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Bolivarian Circles of Venezuela

By staff

Frontline Defense for National Democratic Revolution

Man speaking with Venezuela flag

Dr. Rodrigo Chavez, coordinator of the Bolivarian Circles in Venezuela, was interviewed by Tom Burke of the Colombia Solidarity Committee in Chicago. The Bolivarian Circles, with 2.2 million members, are the backbone of the national democratic revolution in Venezuela. After an attempted U.S. coup against Chavez on April 11, 2002, the Bolivarian Circles helped reinstall popularly-elected President Hugo Chavez. The Bolivarian Circles also successfully organized mass resistance against criminal corporate managers’ and corrupt union officials’ attempted destruction of the oil industry.

Fight Back!: What are the Bolivarian Circles? What ideas do they promote and what do they do?

Rodrigo Chavez: Bolivarian Circles are the most basic form of participation in the democratic process in Venezuela, although not the only one. There are also neighborhood associations, cooperatives and indigenous groups, among others. The difference between Bolivarian Circles and other people’s organizations is in their express commitment to the defense of the revolution and the 1999 Bolivarian constitution, which was designed by the people and approved with 86% of the popular vote. This is something that, for example, a neighbor association may also believe in, but it does not form part of their foundational statements. Also, a Bolivarian Circle gets involved in country-wide on international issues, which is something that may not be of interest for a neighborhood association.

Fight Back!: What is the relationship between the Bolivarian Circles and the government of President Hugo Chavez?

Rodrigo Chavez: President Chavez has made permanent calls for people to get organized and to fight for their rights. Political parties were not the best way to guarantee people’s participation in the democratic process because of their infighting and struggle for positions of leadership. With these problems in mind, in 2000, he specifically called for the formation of Bolivarian Circles and empowered Diosdado Cabello, vice-president of the Republic, to provide all the necessary support to form the Bolivarian Circles as independent cells of support for the revolution.

The fact that Bolivarian Circles were founded under a presidential call has made people think that Bolivarian Circles are dependent on the government, but, in reality they are autonomous and do not receive government funds. Bolivarian Circles are not corporations – therefore they cannot access funds directly – but they educate people and communities on how to access credits from different lending institutions. They also allow people with common interests to form co-ops, associations, non-profit corporations, et cetera.

Fight Back!: The rich land owners and big bosses in Venezuela, backed by Bush and the CIA, tried to overthrow Venezuela’s democratically elected president, Hugo Chavez, on April 11, 2002. How did the Bolivarian Circles respond to the coup against President Chavez?

Rodrigo Chavez: The Bolivarian Circles played a fundamental role in the re-establishment of the constitutional process in Venezuela. It was a spontaneous movement that had no government guidance nor did it follow any previous government plan. It was the Bolivarian Circles, who, through their organization and high level of understanding of the need to defend the democratic process, that started to take control of different parts of the country, and, together with the military supporting the constitution, reversed the coup and provided a unique historical situation where, for the first time in history, a deposed president was able to come back to the presidency in less than 48 hours.

Fight Back!: How did the Bolivarian Circles respond during the recent sabotage of the national oil industry by criminal company officials and corrupt oil union leaders?

Rodrigo Chavez: Bolivarian Circles provided free labor, groups to defend oil installations and connections to contact former oil workers. In addition, many oil workers are themselves members of Bolivarian Circles, and created a network of support and exchange that allowed for the recovery of the oil production in record time.

Fight Back!: Do the Bolivarian Circles work with unions?

Rodrigo Chavez: As I mentioned before, many members of the Bolivarian Circles are unionized workers and union leaders. We as Bolivarian Circles provide integration between union members and the rest of the community – in fact, making the labor movement and the people’s movement one.

It does not mean that we do not perceive the differences between the labor movement struggle and the struggle of a community for a better education, but we have been able to identify more commonalities than differences between different movements. The integration of the struggles and demands of the labor movement with those of the community are a fundamental factor in the current trend to form a new kind of labor movement, and in fact most important labor unions of the country have abandoned the CTV – Confederation of Venezuelan Workers – to form new alternatives. The recently created Union of Workers UNETE is a response to the corruption of the CTV.

Fight Back!: What motivates you to organize and fight for the self-determination of the Venezuelan people? Why focus on the Bolivarian Circles?

Rodrigo Chavez: As a medical doctor, I was always concerned that, in Venezuela, health was perceived of as the treatment of diseases. I believed in a more holistic approach. I believed in education and prevention, but the more I got involved in trying to address the situation, the more convinced I got that it was only the people themselves who could solve their own problems and that health problems were just another expression of our societal ills. From this understanding to the Bolivarian Circles there is just a step.

Fight Back!: What are the Bolivarian movement’s goals? Is socialism on the agenda? Is creating a United States of Latin America a goal?

Rodrigo Chavez: The goal is the defense of the revolutionary process to form a society with social justice, with economic justice, with a guarantee for real political participation for all. This last point deserves special attention. I am not talking here about voting every four or five years or whatever the electoral cycle is. I am talking about people being able to directly design their development projects, supervise and carry out their development projects without intermediaries, without people representing them.

Through Bolivarian Circles, neighborhood associations, cooperatives, et cetera, people can represent themselves before city hall and governorships. The citizen assembly is a constitutional right. Articles 166 and 192 of the constitution establish that governors and mayors must allow for communities to participate in the design and implementation of their budgets. How do you call this? Socialism? Communism? Populism? It is up to you. We just do not care about the name as long as the process works. We call it Bolivarianism and participatory democracy.

Of course, Venezuelan problems are similar to those of other countries in Latin America and the world. We should be receiving all the support of the world as we try to solve problems in a way that has never been tried before and as we confront powerful forces trying to maintain the status quo. It has not materialized yet, and, if anything our efforts have been received with skepticism. But we just keep going against all odds trying to create an alternative model that provides an alternative for Venezuela and other countries. We are sure that the ideas of a unified Latin America are closer than ever because only people unite people. It has been the interests of corporations and the wealthy which have separated us in different countries and as a people. The unity of Latin America is an essential component of Bolivar ideas so it is ours too.

Fight Back!: Does the Bolivarian movement relate to movements in other countries? Which ones and why?

Rodrigo Chavez: We relate to movements pursuing peace with social and economic justice – fighting for the rights of the indigenous people, of the poor, of workers in general. That is why we have a close relationship with indigenous movements in Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Canada and Guatemala. We are initiating relationships with the Zapatistas in Mexico; we also have relationships with the progressive movements all around the world in Africa, Asia, Europe, the United States; with the Workers Party in Brazil and with the revolutionary process in Cuba.

Fight Back!: What are the important lessons you wish to share with Fight Back! readers?

Rodrigo Chavez: We knew we were confronting powerful interests and powerful forces, we just did not know how powerful they were. Attempts to overthrow the government and to put an end to our struggle continue. More than a hundred community leaders have been killed, mostly during the days of the coup. The key has been organization and community participation in the decision making process. We do not have great individual leaders and we do not try to form individual leaders; we think that communities have their own leaders and that new leaders are emerging all the time so people are not following a leader – they are working for their own projects and trying to build a future of their own. Hugo Chavez is, without a doubt, a leader for all communities but we do not depend on him. We accept his leadership at a national level, as the person who has opened the political space and allowed for us, the forgotten, the neglected, the oppressed to be able to stand up for our rights.

Fight Back!: What can people in the U.S. do to support the struggle of the working people in Venezuela?

Rodrigo Chavez: People in the United States should try to become more aware about the realities, about what is really going on in Venezuela. They can form Bolivarian Circles over there too; they can try to learn about our constitution and try to implement similar reforms in your country. U.S. people must also oppose U.S. government intervention in other countries’ affairs, and please denounce the mass media distorted portrait about Venezuela and other countries that do not bend to U.S. corporate attempts to take control of our resources and dominate our politics.

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