The 11th Congress of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) opened on the evening of International Woman’s Day with a speech by Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez Frias.

Roberto Hernandez, of the PCV, spoke at the opening of the Congress of the PCV’s history and its responsibility in this important moment of Venezuela’s history. The PCV has played a role in all the struggles of the Venezuelan people since its inception in 1933, whether taking up arms or waging electoral campaigns.

The PCV has been a participant in the Bolivarian Revolution, led by President Chávez, since its early days. Hernandez called this current peaceful revolution, “The most outstanding historical moment since independence.” Indeed it takes its name from Simon Bolivar, the Liberator, who won independence from Spain in the early 19th century.

The origins of the current revolution are to be found in 1989, when the Venezuelan people rose up in revolt after a series of economic measures drove the prices of basic goods and services out of reach. A 50 percent hike in bus fares was the spark that lit the fuse of rebellion that resulted in the deaths of hundreds at the hands of the Venezuelan army and police, and the imposition of martial law.

Then a Lt. Colonel of the paratroopers, Hugo Chávez founded the Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement among military officers outraged at both the use of the military against the people and corruption among the country’s high-ranking military and political leaders. In 1992, Chávez led a frustrated coup d’etat, resulting in his imprisonment.

In the years that followed, successive governments of the country’s two main political parties, Accion Democratica (AD) and the Christian Social Party (COPEI), instituted economic policies, advocated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, that continued to worsen the situation of the majority of Venezuelans. These measures included privatizing state-owned enterprises, raising the prices of consumer goods and cutting social programs.

Venezuela, a member of OPEC, is the fourth leading oil exporting nation in the world. It exports roughly one million barrels of oil to the U.S. daily. The wealth created by this industry did not reach the Venezuelan workers and peasants. By 1999, 80 percent of Venezuelans were below the poverty line.

Chávez was pardoned and released from prison in 1994. He organized a new political movement and ran for president in 1998. He promised a new constitution and policies that would help those living in poverty. Chávez won the election with 56.5 percent of the vote.

He quickly began the political changes he promised. In rapid succession, voters approved a consituent assembly (85 percent), elected the assembly, with Chávez supporters of various political parties winning 121 of the 131 seats, and approved the new constitution (72 percent). Chávez was re-elected under its statutes to a six-year term in July 2000, garnering 59 percent of the vote.

Chávez continued making the promised political changes, instituting a new agrarian reform designed to give to the landless and small farmers. He has also guaranteed free health care and education to the university level, protected indigenous people’s rights, stopped further privatization of the state-run oil company and limited foreign penetration of the industry, and approved new conservation measures to protect Venezuela’s marine resources. Chávez has also set up five new banks for women, small enterprises and farmers and established a new National Women’s Institute. In addition, he expelled U.S. military advisors and forbade overflights by U.S. military aircraft with missions in Colombia.

The Communist Party of Venezuela, with members throughout the nation, came to its Congress ready to reorganize and prepare itself for the struggles with the “oligarchies,” i.e., the rich and the two political parties that served their interests for so many years. As Chávez said during his speech, “We are in full battle and cannot lose it.”

The revolution’s enemies include all the major newspapers of the nation and four of the five TV stations. Supporters of the old order organize demonstrations of middle-class elements, members of COPEI and AD, and have tried to foment rebellion among the country’s military officers.

The U.S. government is working with the oligarchies to create a situation of economic and political instability, much like what was done against Salvador Allende in Chile before the bloody military coup that overthrew him. Secretary of State Colin Powell has stated that the U.S. will “put Venezuela in diplomatic isolation.”

Chávez is being portrayed as undemocratic with intentions of becoming a dictator. “Polls” are released in the domestic and foreign press supposedly showing his dwindling support. He is accused of being incompetent and unstable. All of this forms a part of the destabilization campaign.

The PCV remains solidly behind the Bolivarian Revolution and sees its task as both supporting it and amplifying it. The PCV stands for bringing socialism to Venezuela and creating a society organized for the workers and peasants. As Chávez spoke the over 400 delegates to the Congress and other party members frequently interrupted with shouts of “No Volveran” (They shall not return) and “No Pasaran” (They shall not pass), referring to the enemies of the Bolivarian Revolution.

The government has organized “Bolivarian Circles” throughout the nation. These circles are to help mobilize citizens in their communities to improve in areas such as education, health, housing and public services. The PCV organizes and participates fully in these organizations.

During its congress, the PCV elected new leadership, rewrote its constitution and examined how well they were functioning throughout the country in the unions, peasant and women’s organizations.

The Venezuelan communists see this revolution as the way forward for the mass of Venezuelans who for so long have been excluded from full participation in the country’s politics and from sharing in its wealth. They realize its importance not only for their own nation but all of Latin America. Everywhere in the continent, except Cuba, living conditions are worsening, with Argentina being the most salient recent example.

Venezuela was the only country at the meeting of Western Hemisphere nations in Montreal last year that refused to sign on to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) as presented. The FTAA will only lead to further U.S. penetration and degradation of the economies of Latin America, as has happened to Mexico under NAFTA.

The PCV will continue to live up to its proud history of struggle and called upon Communist parties around the world to do more to support the Bolivarian Revolution.

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