An update on the "New Axis of Evil"TM
In this week's issue of America, the National Catholic Weekly, Joseph J. Fahey writes of his recent experiences in Venezuela as part of a delegation of Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical Christians who were invited by Fundlatin, a Venezuelan ecumenical human rights organization, to see the direct effects Hugo Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution were having on Venezuela's poor. The delegation was independent, sponsored neith by the Venezuelan government nor by its (US sponsored) opposition.
Daily we met scores of residents who explained the “revolution” (a word we heard everywhere) that has taken place in their lives during the past five years. The revolution has included literacy classes, the formation of small agrarian and industrial cooperatives, clean water and improved sanitary conditions, and free medical services. Their spirit of enthusiasm and hope filled the air.Fahey uses a symbol -- "three little girls" who he met on his journey -- to represent broader social improvements taking place in barrios surrounding Caracas, Barquisimeto and Sanare.
These dramatic changes flow from the 1999 Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, passed by popular referendum (following emphases are mine):
I met them at a recently built day care center set up to look after them while their parents worked at nearby cooperatives. Some of the parents were building new homes or working in social services. Each day the children are bathed, since many homes (single-room shacks) in the barrio are still without running water. They are fed nutritious meals with food often made at one of the worker cooperatives (the Pavia co-op, for example, makes bread).
The little girls receive free health services at a new building offering dental and ophthalmologic services; family doctors are nearby. These medical services are called “Misio Barrio Adentro” (“Mission Inside the Neighborhood”). They represent a major improvement in the local residents’ quality of life. The medical missions are staffed largely by Cuban doctors and their Venezuelan assistants. We were told that some 15,000 Cuban doctors and other medical professionals work in Venezuela, because the government exchanges its oil for these services. The Cubans tend to serve the poorest areas, where most people had never seen a doctor or a clinic. The medical teams train local young people so that they can become doctors and other medical professionals in their own right. They also practice preventive medicine, visiting schools and homes to care for the lame, the elderly and newborns.
Far from being the Godless Socialist state suggested in the rhetoric of the Bush administration, Fahey, a Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College (Jesuits) in Riverdale, NY, sees parallels to Catholic teaching on social justice.
The Preamble calls on the “protection of God” and “the historic example of our liberator Simon Bolívar” to “establish a democratic, participatory and self-reliant, multiethnic and multicultural society in a just, federal, and decentralized state” that “guarantees the right to life, work, learning, education, social justice and equality.”
The Venezuelan Constitution guarantees the right to health through a national public health system “governed by the principles of gratuity, universality, completeness, fairness, social integration and solidarity.”
The extensive human rights agenda in Venezuela’s Constitution bears a strong resemblance to Catholic social teaching. Indeed, the sections on “Fundamental Principles,” “Duties, Human Rights and Guarantees” and “Socioeconomic System” are similar to the newly released Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Many of the lay leaders, religious, deacons and priests we met praised the constitution and described it as the blueprint for the social changes taking place in Venezuela today.The Venezuelans -- especially the Venezuelan poor -- are hopeful, Fahey observes. But they still have fears of a US invasion or other attempt to subvert the Bolivarian recvolution. They remember the coup attempt of 2002, supported by the CIA and National Endowment for Democracy, and are aware that the main opposition party to Chavez's government, Primera Justicia, is also funded by the NED. He is up for reelection in December.
The balls in our court, Mr. Bush. Do we believe in Democracy or not? Or was all that rhetoric just a smoke screen, and our real interest is the spread of global, un-regulated, laissez faire, "free market" capitalism?
If, as feared, the United States interferes, the people in the barrios told us they will protest by the millions, as they did during the attempted coup against Chávez in 2002. Citizen-based National Guard units are being armed and trained in case the country is invaded. Young people told us they would fight to the death for their country and their Constitution.
What position the American people take in response to overt or covert attempts by the U.S. government to overthrow the legitimate government of Venezuela is, for the people in the barrios, the key question. They begged us to tell the American people to leave them alone so that they can develop as they see fit. They know from personal experience that governments respond to the will of the people. They fervently pray that their sisters and brothers in the North will demand that the U.S.
government act justly toward Venezuela.
I think Americans -- and American Catholics -- would like to know.