in Venezuela last Sunday was huge. 94.9 percent of the electorate
voted in the recall referendum. Venezuela, under its new Constitution,
permitted the right of the citizens to recall a President before
s/he had completed their term of office. No Western democracy enshrines
this right in a written or unwritten constitution. Chavez's victory
will have repercussions beyond the borders of Venezuela.
It is a triumph of the poor against the rich and it is a lesson
that Lula in Brazil and Kirchner in Argentina should study closely.
It was Fidel Castro, not Carter, whose advice to go ahead with the
referendum was crucial. Chavez put his trust in the people by empowering
them and they responded generously. The opposition will only discredit
itself further by challenging the results.
oligarchs and their parties, who had opposed this Constitution in
a referendum (having earlier failed to topple Chavez via a US-backed
coup and an oil-strike led by a corrupt union bureaucracy) now utilised
it to try and get rid of the man who had enhanced Venezuelan democracy.
However loud their cries (and those of their media apologists at
home and abroad) of anguish, in reality the whole country knows
what happened. Chavez defeated his opponents democratically and
for the fourth time in a row. Democracy in Venezuela, under the
banner of the Bolivarian revolutionaries, has broken through the
corrupt two-party system favoured by the oligarchy and its friends
in the West.
And this has happened despite the total hostility of the privately
owned media: the two daily newspapers, Universal and Nacional, as
well as Gustavo Cisneros' TV channels and CNN made no attempt to
mask their crude support for the opposition.
we aiming in Venezuela today for the abolition of private
property or a classless society?
I don't think so. But if I'm told that because of that reality
you can't do anything to help the poor, the people who have
made this country rich through their labour and never forget
that some of it was slave labour,
then I say 'We part company'.
I will never accept that there can be no redistribution of
wealth in society. Our upper classes don't even like paying
That's one reason they hate me."
correspondents in Caracas have convinced themselves that Chavez
is an oppressive caudillo and they are desperate to translate their
own fantasies into reality. They provide no evidence of political
prisoners, leave alone Guantanamo-style detentions or the removal
of TV executives and newspaper editors (which happened without too
much of a fuss in Blair's Britain).
A few weeks
ago in Caracas I had a lengthy discussion with Chavez ranging from
Iraq to the most detailed minutiae of Venezuelan history and politics
and the Bolivarian programme. It became clear to me that what Chavez
is attempting is nothing more or less than the creation of a radical,
social-democracy in Venezuela that seeks to empower the lowest strata
of society. In these times of deregulation, privatisation and the
Anglo-Saxon model of wealth subsuming politics, Chavez's aims are
regarded as revolutionary, even though the measures proposed are
no different to those of the post-war Attlee government in Britain.
Some of the oil-wealth is being spent to educate and heal the poor.
a million children from the shanty-towns and the poorest villages
now obtain a free education; 1.2 million illiterate adults have
been taught to read and write; secondary education has been made
available to 250,000 children whose social status excluded them
from this privilege during the ancient regime; three new university
campuses were functioning by 2003 and six more are due to be completed
As far as healthcare
is concerned, the 10,000 Cuban doctors, who were sent to help the
country, have transformed the situation in the poor districts, where
11,000 neighbourhood clinics have been established and the health
budget has tripled. Add to this the financial support provided to
small businesses, the new homes being built for the poor, an Agrarian
Reform Law that was enacted and pushed through despite the resistance,
legal and violent, by the landlords. By the end of last year 2,262,467
hectares has been distributed to 116,899 families. The reasons for
Chavez' popularity become obvious. No previous regime had even noticed
the plight of the poor.
And one can't
help but notice that it is not simply a division between the wealthy
and the poor, but also one of skin-colour. The Chavistas tend to
be dark-skinned, reflecting their slave and native ancestry. The
opposition is light-skinned and some of its more disgusting supporters
denounce Chavez as a black monkey. A puppet show to this effect
with a monkey playing Chavez was even organised at the US Embassy
in Caracas. But Colin Powell was not amused and the Ambassador was
compelled to issue an apology.
argument advanced in a hostile editorial in The Economist this week
that all this was done to win votes is extraordinary. The opposite
is the case. The coverage of Venezuela in The Economist and Financial
Times has consisted of pro-oligarchy apologetics. Rarely have reporters
in the field responded so uncritically to the needs of their proprietors.
wanted power so that real reforms could be implemented. All the
oligarchs have to offer is more of the past and the removal of Chavez.
It is ridiculous
to suggest that Venezuela is on the brink of a totalitarian tragedy.
It is the opposition that has attempted to take the country in that
direction. The Bolivarians have been incredibly restrained. When
I asked Chavez to explain his own philosophy, he replied:
don't believe in the dogmatic postulates of Marxist revolution.
I don't accept that we are living in a period of proletarian revolutions.
All that must be revised. Reality is telling us that every day.
Are we aiming in Venezuela today for the abolition of private property
or a classless society? I don't think so. But if I'm told that because
of that reality you can't do anything to help the poor, the people
who have made this country rich through their labour and never forget
that some of it was slave labour, then I say 'We part company'.
I will never accept that there can be no redistribution of wealth
in society. Our upper classes don't even like paying taxes. That's
one reason they hate me.
"We said 'You must pay your taxes'. I believe it's better to
die in battle, rather than hold aloft a very revolutionary and very
pure banner, and do nothing... That position often strikes me as
very convenient, a good excuse... Try and make your revolution,
go into combat, advance a little, even if it's only a millimetre,
in the right direction, instead of dreaming about utopias'."
why he won.
Ali's latest book, Bush in Babylon: The Re-colonisation of Iraq,
is published by Verso. He can be reached at: [email protected]