On a Mission to Take Back Control

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Chris Harman and Rory Hearne's articles (SR, February) highlight some of the contradictions in the Venezuelan process.

But they make very little mention of the missions - the major social programmes that are taking place in the barrios. The missions are one of the most radical elements in the process.

Through the missions, people are taking control of their lives and strengthening their communities. For the first time people are getting title deeds to their own homes. All age groups are getting the opportunity to receive an education. There are night classes and video courses for those who work - and there are even creches for their kids. And not only are they receiving quality healthcare from Cuban doctors, but young people from the barrios are themselves training to be doctors. All of this in places that the Lonely Planet guide calls "dangerous slum areas". Before the Bolivarian Revolution, only kids whose parents could afford private university fees could have these opportunities.

While oil revenues from central government finance the missions, the communities are not merely passive receivers of services. Elected local committees are central to the management of the missions. For example, the health committees work with the doctors to prioritise where and how the money will be spent, and the urban land committees plan applications for title deeds and manage utility needs such as gas and electricity.

An idea being explored in the barrio of Petare is the formation of mini co-operatives. Unlike those resulting from factory occupations, these are being created from scratch. There is an abundance of skilled workers - such as electricians and metalworkers - in Petare, and there is a demand for them. The local mayor's office provides advice, finance and encouragement.

All of these projects give communities real ownership over the process, and when you talk to them you quickly realise that they are not about to relinquish that ownership any time soon. Domingo Alvarez, a leading activist from the barrio of Petare, said, "The community is learning every day that the process must grow and extend itself. In time the old institutions will become less relevant. That is how we hope it will proceed."

The institutions he refers to are part of the bureaucratic and corrupt state referred to by Harman. Everyone seems to be aware of the problem, but nobody seems to know how to tackle it.

So, despite the optimism and hope, Harman is right to be cautious about where it can all lead. It is easy to visit a barrio and be inspired by the real changes occurring there. But a tour of the upmarket Altamira and Palos Grandes areas of Caracas provides a reality check. They still have their Ferrari garages and gated mansions. Little has changed there.

But wherever the revolution is going, it must be allowed to continue. It must not be disrupted by national or international enemies of the process.

Steven Mather