Axis of Hope
Venezuela and the Bolivarian Dream
by Tariq Ali
www.zmag.org, December 4, 2006
In the Muslim world religious groups that
are militarily effective, but politically limited dominate resistance
to the American Empire. Asia is infatuated with capital. Europe
lies buried deep in neo-liberal torpor, and the Left and social
movements in the EU (Italy is the most recent example) are in
an advanced state of decomposition. But in South America an axis
of hope has emerged that challenges imperial domination on every
level. Democracy, hollowed-out and offering no alternatives in
the North, is being used to revive hope in the South.
The likely re-election of Hugo Chavez
this weekend in Venezuela will mark a new stage in the process.
His opponent, Manuel Rosales, described in the Financial Times
(November 30) as a "centre-left" candidate was heavily
implicated in the defeated coup attempt to topple Chavez in 2004.
Rosales claims that "I will not sit on anyone's lap"
but it is hardly a secret that he is firmly attached to the White
The wave of revolts and social movements
spreading unevenly across the South American continent today are
the inevitable result of the Washington Consensus, the economic
enslavement of the world. Latin America was the first laboratory
for the Hayekian experiments that finally produced the Consensus.
The Chicago boys led by the late Milton Friedman, who pioneered
neo-liberal economics, used Chile after the Pinochet coup of 1973
as a laboratory. It was a good situation for them. The Chilean
working class and its two principal parties had been crushed,
their leading cadres killed or "disappeared". Six years
later, the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua was crushed by a
US-backed Contra counter-revolution.
Earlier this month, the Sandinista leader,
Daniel Ortega won the Presidency in his country. Blessed by the
church, flanked by a former Contra as his vice-president and still
loathed by the US ambassador, Ortega may be a sickly shadow of
his former self, but his victory undoubtedly reflects the desire
of Nicaraguans for change. Will Managua follow the radically redistributive
policies of anti-imperialist Caracas or confine itself to rhetoric
and remain a client of the International Monetary Fund?
There was even better recent news from
Quito. The substantial electoral triumph of Rafael Correa, a dynamic,
young, US-educated economist and former finance minister, who
pledged in his election campaign to reverse Ecuador's participation
in the US-backed free trade area for the Americas, to ask the
US military to vacate its base at Manta, and to join Opec and
the growing Bolivarian movement that seeks to unite South America
against imperialism._Correa's victory comes at a time when Latin
America is on the march again. There have been some spectacular
demonstrations of the popular will in Porto Alegre, Caracas, Buenos
Aires, Cochabamba and Cuzco, to name but a few cities.
This has offered a new hope to a world
either deep in neoliberal torpor (the EU, the US, the Far East)
or suffering from the military and economic depredations of the
new order (Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, south Asia).The
struggle spearheaded by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela against
the Washington consensus has attracted the fury of the White House.
Three attempts (including a military coup backed by the US and
the EU) were made to topple Hugo Chávez.
Chávez was first elected president
of Venezuela in February 1999, 10 years after a popular insurrection
against the IMF readjustment programme had been brutally crushed
by Carlos Andrés Peréz, whose party was once the
largest affiliate of the Socialist International. In his election
campaign Peréz had denounced the economists on the World
Bank's payroll as "genocide workers in the pay of economic
totalitarianism" and the IMF as "a neutron bomb that
killed people, but left buildings standing".
Afterwards he caved in to the demands
of both institutions, suspended the constitution, declared a state
of emergency and ordered the army to mow down the protesters.
More than 2,000 poor people were shot dead by troops. This was
the founding moment of the Bolivarian upheaval in Venezuela.
Chávez and other junior officers
organized to protest against the misuse and corruption of the
army. In 1992 the radical officers organised a rebellion against
those who had authorized the butchery. It failed because it was
soon after the traumas of 1989, but people did not forget. That
is how the new Bolivarians came to power and began to slowly and
cautiously implement social-democratic reforms, reminiscent of
Roosevelt's New Deal and the policies of the 1945 Labour government.
In a world dominated by the Washington consensus this was unacceptable.
Hence the drive to topple him. Hence the demand by Pat Robertson,
the leader of political Christianity in the US, that Washington
should organise the immediate assassination of Chávez.
Venezuela, till now an obscure country as far as the rest of the
world was concerned, suddenly became a beacon.
The majority of the people who elected
Chávez were angry and determined. They had felt unrepresented
for 10 years; they had been betrayed by the traditional parties;
they disapproved of the neoliberal policies then in force, which
consisted of an assault on the poor in order to shore up a parasitical
oligarchy and a corrupt civilian and trade-union bureaucracy.
They disapproved of the use that was made of the country's oil
reserves. They disapproved of the arrogance of the Venezuelan
elite, which utilised wealth and a lighter skin colour to sustain
itself at the expense of the dark-skinned and poor majority. Electing
Chávez was their revenge.
When it became clear that Chávez
was determined to make modest changes to the country's social
structure, Washington sounded the tocsin. Nowhere has the embittered
bigotry emanating from this quarter been more evident than in
its actions and propaganda against Venezuela, with the Financial
Times and the Economist in the forefront of a massive disinformation
They are united by their prejudices against
Chávez, whose advent to power was viewed as an insane aberration
because the social reforms funded by oil revenues - free health,
education and housing for the poor - were regarded as a regression
to the bad old days, a first step on the road to totalitarianism.
Chávez never concealed his politics.
The two 18th-century Simóns - Bolívar and Rodríguez
- had taught him a simple lesson: do not serve the interests of
others; make your own political and economic revolution; and unite
South America against all empires. This was the core of his program,
which is unacceptable to the supporters of the Washington Consensus.
The key to a serious Latin American challenge
to the US lies in regional cohesion. This is crucial. When the
cable channel Telesur was launched in Caracas nearly two years
ago, one of their first programs revealed a shocking level of
ignorance amongst South Americans. In virtually every capital
city vox pop interviews revealed that people knew the name of
their own capital and that of the United States. Very few could
name even two or three capital cities in their own continent!
So regional unity---the Bolivarian Federation
of sovereign states of which Chavez speaks incessantly----is necessary
to move forward. Washington will do everything to prevent this
since its own interests dictate dealing with countries unilaterally
rather than as regional entities (this is even true of the European
Union). Regional unity in South America could have a surprising
impact in el Norte as well where the Hispanic population of the
United States is growing rapidly to the great consternation of
state ideologues like Samuel Huntington.