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Tariq Ali: Venezuela - Why Chavez won

Venezuela: Why Chavez Won


By Tariq Ali
Green Left Weekly

Hugo 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.

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.

Some foreign 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 program. 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.

Just under 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 ancien regime; three new university campuses were functioning by 2003 and six more are due to be completed by 2006.

As far as health care 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 had been distributed to 116,899 families. The reasons for Chavez' popularity become obvious. No previous regime had even noticed the plight of the poor.

When I asked Chavez to explain his own philosophy, he replied: “I 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.”

And that's why he won.

[Abridged from CounterPunch - http://www.counterpunch.org/.]

From Green Left Weekly, August 25, 2004.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page - http://www.greenleft.org.au/


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