[Marxism] "Visible Hand" (Wall Street Journal on Venezuela)
walterlx at earthlink.net
Sun Dec 26 19:00:41 MST 2004
In this report, many descriptive details are provided on the
many social programs which have been instituted by the admin-
istration of President Chavez. I hadn't heard of some of the
ones listed here. The WSJ is also compelled to admit that
the Chavez forces have won elections repeatedly, that these
programs benefit the majority of poor Venezuelans, for whom,
after all, they were instituted in the first place. It's one
of the more complete reports I've seen on the progress which
is being made in Venezuela. Extremely encouraging information
which should be circulated very widely. Everyone who believes
that a better world is possible should study this material as
there's much to be learned from what Chavez and the Bolivarian
forces are accomplishing. It's no surprise that Washington is
going ballistic against the growing ties between Venezuela and
Cuba, a few of which are detailed in this report.
Walter Lippmann, CubaNews
December 24, 2004
To Fix Venezuela,
To Make 'New Man'
Grand Utopian Experiments
Are Funded by Oil Money;
A Boost to Chávez's Power
Job for a Former Kidnapper
By JOSÉ DE CÓRDOBA
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
December 24, 2004; Page A1
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Trying to foment a Communist
revolution here in 1976, Carlos Lanz and five other men
kidnapped an American executive, who then spent much of the
next 3½ years chained to a tree in the jungle. The
revolution didn't arrive and Mr. Lanz went to prison for
Thanks to Venezuela's fiery president, Hugo Chávez, Mr.
Lanz is getting a second go at revolution in the world's
fifth-largest oil exporter. Buoyed by oil billions and
back-to-back electoral victories, Mr. Chávez recently gave
the ex-guerrilla a new job: devising a plan for economic
self-sufficiency in which selfless workers would labor
contentedly in utopian cooperatives. Mr. Lanz says he wants
to create nothing less than Venezuela's "New Man."
"We are talking about the transformation of man's
attitudes," says Mr. Lanz, now 60 years old, during an
interview in his office high above the armies of peddlers
who bivouac in Caracas's decaying city center. Among his
goals: having Venezuelans eschew Pepsis and Big Macs for
sugar-cane juice and Venezuelan-style pancakes called
Chávez officials say they are creating "endogenous"
development, borrowing a term that economists use to
describe a process that comes from within an economy, as
opposed to, say, changes brought about by globalization. In
Venezuela, this is often overlaid with Marxist rhetoric and
signals the presence of a heavy state hand running an
economy walled off from international competition -- the
kind of development most Latin American nations rejected as
unworkable in the 1990s. If Venezuela's ambitious
experiment collapses, the ensuing instability could shake
the region and global oil markets.
Hugo Moyer, the official in charge of endogenization at the
state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, calls
the policy "development from within, with materials from
within, by those within for those within."
To accomplish that goal, the Chávez government is plowing
billions of dollars into new programs, called "missions,"
which act as social welfare agencies. Mostly financed by
the PDVSA and run by a hodgepodge of bureaucratic offices,
the missions are largely devoted to health-care education
and jobs training. They exist as a sort of parallel
government and are controlled by Mr. Chávez. The missions
provide hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans with monthly
stipends to learn everything from reading and writing to
setting up cooperative farms. Mr. Chávez plans to combine
the dozen or so existing missions into a megaproject dubbed
"Mision Cristo," or Christ's Mission, which he proclaims
will end poverty in Venezuela by 2021.
The programs are a hit among Venezuela's poor and are
helping solidify Mr. Chávez's political base. Mr. Chávez
has made a political career exacerbating Venezuela's bitter
social divisions. Despite the country's oil wealth, about
61% of the people survive on less than $2 a day, according
to a survey by the Andrés Bello Catholic University in
Mr. Chávez's critics charge that his programs cost PDVSA
billions of dollars needed to keep up oil production.
Analysts say production has fallen to about 2.6 million
barrels a day from about three million in the aftermath of
a devastating strike that ended last year. The government
disputes that estimate. Mr. Chávez's program, detractors
say, will produce subsidy-dependent enterprises that
compete unfairly with private Venezuelan companies and
foreign firms. They add that Mr. Chávez's tendency to throw
money at Venezuela's deep-rooted social problems is
unlikely to provide lasting solutions.
Government and private business have been at each other's
throats since shortly after Mr. Chávez took office in 1999.
The mercurial Mr. Chávez loves to excoriate his mostly
middle-class opposition -- from small shop owners to
matrons -- as "oligarchs." He regularly lays into the U.S.,
which is Venezuela's biggest customer for oil and also the
source of most of its imports.
After the oil strike, opponents organized a recall
referendum on Aug. 15. Mr. Chávez won the poll by a large
margin, amid claims the voting was rigged. Earlier, he
survived a short-lived coup. The constant strife has
battered Venezuela's economy, which has lost 2.5 million
jobs in the last five years. "He is the anti-Midas," says
Heinz Sonntag, the former head of the Central University of
Venezuela's economic development center. "He turns gold
into dung." Thanks to sky high oil prices and a spurt in
government spending, Venezuela's economy is expected to
grow as much as 16% in 2004 after falling sharply in recent
PDVSA says it will spend $3.7 billion this year and an
equal amount next year for Chávez-approved social and
economic-development programs. Earlier this year, the
company turned an empty fuel-storage depot into a
development zone dubbed the Fabricio Ojeda Endogenous
Development Nucleus. The center boasts clothing and
boot-making cooperatives, a state-of-the-art clinic and
school, a food market and a 10-acre farm built on a steep
hillside in the middle of the city's slums.
At one recent training session, a group of mostly
middle-age women workers, dressed in white blouses and blue
pants, cut cloth for T-shirts. A PDVSA employee, Omar Ruiz,
gave 18 co-op members a primer on the flaws of capitalism.
Mr. Ruiz encouraged his students to imagine a regular
factory. They soon came to the conclusion that the owner,
played by their short, bearded teacher, was appropriating
the fruit of their labor. "They realize they are very poor
and I am very rich," said Mr. Ruiz. "Then we change that by
setting up an alternative, non-capitalist model, and
Then the class turned to the problems of their own clothing
cooperative, named "Venezuela Advances." The co-op, which
has a $2,600 order from PDVSA for a thousand T-shirts,
received a 20-year, interest-free loan from the state of
$2.6 million. The 280 people who work there each agreed to
invest about $26 of their own money over five months. Only
three out of the 18 class members were up to date on their
monthly quotas, not enough to support the company, even
with its fat subsidies.
"To live from the company, we must invest in the company!"
thundered Mr. Ruiz.
To plot Venezuela's new direction, Mr. Chávez has recruited
a mix of radicals, ex-guerrillas and military officers.
Planning Minister Jorge Giordani, who is charged with
devising the government's poverty-fighting strategy, was
once known as "the Albanian" for the orthodox Marxist views
he held in graduate school. He formed part of Mr. Chávez's
early brain trust, tutoring Mr. Chávez when the future
president was serving time in military prison for leading
an unsuccessful coup in 1992.
Elias Jaua, the head of the newly created Ministry of the
Popular Economy, was until 1991 a student leader of Bandera
Roja, a former Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group, according
to Gabriel Puerta, the national director of Bandera Roja.
That group, which has since disavowed armed struggle,
opposes Mr. Chávez.
In his former role, Mr. Jaua helped lead violent protests
at the Central University of Venezuela every Thursday, in
which students known as "encapuchados" or hooded ones,
threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, Mr. Puerta
says. A spokesman for Mr. Jaua says the minister was a
student leader, but not in Bandera Roja, and didn't
participate in such altercations. He says such accusations
are part of a campaign to discredit him.
Then there is Mr. Lanz, one of the principal ideologues for
endogenization. Mr. Lanz wants to move slum dwellers from
beehive-like barrios to new lives tilling the soil in
government-planned farm cooperatives and other rural
businesses. He faults the Khmer Rouge, the murderous
Communist regime in Cambodia, for compelling people out of
the cities in 1975 and promises that the Chávez government
won't use force. "We will conduct, convince, have them fall
in love and seduce them with successful alternative
proposals showing that one can live, under 'X' conditions,
in rural areas," he says.
In 1976, Mr. Lanz and five other men entered the Caracas
home of William F. Niehaus, Owens-Illinois Inc.'s top
Venezuelan executive, pretending to be investigating an
auto accident. They bound and gagged his wife Donna and the
maid and locked them in the sewing room. Mrs. Niehaus
escaped from after half an hour with the help of a pair of
scissors. The kidnappers injected Mr. Niehaus with a
sedative, and took him off to the jungle. The kidnapping
was designed to gain international attention for the
Mr. Niehaus says he wasn't tortured, but that he slept
chained to a tree and lost 60 pounds. In 1979, policemen
and farmers looking for cattle rustlers stumbled onto the
hut where he was held. They killed two guerrillas guarding
Mr. Niehaus and freed him. A year after the kidnapping, Mr.
Lanz was arrested. Mrs. Niehaus flew to Caracas and
identified him as one of the kidnappers.
Although Mr. Lanz and his comrades failed to overthrow the
government, the kidnappers got a lot of publicity --
including the publishing of guerrilla manifestos in leading
newspapers throughout the world. Mr. Niehaus, 73, now a
consultant in Toledo, Ohio, says of Mr. Lanz: "I try to
Mr. Lanz spent eight years in prison and used the time to
write a book called "The Niehaus Case and Administrative
Corruption," which is now out of print. He says he assumes
"political responsibility" for the kidnapping, without
In a recently published pamphlet titled "The Revolution is
Cultural or It Will Reproduce Domination," Mr. Lanz wrote
that the state must fight a relentless war against junk
food, replacing hamburgers and sodas with native foods.
That could help cure Venezuela of the consumerism it has
imported from the U.S., he says. "I've been called a
gastronomic fundamentalist," he adds.
Mr. Lanz and Mr. Jaua run "Mision Vuelvan Caras," or
Mission About Face, a program whose goal is to transform
the economy into a network of state-financed cooperatives
producing everything from organic lettuce to endogenous
anti-riot vehicles modeled on the U.S. Hummer. Fifty-five
of these have already been built for the Venezuelan
So far, says Mr. Jaua, close to 34,000 cooperatives in
agriculture, construction, services and manufacturing are
in the works. Some 206 centers for endogenous production
are already up and running throughout the country, he says.
The government is paying about 400,000 members of its
cooperative-training program a monthly stipend of roughly
$100, for up to a year, to take classes in setting up
cooperatives. It wants to triple the number of students.
Despite Mr. Chávez's admiration for Cuba, few expect him to
go as far as Fidel Castro and expropriate private and
foreign businesses. The government already owns the oil
sector, which produces export revenue of $26 billion, or
about 80% of Venezuela's export haul. Opinion polls also
suggest an overwhelming majority of Venezuelans oppose any
attempt to duplicate the Cuban regime. Mr. Chávez has
nonetheless constricted foreign participation in
Venezuela's oil industry and is using oil money to set up a
new state-run airline and a state-run telecommunications
company -- years after the government sold off those assets
in a push toward free markets.
The endogenization program has boosted Mr. Chávez's
popularity, especially among the poor who benefit most.
"I'm taking the opportunity President Chávez has given me,"
says Ana Guedes, a 39-year-old seamstress. "He is the best
president we've ever had." Previously unemployed, she is
now paid $100 a month as a member of Mision Vuelvan Caras.
Mr. Chávez's approval ratings have doubled from a low point
of 30.8% in July 2003, before the Missions began operation,
to 59.2% in September, according to Datanalisis, a
Even critics say some of the activities, such as bringing
Cuban doctors to the barrios, have helped millions of slum
dwellers who had little access to health care. It's less
clear whether various education projects, which essentially
consist of funneling money to the poor, have had much
effect, says Luis Pedro España, an expert on social policy
at the Andrés Bello Catholic University. For instance, says
Mr. España, most Venezuelan illiterates are women over 55
living in rural areas. Mr. Chávez's alphabetization
program, called Mission Robinson, is mostly aimed at the
At Fuerte Tiuna, the headquarters of Venezuela's armed
forces, base commander Col. Antonio Alcalá says the program
helps Venezuela. Col. Alcalá, who like Mr. Chávez spent
time in military prison after the failed 1992 coup, is
teaching residents of nearby slums how to grow vegetables
on their roofs without chemical-based fertilizer, a
technique developed by Cuba. He says some 70,000 one-meter
square "micro-plots" are being cultivated in the slums
around Caracas, helping wean Venezuela off food imports.
Digging his hands into a trough of fertilizer made by
millions of worms fed on cow dung, Col. Alcalá praises the
future of Venezuela's new agriculture. "In a couple of
years, we'll be selling vegetables to Cuba," he says.
Write to José de Córdoba at jose.decordoba at wsj.com1
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