Tuesday, February 28, 2006

How the Power of Women In Venezuela Makes the CHAVEZ REVOLUTION WORK! 

We women organized and prepared a document, and brought it to the Constituent Assembly. And for four months, for the entire duration of the Constituent Assembly, we were there submitting our demands, our proposals. The Constituent Assembly adopted them, and as a result this is probably the most revolutionary constitution in the world in terms of gender equity.
--Nora Castaneda, head of the Women's Development Bank of Venezuela, speaking about Article 88 of the Venezuelan Constitution

My friend Mary Kalyna and the other members of the Global Women's Strike are some of the hardest working activists you're going to find. They've just returned from the World Social Forum in Venezuela, where the revolution of grassroots women workers are empowering lives and literally changing the world, leaping light-years past many so-called democratic Western nations.

Although she's a busy activist as well as an active member of the Eastern European singing group SVITANYA, Mary still made time for this interview, as she knows how much we need to take the time to talk about what's really going on in Venezuela to counter the disinformation campaign waged by the US government and media. After this interview I highlight a new book published by the Global Women's Strike you will want to buy, read, and pass onto others, titled Creating a Caring Economy: Nora Castaneda and the Women's Development Bank of Venezuela.


Mary, you've literally just come back from Venezuela where you and others from the Global Women’s Strike were attending the World Social Forum. You said to me when you first came back that when you're down there you can FEEL the revolution, and that it's a women's revolution. Tell us about this.

The Global Women's Strike has been following what's going on in Venezuela for several years now, since 2002 -- disseminating information about what's going on including via the videos we've made, organizing the tour for Nora Castaneda in 2004 - so I had some idea of what it would be like. But until you are in the middle of it, you really don’t know. There is this amazing sense of everything changing, everything being questioned, everything being re-evaluated. It is very wholistic, it is very grassroots and "from the bottom up." Society and the economy being re-designed to meet people's needs. They are creating a "caring economy", and for those of us who have been living in a situation that is the opposite of that, it is almost unbelievable. We have been so deprived, so repressed, that we can't believe that life could be like this: that a state, a government could listen to and support what people need. And that in fact is the whole premise of the government. Slowly you begin to realize, Hey this is what it is SUPPOSED to be like. We have been living in a perverse un-caring economy for so long we've forgotten. Our standards for everything are degraded, including for how people should be treated.

You sense the "empowerment" in people there - that is an expression that I generally don't like because it is usually used in a very psychological way - but there you really felt that people, ordinary grassroots people were taking charge of their lives, their society, all their institutions. They had power! And once you get even a little taste of what that's like, you realize what a miracle it is and you understand why people really will fight to the death for Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution. They call it "il proceso" - the process - which also reflects that it is a dynamic ever-changing thing that evolves and grows.

People were much happier and more optimistic than people are here, even though materially they are much poorer. Much poorer. I stayed in a barrio where many people didn't have indoor plumbing, it was quite rough. The majority of people live in poverty.

So we're talkin' 'bout a revolution, for sure. And it's definitely a women's revolution, though of course men are very involved and also benefiting. But from what we saw, women are in the leadership, they are making it happen, and Chavez consistently recognizes the role of women, the work of women. It was women who were the first to take to the streets when Chavez was kidnapped by the coup-plotters in 2002, and Chavez credits them with saving the revolution. But more than that, the kind of changes that are happening are what we have always talked about in the Global Women's Strike: "Invest in Caring, Not Killing." Money for food, schools, houses, redistribution of land, micro-credits to women, healthcare, libraries, literacy programs. Did you know that higher education is free in Venezuela? As in, FREE?? Healthcare, free, and about "care", not profit. This is the truth about Venezuela that you don’t find in the NY Times, or anywhere else in the mainstream press.

Venezuela is the only country using its oil wealth to fight poverty. Many of the initiatives for social, literacy, economic, land reform and cooperatives are being led by and funded by the Women's Development Bank. Tell us about this bank and these women.

The best info about the Women's Development Bank is Creating a Caring Economy: Nora Castaneda and the Women's Development Bank of Venezuela,
(this book is highlighted at the bottom of this interview) just published by the Strike. Nora Castaneda is the President of the bank, appointed by President Chavez, and she is an amazing woman, a true leader. The Bank is not what you normally think of as a bank; it is a revolutionary institution that uses microcredits to empower women. It's very different from the usual scenario of a bank giving micro-loans to an individual woman so she can set up a micro-enterprise which may or may not succeed and if it doesn't she is further in debt, but either way the status quo which causes women's poverty remains. The Women's Development Bank gives credits to women's cooperatives, not individuals, so already you can see the difference. There are Bank "users' networks" that take action collectively, that are organized to deal with all the issues of women's lives – health, violence, work, everything. These networks deal with all the problems in the community and make proposals on how to deal with them, and apply for the funding.

The women from the Bank and the Users' Networks were our hosts during the trip, and they took us to see many of the projects the Bank is supporting and involved in. We met with women and men from the Urban Land Committees who are working to enable people to get titles to land and homes. We visited community health clinics where a health committee works to determine what people's needs are. We saw soup kitchens that are government funded where people not only get food, but help in sorting out why they are in difficulty, another example of a very wholistic approach.

The dangers for Venezuela right now seem to be from the United States and Britain. Tell us about some of the recent things said about Chavez, and Chavez's response.

It is very shocking the things that are being said – Donald Rumsfeld comparing Chavez to Hitler, people accusing him of anti-semitism, saying he is a dictator. A dictator? The man has won 8 elections or referendums, usually by a landslide! Senator John McCain called him a "wacko" after Venezuela delivered discounted heating oil to low-income communities in the US, including Philadelphia. A letter writer to the Phila Inquirer responded, "If McCain believes that Chavez is a 'wacko,' then what does that make McCain, who is unable to give the citizens of this country the same discount?" I thought that was a hopeful sign of where people are at.

Tony Blair recently told Chavez to "abide by the rules of the international community." To which Chavez responded, "You, Mr Blair, do not have the morality to call on anyone to respect the rules of the international community. You are precisely the one who has flouted international law the most... siding with Mr Danger [George Bush] to trample the people in Iraq." Chavez tells it like it is, and millions of people feel that when he speaks, he speaks for us.

But we really have to consider why these things are being said. It is pretty well accepted fact that the US was involved in the attempted coup against Chavez in 2002. Chavez said on "Nightline"
(link to transcript of this interview below) in September 2005 that he had proof of US plans to invade Venezuela. The country is the fifth largest supplier of oil in the world. Latin America in general is rebelling - the US is "not happy" the recent election of Evo Morales in Bolivia. The rhetoric and lies are an attempt to inflame anti-Chavez public sentiment. Which is why it is so important that we continue to get out the truth of what is really happening in Venezuela.

What have you brought back with you from Venezuela that we can apply to our lives here in the states?

That it IS possible to change the world. That we have to act, and act collectively. That we in the US have a particular responsibility to act. The slogan of the World Social Forum was "Another World is Possible," to which Nora Castaneda responded, "Another world is necessary!" We all know we can't go on like this. There is so much unhappiness all around. People are trying to deal with their unhappiness in very individual ways, as though it was all personal problems. Many people are using drugs, alcohol, food, whatever, to deal with the pain. Every other ad on TV is for drugs for depression, anxiety, insomnia, stomach problems, headaches, stress. The "re-election" of Bush in 2004 was a significant moment for a lot of people. I remember being in New York and everyone seemed to be walking around in shock, it was such a defeat, such a blow, people took it very hard. It made it seem even more impossible to do anything. Though of course many of people continued to organize, especially against the war in Iraq.

But when you find yourself in the middle of a revolution your perspective is really opened up. You think: we CAN change things! We can change everything -why not? And you realize, Wow, we have all these resources that we can use, why are we not doing it? And you really want to do it because not only do you know your life and your happiness depend on it, but that it is actually possible. Revolution is contagious. That's what I think is most "dangerous" about Venezuela. It reminds me of the 60s and 70s in the US, when everything was changing, one thing led to another. Protests, sit-ins, food coops, free love, marches, Black power, welfare rights, women's lib, gay lib. Where will it end? "Imagine all the people living life in peace."

Oh, I want to add one more thing. Wages Due Lesbians and Payday met and interviewed a guy from the Revolutionary Gay Movement of Venezuela. They have t-shirts that say "Revolution and homosexuality are not a contradiction", with a quote from Chavez on the back: "Homosexuals also have rights", which was quite a breakthrough. They see the fight for sexual choice as part of the overall fight to transform the society. They are not interested in either separatism or integration into mainstream respectability. He quoted Chavez as saying that "economic transformation makes it possible for the state to protect the rights of gay people."


Selma James, activist, author, and international coordinator of the Global Women's Strike, is coming to the US in late March and April for a speaking tour. For more info, and especially If you would like to help organize a speaking engagement at your college, conference or other event, please click here for more information. You can also e-mail us at: philly@crossroadswomen.net

NEW BOOK PUBLISHED BY the Global Women's Strike
Creating a Caring Economy:
Nora Castaneda and the Women's Development Bank of Venezuela

Edited by Nina Lopez

For copies of this important new book e-mail philly@crossroadswomen.net
Or call the Global Women's Strike Philadelphia office at 215.848.1120

The tour has been completely financed by you,
that is, by the Global Women's Strike, by your
contributions. It is important that people should
know this because somebody with bad intentions
has had the nerve to say that this tour is part of
an international campaign to export the Bolivarian
Revolution that President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias
is leading in my country. Nothing could be further
from the truth. You know that revolutions are made
by the people. They are not exported.
--Nora Castaneda, from a speech in New York City

If it could be exported, this revolution would be the best thing possible. In this compelling new book of interviews and talks with the head of the Women's Development Bank of Venezuela, Nora Castaneda, we learn very quickly just how much we lack in America, and just how much work needs to be done to truly live freely, sanely, and with justice!

Their constitution is very clear in its intentions to undo the restraints of sexism, racism, homophobia, and other prejudices long ago instituted by Western influence. Castaneda talks about the intricate web of power feeding every part of her country, with grassroots women workers at each juncture to instill empowerment, and to make certain that all women understand the need to demand the value of their time and hard work that they have been too used to giving away to the world for free. As Castaneda says:

We women organized and prepared a document,
and brought it to the Constituent Assembly. And
for four months, for the entire duration of the
Constituent Assembly, we were there submitting
our demands, our proposals. The Constituent
Assembly adopted them, and as a result this is
probably the most revolutionary constitution in
the world in terms of gender equity.

There is much evidence for what I am saying. I am
sure that you will have the opportunity to read it and
find out for yourselves. I just want to read an article
to you now, just one, so I can later comment on
how we subsequently organized. Article 88 of our
constitution reads:

"The State will guarantee equality between
men and women in exercising the right to
work. The State will recognize housework
as an economic activity that creates added
value and produces wealth and social welfare.
Housewives are entitled to social security in
accordance with the law."

So what is social security in our country? It is
not just an old age pension but also a guarantee
of healthcare, education, decent housing, training,
the right to work, the right to time off and leisure.
That's what social security is for us in Venezuela
and in our constitution.

Castaneda also talks candidly about the 2002 US-backed, failed coup attempt against her president, her constitution, and her people, "It's important to know that people were organizing for battle, but at the same time they were crying from pain, impotence -- especially the women. It was as if they were in mourning, and people were in the street fighting but at the same time in a state of shock, especially the women. It was as if they had lost a loved one. It was very emotional." When asked why women were the most mobile after the failed coup attempt she says:

Because they were the ones with the most to
lose, I think. Men were deeply affected by the
coup, but it was the women who were most
affected. Grassroots women have managed to
survive conditions of terrible poverty and with the
revolution they have gained so much that to lose
it would be truly unbearable. It was like the loss
of a precious loved one; we were in mourning, but
ready to fight at the same time. Many terrible
things, but at the same time, "We won't let this
happen, they won't take our president away from
us," was how we put it. "Chavez has not left or
resigned. They have kidnapped him and they
have to give him back to us."

Nina Lopez of the Global Women's Strike has done a brilliant job editing this book, which is the best introduction for anyone interested in learning about one of the most important revolutions of our time. All Americans need to be more aware of the negative influence of our leadership, as Lopez points out:

The crucial issue for all of us everywhere in the
world is poverty, especially women's poverty.
When Nora spoke at the various meetings of the
speaking tours (of the US and Europe) that we
organized, she said that 70% of the poor in the
world are women. That's the reality. And that's
because caring for life is not valued. We all know
that when the US invades Iraq and kills more than
100,000 people, it's because life is not valued at
all. And therefore those of us who do the work
of sustaining life are also not valued, and neither
is the vital work we do.

Lopez also points out, in defense of Article 88 of the Venezuelan constitution:

When in Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995), we
fought for the UN's recognition of women's
unwaged work -- the contribution all this work
makes to society and the economy of every
country and of the world -- those who most
opposed it were the US and Europe, that is,
the representatives of the main imperialist
powers. Why? Because, they said: "The
women of the Third World will come to us to
demand what is theirs." And that is the truth.
Companeras, Article 88 is anti-imperialist.

For copies of this important new book write to philly@crossroadswomen.net
Or call the Global Women's Strike Philadelphia office at 215.848.1120

Another book of interest is
Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution:
Hugo Chavez Talks to Marta Harnecker

by Marta Harnecker, Chesa Boudin

After reading it, you too will agree with what Samir Amin says of this new book, "Marta Harnecker's important book helps clarify the challenges facing Venezuela's ongoing revolutionary process. The decisive role played by Hugo Chavez in initiating that revolutionary process and the immense support he continues to receive from the popular class makes this book neccessary reading for understanding the forces at work in what may well become a stage in the long-run transformation of the global system."


Also of interest is the film THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED. This is without a doubt the most dramatic documentary you are likely to see, shot by an independent Irish film crew who happened to already be doing a documentary on Chavez and Venezuela in 2002 when the US-backed failed coup attempt actually took place. Great care is taken to show exactly how CNN lied with their own footage of the coup-reversal.

See also this transcript of the recent ABC NIGHTLINE interview with Chavez.

See also this interview with Nora Castaneda from INMOTION.

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