Venezuela towards a twenty-first century socialism

Marc Becker
December 6, 2006

(This is just the beginnings of an initial draft; comments very welcome)

Hugo Chavez’s reelection as president of Venezuela on December 3 at the same time means little and it means everything.  Following pre-election poll indications, Chavez won almost 63 percent of the vote and carried every state, including conservative stronghold Zulia governed by opposition candidate Manuel Rosales.  With the election largely a foregone conclusion, it becomes a bit of a non-event as simply one more step on the road to the consolidation of a socialist project in Venezuela.

As a referendum on the direction that Chavez is taking Venezuela, however, it opens up much more space for maneuvering.  Chavez’s victory also appropriately comes at the end of a year of electoral cycles throughout much of Latin American that confirms the continent’s leftward direction.  Recent leftist victories include Evo Morales in Bolivia, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Lula da Silva in Brazil, and most recently leftist economist Rafael Correa’s defeat of multi-millionaire banana tycoon Álvaro Noboa in Ecuador.  Even the beating that Republicans in the United States took in the November 7 elections seem to confirm this tendency.  Only the reelection of conservative Álvaro Uribe in Colombia and the victory of Felipe Calderon in Mexico seem to buck this trend.

For the past eight years, Venezuela has been in the vanguard of these revolutionary changes, opening up roads for the rest of the Americas.  Activists in Venezuela emphasize that socialism is a process, not something that can be copied.

Building off of Venezuela’s oil wealth, many of the government’s social “Missions” are expanding or moving into second stages.  For example, with the success of Mission Robinson in eliminating illiteracy the program has moved onto additional stages of providing people with high school, technical, and college training.  One of the most noted programs, Barrio Adentro that provides Cuban doctors for front line and preventive medical care in local communities, is now moving to stage two and three of regional clinics with higher level diagnostic systems.

Marc Becker is a Latin American historian and member of Community Action on Latin America (CALA) in Madison, Wisconsin.  He observed the elections in Barquisimeto, Lara state with the Bolivarian Circles of Boston.