The socialist government of Venezuela has called a major summit of its Latin American leftwing allies to discuss the global food disaster, and has taken steps to try and prepare itself for meeting its own food needs.
Venezuela has since 1998 had a revolutionary government dedicated to bringing fundamental change to the country, and in recent years the radical President Hugo Chavez has publicly declared that the only way forward for the people of Latin America and the world is socialism.
One of the key parts of his strategy has been trying to bring the countries of Latin America together to integrate into a common bloc that can confront the US and the world’s powerful countries.
The result of this has been the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America (ALBA in its Spanish initials). This is a grouping of Latin American and Caribbean countries dedicated to co-operation and solidarity between themselves.
ALBA convened for an extraordinary summit last week to discuss the world food crisis (as well as the political crisis caused by the right wing in Bolivia). Taking part were President Chavez, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage.
Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage commented that the crisis is part of an “unjust international economic order” in which “the logic is profit and not the satisfaction of peoples’ needs.”
Lage also denounced the fact that the United States spends $500 billion per year on the Iraq War while the U.N. had to plea last month for $500 million donations in order to meet its emergency food quotas.
In a recent speech to the UN, President Morales of Bolivia also denounced the turning of land from food production to biofuels, which has greatly exacerbated the current food crisis.
“If we do not bring an end to the capitalist system, it will be impossible to save the Earth,” he said.
The agricultural development agreement signed by ALBA nations will focus on rice, corn, oil for human consumption, beans, beef, and milk, and the improvement of watering systems. To avoid price speculation by private intermediaries, the heads of state agreed to create a public food distribution network with regulated prices. To fund these projects, the presidents agreed to create a $100 million fund.
Chavez is one of the few world leaders openly talking about the crisis facing the world’s poor trying to feed themselves. The reason is that most of the world’s governments are controlled by the big powers, and are dedicated to market farming system which makes sure poor people can’t afford to eat and that it makes more economic sense to grow food for cars than people.
Venezuela on the other hand is committed to building “socialism of the 21st century” (in Chavez’ own words at a speech to the world social forum). The government has expropriated huge landowners who were doing nothing with their huge estates to create new agricultural communities, as well as nationalising major food processing and distribution firms, and establishing subsidised supermarkets to allow people to buy affordable food.
Peasants themselves have got organised to defend themselves against the thugs of the big landowners and demand their rights under the revolutionary constitution. The Ezequiel Zamora Campesino’s Front is a grassroots peasant’s organisation that has been at the forefront of these struggles, and is named after a 19th century in Venezuela who fought the big landowners to put the land in the hands of the people.
This week President Chavez emphasised the need for Venezuela to meet all its own food needs and increase domestic food production. Historically Venezuela used its oil wealth to have an Americanised diet which was dependent on importing up to 80% of its food.
“There is a food crisis in the world, but Venezuela is not going to fall into that crisis. You can be sure of that. Actually, we are going to help other nations who are facing this crisis,” he said on his weekly TV show Alo Presidente.
Venezuela produced 2.2 million tons of corn last year, which represents a 300% increase in national corn production since 1999, Chávez declared. He recounted that corn production had fallen in the decade prior to his election from 1.2 million tons in 1988 to 980,000 tons in 1998.
President Chávez said Thursday that the method for achieving its goals is “socialism,” which is “the future.” He pointed out that the government has nationalized large, idle estates and turned them into Socialist Production Units (UPS) “with their own economic model” based on “social property, which is not private property, it is for everyone.”
Now, it is the workers’ responsibility to transform production from capitalist to socialist, the president said. He called for the creation of a “National Socialist Farmers Front” of agricultural workers, who “should possess a conscience of social duty and exercise this for the collective benefit.”
In another very important move, Venezuela has also banned trawler fishing throughout its waters in an attempt to protect the ocean ecosystem and fish stocks. Fishermen are being supported to be re-trained in traditional, less harmful methods.
Reflecting on the future development of Venezuela, Chávez stressed that “we should move away from the oil-based production model. The future of the country is in the land, in the agricultural project, not in petroleum. Food production is the most important.”
The importance of all these moves is that a revolutionary government is showing the world there’s nothing inevitable about the starvation facing millions of people around the world as a result of capitalism’s mismanagement of food production. The problem is fundamentally an economic and political one, and is inextricably linked with the social and environmental crisis engulfing human society. The need for revolutionary movements able to challenge market madness has never been greater.