Many Americans know that Venezuela provides 12-cent gasoline to their citizens, but the Bolivarian revolution extends much further than just inexpensive petrol. Venezuela represents a growing movement in South America of Capitalist-battered nations worn threadbare by American intervention. Evo Morales of Bolivia is the first indigenous President of his country, the laborers of Argentina have "expropriated" their workplaces from their covetous managers, and Correa, President of Ecuador, discontinued America's military base in the country after America refused to place an Ecuadorean base in Florida at Correa's insistence.
But no figure in South America is so divisive as Hugo Chavez. Derided by America's popular press as despotic, Chavez has been democratically elected for three consecutive terms. He's received the most votes out of any leader in this hemisphere and the elections in Venezuela have been deemed free and fair under close international observation. The accusations of Chavez's tyrannical nature are demonstrably untrue. The media in Venezuela displays a blunt, anti-Chavez bias, yet, despite the adversarial relationship Chavez's opponents are permitted to operate. And after the defeat of his 2007 Referendum Chavez accepted the vote, a decision a tyrant would readily reject.
Under Chavez the Bolivarian revolution, named after Venezuelan Revolutionary Simon Bolivar, has taken wings. This is a movement of peasants and workers who have been encouraged by the Venezuelan government to seize their workplaces and restructure them from the bottom up. Aluminum, oil and electrical industries are among those effected by the takeover. The factories under workers control benefit from significant streamlining, out performing traditionally-ordered Capitalist factories on the market simply due to a lack of exorbitant administrative costs.
Socially the revolution aims to include those disenfranchised peasants who wish to reassert control over their communities. Funds have been apportioned to each community. The members of these communities gather into assemblies and vote on how to utilize the money. After years of marginalization several measures were implemented to ensure mass participation including handwritten invitations, robust discussions on a variety of relevant topics and education on the practical usage of the available budget. As a result, free clinics have sprouted up across the country and the poor have the option of attending universities. Thanks to these policies illiteracy has been wiped out. These are opportunities never before known by the peasant-class of Venezuelans under the neoliberal dictators of the past.
In keeping with its distaste for true democracy, America has maligned Chavez ceaselessly throughout his Presidency. One of the most widely known smears was against Chavez's decision to refuse the renewal of inflammatory television station, RCTV's, broadcast license, framing it as a free speech issue. However, the motive behind Chavez shutting down the station wasn't due to its rhetoric but its participation in the 2002 coup against him. Chomsky puts this action into perspective:
"However, let me say that I agree with the western criticism in one crucial respect. When they say nothing like that could ever happen here, that's correct. But the reason, which is not stated, is that if there had been anything like RCTV in the United States or England or Western Europe the owners and the managers would have been brought to trial and executed – In the United States executed, in Europe sent to prison permanently, right away, in 2002. You can't imagine the New York Times or CBS News supporting a military coup that overthrew the government even for a day. The reaction would be 'send them to a firing squad'. So yeah, it wouldn't have happened in the west because it would never have gotten this far."
A second criticism of Chavez is the food shortages that have surfaced in the country. The problem isn't with Chavez but with agribusiness which sells to neighboring Colombia to fetch a larger profit and induce shortages in order to damage their rival. Following his populist impulse Chavez threatened to nationalize the industry if order wasn't restored.
It remains to be seen just how big the Bolivarian movement will become. But even in its current configuration it gives workers a reason to celebrate. This has been called "21st Century Socialism" a term which recognizes the failures of previous attempts at Socialism such as the Bolshevik Revolution and provides for a correction to the missteps of the past. It strives to someday eliminate the vanguard and sustain a highly-organized collection of people who recognize the necessity to elevate people above profit.