Chavez Biography

Hugo Chavez Frias was born in Sabaneta, Barinas State on July 28th, 1954. He has a mulatto background which gives him a common link to the 67% majority of Venezuelans. After he finished high school, he would have to travel to Caracas to continue his education. Chavez attended Venezuela’s Military Academy, where he graduated with a degree in Military Sciences and Arts on July 5, 1975. Having both parents as teachers its easy to see why he is an intellectual person, and why they weren't wealthy. Apparently his family also sold bananas and sowed corn for income. Chavez’ love for baseball is also easy to see. When he was a kid he played baseball like all children in Venezuela, and apparently he was a good pitcher. It was the desire to become a major league pitcher that initially led him into the military. After gaining his degree and his hopes of being a major leaguer gone, he continued on with his military career. During that time, he had various assignments, an armored unit, anti-guerilla duty along the Colombian border, and then as a military ethics instructor. Soon after that he began sowing the seeds for a coup in 1992.

In 1982 he founded the Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement. Through 1989-1990, he studied Political Science at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas. “He led an unsuccessful military coup against President Carlos Andres Perez on February 4th, 1992, that launched him onto the political scene and, at the same time, earned him two short years in what he refers to as the ‘prison of dignity’" (   ). In a display of support, “While Chavez was in prison, he videotaped a call for insurrection that was broadcasted at around four in the morning on November 27th, 1992, when a second unsuccessful coup d’etat was attempted” (  ). Two years later, he was pardoned by President Caldera.

Once Chavez was released from his conviction, he started to organize a political party called the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), which would lead him to power four years later. “In November, 1998, a coalition of small leftist parties led by the MVR and under the umbrella of the Patriotic Pole won 34% of the seats in the National Congress and presented Chavez as its presidential candidate. After campaigning as ‘the scourge of the oligarchy and the champion of the poor’, Chavez came out victorious from the 1998 Presidential Elections with 56% of the votes­the largest majority in four decades ( ).

Chavez’ speeches and actions are extreme to the right wing political parties of Venezuela and the United States, causing skepticism about his policies. The following description of Chavez is not how most politicians would like to be viewed, "A populist leader backed by leftist parties, Chavez has advocated a ‘third way’ between communism and capitalism", wrote Patrick Moser for the Agence France Presse. Since being elected, Chavez’ stile and personality have been very apparent. He has even managed to extend his love for baseball into politics. Chavez and Fedel Castro have played two baseball games, one when Chavez went to Cuba, another when Castro came to Caracas, with Cuba winning both games. Chavez pitched in both games for a few innings, while Castro, when he was in Venezuela took a turn at the plate. “To accelerate cooperation in Latin America, he visited Cuba, which has an antagonistic relationship with the United States, and he has a cordial personal relationship with Fidel Castro” (   ). Chavez’ relationship with Castro has been discouraged by the U.S.  Chavez was also the first dignitary in ten years to visit Saddam Hussein in Iraq.  These are the types of policies that have made him stand out.

Chavez is very much a peoples man; he has a weekly radio show that is called “Hello President”, and television show dubbed “Face to Face with the President, as well as a paper. Through each one he talks to the people, giving his opinions and the agenda for the Government, he also takes phone calls during the radio show to hear peoples problems and responds to letters. “Chavez also likes to spice his often lengthy and unusual speeches with quotes from the Bible, French poets, military overtones and repeated references to Simon Bolivar” ( ). Chavez also displays a very hands on approach to his presidency. On several occasions he has been out in the poor communities giving land deeds to people for newly allotted land, inspecting the work of the military, and talking to the common men and women of Venezuela. In his personal life he is married and has five children. His wife works as a public official also; she was elected in 2000. He also enjoys going home, where his father is currently the mayor of the town.

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The new kid in the barrio

They call him the the new Che Guevara. Loved and loathed in equal measure, Venezuela's President Hugo Ch?z has become the poster boy of the international left, revered by his disciples at home but reviled in Washington. On the eve of Chavez's visit to Britain, foreign affairs editor Peter Beaumont travels to Caracas and asks if the Castro-loving, Bush-hating, head of state is a revolutionary democrat or a dictator in the making?

Sunday May 7, 2006 The Observer

It is Sunday, and in Venezuela it's time to watch President Hugo Chávez's television program. This week he has taken his media roadshow to the town of El Tigre, where Aló Presidente is being broadcast from one of the cost-price supermarkets - known as Mercals - that he has set up to provide cheap food for the poor. As always, the show's main interest, its star, is the President himself.

In a red shirt worn over a red T-shirt, Chávez leaves his anchor's table and strides through the store. He picks goods off the shelf and reads aloud from the packets, which are printed with extracts from his constitution, and offers a little homily on each. He is accompanied by a wilting and sweating Daniel Ortega, the former Nicaraguan President and Sandinista leader, who looks on baffled as Chávez maintains a breathless commentary on the micro-management of his "Bolívarian revolution" by way of the food basket.

"I shouldn't say I hope you win, because they will accuse me of sticking my nose into Nicaraguan internal affairs," Chávez jokes with Ortega at one point. "But I hope you win!" However, it is not Nicaragua's elections in November Chávez has on his mind but Venezuela's presidential elections the following month. For that reason, he is showing off the quality of food he is providing for the poor, who he can reasonably expect to keep him in power. "Mmm ... smell that," says the President, opening a bottle of ketchup. "Mmmm!" Ortega affirms when the bottle is shoved under his nose.

A packet of coffee is presented next. "We should put on the packet that it is 100 per cent Venezuelan," says Chávez. "We are going to keep increasing production every year. First for national consumption, then we are going to do something else. Maybe start exporting. Dunno where..."

The whirlwind of words continues. Chávez talks to checkout staff . He puts his hand on a woman's arm as she explains that she has just completed her high school degree in one of the special schools Chávez has set up. "In July, 30,000 people are going to graduate," Chávez tells her. "Then you are going to go to a college of further education. Then you'll study nursing..." He greets and kisses other staff before returning to where he started, at his desk.


But there is another side to this touchy-feely President, friend of Venezuela's poor. That is the international revolutionary firebrand who talks about the "coming war with the U.S." for which he has warned his people to prepare; the friend of Cuba's Fidel Castro; and the figure at the apex of the rapid left-wing swing of South America. This is the man described by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as "Hitler" and by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as the "most dangerous in the region" - a role that Chávez has gleefully and aggressively played up to, in turn calling Bush "Mr. Danger" and occasionally "asshole". (On Rice, Chávez has suggested "her problem" is sexual frustration.)

The ability of Chávez to prick the U.S. has been made possible not by a large and modern army, or weapons of mass destruction, or support for terror, but by the simple fact of America's large dependence on Venezuelan oil in the middle of an oil crisis. Chávez, a visceral opponent of the influence of America in a Latin America that, like his 19th-century predecessor Simón Bolívar, he would like to lead, has found his dangerous global stage.

As self-appointed champion against "the murderer" Bush, he has acted as ringmaster to those who loathe America's First Man: film stars, musicians, unionists, statesmen and writers. Later this month he arrives in London where he will be entertained by Mayor Ken Livingstone, a long-time Chávez supporter who has accused the U.S. of trying to undermine democracy in Venezuela. Chávez has constructed alliances with everyone the White House hates most - including the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Evo Morales, the left -wing Bolivian President and former coca farmers' leader. And Chávez has included Morales in his "axis of good" with Castro in his struggle with the U.S.

In doing so, Chávez has plugged himself into a series of key international issues that have given him an influence way beyond Venezuela's normal status in world affairs. On issues as diverse as the anti-globalization movement, Latin America's future political shape, oil, Iran, and even America's relationships with India and China, Chávez is there stirring it up.

At home, the people will tell you that all you need to know about the Presidente is on display in Aló Presidente. There he is: enthusiastic, verbose and sometimes staccato - the Castro of an era brought up on soap operas and reality TV. He grazes on ideas as they occur to him. Sometimes they run into the sand. He encourages and fires officials. He sketches the line of planned roads and jokes about his sex life. There are lengthy denunciations of the evils of capitalism and the U.S. He relates anecdotes from his life appropriate to the day's message. Sometimes he sings in a not unpleasant voice. But what keeps Venezuela's media and political classes glued to The Voice for hours on end is the knowledge that Chávez governs his country via his show. If it has not happened on Aló Presidente on Sunday, Venezuelans think, it has not really happened.

I start watching Aló Presidente near the ugly concrete center of the capital, Caracas, in a fast food restaurant smelling of criollo, the national dish. One customer stands staring at Chávez on the overhead TV screen. Later he says proudly: "That's my President, that is." I recognize the same look later, when I watch more of the show in an apartment in a slum barrio. It is the expression worn by many of those poor and ordinary Venezuelans invited on to Chávez's show and it borders on adoration. It is also a look of deep familiarity. He may be President, the faces say, but he's also one of us.

On average, Chávez's voice is present in their lives for 40 hours a week in speeches, proclamations and media events, including Aló Presidente. His critics, largely in the middle class-led opposition, have wondered when he finds time to be President . The chavistas (Chávez's supporters) call his opponents escualidos - "squalid-ones", after their efforts to depose him. They tried once with a farcical coup that lasted two days in 2002 and was defeated by street power when his supporters among the poor demanded to speak to Chávez: to hear from him that he had really "resigned". The escualidos tried again by way of the constitution, trying to force early elections with a recall referendum - a gambit that also failed.

Chávez's supporters have no doubts about how he spends his time. They are the main beneficiaries of his misiones, the multi-billion dollar programs that have provided the Mercals and schools and universities for the poor, financial benefits and healthcare at the hands of 17,000 guest Cuban doctors housed in the poorest areas. It is a support that verges on religious devotion. I hear, but cannot confirm, that there are some who pray to images of Chávez. And nowhere is that devotion more strongly felt than in the Caracas barrio of 23 de Enero (January 23 ) where Chávez himself votes. This is a place of decrepit tower blocks and box houses that hang precariously from the slopes of the hills surrounding the city. It is not just the danger of landslide that makes this a risky place. One housing block is known as the Seven Men and is home to the barrio's most dangerous gangsters. Across the barrio, huge colorful murals depict Chávez flanked by the two key figures in the mythology of his revolution: Che Guevara and Simón Bolívar, the 19th-century Venezuelan "liberator" of South America from Spanish colonial rule. It is to this slum that revolutionary tourists from around the world are taken by the chavistas to see Hugo's good works. For Chávez, like Ortega and the Sandinistas in the 1980s, has become a totem for the international left. They come to study for a few months at the "Bolívarian" University, live in the barrios or volunteer for one of his projects before going home as apostles of his revolution.

Many visitors are led first into the presence of Lisandro Perez, better known by his nom de guerre of "Mao", the chief of the municipality. "Mao's" office sums up the postmodern complexities of Chávez's idea of "21st -century socialism". The former high school teacher and left-wing guerrilla's walls are decorated with pictures of Chairman Mao, Che and Bolívar. There is a poster of Chávez too along with religious statuary and a wanted poster from "Mao's" days on the run.

Perez, 47, tells me he has been a rebel since the age of 12, imprisoned five times and tortured while in jail. As we talk, he reaches across to a tape recorder. I anticipate a revolutionary song, perhaps sung by Chávez . Instead it is the Beatles singing "With a Little Help from My Friends".

Chávez's Bolívarian revolution , as retold by "Mao", is a mishmash of contradictory ideas. Perez says: "Christ was the first and greatest communist," that multiparty politics have had their day, but that the revolution is also democratic. If the opposition won in December's presidential elections the chavistas would respect that victory.

He claims that the movement does not want to export its revolution to other countries in Latin America and then concludes by saying that it does. "In the phase that we are in, Hugo Chávez is very important because he has dared to set the agenda . ... Chávez is the absolute leader because in his role he has permitted the process to go forward. Political parties need to be abolished. We need mass organizations. People should direct the government. That's why Chávez says, 'You the people should govern'." But the truth, as everybody knows, is that Chávez governs almost alone through a politics of improvisation. Venezuelans see it weekly on TV.

Teodoro Petkoff, editor of the Tal Cual newspaper and putative presidential candidate, describes Chávez (in an introduction to Hugo Chávez sin Uniforme, a biography published last year) as a latterday Zelig - forever changing and forever interposing himself in each scene in history. Other Chávez watchers suggest a different model: that of Argentina's great populist, Juan Perón, and his wife Evita. The authors of Hugo Chávez sin Uniforme - Cristina Marcano and Alberto Barrera Tyszka - cite the President's own psychiatrist, who credited Chávez with a "narcissistic personality".

While both Marcano and Barrera Tyszka are critics of Chávez, they believe he should be given credit for putting poverty on the agenda. I meet the authors, who are husband and wife, in a cafe in Los Palos Grandes, not far from the huge square with its obelisk, typically the scene of opposition rallies. It is the polar opposite to the blocks and narrow alleyways of the barrios. Here air-conditioned restaurants serve chilled wine to ladies who lunch and busy young executives and lawyers.

Though middle-class themselves, Marcano and Barrera Tyszka place themselves in the rare, and little populated, center of Venezuela's polarized political life. "I think most of the time he simply looks and behaves in the way he wants to be perceived," says Marcano. "When Chávez is meeting businessmen he dresses like a businessman. If he goes to meet the poor he wears his red shirt open at the neck. He wants to be loved."

But not loved by everyone of course. "He has always had the necessity of an enemy both external and internal," says Marcano. "It is an old trick of his. He calls Bush a murderer and gets the attention of the world and captivates the left." "How can you be a big hero," interjects Barrera Tyszka, "in the mould of Bolívar or Guevara, without an enemy?" Marcano believes, moreover, that beyond the theatrics there is a real Chávez who remains as yet unseen and untested. "I have always said that we will get to know the real Chávez only when he stops being popular... What will he do then?"

That is the big question. His bellicose rhetoric in opposition to the U.S. has seen an increase from 10 per cent to 30 per cent of Venezuelans who believe the U.S. will eventually invade. And fear is useful. Citing the U.S. threat, Chávez is militarizing Venezuelan society, raising a new territorial guard, which can be seen assiduously training in Venezuela's public spaces.

What does Chávez's revolution stand for? Is it Marxist or religious in its inspiration? Does it represent a new economics, as he insists, or is it dependent on the old capitalism he claims to despise? Then there is Chávez himself. Is he democratic or authoritarian? Above all, where does the rhetoric of his struggle with the U.S., with its threats, its risky alliances and ominous warnings of invasions and 1,000-year resistance wars, begin and end? Above all, what is real, and what theatrical performance? Certainly his left-wing credentials are not in doubt. Born in 1953 of mixed Amerindian, African and Spanish descent (his parents were schoolteachers in Sabineta), Chávez came from the group to whom he now appeals: the poor. As a boy he was sent to live with his grandmother, but it was the army - which he joined at 17 - that molded him, giving him the education that would otherwise have been unavailable. And it was as a young officer that Chávez first developed his ideas about "Bolívarianism" that later were forged into his Revolutionary Bolívarian Movement-200.

It was founded on a combination of the romantic ideals of South America's anti-colonial struggles and a strong sense of social justice. It found its expression amid the economic stagnation and collapse of party politics in the late 1980s, culminating in a failed neo-liberal experiment that made Venezuela's poor more impoverished.

The scene was set, in 1992, for an attempted coup by Chávez and his supporters in the military. It ran into the ground when the unit commanded by Chávez failed to seize the initiative in the capital. To avoid further bloodshed, the captured Chávez was put on TV. What happened next was to launch his career as a popular leader. The handsome and media-friendly young officer asked his soldiers to stand down, famously telling the country that he had failed "por ahora" - for now. And, as Chávez the failed golpista was jailed, Chávez the democrat was born. The two characters have never been reconciled.

As a democrat, Chávez has won election after election largely fair and square since his first campaign in 1998. There are few egregious human rights abuses, little serious repression and, despite a new media law, Venezuela enjoys a lively and usually critical press.

If the middle class-led opposition has failed to remove him democratically it is not because of widespread skulduggery; it is because its movement is fragmented and represents, for all its claims to the contrary, a minority . But there is another prism through which Chávez's democratic credentials look more dubious. On top of his leadership of the failed coup, and his relationships with left-wing revolutionary guerrillas, there is the fact that in his seven years in power he has consolidated personal control over all of Venezuela's institutions.

The army answers to Chávez, as does the central bank, the treasury and the state oil-company PDVSA, which provides the vast bulk of Venezuela's revenue as the world's fifth-largest oil exporter. In 2002, when many members of the 19,000-strong company joined a lock-out strike in support of calling early elections to oust him, he fired them all, replacing them with chavistas. He has packed the judiciary with his supporters and rewritten the constitution to suit his ends. Most worryingly, he has talked about finessing the constitution to enable him to stay in office until 2030.

And it is not just because of his political inclinations that Chávez appears to be being pulled in contrary directions - between the authoritarianism of the classic South American caudillo (strongman) and democrat. His personality too appears to be elusive and, say observers, deeply unpredictable.

For a dictator in the making, as his opponents claim he is, he may have the rhetoric and perhaps some of the inclinations of a caudillo, but his record in confrontation has been more mixed. When Chávez began reallocating land from major landowners to the poor , whom he had encouraged to squat, it looked like the end for Venezuela's major estates - the latifundios - including the British-owned Vesty. But Chávez stopped short. For now the policy is one of negotiation, allowing the big businesses to keep some land in exchange for giving up a little. Then there was the confrontation with the middle classes, which resulted in the names of anyone who had signed a petition for a referendum demanding Chávez's recall (popularly known as la lista) being published by a prominent Chávez supporter. This so-called "Tascón list" was subsequently used to deny signatories government jobs and contracts. It looked like an old-fashioned purge.

On the steep, grassy banks of the busy autopista linking Caracas and the coast, I meet a victim of the Tascón list at an opposition demonstration. They are a strange group, mostly older and well-dressed professionals and well-to-do Caracas housewives, some of them in T-shirts proclaiming their allegiance to the "National Commando of the Resistance". It is not a formation, you imagine, that scares Chávez.

Among them is Rodello Gonzales Martinez, 55, a former commercial pilot who had signed la lista in 2003-04. "When I went to reapply for my license and medical, nothing happened for a long time. I didn't get a reply," he says. "When I finally went to the Ministry of Transportation in person the girl asked for my I.D. She typed in my name and said: 'You're on the list' and ripped up my application in front of my face."

It is a familiar story, although whether it is as widespread as the opposition claims is impossible to tell. Again Chávez backed down, publicly calling on his supporters to stop using the list to punish escualidos - one of a series of measures to court the middle classes.

Most telling , there is evidence that, despite his tough language with the U.S. and a flurry of "deals" to sell his oil elsewhere, he has done little to restructure Venezuela's oil business and steer it away from the convenient flow of America's billions that are paying for his revolution.

It is contradictory, like so much in the Bolívarian Revolution. Yet Alberto Garrido, one of Venezuela's most respected political analysts, believes it is possible to reconcile the two Chávezes. "Chávez has threatened to blow up his own oil installations in the event of an American invasion. You can consider it rhetoric, but it is not really that. He is intent on destroying imperialism. By that he means the 'empire of the U.S.'. His discourse doesn't include Europe. It is very localized. But while the reality is Latin America's independence from U.S. influence, the reality is changeable. Chávez is tactically pragmatic, but strategically obsessive. Since he is pragmatic, he will continue selling oil to the U.S. and resist pressure from more radical sectors of his movement to stop.

"What needs to be understood is that his main interest is geopolitical. Everything that can be seen as ambiguous needs to be recognized as the fact he is leading a transitional phase. He will allow the U.S. to keep paying for his oil to strengthen his project. His project - he has said it himself - will be 20-30 years in the making."

It is the message that is visible on children's singlets being sold by a street vendor at a chavista rally. Beneath screenprinted images of Chávez's face the legend reads : 2030. But what you realize, walking with these young people through Caracas's dirty streets behind lorries blasting out music and bands of drummers, is that, for all the contradictions of his revolution, Chávez has harnessed the energy of the impoverished majority. The noisy good humor of the thousands who march, the dynamism, is in stark contrast to a rival rally called by the opposition. The chavistas march and sing and fill the capital's streets, the middle classes opt to lie down and play dead.

It is hot and humid in Caracas: the rainy season has yet to come. It is a national holiday and so those who can afford it have driven to the beaches. The alternative is the Magic Mountain, an amusement park in the foothills of the Andes, a cable car ride above the capital. It is not cheap, so most of those queuing for the ride up above the forested slopes are middle class. They stroll along paths above a plunging valley filled with the weekend villas of the wealthy. Inside its alpine-themed restaurant, Juan Garcia, an electrical engineer, is eating a picnic with his two children.

"We like to come when it's cool," says Juan, 43, a fierce opponent of Chávez. "I am completely against him. He is pushing our country into something that it's not. The social struggle that he talks about among Venezuela's classes - before he came it did not exist. He has strengthened the hate between the poor and the rich. He gives the impression that if they follow him they can all wear white clothes and drive nice cars. Unfortunately I don't think that it is going to stop. Once the idea has been sold there is no end to it."

Not everyone on the Magic Mountain agrees. Vanessa Aular, a student and a single mother, has taken her four-yearold son Antoine Escobar up the cable car for a treat. An admirer of Chávez, Vanessa was sent to Cuba on a government scheme to train as a social worker. "Where I have really benefited," she says, "is with my son. He needed to have his tonsils out, which would have been difficult for us before Chávez. Our neighbors have got housing benefit for the first time and a neighbor is going to Cuba for an eye operation."

Chávez's popularity is not, as the fragmenting opposition desperately hopes, built on a fake premise. What Venezuela's underclasses recognize is that he is no forgery. They see it in his dark skin, his poor background and in his manners. His aspirations are also theirs: the poor boy who joined the army in the hope of becoming a baseball star, who instead got himself the kind of education he is now offering to them. He is the child from the shack who rose to the stuccoed grandeur of the Miraflores Palace.

This resonates with his core constituency. For the poor, who have benefited from his seven years in power, democracy means social inclusion - not who controls the institutions that in Venezuela have often been either weak or hopelessly corrupt.

At present that social inclusion means Chávez's misiones, which like the Mercals alleviate poverty, offering free and widespread healthcare, provided by 17,000 Cuban doctors, access to education, housing titles, land ownership and cheap start-up loans for businesses. It is on these schemes - paid for by the oil receipts of the past two years - that Chávez's popularity is based. And it is not just in Venezuela. Chávez spends his billions elsewhere in the region. He buys debt from neighboring countries, funds projects, supports parties in the left's new rise to power in Latin America. It is this that is the real source of friction with the U.S. - that a revolutionary regime, with deep pockets filled with its own dollars, is undermining U.S. policy, not least in fronting the resistance to the creation of the neo-liberal Free Trade Area of the Americas. Chávez's message, as in the barrios, is social justice. But is that social justice policy working?

I went to the barrio of Petare, without the presence of chavista minders, where people were more free to talk, to try to find out. It is a place not much different from the 23 de Enero barrio - though it lacks the high-rises. The hairdressing salon where Miriam Josefina Mejillas, 34, works is open to the street. She shops in the local Mercal and gets free medical treatment for her family from the Cuban doctors. She is defensive about criticism of Chávez, although she recognizes the country's deep and lasting problems.

Mostly, however, she is grateful. "I don't think everything in this country is his fault. He is a human being just like us. There are lots of crises but they are not his fault. There are all these people who say because of Chávez they don't have work. But there are people around him who are traitors to him." It is a familiar refrain among Chávez's least well-off supporters . If there are faults with the Bolívarian Revolution, they say, it is only because the President is surrounded by bad advisers and is not hearing about their problems. If he knew, they argue, he would intervene.

There may be some truth in this. In a movement largely suspicious of the technocrats and political classes who once ran the country, there is a shortage of expertise. "Chávez has said in his own words that the three enemies of his revolution are corruption, inefficiency and bureaucracy," says Alberto Garrido. "He also criticizes nepotism. The management of this state is absolutely terrible. He trusts a small group of allies unconditionally.

"Chávez is still in the 'charismatic phase' where he is above good and bad for his people and he has cleverly separated himself from the image of inefficiency and corruption of his government. But that cannot be eternal. If he does not quickly succeed in restructuring the country's problems, people will start losing hope in him. That is his black spot. If he doesn't stop that mismanagement it will stop him." While Chávez has undertaken a remarkable intervention on the level of primary assistance, many even among those who support him are concerned that, if and when oil prices drop from their record levels, there will be little left to see of his revolution. One day the Cuban doctors, who have transformed primary healthcare, will go home. While Chávez has been busy educating a few thousand Venezuelan doctors, all his billions of oil money have not rebuilt the decrepit hospitals.

The Mercals are dependent on oil largesse and there is evidence that the importing of cheaper food is undermining the fragile farming and agriculture sectors. While the Bolívarian schools and universities have transformed the literacy of the poor, the biggest problem is highlighted by their adult graduates. Few new jobs have been created by the revolution, which has done little to diversify the economy.

The chavistas say that this is missing the point. Chávez's vision is not about outdated Western political and economic models; it is about creating revolutionary "fusion" and breaking new ground. In Latin America, at least, his example is influential most notably with Bolivia's Evo Morales. Just last week Morales nationalized his natural gas industry, sending in troops to secure production and telling foreign companies to leave if they did not comply.

Amid all the threats of economic meltdown and utopian promises, it is Lopez Maya who seems to present the most honest assessment of the likely prospects. "Venezuela has a lot of money because of oil," she says. "But in two years the prospects could be very different. It is very difficult to assess the performance of the government. In the past, when the oil price has dropped the defects of our government strategy have emerged. Now the question is: is Chávez doing a good job or is it just the same again?"

Hugo's there: A presidential life.

Born: July 28, 1954.

Education: Graduated at 17 with science degree from Daniel Florencio O'Leary School in Barinas, masters in military science and engineering by the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences in 1975. Also studied political science at Simon Bolivar University.

Family: Two daughters and a son by his first marriage; a daughter by his second marriage to Marisabel Rodriguez de Chavez, a journalist, from whom he is now separated.

They say: "He's a person who was elected legally - just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally." - U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld






Hugo Chavez and His Bolivarian Revolution

     News: A veteran Latin America correspondent on the past, present, and possible future of Venezuela's president.

     Richard Gott Interviewed By Julian Brookes

     October 4, 2005


What to make of Hugo Chavez? By the lights of the Bush administration, the President of Venezuela is an anti-American rabble rouser, a devoted friend to the loathed Fidel Castro, a rogue state unto himself, given to playing politics with Venezuela's oil industry, which supplies about 15 percent of the U.S.'s crude. To his increasingly frustrated political opponents in Venezuela, Chavez, a former army colonel, is a leftist demagogue who stirred up a wave of class and racial resentments and rode it to the presidency, and who, in office, has dealt himself new powers at every chance, on his way to becoming an out-and-out caudillo. And to a certain school of international opinion, exemplified by The Economist magazine, Chavez is an wacky utopian who sooner or later will run the Venezuelan economy into the ground.

True, Chavez is, for a world leader, refreshingly free with his opinions of the Bush administration. (And often, as at the United Nations last month, entertainingly so.) He makes a show of railing against US "imperialism," cheerfully baits and ridicules George W. Bush, and matter-of-factly denounces the U.S. as a "terrorist state." Most days, it seems, he surfaces somewhere in the media alleging dark White House plots against his life. (Pace Pat Robertson, this seems farfetched.) And he's quite convinced that the Bush administration backed, or at least countenanced, a coup attempt against him in 2002 (which seems quite plausible). Also true, his governing style is frankly populist, and he routinely excoriates Venezuela's elite class, which dominates the political opposition and which, until the rise of Chavez, dominated the country's politics. Certain of his reform laws—in particular one regulating the media and another reshuffling the judiciary—have drawn protests from international rights groups. And yes, there's the matter of la lista, the list of signatures submitted in 2004 to demand a referendum on Chavez's recall, which, so signatories claim, now functions as a black list, deployed by the Chavez government to deny them jobs and services.

Then again, there's no gainsaying the fact that Chavez first won office, in 1998, in a fair election with 56 percent of the vote, or that since then he has prevailed in several electoral tests—not to mention a general strike and a coup attempt—growing steadily in popularity each time. Nor is there any denying that he has brought into the democratic process, for the first time, large numbers of Venezuela's poor, most of whom live in the ranchos, or shanty towns, that ring the cities. (As for his alleged class baiting, in a country where the poor account for about 80 percent of the population and where income inequality is extreme and glaring, democratic politics can’t help but involve issues of class—and race: Venezuela's poor are disproportionately black and indigenous.) Through a string of "missions" the Chavez government has brought healthcare and education to many of the ranchos and rural areas, which before now have seen little of either. The missions are financed by proceeds from Venezuela's oil industry, control of which Chavez seized after the 2002 (another sore point for opponents), and which, against expectation, is humming along quite nicely. (Also worth noting: for all that he fulminates against "neo-liberalist" free trade, and for all that he has expanded the role of the state in Venezuela's economy, Chavez's economic policy is fairly eclectic: he's pushed hard to have Venezuela admitted to Mercosur, the South American free trade bloc, and he's an energetic courtier of foreign investment.)

That Chavez is genuinely popular in Venezuela, and increasingly throughout Latin America, is cause for neither surprise nor alarm, according to Richard Gott, whose book, Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution (Verso), recently updated and reissued, is the first account in English to place Chavez in historical and intellectual perspective. In Gott’s sympathetic account, Chavez is a magnetic personality of the Clintonian type, “a genuinely original figure in Latin America,” a radical left-wing nationalist, to be sure, but a pragmatic improviser, and certainly no dogmatic socialist. Chavez’s program for Venezuela remains somewhat vague, even to the man himself, but his concern for the country’s poor and marginalized is, in Gott's view, sincere and his vocation is essentially democratic.

Gott, who has been reporting on Latin America for four decades, is a former correspondent and features editor for the London Guardian. He’s the author of Guerrilla Movements in Latin America and Cuba: A New History, among other books. He talked to Mother Jones recently by phone from his home in London.

Mother Jones: Does Chavez really think the U.S. is out to have him killed?

Richard Gott: You have to understand the fear that sweeps Latin America whenever a progressive government comes to power. Chavez has to take the possibility of assassination very seriously. He has now expressed his great solidarity with the Cuban revolution and gone so far as to say that if the United States were to invade Cuba then Venezuela would be at Cuba's side. Even so, to my mind, the idea that the United States is planning to do assassinate him seems highly improbable. But I think for Chavez it's a very real possibility.

MJ: Still, there's clearly no love lost between Chavez and the United States government. Why does Chavez delight in provoking the Americans?

RG: Well, I think he gets out of it a lot of popularity at home. People in the United States tend not to appreciate how extremely disliked they are in much of the world and particularly in Latin America, for old-fashioned historical reasons. The United States has intervened all over Latin America for more than 100 years. They're still in Cuba at the base in Guantanamo, since 1898. So there's this tremendous legacy of hostility that's absolutely open to any progressive regime to exploit.

MJ:And Pat Robertson's recent comments—that the US should go ahead and take him out—presumably played into that hostility.

RG: Yes, it's obviously very convenient when the United States lives up to its stereotype as a Big Brother that's prone to intervene at any given moment. But when Chavez started six or seven years ago he didn't have this fearsome anti-American rhetoric that he has today. He unleashes it today because he has good reason to believe the Americans knew about the coup in 2002 and didn't do anything to warn him, or prevent it. So he gets a lot of mileage out of pushing a strongly anti-American line, and specifically an anti-Bush, anti-neoconservative line. But gets on well with Jimmy Carter and with Clinton—you know, with less extreme figures.

MJ: A big irritant for the United States, of course, is Chavez's closeness to Fidel Castro. What should we make of that relationship?

RG: One tends to forget in the United States or in Europe how popular and significant Castro is for Latin America. He remains this extraordinary bulwark against the United States, and he's regarded as the great Latin American figure of the 20th century. And Chavez belongs to a strand in Venezuelan life, and Latin American life, essentially of nationalism, and socialism, and support for the Cuban revolution, and he's never made any secret of that. But of course he has no plans to emulate the particular Soviet form of the Cuban economy, or the particular form of Cuba's political arrangements, which owe a lot to the fact that it's under an embargo and in a sort of state of war. But he does appreciate Castro's advice; they talk on the phone every night. They're very, very close.

MJ: And the Cuban-exile lobby doesn't take well to that ...

RG: No. Anyone who is friendly to Cuba becomes an enemy of the Miami-Cuban mafia, and that's what's wagging the American policy towards Latin America. Chavez, who has teamed up with Castro on many many things, is implicitly just another enemy. But when you look at it—has Chavez expropriated American companies? No. Has he affected American business interests? No, he hasn't. There's still McDonald's in Caracas, and you can still be an American businessman in Venezuela.

MJ: But it's not just the Miami Cubans who dislike Chavez. The English-language media is pretty hostile towards him.

RG: Yes, that's true. For example, the correspondents for the Economist and the Financial Times in Caracas during the Chavez era—it's been the same guys throughout--are essentially disillusioned leftists of yesteryear who've moved over to the right. They've accepted the arguments of the opposition and have been endlessly critical of Chavez since the beginning, but always adopting the latest opposition line. And the opposition, which is essentially the Venezuelan elite, is now saying Chavez is moving to the left and he's going to show his true socialist colors. Okay, it's true that Chavez, for the first time this year, has used the word "socialism"—he talks about a "21st Century Socialism"—but he's given absolutely no indication that he wants to emulate Soviet socialism, Cuban socialism, or indeed the sort of state capitalism that existed in Europe for much of the late 20th century.

MJ: Do you have a sense—for that matter, does he have a sense—of what he means by "21st century socialism"?

RG: No, I don't think he does. He is keen on buzzwords like "participation," he talks a lot about "participatory democracy," but he hasn't really fleshed out these ideas. He likes the idea that workers' representatives should be on the boards of companies, which is quite an old-fashioned and interesting idea. But he's not particularly interested in trade unions themselves becoming a significant force. He's a very unusual leftist in the sense that he's not much interested in trade unions or political parties.

MJ: Early on in the book you call him a "genuinely original figure" in Latin America. In what sense is he that?

RG: He certainly comes from an unusual background. It's unusual to have a progressive military figure, although there have been half a dozen or so figures in the 20th century—[Omar] Torrijos, in Panama, for example—who emerged from the military and established progressive military regimes. What I find interesting about him is his open-mindedness and his willingness to experiment. He arrived on the scene without any dogmatic ideas. One of his principal heroes is Simon Rodriguez, this extraordinary 19th century figure who was Simon Bolivar's tutor. He had this wonderful slogan that Latin America had to be "original." He had a debate with Bolivar, who was a child of the European Enlightenment, influenced by the French Revolution, and who wanted to import a lot of those ideas into Latin America. Simon Rodriguez said, No, we can't import them wholesale into Latin America; we have to think of original ways of dealing with the problems of our continent on our own. I think Chavez has taken that to heart. He's always casting around for ideas. He's one of the most open-minded Latin American leaders I've ever come across. Whenever you see him he says, "What's new? What's happening? What books should I be reading?"

MJ: And yet he very deliberately styles himself as an heir to Simon Bolivar, the great 19th century hero of Latin American independence. In what sense are Chavez and his project for Venezuela "Bolivarian"?

RG: I think he still recognizes the significance of the ideas of Bolivar. He's more interested in culture than in economics. All leftist revolutions in the past have been based on an economic restructuring of society. Chavez isn't so fascinated by that, but he is fascinated by the need for Latin America to reestablish its cultural identity outside of American cultural imperialism—everybody watching American TV and American movies. He's saying No, we should be thinking about Latin America and thinking about our own culture. He's set up a television channel called Vive, which is devoted to bringing aspects of Venezuelan culture to the screen. He has also promoted the television station Telesur, the idea being to have a Latin American perspective on the news, and he's made a deal with Iran whereby Venezuelans are learning from the Iranians how to make cartoon films, in order to escape from the American idea that everything has to be Walt Disney.

MJ: Chavez remains popular in Venezuela. How is he viewed in Latin America more broadly?

RG: Yes, I think it's changed significantly in the years he's been in power. To begin with they didn't really know what to make of him, and it took them quite a long time to figure out that he was a very serious and intelligent politician. I suppose, too, that after a while his capacity to survive in itself becomes impressive, and the fact that he has not only survived but continues to be high in the opinion polls, winning election after election, gives him added credibility in the rest of Latin America.

MJ: As you say, his resiliency has been extraordinary. How has he managed to survive—thrive, even?

RG: Well, two things are absolutely crucial. One is that he has the support of the great mass of the people, who are poor, and also black and Indian. There’s a really interesting racist element to politics in Venezuela, and in the rest of Latin America. So Chavez has this huge popularity among the poor, and he’s seen to be delivering. And even where he’s not delivering, they believe that he will. The other thing of course is that he has the absolutely solid backing of the armed forces. The coup in 2002 allowed him to fire 60 generals and to get rid of the entire upper reaches of the armed forces. So the people running the army today are absolutely unconditional supporters of Chavez. Not only that, he's extremely popular with the troops, because they come from the poor and forgotten parts of the population, and Chavez always makes huge efforts to make sure he talks not just to the generals but also to the troops.

MJ: Of course Chavez is a former soldier himself. To what extent does that explain who he is and where he comes from?

RG: I think it's very significant indeed. The Venezuelan military is unlike other militaries. They've often had relationships with the left. They are simply not the sort of generals with dark glasses that one associates with Chile and Argentina, say, and they tend to come not necessarily from the higher social strata, they often come from the provinces. It's been quite a democratic army. They also in the 1970s and 1980s started studying at the universities and colleges, and became somewhat integrated into civilian life.

You have to bear in mind, too, that entire political structure of Venezuela has collapsed, the old political parties have disappeared, evaporated, and Chavez hasn't really created much of a new organized political movement of his own. The bureaucracy is in the hands of the middle-class opposition, and it's very difficult to get any sort of reform through the existing government machine, so Chavez does rely on the military to get things done, as his own political party.

MJ: The military aside, lacking an organized political movement he seems to hold on in part through sheer force of personality. Is there a danger that when he withdraws from the scene, voluntarily or not, his reforms and achievements will go with him?

RG: I think that's a very legitimate question. Things are better from that point of view than they were four or five years ago. I think if Chavez had disappeared even two or three years ago, that would have been the end of that. I think now that things are becoming more organized, less chaotic, the regime looks stable, and people are beginning to join in on the grounds that this is going to last. For a long time members of the opposition said, we're going to get rid of Chavez tomorrow, and so they waited till tomorrow came. But when that didn't happen, I think a lot of people who weren't particularly keen on Chavez are now beginning to realize that this is the government they're going to have to deal with for the next ten years. And I think that if Chavez disappeared tomorrow, there are enough good, competent people, and that the system is now stable enough, and that it will continue. I think what is significant is that there has been a revolution, a collapse of the ancien regime, so it's impossible to imagine going back to the system that existed before.

MJ: Not least because Chavez has brought into politics a large portion of the population—the poor—that wasn't involved before.

RG: Yes, I think that may turn out to be Chavez's most significant achievement. In a way that's what made the old, elitist opposition unhappy -- this democratization of the country, bringing in this underclass, even a lumpen class, into the body politic. A lot of the programs, the projects he's developed—not just the health programs but the education programs, too—they're really aimed at the 16-25 age group, the young people who weren't getting into college or into training. He's making sure that a huge amount of money will be spent on this one generation to get them into education, into work, and essentially into politics, because they're the people who will ultimately decide the nature of the system.

MJ: Now, he's able to make this huge investment because Venezuela is flush with oil money. What happens if and when that flow of money slows?

RG: Well, I don't think the price of oil is going to come down in the foreseeable future, and anyway he is only trying to do this as a crash program for one generation. After that, Venezuelans will have to decide which direction to go in. But he will have a much larger group of motivated people than existed in the 20th century.

MJ: You talk about Chavez's "new politics of oil." What's been his innovation there?

RG: First of all came the discovery, in the 1980s, that simply nationalizing the oil industry didn't result in huge flows of money for development, for the simple reason that the people who took over the industry ran it the same way it had been run in the days of Shell and Exxon, when the money disappeared into speculation or into the hands of the directors. Chavez has completely altered the way the oil company is run, pointing out that the money ought to be invested in Venezuela.

MJ: It's never healthy for an economy to rely to heavily on one industry, as Venezuela does on oil. Is the Chavez government working to diversify the economy?

RG: Absolutely. A lot depends on this new generation of people emerging, and then the possibility of investing in other activities. Chavez has the old, sort of 19th century belief in trying to develop the infrastructure all over the country, to try to reverse the movement of people from the countryside to the cities. And I think his scheme is to try to revive local economies and make the countryside more of a pole of development so that people don't endlessly drift into the cities, which is of course the bane of the whole of Latin America, not just Venezuela.

MJ: So, Chavez came into office promising radical reform—a Bolivarian revolution. Has he delivered?

RG: I think the jury is still out on the entire project. It's extremely open-ended as to where it's going to go, and I'm sure it's going to change and develop in time. Chavez is a very pragmatic leader who's moving forward gradually on a number of fronts but doesn't have any kind of blueprint for the eventual organization of society in Venezuela. For example, on two or three cases they've taken over factories that have collapsed and the workers have demanded that they should be taken over. I don't think that's the model, but it's happening. So I think there'll be a sort of pluralism of different projects, some cooperative, some state-owned, some privately owned. That's more or less what's happening at the moment and I expect that to continue. I think that because they depend so much on oil and it takes time to develop alternative economic activities it remains to be seen how all that will work.

MJ: Have the poor and historically disenfranchised seen real gains under Chavez?

RG: They've seen a large amount in terms of health and education in the shanty towns. That is very visible, and it's extraordinary. And the ones who haven't got it yet know about it and they're waiting for it and agitating for it to arrive. So, for example, I went to a shanty town outside Caracas next two or three months ago and nothing had happened, and they were extremely anxious for it to happen. They were sending protest demonstrations to the local mayor asking, when are the Cuban doctors going to come, and when is the education scheme going to reach our village. They are very well aware that improvements are in the offing and that they're going to come, though they obviously haven't got everywhere yet. I think the employment program is still in its infancy; getting people into jobs—that still has a long way to go.

MJ: The standard US line on Chavez is that his instincts are essentially autocratic. What do you make of that?

RG: I think it's entirely invented. It's true that he is a military figure who expects his orders to be obeyed. The two items that are endlessly picked on by the opposition are [his reforms of] the media and the judiciary. The judiciary was an unbelievable mess under the ancien regime. It has been reformed, they have managed to get control of it, and I think you'd expect any government to do that if it's building on the ruins of the past. You're not going to get a situation where the corrupt judges of the past have an influence over the system. You can call it raison d'etat if you like, but it seems to me to be a perfectly understandable measure for the government to take. I seem to remember that Franklin D. Roosevelt did something similar in the 1930s.

The complaint about the media law is a completely ridiculous red herring. All they've done is introduce some legislation that's probably less repressive than what we have in Western Europe. It's really the modern way of introducing a certain amount of regulation into television in a world that had hitherto been totally unbridled. And indeed anyone knows who's been there the media are having a field day and are about 80 percent anti-Chavez. So there isn't much to complain about there.

MJ: If Chavez's revolution succeeds, what do you think Venezuela look like ten years from now?

RG: I think Venezuela will be a model for the rest of Latin America—a society that's come to terms with its black and indigenous poverty-stricken populations, and where those populations participate fully in the democratic process. Because it's a new generation it's a little open-ended as to what will happen, but Chavez recognizes that. He says "Let the people decide," and I think he means it. 

Julian Brookes is the editor of





Don't cry for me, Venezuela

by Alma Guillermoprieto

Thursday, November 3, 2005


'I have more optimism every day. Joyful! Taking care of people! Solving problems. Looking to the future.' Alma Guillermoprieto hears an upbeat Hugo Chavez address his nation on the radio, and assesses his career On the reality show that Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, stages at irregular but frequent intervals for the benefit of his nation, he is the only star. Most Sundays, he can be seen on the all-day programme Alo Presidente. He might reminisce about an episode of his past life, like the failed military golpe, or coup, that first brought him to public attention back in 1992, when he was an idealistic lieutenant colonel.

Chavez discourses on politics, Jesus Christ, history, the week's events, baseball and, at great length, himself. When he takes over all the private television stations for a talk – forming a "national network" – he is usually on his own.

"Hello, my friends! A very good evening to you... We're living in a peak moment of Venezuela's history, and all Venezolanas must be worthy of the peak of this supreme moment. Keep your eye peeled. Alert. Careful, because there's many campaigns that try to disinform, every day. So we revolutionaries must be clear about this. We Bolivarians must be very clear. What is going on? What path is the revolution taking?

"I have more optimism every day. More joyfulness every day: this morning I was singing, and this evening I was singing, some song or another. Perhaps I'll remember it later. Singing! Joyful! Taking care of people! Solving problems. Looking to the future."

Ten years ago, a failed golpista and retired military man, Chavez was dependent on friends for pocket money and transportation. Today, at 51, he heads a state with one of the world's great cash flows, enjoys popularity ratings of 80 per cent, faces a vehement but demoralised and perhaps terminally disorganised opposition, and appears to be a magnet to women.

Hugo Chavez was born into a dirt-poor family at a time when oil was making his country immensely rich. His father, Hugo Sr, qualified as a rural schoolteacher, but he still didn't earn enough to keep his family. The younger Chavez decided to apply to the army academy in Caracas.

In their indispensable biography, Hugo Chavez sin uniforme, Cristina Marcano and Alberto Barrera Tyszka provide an account of the backcountry cadet. He loves the army, feels at home in it, graduates eighth in his class. He plays baseball, the national sport, better than well. He is articulate and likable, and by the age of 21, having obtained a degree in army engineering, with a major in communications, he is the star of his own radio programme.

For nearly 20 years Chavez would foster his vague, romantic plot, inspired not by Marxism or any other ideology but by intellectual politicians and 19th century fighters who were his heroes.

Supreme among them is Simon Bolivar the daring, restless hero who liberated the Andean provinces one by one from the Spanish crown, and who realised too late that, once separated, the new nations of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia would never coalesce into the grand union he had dreamed of.

Chavez worships Bolivar, memorises his proclamations. Once in power, he would also amend the name of his country to "The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela".

At 23, Chavez formed his first clandestine cell within the army, worked constantly to expand it, travelled the country consolidating a core group of leftist conspirators who dreamed with him of a better Venezuela and of their heroic role in creating it.

As Chavez grew up he benefited from the stability and modernisation provided by the civilian regimes that followed the Perez military dictatorship. The country's enviable political stability was made possible in large part by the abundance of oil that left its seaports in those years.

But there was a great deal of corruption, a great deal of waste, and, as the rural population migrated toward the oil territories and Caracas, a huge accumulation of urban poverty and a dearth of public policy to deal with the needs of the poor.

Not all the oil income was lost to corruption and profligacy, though: ambitious educational systems, highways, museums, dams, and health and housing programs were created for a population that multiplied too quickly. (The last census counted some 25 million people.)

The last of the big public spenders was Carlos Andres Perez (CAP, as he is called), who nationalised the oil industry. Corruption became a way of life, and by the time Perez left office in 1979, the two-party system in Venezuela seemed bankrupt.

Venezuela produces very little of export value other than oil. The state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, SA, or PDVSA, accounts for 80 per cent of export income, 27 per cent of the gross national product, and 40 per cent of the government budget.

Those funds were insufficient to finance CAP's tireless spending: he left his successor to deal with the resulting inflation, crushing debt, high unemployment, and an empty treasury.

In 1988, CAP campaigned for, and won, a second term in office. A convert by then to the market approach known as the Washington consensus, he declared himself in favour of a currency devaluation, price hikes on all public services and an end to governement subsidies.

Three weeks later, the inhabitants of Caracas staged the first riot of the century. Descending from the steep hills to which they are normally confined, thousands of caraquenos set fire to entire city blocks and looted whatever they could find.

Dozens of people had already died by the time the president called out the troops and declared a state of siege. When it was all over, more than 250 people were dead, and Hugo Chavez was left with the feeling that, as he told Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he had missed "the strategic minute": desperately poor people were in worse straits than usual and the government was failing them, imposing austerity measures when it was emergency aid that was called for and then shooting them when they rebelled. Politicians were corrupt, at the service of the rich, and incompetent to boot. The civilian two-party system Chavez had known all his life was exhausted. It was time for him to make his entrance, he thought, and he had missed his cue.

When he at last staged his coup attempt on 4 February, 1992, the uprising itself was a complete failure.

His longtime co-conspirators fought bravely in other parts of the country, but the army did not split, and in Caracas itself Chavez surrendered with barely a shot fired.

Nevertheless, his fortune was made. On the morning following his surrender the army leaders allowed him to make a live televised statement about the failed coup, intending that he would discourage the remaining rebels. He talked for less than 90 seconds, but it was enough for him to establish an emotional connection with his viewers so intense as to guarantee him a permanent place in national politics.

"For now", the conspiracy had failed, he said. He and his comrades were charged merely with "rebellion". Two years later he was released from jail, and granted an honorable retirement from the service. Four years after that, in 1998, he put himself at the front of his movement, and won 56 per cent of the vote in the December presidential elections.

The size of Chavez' victory is interesting, because in the six years he has been in power he has held various sorts of elections (including one presidential election, one to elect a constituent assembly, and two referendums) and the percentage of his vote has never reached 60.

In a country where his target audience of the poor and the very poor together made up around 68 per cent of the population last year, nearly half the people who show up at the polls on election day still refuse to vote for him. And nearly three quarters of the adult population has stayed away from recent elections.

Chavez, who knows the voting results well, plays a high-risk game: he governs not as if he were the president of a divided nation, but as if he had a national mandate to carry out his Bolivarian revolution.

The definition of the president's ongoing Revolucion Bolivariana remains hazy. Like Bolivar, he would like to unify Latin America. In Venezuela he is the centre of power: Chavez has said in various contexts and in several ways that he is not averse to the word caudillo, or strongman.

The revolution's first priority is the poor. It has some elements of socialism. Sometimes it is anti-capitalist, and sometimes not: Chavez, who talks often of his own religious faith, has referred to capitalism as el demonio, but a great many businessmen have prospered under his rule, and he has made it clear that he sees a significant role for the private sector and, most particularly, for foreign investment. What there does not appear to be much room for is the opposition.

Within three months of his inauguration the new president won a referendum authorising him to call a constitutional convention, which replaced the "moribund" old charter with one that concentrates a great deal of power in his hands, and also threatens the very existence of an opposition: government financing of political parties' electoral campaigns is now outlawed.

In the course of a lengthy and high-risk, confrontation with the state oil company, PDVSA, Chavez also replaced the old meritocracy with his own directorate. This has, essentially, allowed him to run a foreign policy based on oil sales to poor countries on highly favorable terms (and in exchange for their support in international politics), and to use oil income to finance his various domestic projects.

Washington, in turn, is hampered in its foreign policy toward Caracas. Although the Bush administration appears to loathe Chavez and his pro-Castro policies, nearly 15 per cent of the US oil supply comes from Venezuela.

The instrument most frequently used by Hugo Chavez against his opponents is known everywhere simply as la lista – the list of signatures submitted in 2004 to demand a referendum on Chavez's recall.

People on the list cannot get government jobs, or qualify for many of Chavez's public welfare programs, or obtain government contracts. Its use was once surreptitious; officials asked for one's cedula, or ID/voter registration card, and the number was checked against la lista. But since December, when the list was put on the Internet by a chavista member of the National Assembly, it is used openly.

It is too soon to judge how well the many ambitious social welfare and education programs launched by Chavez – they are known as misiones – have succeeded in redressing Venezuela's deep inequalities, but they suffer already from an essential flaw: as with everything else Chavez creates, their existence depends on him.

This would seem to be a reflection of the President's apparent sense that everything that happens, that has happened – in Venezuela, and in this hemisphere as well – in some way relates to him.

In Caracas today it often seems as if there were no issues, only bilious anger or unconditional devotion – or gasping bafflement – all provoked by the President, who takes up so much oxygen that there is no breathing room left for a discussion of, say, the merits of his neighbourhood health policy, his relations with Cuba, or oher policies.

The President has no visible worries: the various misiones – in favour of ethnic culture, literacy, college equivalency, medical care in the barrios, in defence of street children – are thriving, in no small part because there are tens of thousands of highly skilled Cubans who have been assigned by Fidel to staff them, and also because they are lavishly financed in ways the health and education ministries could benefit from.

Who knows, Chavez says, he might even remain in power through the year 2024, or even 2030. And why not? In a country with an economy the size of the Czech Republic's, the value of Venezuela's currency reserves is now $30 billion. Oil prices are not expected to decline anytime soon. The Bush administration, for all its hostility to Chavez, does not seem able to hurt him seriously.

There are local and national elections of various kinds scheduled every single year between now and 2013, and Chavez and his political party can reasonably expect to win in all of them. Best of all, he has no local politicians – certainly none in his own movement – threatening his popularity. He can smile and go forward, singing. Joyful. Solving problems. Looking to the future.

© The New York Review of Books




Prensa Latina, Havana 

Venezuela Opens Corruption Web Site

Caracas, Oct 12 (Prensa Latina) Venezuela Anti-corruption Ministerial Commission announced that a new website at  is at the population's disposal to denounce corruption.

According to the release, the site allows online communication with staff designated to investigate and to be informed of the circumstances of denunciations.

The initiative is the result of President Hugo Chavez's call to fight corruption, which he considers a cancer on society.

The Anti-Corruption Commission website has a database of national and international news related to the issue and a virtual library as well.




Statue of Venezuela's founding father unveiled
in Tehran in presence of Chavez


Tehran, Nov 28, IRNA -- Statue of Venezuela's nineteenth century leader Simon Bolivar was unveiled at Goft-o-gou (dialogue) Park in Tehran on Sunday in a ceremony attended by President Hugo Chavez, Chairman of Tehran City Council Mehdi Chamran and Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


photo: ISNA


Ahmadi said that today is a great day in Tehran-Caracas relations as well as in Iranian ties with Latin American nations.

"Though there is long way from Tehran to Latin American states, the common ground between Iran and the Latin American nations has helped bring closer the hearts of those nations," Tehran mayor said.


photo: ISNA


"Iranian and Latin American nations struggle for freedom have led to victory and encouraged anti-colonialist uprising in other countries," Ahmadinejad said.

"Iran and Venezuela are two great countries in the two strategic regions of the world enjoying extensive material and human resources and reliable partners to each other," Tehran mayor said.


photo: ISNA


President Chavez thanked Iran for installation of Bolivar's statue and extended his wishes for happiness and prosperity of the Iranian nation.

He said that Bolivar was a great freedom fighter and a learned man.

"He knew that his struggle will yield results. Bolivar's campaign served as an example for Latin American nations to get rid of the yoke of colonialism," President Chavez said.

"I should tell the Iranian people that Bolivar liberated six other states in addition to Venezuela," President Chavez said.

Hakim Omar Khayyam's statue was unveiled in Caracas last year.


photo: ISNA


Simon Bolivar was the Venezuelan leader in the early nineteenth century and his birthday (July 24) is national holiday in the country.

Venezuela was a Spanish colony from 1499 until 1821 and under the leadership of Simon Bolivar it achieved independence in 1830.

Meanwhile, in another ceremony on Sunday in presence of the Venezuelan president, a street in Tehran was named after Simon Bolivar.


Reproduced gratefully from:

Payvand's Iran News ...




Sunday, May 08, 2005

Chavez Carries the Torch


Hugo Chavez with daughter
Hugo Chavez has become a lightning rod for populist socialism, brashly carrying the torch for the revolutionary Left in the face of stiff opposition. He is at the forefront of a mass movement which is an inspiration to Marxists throughout the world.

The movement has been successfully bearing fruit for the masses in Venezuela. It is not Chavez's tenacity or charisma that has kept him in power, but his sincerity. He truly is a man of the people, with the ability to forge a bond between the masses, the government, and the military resulting in the unification and mobilization of the country. All of this allows Venezuela to build a better tomorrow.

Chavez has also come to realize that there is no “third way,” and that socialism is the only real alternative to neo-liberal capitalist hegemony. In an interview on April 20, 2005, Adan Chavez, Venezuela’s ambassador to Cuba, plainly states:
The President used to consider the option of the so-called “Third Way” – a way between capitalism and socialism. We examined that and, as the President said, we have realized that for the Bolivarian revolution there is no third way possible, we must choose the way of socialism. […] Socialism is a system in which man is above Capital. That is clear.
It is also clear that these ideals are spreading throughout Latin America and beyond. At least partially emboldened by the Venezuelan people's stand against imperialistic influences, people’s movements, from Mexico to Chile to Italy, are taking power under the banners of socialism and communism.

History of Oppression
Hugo Chavez with old womanThe history of Venezuela is one of an apartheid society. First, the Spanish colonized the indigenous people, forcing them to work the cocoa and coffee plantations, then importing slaves to aid in the work. After gaining independence, Venezuela remained an oligarchy ruled by the white European descendants of the Spaniards. For 200 years, the two-class society continued until the 1980s when it became clear to even the military that enough was enough. The military’s main role was to suppress mass demonstrations by hungry, dark-skinned people –- the citizen-slaves of Venezuela who could not even afford to buy food. It is out of this situation that the military was forced to break with the capitalists and throw in its lot with the working people and poor of Venezuela.

Improvements Despite the Odds
No one will argue that Venezuela has not faced tough economic hardships in recent years. Nevertheless, despite massive assaults by Capital on the domestic product of the nation through coup attempts and employer sponsored lockouts, the economy continues to improve. This trend is accelerated by the government's policy to take mothballed capital and put it into the hands of the people. By these means, factories and farmland have been revived after having lain idle for years. Additionally, the government has redirected billions of US dollars into social programs, urban revitalization, community building, and small businesses. The net result is that Venezuela’s economy has grown at a pace of 5-percent for six consecutive quarters, totaling of 17-percent for the year of 2004. Perhaps Mr. Bush could take some lessons?

In addition, the Chavistas are addressing the feminization of poverty and indigenous peoples’ rights, reducing unemployment rates drastically, raising minimum wage by 26-percent, granting land titles to peasants (currently at over 75,000) –- the list goes on. It is clear that the working people and poor of Venezuela are bearing the fruits of their hard work by seizing their just dues from the clutches of capital.


Hugo Chavez with a few million of his clostest friends
A few of Chavez's closest friends


Hugo Chavez with a few million of his clostest friends
Town hall meeting - Chavez style


Hugo Chavez with a few million of his clostest friends
The red tide rises, the symbol plain,
of human right and human gain...




A new turning point
The venezuelan election:
Chavez wins, US loses (again)!

James Petras

The Venezuelan congressional elections of December 4, 2005 mark a turning point in domestic politics and US-Venezuelan relations. President Chavez’s party, the Movement of the Fifth Republic, won approximately 68% of the congressional seats and with other pro-government parties , elected all the representatives. The turnout for the congressional elections without a presidential campaign was 25%. The pro-Chav percentage exceeds the pluralities secured in previous congressional elections in 1998 (11.24%) and 2000 (17%). If we compare the voter turnout with the most recent election, which included the opposition (the August 2005 municipal elections), the abstention campaign accounted for only a 6% increase in citizens who chose not to vote (69% to75%). The claim that the low turnout was a result of the US backed opposition’s boycott is clearly false. The argument that the level of turnout calls into question the legitimacy of the elections would, if applied to any US “off-year” election, de-legitimize many congressional, municipal and gubernatorial elections.


One of the most striking aspects of the election was the highly polarized voter participation: In the elite and upper middle class neighborhoods voter turnout was below 10%, while in the numerous popular neighborhoods, the BBC reported lines waiting to cast their ballots. With close to a majority of the poor voting and over 90% voting for Chavez party, and electing an all Chavez legislature, the way is open for new, more progressive legislation, without the obstructionist tactics of a virulent opposition. This should lead to measures accelerating the expropriation of latifundios (large estates) and of bankrupt and closed factories as well as new large-scale social and infrastructure investments. It is also possible a new constitutional amendment will allow for a third term for President Chavez.

Washington: ‘All or Nothing’ Strategy

The Bush Administration (with Democratic Congressional backing) has engaged in desperado ‘casino’ politics, namely an ‘all or nothing’ (AON) approach, instead of a gradualist incremental opposition. Washington pushed its client trade union confederation (CTV) (with financial support and “advice” from the AFL-CIO) into a general strike in 2001, which failed and eventually led to the formation of a new confederation reducing the CTV to an impotent apparatus. In April 2002 the US backed a military coup, which was defeated in 47 hours by a mass popular uprising backed by constitutionalist military officers, resulting in the dismissal of hundreds of pro-US military officials. From December 2002 to February 2003, US-backed officials and their entourage in the state petroleum company, PDVS, organized a lockout, temporarily paralyzing the economy. Loyalist workers and engineers backed by the government broke the lockout and all the senior officials and employees engaged in the lockout were fired, setting in motion a major shift in petroleum revenue allocation from the upper class to the poor. Likewise the US poured millions via the NED into a NGO, SUMATE, to fund a referendum to recall Chavez in 2004. The referendum was defeated by a 16-point margin (58% to 42%) leading to demoralization, apathy and depolitization of the voter constituency of the right. In the recent congressional campaign, polls indicated another massive electoral defeat, Washington pressured its NGO and political clients to withdraw from the ballot and call for an abstention, with the above-mentioned result – total loss of any institutional sphere of influence, further isolation of its political constituency and the inevitable turn of the business class toward negotiating directly with the Chavez congress-people instead of via the opposition.

In each confrontation, Washington burned a strategic client group in its bid for grabbing state power in the shortest time …Washington rejected a gradualist insider political strategy of accumulating forces over time, modifying legislation through negotiations, exploring real or imagined grievances and tempering its demagogic rhetoric embedded in its foreign policy.

Politics Behind Washington’s Failed Policies

The basic question is why did Washington persist in its failed policies of AON despite a sequence of defeats? Though there is continuity in pursuit of AON policies, the determinants of that policy varied somewhat in each moment. Between 2001-2002, the ideologues of multiple wars, under the guise of anti-terrorism and the slogan “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists” (Bush, September 23, 2001), were determined to make short shrift of the Chavez regime. The reason was that President Chavez was one of the very few non-communist regimes to oppose the US war against Afghanistan and condemn US terror (Chavez stated “You can’t fight terror with terror.”). Given that extremists controlled power in Washington, as early as October 2001, a US State Department official (Grossman) threatened Chavez that “He and future generations (of Venezuelans) would pay” for opposing US aggression. Along with US Ambassador Charles Shapiro, the neo-conservatives, especially the Cuban-Americans in the State Department who designed Latin American policies, overestimated their influence in the Venezuelan military and exaggerated the power of the mass media and the business elite in shaping the outcome of a military coup. The precipitate action was due to the upcoming invasion of Iraq and the obsessive need to silence foreign governmental opposition – given the mass opposition in the US and Europe to a war against Iraq. The second factor which influenced Washington’s pursuit of AON politics, at the time of the lockout, was the pending oil crisis with the invasion of Iraq and Chavez ties with Iraq and Iran via its leadership of OPEC.

Having played its “military levers” and lost, Washington played its oil card to weaken or break OPEC and thus deter any price increases and guarantee and secure an increased flow of oil from Venezuela. One of the immediate measures imposed by the 47 hour coup-makers had been to withdraw from OPEC. The oil lockout executives would likely have followed suit if they had been able to overthrow the Chavez government.

Washington’s AON policy also followed from Chavez growing relations with Cuba. The virulent anti-Cuba lobby and its State Department representatives, Otto Reich and Roger Noriega, were intent on destroying Cuba’s strategic ally in Venezuela, no matter what the risk to US clients in Venezuela, just as the pro-Israel zealots in the Pentagon pushed the war with Iraq and are prepared to offer US support for an Israeli attack on Iran – no matter what the cost to US backed Arab clients in the Middle East.

The third factor that shaped the AON policy was Chavez opposition to the Latin American Free Trade Area of the Americas and the growing support in Latin America for his proposed Bolivarian Latin American integration alliance (ALBA).

The Washington extremists viewed Latin America as infected by a series of “left of center” regimes “bought” or influenced by Venezuelan oil offers and petroleum financing, undermining US hegemony. In reality none of the regimes in question (Lula in Brazil, Kitchner in Argentina, Vazquez in Uruguay, etc) were in any way pursuing Chavez domestic welfare policies or his critical position on US imperialism. Given the US failures to consolidate rule in Iraq or Afghanistan, and US defeats in the UN and OAS in isolating Cuba, the extremists desperate for a political victory, pursued the AON strategy in Venezuela each time with less institutional and political support, in a losing game to compensate for previous defeats. The weaker their client forces, the shriller the rhetoric, the less resonance in Venezuela, Latin America and even in the US Congress – thanks to Chavez policy of offering subsidized oil to low income consumers in the US.

The Post –Electoral Fate of the US Political Clients: The Venezuelan Opposition

What will the old parties, which boycotted the elections, do now that they auto-excluded themselves from Congress? The two major parties, the Democratic Action (AD) and Social Christians (COPEI), relied heavily on party patronage, government jobs to secure activists and voters. Without it the party apparatus possible could survive on handouts from the phony US NGOs (The Democratic and Republican Institutes) but without jobs and perks the loyalists will look elsewhere and perhaps hook onto some of the more conservative pro-Chavez political groups or retire from politics or form a new party. Chavez was absolutely right when he said these elections spelled the burial of the traditional parties as viable contenders for electoral power. Some but not most of the political supporters of the traditional parties are not prepared nor have the stomach for bomb throwing and street fighting. However some of the other groups like the pseudo-populist Justice First Party and the extremists around the Bush-backed NED financed NGO, SUMATE, may engage in some sort of street violence.

There is no doubt that the Venezuelan right is incapable of replicating the CIA-Soros “color revolutions” in the Caucasus for several reasons. First the Chavez regime has a mass active and engaged popular base, which dominates the street action. Secondly there is no issue around which the right can mobilize and unify a popular movement. The vast welfare programs are popular, the economy is growing, living standards are rising, corruption is not out of control and there is complete freedom of assembly, press and speech.

The conservative business associations increasingly are prospering from government contracts and depend on contacts with the victorious party in power to consummate deals They are not likely to make a risky bet with defeated NGO’s and parties with a history of failed adventurous politics when it would be easier to make money now, notwithstanding their hyperventilating against “the negro” at their private cocktail parties.

That leaves the opposition two options. The pragmatists, especially among the business elite, will probably look to opening a dialogue via the conservative Archbishop of Caracas with the more moderate wing of the Chavez government (the economic and finance ministries) and Congress to gain influence and limit changes from “within”. The second option is a turn to violent extra-parliamentary action and recruitment of some military or intelligence officials of ambiguous loyalties. We can expect a few bombings as took place on Election Day – blowing up of an oil pipeline and a stick of dynamite being tossed next to a Caracas military base. Neither of these had major repercussions. An upgrading of community vigilance committees and counter-terrorist operations should be able to handle these extremists, despite their obvious CIA backing.

US Policy: Post Elections

Clearly the AON strategy has led to the demise, disintegration, dismissal and isolation of the most significant levers of power, which Washington possessed in Venezuelan society. What remain are the private mass media, which can still mount a formidable anti-government, pro-US propaganda campaign. The US can be counted on to strengthen and perhaps radicalize its message, once again playing the AON card, in hopes of provoking a crackdown, under the bizarre belief that the “worse the better”. Already Thomas Shannon, the US Undersecretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs, responded to the sweeping Chavez electoral victory by calling it “a step toward totalitarianism”. A judgment rejected by every country in North and South America, the United Nations and an army of European Union electoral observers.

Clearly US propagandists have failed to recognize the fact that extremism has led to virtual total isolation, even among the US most loyal clients in the region. Washington may try to pressure Colombia and its President Uribe to create border conflicts, but that is not going to work either. Venezuelan-Colombian trade is growing rapidly and amounts to $3 billion dollars, greater than Colombia’s trade with the US. Moreover, Venezuela is Colombia’s most important market for manufactured goods (accounting for 25% of the total). With a major billion dollar Venezuelan gas and petrol pipeline passing through Colombia, there is hardly a rancher, industrialist or banker supporting a US-backed Colombian foray into Venezuela.

Washington has two other levers – the NGOs and the clandestine terrorists who can attempt to sow chaos and destruction in order to provoke a coup or, at least, street demonstrations. There are two problems which undermine the effectiveness of the NGOs like SUMATE. There dependence on US financing and lack of an independent standing has deflated their legitimacy among the lower middle class, shopkeepers, professionals and conservative sectors of public employees. Moreover, their numerous failed campaigns and the loss of institutional power has demoralized those who used to turn out for demonstrations. That leaves Washington with their AON counterparts, the clandestine armed terrorists, who have some support among a reduced sector of the elite in the form of safe houses, access to weapons and money. Without totally disregarding their capacity to set off bombs, terrorism is likely to boomerang – strengthen popular demands for greater security measures – a ‘mano duro’.

That leaves a possible direct US intervention. While the extremists in Washington are theoretically capable, practically they lack regional allies, their internal political assets are at their weakest point and the internal political weakness of the Bush Administration and the increasingly anti-war US public (and even some sectors of Congress) preclude a new invasion, involving a prolonged war against a government backed by millions of its citizens, with and without arms. However given the combined AON outlook and the extremism in Washington nothing can be absolutely excluded.

Wither Congress, Wither the Chavez Government

With the demise of the traditional parties, political pluralism, debate and political competition will be expressed elsewhere. There are numerous political parties and tendencies who are “pro-Chavez” including a dozen parties, which can be classified as social democratic, social liberal, nationalist and a variety of Marxist groups. Likewise in the agrarian and industrial sectors and within the social movements and trade unions, there are divisions and competition between reformers, centrists and revolutionaries. Within Congress and the ministries these tendencies argue, debate, propose and modify policies. And Chavez himself has a ‘reformist’ pragmatic and revolutionary side to his discourse and practice. In other words, pluralistic democracy is alive and well. The big questions between market and state, private and public ownership, landowners and peasants, self-managed factories and private monopolies, and foreign and domestic capital will be taken up and resolved within the multi-tendency Chavista umbrella.

The moderate or conservative wing of Chavismo is concerned about legitimacy despite the clean and certified elections. They are likely to seek and reach out to the less extreme personalities, church notables and business leaders in order to encourage a new ‘reasonable’ political opposition, in order to countermand the US screeds amplified by the local media about creeping totalitarianism. The pragmatists will look toward maintaining fiscal discipline, limiting social spending and promoting joint public-private ‘partnerships’.

The centrist groups and parties will seek to consolidate political power within the institutions and their electorate by promoting piecemeal reforms, increasing social spending and distributing big infrastructure contracts to the progressive bourgeoisie.

The left groups, organized mainly in the new class-oriented trade unions, neighborhood and community based cooperatives, peasant social movements and, especially, in the worker self-managed enterprises and movements, are pushing for a deepening of the socialization process and greater investment in local productive enterprises to reduce the 50% of the labor force which remains unemployed or underemployed. At the same time they attack the top-down selection of electoral candidates. Conflicts are likely to emerge between the mass activists in the neighborhoods and trade unions and certain opportunist and corrupt municipal and provincial officials, especially in the allocation of funds and the style of leadership.

Chavez stands with the left and the mass movements but he does not discount the pragmatists who decide macro-economic policy nor the centrists who are attempting to institutionalize political power. Yet it is Chavez who synthesizes the different positions, educates the public and provides the charismatic leadership, which unifies and moves the whole movement forward. It is Chavez who denounces US imperialism and meets with Iranian leaders, and it is Chavez who signs economic agreements with Colombia’s neo-liberal Uribe and praises Brazil’s corruption-tainted, Wall Street cover boy, Lula Da Silva.

Chavez calls for a wide-ranging debate on his vision of 21st century socialism, sells subsidized oil to poor countries and people (even in the US) and approves of new petrol exploitation contracts with the multinational petroleum giants.

Washington’s support for the self-immolation of the Venezuelan congressional opposition opens the door for greater advances in legislation promoting jobs, public ownership, agrarian reform, progressive labor legislation and the building of bridges toward greater Latin American integration. The loss of US levers of power presents the greatest opportunity for reformists and revolutionaries to seize the historical moment and demonstrate their capacity not only to defeat the empire but to build an incorruptible, democratic, just and egalitarian socialist society in which the mass of the population is engaged in legislation, not just voting for politicians who may or may not defend their best interests.



The issue of the legitimacy of the elections is not a serious question. Latin American monitors from the electoral commissions of numerous conservative countries declared the elections and the election outcomes, democratic, transparent and an honest reflection of the will of the voters. The electoral observers from the European Union certified that the elections were transparent.

Regarding the 25% turnout and the abstention campaign promoted by the US-backed opposition: First most of those who did not vote included many supporters of President Chavez. They did not turn out for several reasons:

a. They saw no reason to vote since victory was assumed; a competitive election would have brought many of them out to vote.

b. Chavez was not running. The mass popular base is more pro-Chavez than supportive of the Chavista parties or even his own Movement for the Fifth Republic.

c. Many grassroots pro-Chavez supporters abstained because they did not like the manner in which their candidates were elected (top-down) or didn’t like their policies or style of politics (corruption, nepotism, lack of initiative in pushing reforms.

d. Many of the beneficiaries of the welfare reforms are passive because they are more accustomed to receiving aid from above rather than struggling for benefits from below. Welfare distributed in a paternalistic way does not encourage political activity.

Secondly many of the opposition voters did not bother to vote because of apathy and demoralization over recent electoral failures (referendums, municipal elections) and costly self-destructive campaigns, which led to job and salary losses (lockouts and coups). This group of non-voters included many who, while not sympathetic to the Chavez parties, are benefiting from the economic programs, and are put off by the extremist rhetoric and violence perpetrated by sectors of the opposition. Many if not most non-voters were not supporters of the opposition’s abstention campaign. Unquestionably voter turnout will at least double for the Presidential elections when Chavez runs for re-election whether the opposition abstains or runs a candidate or candidates.

December 5, 2005


US Accused Of Bid To Oust Chavez

By Duncan Campbell The Guardian - UK 8-30-6

The US government has been accused of trying to undermine the Chávez government in Venezuela by funding anonymous groups via its main international aid agency.

Millions of dollars have been provided in a "pro-democracy programme" that Chávez supporters claim is a covert attempt to bankroll an opposition to defeat the government. The money is being provided by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Office of Transition Initiatives. The row follows the recent announcement that the US had made $80m (£42m) available for groups seeking to bring about change in Cuba, whose leader, Fidel Castro, is a close ally of Mr Chávez.

Information about the grants has been obtained following a Freedom of Information request by the Associated Press. USAID released copies of 132 contracts but obscured the names and other identifying details of nearly half the organisations.

The Office of Transition Initiatives, which also works in such "priority countries" as Iraq, Afghanistan, Bolivia and Haiti, has overseen more than $26m in grants to groups in Venezuela since 2002.

Among the grants detailed in the information are: one for $47,459 for a "democratic leadership campaign"; $37,614 for citizen meetings to discuss a "shared vision" for society; and one of $56,124 to analyse Venezuela's new constitution. "What this indicates is that there is a great deal of money, a great deal of concern to oust or neutralise Chávez," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (Coha) in Washington yesterday. "The US is waging diplomatic warfare against Venezuela."

He said that while the US had accused Mr Chávez of destabilising Latin American countries, the term "destabilisation" more aptly applied to what the US was trying to do to Mr Chávez.

"It's trying to implement regime change," Eva Golinger, a Venezuelan-American lawyer who wrote The Chávez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela, told AP. "There's no doubt about it. I think the US government tries to mask it by saying it's a noble mission." She added: "It's too suspicious to have such a high level of secrecy." President Chávez has also accused groups of taking American money and predicted that the US will seek to use its influence in Venezuela's December polls. USAID officials denied any suggestion the money had any political aim and said the reason for anonymity for some groups was to protect them from potential harassment.

"The goal of the programme is to strengthen democracy, which is consistent with President Bush's 'Freedom Agenda'," said a USAID official yesterday. "A strong civil society is a critical part of any healthy democracy, just as it is in the United States, England or anywhere else in the world."

The official said that the money was used to pay for "a wide range of seminars, educational programmes and even public service TV commercials aimed at promoting dialogue between pro- and anti-Chávez camps. Other projects include workshops on conflict resolution, efforts to promote human rights, and training for positive citizen involvement in their communities."

USAID also supports programmes such as day-care centres for the poor, improvement for schools, junior sports teams, and children's homes, the official said, adding that the sums being spent in Venezuela were much smaller than those allocated elsewhere this year in Latin America, with USAID budgeting $3.8m for Venezuela compared with $84.8m for Bolivia and $85.1m for Peru. The row comes just as China has agreed to invest $5bn in energy projects in Venezuela, including the building of 13 oil rigs and 18 oil tankers. Last week Mr Chávez announced that China was endorsing Venezuela's bid for the rotating Latin America seat on the 15-member security council, a candidacy strongly opposed by the US. The commercial arrangements with Beijing are seen as part of the Chávez government's strategy of establishing new links so as to lessen the country's dependence on US trade.

As a symbol of the friendly relations established between Mr Chávez and the London mayor, Ken Livingstone, there will be a festival of Latin-American music with a Caracas theme in Trafalgar Square this Friday evening. The two men met earlier this summer when the president was a guest at an event hosted by the mayor.

· Results of AP's Freedom of Information Act request:  

Ms. Jean Isachenko,



Hugo Chavez's
Social Democratic Agenda

By Stephen Lendman


Hugo Chavez Frias was reelected by an overwhelming nearly two to one margin over his only serious rival on December 3, 2006 giving him a mandate to proceed with his agenda to build a socialist society in the 21st century on a Bolivarian model designed to meet the needs of the current era in Venezuela and Latin America overall. Chavez first announced his intentions on January 30, 2005 at the Fifth World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and his people affirmed they want him to proceed with it in his new term to run until December, 2012.

Chavez wants to build a humanistic democratic society based on solidarity and respect for political, economic, social and cultural human and civil rights, but not the top-down bureaucratic kind that doomed the Soviet Union and Eastern European states. He said he wants to build a "new socialism of the 21st century....based in solidarity, fraternity, love, justice, liberty and equality" as opposed to the neoliberal new world order model based on predatory capitalism exploiting ordinary people for power and profit that's incompatible with democracy. Newly appointed Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte expressed Washington's concern about the challenge to its hegemony in his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing saying Chavez's "behavior is threatening to democracies in the region (because he exports a form of) radical populism." He didn't mention how glorious it is.

He also never explained Venezuelans voted for it and love it and so do people throughout the region wanting what Venezuelans now have. Since first taking office in February, 1999, Chavez radically transformed the country from one of power and privilege to a participatory democracy governed by principles of political, economic and social equity and justice. He now wants to advance his social democratic agenda well into the new century, and his landslide electoral victory empowers him more than ever to do it. Like a true democrat, he intends to serve his people and deliver what they asked for.

Chavez began his new term with the formation of a new unity party called the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to "construct socialism from below," built "from the base" in communities, patrols, battalions, squadrons, neighborhoods "to carry out the battle of ideas for the socialist project (to) build Venezuelan socialism." He wants it to be an "original Venezuelan model" to become the most democratic in Venezuela's history and include a coalition of many smaller parties along with his former Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR) party that completed its work and "must now pass into history."

In December, 23 parties joined with the MVR to reelect Chavez, including three major ones that can add strength and credibility to the PSUV - For Social Democracy (PODEMOS), Homeland For All (PPT), and the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV). The inclusion of all or most allied parties in the new PSUV will be a step toward building a foundational unity to address the agenda ahead - building 21st century socialism using state revenues to benefit people in new and innovative ways. Chavez wants to reform the constitution, eliminate a two-term presidential limit, and institute new progressive changes giving more power to people at the grass roots the way democracy should work.

He also wants to transform the country's economic model believing it's "fundamental (to do) if we wish to build a true socialism (therefore) we must socialize the economy (including the land and create) a new productive model." He wants all proposed changes submitted to popular referendum so Venezuelans decide on them, not politicians. That's how it should be in a participatory democracy from the bottom up Chavez says must "transcend the local framework (to achieve) "a sort of regional federation of Communal Councils." There are 16,000 of them already organized across the country dealing with local issues, each with 200 - 400 families, and that number is expected to grow to 21,000 by year end 2007. "They are the key to peoples' power," Chavez stressed, and he sees them as the embryo of a new state driven by the PSUV.

Communal Councils are central to Chavez's plan for people empowerment. They were created in April, 2006 with the passage of the Communal Council Law. Once fully in place and operational, they'll represent true participatory democracy unimaginable in the US now governed from the top down by authoritarian rule allowing no deviation from established policies people have no say on and often don't know exist.

Councils work the opposite way. They're to deal with all community issues in local umbrella groups addressing matters of health, education, agriculture, housing and all other functions handled up to now by Social Missions and Urban Land Committees. They represent grass roots democracy in action giving them muscle and meaning and are administered by the Intergovernmental Fund for Decentralization that will distribute $5 billion to them in 2007 or more than triple the $1.5 billion allocated in 2006. Additionally, Chavez hopes $7 billion more will be put in the Venezuelan National Development Fund for industrial development use.

US Corporate Media Assaults Against Hugo Chavez

In an earlier article, this writer addressed how Venezuela's corporate media relentlessly beats up on Hugo Chavez to a degree unimaginable most anywhere else. The US corporate media never lets up either as evidenced on January 24 by New York Times correspondent Simon Romero's report from Caracas. He referred to the Councils as a plan to construct "socialist be settled in part by cramped city dwellers in Caracas and Maracaibo." He added: "Some of Mr. Chavez's critics compare the project to (1970s Cambodian Khmer Rouge leader) Pol Pot's emptying of Phnom Penh in his bloody effort to remake Cambodian society in the 1970s."

Romero's anti-Chavez polemic went further with inferences of authoritarianism, anti-semitism, equating him with (Libyan strongman) Muammar el-Qaddafi and accusing him of masking an opposition to liberal democracy beneath the facade of his "socialist ramblings" with a climactic final outrageous comment that most Venezuelans voted for Chavez "because (they) wanted a dictatorship."

This kind of slander actually gets printed in the so-called "newspaper of record" with "All The News That's Fit To Print" that has muscle and clout. Its reports get instant recognition and echoing throughout America's dominant media eager to pick up on and trumpet the most outlandish misinformation and distortions from the most influential publication on the planet. The NYT and entire corporate media in both countries play fast and loose with facts they never report unless they conform to their ideological view supporting power and privilege with the public being damned.

What they ignore about Chavez stands what they do on its head. It's his vision of participatory democracy rooted throughout the country in communities that the NYT portrays as potentially bloody communist takeover and population purging with implications of Pol Pot's Cambodian nightmare regime three decades ago. This is typical Times yellow journalism in its quasi-official state ministry of information and propaganda role meaning all of its reports should be viewed with grave suspicion or just dismissed.

So should Time Magazine's with its strident attack articles using language like "The Venezuelan strongman lurches even closer to rule roiling democratic waters" (and Chavez is) "Stifling Dissent in Venezuela" also asking "Is Chavez Becoming Castro?" The articles refer to Chavez's nationalization plans, his new "enabling law" authority, and his government plan to control the Central Bank replacing a private banking cartel doing it for profit the way it works detrimentally in the US and West. Time's writers skip over inconvenient facts including how Chavez serves his people in full conformity to Venezuelan law unlike how Washington pols are bought, paid for and in office for the privileged alone including for the directors of Time's parent company, media giant Time Warner.

Another corporate press mainstay, the Washington Post, took its best shots too in a January 27 editorial claiming "democracy is dead, dying or in danger" in Venezuela because "Hugo Chavez began his (new) term this month with a flurry of authoritarianism, (including wanting) to rule by decree." It continued saying Chavez "hopes to convert (Nicaragua and Ecuador) into satellite leaders in a Venezuelan-led 'socialist' bloc (along with) Bolivia's Evo Morales and....Fidel Castro....already in Mr. Chavez's orbit (and) thanks to Venezuela's petrodollars, Cuba's 'totalitarian' system may survive Mr. Castro's demise." With this kind of "journalism," the Post writer may be up for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the US's highest civilian award for exceptional meritorious service surely including black propaganda for the state.

The above examples and countless more pass for what's called journalism in a country claiming dedication to press freedom but failing where it counts - reporting the truth. There's precious little of it about Hugo Chavez because he represents the greatest of all threats to US dominance - a good example that's infectious and spreading to growing numbers in the region no longer wanting democracy, American-style that's a one-way kind for the privileged alone.

Expect lots more hostile rhetoric ahead as Chavez advances new socially democratic plans and programs sure to be denounced in a collective drum beat of distortion and misinformation. They won't report the National Assembly democratically voted Chavez limited enabling law power for a fixed period after weeks of debate. They won't explain a fading US democracy with George Bush on his own "executive order" authority giving himself permanent "Unitary Executive power" to suspend the Constitution and declare martial law any time he alone decides a "national emergency" warrants it. They won't say Congress and the courts allowed him to do it. They won't ever let on that Chavez governs as a social democrat while George Bush rules by virtual "strongman" decree with no check or balancing restraint on him. Why would they when they won't ever tell the truth.

Nationalizing Key Industries

On January 8, Hugo Chavez announced plans to renationalize the nation's "strategic sectors" starting with two large partly US-owned companies. They're telecom giant Compania Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela (CANTV), 28.5% owned by Verizon Communications, and Electricdad de Caracas (EDC) that's part of Virginia-based AES Corporation. CANTV is Venezuela's largest privately-owned company, but it's not a telephone monopoly. Its land lines reach only 11% of the population, with three-fourths of it having none, while its cell phone unit, Movilnet, controls 35% of this larger, more profitable market. It does have internet monopoly power in the country controlling 83% of it that's enough to block competitors and make for an untenable situation now being rectified.

The situation is similar in the electric power industry with much of it already controlled by two state-owned companies. At a news conference on February 2, Chavez announced "The nationalization of the electrical sector is one of the first laws to be approved (because) it is a necessity....One of the priorities is the nationalization of the electricity. It was a monumental mistake to have it privatized (and now six electricity companies in all will revert to state ownership)."

Telecommunications Minister Jesse Chacon indicated CANTV will be the only telecommunications company returned to state control, but doing it disrupted Mexican billionaire and richest Latin American Carlos Slim's plans. Slim controls the Mexican telecommunications company Telmex as its chairman, along with other vast holdings in banking, insurance, technology and much more. Verizon planned to sell him its 28.5% of the company making him even richer, but that's now off the table with Chavez's plans to "enrich" the Venezuelan people, not a predatory billionaire tycoon wanting more billions at the expense of the public he got his other billions from.

Venezuelan National Assembly Finance Chairman Ricardo Sanguino said these and other previously-owned state companies will be nationalized with payments for them likely conforming to their fair market value with government input on what that is. Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas indicated the country's oil revenue reserves will be used to compensate shareholders who'll "receive the fair price for the value of their shares."

It wasn't good enough for US ambassador William Brownfield who's more politician than diplomat and often offensive and out of line. He challenged the transactions, and in so doing provoked Hugo Chavez to say he might ask the envoy to leave the country if he continues "meddling in Venezuelan affairs." He added doing it violates "the Geneva agreements and (its) getting yourself involved in a serious violation and could (get you) declared a persona non grata and would have to leave the country."

Brownfield didn't say it, but he's reinforcing false and misleading reports that privately-owned companies may be expropriated while ignoring Chavez saying that's illegal under Venezuelan law and won't happen. But in a move to boost state revenues in the face of lower oil prices, Chavez ordered his telecommunications minister to take control of CANTV ahead of paying compensation for it, and he may continue that practice with other nationalizations.

As announced on February 13, however, the CANTV matter is now resolved as the Venezuelan government and US owner Verizon Communications agreed on a deal to settle it. The government will buy out Verizon's 28.51% ownership for just over $572 million to raise its equity stake in the company from 6.5% to 35% in an important step to put the company back under state control, 15 years after it was privatized.

Another nationalization is also moving toward resolution as state-owned oil company PDVSA agreed to buy a majority share in the electric company EDC from US-based AES owning 82% of it. Remaining minority owner shares will remain in private hands. A memorandum of understanding was formalized with AES confirming the agreement, and both sides expressed satisfaction with it putting to rest unfounded fears the Chavez government might expropriate private property forbidden by Venezuela's nationalization laws requiring owners get fair compensation in any state takeover. Venezuelan Vice-President Jorge Rodriquez attended the public presentation expressing his satisfaction along with companies on both sides, and said this is the first of a series of further agreements to come involving nationalizations of strategic sectors.

Chavez plans other changes as well and will ask for a constitutional amendment to end Central Bank of Venezuela's (BCV) autonomy in a move responding to state strategies according to its director, Armando Leon. Leon said one of the bank's functions is to maintain medium and long term stability to guarantee economic growth, improve the population's wealth, and keep the international payment system. He added autonomy will let the bank continue developing more convenient policies for the country. It should also put the crucial power of money creation back in government hands where it belongs and out of the hands of private for-profit bankers.

Chavez also repeated what he's said before that he wants a bigger share of joint-venture profits and majority state control over Orinoco River basin lucrative oil projects (believed to hold the world's largest undeveloped oil reserves) where big US and other oil companies now operate including Chevron, BP Amoco, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil. At his February 2 news conference, he announced state oil company PDVSA will become the majority shareholder on May 1 in four basin projects with minimum 60% ownership with foreign joint-venture partners.

Negotiations toward agreement were stalemated for months finally breaking off January 15 with the government giving oil giants the option to stay on as minority partners or sell out to a competitor that will. Given the basin's future profit potential, it's hard imagining they'll want to leave. Chavez believes it but added if agreement isn't reached "they are totally free to leave." Minister for Energy and Mines Rafael Ramirez went further saying the oil fields will be seized if no agreement is reached. Watch for one ahead that will be fair and equitable to both sides as are all others in foreign investor joint ventures. Chavez wants similar arrangements to ones Western nations have that won't be strong-armed into bad deals like developing countries get. In Venezuela, those exploitive days are over.

Chavez also indicated he'll reverse 1999 legislation allowing 100% private ownership of natural gas projects. This sector will henceforth revert to majority state control in joint-venture operations. Still, this move and others aren't attempts to end private investment that's still welcome and likely always will be. From now on, though, the deals will have to be fair including allowing majority state ownership in them. It's to assure Venezuelan people benefit most from the nation's resource revenues and other businesses providing essential services like public utilities.

It's the way it should be, and based on last year's operating results private investors have little to complain about. In 2006, the private sector grew an impressive 10.3% or double the public sector rate. Financial firms did especially well under some of the most profitable conditions in the world including in its free market US epicenter. The Financial Times even admitted bankers were having a "party" in Venezuela because "rather than nationalise banks, the 'revolutionary' distribution of oil money has spawned wealthy individuals who are increasingly making Caracas a magnet for Swiss and other international bankers." It showed in total bank assets that increased by a third last year and may surge again this year promising to be another good one for bankers and other private enterprises in oil-rich Venezuela.

Changes ahead under Chavez won't make the country unattractive to foreign investors. They find it very profitable operating there and aren't about to leave or disinvest nor is Chavez pushing them out. It's just that from now on, private business will have to abide by new standards of fairness that will be a big adjustment for those used to having their own way. That was in the old days. Things are now different, the way they should be in a social democracy.

Chavez's Enabling Law Authority

On January 8, Hugo Chavez announced "we are now entering a new era, the National Simon Bolivar Project of 2007-2021" to achieve "Bolivarian Socialism" in the 21st century that will be "radicalized (and) deepened." He explained implementing the bold transformation will rely on five revolutionary "motors" including constitutional reform, "Bolivarian popular education," redefining and changing the organs of state power, an explosion of communal power at the grass roots, and the "mother (enabling) law" to make all other "motors" possible.

On January 18, the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN) unanimously approved a resolution giving Hugo Chavez his requested "enabling law" authority. It then convened an open to the public session in Caracas' central Bolivar Square January 31 enacting the legislation shouting "long live socialism." The "mother law" will run for 18 months and then expire. It allows President Chavez authority to pass laws by decree in 11 key areas including the structure of state organs, election of local officials, the economy, finance and taxes, banking, transportation, the military and national defense, public safety, and importantly policies related to energy.

Chavez wants the power to accelerate democratic change ahead that's part of his socialist project. Venezuelans voted for it in December, and he promised to deliver. He had it two other times, used it responsibly, never abused his authority, and is the fifth Venezuelan president to use it as permitted by the constitutions of 1961 and in Article 203 in the 1999 Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Chavez last used it in 2001 passing 49 new legal changes making them conform to the new Bolivarian Constitution in areas of land and banking reform and establishing more equitable revenue-sharing arrangements with foreign oil companies in joint-state ventures. Going forward, he wants to continue building strong participatory democracy at its grass roots in communities and end the country's ugly past practices serving capital interests alone. The new law gives him authority to do it in the following areas, all related to the country's internal functioning without infringing on foreign relationships. He'll be allowed to:

-- Transform sclerotic bureaucratic state institutions making them more efficient, transparent and honest while allowing greater citizen participation in them.

-- Reform the civil service and eliminate entrenched corruption that's a major uncorrected problem.

-- Advance the "ideals of social justice and economic independence" by continuing to build a new social and economic model based on equitably distributing national wealth through investments in health care, education and social security.

-- Modernize financial sectors including banking and insurance and reform tax policy assuring those paying too little are taxed fairly.

-- Upgrade science and technology benefitting all sectors of society and the nation in areas of education, health, the environment, biodiversity, industry, quality of life, security and national defense including state and local community co-responsibilities for the nation's defense.

-- Improve citizen and judicial security by modernizing and reforming public health, prisons, identification, migration regulations and the judiciary.

-- Upgrade the nation's infrastructure, transport and all public services including home construction, telecommunications and information technology.

-- Structurally improve and developmentally enhance the nation's military.

-- Establish territorial organization norms in states and communities relating to voting and constituency size.

-- Allow greater state control of the nation's vital energy sector including nationalizing oil production in the Orinoco Oil basin, arranging equitable joint ventures with private investors, taking state control of electricity and gas production, and restructuring tax rates making them fairer.

In these areas, Chavez's critics ignore the limits of his authority:

-- He's bound to govern within the limits of the law under the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

-- He's restricted to areas authorized by the National Assembly.

-- His authority will expire after 18 months.

-- He has no power to harm civil or human rights nor would he wish to as a social democrat believing in them for everyone, even for his opponents.

-- He'll address only internal areas unrelated to relations with other countries.

-- He has no authority to expropriate private property nor can he. Venezuelan law forbids it, and Chavez obeys the law.

-- The Venezuelan Constitution empowers the people to rescind all laws by popular referendum if 10% or more registered voters request a referendum vote be held, and for laws passed by decree if only 5% want it.

-- The democratically elected National Assembly can change or rescind decree-passed laws by majority vote. Chavez's 18 month authority doesn't override or interfere with citizen, judiciary or National Assembly "check and balancing" of presidential powers.

In short, Hugo Chavez's wants to reform and modernize a bloated, entrenched, and corrupted bureaucracy needing major change. Enabling power will help him do it as well as be able to strengthen grass roots democracy and direct more state revenues to social welfare services. He'll have no authority to rule by "dictatorial decree" as his critics falsely contend. Quite the contrary. He's responding to the popular mandate given him in December, he intends using it responsibly, and he'll do it according to Venezuelan law he's observed in all respects throughout his eight years in office. For that he should be lauded, not denounced, but don't expect that from Venezuela's dominant media or their US counterparts voicing a steady drumbeat of one-way vitriol that's long on noise and empty of truth.

Two Hemispheric Neighbors Worlds Apart

The two, of course, are Venezuela under Hugo Chavez and the US under George Bush, and the difference between them is Grand Canyon wide. In eight years, Chavez impressively transformed a state beholden to capital to one now serving all Venezuelans. He created real participatory democracy at the grass roots advancing the nation toward greater social equity and justice while George Bush neocons went the other way. Venezuela doesn't wage wars or threaten other nations. It engages them in solidarity offering no-strings-attached aid and mutually beneficial trade and other alliances. Chavez respects human rights, has no secret prisons, doesn't practice torture or state-sponsored murder, respects the law and rights of everyone under it, and is a true social democrat freely elected by his people overwhelmingly in elections independently judged free, open and fairly run.

For that, he's demonized as "another Hitler" by the man whose record is polar opposite. He took office twice through fraud-laden elections and considerable kick-off help from five Supreme Court justices deciding their votes outweighed the country's majority feeling otherwise. It gave George Bush power to pursue an imperial permanent war agenda, ignore constitutional and international law, contemptuously disregard human rights and civil liberties, wreck the state's already pathetically weak social contract obligations, and accelerate a generational process of transferring well over $1 trillion of national wealth yearly from 90 million US working class households to for-profit corporations and the richest 1% of the population creating what economist Paul Krugman calls an unprecendented wealth disparity getting worse that shames the nation.

Chalmers Johnson writes about it in his new book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic which this writer will shortly review at length. It's important instructive reading showing democracy and imperialism can't coexist. The latter path ends badly in military or civilian dictatorship eventually causing bankruptcy from a combination of "isolation, overstretch, and the uniting of (opposition) local and global forces."

Two classic examples prove it - ancient Rome that lost its republic and then its empire centuries later and Nazi Germany after democratic Weimar that lost it all in just 12. Johnson foresees a similar fate here but hopes "our imperial venture will end not with a nuclear bang but a financial whimper," even though dangers mount it may combine both. He explains the Greek goddess of vengeance, Nemesis, "is already a visiter in our country, simply biding her time before she makes her presence known." She may be quiet or noisy when she does and is like that "piper" (whose gender may be female) who's also very patient but always gets paid.

The due date draws closer because the man at the helm is one noted historian Eric Foner characterized as "the worst president in US history (who) in his first six years in office....managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuses of power of his failed predecessors." Under him, authoritarian extremists are in charge dedicated to savage capitalism and imperial conquest by permanent war. They've put the nation on the tipping edge of fascism combining its classic elements of corporatism, patriotsim, nationalism and the delusion of an Almighty-directed mission while pursuing an iron-fisted militarist agenda with thuggish "homeland security" enforcers illegally spying on everyone. They pathologically insist on secrecy and tolerate no dissent in an age where the law is what the chief executive says it is, and the separation of powers and checks and balances no longer exist because both dominant parties are in this together as allies, not adversaries. They put the republic on life-support that can't be sustained and won't be.

They harmed growing millions left on their own under market-based rules where everything's for sale for those who can pay. Our founding principles no longer matter in a brave neoliberal new world order on the march for key resources, markets and cheap labor where might is right and no challenge tolerated. Hugo Chavez presents one as leader of an alternate world order challenging the mighty but placing himself in jeopardy as hemispheric enemy number one marked for elimination. The Bush administration tried and failed three times but always readies a new scheme to unveil by whatever means and at whatever time it'll try again. Chavez knows the danger, won't be deterred, and intends governing responsibly regardless of the danger that's real and threatening.

Responsible Venezuelan government is what Paul Cummins wrote about in his January 17 Truthdig online article called We Reap What We Sow. It was from a recent Los Angeles Times story he called "A wildly successful Venezuelan program that makes free musical instruments and training available to all children who serve as a model for the US as we struggle to keep guns out of kids' hands." The music education program is called "El Sistema" (The System), and it's government sponsored. It's serving 500,000 children from all strata of society getting free training at more than 120 centers around the country, and from it more than 200 youth orchestras have been created.

The article explains Los Angeles street gangs are up against thuggish police strike forces and incarcerations only guaranteeing more violence while in Venezuela better societal crime control alternatives are far superior to failed more costly ones on US inner city streets. It proves again an ounce of prevention beats pounds of cures that don't work. It also proves Venezuela's social model works far better than state-sponsored iron-fisted militarism abroad, homeland security thuggery at home and multi-billions spent on both reaping what they sow - power and riches for the privileged and the public be damned. As Cummins puts it: "Sadly, we reap what we sow, and we don't harvest what we don't plant."

This is one of many examples showing the chasm between two states getting wider. Venezuela's resources go for essential social services and to build grass roots participatory democracy governed from the bottom up. In contrast, Bush administration policies prey on "The Wretched of the Earth" Franz Fanon wrote about in his best-known polemical work exposing colonialism's devastating effects. Today its modern neocolonial version targets the world with even more harmful effects than its antecedent. It exploits people everywhere for power and profit the way things worked in Venezuela before Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution new way. It's advancing because it works, and it's heading for a new level Chavez calls his "socialism in the 21st century" agenda.

It's name doesn't matter. It's achievements and goals do because they're what Lincoln at Gettysburg called "government of the people, by the people, for the people (he hoped would) not perish from the earth." In Venezuela today it's vibrant, flourishing, maturing and improving peoples' lives. They won't tolerate going back to the old way, and Hugo Chavez promised it won't happen. He's succeeding in spite of powerful enemies against him, mostly in Washington, determined to end his glorious experiment because it works so well.

It covers a broad array of vital and innovative social programs including free health and dental care and education to the highest level mandated by law. There's help with housing, subsidized food for the needy, land reform, job training, micro credit and more. Benefits like these are unimaginable in the US where most people can't afford their cost. The Bush administration exacerbates the problem by directing public resources for war and the military while millions sink economically, politically and socially in an uncaring society masquerading as a model democratic state. It shows in the above-highlighted wealth disparity and a government exploiting the many for those of privilege. It allowed its banking cartel-owned central bank power to erode middle and lower income households' purchasing power on top of a bipartisan commitment to end social safety net protection fast disappearing.

The damage shows in the following inflation data. A 1950 US dollar today is worth 12 cents or 88% less than 57 years ago, and it continues eroding annually. In 1952, a full years tuition at Harvard cost $600. Today it's over $30,000, a 50-fold increase in 55 years. With room, board, health insurance fees, books, supplies and miscellaneous expenses it costs $50,050 making it affordable only to the rich or students getting considerable aid.

In 1959, the average urban new home cost $14,900. Today it's $282,300 - a 1795% increase. In 1950, a dental crown cost $40. Today it's $740 - a 1750% increase and in larger cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and others it can exceed $1000. In 1970, the monthly Part B Medicare insurance premium for seniors was $5.30. It's now on average $88.50 - a $1570% increase and for some higher income seniors will rise in 2007 up to $163.70 with further exponential increases coming in succeeding years to shift the burden of providing senior health care from the state to private individuals with those unable to afford it out of luck. It's as bad getting prescription drug help after Congress legislated sham relief only benefitting the indigent paying nothing or seniors with very high drug expense getting some, but inadequate, relief because Big Pharma drug companies can charge whatever they wish and do.

Also endangered is the single most effective government-sponsored program for keeping millions of retirees out of poverty - bedrock Social Security protection. Republicans want to end it so far without success because of mass senior citizen opposition that won't stop powerful Washington interests from trying again. If they succeed they'll end the most vital of all social safety nets through "privatization" fraud meaning seniors are on their own in a heartless brave new world order for the rich alone.

Another example is homelessness that's addressed by one country and not the other. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez wants to end it by offering street people communal housing, drug treatment and a modest stipend. Last year he said: "This revolution cannot allow for there to be a single child in the street...not a single beggar in the street." He's acting through Mission Negra Hipolita guiding the homeless to shelters and rehab centers providing medical and psychological care. Those joining get $65 a week in return for community service work.

Mission Negra Hipolita began about a year ago and is headed by retired general and former Defense Minister Jorge Garcia Carneiro. He said thousands are being helped but believes hundreds remain on Caracas streets in numbers too hard to quantify. Still, the Venezuelan government committed to action and has a program in place that's working.

Added help may come following Participation and Social Development Minister David Velasquez's announcement saying: "We believe that everything related to social protection aimed at helping people in a situation of risk and social exclusion should be a policy which embraces the whole process not just responding to specific situations or assistance." Part of it is strengthening Mission Negra Hipolita giving more power to Communal Councils as well as enhancing an integral social protection system implemented through equality and social protection committees (or Copis).

Compare that to the US under George Bush. No homeless help program exists nor is any planned. It shows in a report released in mid-January by the National Alliance to End Homelessness showing how bad it is. The report, called Homelessness Counts, estimates the US homeless population at 744,313 as of January, 2005 but indicated the assessment was limited and the true number likely much higher. An earlier estimate in 1996 had it at 842,000, and it affects families, singles, children and even working adults studies estimate are 25 - 40% of the homeless not earning enough to house themselves.

This issue alone highlights the savage effects of capitalism US-style based on one-way wealth distribution upward, varying crumbs to the middle, and nothing to growing millions on the bottom most in need and ignored hoping they'll go away. They won't and neither will their needs becoming greater.

Venezuela is dedicated to social progress and addressing unmet neets. It's reducing its homeless problem while Bush officials handle a growing one by eliminating vital welfare and federal housing programs once in place for the needy. It's happening in the richest country in the world where its largest corporation alone, Exxon-Mobil, had gross 2006 sales of $377.6 billion or about 2.8 times Venezuela's GDP. It also posted record profits of $39.5 billion for 2006, the largest ever for a US corporation, but isn't willing to sacrifice a few billion for more responsible behavior that won't help its bottom line. It wants more billions, not less, and has government help in Washington to get them at public expense.

More Evidence of Two Nations On Opposite Courses

In nearly every respect, the US and Venezuela are mirror opposites. US GDP is about 90 times Venezuela's with a population 12 times greater. It's huge resources could end the nation's poverty and much of it elsewhere. Tiny Venezuela's doing it because the law mandates it, and it's enforced. In the US, poverty is growing. In Venezuela, it's declining. In the US, Department of Education figures gloss over a deplorable functional illiteracy rate officially at 20% with real numbers far higher based on reports from urban school systems around the country graduating students without computer skills and only able to read, write, and do math at the elementary school level. It's from planned public school neglect for private sector gain and an overall disinterest in educating poor inner city children discarded like debris by an uncaring state.

Economic conditions are deteriorating as well for most, and for millions they're dire despite false and misleading reports to the contrary. They hide the true state of things for most people losing ground, not gaining. It shows in phony Labor Department unemployment figures hiding how bad things are. Based on how rates were calculated in The Great Depression when unemployment rose to 25%, the true figure today is about 12%, not the fictitious most recent official 4.6% number. In addition, poverty is rising annually despite overall economic reports of a healthy economy hiding its dark side. Well over 12 million Americans struggle daily to feed themselves and many, including children, go to bed hungry at night. And that's just one of many signs of neglect getting worse but kept under wraps in the mainstream.

In Venezuela, the opposite is true. Poverty levels are falling from a high in 2003 of 62% following the crippling 2002-03 "oil strike" and destabilizing effects of the 2002 two-day aborted coup against Hugo Chavez. They're down impressively now to levels nearing one-third or almost half the figure four years ago. Unemployment is also declining from a high around 20% in early 2003 to 8.4% in December, 2006 and likely to keep falling. Inflation is still a problem, but government efforts are being made to reign it in responsibly.

Free expression is another fundamental issue in an open democratic society. One country pays it lip service, but the other practices and respects it. In Venezuela, it's championed, and it shows in government tolerance for the dominant media's strident anti-Chavez rhetoric broadcast to over 90% of the country's potential televiewers. It's from the country's five electronic media majors' relentless denunciation of government policies and their leading role in instigating and supporting the April, 2002 aborted two-day coup and 2002-03 management-imposed oil industry lockout and "general strike" destabilizing the country for 64 grim days. In the US, these kinds of actions could be considered capital offenses subject to long prison terms or even the death penalty for offenders found guilty.

Not in Venezuela. After restoring stability, Chavez never punished media transgressors despite having every legal right to do it. Only with RCTV's VHF operating license expiring in May did he act against the worst of the lot announcing its renewal won't be granted and its channel will be put under new management for socially responsible programming as it should be in a democracy. Chavez is acting within the law and is moving to democratize public airwaves that should be used for the people and not for black propaganda against them.

But that's not how Reporters Without Borders ("for press freedom") sees it. It condemned the non-renewal disingenuously claiming it violates free speech and press freedom. It put its one-sided corporate media support in writing in its 2007 Annual Report falsely claiming Chavez passed a "spate of laws" in 2005 and 2006 "greatly curbing press freedom" while failing to acknowledge every government action fully complies with Venezuelan law. It also ignored Venezuela's highest standards of press freedom in the free world tolerating the most outrageous corporate media attacks against Hugo Chavez and finally only punishing one offender with a mere hand slap.

Contrast this with life under George Bush. A climate of fear is pervasive. No dissent is tolerated and opponents are denounced as traitors and terrorists. The dominant media are supportive acting as little more than thought-control police mocking the notion of free expression vital to a healthy republic now passing from democracy to tyranny. Nothing is off the table to "homeland security" enforcers using hardest of hard ball tactics with no regard for law and justice this administration disdains endangering the last remaining free and open public space now under attack. It's online digital democracy supporters call internet neutrality heading for final debate and resolution in Congress in the coming weeks. The outcome will determine its fate affecting every computer user and web editor contributing material to the public domain. Saving this venue is vital for any hope to remain to revive a flagging democracy somewhere between life support and the crematorium.

But the struggle just got harder because of Section 220 of S. 1, the lobbying reform bill now before the Senate, that, if passed, will require bloggers and others communicating online to 500 or more people to register and report quarterly to Congress just as lobbyists must do. The legislation's on hold, but it follows from Senator John McCain's proposed "Stop the Online Exploitation of Our Children's Act" that will fine bloggers up to $300,000 for posting offensive statements, photos and videos online. This is thinly veiled hardball to stifle anti-war voices, under the guise of protecting children. They oppose Bush administration plans threatening Hugo Chavez after it's done ousting the Iranian mullahs and country's president.

McCain's bill is a leading Republican's effort to regulate online speech and let the federal government decide what parts are acceptable and what are not with heavy fines imposed on violators. At the same time, it's quite acceptable for government, Pentagon and corporate media propagandists to promote wars and anti-populist programs through the internet or in any other way. If the McCain legislation or Section 220 of S. 1 passes, the only voices heard online will be those supporting government policy while critics Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff calls "dissaffected people living in the United States (developing) radical ideologies and potentially violent skills" will be banned. That includes the web site posting this article.

And if Republican-led bipartisan efforts fail, planned Democrat-led ones are poised to go through in the form of new federal "hate crimes" legislation called The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (aka The Thought Crime Act). Democrats are closely aligned with the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith that's been unsuccessful getting this type law through a Republican-controlled Congress for eight years. It now has a friendly Democrat-led one that never votes against bills outlawing hate crimes. This one supposedly criminalizes hate talk against gays, minorities and other often-persecuted groups, but it's really about banning speech government opposes (including online) making it punishable by heavy fines, imprisonment or both.

These are dramatic examples of two nations going opposite ways. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez supports free expression, social democracy, and using state revenues to insure and improve both. In the US, both parties support wealth and power, are jointly running a criminal enterprise masquerading as legitimately elected government, scorn the law and constitutional freedoms, are heading the country toward despotism in a national security police state conducting wars without end, and want to rule the world including its oil-rich parts inside Venezuela's borders.

In Venezuela, people live freely in peace and their lives are enhanced. In the US they're threatened by state-sponsored terrorism and harsh repression against anyone challenging state power. The majority finds its welfare eroding under a system of authoritarian rule keeping a restive population in line it fears one day no longer will tolerate being denied essential services so the country's resources can be used for imperial wars, tax cuts for the rich and outrageous corporate welfare subsidies for boardroom allies in turn supplying politicians with limitless cash amounts in a continuing cycle of each side feeding the other so they benefit at our expense with growing numbers left out entirely now suffering terrible neglect and abuse. If able to choose, imagine what type government and leader they'd want. Venezuelans have it under Hugo Chavez and are blessed for it. It's about time Americans got treated as well.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at   and tune in each Saturday to hear the Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on The Micro each Saturday at noon US central time.


Chávez's U-turn on socialism
Stephanie Blankenburg
Published 08 January 2008

Chavez of Arabia?
Winning Arab hearts and minds


Go to "Viva Chavez" Page I

Hugo Chavez - Victor Hugo.
By Brother Francis aka. Bubba Don


Che Guevara--Revolutionary Hero For Social Justice--His Story With Many Pictures.

I give you Hugo Chavez speaking as Victor Hugo to Les Miserables:



New Coup D'Etat"
Rumblings In Venezuela

By Stephen Lendman
...On September 10, Venezolana de Television's
(VTV) La Hojilla program disclosed a recording
(from an undisclosed source) of a planned
military coup against Chavez - by active
and retired plotters...















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