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23 March 2013

April Tour of Eastern and Northeastern USA

"Economic Democracy in Latin America and the United States"
For 30 days I will do a speaking tour of 24 cities in Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Maine, Pennsylvania and New York. If you live in any of those states, I'd love to see you! My cellphone during this month will be 336-567-6912.

Wed, Mar 27 Fly from Venezuela
Thur, Mar 28 Goshen, VA 7pm Goshen Public Library, 1124 Virginia Ave
Fri, Mar 29 Lexington, VA Washington and Lee University two morning classes, 4pm public talk at Stackhouse Theater
Sat, Mar 30 Lexington, VA yoga/meditation club
Sun, Mar 31 Lexington, VA
Mon, April 1 Richmond, VA 7pm talk at Friends Meeting House, 4500 Kensington Ave
Tues, April 2 Lynchburg, VA 7pm talk at Lynchburg College, Schewel #214.
Wed, April 3 Roanoke, VA 7pm talk at Roanoke Food Co-op, 1319 Grandin Rd SW
Thur, April 4 Radford, VA 3:30pm Radford University Reed #201, 7pm talk at Bonnie #249
Fri, April 5 Blacksburg, VA 12:30pm Virginia Tech Surge Space Center #104B
7pm talk at Blacksburg Public Library
Sat, April 6 Floyd, VA 11am Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library
1pm Booksigning at NoteBooks, 117 S Locust Street, Floyd
Blacksburg, VA 5:00pm Group Meditation at Center for Creative Change, 205 Washington Street (former location of the Meta-Physical Chapel)
Sun, April 7 Marshall, NC 5pm Collective meditation at Prama Institute, 310 Panhandle Rd.
Mon, April 8 Asheville, NC Warren Wilson College speak to three classes, 6.30pm public talk in Canon Lounge
Tues, April 9 Asheville, NC Warren Wilson College speak to three classes
Wed, April 10 Asheville, NC 4pm radio interview on "The Jeff Messer Show" on 880AM “The Revolution: Asheville's Progressive Talk”
Thur, April 11 Greensboro, NC 7pm Benjamin Branch Library, 1530 Benjamin Parkway
Fri, April 12 Carrboro, NC
Raleigh, NC 8pm Wade Edwards Learning Lab, 714 St Marys St.
Sat, April 13 Newark, DE Newark Bike Project, 7 S. Main St.
Sun, April 14 Bethesda, MD 11:30am panel on Economic Democracy at Shanti Yoga, 4217 East West Highway.
Rockville, MD 7:30pm Cooperative Games Workshop, 2502 Lindley Terrace
Mon, April 15 Washington, DC 2-5pm Cooperative games at Peace House, 1233 12th St. NW (Convention Center metro)
"Mindfulness and Economics", 7pm meditation, followed by talk at Circle Yoga, 3838 Northampton Street NW.
Tue, April 16 Baltimore, MD 7pm Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse, at 800 St. Paul Street
Wed, April 17 Personal visits
Thu, April 18 Personal visits
Fri, April 19 travel
Sat, April 20 Orono, Maine “Spirituality and Activism Workshop” University of Maine
Sun, April 21 Orono, Maine
Mon, April 22 New York, NY 4pm NACLA talk at King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center (KJCC), 53 Washington Square South, NYU on globalization and the environment
Tue, April 23 Philadelphia, PA 6-8pm Wooden Shoe Books, 704 South St.
Wed, April 24 Geneseo, NY 2:30pm SUNY, Newton 204
Thu, April 25 Albany, NY 6-8pm Social Justice Center, 33 Central Avenue
Fri, April 26 Hudson, NY 7:30-9pm "Spiritual and Economic Democracy in Latin America and the United States", Sadhana Yoga, 403 Warren St. 3rd floor
Sat, April 27 Cairo, NY Introductory yoga/meditation retreat
Sun, April 28 Cairo, NY Introductory yoga/meditation retreat
Mon, April 29 Fly home to Venezuela

08 March 2013

Evaluating the Legacy of President Hugo Chávez Using the Progressive Utilization Theory (Prout)

President Hugo Chávez dedicated his life to the poor people of Venezuela. He transformed their lives and transformed their country.

On March 6, the day after his death, I spent 11 hours waiting with friends to pay my respects as his body was slowly transported through the city. It took much longer than expected, as hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets and the giant stadium where the procession ended to get a glimpse of the passing casket. The crowds sang and clapped along with popular songs about “El Comandante”, shouting: "Chávez lives, the struggle continues!" "The people united will never be defeated!" “I am Chávez!” When the body finally arrived at night in the National Military Academy for viewing, the line of people waiting was almost two kilometers (one mile) long!

Why did so many people go? Why were they willing to wait so long? And instead of being a somber occasion with everyone dressed in black, why did so many wear bright red T-shirts, or headbands with the national colors, and why were they singing and shouting slogans?

Venezuela is an example of a country that seems to have undergone a class change through a nonviolent electoral process. Lieutenant-Colonel Hugo Chávez, a career military officer, organized 130 officers and nearly 900 soldiers, approximately ten percent of the Venezuelan military, to attempt a military rebellion in 1992 to overthrow dictator President Carlos Andrés Pérez and end his reign of corruption, censorship and abuse of human rights. Though they failed, Chávez became a popular hero. After two years in prison he received amnesty, starting an electoral campaign among the poor that won him the presidency at the end of 1998. As of December 2012, his coalition has won 16 out of 17 national elections due to his successful consciousness-raising and politicization among the masses.

The capitalist-led opposition attempted a military overthrow of Chávez in 2002 with U.S. government knowledge and support; yet two days later the masses and the military united and brought him back from the island naval base where he was held prisoner. After that, Chávez became much more strident in his rhetoric about class warfare against the oligarchy, calling them “squalids.” Socialist and military values have influenced the masses to a great extent in terms of participatory democracy, grassroots communal councils, the new national police force and other initiatives.

The heads of the Venezuelan Central Bank and economic ministry are not bankers, but revolutionaries, orchestrating government buyouts of key industries at an accelerating rate, with more than 200 expropriations of private enterprises in 2010 alone. Chávez has announced that he is committed to “the elimination of capitalism”. Government-owned and community media influence the masses with values of solidarity, people’s power and socialism for the twenty-first century. Many capitalists have fled to Miami and elsewhere, and while others remain, they are frustrated and nervous because they are no longer in power.

For the first time in the history of Venezuela, a president used the profits from the country's petroleum sales to fund social programs, such as building schools and hiring teachers so every child would go to school, starting free universities, building hospitals and health clinics in every barrio and country village that have saved thousands of lives each year.

In the hills of Vargas, a group of rural women told me how in the past when someone in their village got sick and died, it would take them two days to carry the body down to the cemetery for burial, and when they returned, sometimes there was another dead body waiting for them, because there was no clinic they could go to. Now there are clinics everywhere. With the help of the Women's Bank, they have formed successful agricultural cooperatives that give them all a steady income. They swore they would never go back to the terrible poverty they suffered before Hugo Chávez changed their lives.

Chávez pioneered barter trade, signing bilateral barter agreements with developing countries, swapping Venezuelan oil for other products or services the country needed, including 50,000 Cuban doctors and dentists who provide free medical care in city slums and remote rural villages.

Chávez put the condition of the poor people on the national agenda. Voter registration has dramatically increased, and polling places have increased. More than 80 percent of eligible voters went to the polls in the 2012 presidential election (compared to less than 59 percent of voters in the United States who cast their ballot that year). Today even the anti-Chávez candidates say that if elected they, too, will continue the social projects in order to try to win the majority of voters. In 1998, when Chávez was first elected, all the houses in the villages of Barlovento in Miranda, were made of mud and in very bad condition due to regular flooding. The state governor, Henrique Capriles, who ran against Chávez in 2012, made significant loans to the poor people so that now nearly all the houses in the villages are built with cement blocks.

Ten years ago, on June 1, 2003, I was invited to meet Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on his weekly television show to present the Spanish edition of my first Prout book, which was published in Caracas. I told him that I was inspired by the words of Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, the founder of Prout, at the end of his 1979 visit to Caracas, in which he said, “Venezuela needs good spiritual political leaders. If Venezuela can produce spiritual political leaders, it will not only be the leader of Latin America, it will also be the leader of the planet. Venezuela is a blessed country.”

President Chávez said, “Dada Maheshvarananda has given us a book that we appreciate very much. Your visit has come at such an opportune moment.... Thank you very much, brother, and let’s continue with spirituality, spirit, good faith, morality, and the mystical force that moves the world. Dada Maheshvarananda and other citizens of the world are welcome to visit, especially those who come in good faith and offer their ideas, their spirit and their moral flame to the Bolivarian Revolution. This has attracted the attention of the whole world, especially those that struggle and dream of a better world, just as it says in After Capitalism: Prout’s Vision for a New World.”

In December 2003 and again in 2005 the national petroleum company of Venezuela (PDVSA) contracted for me and other Proutists to give a series of training courses and lectures about the Prout model. Then in 2007 we founded the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela in Caracas as an independent, not-for-profit foundation. A major reason we did this was because of how closely the goals of Prout's socio-economic model were shared by the Bolivarian Revolution initiated by President Chávez.

Prout asserts that the first priority of any economy should be to guarantee the minimum requirements of life (food, clothing, housing, education and medical care), the right to live, to all people. Subsidized food staples are sold very cheaply in government supermarkets throughout the country, and public schools now provide free lunches to all students, both of which significantly reduce the money spent by poor people to feed their families. Free education and health care for all has been achieved, too, with college enrollment doubling. During 2012 the government built more than 200,000 houses and gave them to needy families, and it plans to build a total of two million homes by 2018. His government reduced poverty by half and extreme poverty by 70 percent. Eligibility for public pensions tripled. As someone who has spent his life working with the poor, I am deeply grateful for these very impressive accomplishments – so are the masses who poured out to the streets yesterday.

Community empowerment is another key component of Prout's economic democracy; Chávez initiated the system of communal councils with cooperative banks that decide for themselves which local projects they will fund – 33,000 are now running throughout the country.

Though many complaints have been made in the world media about how Chávez has “destroyed” the Venezuelan economy, economic growth actually increased to 5.6 percent in 2012. The conservative International Monetary Fund calculates the country’s gross public debt last year at 51.3 percent of GDP, but Europe has more than 90 percent! The foreign part of this debt was only 4.1 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings. Inflation is high, but lower than before he came to office.

Food sovereignty, to produce enough food to feed the entire population, has not yet been achieved, but it is another goal common to both the Bolivarian government and Prout.

Chávez wanted to transform the profit-oriented capitalist economy into one oriented towards endogenous and sustainable social development by involving those who had been marginalized or excluded. From 2002 he inspired the phenomenal creation of 262,904 registered cooperatives by the end of 2008, but many of these never became active or collapsed. The national cooperative supervision institute, SUNACOOP, recognizes about 70,000 as functioning, which is still the highest total for any country after China.

The majority of Venezuelan cooperatives have few members who are unskilled. Because of the high rate of failure among the registered cooperatives, in 2005 the president shifted the government’s support from cooperatives to socialist enterprises and worker takeovers of factories. In this way, the government pays the salaries, but keeps the ownership. Prout, on the other hand, supports cooperatives that are worker-owned as well as worker-managed.

Of course there are problems in Venezuela; a couple of them are very serious. Corruption and crime hurt everyone. Their causes are many; to solve these problems requires the help of all the people – for this a major consciousness-raising campaign is required in every level of education, through the mass media and in every government office. Consciousness-raising and popular education are also key to reducing pollution and protecting the environment, another serious problem.

If the impact of these problems was reduced, many more people of the middle class could be inspired to support this revolution. Unfortunately the revolutionary rhetoric of Chávez was often insulting towards his opponents – listening sincerely to valid complaints is necessary to open dialog and build bridges so that an ever greater majority of Venezuelans participate constructively in the Bolivarian project.

Hugo Chávez was a very strong man who led his people through a tremendous social transformation. He has died, but his vision of a more just and more democratic society continues to inspire the masses of Venezuela and remains very much alive.

03 March 2013

GRATITUDE FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS HELPED SO MUCH

Miira Price, also known by her spiritual name “Miirabai”, has been an invaluable colleague in my work for Prout during the last year and a half. She and I co-led the Media Team for the Economic Democracy Conference for about eight months – she was always the more responsible and sincere in that organizing work than I. She arranged more than a dozen interviews with different speakers from the Economic Democracy Conference, including me, on Doug Cunningham's People's Mic radio show, plus a couple interviews on cable TV. She worked with Dedo Kwamina to design a logo and flyer for the conference, and a flyer for my tour. We collaborated in the writing of the media toolkit and several of the talking points, and I included a good amount of that text in my book.

She helped considerably with writing and researching the section, “The Exploitation of Women Throughout History and Today”. She then served as copyeditor for my book, painstakingly correcting my mistakes and patiently trying to teach me correct grammar. The book is much better because of her sacrifice.

Miira also served as my publicist from July to September 2012, and from December to January 2013. She arranged an interview with Rob Neufeld that was published in the Asheville Citizen-Times, and successful talks for me at the Firestorm Cooperative Café and at Malaprop's Bookstore in Asheville, and at the Lucy Parsons Center Bookstore in Boston. She also fixed an interview for me at "Conscious Living" Jan. 30 program on the Co-op Radio station in Vancouver, BC.

During this year and a half, I have regularly sought her ideas, suggestions and feedback in my articles, correspondence and publicity. She is a deeply dedicated Proutist and the main organizer of the Women Proutists of North America. It is an honor to work with her.