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 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” (
www.bjreview.com ). 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” (
www.bjreview.com ). 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.
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
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
"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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
MJ: Not least because Chavez has brought
into politics a large portion of the population—the poor—that wasn't involved
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
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
by Alma Guillermoprieto
Thursday, November 3,
'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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
http://www.coma.gob.ve 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
The Anti-Corruption Commission website
has a database of national and international news related to the issue and a
virtual library as well.
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
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.
"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.
President Chavez thanked Iran for installation of
Bolivar's statue and extended his wishes for happiness and prosperity of the
He said that Bolivar was a great freedom fighter and a
"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
Simon Bolivar was the Venezuelan leader in the early
nineteenth century and his birthday (July 24) is national holiday in the
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 ...
Chavez Carries the Torch
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
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
History of Oppression
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.
A few of Chavez's closest friends
Town hall meeting - Chavez style
The red tide rises, the symbol plain,
of human right and human gain...
A new turning point
The venezuelan election:
Chavez wins, US
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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: hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/_documents/ven_dollars.xls
Ms. Jean Isachenko, email@example.com
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
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
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
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
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 cities....to 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
So should Time Magazine's with its
strident attack articles using language like "The Venezuelan strongman lurches
even closer to one-party....one-man 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
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
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
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
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
-- 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
-- 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
-- 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
-- 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
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
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
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"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at
and tune in each Saturday to hear the Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on
The Micro Effect.com each Saturday at noon US central time.