Venezuela Tries To Create Its Own Kind of Socialism
Monday, August 6, 2007
CARACAS, Venezuela -- At a sleek, airy factory built by Venezuela's populist government, 80 workers churn out shoes -- basic and black and all of them to be shipped to Fidel Castro's Cuba, a leading economic partner.
With no manager or owner, the workers have an equal stake in a business celebrated as a shining alternative to the "savage capitalism" President Hugo Chávez constantly disparages.
"Here there are no chiefs, no managers," said Gustavo Zuñiga, one of the workers, explaining that a workers' assembly makes the big decisions.
There's also no need to compete -- production is wholly sustained by government orders.
Like the Venezuelan economy itself, the assembly line here is designed to put workers ahead of the bottom line and, in the process, serve as a building block in Chávez's dream of constructing what he calls 21st-century socialism. According to a 59-page economic blueprint for the next six years, free-market capitalism's influence will wane with the proliferation of state enterprises and mixed public-private firms called social production companies, the objective being to generate funding for community programs.
"The productive model will principally respond to human necessities and be less subordinate to the production of capital," the report says. "The creation of wealth will be destined to satisfy the basic necessities of all the population."
In year nine of Chávez's presidency, Venezuela's economy is undergoing a sweeping, if improvised, facelift as a president with powers to pass economic laws by decree enacts wholesale changes.
The transformation includes thousands of new state-run cooperatives, the government takeover of companies and new trade ties to distant countries such as Iran and Belarus, which the United States has dubbed "Europe's last dictatorship." The Chávez administration has recently announced plans to build factories to produce agricultural goods, cellular telephones, bicycles and a variety of other items.
Venezuela's state oil company, the engine for what Chávez calls a peaceful revolution, will have an even bigger role: The president has approved the creation of seven subsidiaries of Petroleos de Venezuela to grow soybeans, build ships and produce clothing and appliances.
Venezuela has also taken majority control of the oil sector, driving out Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips. Venezuelan officials hint that the government might nationalize production of natural gas by the end of the year. Chávez and other officials have also raised the possibility that the government will inject itself in banks, steel production and private hospitals.
The big question -- still not spelled out in detail by government officials -- is what exactly is 21st-century socialism?
"Chávez is, of course, radicalizing his model, but not in the Cuban way," said Luis Vicente León, a pollster and political analyst. "This is not communist. This is not capitalist. What is it? It's a mix."