Eyewitness Caracas, Venezuela: Social missions and revolutionary neighborhoods

By Dante Strobino
Caracas, Venezuela

Members of social movements from all over the world recently convened in Caracas, Venezuela, for the World Festival of Youth and Students. Here we witnessed this country’s revolutionary socialist process, and can now bring our observations and insight back home to continue the struggle for the liberation of the international working class and oppressed peoples.

The revolution in Venezuela is on the move, with missions and social programs developing mechanisms to promote full participation by the masses of people.

The neighborhoods are being organized, with women’s leadership. A direct democracy responsible to the needs of the people is being created.

There are currently 11 social “misiones” being implemented throughout the country. One revolutionary program has brought doctors, mostly Cuban, to indigenous and Black people, children, women and the elderly who had previously never been given this level of medical attention. The program incorporates social security, free medical care, sports and education.

On Aug. 20-21 President Hugo Chavez traveled to Cuba to attend the ceremonies for the first graduating class of several thousand Cuban-trained Venezuelan doctors.

Mission Robinson promises thousands of previously uneducated people, young and old, an education through the high-school level. Subjects are determined based on the community’s needs, for example sex-education courses. When we asked Matilde Coromoto—whom everyone calls Mrs. Robinson because of her vital role in the mission—about the sex-education classes, she told us that there is an entire class dedicated to this subject throughout elementary and middle school. That’s quite unlike the one-year courses given in the United States that often only teach abstinence.

Mission Sucre carries this education fur ther, taking higher education to all corners of the country. Here in the capital city of Caracas, a Bolivarian University was esta blished to defend the revolution. The Bolivarian University’s classes, which charge no tuition fees, are based on “municipalization.”

Municipalization allows students hands -on practice in the community, to more deeply develop their skills, rather limiting them to the theoretical, classroom-oriented education models the United States inherited from France and Russia.

Since these missions were implemented, illiteracy has been virtually eradicated. Unemployment has plummeted. Houses are being built for the working poor, giving people both houses and jobs in the public construction industry.

Another mission, Plan Mercal, promises to keep the people fed by providing stores with half-priced and free food. This plan has also brought “Casas de Ali men taciones” to the neighborhoods that need them most.

These facilities cook and serve hundreds of free meals every day. Often these same facilities are used for collectivized child care. While the parents work, their kids hang out and get fed.

One neighborhood—23 de Enero, named for the date in 1958 when the territory was liberated from the reactionary rule of the president at the time, Marcos Perez Jimenez—has been fight ing for years to maintain its autonomy. In the late 1950s, Jimenez himself recognized the terrible living conditions, including “chozas” or huts made of wood and tin. He had entire neighborhoods rebuilt with more stable housing made of concrete and then the people threw him out of power, a real example of how capitalist infrastructure can be reappropriated.

The original organizing in 23 de Enero was based on principles of eliminating crimes such as theft, drugs and violence. The people did this by becoming intimate and open with all family and community members. This openness and familiarity laid the basis for social cohesion and solidarity.

Recently 23 de Enero has been able to demilitarize slightly because its grassroots style of organizing is being recognized and emulated by other neighborhoods. They now can take off their masks and live in a beautiful, safe, free space.

The walls are covered in murals commemorating their revolutionary teachers such as Jose Marti, Che Guevara, Simon Bolivar and others such as Nestor who died in 1996 in armed struggle defending the neighborhood. On the perimeter is a big mural of a bombed plane, which condemns the terrorism of the United States and specifically that of Wash ington-backed anti-Cuba terrorist Luis Posada Carilles.

In neighborhood Caricuao, we were told about the newly emerging structure of bottom-up decision making. The neighborhoods are organized so that they come together to form “parroquias” that consist of 250-400 households. Within these parroquias they establish issue-oriented committees. For instance there are committees on water, health, food, transportation, education, and so on.

Each parroquia has different committees based on its needs. If the mayor and the reigning government do not give them facilities or resources they need for some project, such as new roads or buses; then the committee can take out a loan from the national bank to carry out the needed improvements. The loans are given with no interest during the first two years and only 1 percent interest the following years.

If these parroquias decide on something collectively that should be defended, they themselves have the power to create enforceable laws. This is truly bottom-up grassroots participatory democracy.

Throughout Venezuela there are countless liberated and truly inspirational neighborhoods where class consciousness, women’s power, equality and sense of unity provide evidence that a better world is possible.


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