Tariq Ali on Venezuela
Source Marvin Gandall
Date 04/08/16/23:38

Why He Crushed the Oligarchs
The Importance of Hugo Chávez
By Tariq Ali
August 16 2004

The turn-out 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' 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.

The Venezuelan 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. They failed. 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.

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

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' 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 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. The bizarre
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.

The Bolivarians 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:

'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.

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