February 2011 marked 12 years since Hugo Chavez first assumed the presidency in Venezuela, following a landslide election victory that swept the country’s discredited traditional parties out of power. Since then, Chavez has presided over a radical process of reforms that has been increasingly both vilified by the mainstream media and subject to controversy among the ‘western’ left.
Where is Venezuela going after more than 12 years of having the Chavez government in power? Finding answers that actually engage with some of the major initiatives taking place in the country, such as the community councils, and that transcend the simplistic evaluations offered in the mainstream media that focus virtually all developments in Venezuela around the figure of Chavez are not easy to find. Yet one recent comprehensive and considered assessment has been offered by Gregory Wilpert, author of ‘Changing Venezuela by Taking Power’, which deserves to be read widely and debated by those on the left. For Wilpert, Venezuela has made significant progress in the past 12 years of Chavez’s presidency towards creating a more egalitarian, inclusive, and participatory society. However, he warns of important shortcomings and highlights the factors and obstacles that might explain the persistence of these shortcomings.
Venezuela’s foreign policy and what this says about the nature of the Chavez government has once again been in the media spotlight in relation to events in Libya. Prior to the foreign military intervention in favour of the rebels in Libya’s civil war, a number of leftwing commentators criticised Chavez for what they perceived to be his support for Gaddafi’s government in the conflict. A number of these commentators had trouble separating the actual position of the Venezuelan government with mainstream media misrepresentations of it, and one had to turn to informed and independent media sources for clarification on the issue. However, while Chavez and his government will continue to generate debate and controversy on all sides of the political spectrum, the two articles that follow focus on developments in Venezuela itself.
In the first Jennie Bremner, Assistant General Secretary of the British trade union Unite, argues that the Chavez government, despite suffering from the deep global recession that has led other government’s such as the UK’s to drive through savage cuts to public services and welfare spending, has instead chosen the path of building a fairer and more equal society through investing in people and public services.
In the second provocatively titled piece, originally published by Venezuela biggest selling daily newspaper ‘Ultimas Noticias’ and translated into English by the Transnational Institute (TNI), Venezuelan sociologist, Edgardo Lander argues that Venezuela’s ‘Bolivarian’ process is caught between a fundamental contradiction: popular demands for democratic participation against tendencies towards hierarchical decision-making and a concentration of power.
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