sudhirdin at gmail.com
Fri Nov 11 00:29:15 MST 2005
pilger brings his searing insight to focus on living democracy as
experienced by venezuelans, in contrast to the crony capitalism of bushland
and the anti-people blairite version. the south has no need to follow the
spurious prescriptions of democracy as peddled by such quacks.
*America's new enemy *
Latin Americans have spent the past few years finding their voices. Now they
may have the strength to defy their northern neighbour. By *John Pilger*
New Statesman Nov 14, 2005 I was dropped at Paradiso, the last
middle-class area before La Vega barrio, which spills into a ravine as if by
the force of gravity. Storms were forecast and people were anxious,
remembering the mudslides of 1999 that took 20,000 lives. "Why are you
here?" asked the man sitting opposite me in the packed jeep-bus that chugged
up the hill. Like so many in Latin America, he appeared old, but wasn't.
Without waiting for my answer, he listed why he supported President Hugo
Chavez: schools, clinics, affordable food, "our constitution, our democracy"
and "for the first time, the oil money is going to us". I asked him if he
belonged to the MVR (Movement for the Fifth Republic), Chavez's party, "No,
I've never been in a political party; I can only tell you how my life has
been changed, as I never dreamt."
It is raw witness like this, which I have heard over and over again in
Venezuela, that smashes the one-way mirror between the west and a continent
that is rising. By rising, I mean the phenomenon of millions of people
stirring once again, "like lions after slumber/In unvanquishable number",
wrote Shelley in *The Mask of Anarchy*. This is not romantic; an epic is
unfolding in Latin America that demands our attention beyond the stereotypes
and cliches that diminish whole societies to their degree of exploitation
To the man in the bus, and to Beatrice whose children are being immunised
and taught history, art and music for the first time, and Celedonia, in her
seventies, reading and writing for the first time, and Jose whose life was
saved by a doctor in the middle of the night, the first doctor he had ever
seen, Chavez is neither a "firebrand" nor an "autocrat" but a humanitarian
and a democrat who commands almost two-thirds of the popular vote,
accredited by victories in no fewer than nine elections. Compare that with
the fifth of the British electorate that reinstalled an authentic autocrat
in Downing Street.
Chavez and the rise of popular social movements, from Colombia down to
Argentina, represent bloodless, radical change across the continent,
inspired by the great independence struggles that began with Simon BolIvar,
born in 1783 in Venezuela, who brought the ideas of the French Revolution to
societies cowed by Spanish absolutism. BolIvar, like Che Guevara in the
1960s and Chavez today, understood the new colonial master to the north.
"The USA," he said in 1819, "appears destined by fate to plague America with
misery in the name of liberty."
At the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in 2001, George Bush announced
the latest misery in the name of liberty in the form of a Free Trade Area of
the Americas (FTAA) treaty. This would finally allow the United States to
impose its ideological "market", neoliberalism, on all of Latin America. It
was the natural successor to Bill Clinton's North American Free Trade
Agreement, which has turned Mexico into a US sweatshop. Bush boasted it
would be law by 2005.
On 5 November, Bush arrived at the 2005 summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina,
to be told his FTAA was not even on the agenda. Among the 34 heads of state
were new, uncompliant faces and behind all of them were populations no
longer willing to accept US-backed business tyrannies. Never before have
Latin American governments had to consult their people on pseudo agreements
of this kind; but now they must.
In Bolivia, in the past five years, social movements have got rid of
governments and foreign corporations alike, such as the tentacular Bechtel,
which sought to impose what people call *total locura capitalista* - total
capitalist folly - the privatising of almost everything, especially natural
gas and water. Following Pinochet's Chile, Bolivia was to be a neoliberal
laboratory. The poorest of the poor were charged up to two-thirds of their
pittance-income even for rainwater.
Standing in the bleak, freezing, cobble-stoned streets of El Alto, 14,000
feet up in the Andes, or sitting in the breeze-block homes of former miners
and *campesinos *driven off their land, I have had political discussions of
a kind seldom ignited in Britain and the US. They are direct and eloquent.
"Why are we so poor," they say, "when our country is so rich? Why do
governments lie to us and represent outside powers?" They refer to 500 years
of conquest as if it is a living presence, which it is, tracing a journey
from the Spanish plunder of Cerro Rico, a hill of silver mined by indigenous
slave labour and which underwrote the Spanish empire for three centuries.
When the silver was gone, there was tin, and when the mines were privatised
in the 1970s at the behest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), tin
collapsed, along with 30,000 jobs. When the coca leaf replaced it - chewing
it curbs hunger - the Bolivian army, coerced by the US, began destroying the
coca crops and filling the prisons.
In 2000, open rebellion burst upon the white business oligarchs and the US
embassy whose fortress stands like an Andean Vatican in the centre of La
Paz. There was never anything like it, because it came from the majority
Indian population "to protect our indigenous soul". Naked racism against
indigenous peoples all over Latin America is the Spanish legacy. They were
despised or invisible, or curios for tourists: the women in their bowler
hats and colourful skirts. No more. Led by visionaries such as Oscar
Olivera, the women in bowler hats and colourful skirts encircled and shut
down the country's second city, Cochabamba, until their water was returned
to public ownership.
Every year since, people have fought a water or gas war: essentially a war
against privatisation and poverty. Having driven out President Gonzalo
Sanchez de Lozada in 2003, Bolivians voted in a referendum for real
democracy. Through the social movements, they demanded a constituent
assembly similar to that which founded Chavez's BolIvarian revolution in
Venezuela, together with the rejection of the FTAA and all the other "free
trade" agreements, the expulsion of the transnational water companies and a
50 per cent tax on the exploitation of all energy resources.
When the replacement president, Carlos Mesa, refused to implement the
programme he was forced to resign. Presidential elections are scheduled for
4 December and the opposition MAS (Movement to Socialism) may well turn out
the old order. The leader is an indigenous former coca farmer, Evo Morales,
whom the US ambassador has likened to Osama Bin Laden. In fact, he is a
social democrat who, for many of those who sealed off Cochabamba and marched
down the mountain from El Alto, moderates too much.
"This is not going to be easy," Abel Mamani, the indigenous president of the
El Alto Federation of Neighbourhood Associations, told me. "The elections
won't be a solution even if we win. What we need to guarantee is the
constituent assembly, from which we build a democracy based not on what the
US wants, but on social justice." The writer Pablo Solon, son of the great
political muralist Walter Solon, said: "The story of Bolivia is the story of
the government behind the government. The US can create a financial crisis;
but really for them it is ideological; they say they will not accept another
The people, however, will not accept another Washington quisling. The lesson
is Ecuador, where a helicopter saved Lucio Gutierrez as he fled the
presidential palace in April. Having won power in alliance with the
indigenous Pachakutik movement, he was the "Ecuadorian Chavez", until he
drowned in a corruption scandal. For ordinary Latin Americans, corruption on
high is no longer forgivable. That is one of two reasons the Workers' Party
government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is barely marking time in
Brazil; the other is the priority he has given to an IMF economic agenda,
rather than to his own people. In Argentina, social movements saw off five
pro-Washington presidents in 2001 and 2002. Across the water in Uruguay, the
Frente Amplio, socialist heirs to the Tupamaros, the guerrillas of the 1970s
who fought one of the CIA's most vicious terror campaigns, formed a popular
government last year.
The social movements are now a decisive force in every Latin American
country - even in the state of fear that is the Colombia of Alvaro Uribe
Velez, Bush's most loyal vassal. Last month, an indigenous movement marched
through every one of Colombia's 32 provinces demanding an end to "an evil as
great as the gun": neoliberalism. All over Latin America, Hugo Chavez is the
modern BolIvar. People admire his political imagination and his courage.
Only he has had the guts to describe the United States as a source of
terrorism and Bush as *Senor Peligro* (Mr Danger). He is very different from
Fidel Castro, whom he respects. Venezuela is an extraordinarily open society
with an unfettered opposition that is rich and still powerful. On the left,
there are those who oppose the state in principle, believe its reforms have
reached their limit, and want power to flow directly from the community.
They say so vigorously, yet they support Chavez. A fluent young anarchist,
Marcel, showed me the clinic where Cuban doctors gave his girlfriend
critical emergency treatment. (In a barter arrangement, Venezuela gives Cuba
oil in exchange for doctors.)
At the entrance to every barrio there is a state supermarket, where
everything from staple food to washing-up liquid costs 40 per cent less than
in commercial stores. Despite specious accusations that the government has
instituted censorship, most of the media remains violently anti-Chavez: a
large part of it in the hands of Gustavo Cisneros, Latin America's Rupert
Murdoch, who backed the failed attempt to depose Chavez in April 2002. What
is different is the proliferation of lively community radio stations which
played a crucial part in Chavez's rescue then by calling on people to march
While the world looks to Iran and Syria for the next Bush attack,
Venezuelans know they may well be next. On 17 March, the *Washington
that Feliz RodrIguez, "a former CIA operative well connected to the Bush
family", had taken part in the planning of the assassination of the
president of Venezuela. On 16 September, Chavez said, "I have evidence that
there are plans to invade Venezuela. Furthermore, we have documentation: how
many bombers will over-fly Venezuela on the day of the invasion . . . the US
is carrying out manoeuvres on Curacao Island. It is called Operation
Balboa." Since then, leaked internal Pentagon documents have identified
Venezuela as a "post-Iraq threat" requiring "full spectrum" planning.
The old-young man in the jeep, Beatrice and her healthy children, and
Celedonia with her "new esteem", are indeed a threat - the threat of an
alternative, decent world that some lament is no longer possible. Well, it
is, and it deserves our support
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