Venezuela’s state capitalist economy and its political dynamics have been shaped in the past 16 years by the indigenous population. In Venezuela Reframed the author argues that constitutional rights for indigenous people were made a priority through state-led capitalist development. He seeks to assess how successful Chavez’s Bolivarian movement has been in extending these rights.
The book supports Chavez’s “Bolivarian revolution” and its mainly electoral campaign. It also supports the strategy of the movement to access capitalist state power and use it to facilitate socioeconomic inclusion and popular mobilisation. This leads the author to argue that in some way there has been a socialist transformation in Venezuela, achieved by taking over existing state structures. This “socialism-from-above”, Angosto-Ferrandez argues, has provided some protection for oppressed peoples from capitalist exploitation.
I would argue that, rather, Chavez and the Bolivarian movement have incorporated indigenous people into the existing capitalist structures. Exploitation is still intact, driven by national productivity targets pursued through national development projects.
The book highlights how Chavez made paying the historical debt to indigenous people one of the early slogans of his political project. Various organisations such as Conive were the platform for indigenous representation in the struggle against the legacy of Spanish colonialism. The author is critical of this. He shows how Chavez brought together members of the military, neoliberal forces and nationalist economic elites in an essentially nationalist project.
He also shows how collective action was channelled through state structures including the electoral arena, forming a relationship with the movement in the streets.
The author endorses Chavez and his legacy of indigenous rights in terms of education, health and other services. He argues that collective action was prioritised for indigenous people and their political participation. I would argue this was done mainly through electoral means and a state-sponsored indigenous movement from above. Rather than the indigenous movement forcing change from below, Chavez incorporated indigenous activists into the state capitalist structures to develop national plans.
Democracy from below, socio-economic transformation, democratisation of civil society, and guarantees of rights for the oppressed cannot come about through capitalist structures. Any movement against neoliberalism and imperialism has to take on the question of the state and the relations of production that exist under capitalism.
The author looks critically at how democracy from below in Venezuela is severely constrained. He sees authoritarian tendencies within the governing bloc. Opposition or dissent is viewed as disloyalty; civil society and indigenous groups are closely controlled by the state. This is backed up by how the government and media ignored the hunger strike of Jose Maria Karta, whose main grievance was that the Chavez government had failed to implement the rights guaranteed in the constitution.
Many indigenous communities have been displaced from their land for large development projects. These communities are then forced to participate in state-led projects with the government setting up medium-sized private companies.
I would argue that there is a need for a return to the movements from below that brought Chavez to power and, crucially, kept him there when the right attempted to oust him. A real socialist transformation of the economy will mean much more fundamental change than we have seen so far. Venezuela Reframed is useful in terms of the history of the Chavista movement and it reignites the debate as to what type of society Venezuela is.