[Marxism] Venezuala's remarkable revolution (An Poblacht/Republican News)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Aug 9 23:51:46 MDT 2005

(Inspiring interview with journalist and
historian Richard Gott. He shows historic
continuity between the Cuban and Bolivarian
revolutions forcefully. Washington and some
ultra-rightists in tandem with Washington 
accuse Chavez of "Cubanizing" Venezuela.
based on a week-long interview with Chavez,
is one of the best books on the subject. He
says, "Chavez is a man who is talking to 
Latin Americans about working together and 
being united as one people, very much on 
the lines of Bolivar and even Ché Guevara"

(On the other hand, some leftists also fault
Chavez precisely for NOT following what they
like to call "the Cuban road", by which they
mean nationalization of the private sector.

(Since the IRA's decision to end its armed
campaign to get the British out of Ireland,
some on the international left have railed
against the IRA's decision. A pundit said:

("Gerry Adams had become enamored of New Labor
and sought to develop a similar party in 
Northern Ireland. This is not tactics. It is 
politics. A tactic is using mobile picket lines
to defend a strike. Politics is agreeing that 
there is no alternative to capitalism."

(A quick search of the website of An Phoblacht/
Republican News brought out some examples of 
Irish Republican thinking on contemporary Cuba.

(The Richard Gott interview isn't all, either:

These fail to substantiate the allegation that Adams
or the IRA have come to swallow the Thatcherite line
that: "there is no alternative to capitalism.")

February 10, 2005 
World News 
Venezuala's remarkable revolution


Richard Gott is a writer, historian and journalist who worked for
many years for The Guardian newspaper in London, mostly as a foreign
correspondent in Latin America.

He first went to Cuba in the early 1960s, after the revolution,
excited about the possibilities of change. In Cuba, Gott met Fidel
Castro, Che Guevara and many of the leaders of the revolution and
became so fascinated by Latin America that decided to go and work
there. He lectured in the University of Chile in the late 1960s and
then worked as a correspondent for the next ten or 20 years.

Gott visited Ireland recently to talk about Venezuela and the
Bolivarian revolution led by Hugo Chavez. Gott's last book, In the
Shadow of the Liberator: Hugo Chavez and the Transformation of
Venezuela, is a key text for anyone who wants to understand the
latest developments in this Latin American country.

You arrived to Latin America at a time when some countries, for
example Chile, were trying to rid themselves of corrupt dictatorial
governments. How were things at that time?

Well, it was a very fascinating time. Many countries began to have
revolutionary experiences and even things like the famous Latin
American novelists that we all know like Gabriel García Márquez, and
many famous writers emerged in the same period, in a way inspired by
these possibilities of change. It was rather wonderful in those days
because you had a big audience for your writings. If you were writing
about Latin America it was one of the parts of the world that people
began to know about, to be excited about and interested in. I was
very fortunate to be there at the time. I worked in Chile in the
Allende period; I was there during the coup of Pinochet and a bit
afterwards and then I follow the excitements of Bolivia and

That, of course, has changed completely. Latin America has
disappeared off the screen really in the last ten or twenty years.
Nobody knows what is happening there.

You talk of the Cuban Revolution as one of the key events in Latin
American history. Do you feel that the Bolivarian Revolution in
today's Venezuela could be considered a comparable event?

Yes, certainly what is happening in Venezuela is the most unusually
interesting development in Latin America for 50 years, since the
Cuban revolution. And I think that what it makes it particularly
intriguing is the fact that the Venezuelan president, Chávez, is a
military man.

After the 1970s and '80s, people had a vision of the Latin American
military as people with dark glasses and this kind of sinister
figure. So, the idea that a young colonel could seize power and lead
a left-wing revolution is very foreign to most people's understanding
of Latin America. It is true that in the past there has been a
tradition of radical soldiers, and Chavez is one of them, and because
he comes from this unexpected political quarter he caught people
unawares, especially the Americans, who cannot get the measure of
him. This is a military man, who usually would have subscribed to the
American view, who instead arrived with this radical programme, this
close friendship with Castro and this huge popular following.

I think that it is a slow motion revolution. When discussing
revolutions we are used to talking about the fall of the Bastille,
the fall of the Winter Palace. Something happens on Day 1 as a major
change and the revolution begins. But essentially, in Venezuela the
revolution has not yet occurred. Chavez has been there for six years
now and the major events and excitements are still to come. These six
years have been a tremendous rollercoaster, with the coup d'etat,
with strikes. But he has finally got a sort of grip on the country,
reinforced by the referendum he won last year and there are things
happening nearly every day. It is very exciting.

It seems that even for Chavez, it was a bit of a surprise to be
identified as the leader of the 1992 military attempt to overthrown
the corrupt Venezuelan Government of the time.

His origins as a public figure were very dramatic in the sense that
he staged this coup in 1992 and it was unsuccessful — it was
successful in most of the cities in the country, but it was not in
the capital, Caracas. So, he appeared on TV to tell his comrades in
arms to put them down to avoid further bloodshed because the coup
would not be successful. He said: "for now, the project is not
working", and this phrase, "for now", sort of echoed in the popular
imagination. He was on TV only for half a minute but because it was
broadcast everywhere, he became overnight this extraordinarily famous

He has this very charismatic personality. When he was elected first
in 1998, it was in itself almost a revolution by election, because
the existing political system collapsed on that day. The old
political parties, the old trade unions, everything that had run
Venezuela politically for the previous 30 years just simply imploded
and it was no longer there. And Chavez filled the vacuum.

He had this kind of idea of what he wanted to do in very general
terms, but he did not have a political party, he did not really have
a political movement, he had a few friends in universities and the
armed forces. But everything that has happened in the last six to
eight years has sort of developed by reaction to the opposition and
by the movement of the people demanding things. It's been a very
exciting and unusual process.

And, how is the process going at the moment?

I am extremely optimistic and I think it is going great. The
opposition, which gave the impression of being quite strong for the
last three or four years — it had these street demonstrations,
organised the coup d'etat, organised the big strike of the oil
company, and seemed to have this tremendous presence in the media, in
the newspapers, on TV —, forced Chavez to hold a recall referendum.
He was forced to go to the people and justify his being president —
and he won an astonishing majority of 60%, and since then the
opposition has been extremely quiet, confused, divided, uncertain
what to do.

I think that eventually a lot of them will start supporting the
Chavez Government and others will fade away. However, I suspect that
others may form terrorist groups, as it will be quite unusual to
allow a revolutionary process to continue without an armed
opposition. So, the future is by no means clear and peaceful.

Where is Chavez getting the funding to pay for those social policies
and could you tell us about his education and land reforms?

Let's start with the oil company, which was nationalised 30 years
ago. This has theoretically been in the hands of the Venezuelan state
but, for all sort of reasons, this company became a sort of replica
of the America and Dutch oil companies of the old days. The oil
company became interested in its own survival rather than make its
profits available for spending by the government. So, for example,
the oil company bought refineries in Europe, petrol stations in the
US, for example, where it owns 14,000 petrol stations.

They spent money on these sort of projects and very little came back
to Venezuela. Chavez has put a complete stop to that, creating a new
way of controlling the oil company and, for the first time, very
large sums of money are being made available to the government for
social spending. More than that, as a result of the Iraq war, the
world's oil price has gone up dramatically — it has tripled in three
years — so a jackpot of extra money is coming in. For the first time,
a revolutionary government in South America has large sums of money
to spend.

What they are doing is starting at the bottom, with literacy
programmes similar to the one that the Cubans had 40 years ago, to
make sure that a million people who are illiterate will learn to read
and write.

Then have moved into other programmes for early school leavers, for
people who had dropped out of school. Essentially, what they want to
do is, one way or another, bring people up out of the shantytowns and
bring them into society through education programmes that had never
ever before reached out to them.

And also, they have this extraordinary health programme. Something
like 15,000 Cuban doctors have come to work in the shantytowns and
the rural areas, where there were never any health facilities before.

Within two or three years, in what was previously an absolutely
impoverished population, people are learning to read and write,
people are having second level education and some are beginning to
move into university education and getting access to proper health

And another programme is a food programme, with cheap supermarkets
being set up in the shantytowns. At the moment, a lot of the food
continues to be imported but the idea is to get Venezuela
self-sufficient when it comes to producing its own food and that is
where the land reforms come into play.

Essentially, much of Venezuela is not farmed at all, or if it is it
has vast cattle ranches producing beef for export, which is not
benefiting the people in the country. So, the aim is to reform these
cattle ranches, to made land available for people and to have new
programmes of producing food in the countryside to feed the cities.
This is the kind of programme that is being outlined for the next
decade or so. There will be elections next year and Chavez will stand
again for president and will again win. So, he's got another six or
seven years to make the projects work.

At the time of the coup, the Spanish conservative government, led by
Aznar, who at the time held the European presidency, held a
conference with then US secretary of state, Colin Powell, to welcome
the new Venezuelan government. So, would you tell us about the
enemies of Chavez outside Venezuela?

The Spanish are leaders of the anti-Chavez movement, probably in a
way more seriously than the United States. One of the unfortunate
things about the European Union is that Spain, in terms of foreign
policies, was more or less given Latin America to look after and
control. Essentially it is responsible for formulating and organising
European policy towards Latin America. In the days of Aznar, this
meant an extremely conservative and hostile policy, not just to
Chavez but also to Cuba and to any progressive governments that may
have emerged in Latin America. And the European Union went along with
it, even when Britain and France may have had other views, they
finally accepted Spanish leadership.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that when the new Spanish
socialist government comes along, the policy comes into reverse and
now the European Union has a rather progressive policy towards Latin
America, especially towards Cuba and Chavez.

Then, there is the United States. The US had been verbally hostile to
Chavez even before he was elected, when he wanted to go to the US and
they would not give him a visa. So they have been very mistrustful of
Chavez and that has continued.

As everybody knows, they were not very active when it came to
revealing that they knew a coup was on the way in 2001. In my own
view, the US are active in helping the opposition in Venezuela. On
the other hand, this opposition is very rich, very active and well
able to finance their own counter revolution.

And what about the impact of the Venezuelan revolution in Latin
America and, especially, Cuba?

Well, Venezuela and Cuba are very complementary and they can help
each other a lot. Curiously enough, the first country after the Cuban
revolution that Fidel [Castro] went to was Venezuela, because there
was a leftist movement going on there at the time and he very much
hoped they would have a good relationship, but because the Venezuelan
government felt into a pro-American regimen, that was sabotaged.

Today, with Chavez, this possibility of a very close relationship was
revived and I think it works on a whole series of levels. First of
all, Chavez and Fidel had a very close friendship and they talk on
the phone all the time. And I think that is good, because Fidel is a
very wise political figure, has been around for a very long time. He
had to deal with the US and has experience with a lot of
revolutionary projects in Latin America and he gives very good,
disinterested advice.

So, Venezuelans are now providing Cuba with cheap oil -they had been
providing the islands of the Caribbean with cheap oil for a very long
time before Chavez, so all he has done has been to extend this
courtesy to Cuba. Obviously, this had a tremendous importance for
Cuba, which, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has suffered
from having to have expensive energy.

One of the returns is that the Cubans provide their doctors programme
that they have been developing for years in 44 countries in Africa
and Latin America, and that now are concentrating their efforts in
Venezuela. And I must say that the presence of the Cuban doctors in
the shantytowns has had a huge effect in the popularity of Chavez,
because almost overnight they were able to deliver the service. When
I went 20 months ago they were visiting people in their houses, but
now they have built small clinics and not only do general
consultation, they do eye surgery and dental surgery. It is
breathtaking; I have never seen anything like it before. And it is
hugely popular.

What about the rest of Latin America?

Chavez is a man who is talking to Latin Americans about working
together and being united as one people, very much on the lines of
Bolivar and even Ché Guevara, and his policies are inspiring social,
indigenous movements, trade unions, etc to look for political change
in their own countries.

Chavez has revived the Bolivarian rhetoric, the idea that Latin
America should be a united country. And this rhetoric is really
opposed to globalisation, to neo-liberal economics. That has begun to
strike a chord in Latin America.

For a long time, people thought there was no alternative and that
they had to embrace this new US strategy that allegedly would bring
them amazing wealth and riches. However, it failed to deliver the
goods, and people got far poorer and farmers had to move into the
cities due to privatisation of the countryside. The whole neo-liberal
programme has been disastrous. So, there were emerging movements
against it in every country. And Chavez in some way has encouraged
these movements into believing that yes, there is an alternative and
things can be done differently.

There are movements for change in Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, where
the government of Kirchner is talking in terms similar to those of
Chavez and we will see a lot of developments and that is what makes
Latin America a very exciting place at the moment.

The fact that Chavez is a military man and has organised the
Venezuelan army to participate in development work projects is also
having an impact on the armies of Latin America, always looking for a
role, because traditionally they have had the role of the
conquistadors: to suppress the Indians, to keep the population under
control, crushing guerrilla movements in the '60s and '70s. They have
always come out of these conflicts feeling uncomfortable for
themselves and often, some of the young officers involved in this
work of repression came out with these radical ideas. So, even at
that level, Chavez is having an impact and I believe we will see the
emergence of very progressive army officers in some countries.

This is a revolution that has Chavez's fingerprints all over it. Has
it had a future without him?

I think that Chavez, the same as Fidel in Cuba, for the first years
is essential for the revolution to go on the way it has. But if
Chavez was to disappear tomorrow, the revolution will continue. I
think there are now enough people inspired by the ideas he has
brought to the fore. The process would be very difficult to reverse.
I think that Chavismo without Chavez will continue in some shape or
form, and the same for the Bolivarian revolution.

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