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Friday, August 13, 2004

Chavez, the poor, and women

Excellent article from the Guardian about Hugo Chavez' Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela and how it is helping the poor and the women of that country.

Despite oil, 80% of Venezuelan people are poor, and the Women's Development Bank (Banmujer) is needed to move the bottom up. Unlike other micro-credit banks, such as the Grameen in Bangladesh, its interest rates are government-subsidized. Banmujer, "the different bank", is based on developing cooperation among women. Credits can only be obtained if women get together to work out a project which is both viable and what the local community wants and needs.

As Banmujer president Nora Castańeda explains: "We are building an economy at the service of human beings, not human beings at the service of the economy. And since 70% of the world's poor are women, women must be central to economic change to eliminate poverty."

In this oil-producing country 65% of basic food is imported. President Chávez has placed much emphasis on regenerating agriculture and repopulating the countryside, so that Venezuelans can feed themselves and are no longer dependent on imports or vulnerable to blockades which could starve them out. After all, you can't drink oil.

Most importantly, the oil revenue is increasingly used for social programs as well as agriculture: to enable change in the lives of the most who have least. People feel that the oil industry, nationalized decades ago, is finally theirs. The oil workers have created committees to work out how the industry is to be run and for whose benefit, even what to do about the pollution their product causes. The government has turned the referendum, regarded by Venezuelans as an imperialist attempt to oust Chávez, into an even wider expression of the popular will. The small electoral squads, again mainly women who know the community and whom the community knows, are checking identity cards to weed out the names of those who have died or are under age, and register all who are entitled to vote, so that this time there will be little opportunity for electoral fraud. The turnout is expected to be 85%. Some, especially the well-off, see the political engagement of the whole population as a threat to the status quo. Exactly. But since, increasingly, people find representative government doesn't represent them, it may be the wave of the present.