Voter Shift: The implications on GE14

Imagine you are voter in Area A and you know the polling station you go is a school in Area A. Then a by election came, you came to that school and you found that you not allowed to cast your votes in that Area A. You didn’t change your address but you disallowed your right to vote.Why is it happening?

During last year’s by elections, quite number of voters in Kuala Kangsar (Perak) found that couldn’t cast their vote. I am not sure of the calculated implication of this event on big BN victory for that seat. Referring to an old article by Bersih’s Chief statement, more than 118 000 voters have been shifted of their voting districts through a process called Locality Correction Exercise.

In Malaysia, we need a quick understanding how an electoral constituency is formed. First, we have a locality which can cover a suburb or a small region. Multiple localities make up a voting district which can define the location of polling booths. Multiple voting districts make up a state consitutency and finally a parliamentary constituency.

What is this Locality Correction Exercise is about? According to Election Commission Malaysia (SPR), this is to correct historical errors of assigning the wrong voting districts for voters. Few years ago, the former Menteri Besar of Selangor was shifted of his voting district because of this exercise. EC claims there is no boundary corrections or voter shift.

However, if voters are shifted of their constituency (which occurred across the country), then the exercise is tantamount to a redelineation which requires Parliamentary approval and plus consultation of communities.

We need to ask why the big fuss on the implication of voter shift. Would it impact the next elections? We will examine two cases.  One is PAS Marginal Seat in Perak and BN Marginal Seat in Sabah.

SELINSING

voter-shift-selinsing

Selinsing is north western state consitutency of Perak. In 2013, PAS won the seat with thin margin of 809 voters. It is a marginal (formerly) Pakatan Rakyat seat. Refer to the map on the left, PAS won strongly on voting districts on edges of this rural consitutency. But the map shows BN has strong presence in many voting districts. This seat is vulnerable for a big swing in next elections.

Putting aside a potential PAS – BN election pact, we will examine the impact on voter shift. This seat experienced Locality Correction Exercise which resulted many voters got shifted within the seat and to certain degree, to other seats. For this study, we focus on voter shift between constituencies.

Look at the right map, the map focus of supposed immigration and emigration of voters with neighbouring consitutency. For this Locality Correction Exercise, up to 2899 voters were emigrated from Selinsing and while 814 immigrated into the seat. In short, Selinsing has shrunk in its population. What’s the big fuss here?

Focus on voting district level, there is a strong correlation of voter emigration wherever PAS voting base is strong. For example, Jalan Siakap is an affected voting district. Here things get interesting, Sungai Gedong received 392 voters from neighbouring districts. Gunung Semanggol is pro PR district and Kg Tua is pro BN district.

Assuming the voter preference is not changed by GE14, we have a situation PAS lost 800 potential votes while to cope with addition of 400 votes from largely BN territory. Even before a change of boundaries, could this exercise switch the election results? Do the Maths!

Tawau

Tawau is a Sabah BN Marginal Seat while Kalabakan is safe Sabah BN seat (They are next to each other). The biggest voter shift among parliamentary constituencies in Malaysia occurred between Tawau and Kalabakan.

Thanks to the Locality Correction Exercise, up to 2550 voters got shifted into Tawau. As we don’t have the current voting districts in Sabah (as new ones), I can only provide the analysis based on 2013 boundaries.

Similar to Selinsing, we have Kuhara voting district which is pro PR district getting new influx of voters. Most of them come from a pro PR district in Kalabakan. Assuming voter pattern didn’t change, it will be difficult to ascertain whether such exercise will strengthen PR presence or BN presence (individual voter preference is secret). Apas, a pro BN district will see reduction of voters but with no certainty in changing electoral outcome.

But we do know there is an influx of voters from pro BN districts in Kalabakan to new voting districts in Tawau. I am referring to seats of Padang Terbang and Banyan where the voter emigration to Tawau seems to unusually high.

In the case of Tawau, we don’t know whether this voter shift either:

  1. Preserve status quo of BN marginal seat
  2. Make into a PR marginal seat
  3. Converting BN marginal seat to safe BN seat.

Conclusion

In two instances, we can see the far reaching implications of locality correction Exercise. Please check your SPR details especially if you are in a BN or PR marginal seat. If any errors, please contact SPR.

Your future in Malaysia rests in your hands!

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Housing Crisis (Part 1)

This blogspot has quietened down for long time but will be reactivated for short series of post on key matters

Today, I will be writing a short article to give you an idea about housing crisis, why it happens and potential solutions. This article (plus the series) intended for anyone who want to get a basic grasp on what’s happening. Structure of the article is summary style and where applicable, charts will be added.This article will take more from Malaysian perspective but deriving examples elsewhere.

Problem

  1. The price of housing today is way beyond the means of purchase. New subdivisions and lots of houses are being built but the supply is not meeting the right demand.
  2. Majority of the houses built by private sector in Malaysia are built at prices beyond the means of the lower income group. In 2013, 70% of the private sector built housing is beyond 1.2 million Malaysians who do not own a home yet
  3. Even if the government sector intervenes (in Malaysia), the price tag of state built homes are beyond reach.
  4. Residing in Malaysia (especially for lower income groups), the wages they earn is largely consumed for daily necessities, servicing their car (due to poor public transportation), school related expenses (increased due to declining educational standards) and other loans. A little of their disposable income is available to re service housing loan.
  5. Low wages (which is very true in Malaysia) which impacts both graduates and other low income groups reduce their options to search for houses and as mentioned before, affordable housing quantities remain low.
  6. Price speculation are pushing people further away from their job locations and compounded with poor public transportation, people had to fork out more to maintain their personal driving (and tolls).
  7. Is there any proper mechanisms to protect home buyers during recession when they are servicing 35 year loan?
  8. Governmental policies (i.e. San Francisco) building too many luxury housing units which reduces the land to build affordable units
  9. Rising Rents reducing the disposable income needed to finance a new home.
  10. In Australia, those who are seeking accommodation are increasingly being turned away

Sources

  1. Commercialization of housing concept. House is originally built for shelter but now viewed as exchanger of value
  2. Property centric development geared for top income earners
  3. Abandonment of state geared housing programmes or retreating the role to private sector
  4. Certain massive projects (i.e. new highways to propel new growth areas) fuel new round of property speculation
  5. One author attributed one source to financialisation of capital. Depressing wages which led to initial super profits of capitalists has reduced consumer demand growth needed for more profits for capitalist class. They in turn invest in real estate which deepen speculation and scarcity of lands (increasing price of land needed for housing)
  6. Collusion of government agencies and private developers in driving up the prices.
  7. Government bodies building market rate housing on their public lands or not delivering sufficient affordable units (despite the lands available)
  8. Poor policies on government side that encourages market rate development in hoping to subsidize affordable units. However, it delivers the opposite effect, where market driven rates fuel a new round of price increase of housing next to new development
  9. Tax breaks encouraging competitions between investors and home buyers
  10. Growing rental rate that is growing faster than inflation (i.e. Australia)

References

  1. http://housingstressed.org.au/get-the-facts/
  2. http://aliran.com/thinking-allowed-online/2014-ta-online/housing-crisis-solution/
  3. http://aliran.com/thinking-allowed-online/2014-ta-online/housing-crisis-solution-part-2/
  4. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/29885-chasing-unicorns-5-reasons-why-san-francisco-is-delusional-giving-up-public-land-for-market-rate-development

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Ecuador: The Success Story

The Petroleum drives the Good Living

The Petroleum drives the Good Living

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling to Ecuador gave me a different insight of implementation of 21st Century Socialism. What we have discussed so far in Venezuela is a revolution that is deeply transformative. However, looking into the situation of Venezuela back in December 2014 and now, Venezuelan revolutionary situation looks grim. Though I was traveling to Ecuador on purely holiday basis, I could not escape from the sights on how the Citizen’s revolution is impacting Ecuador.

To give you a quick context, like Bolivia in 1990s, Ecuador was highly unstable country. Though Ecuador returned to democracy far earlier than other Latin American countries (1979), the democratic governments failed to deliver the needs of the pueblo (the people). Reformist Preisdent Jaime Roldos, which I believe gave a glimmer of hope in early 80s, was assassinated. Subsequent Presidents of Ecuador hardly improved or worst still, led to deterioration of Ecuador. In the 1990s, the pueblo rose many times to overthrow strings of Presidents. In 1999, Ecuador faced one of the worst economic crisis and the pueblo looked to Lucio Gutierrez, a colonel to save the country. Though Gutierrez promised reforms in early 2000s, his turn around on policies in favouring neoliberalism and inviting back a discredited President of Ecuador, Bucaram led to bigger protests. When he called the protestors outlaws, that sealed his end in 2005. In 2007, Ecuador was governed by self proclaimed socialists (who behaves more like pragmatist) Rafael Correa who brought much needed political and economic stability of the country.

In this post, I will be focusing more what I saw the tangible outcomes of the Citizen’s Revolution (led by Rafael Correa). One of the first things I have noticed is the massive difference between Quito Airport and Caracas Airport. Quito recently replaced its old dangerous airport with a new one on top of plateau. Unlike Caracas Airport, Quito Airport is brand new and even nominated as one of the best airports in Latin America.

Quito Airport

Quito Airport

What caught my attention immediately the new highway connecting the new airport with Quito city. When you drive along the highway, for one moment, you might be wondering, is this in South America or Australia? The kerbs, the sidewalks and the design of the highway just blew my mind. We traveled across a bridge, which was just opened by Rafael Correa on that day!

Highway connecting the airport to Quito

Highway connecting the airport to Quito

Quito is beautiful and well preserved heritage city. Unlike Caracas, much of the historic centre of Quito is very reflective of the Spanish colonial rule. One of the things I noticed in Quito was dedicated bicycle lanes.  Though I am not saying every street in Quito would have the lanes, in my opinion, there is shifting attitude in moving around the city. It may stem the fact that Rafael Correa likes cycling and cycling in permanent springtime in Quito is perfect! No sweating!

Driving on the new road to Cotopaxi Volcano National Park (note the bicycle lanes)

Driving on the new road to Cotopaxi Volcano National Park (note the bicycle lanes)

As I traveled with group of friends across the country, I took a strong notice of the impact of the revolution on the country. Unlike Venezuela, government propaganda billboards are hard to find. There are no big posters of Rafael Correa. The highways in Ecuador once more blew my mind away. It is as though you are traveling in Canada or any country with advanced highway systems. Ecuador is notorious for dangerous roads and they have successfully duplicated with proper in-road lighting system  to make the roads safer.

Highway in Ecuador

Highway in Ecuador

Far more than just good roads, I also saw a good symbol of inclusion policy of Citizen Revolution. Every new pedestrian bridge made in Ecuador is mandated to accommodate the disabled people. Hence the ramps to reach the bridge structure would be circular or longer. I have not seen anything similar in Venezuela.

Disabled friendly pedestrian Bridge

Disabled friendly pedestrian Bridge

In many rural towns, I see there were new bus stops and pedestrian crossings. Citizen Revolution has touched nearly every part of Ecuador that I have seen. In rural towns such as Tena, there is an internet centre built by the government called InfoCentro. Tena is one of the gateways to thick Amazonian region. Like in Venezuela, it brings internet to the most remote communities across the country

Infocentro in Tena

Infocentro in Tena

Having said that, what I have seen is small glimpse about the revolution. I have seen personally the issue of corruption in Ecuador and did not see much people empowerment structures.  However, when I left Ecuador, I left with immense respect what Ecuador has achieved so far. I left with hope that Ecuador can keep on progressing and the hope still remains in me as I write this post.

Venezuela achieved a deeper revolution that are transforming everyone’s life (just beyond education and health). Ecuador, through its own revolution, achieved a new model of good governance. Each leftist country in Latin America is charting their own way forward in removing barriers to human potential.

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Workers Control and Labour Matters

One of the meeting we (the brigadistas) attended was on workers control on city maintenance. Normally, those who are acquainted with labour struggle in Venezuela tend to associate workers control with expropriation/occupation of abandoned private enterprises. However, for this brigade, we manage to see workers control in a different setting – workers control in government run services.

Corporacion de Servicios is maintenance division of Caracas area (I am not defining the geographical scope as it is complicated). It has 5 circuits (meaning 5 regions) and circuits has collectives. Each collective appoints a delegate where issues are raised to the delegates. 3000 workers work in this corporation and their participation in enterprise decision-making process is very high. Nearly every worker participate in the decision-making process (administration, budgeting etc.)

In this meeting, we received heavy emphasis study on Venezuelan Labour Law 2012. The fundamental element of the law is the product of mass consultations of the working class in Venezuela. It was born out a necessity that workers were degenerating over the decades. Moreover, the law included the concepts of workers councils. The Labour Law stipulated that workers needs to guarantee of production (critical now as Venezuela is coping severe shortages) and services while workers are encouraged to fight for better wage and working conditions. The Law brought the incorporation of health rights and social security payments for workers. More importantly, Venezuela has a created a right of 3 meals a day for its workers. This implemented through state supermarkets (MERCAL) and food tickets which allows greater access to food.

Furthermore, the law improved benefits for pre- and post-natal leave. The laws grants rights to breastfeeding (which is more encouraged in Venezuela nowadays) and getting bosses to assist payments for nursery. The law reduced the weekly working hours from 48 to 40 hours and this constitutes as part of right to recreation. By doing so, Venezuelan people receives extra time to recuperate and invest in restoring public spaces or participating volunteering services.

To read more about Labour Law, go to this link

Back to the Corporation we met, workers representatives stated that they are pleased with high participation and consultation among workers. Spaces of administration control has been extended to nearly all the employees. More importantly, they feel free, high motivation and energy before and during worker. From these changes workers are experiencing, workers are actively engaged in community service. In this community service, workers actively transfer knowledge to the locals (i.e. restoration of buildings) whereby in future, communities would be in independent in city maintenance. This will in turn reduce the burden of the Corporation in longer term as communities are becoming capable managers of their own affairs. Looking into future, Corporation is now extending to services areas such as water services. The Labour Law has banned subcontracting and this meant enhanced working conditions, increased access to government benefits and opening new doors of career progression for previously subcontracted workers. The Corporation has brought all the expertise in house such as carpentry, iron base for water tanks to break dependency from the capitalist market

I asked two major questions to the workers reps:

1) In respect to many rights and privileges awarded to workers, one wonders the sustainability of these workers control enterprises.

Answer: Workers are aware of the financial costs behind these benefits. They stated that now Venezuela asserted full control on oil reserves, more money is able to be directed for these benefits. More importantly, Venezuela vigorously fought off tax evasion and hence more revenues were able to enter to state coffers. However, the workers are fully aware the limited life-span of oil monies and taxation revenues (since the Corporation is government owned entity). Hence, they are looking ways to invest the money they receive to make them more sustainable.

2) Challenges they face:

Answer: Keeping high the spirit of working class. Elected leaders (the delegates) generally vote on key decisions based on true reflections of the represented. Plus, another subtle challenge is keep the conscience high to maintain continuous production.

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Remembering Hugo Chavez

Artwork at National Experimental University of Arts in Caracas

Artwork at National Experimental University of Arts in Caracas

Two years ago on March 5th, the entire progressive and socialist world was given a massive shock when Venezuelan charismatic President Chavez succumbed to cancer. Chavez is a once in a 50 year phenomenon that made deep impact in Venezuela and beyond (previously it was Castro and Guevara from Cuba). Whether you love or loathe him, no can deny the impact of his presidency and government that made shockwaves in the region.

Sayings of Chavez at one of the museums

Sayings of Chavez at one of the museums

Born to a mixed ethnicity heritage, he was different to other presidents (who tend to represent white European heritage). He grew up under the care of his beloved grandmother who inspired him stories of his ancestors fighting in the revolutionary wars. When he signed up for his military college, his political discourse was shaped more by the revolutions in Panama and Peru in the 70s and his exposure to ideals of Simon Bolivar (Latin America independence hero), Simon Rodriguez (tutor to Bolivar) and Ezquiel Zamora (revolutionary peasant leader). Though Venezuela capitalized its oil boom in the 70s, the oil wealth historically did not benefit the large poor section of the society. With the onset of oil glut in the 80s, the middle class began to be decimated and first stage of neoliberalism was implemented in 1989. The dramatic rise in oil price (one of the cheapest in world) provoked societal rebellion in 1989 which resulted up to 3000 killed by government forces. Through out this period, Chavez has built a movement in the army, connecting with waning leftist forces and the 1989 repression convinced he need to make a dramatic change.

Chavez Mural at Water Tank mural from Cuartel de Montana

Chavez Mural at Water Tank mural from Cuartel de Montana

In 1992, he led a civic-military coup against democratic government of Venezuela to end the hopelessness and repression that was going on. However, it quickly failed and most importantly, he took responsibility of the coup fiasco. With his famous words (por ahora – for now) – that he failed his objective momentarily, he was thrusted as the hero of the poor. Another coup later down the year and election of new government heralded Chavez’s release in 1994. Dropping his military uniforms, he began his election campaign for the 1998 presidential elections.

Chavez emphasizing the importance of media (community radio station, Petare)

Chavez emphasizing the importance of media (community radio station, Petare)

His election of 1998 heralded an end to dysfunctional two-party system that governed Venezuela for 40 years. One must understand like any Latin American countries, Venezuela is a deeply divided society. There is huge wealth gap between rich and poor and this gap also take in racial terms. Venezuelan poor were systematically hidden away from world view (unless you visit Venezuela), excluded and suppressed. One must visit Caracas, the capital, to view the economic apartheid or segregation that Venezuela has to overcome. The upper class still lives in their fortress walled compounds with barbed wires. Venezuela still has two worlds, one for the rich and one of the poor – literally next to each other. Moreover, Chavez inherited a Venezuela that still glorify white supremacy and demonize non-whites such as Afro-Venezuelans and Indigeneous (as criminals). I would argue that Chavez’s gigantic impact is not so much on his charisma but to reduce the gap between the rich and poor.

Young Chavez mural at Tiuna El Fuerte

Young Chavez mural at Tiuna El Fuerte

Once elected, Chavez led the Bolivarian revolution to make sweeping changes in the country. One of the first major steps in the remaking of Venezuela is rewriting the constitution. It is a lasting legacy of Chavez which created 5 branches of government (instead of three). Critically, it meant the Electoral Council is now a totally independent branch. Today, Venezuela has one of the most advanced, secured and accessible election systems in the world. More than granting political rights, Venezuelan constitution of 1999 made healthcare and education free, empowering women rights, paving the transition to participatory democracy and an economy more sided to small and medium businesses. From one of the most progressive Constitution,  Venezuelan dramatically reduced poverty, elimination of illiteracy and positive rise in healthcare indicators.

Chavez Poster at Plaza Bolivar.

Chavez Poster at Plaza Bolivar.

In order to fulfill the goals of the constitution and Millenium Development goals, Chavez government reassert a largely autonomous state oil company (critical as Venezuela is super dependent on oil reserves) and stepped tax revenue collection. Chavez personally brought OPEC together to bring about a fair oil price for the benefit of member states. However, these changes provoked a severe backlash from the existing elites and oligopolies of Venezuela. Changes to oil sector provoked the right-wing section of the military and opposition to launch a failed coup in 2002. Venezuelan poor and loyalists military quickly smashed the coup. Chavez, surprisingly gave a chance to coup-plotting opposition to turnaround. Later down the year, state oil company staged an economic lockdown which resulted the worst Venezuelan crisis in many years. With loyalist workers to the rescue, oil lockout collapsed and Venezuela capitalized a dramatic economic boom.

Chavez in environmental context at Cuartel del Montana

Chavez in environmental context at Cuartel del Montana

Meantime, Chavez began to implement his vision of multipolar world to resist the United States domination across the world. He spearheaded the collapse of Free Trade Area of Americas which was dubbed as planned annexation of Latin American Economies. He created regional alliances in Latin America, strategic partnerships with Russia, China and beyond. As far I am concerned, he could be most travelled Latin American leader in modern history. This diversification of alliance is part of his plan to steer away from American dependency on economic, political and military terms.

Eyes and signature of Chavez at Grand Housing Mission, Tiuna El Fuerte

Eyes and signature of Chavez at Grand Housing Mission, Tiuna El Fuerte

As the revolution began to deepen, the people took more protagonist role in shaping their destiny. In an entrenched media warfare against Venezuela, the most distorted view on Venezuela presented is revolution equals Chavez. As Chavez took a significant left turn since 2005, transition to participatory democracy and growing workers control movement started to rattle the country more. Chavistas (supporters of Chavez) are becoming the owners of their revolution and destiny. They do acknowledge and grateful of the presence of Chavez, but constantly reminded the audience that people is the revolution (not Chavez)

Eyes of Chavez at Banco de Venezuela

Eyes of Chavez at Banco de Venezuela

Although Chavez is hailed as hero of poor and the left movements, he became a detestable figure in the Venezuelan opposition circles, international media and most importantly, United States. As mentioned divisions before, the deepen Venezuelan revolution meant the power relations between rich and poor is changing like never before. Venezuela’s dominant private media constantly warring with Chavez’s government and labelling him a dictator, tyrant and any possible negative connotation. Though Venezuela is divided historically, Chavez’s policies made them so apparent in the international stage. His government policy of expropriating business, currency controls and price controls has led many of the middle class Venezuelan emigrating and made business functions very difficult. Plus, Chavez government is constantly under attack through coups, US supported opposition aligned NGOs, sabotages and threats of assassinations. Despite Venezuela has one of the lowest inequality levels in Latin America, rampant crime did not decline. Corruption in Venezuelan government (sometimes misuse of funds in participatory democracy mechanisms) remains unabated. The abolition of term limits for all elected offices have raised concerns among the opposition.

Chavista at Great Patriotic Pole Congress at Cuartel del Montana

Chavista at Great Patriotic Pole Congress at Cuartel del Montana

Though he was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, he continued his full dedication to the revolution. However, this became more an issue when he won his presidential elections in 2012. His cancer took a worse turn later that year and realizing end was near, he announced to his supporters to vote Maduro, the VP. He was physically unable to attend his own inauguration and finally succumbed at 4.25 pm March 5th. Millions of supporters, some even travelled for days, came to pay their last respects. Such was a leader who made personal impact on every Venezuelan for the good and bad.

Chavez poster opposite of Election Council Office

Chavez poster opposite of Election Council Office

His super-lengthy speeches, jokes and songs are truly missed. The whole story of Venezuela now is continuing what Chavez started in the revolution. However, one must understand this saying, “Chavez is great revolutionary but he ain’t the revolution. The people of Venezuela is the revolution”

Some of the photos are credited to brigadistas

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Women rights and issues in Venezuela

One of the insightful meetings we had was the meeting with a key representative of INAMUJER – The Women’s Institute. The brigadistas met her at the house of Jose Marti, Caracas and the discussion revolved on achievements and issues related to women.

Meeting with INAMUJER

Meeting with INAMUJER

Some of the key achievements of women in the revolution

  • The fact that Chavez was feminist gave a big boost in feminist networks in the country
  • All proposals from women rights group were approved in 1999 Constitution (e.g. co-responsibility of child care)
    • Article 76 states the sexual and reproductive rights of women. This empowers women to determine number of children, how and obtain their children.
    • Article 88 recognizes housework as a form of work. Women who work at home has full access to social security benefits such as health and pensions
    • Constitution opened more access to women to work in previously restricted areas
  • Formulation of Organic Law (The framework for successive laws) strengthen the laws to fight crime against women. This places crime against women on equal basis with other criminal codes.
  • A standard 24 hours telephone line for women to request legal advice and if necessary, to allow affected women engage with the enforcement authorities.
  • Women feel safer to report on domestic violence and INAMUJER has close association with National Ombudsman, the Police (they have a dedicated women’s section) and the Supreme Court.
  • A recent reform were introduced in regards to femicide and this recognized pyschological warfare as one of the causes of suicide. Community organizing helps to protect women from this violence
  • A network of refuge homes for women to be protected from extreme violence (up to 3 months) with their children (based on court order). Moreover, these centres provide training and medical assistance to the affected women to ease their community reintegration
  • Social missions in Venezuela witness high participation among women
  • Currently, 3 out 5 branches of goverment are heade by women (i.e. Election Commission)
  • Currently, 41% of National Assembly Deputes are women as compared to 11% prior to Chavez. Majority of women deputies are from Chavista section and women actively participate in various National Assembly Commission.
  • A women’s movement for pace and life is created to fight against all forms of violence such as sabotage, crime and destabilization plans
  • Initiation of a program to fight breast cancer which is high in Venezuela. In future, they have plans to build a free network of breast cancer treatment.
  • Before Chavez died in 2013, he prepared the revolutionary forces a 5-point plan called Plan de Patria (2013-2019). In this Plan, Mama Rosa (named after Chavez’s grandmother) plan was initiated to deepen gender equality. It was built on many discussion from various women collectives
  • Rights of Lesbian, Gays, Bisexual, Transexual, Intersex and Queers (LGBTIQ) are highlighted in 1999 Constitution
  • LGBTIQ also share spaces with women groups in terms of politics

The problems in Venezuela associated with women and measures to tackle them:

  1. Domestic Violence remains in the society
    1. Socio-economic problems are one of the roots of the violence. Women who tend to be silence in light of the violence allows this violence continues. It is understandable in Venezuelan society, women is dependent on men for economic reasons
    2. Chavistas retaining the macho culture, which is strong in Latin America
    3. Workplace/Institutional environments: When men see women outperforming them in workplaces, men would be agitated to commit violence towards violence
    4. Women themselves carry their own responsibility of not breaking the cultural barriers of role segregation
  2. Difficulties on enforcing the Organic Law of Prenatal and postnatal leave. This Organic Law  stipulates leave for women in pre and post pregnancy  and protects men and women from being sacked due to pregnancy and when they have baby for the first two years. However, this law is much difficult to be implemented in the informal economy.
  3. Contention of abortion. Abortion is not legal but there is a proposed law to legalize abortion. Currently, illegal abortions have resulted in many women deaths. The proposal (legalization of abortion) was built on securing women’s health. However, it has received vehement opposition from the Church and the Chavista ranks. The occurrence of abortion also stems the fact that Venezuela face teenage pregnancy issue.  Use of contraception is a taboo topic (being Catholic country) and policing illegal abortion is very hard.  To counter, sexual education is conveyed through schools on the dangers of teenage pregnancy
  4. Issues with breast implants. Venezuela is world famous for the record amount of breast surgeries and reconstruction. INAMUJER has launched a campaign to make Venezuelan women to appreciate natural beauty rather than relying on breast implants.  Recently a scandal broken out in regards to dangerous breast implants in Venezuela. Venezuelan government stepped in  to offer free operations to affected Venezuelan women to remove dangerous implants. Moreover, educational campaigns are done to highlight the health and psychological problems of breast implants.
  5. Reversing the deterioration of family values. Neglect of many segments of society in the 4th republic  meant parents do abandon their children for the sake of work. This issue still persists
  6. Constitution has a contradictory stance on same-sex marriage

Banco de Mujer (Women’s Bank)

It was approved on 18th March 2002 to coincide the International Women’s Day. It essentially created a space for women to access credits especially on agriculture projects.  Historically, women did not actively handled or manage money affairs. This created lasting impression on existing banks that they would be reluctant to finance women (as they were unsure of the returns). This bank creates access  to loans with minimal bureaucratic access. Moreover, the banks provide the administration training, cooperative organizing and other associated business training for women projects. Banco de Mujer is intended not to make money, like any other standard banks and the recent reassignment of bank authority to Ministry of Banking & Finance created controversies. INAMUJER is an opinion this move is regrettable and the reassignment may create bureaucratic impedance to the bank. The reassignment, as of December, has not been formalized.

Looking forward, INAMUJER is identifying female protagonists in Venezuelan history.  For example, women involved in the Independence War and standing up to Marcos Perez Jimenez dictatorship of 1950s. They are currently compiling role of the unseen heroines in Venezuela. One of the important meeting rooms of Miraflores Presidential Palace is dedicated to sculptures and artworks of Venezuelan heroines (a move initiated by Chavez)

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Recuperation (Recovery) of Public Spaces in Venezuela

One of the things we in the left and international media rarely talk about is recuperation of spaces. We had two separate days on this matter on how recuperated public spaces in one municipality in Caracas. Recuperation in Venezuelan plazas, theaters and parks are done holistically and with close consultation with the communities (including people in the barrios).

LIBERTADOR MUNICIPALITY

We, the brigadistas met the Libertador Mayor’s Office representatives to get a good understanding of the implementation of recuperated public spaces. We were accompanied by architects and urban planners who were involved in this grand scheme. The current push of recuperation of public spaces is not merely restoring the glories of the original spaces but creating new spaces for the communities.  For example, identifying gaps within communities such as lack of sports centres.

For this part of city travel, we were shown areas where spaces are restored to former glory. Just outside the Libertador Mayor’s Office lies Venezuela most important square – Plaza Bolivar. Once a dangerous place, today it is fully recovered and a hub of many activities (listening to speeches or just enjoying the company of people). We even saw the Plaza being crowded with people after 8 pm and surprisingly it was safe. Another example was Plaza Diego Ibarra, plaza just in front of Election Commission building (CNE). Once a place of informal markets and insecurity, today the space is clean and host music festivals (the time we traveled, Caracas was hosting Suena Caracas – week long music festival).

Simon Bolivar Statue at the centre of Plaza Bolivar

Simon Bolivar Statue at the centre of Plaza Bolivar

In Caracas, there is a famous Municipal theater and it is great example of  recuperated public spaces. Built in late 1800s, under President Guzman Blanco, it mimicked the glories of European culture and a centre of perfromances. Over the years, the theatre has grown and shrunk and had good and bad times. However, at one point, theatre became a warehouse for street sellers and the its own glory is not being respected. This municipality organized a rescue and today, it is centre of performances and political meetings for the government. The beauty and past glory has been restored to this theatre

Parque El Calvario is located on hilly area and provide a good respite from the chaos and busyness of Caracas. It was once a private estate of rich person and the park structures are designed to European influence of the heydays in Venezuela. Over time, this park got neglected and became dangerous area. Criminals use the park as a transit from the city to the surrounding barrios to run away from the police. Hence, no one dares to go to this dilapidated park. Being a public space potential, the municipality organized a rescue of the park and its former glory has been fully restored. The park has huge entrance arch, hidden aqueduct and fully restored gazebo. This park today has 50-60 tree species and centre of many activities. A mini manual bus takes visitors from the base to the park centre. The winding roads and other lookout point give vistitors very good views of Caracas. While the initial focus of the park was towards European culture, one of the statues found in the park displayed Indigenous resistance leader. (Current Venezuelan government making initatives to includes the role of Indigenous people in society – historically they were excluded)

Famous Indigenous warrior of Venezuela at Parque El Calvario

Famous Indigenous warrior of Venezuela at Parque El Calvario

The view from El Calvario. These two main buildings at centre are known Towers of Silence. One of them host the Election Commission (CNE)

The view from El Calvario. These two main buildings at centre are known Towers of Silence. One of them host the Election Commission (CNE)

Up to 5th December 2014, there are 70 ongoing recuperation public space projects in Libertador. Recently, Caracas manage to recover 1.2 million square metres of public spaces, that is literally half of the size of Libertador municipality.

TIUNA EL FUERTE

Tiuna El Fuerte is a name play of the nearby military barracks of Fuerte Tiuna. It was a former parking lot, sandwiched by two roads and close to rough barrios ( neighborhood) in southern Caracas.

The community nearby felt that they want to transform this parking lot as center of culture. (I shall put a YouTube link to understand the context). They used abandoned shipping containers to transform the area. Today, the containers are home to the offices, music studio and tattoo studio.

Young Chavez artwork at Tiuna El Fuerte

Young Chavez artwork at Tiuna El Fuerte

The containers and some walls are fully painted with graffitis – expression of creativity of the artists of the barrio and elsewhere. Even the toilets are housed in the containers and fully painted with graffiti- yes even the urinal bowls

They modified some areas to have ‘underground’ amphitheater and multi level seating areas to watch shows.

Shipping Containers converted to centres of learning in Tiuna El Fuerte

Shipping Containers converted to centres of learning in Tiuna El Fuerte

In some containers, we saw people doing graphic design for clothing production. This Cultural Park – Tiuna El Fuerte- is home to many musical shows, performances, centers of learning (i.e. rap)and political planning. There are many collectives who have many specialities which bring life to area. Since everything us done collectively here, they have a room dedicated to a general Assembly where decisions are made for the park. Since Venezuela is transitioning from representative to participatory democracy, communities around park has communal councils- local democracy. The park has made available the containers for communal councils to hold meetings

Artwork Example at Tiuna El Fuerte

Artwork Example at Tiuna El Fuerte

Since it us hot and humid in Caracas, shipping containers are not ideal place to be in. They modified most of the interiors of the containers to have utility connections, computers and air conditioning. However, they have embarked the process of making the park ecologically friendly place. They have a small urban agriculture – planting various vegetables. Not only that, this also provides clean air in polluted city. They have explored of adding plants across the containers to cool down the interiors. The plan is to do away with air conditioners.

We visited a music studio and met one of the founders of the Tiuna El Fuerte. He showed the transformed container to a decent music studio. It was built donations from private company and others. It provides opportunity to poor people to access previously excluded music recording services. They only charge 1/6 of the market price of usage of the studio!

People working there has mentioned us that they want to be self sufficient in managing the park and not dependent on the government. The Chavista municipality do support initiative. To do so, they sell their own clothes- with in house graphic design, concert tickets etc. However, I want to stress something important.

This is Not Profit Driven institution. The monies from own works in the park and donations here are meant to sustain the park. I give you an example. Not only they do in house graphic design, the park graphic designers actively educate the outside community in how to do graphic design and make own clothes. It is breaking the logic of patents and copyrights.

There are couple of challenges. First, the land status of the property. They are working towards to a complete title deed of the property. Secondly, threat of Metropolitan Mayor. Caracas has 4-5 municipalities and Metropolitan Mayor oversee the five municipalities. It just happened the position is held by opposition. The Opposition Mayor wanted to kick off the Park and the project and replace with a Supermarket.

The community took over the Metropolitan Mayor office and painted the graffiti over the building. The Mayor backed off and did not touch them since. Hence, the need of complete title is important to avoid this eviction style issue in future.

All in all, I realize the importance of defending the revolution. The revolution makes these projects possible.

Some of the photos are credited to one of our brigadista

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