Learning From La Venezuela
Imagine that your son, your darling little boy, was killed during the past eight years in a war that served purely to kill a whole lot of Iraqis and enrich a small number of billionaires, while causing horrible environmental damage, stripping away our civil liberties, and poisoning foreign relations elsewhere. And imagine that, instead of avoiding this reality or lying about it, you confronted it. Further, imagine that you became so famous confronting it, that everybody wanted to be your friend, at least for a minute. You might even get invited to Venezuela by President Hugo Chavez, and you might go with a mind open to hearing what he had to say.
Cindy Sheehan did. And now she's published a book about it. If Venezuela makes it to the top of the list for the next U.S. war, this book will be a valuable tool for confronting the propaganda. But why wait? Our government has attempted a coup and is openly funding opposition groups. Why wait to consider what it is we're paying to try to undo?
Venezuela could be targeted for its oil, of course. But Cindy proposes another reason why the government in Washington, D.C., that we all so love to hate except when it kills lots of people, might be targeting Venezuela. In an interview included in the book, she asks Chavez: "Why do you think the Empire makes such a concerted effort to demonize you?" His response, which has been translated from Spanish, is:
"I think for different reasons. But I've gotten to the conclusion there is one particular strong reason, a big reason. They are afraid, the Empire is afraid. The Empire is afraid that the people of the United States might find out about the truth, they are afraid that something like that could erupt in their own territory -- a Bolivarian movement; or a Lincoln movement -- a movement of citizens, conscious citizens to transform the system. . . . So, why do they demonize us? They know -- those who direct the Empire -- they know the truth. But they fear the truth. They fear the contagious effect. They fear a revolution in the United States. They fear an awakening of the people in the United States. And so that's why they do everything they can. And they achieve it, relatively, that a lot of sectors in the United States see us as devils. No one wants to copy the devil."
But we might copy some little things even from the devil if they were worth copying. What is it that Sheehan and Chavez think might be contagious if we found out about it?
This is why the book is a valuable resource now, threat or no threat, war or no war. It's a story of a people's movement, largely nonviolent. It's a story of dramatic change that was slow in coming and then burst into fruition. It's a story of a work in progress that is moving in positive directions, investing in education, protecting the environment, raising the living standards of the majority of the people. Can a new political party succeed? Yes, it can. Can an outworn Constitution be rewritten at great length and well by a popular movement? Yes, it can. (PDF). Cindy lists some of the changes brought by this Constitution:
· added a "people's branch"
· added an "election's branch"
· citizens are able to recall the president
· health care is enshrined as a human right
· education is enshrined as a human right
· gender inclusivity in the language
· equal rights for women under the law
· only the people can amend the document
· aggressive indigenous rights
· commits the power of the state to protect the environment
The horror! I know some USians who don't dare HOPE for such a CHANGE. I even know some who are learning that such changes are perfectly possible, but that they don't come about through hoping, or through voting alone.
The weakness of the Venezuelan revolution, however, is very similar to the weakness of US liberalism. Each pins its hopes on a single messiah. Of course, Chavez is making the poor richer, while Obama is making the rich richer. But it appears entirely possible that positive movement in Venezuela will be thrown into reverse when Chavez dies. Chavez ought to be teaching his nation not to depend on one man. He ought to step down while alive and well enough to help guide his successor. He ought to move on to a focus on uniting the nations of South America. That he does not do this seems to me a mark against his character. But it does not change the fact that the Venezuelan people have been empowered to rule by referendum, while in the United States the presidency has been made more powerful than that of Venezuela -- and without the addition of direct democracy. The Venezuelan Constitution has already been amended, by public referendum. The U.S. Constitution hasn't been touched in 40 years except through dramatic changes imposed by the Supreme Court or the President.
The question that my mind focuses on in reading Cindy's account is not, however, what can I find wrong with Chavez. It's this: Can we make an Occupy movement worthy of the title Bolivarian?