Hugo Chavez’s Social Democratic Agenda

Hugo Chavez Frias was reelected by an overwhelming nearly two to one margin over his only serious rival on December 3, 2006 giving him a mandate to proceed with his agenda to build a socialist society in the 21st century on a Bolivarian model designed to meet the needs of the current era in Venezuela and Latin America overall.  Chavez first announced his intentions on January 30, 2005 at the Fifth World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and his people affirmed they want him to proceed with it in his new term to run until December, 2012.


Chavez wants to build a humanistic democratic society based on solidarity and respect for political, economic, social and cultural human and civil rights, but not the top-down bureaucratic kind that doomed the Soviet Union and Eastern European states.  He said he wants to build a “new socialism of the 21st century….based in solidarity, fraternity, love, justice, liberty and equality” as opposed to the neoliberal new world order model based on predatory capitalism exploiting ordinary people for power and profit that’s incompatible with democracy.  Newly appointed Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte expressed Washington’s concern about the challenge to its hegemony in his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing saying Chavez’s “behavior is threatening to democracies in the region (because he exports a form of) radical populism.” He didn’t mention how glorious it is.


He also never explained Venezuelans voted for it and love it and so do people throughout the region wanting what Venezuelans now have.  Since first taking office in February, 1999, Chavez radically transformed the country from one of power and privilege to a participatory democracy governed by principles of political, economic and social equity and justice.  He now wants to advance his social democratic agenda well into the new century, and his landslide electoral victory empowers him more than ever to do it.  Like a true democrat, he intends to serve his people and deliver what they asked for.


Chavez began his new term with the formation of a new unity party called the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to “construct socialism from below,” built “from the base” in communities, patrols, battalions, squadrons, neighborhoods “to carry out the battle of ideas for the socialist project (to) build Venezuelan socialism.”  He wants it to be an “original Venezuelan model” to become the most democratic in Venezuela‘s history and include a coalition of many smaller parties along with his former Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR) party that completed its work and “must now pass into history.” 


In December, 23 parties joined with the MVR to reelect Chavez, including three major ones that can add strength and credibility to the PSUV – For Social Democracy (PODEMOS), Homeland For All (PPT), and the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV).  The inclusion of all or most allied parties in the new PSUV will be a step toward building a foundational unity to address the agenda ahead -  building 21st century socialism using state revenues to benefit people in new and innovative ways.  Chavez wants to reform the constitution, eliminate a two-term presidential limit, and institute new progressive changes giving more power to  people at the grass roots the way democracy should work.


He also wants to transform the country’s economic model believing it’s “fundamental (to do) if we wish to build a true socialism (therefore) we must socialize the economy (including the land and create) a new productive model.”  He wants all proposed changes submitted to popular referendum so Venezuelans decide on them, not politicians.  That’s how it should be in a participatory democracy from the bottom up Chavez says must “transcend the local framework (to achieve) “a sort of regional federation of Communal Councils.”   There are 16,000 of them already organized across the country dealing with local issues, each with 200 – 400 families, and that number is expected to grow to 21,000 by year end 2007.  “They are the key to peoples’ power,” Chavez stressed, and he sees them as the embryo of a new state driven by the PSUV.


Communal Councils are central to Chavez’s plan for people empowerment.  They were created in April, 2006 with the passage of the Communal Council Law.  Once fully in place and operational, they’ll represent true participatory democracy unimaginable in the US now governed from the top down by authoritarian rule allowing no deviation from established policies people have no say on and often don’t know exist.


Councils work the opposite way.  They’re to deal with all community issues in local umbrella groups addressing matters of health, education, agriculture, housing and all other functions handled up to now by Social Missions and Urban Land Committees.  They represent grass roots democracy in action giving them muscle and meaning and are administered by the Intergovernmental Fund for Decentralization that will distribute $5 billion to them in 2007 or more than triple the $1.5 billion allocated in 2006.  Additionally, Chavez hopes $7 billion more will be put in the Venezuelan National Development Fund for industrial development use.


US Corporate Media Assaults Against Hugo Chavez


In an earlier article, this writer addressed how Venezuela‘s corporate media relentlessly beats up on Hugo Chavez to a degree unimaginable most anywhere else.  The US corporate media never lets up either as evidenced on January 24 by New York Times correspondent Simon Romero’s report from Caracas.  He referred to the Councils as a plan to construct “socialist cities….to be settled in part by cramped city dwellers in Caracas and Maracaibo.”  He added: “Some of Mr. Chavez’s critics compare the project to (1970s Cambodian Khmer Rouge leader) Pol Pot’s emptying of Phnom Penh in his bloody effort to remake Cambodian society in the 1970s.” 


Romero’s anti-Chavez polemic went further with inferences of authoritarianism, anti-semitism, equating him with (Libyan strongman) Muammar el-Qaddafi and accusing him of masking an opposition to liberal democracy beneath the facade of his “socialist ramblings” with a climactic final outrageous comment that most Venezuelans voted for Chavez “because (they) wanted a dictatorship.”


This kind of slander actually gets printed in the so-called “newspaper of record” with “All The News That’s Fit To Print” that has muscle and clout.  Its reports get instant recognition and echoing throughout America‘s dominant media eager to pick up on and trumpet the most outlandish misinformation and distortions from the most influential publication on the planet.  The NYT and entire corporate media in both countries play fast and loose with facts they never report unless they conform to their ideological view supporting power and privilege with the public being damned.


What they ignore about Chavez stands what they do on its head.  It’s his vision of participatory democracy rooted throughout the country in communities that the NYT portrays as potentially bloody communist takeover and population purging with implications of Pol Pot’s Cambodian nightmare regime three decades ago.  This is typical Times yellow journalism in its quasi-official state ministry of information and propaganda role meaning all of its reports should be viewed with grave suspicion or just dismissed. 


So should Time Magazine’s with its strident attack articles using language like “The Venezuelan strongman lurches even closer to one-party….one-man rule roiling democratic waters” (and Chavez is) “Stifling Dissent in Venezuela” also asking “Is Chavez Becoming Castro?”  The articles refer to Chavez’s nationalization plans, his new “enabling law” authority, and his government plan to control the Central Bank replacing a private banking cartel doing it for profit the way it works detrimentally in the US and West.  Time’s writers skip over inconvenient facts including how Chavez serves his people in full conformity to Venezuelan law unlike how Washington pols are bought, paid for and in office for the privileged alone including for the directors of Time’s parent company, media giant Time Warner.


Another corporate press mainstay, the Washington Post, took its best shots too in a January 27 editorial claiming “democracy is dead, dying or in danger” in Venezuela because “Hugo Chavez began his (new) term this month with a flurry of authoritarianism, (including wanting) to rule by decree.”  It continued saying Chavez “hopes to convert (Nicaragua and Ecuador) into satellite leaders in a Venezuelan-led ‘socialist’ bloc (along with) Bolivia’s Evo Morales and….Fidel Castro….already in Mr. Chavez’s orbit (and) thanks to Venezuela’s petrodollars, Cuba’s ‘totalitarian’ system may survive Mr. Castro’s demise.”  With this kind of “journalism,” the Post writer may be up for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the US‘s highest civilian award for exceptional meritorious service surely including black propaganda for the state.


The above examples and countless more pass for what’s called journalism in a country claiming dedication to press freedom but failing where it counts – reporting the truth.  There’s precious little of it about Hugo Chavez because he represents the greatest of all threats to US dominance – a good example that’s infectious and spreading to growing numbers in the region no longer wanting democracy, American-style that’s a one-way kind for the privileged alone. 


Expect lots more hostile rhetoric ahead as Chavez advances new socially democratic plans and programs sure to be denounced in a collective drum beat of distortion and misinformation. They won’t report the National Assembly democratically voted Chavez limited enabling law power for a fixed period after weeks of debate.  They won’t explain a fading US democracy with George Bush on his own “executive order” authority giving himself permanent “Unitary Executive power” to suspend the Constitution and declare martial law any time he alone decides a “national emergency” warrants it.  They won’t say Congress and the courts allowed him to do it. They won’t ever let on that Chavez governs as a social democrat while George Bush rules by virtual “strongman” decree with no check or balancing restraint on him.  Why would they when they won’t ever tell the truth.   


Nationalizing Key Industries


On January 8, Hugo Chavez announced plans to renationalize the nation’s “strategic sectors” starting with two large partly US-owned companies.  They’re telecom giant Compania Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela (CANTV), 28.5% owned by Verizon Communications, and Electricdad de Caracas (EDC) that’s part of Virginia-based AES Corporation.  CANTV is Venezuela’s largest privately-owned company, but it’s not a telephone monopoly.  Its land lines reach only 11% of the population, with three-fourths of it having none, while its cell phone unit, Movilnet, controls 35% of this larger, more profitable market. It does have internet monopoly power in the country controlling 83% of it that’s enough to block competitors and make for an untenable situation now being rectified.


The situation is similar in the electric power industry with much of it already controlled by two state-owned companies.  At a news conference on February 2, Chavez announced “The nationalization of the electrical sector is one of the first laws to be approved (because) it is a necessity….One of the priorities is the nationalization of the electricity.  It was a monumental mistake to have it privatized (and now six electricity companies in all will revert to state ownership).”


Telecommunications Minister Jesse Chacon indicated CANTV will be the only telecommunications company returned to state control, but doing it disrupted Mexican billionaire and richest Latin American Carlos Slim’s plans.  Slim controls the Mexican telecommunications company Telmex as its chairman, along with other vast holdings in banking, insurance, technology and much more. Verizon planned to sell him its 28.5% of the company making him even richer, but that’s now off the table with Chavez’s plans to “enrich” the Venezuelan people, not a predatory billionaire tycoon wanting more billions at the expense of the public he got his other billions from.


Venezuelan National Assembly Finance Chairman Ricardo Sanguino said these and other previously-owned state companies will be nationalized with payments for them likely conforming to their fair market value with government input on what that is. Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas indicated the country’s oil revenue reserves will be used to compensate shareholders who’ll “receive the fair price for the value of their shares.” 


It wasn’t good enough for US ambassador William Brownfield who’s more politician than diplomat and often offensive and out of line.  He challenged the transactions, and in so doing provoked Hugo Chavez to say he might ask the envoy to leave the country if he continues “meddling in Venezuelan affairs.”  He added doing it violates “the Geneva agreements and (its) getting yourself involved in a serious violation and could (get you) declared a persona non grata and would have to leave the country.”


Brownfield didn’t say it, but he’s reinforcing false and misleading reports that privately-owned companies may be expropriated while ignoring Chavez saying that’s  illegal under Venezuelan law and won’t happen.  But in a move to boost state revenues in the face of lower oil prices, Chavez ordered his telecommunications minister to take control of CANTV ahead of paying compensation for it, and he may continue that practice with other nationalizations. 


As announced on February 13, however, the CANTV matter is now resolved as the Venezuelan government and US owner Verizon Communications agreed on a deal to settle it.  The government will buy out Verizon’s 28.51% ownership for just over $572 million to raise its equity stake in the company from 6.5% to 35% in an important step to put the company back under state control, 15 years after it was privatized.


Another nationalization is also moving toward resolution as state-owned oil company PDVSA agreed to buy a majority share in the electric company EDC from US-based AES owning 82% of it.  Remaining minority owner shares will remain in private hands.  A memorandum of understanding was formalized with AES confirming the agreement, and both sides expressed satisfaction with it putting to rest unfounded fears the Chavez government might expropriate private property forbidden by Venezuela’s nationalization laws requiring owners get fair compensation in any state takeover.  Venezuelan Vice-President Jorge Rodriquez attended the public presentation expressing his satisfaction along with companies on both sides, and said this is the first of a series of further agreements to come involving nationalizations of strategic sectors.


Chavez plans other changes as well and will ask for a constitutional amendment to end Central Bank of Venezuela’s (BCV) autonomy in a move responding to state strategies according to its director, Armando Leon.  Leon said one of the bank’s functions is to maintain medium and long term stability to guarantee economic growth, impr

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