2014 3:53 am 

          Your last paragraph is important. I think the bolivarian conception has been as you indicate. Create new media, new health care, new university, new organizations of local governance, and so on. These will serve as experiments for further learning, and as models. The government can aid and help them, etc. The thing is, and this was the point off the essay, in many respects, while I don’t think we can know a priori, it appears that in Venezuela, and perhaps more generally, doing our thing, so to speak, alongside capitalists still operating in crucial industries, including media, suffers from their unrelenting disruption. It may be that that has to be dealt with too. I suspect so. And if so, the trick is to reduce and indeed bring to an end such disruption by corporate elements with hugely disproportionate resources, but in a way consistent with overall aims.

          • Rich Potter March 24, 2014 1:53 am 

            I agree that the state should protect participatory initiatives, but it appears we disagree on the specifics and/or extent. Which is, of course, just fine. Thanks for the exchange of ideas.

        • Lary Fuku March 20, 2014 4:46 pm 

          Michael wrote: “As to the rest, I think the gap in our perceptions is so large that discussion, may, as you say, not yield much.”

          funny, for a gay who devotes an article to stress the importance of communication with opposition can’t even bring himself to communicate with someone who’s doesn’t see things his way – hypocrisy abound.

          But then again Albert, I see in your writings you constantly fail the very standards you so righteously preach to your opponents – and in case you are wondering, that is exactly why you are largely ignored by the left.

          • avatar
            Michael Albert March 21, 2014 12:36 pm 

            Lary,

            i answered that which I thought it made sense to answer, and which could be answered in this type exchange. Sorry you wanted more. But, of course, my views in Venezuela more broadly are widely available.

            Actually, I think if you were familiar with my writing you would notice that I engage with opponents, and people questioning or criticizing, etc., all the time…debating, answering, etc. often at great length. That I didn’t address all your concerns doesn’t mean I don’t engage, it means, I didn’t see in your concerns, beyond those I did react to, anything more to usefully to address, at least at the time.

          • avatar
            Michael Albert March 21, 2014 1:31 pm 

            I went back and looked at your earlier post – which you feel I had some responsibility to address in full… I didn’t, but nonetheless I will add to my comments from earlier which did address the actual points you raised – and then in your reply ignored. What I did not respond to was the following:

            You wrote: “Also you keep suggesting `massive campaign’ as a way to turn opposition to supporters. Even in so far as to suggest “curriculum” which is more commonly known as a talking points and propaganda when you get down to it. This is wrong on so many levels.”

            What can I say, to suggest that a campaign to convey what the government and Bolivarian movement seeks, and to discern public reactions and thereby refine and improve the aims – is propaganda is your right. But I saw nothing in that assertion to reply to. A government can keep its aims and values secret, as virtually all do, or might, instead, attempt to communicate with the public and then to better reflect the public’s will… I prefer the latter. But, yes, the assumption is that the aims and values of the Bolivarian project have merit, and there, I suspect, we strongly disagree.

            “First, treating serious national issues as a PR problem is hardly promising. Imagine advocating BP that the way to solve oil spill issue is by simply conducting a powerful positive PR campaign instead of addressing the actual spill.”

            I guess what you are saying is the government is at fault in serious ways and the only remedy is for it to change – be replaced, or whatever else you might have in mind, perhaps just some new policies with better implications. I would agree that the latter is desirable, of course. But it is not the only thing needed. Thus, since I think the government is in many respects exemplary – on the planet – and that the opposition would in any event initiate a throwback to horrible relations and outcomes – the gap between us on these matters is simply too large to explore in a comment section. For why I think as I do, I have written amply on the Venezuelan experience.

            “Second, this idea that you can convert dissenters to supporters via “communications”. How many people were able to convince you that Parecon is a bad idea? Seems none, and not for the lack of trying. So while you can be so adamant about your ideas in the face of so little outside acceptance, yet you think that “communicating” will convince students to give up their “narrow material interests” like toilet paper and milk.”

            Actually, I will stick to what I wrote. We see the events very differently. And what I wrote was actually not about now – but about roughly fifteen years. And, yes, I most certainly do think that communicating fully and accurately, while also listening and taking in ideas, for those fifteen years, with the people who are now the students you refer to, would have made a major difference in their understanding of events, and attitudes to them. I could be wrong. It could be that their class interests would still preponderate – but that would be very sad indeed.

    • avatar
      Joe Emersb March 19, 2014 3:28 pm 

      Hi Rich:
      Good luck with your dissertation.
      You wrote regarding community media
      “In actual practice, however, the state – primarily through the regulatory agency (CONATEL) and the Ministry of Communications and Information (MINCI) – has provided the bulk of the funding, not only to broadcast but also print outlets. This funding has been irregular and dependent on the vision of whoever is in control at MINCI, a post that has rotated a dozen times since 2003. This inconsistency has left the community media sector anemic and the lack of institutional transparency has left it vulnerable to charges of co-optation and bias.”
      Robert Mcchesney (elaborating on a suggestion by Dean Baker) has proposed giving every adult an equal control, that is to say an equal vote, over a fixed amount of government funds for non-commercial, nonprofit media.
      For example if each person is allowed control over $250 worth of government money I could tell the government at I want $150 going to out let A, $50 to outlet B and $50 to outlet C – provided outlets A, B, C are on the list of non-commercial, non-profit media. The money doesn’t come out of my pocket. It is government money that whose allocation I’m voting on, so I have no incentive to say $0 for all outlets unless I’m ideologically opposed to the idea completely.
      The practical details on how to best have people exercise this vote once a year would vary from country to country
      Seems to me this proposal would be a great way to ensure that the traditional “state” media and other government funded outlets are actually responsive and accountable to their audience – as opposed to media barons, corporate advertisers or high level government officials.
      Perhaps another useful reform proposal would be to have the heads of outfits like the MINCI directly elected by the public.
      If the Venezuelan government had done much more to bolster the democratic credentials of publicly funded media – to put its own house in order so to speak- it could have better exposed and therefore acted more boldly against the illegitimate power of the private media.
      FYI one activist in Venezuela whom I proposed this said it was interesting but that she liked the idea of communal councils setting up their own media better. Basically she seems to think that expanding democratic media should go hand in hand with expanding the communal councils. She finds the idea I put her rather “individualistic” compared to the collaborative nature of the councils.

      • Rich Potter March 19, 2014 11:41 pm 

        Thanks, Joe.

        I’m familiar with McChesney’s suggestion and I think it’s a good one, especially in the US context. (He’s on my committee, so we’ll soon see what he thinks of my ideas…) I think it could conceivably work in Venezuela, but with greater difficulty. The efficiency of the US federal income tax reporting system, for instance, offers an easy avenue for implementation. I don’t know if anything similar exists in Venezuela. (It might, I just don’t know.)

        In any case, Venezuela has chosen a different path with the commune system. I’m not sure the difference comes down to individualism, since McChesney’s suggestion would result in a form of collective decision-making and potentially fund many collaborative media organizations, but the communal councils do offer a different approach. It’s not something I’ve thought through, but I imagine there are pros and cons.

        One “pro” is that the communal councils allow for more direct citizen governance, since funds might be directed not only to media outlets, but also to specific projects. Another is that media would be generated everywhere (or at least anywhere) in relation to the expressed desires of a local population and in relation to other social issues that are also being deliberated collectively. This would more easily enable a “saturation” of local reporting that might not result from McChesney’s proposal.

        One might argue that a “con” would be that establishing media outlets in every communal council (200 – 400 households in urban areas) would dilute available resources. What I’ve seen, however, is that community media practitioners are aware of and concerned about this. Whereas the 2001 regulations limited community broadcasters to covering no more than a municipality (many are licensed for smaller areas), attempts to restructure the legal framework have taken a different approach. The idea is to create a network of participatory, self-managed outlets that cover a range of areas (local, regional, even national – especially in terms of sectoral media, like a national campesino radio station), but that work in conjunction with a system of local, community production teams.

        So, for instance, every communal council might have one or a few community reporters who receive resources, maybe even a salary, for covering what the council deems to be important. They might report regularly for the council’s (or the commune’s) newsletter / website, but occasionally (co)produce reports designed for a state or regional paper or broadcaster. For instance, the national campesino radio network might want to do a series on drought in various parts of Venezuela. Maybe they call for proposals from regional stations, offering grant money. A regional station might propose a half hour piece featuring reports from 6 different local reporters who would work together to report on the effect of drought conditions within their communal councils. Ostensibly, they would already be aware of important effects, since such issues would have been discussed by water and agricultural spokespersons, or whoever else, in council and assembly meetings. Maybe the council or commune has already initiated a project (infrastructure, cooperative planting, distribution, etc.) to deal with the issue and that becomes the basis of the report. Anyway, the regional station would produce the piece, air it on their frequency, send it to the national station for distribution, etc.

        I’m just riffing here, trying to indicate the general vision that seems to be developing within the community media sector. To be clear, this is not happening at present and doesn’t seem to be immanent. It would require stabilizing funding and establishing the organizational structure. The 2011 proposal for a Law of Popular Communications was a lost opportunity. But in any case, you can see how a participatory media system integrated with the communal system might provide a range of opportunities that would be difficult to create by applying McChesney’s suggestion to the US system, which would still be based on private (commercial and non-profit) entities operating individually in a market system.

        That’s an off the cuff answer, and too long already…

  5. avatar
    Joe Emersb March 18, 2014 6:32 pm 

    Just to clarify my comment about Aporrea, I meant that it is an important Chavista outlet in which Chavistas see, in Spanish, criticism of the government that comes from foreigners who are supportive of Chavismo. Of course there is also plenty of criticism of Chavismo in Aporrea that comes from Chavistas in Venezuela.

  6. avatar
    Joe Emersb March 18, 2014 5:52 pm 

    Michael, I think your best ideas have to do with the media.

    Aside from not being bold enough in democratizing media, the biggest unforced error by Chavistas has been the mismanagement of its currency. Comparisons with Bolivia, whose curreny has remained extremely stable for several years despite facing many of the same challenges as Venezuela, is a great indication of the extent to which this was an unforced error by Chavista governments.

    Fortunately, it looks like the Venezuelan government is, belatedly, taking serious steps to correct the macroeconomic problems it has brought on itself over the past year at least.

    From checking the aporrea site, a publication that reaches the Chavista base in Spanish, it is clear that the Chavista base does have acess to Left criticism of Chavista policy. You find foreign articles threr by Wiesbrot (including one criticizng the management of its curreny) articles by you and even one that I did with Jeb Sprague that talked about impunity for wealthy landwoners who are strongly implicated in peasant assassinations .

    When assessing levels of Chavista suport, I think it is important to remember the opposition must fraudlently pass themsleevs off as “left” in order to be competitive, espeically in presidential elections.

  7. avatar
    David Jone March 18, 2014 3:54 pm 

    It is a delicate topic but necessary for moving forward. I am reminded of what a Zapatista once told me when I asked him what I could do to help his revolution.
    He said “Start your own revolution in the heart of the beast”.
    It takes us back to the historical debates about “socialism in one country” and I believe history teaches us that such projects are doomed. As in Venezuela, it is the insidious nature of Market ideology to infect and undermine isolated projects of collectivization. Cuba is another example, IMO.

    This is why IOPS is so crucial at this moment, an anti-capitalist challenge to Market ideology.

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