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 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'
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
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
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
monkey playing Chavez was even organised at the US Embassy
in Caracas.But Colin Powell was not amused and the Ambassador
was compelled toissue 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
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,
'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.