Brian Holmes on Fri, 5 Mar 2004 23:03:06 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> From Venezuelan Writers, Artists and Academics to their Colleagues

Hello nettimers -

First of all I'd like to thank Ricardo Bello for periodically 
sparking my curiosity about the Venezualan situation. Since his 
recent post is a petition from Venezuelan writers, artists and 
academics to their colleagues, I feel I am somehow being addressed. 
Still I find myself with very different opinions.

While reading this morning I discovered the website, with a large number of in-depth articles in 
English. It's a pro-Chavez site, but visibly concerned with the 
quality of its information. Maybe Ricardo can suggest a site of 
similar quality, but on the other side?

Among the texts is a long and detailed article by Maurice Lemoine of 
Le Monde Diplomatique, under the rubric "land reform." Worth reading. 
Another important one is "The Economics, Culture, and Politics of Oil 
in Venezuela" by Gregory Wilpert, one of the main contributors to the 
site. Learn how the "state within a state" of Venezuela's 
nationalized oil company has actually become more like a "state 
outside the state" by investing its profits abroad, to escape 
national taxes. You might also read the latest speech from Chavez to 
the G-15 summit of southern leaders, which calls for a break from the 
northern "free-trade" models: "I want to tell you - and this is true 
and verifiable data - that each cow grazing in the European Union 
receives in its four stomachs 2.20 dollars a day in subsidies, thus 
having a better situation than 2.5 billion poor people in the South 
who hardly survive with an income less than 2 dollars a day."

Something to look at in the mediasphere is the controversy around 
Amnesty International's decision not to screen "The Revolution Will 
Not Be Televised," a documentary which I happened to see on Arte 
months ago. The film was made by Irish journalists who were inside 
the presidential palace during the failed April 2002 coup. It shows 
the kinds of manipulation carried out by the opposition, who own the 
country's major media. An example is the famous, widely broadcast 
scene of pro-Chavez elements purportedly firing at a crowd of 
opposition demonstrators, whereas other camera angles reveal no 
demonstrators at all (if memory serves, they were firing back at 
snipers). At first there was puzzlement as to why Amnesty pulled the 
film from its Vancouver festival. Then some news emerged:

"In an article in the Guardian newspaper
an Amnesty spokesman said the organisation had been forced to pull 
the film after staff at their Venezuelan office expressed fears for 
their safety if the film was screened."

That was in November and I don't know how the situation has evolved 
since. I would recommend the film, though.

I'd also recommend the following thought experiment, which consists 
in responding to the question: How would it be possible, using 
democratic means, to transform the drastically unequal distribution 
of the wealth in a country where the entrepreneurial and 
administrative classes have benefitted from the favors of a deeply 
entrenched political oligarchy? Bear in mind the implication that the 
agents of this transformation must, in large measure, be precisely 
these unwilling classes, who run the modern economy. These same 
classes also have the education and resources to produce media 
content, the money to buy guns, the training to pilot helicopters, 
and so forth. Some reflexion on the Chavez government's hesitancy to 
imprison those behind the coup attempt in 2002, or to constrain the 
private media, could then help you to begin your thought experiment.

If interested, you can go a little deeper. Consider that Venezuela's 
largest industry, the major source of revenue for the entrepreneurial 
and administrative classes, is oil production, which yields foreign 
exchange, i.e. dollars (Venezuela supplies the US with around 15% of 
its imported oil, plus lots of natural gas and distillates). Further 
consider, as an illustration, that the country's second largest 
company (according to Lemoine at least) is a beer-making enterprise 
which imports all its hops from the US. Who do you think drinks the 
beer? Where do you think they get the money to pay for it? An 
extremely interesting article from venezuelanalysis is this one on 
poverty: <>. But 
let's return to the thought experiment: How is it possible for 
impoverished people (and this means 70% of the population, up from 
33% in 1975) to enter modern exchange circuits, when for some twenty 
years there has been no expansion of either industrial or 
agricultural production, but rather, the development of an 
export-import economy based on a primary natural resource traded in a 
foreign currency?

The degree of impoverishment in Venezuela, the looming crisis in 
Brazil, and above all, the popular revolts in Argentina, then 
Bolivia, have made the "thought experiment" of social transformation 
into a very practical and urgent task for the governments entrusted 
with finding a new economic model for these countries, where the 
deindustrialized, finance-driven development model pushed in the 
eighties and nineties has simply failed. The reality of the last 
twenty years has been an exit from modern circuits of exchange for an 
important percentage of the middle and working classes, who are 
forced to join the rural and slum-dwelling populations who never got 
in at all. The crisis is causing the political oligarchies of Latin 
America to crumble one by one. This is the context for the emergence 
of a figure like Chavez, and for his national-populist rhetoric, 
which many people understandably find disturbing. But the 
difficulties these new governments face are enormous.

Not least among them is the fact that throughout Latin America there 
exist broad, well-educated and well connected social strata for whom 
life has gotten better, wealthier, and more interesting through 
participation in the transnational economy. Yet the rules of that 
economy contribute to the crisis. To the point where the question now 
seems less to be whether the economic models will change, but rather 
how, amidst what kinds of conflicts, with what kinds of 
participation, through what types of social alliances and divides. 
Does it matter, at this point, what kind of support Latin American 
writers, artists and academics get from their colleagues abroad? 
Maybe it does. The least we can do is look for more reliable 
information, and try to shift the debates in our own countries, 
circles and professions, towards a consideration of realities in 
which all the globalized classes now participate.


Brian Holmes

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