Blanca Eekhout: Venezuela’s experience of building democracy under siege

The Bolivarian Revolution, in its 24 years of existence, has built a new form of popular and democratic construction, all the while resisting constant attacks by the empire

August 24, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Blanca Eekhout is a member of Venezuela's National Assembly. Photo: Grecia Colmenares

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From the moment of their initiation, progressive and anti-imperialist projects face constant and enormous challenges. There is the urgent need to resolve the socio-economic problems of the people: hunger, unemployment, and access to health and education. But how can that be achieved without advancing the forces of production and development in the economy? At the same time, how can the economy be developed in a capitalist world without reproducing the exploitation of workers? And furthermore, how can this be accomplished in the face of resistance from a resentful local oligarchy and a determined imperialism, which together coordinate actions of destabilization, siege, sabotage, media campaigns, and even coup and assassination attempts?

In the process of the Dilemmas of Humanity, when thinking about the construction of socialism, these are key questions. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in its 24 years of existence, has confronted all these questions and more with a creative and people-centered perspective. Like any other process, it has had its successes and mistakes, and its path provides many lessons to those who dare to think about how to build a post-capitalist world.

Blanca Eekhout, Deputy of the National Assembly and President of the Commission on Building Communes, spoke about this path and how the Bolivarian Chavista project has created new methods of building people’s power and democracy in spite of adverse circumstances.

The Bolivarian Revolution continues to exist despite relentless imperialist aggression. It has faced over 900 coercive measures, assassination attempts, an attempted invasion coordinated by mercenary gangs, criminal actions and terrorist actions such as the guarimbas — in short, all manner of terrible things.

And above all, there is a permanent economic war [waged against Venezuela]. It is a multifactorial war, it is a war from all sides, but one of the clearest manifestations is the series of attempts to plunder our economy and weaken our oil industry. 

It has been terrible, but in spite of the thousands of adverse circumstances we have faced, we have been building something extraordinary and this has never stopped. This is the construction of a new power, a different power, people’s power. It is building our constituent process which is nothing less than the transformation of the legal framework of the Republic by the people. It is the people deciding the laws, breaking with colonial chains of centuries, and centering [in this process] their desires and their demands, their struggles, and their dreams. In that constitution, we have been building a new State, the communal State, the State of law, of equality and justice.

We have turned [Venezuela] into a model of democracy that is participatory and people-first and that is built from below, by the people. And for us, this is socialism of the 21st century, this is the Bolivarian revolution, this is the collective construction of socialism from the people, with the people by the people in an act of deep, radical and true democracy. And we are specific about what kind of democracy, because in many parts democracy has become a fallacy, a lie, a “representative” democracy where only the oligarchic sectors effectively exercise power and where the people are summoned every four or five or six years to exercise a vote that most of the time is not even respected, or by means of fraud, the people are even denied the right to participate in an electoral process.

So, in our case, democracy is a permanent, constant fact. It is a democracy under construction, it is a collective democracy and it is the sovereign exercise of the will, it is the sovereignty of the people. So I say that in very complex circumstances and going through different phases, we have had gigantic advances and also faced enormous difficulties that sometimes seem to paralyze the process.

Venezuela, for example, achieved the Millennium Development Goals before most countries. We managed to defeat illiteracy. We went from being a country without a high literacy rate, to being the country with the fifth highest university enrollment in the world and the second highest in Our America. We went from having poverty indexes between 60- 81%, and extreme poverty rates of between 40-50% to precisely defeating poverty with a food program that was so successful that there are United Nations Food programs that bear the name of Hugo Chávez. We were able to develop a plan that allowed us to turn housing not into a business, not into a commodity, not into a privilege of those who hold power, but into a right of all the citizens of the Republic, into a human right which is fundamental, the right to housing and to a dignified life.

We achieved gigantic, extraordinary advances, but above all, these advances were achieved by the people, with the people, with their conscious and collective participation. And I believe that this is one of the elements that has been fundamental in fighting this terrible war against Venezuela, that we have shown that it is possible, that it is possible to build a dignified and fair life when the people assume power, that it is possible to trust the people in the big decisions, in the most important ones.

It is the people themselves who decide the path that they can develop and take forward, and not only about their politics, but their culture and their economy. They can build a new model of State, one that can only be built from the people. But this was not done by decree, nor was it only a constitutional and constituent fact; it was and is a permanent exercise, it is done in the territory and it is done on a daily basis. This allowed us to have at this moment almost 49,000 communal councils organized in almost 4,000 communes, as well as different experiences of organization of our workers with the workers’ productive councils, with the peasant organizations, and with an extraordinary advance of the Indigenous peoples. In all this construction of popular power, the role of women has also been decisive. Women achieved in Venezuela, not only in their constitution, banners and struggles of decades, but they also became the fundamental protagonists in the construction of that popular power throughout the national territory. All this, I say, has been a shield so that, in the midst of a war so brutal, so criminal, so savage, we continue standing with a revolution.

We have committed ourselves to build another model of state, another model of society, which is basically to build community and to make that construction of socialism humanly gratifying for us, a conscious act of celebration and struggle on the part of the people. 

And all this has been confronted with a war that seeks to break our economy, to change a regime, that seeks to demoralize, that seeks to tell us that this path is not the path, and that seeks to divide our people. But above all, it seeks to silence this experience so that the people of the world do not know about it, or believe that if one goes down this path of building popular power, one is going to face war, death, destruction, poverty, sadness, migration, and destitution.

And all these acts of war, then, are accompanied by a gigantic media campaign of demonization of the Bolivarian Revolution and tremendous instances of siege so that neither the truth nor a proposal for a different world comes out of Venezuela.

Alongside these internal transformations, Venezuela also advanced in the construction of another world. It advanced in the construction of ALBA and built Petrocaribe so that Venezuelan oil would not remain in the hands of the big transnationals, but could reach Haiti. This oil became a tool for the people of the Caribbean to emerge from imperial strangulation that made them dependent because Venezuela’s oil had earlier gone to the United States, which sold it at inaccessible prices to the rest of the Caribbean. So Venezuela took hold of oil as one of the most important elements to promote the unity and development of Latin America and the Caribbean. And for the first time in almost a century of oil exploitation, oil reached Argentina and oil reached Uruguay. But the oil also reached the entire Caribbean and the oil reached the Bronx directly. That is to say, the flow of oil would not be as per the interests of the transnationals, but would be the energy for life.

These kinds of projects can only come from a different view of the world, where solidarity is the fundamental engine of our relations. It is a vision of the diplomacy of the peoples. It is a vision and a need to build a different world, different from the world imposed on us by capitalism, the world imposed on us by colonialism, the world that became the paradigm of modernity.

We know what turned us into that tremendously famous phrase of Obama (“An unusual and extraordinary threat to the interests of the United States.”) But it is not about the interests of the United States; it is a threat to the oligarchies. It is a threat to the hegemonic empire which imposes a single vision of the world that denies the worldviews of all the peoples, of the Indigenous peoples, of the entire planet, of Africa that has been condemned to the barbarism of permanent exploitation, of the plundering of Latin America, silenced, denied.

For us it is key to understand that Venezuela had to raise its voice at the most terrible moment, because it was at the moment when it seemed that everything was lost. The end of history had been announced, it was the boom of this neoliberal and barbaric thing. And Venezuela came out and shouted in 1989 — people in Caracas, in Guarenas, in Valencia, and in many other parts of our territory said no to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and their recipes of death. And that cry had very important and significant resonance in 1992, precisely 500 years after the barbarity of the occupation of the American land, of our Abya Yala, of our Pachamama, of that savage and criminal action of colonization. In 1992, only three years after that uprising, our Commander Chávez led the civic-military rebellion.

That extraordinary act when it seemed that all was lost — he rose up, and this was translated into permanent action, permanent accumulation of strength that allowed us to continue. And this accumulation of strength is not military strength. It was the strength of dreams to reach 98 and triumph with a project that once again takes up Bolivar’s dream, that went to its deepest roots. Because in the face of such a brutal threat as that of neoliberalism and colonization posed by the FTAA, the only response was the radical nature of Latin American existence. And that was to take up the banners of independence. And that was Bolivar at the forefront, but with Bolivar, Zamora, Tierra and free men. Horror to the oligarchy. Now we say land, free men and women. And with them, Simón Rodríguez, who proposed a different model of education, who also proposed that power had to be in the place where people live, that we could not condemn humanity to be in the periphery and for there to be a center where power was exercised.

So that brought us to the construction of that dream that triumphed electorally, but that triumph did not really mean the taking of power. And there came the question of how to take this forward?

The answer was the call to the Constituent Assembly so that everyone could collectively build the dream. And that brought us to advance in historical struggles. But above all it allowed us to begin to meet as Latin Americans. All this enormous progress we had in the Revolution would have been impossible without the relationship with Cuba, there by our side, developing the educational missions that allowed us to defeat illiteracy, the health missions that allowed us to bring health to the neighborhoods, to the countryside, to the millions and millions of human beings who had never had access to medical care.

Then we began to build dreams, to make them come true. That utopia became a truth from the permanent conscious exercise of political action. But the Commander knew that we had to take advantage of the moment to build the bases of that new state and that is why we built the communal councils and communes. That is why we built organizations in the territories and that is why the laws of the People’s Power were drafted.

Today it is our turn, in the midst of all the complexity, to advance in those laws. In 2012, he called us to a change of direction (golpe de timón). Last year we celebrated ten years of that, to radicalize, because we are always moving forward, but in the face of imperial pressure, we often do not achieve the necessary qualitative and quantum leaps.

At that moment, the Commander called us to make the commune the epicenter of the political, cultural and social action.

And well, we suffered this brutal action which was the physical departure of Commander Chávez, and I say it was a product of that assassination plan because it was an inoculated disease. And they thought that with the disappearance of Chávez, the Revolution would be defeated.

What they did not know is that Chávez was not a man, Chávez is a people, Chávez is history, Chávez is a project of humanity and that is why they saw, in the middle of their plan, that the people followed and there they said ah, this is an unusual, extraordinary threat, because we took away the leader and these people continue marching.

So then there is the attempt of assassination against the true sovereign which is the Venezuelan people, and that is why this blockade and these criminal actions were aimed at mass murdering our people, generating a civil war, condemning us to starvation.

But we have at the head of the Republic a fighter, a worker, a trade unionist worker, who assumed the legacy of the Commander and assumed the defense and in the face of all the pressures he has maintained himself, he has not deviated from the course, he has not surrendered nor has he fallen into the trap of the war that the empires have tried to put forth.

And ten years after that, he called us back to the helm again. And that’s where we are now. We are in the radicalization of the communes at this moment, in the reform of the laws of the People’s Power to guarantee that they are viable in a complex moment where the Venezuelan reality has changed. Because the blockade plan has had an impact, it has weakened the public sector, and has prevented us from putting all the strength that we had achieved as a State at the service of the people.

But the people have resisted and there is the Commander Worker President Nicolas Maduro, innovating and creating. In the face of the attempt to take us to war by hunger, he devised the Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP). He said, “Well, there is little food and with little food, what do we do? How do we do it? Well, we multiply it and the only way to multiply it is to share it, to share it equitably and that can only be done by the people.” So the local committees are the people guaranteeing the distribution of the food and that has worked miracles.

Without the communes, without the communal councils, without the popular organization, we would have been defeated a long time ago. The unity of the patriots has been fundamental. The existence of a united party has been fundamental. The civic-military union has been fundamental and decisive. But all this could not have been maintained if there were no popular organization in the territories that in the midst of the hopelessness sown by the suffocating blockade, by the attempted coup, hope could be maintained, the movement could be maintained. This is only possible because there is a conscious people, organized, mobilized in the territory, making revolution.

We are a country that has a State and this civic-military union is decisive. And the role of President Nicolás as leader is fundamental. But power is not only in Miraflores. Power is spread throughout every communal council. And the awareness of our leadership and of our president, that this is fundamental, has allowed us to face adversity and continue standing up.

At times it seemed that we were alone in this world, because the campaign was so brutal, but in the midst of what seemed to be loneliness, there was a people conscious and aware that we are all Chávez.

This text is part of a series, Voices of Dilemmas, which seeks to bring the perspectives and key debates of the different organizations, intellectuals, and political leaders that are part of the Dilemmas of Humanity process.