Venezuela: Background

Something unprecedented is happening in Venezuela. Since the election of Hugo Chavez in 1999 Venezuela has embarked on a profound and controversial project of reinventing society from within, changing a political and economic system that benefits the few and powerful to one that gives ordinary Venezuelans a seat at the table.

Now, for the first time, millions of Venezuelans have access to education, job training, housing, land, clean water, health care, and something maybe even more precious: dignity.
 
While the personality of Hugo Chavez monopolizes the headlines and the mainstream media reduces complex issues to simplistic soundbites, the reality of the Venezuelan revolution is complex, contradictory and ever-changing. With new spaces for political participation opened to grassroots social movements, once-marginalized Venezuelan citizens have come out of the shadows to demand an active role in society.
 
Community-based health care missions now bring medical services to poor neighborhoods. Educational programs are putting millions more children into new schools, while new university opportunities are providing higher education to Venezuelans previously shut out of the system. At the same time, women, indigenous peoples, and Afro-Venezuelans are gaining stature and rights, while a high-profile agrarian reform campaign is giving poor farmers access to land.
 
Venezuela is also becoming a leader in regional integration, particularly in the promotion of viable alternatives to corporate globalization and the "free trade" economic model. The proposed Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) would prioritize regional cooperation to strengthen Latin American economies. Venezuela also helped create the Bank of the South, an alternative source of funding for development in Latin America, TeleSur, a Latin American news channel, and PetroAmérica— the first fully integrated, Latin American oil company.
 
But these ambitious programs, and Chavez's call for the creation of 21st Century Socialism are controversial. The Bush Administration -- which endorsed the coup d'etat against Venezuelan democracy in 2002 - continues in its rhetorical and funding efforts to discredit the government's legitimacy both at home and abroad. The U.S. media routinely labels President Chavez a 'dictator' and 'demagogue.' At the same time, political polarization continues to rack Venezuela as the opposition struggles to create an alternative to the chavista program.
 
The direction of the Bolivarian process is being negotiated not only in the presidential palace but also in the streets and fields of Venezuela. After new constitutional changes were narrowly rejected by the Venezuelan public the future of Venezuela is more unsure than ever.
 
We invite you to travel to Venezuela with Global Exchange to dig past the headlines and explore the changes occurring in Venezuela, Latin America and the hemisphere as a whole. Meet with human rights activists, rural agricultural workers, labor unions, community activists, journalists, and government as well as opposition figures, and see for yourself the unprecedented social change that is occurring at this historic time.
 
At the crossroads of the Andean mountains, the Caribbean coast, the Amazon rainforest, and the Amacuro River Delta, Venezuela's wondrous natural diversity and beauty combined with its visionary social justice agenda guarantee an exciting -- and unforgettable -- experience.