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Supporters say that Chavez is working to change attitudes about education. “I think he’s working really hard in education,” says Nocua. “One of the problems of Venezuela is that people grew up with the feeling that we were rich and we could get [everything] from the government through subsidies. People, until ten years [ago], didn’t care, really, much about education.”
Chavistas see these projects, which are aimed at aiding the poor, who come disproportionately from the African and indigenous background which Chavez shares, as concrete steps toward a democratic revolution in their country. The opposition, which draws support largely from the middle and upper classes, worries that these developments mark the first steps down the road to a Cuban-style Communist dictatorship with Chavez at the helm.
Indeed, there are many aspects of Castro’s revolutionary policies in Cuba that are being replicated by Chavez. Some land redistribution has taken place. Squatters have been given title to the land they already live on, thus allowing them access to microlending programs aimed at helping the poor start their own businesses. “If we would have communism here in Venezuela, you wouldn’t have the right to have your own land,” Nocua explained. “If you are organized as a community, you can ask for the right for the piece of land where you live.” This provides the collateral banks require before offering credit.
Even on the educational front, the policies hearken to Cuba. Plan Robinson is based on a Cuban literacy drive in the early 1960s, and Castro has donated equipment for the project. Escuela Bolivariana has a social aspect as well, aiming to educate Venezuelans about subjects like capitalism and globalization. Overall the project has a revolutionary and communitarian, if not communistic, nature, at least in terms of the rhetoric of those implementing it.
The opposition advocates neoliberal, market-driven solutions to Venezuela’s problems. The two sides could not be more diametrically opposed, and it remains to be seen how far either will go to ensure that its agenda becomes public policy.
On Christmas Eve, thousands of people thronged the streets of Caracas. As dusk fell, explosions resounded throughout the city. This time, the reports were from the traditional Christmas fireworks as crowds of last-minute shoppers mobbed vendors’ stalls.
For a time, the holiday season supplanted the dueling recall drives in the media and in people’s minds. Soon, though, the glow will fade, and the country’s future will once again take center stage. Right now, that future is extremely uncertain. No one knows whether a recall vote will be held, who will win if it is, or what the loser’s next steps might be.
For the latest information on what’s happening in Venezuela, visit Z Magazine’s Venezuela-Watch at www.zmag.org/venezuela_watch.htm.