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Chavez Condemnation of Israeli Massacre Draws Worldwide Support
There are even groups of Israeli terrorists, of the Mossad, who are after me trying to kill me: Hugo Chavez.
June 06, 2010 (Hamsayeh.Net) - Latin American progressive nations condemned Israeli murder of innocent Turkish and other countries' humanitarian activists onboard a six-ship flotilla last Monday. The Venezuelan popular President Hugo Chavez called Israel a ‘genocidal state’ by killing so many activists for no reason. He said Israel is a cursed terrorist and murderous state following the attacks.
Other Latin American countries also condemned Israeli aggression. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa recalled the country’s ambassador from Israel and signalled a severance of diplomatic ties with Tel-Aviv. Caracas has already cut ties with Israel following the war in Gaza in 2008.
According to Chavez , Israeli secret agents are planning to assassinate leading officials in Venezuela including himself. The highly esteemed international leader of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, revealed, “Israel is financing the Venezuelan opposition. There are even groups of Israeli terrorists, of the Mossad, who are after me trying to kill me.’
Chavez differentiated between Israel’s Zionist criminal behavior to that of followers of Judaism particularly the Jewish community in Venezuela. ‘They know they have our affection and respect...I doubt very much that a Venezuelan Jew would support such an atrocity,’ Chavez added.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denounced this Saturday US plans to attack his country and overthrow his government. During a ceremony celebrating the 227th birthday of Independence hero Simon Bolivar, Chavez read from a secret memo he had been sent from an unnamed source inside the United States.
“Old friend, I haven’t seen you in years. As I said to you in my three prior letters, the idea remains the generation of a conflict on your western border”, read Chavez from the secret missive.
“The latest events confirm all, or almost all, of what those here discussed as well as other information that I have obtained from above”, the letter continued.
“The preparation phase in the international community, with the help of Colombia, is in plain execution”, manifested the text, referring to last Thursday’s session in the Organization of American States (OAS), during which the Colombia government accused Venezuela of harboring “terrorists” and “terrorist training camps” and gave the Chavez government a “30-day ultimatum” to allow for international intervention.
The letter continued with more details, “I told you before that the events wouldn’t begin before the 26th, but for some reason they have moved forward several actions that were supposed to be executed afterward”.
“In the United States, the execution phase is accelerating, together with a contention force, as they call it, towards Costa Rica with the pretext of fighting drug trafficking”.
On July 1, the Costan Rican government authorized 46 US war ships and 7,000 marines into their maritime and land territory.
The true objective of this military mobilization, said the letter, is to “support military operations” against Venezuela.
ASSASSINATION AND OVERTHROW
“There is an agreement between Colombia and the US with two objectives: one is Mauricio and the other is the overthrow of the government”, revealed the document. President Chavez explained that “Mauricio” is a pseudynom used in these communications.
“The military operation is going to happen”, warned the text, “and those from the north will do it, but not directly in Caracas”.
“They will hunt ‘Mauricio’ down outside Caracas, this is very important, I repeat, this is very important”.
President Chavez revealed that he had received similar letters from the same source alerting him to dangerous threats. He received one right before the capture of more than 100 Colombian paramilitaries in the outskirts of Caracas that were part of an assassination plan against the Venezuelan head of state, and another in 2002, just days before the coup d’etat that briefly outsted him from power. “The letter warned of snipers and the coup”, explained Chavez, “and it was right, the information was true, but we were unable to act to prevent it”.
US MILITARY EXPANSION
This information comes on the heels of the decision last Thursday to break relations between Colombia and Venezuela, made by President Chavez after Colombia’s “show” in the OAS.
“Uribe is capable of anything”, warned Chavez, announcing that the country was on maximum altert and the borders were being reinforced. Last October, Colombia and the US signed a military agreement permitting the US to occupy seven Colombian bases and to use all Colombian territory as needed to complete missions. One of the bases in the agreement, Palanquero, was cited in May 2009 US Air Force documents as necessary to “conduct full spectrum military operations” in South America and combat the threat of “anti-US governments” in the region.
Palanquero was also signaled as critical to the Pentagon’s Global Mobility Strategy, as outlined in the February 2009 White Paper: Air Mobility Command Global En Route Strategy, “USSOUTHCOM has identified Palanquero, Colombia (German Olano Airfield SKPQ), as a cooperative security location (CSL). From this location nearly half of the continent can be covered by a C-17 without refueling”.
The 2010 Pentagon budget included a $46 million USD request to improve the installations at Palanquero, in order to support the Command Combatant’s “Theater Posture Strategy” and “provide for a unique opportunity for full spectrum operations in a critical sub region of our hemisphere where security and stability is under constant threat from narcotics funded terrorist insurgencies, anti-US governments, endemic poverty and recurring natural disasters”. The May 2009 Air Force document further added that Palanquero would be used to “increase our capacity to conduct Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), improve global reach…and expand expeditionary warfare capability”. In February 2010, the US National Directorate of Intelligence (NDI) classified Venezuela as “Anti-US Leader” in the region in its annual threat assessment.
The US also maintains forward operation locations (small military bases) in Aruba and Curazao, just miles off the Venezuelan coast. In recent months, the Venezuelan government has denounced unauthorized incursions of drone planes and other military aircraft into Venezuelan territory, originating from the US bases.
These latest revelations evidence that a serious, and unjustified conflict is brewing fast against Venezuela, a country with a vibrant democracy and the largest oil reserves in the world.
Mérida, September 15th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Raul Diaz, sentenced for helping to plant explosives near two embassies in 2003, left Venezuela covertly on 5 September then entered the U.S and sought political asylum, received the support of congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and conducted interviews where he claimed he had been a political prisoner.
AVN reported that Diaz entered the U.S without any difficulties despite the charges against him, and while Telesur said he escaped prison last year, in his interviews Diaz claimed he escaped sometime after May this year.
Diaz was arrested in 2003 after explosions in the Spanish and Colombian embassies in February that year. He was sentenced to nine years and four months in jail for terrorism as one of the material authors of the attacks.
The explosions occurred towards the end of the oil industry lockout where opposition parties and organisations shut down Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), at the time still largely controlled by elites. The Venezuelan government argued that the embassy bombings aimed to destabilise the government.
Several discharged military men were also accused of being behind the attacks. Two lieutenants who were accused, José Colina and German Varela, fled the country and also sought political asylum in Miami. Venezuela has since tried to extradite them. Also, according to El Nuevo Herald of Miami, both officers had previously undergone military training courses in the U.S.
Diaz, under a program created by the current Venezuelan government for well behaved prisoners, was allowed to leave the prison to work or study, then returned there to sleep. It was on that basis that he was able to organise his escape.
On 11 September Diaz met with Ros-Lehtinen and Patricia Andrade, head of the Venezuelan Awareness Foundation, which is filing his case for political asylum, and talked to the press.
According to the Miami Herald, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen sent letters to the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asking for help in the case.
Ros-Lehtinen said herself and Andrade had worked hard for Diaz and told press, “The attacks by Chavez against human rights and the most basic freedoms... represent a serious concern for those who struggle against tyrants and their repressive systems... Hugo Chavez is a power hungry despot intent on destroying anyone and anything that he perceives to be an obstacle to his never ending rule”.
Ros-Lehtinen is a Cuban born Republican, plays a prominent role in the Cuba-American Lobby pressuring for political change in Cuba, actively supports the U.S embargo on Cuba, has also lobbied in support of Orlando Bosch, a Cuban convicted of terrorist attacks, and she once said in a documentary that she “welcomed” the assassination of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Andrade’s Foundation is affiliated to UnoAmerica, the “Union of Democratic Organisations of America,” an organisation that supported the coup in Honduras last year, and whose president Alejandro Pena Esclusa was arrested in July this year after police allegedly found explosives in his home and after Salvadoran terrorist Francisco Chavez Abarca linked him to destabilisation plans.
Since arriving in Miami Diaz has conducted various interviews with the press, including with CNN host Patricia Janiot on 13 September.
In the interview Janiot asked Diaz how he managed to escape Venezuela, about his claim for political asylum and about supposed general repression by the Venezuelan government.
She asked, “How did you manage to get out?” and Diaz responded, “On the 13 May this year a Caracas judge... gave me a benefit, that lasted for three months... which allowed me to look for a way out of the country”. He explained the “open regime benefit” meant that he only slept in the jail from Monday to Thursday at night.
When Janiot asked why he considered himself a political prisoner, he responded that his innocence was proven and the state used all its power to prove him guilty.
He also said he was involved in a protest of militia against Chavez in October 2002, where he was a civilian, and claimed this was the reason he was “linked” to the bombings. He also claimed police tortured people to give evidence against him, and that other evidence was “falsified”.
Janiot asked a question about Cuban “political prisoners” following a general mainstream media line of trying to link so-called Cuban and Venezuelan repression. Diaz claimed there are “more than thirty [political] prisoners in jail in Venezuela" and that a further “one or two thousand” opposition members were being pursued.
Janiot ended the CNN interview by saying, “...Raul Diaz Pena, a Venezuelan student who managed to outwit, we might say, the Venezuelan authorities and come to the United States where he’s seeking political asylum”.
Eva Golinger also reported that two weeks ago CNN broadcast a documentary called “The Guardians of Chavez”, which attempted to link the Chavez government with criminals and terrorist groups.
Meanwhile, in another interview titled “Fleeing Chavez” on Maria Elvira Live, a Spanish language program on Miami TV, Elvira asked almost the same questions as Janiot but asked for more details about how Diaz fled the country.
Diaz said, “On Saturday I went home... then I went through the east of the country... by sea, to an island, and from there I managed to immigrate with some contacts”. The Miami Herald specified that this island was Trinidad.
“You had planned it all?” Elvira asked. “Yes I had it all planned,” Diaz responded. “That’s great that they helped you...How much did it cost you?” Elvira asked. “$6,000,” he said.
“You got out just like the Cubans,” Elvira concluded.
Elvira finished the interview talking about so called torture in Venezuelan prisons, and implied that Cubans were involved.
Opposition groups in Venezuela have tried to frame Diaz’s case, along with others, as an issue of human rights, and in the past, have made demands that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) investigate the so called “political persecution”.
However the Venezuelan government has responded that the cases cited by the opposition are all common criminal cases.
Diaz is the latest in a list of convicted or accused criminals who have fled to the U.S and received protection. Most recently, Nelson Mezerhane, owner of Banco Federal, fled to Miami after the government took custody of his bank for not maintaining minimum reserve levels in June.
While the U.S accuses Venezuela of not cooperating in the “international war against terrorism”, the U.S has denied all of Venezuela’s extradition requests for terrorists and criminals who have fled Venezuela to the U.S.
In late November, Venezuela was hammered by torrential rains and flooding that left 35 people dead and roughly 130,000 homeless. If George Bush had been president, instead of Hugo Chavez, the displaced people would have been shunted off at gunpoint to makeshift prison camps--like the Superdome--as they were following Hurricane Katrina. But that's not the way Chavez works. The Venezuelan president quickly passed "enabling" laws which gave him special powers to provide emergency aid and housing to flood victims. Chavez then cleared out the presidential palace and turned it into living quarters for 60 people, which is the equivalent of turning the White House into a homeless shelter. The disaster victims are now being fed and taken care of by the state until they can get back on their feet and return to work.
The details of Chavez's efforts have been largely omitted in the US media where he is regularly demonized as a "leftist strongman" or a dictator. The media refuses to acknowledge that Chavez has narrowed the income gap, eliminated illiteracy, provided health care for all Venezuelans, reduced inequality, and raised living standards across he board. While Bush and Obama were expanding their foreign wars and pushing through tax cuts for the rich, Chavez was busy improving the lives of the poor and needy while fending off the latest wave of US aggression.
Washington despises Chavez because he is unwilling to hand over Venezuela's vast resources to corporate elites and bankers. That's why the Bush administration tried to depose Chavez in a failed coup attempt in 2002, and that's why the smooth-talking Obama continues to launch covert attacks on Chavez today. Washington wants regime change so it can install a puppet who will hand over Venezuela's reserves to big oil while making life hell for working people.
Recently released documents from Wikileaks show that the Obama administration has stepped up its meddling in Venezuela's internal affairs. Here's an excerpt from a recent post by attorney and author, Eva Golinger:
"In a secret document authored by current Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Craig Kelly, and sent by the US Embassy in Santiago in June 2007 to the Secretary of State, CIA and Southern Command of the Pentagon, along with a series of other US embassies in the region, Kelly proposed "six main areas of action for the US government (USG) to limit Chavez's influence" and "reassert US leadership in the region".
Kelly, who played a primary role as "mediator" during last year's coup d'etat in Honduras against President Manuel Zelaya, classifies President Hugo Chavez as an "enemy" in his report.
"Know the enemy: We have to better understand how Chavez thinks and what he intends...To effectively counter the threat he represents, we need to know better his objectives and how he intends to pursue them. This requires better intelligence in all of our countries". Further on in the memo, Kelly confesses that President Chavez is a "formidable foe", but, he adds, "he certainly can be taken". (Wikileaks: Documents Confirm US Plans Against Venezuela, Eva Golinger, Postcards from the Revolution)
The State Department cables show that Washington has been funding anti-Chavez groups in Venezuela through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that pretend to be working for civil liberties, human rights or democracy promotion. These groups hide behind a facade of legitimacy, but their real purpose is to topple the democratically elected Chavez government. Obama supports this type of subversion just as enthusiastically as did Bush. The only difference is the Obama team is more discreet. Here's another clip from Golinger with some of the details on the money-trail:
"In Venezuela, the US has been supporting anti-Chavez groups for over 8 years, including those that executed the coup d’etat against President Chavez in April 2002. Since then, the funding has increased substantially. A May 2010 report evaluating foreign assistance to political groups in Venezuela, commissioned by the National Endowment for Democracy, revealed that more than $40 million USD annually is channeled to anti-Chavez groups, the majority from US agencies....
Venezuela stands out as the Latin American nation where NED has most invested funding in opposition groups during 2009, with $1,818,473 USD, more than double from the year before....Allen Weinstein, one of NED’s original founders, revealed once to the Washington Post, “What we do today was done clandestinely 25 years ago by the CIA…” (America's Covert "Civil Society Operations": US Interference in Venezuela Keeps Growing", Eva Golinger, Global Research)
On Monday, the Obama administration revoked the visa of Venezuela’s ambassador to Washington in retaliation for Chávez’s rejection of nominee Larry Palmer as American ambassador in Caracas. Palmer has been openly critical of Chavez saying there were clear ties between members of the Chavez administration and leftist guerrillas in neighboring Colombia. It's a roundabout way of accusing Chavez of terrorism. Even worse, Palmer's background and personal history suggest that his appointment might pose a threat to Venezuela's national security. Consider the comments of James Suggett of Venezuelanalysis on Axis of Logic:
"Take a look at Palmer's history, working with the U.S.-backed oligarchs in the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Sierra Leone, South Korea, Honduras, "promoting the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)." Just as the U.S. ruling class appointed an African-American, Barack Obama to replace George W. Bush with everything else intact, Obama in turn, appoints Palmer to replace Patrick Duddy who was involved in the attempted coup against President Chávez in 2002 and an enemy of Venezuelans throughout his term as U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela." (http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/printer_60511.shtml)
Venezuela is already crawling with US spies and saboteurs. They don't need any help from agents working inside the embassy. Chavez did the right thing by giving Palmer the thumbs down.
The Palmer nomination is just "more of the same"; more interference, more subversion, more trouble-making. The State Dept was largely responsible for all of the so-called color-coded revolutions in Ukraine, Lebanon, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan etc; all of which were cookie cutter, made-for-TV events that pitted the interests of wealthy capitalists against those of the elected government. Now Hillary's throng want to try the same strategy in Venezuela. It's up to Chavez to stop them, which is why he's pushed through laws that "regulate, control or prohibit foreign funding for political activities". It's the only way he can defend against US meddling and protect Venezuelan sovereignty.
Chavez is also using his new powers to reform the financial sector. Here's an excerpt from an article titled "Venezuelan National Assembly Passes Law Making Banking a “Public Service”:
"Venezuela's National Assembly on Friday approved new legislation that defines banking as an industry “of public service,” requiring banks in Venezuela to contribute more to social programs, housing construction efforts, and other social needs while making government intervention easier when banks fail to comply with national priorities."...
The new law protects bank customers’ assets in the event of irregularities on the part of owners... and stipulates that the Superintendent of Banking Institutions take into account the best interest of bank customers – and not only stockholders... when making any decisions that affect a bank’s operations."
So why isn't Obama doing the same thing? Is he too afraid of real change or is he just Wall Street's lackey? Here's more from the same article:
"In an attempt to control speculation, the law limits the amount of credit that can be made available to individuals or private entities by making 20% the maximum amount of capital a bank can have out as credit. The law also limits the formation of financial groups and prohibits banks from having an interest in brokerage firms and insurance companies.
The law also stipulates that 5% of pre-tax profits of all banks be dedicated solely to projects elaborated by communal councils. 10% of a bank´s capital must also be put into a fund to pay for wages and pensions in case of bankruptcy.
According to 2009 figures provided by Softline Consultores, 5% of pre-tax profits in Venezuela's banking industry last year would have meant an additional 314 million bolivars, or $73.1 million dollars, for social programs to attend the needs of Venezuela’s poor majority." http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/5880
"Control speculation"? Now there's a novel idea. Naturally, opposition leaders are calling the new laws "an attack on economic liberty", but that's pure baloney. Chavez is merely protecting the public from the predatory practices of bloodthirsty bankers. Most Americans wish that Obama would do the same thing.
According to the Wall Street Journal, "Chávez has threatened to expropriate large banks in the past if they don't increase loans to small-business owners and prospective home buyers, this time he is increasing the pressure publicly to show his concern for the lack of sufficient housing for Venezuela's 28 million people."
Caracas suffers from a massive housing shortage that's gotten much worse because of the flooding. Tens of thousands of people need shelter now, which is why Chavez is putting pressure on the banks to lend a hand. Of course, the banks don't want to help so they've slipped into crybaby mode. But Chavez has shrugged off their whining and put them "on notice". In fact, on Tuesday, he issued this terse warning:
"Any bank that slips up…I'm going to expropriate it, whether it's Banco Provincial, or Banesco or Banco Nacional de Crédito."
Bravo, Hugo. In Chavez's Venezuela the basic needs of ordinary working people take precedent over the profiteering of cutthroat banksters. Is it any wonder why Washington hates him?
Venezuela: First national meeting of Socialist Workers’ Councils discusses workers' control
Photo by Prensa Sidor.
By Tamara Pearson
Mérida, May 24, 2011 – Venezuelanalysis.com – More than 900 workers’ council delegates from across Venezuela met at the Sidor steel plant in Puerto Ordaz to advance the organisation of Socialist Workers’ Councils and analyse progress, strengths and weaknesses of workers' control in Venezuela. The meeting, which took place on May 20, 21 and 22, opened with the singing of Venezuela's national anthem as well as the "Internationale".
It aimed to “strengthen the struggle for productive independence through workers' control”, Prensa Sidor (Sidor Press) reported. Workers, coming from a range of nationalised and worker-occupied and -run companies, and from most of Venezuela’s 23 states, evaluated the management model of the “Socialist Workers’ Councils”.
Sidor, one the most important steel factories in Latin America, was privatised in 1997 and following that, the workforce was reduced from 15,000 to just over 5000. The Venezuelan government nationalised it in 2008 after over a year of struggle by Sidor workers, together with the people of Puerto Ordaz.
President Hugo Chavez first called for the creation of socialist workers’ councils in November 2007. VTV, the state-owned national television station, for example, elected its worker council in June 2010, with 849 workers voting to elect 36 spokespeople that make up the council.
“The workplace has to be linked to the community”, Chavez said as he made the call.
The recently passed Organic Law of Popular Power recognises socialist workers’ councils among the various popular power organisations, thereby creating a legal basis for the councils. The Network of Socialist Workers’ Councils is also calling for the creation of a special law for workers’ councils.
In February 2011, workers held regional meetings of socialist workers’ councils. With 50 such councils, represented by 300 delegates, meeting in the greater Caracas region on February 26.
The May 20-22 national meeting was divided into three parts: exchange of experiences in the various factories and companies organised according to region of the country; a discussion in 30 working groups about problems in constructing workers' control; and a plenary session where representatives from the working groups read out their conclusions.
The conclusions went towards a document titled, Manifesto of the First National Meeting of Worker Control, which participating workers hope to present to Chavez.
The conference analysed what is happening in nationalised and worker-occupied companies and rejected the actions of some government functionaries against workers' organisation, as well as the negative role right-wing unions have been playing, Aporrea reported.
Workers also proposed the formation of a national front that will promote the workers' council model, as well as the strengthening of ideological training and class consciousness, and finally, a greater use of criticism and “revolutionary self-criticism as an instrument of class struggle”, Sidor Press reported.
Participants said the meeting was significant as an opportunity to strengthen workers' control in Venezuela. They agreed to meet next on June 18 in Anzoategui state, to form the proposed national front and to plan actions to concretise the proposals made at the conference.
According to Lucha de Clases, the meeting was “organised from below, [and] a key factor in the mobilisation and logistics of the meeting was the participation and organisation of the workers of [Puerto Ordaz, Bolivar state] who opened up their homes to put up comrades participating from other states”.
Aporrea writer Luis Roa criticised the fact that “no representatives of the state government ... or the National Assembly ... or any union” participated in the conference.
Slogans of the conference included “Neither capitalists nor bureaucrats, all power to the workers” and “Without workers’ control there’s no revolution”.
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Poverty and Progress: Comparing the US and Venezuela
What does it mean to be “Third World” in 2013? If we are to take the traditional definition of the term, then “Third World” refers to those (non-white) countries that struggle to attain high levels of economic development and which, for the most part, are reduced to the periphery of the global economy. However, since the onset of the economic crisis beginning in 2007-2008, many of the economic problems of those traditionally poor countries have become ever more apparent in the so-called developed world. Socio-economic maladies such as extreme poverty, hunger, and unemployment have skyrocketed in advanced capitalist countries like the United States, while politicians and the media continue to trumpet the mirage of an economic recovery. Naturally, one must ask for whom this is a recovery…for the poor or for Wall St? Moreover, it has forced the world to examine what progress looks like. One way of doing so is to analyze what the statistics tell us about the United States versus Venezuela. In so doing, one begins to get a much clearer picture, free from the distortions of media and politicians alike, of just how much progress has been made in the Bolivarian Revolution while the situation of the poor and working classes in the US continues to deteriorate.
What Is Poverty?
Before one can reach any definitive conclusions about poverty in the US and Venezuela, it is essential to first establish the stark difference in the way in which poverty is measured in the two countries. With respect to the US, poverty is measured purely by household income, with a certain threshold known as the “poverty line” determined by the Census Bureau. This measurement, based on a purely arbitrary delineation between poverty and “non-poverty”, is the one by which many make determinations about the state of the poor in the US. As should be self-evident, this system of analyzing poverty ignores the obvious fact that there is little tangible difference between the lives of those slightly over and slightly under the poverty line in that both live in a constant state of privation. Moreover, as increasing inflation, decreasing wages and other factors continue to impact the purchasing power and actual lives of the poor, the poverty line becomes even more problematic.
In contrast, the Venezuelan government has a distinctly different set of measurements to determine true poverty including: access to education, access to clean drinking water, access to adequate housing, and other factors.[i] Essentially then, in Venezuela, poverty is not a measure of income, but of quality of life. By measuring poverty in this way, the Venezuelan government provides a far more comprehensive picture of the socio-economic situation in the country. It is important to note also that, unlike in the United States, poverty statistics in Venezuela are one of the primary driving forces behind the formation of government policy. While in the US, poverty has become a dirty word (as evidenced by the subject’s total absence from last year’s presidential debates), Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution have made it the centerpiece of public policy in all aspects.
What the Numbers Show
When one examines the statistical data compiled by the Census Bureau in the United States, many very troubling facts emerge. First, it’s critical to note that, in 2012, the poverty line for a typical family of four was at a combined gross income of $23,050.[ii] Note that this indicator is derived from gross income as opposed to net income, so it doesn’t even reflect the gravity of the situation faced by these families. Anyone who has even a rudimentary understanding of the current costs of living in the United States can immediately surmise that the “poverty line” is a cruel joke. This level of income means abject poverty, it means a lack of basic necessities for human life. So, in essence then, we’re not talking about “the poor”, but those on the verge of death with problems such as malnutrition, serious illness from treatable conditions, and countless other hindrances to basic existence. In addition, it should be noted that median family income (for all families, not just those in poverty) continues to decline dramatically, with a decrease of 8.1% since 2007.[iii] Therefore, it becomes apparent that, not only is [US] poverty widespread, it is growing.
California, long touted as the most economically vibrant state in the US, is now known as more than just the home of Silicon Valley and beautiful coastline, it is also home to the highest levels of poverty in the United States. According to the Supplemental Poverty Measure of the US Census Bureau, California boasts a 23.5% poverty rate[iv] which, if included with those who do not technically fit the poverty measure but who still live very much on the economic margins, shows that poverty is fast becoming an epidemic in California. As University of Wisconsin Madison economist Timothy Smeeding explained, “As a whole, the safety net is holding many people up, while California is struggling more because it’s relatively harder there to qualify for food stamps and other benefits.”[v] Essentially then we see that, in the nation’s most populous and, arguably most economically important state, the situation of the poor is a dire one as more and more people become dependent on government programs just for survival. This is, of course, against the backdrop of austerity or so-called “entitlement reform” championed by both Republicans and Democrats, which would cut these same programs which are becoming ever more critical for millions of Americans.
Income cannot and should not be seen as the only indicator of poverty and economic status. Indeed, there are many other factors including access to proper nutrition, particularly important for children growing up in situations of poverty. In fact, the most recent data from the USDA suggests that at least 18 million households in the US were food insecure as of 2011.[vi] This is merely the tip of the iceberg when one considers that there are millions of households who are not categorized as “food insecure” but who cannot afford high quality food and the still more families who are only food secure because of government programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) formerly known as food stamps. Lack of access to highly nutritious foods is characteristic of poor, urban neighborhoods where primarily people of color struggle to feed their children with something other than fast food or low quality food purchased at the corner store.
What becomes apparent in even a cursory examination of this information is that food security and poverty are not merely indicators of economic hardship, they are class designations. The United States is home to an ever-expanding underclass, one that is encompassing more and more formerly working class people and white people, but which still afflicts communities of color most acutely. In every major city and more and more formerly affluent white suburbs, poverty has become an ever-present reality, one that remains hidden as Americans engage in the collective self-deception of “economic recovery.”
The Venezuelan Model
In contrast to the United States, Venezuela continues to make tremendous strides in eradicating poverty from a nation that, for decades, had been one of the poorest and most exploited in the Americas. Despite vast oil wealth and abundant resources, Venezuela was characterized by extreme poverty, particularly among the indigenous and peasant populations. This was the product of the colonial and post-colonial system wherein a small, light-skinned elite dominated the country and kept the rest of the people in abject poverty. This situation began to change with the ascendance of Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution. Immediately Chavez, already a hero to poor Venezuelans, set about implementing his socialist model that would make the fight against poverty the centerpiece of his public policy. Indeed, this is precisely what has happened in the fourteen years since he took office.
As mentioned previously, Venezuela uses a comprehensive set of criteria to measure poverty including access to education, clean drinking water, adequate housing, households with more than three people living in a room, and households where the head of the household had less than three years of education. Using this rubric, known as the Unsatisfied Basic Needs system (NBI), the statistics are intriguing. In the last ten years, the number of Venezuelans living in extreme poverty (those who experience two of the five indicators of poverty) has decreased from 11.36% to 6.97%, a reduction of almost one half. At the same time, life expectancy and total population have increased significantly, showing the impact of better and more comprehensive health care services. One particularly important piece of data has to do with indigenous people, the group most marginalized historically. In the last ten years, their numbers have grown significantly as well, now making up almost 3% of the population.[vii] This shows that, not only have the quality of health programs and related services increased, but access to them has grown as well, particularly for those traditionally disenfranchised segments of the population.
It should be noted that one of the centerpieces of the anti-poverty programs of the Chavez Bolivarian government has been the exponential increase in construction of public housing and affordable units. President Chavez announced the Great Housing Mission (GMVV)[viii] in 2011 to combat the extreme poverty that so many Venezuelan families faced as they lived in inadequate or unsafe homes. As of September 2012, more than 250,000 homes had been constructed and given to poor Venezuelan families.[ix] This number is surely set to increase in the coming year as the program continues to expand and housing becomes ever more accessible and plentiful.
In the midst of a worldwide economic crisis, the Chavez government continues to expand spending on anti-poverty programs such as housing construction and health care while much of the so-called developed world engages in the mass hysteria of austerity. The Bolivarian Revolution set before itself the task of reducing and ultimately eradicating poverty in a country where poverty was a historical tradition and a seemingly immutable reality. The post-colonial era of Venezuelan history is one fraught with domination and oppression by the United States and subjugation to multinational corporations while the poor and working classes lived in wretched conditions. Chavez’s commitment to reversing that legacy is what has, more than anything else, enshrined his legacy in the hearts and minds of Venezuelans.
Conversely, the advanced capitalist economies of North America and Europe are desperately trying to maintain their hegemony and economic survival by means of austerity programs which shift the burden of the depression from the wealthy financiers and speculators who created it to the poor and working class who must pay for it. Draconian cuts to necessary social services upon which millions of Americans depend for their very survival serve to illustrate this point further. Unlike in Venezuela, the Western imperial powers seek to destroy the social safety net and drive their populations into further destitution and desperation. This is, to put it another way, the crisis of advanced, post-industrial capitalism – an economic system which must expand the divide between rich and poor, create extremes of wealth and poverty and generally perpetuate itself on the misery and poverty of the lower classes. Seen in this way, Republicans and Democrats, President Obama and House Speaker Boehner alike are culpable for the massive suffering and despair of the poor in the US who can look to Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution as a model for a truly progressive vision of the future.