Venezuela's Chávez Highlights Education, Food, Health and Democracy on 12th Anniversary as President
By Juan Reardon
February 03, 2011 - Venezuelanalysis.com
On Wednesday Venezuela marked the 12th anniversary of President Hugo Chávez's February 1999 first oath of office. To commemorate, Chávez and supporters held four televised site visits in the nation's capital, highlighting gains in education, food, health and people's power that he attributed to the "Bolivarian Revolution."
Chávez began the day visiting a public elementary school in downtown Caracas's Parque Central with newly appointed Minister of Education, Maryann Hanson Flores. The two spoke with teachers, staff and students about Venezuela's housing emergency before presenting Canaima laptop computers to the entire 2nd grade student body.
"There is a lot to celebrate today, but there is still so much to do," Chávez told the schoolchildren. "Today I want us to renew our hope in a country that gets better each day...to renovate our capacity to struggle so that we continue advancing," he said.
Venezuela's three-year old Canaima Program, which distributes mass-produced laptop computers to elementary school children, reached over 437,000 students in 2010 alone, according to AVN.
Chávez's second stop was at the local headquarters of the Venezuelan Producer and Distributor of Foods (PDVAL) in Cotiza, northern Caracas, where he announced the authorization of 478 million bolivars ($US 111 million) to open 1,000 prepared food stores including additional 'areperas', and bread and meat shops.
PDVAL is part of Venezuela's Food Mission, which works to secure food needs at subsidized and regulated prices for all Venezuelans through the supermarket and grocery store network made up by Mercados de Alimentos (Mercal), Bicentenary markets, and PDVAL.
"You're going to see how much we will reduce the price of everything," said Chávez in reference to the overall effect on food prices resulting from government-owned prepared food outlets such as the Arrepera Socialista.
Alfredo Massiar, resident coordinator of the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Venezuela, recently spoke to the advances made in Venezuelan food under the Chávez administration.
"On behalf of the Director-General of the FAO, Jacques Diof, we want to congratulate the Bolivarian Government and your President Hugo Chávez on the work you have been carrying out, as well as your efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, especially as they relate to food security and sovereignty, a goal for reducing poverty," Massiar said.
While at PDVAL, Chávez spoke of his electoral history and plans for re-election in presidential elections scheduled for December 2012.
"They [the opposition] made us lose about three years between the coup, countercoup and oil lockout, and we've had to make up for lost time," Chávez said.
"Here we have had four presidential elections. And the day they overthrew me [11 April 2002] we won again because the people returned me to power, that's a fifth. And in 2012 we are again going to win," he said.
"The government must govern by obeying and, whenever you decide to, you can get rid of me," said Chávez.
In the early afternoon, Chávez visited the 'Ibis Pino' Integral Diagnostic Center (CDI) located in the impoverished 23 de Enero neighborhood of Caracas. The CDI is one of 533 such centers that form part of Misión Barrio Adentro's nationwide health access program staffed by thousands of Cuban medical professionals attending low-income Venezuelans.
According to Chávez, over 55 million free medical consultations have been provided to Venezuelans nationwide as part Misión Barrio Adentro.
Magdalena Santiesteban, Cuban doctor and coordinator of the CDI, said that staff there have attended to 6,400 emergency room cases since first opening their doors in September of last year. Of these cases, 74 people needed and received intensive care and another 79 patients were hospitalized, though with less severe health risks.
"After 12 years, today we can at last say we have a national public health care system," Chávez said. "This is only possible in Revolution. This is only possible with this Bolivarian Government. That is why we have a bourgeoisie crazy to remove Chávez," he said.
In the evening, Chávez presided over a ceremony at the Miraflores Presidential Palace. "We have gathered here to pay homage to people's power, the greatest gain of this revolution," he said.
"Everything has to do with potential and with power. The potential of the people has been converted into power," he said.
According to José Vicente Rangel, Chávez's vice president during his first five years in office, the changes in Venezuela's political culture and popular participation are "irreversible."
"I have always considered the greatest achievement of this process to be the making the people visible," said Rangel. "The people came out of the dark and today find themselves in the middle of the street, and they will not return to the dens where they used to live. This achievement is irreversible," he said.
Currently, Venezuelans throughout the country have established over 30,000 communal councils and are expected to consolidate these popular institutions into 236 communes, according to the Venezuelan News Agency (AVN).
Chávez elaborated, "This didn't exist before in Venezuela," he said. "Now we have the campesino [rural worker] movements, the communes, the student movements, the communal banks, the women, the athletes, and the indigenous," he said.
"Chávez, in reality, isn't Chávez. Chávez, as such, is a collective. Without the collective I would be worth absolutely nothing - from a political point of view - and the counterrevolutionaries would defeat us, and we won't allow that to happen," affirmed Chávez.