earned the wrath of the US by being the first head of state to visit
Iraq since the Gulf war, and his visits to Cuba, where he and
the old Stalinist warhorse got
along famously, did not endear him to Republicans. But the idea
that Chavez is sitting at Fidel's feet, imbibing Marxist-Leninist
doctrine is the wish-fulfillment fantasy of hallucinating cold warriors
who simply cannot believe in the death of their old adversary, Communism:
they see its ghost everywhere, like the after-image of a lingering
nightmare. What Chavez represents is something altogether new, at
least in that part of the world, an ideology that is neither left
nor right but firmly rooted in the concept of national sovereignty:
a post-democratic nationalism, arisen largely in reaction to US
economic and military domination of the region. But let Chavez speak
for himself: there is not the space here to reproduce the entirety
of the 1996 interview conducted in El Salvador, so I suggest you
link and see if the following sounds like Fidelismo
or even conventional caudillismo:
Bolivarian Movement was born in the barracks some 15 years ago when
a group of soldiers came to the conclusion that the enemy was not
communism, but imperialism. For many years we worked carefully and
gradually to develop a nationalist, patriotic movement with one
hand in the barracks and another on the street. We developed a Bolivarian
conception of revolution, which understands that we face a different
empire to that confronted by [the leader of the movement for independence
from Spain, General Símon] Bolívar. Bolívar,
however, did foresee that North America was destined to plague us
in the name of liberty.
. . We pose the questions of independence and sovereignty by calling
for a new continent-wide independence movement. The current political
model is mortally wounded and no viable alternative can exist without
breaking the bourgeois, neoliberal system that has operated in Venezuela
since 1945. In our model of democracy, the people, civil society,
are protagonists who participate in making political, even military,
decisions. There are no half-measures on questions of sovereignty.
There has to be direct democracy, people's government with popular
assemblies and congresses where the people retain the right to remove,
nominate, sanction, and recall their elected delegates and representatives."
he mentions Cuba admiringly as an example of "a people in arms,"
this formulation is ambiguous and, given Chavez's well-known ability
to adapt to the expectations of his audience, doubtless thrown in
for the delectation of enthralled left-wing journalists. For, aside
from what they might view as an attractive appeal to egalitarianism,
Chavez goes on to describe a vision very different from the usual
left-socialist workers paradise, what he calls "a new continental
alliance of defense and security and independence." This is what
really puts a scare into the US State Department, whose bankrupt
South American policy is coming back to haunt them:
know many currents within the defense forces of the continent, who,
while not necessarily revolutionary, are at least nationalist. There
is one question which unites military professionals from Mexico
to Argentina, as reactionary as they may be. Every military graduate
who loves their profession opposes the further reduction, let alone
elimination of their national army. The United States would like
to see all of our armies reduced to instruments solely to combat
drug trafficking or, as has happened in Panama, converted into a
mere police force."
is no Commie: that is a patriot talking. Not only a patriot, but
a military man who bitterly resented the prospective decline of
his nation's army into a narcotics squad for their imperial overlords
in Washington. When he assumed power, Chavez defied the US and refused
to allow the US government to conduct their phony "war on drugs"
on Venezuelan territory, and more: Chavez has militarized the border
with Colombia precisely because of his neighbor's inability to control
drug trafficking and guerrilla incursions into Venezuela.
floods led to widespread devastation in his country, Chavez demurred
when offered 1,000 American troops to "help out." One would have
thought that this development a refusal of foreign aid
would have been welcomed in budget-conscious Washington, where Republicans
are always complaining about the burden of bailing out Third World
countries. But instead Chavez was derided in Washington as arrogant
and self-defeating: how dare those Venezuelans refuse our
largess! In today's
Spotlight, Scott B. MacDonald of the Center for Strategic and
International Studies sneers: "We see evidence of the great U.S.
conspiracy behind almost every event. Even the US offer to provide
help during the 1999 mudslides and flooding is taken as something
to which the great revolutionary helmsman must respond." Yet this
gesture played well at home, where a people newly awakened to the
meaning of national sovereignty were proud of the fact that they
could make it on their own.
specter is haunting South and Central America, and it isn't Communism
it's Bolivarianism. Let the Americans and their satraps listen,
will be a challenge to create this continental military alliance
and to start interchanges of technology and experiences at different
levels of the military hierarchy. In Panama, for example, we know
young army personnel, especially those who are now police officers,
who are inspired by General Omar Torrijos. [Torrijos negotiated
the treaty which binds the United States to return the Panama Canal.]
They still consider themselves soldiers and are willing to fight
for the reinstallation of Panama's own defense force. Recently,
some retired colonels met with us and questioned the purpose of
the anti-guerrilla war, which they had fought some 30 years ago
in Venezuela. 'Who had been right?", they asked, "those who fought
for the so-called democratic governments or the guerrillas who went
to the mountains and raised the banner of communism?'"
SHADOW OF THE LIBERATOR
Bolivarian answer: neither. Both were caught in the cold war trap
of looking for models abroad, either in the US or the Soviet bloc.
Chavez is not nationalizing industry: he is privatizing,
albeit without handing the country over to a board of directors
located in New York or somewhere in Europe. Not a single member
of the opposition has been jailed or harassed, and hanging
chads do not seem to be a part of the Venezuelan electoral process,
which has been deemed perfectly transparent and fair by international
observers. The recent elections to the National Assembly returned
followers of Chavez by a resounding 90 percent-plus. Chavez isn't
dreaming about the dictatorship of the proletariat, in spite of
the ultra-left sympathies of some of his followers: instead, he
dreams of "a confederation of Latin American states for the new
century," one "joining the Caribbean basin though railways and linking
them with the great rivers such as the Orinoco, the Amazon and the
Plata," which he calls "the arteries of our continent." Like Bolivar,
he dreams of a sovereign, independent, and prosperous South America:
to the US State Department, this is a crime. To the people of Venezuela,
and beyond, it is an ambition that may be worth fighting for.
MENTIONS GEORGE WASHINGTON
says that Castro told him, "There you call the struggle Bolvarianism,
here we call it socialism." Chavez also reports Castro saying "something,
which I never thought that I would hear from his lips, 'If you called
your movement Christianity I would even be in agreement.'" Note
that Castro is agreeing with Chavez, and not the other way around:
this is the whole point, of course. Communism, which never really
took root in South America, in spite of Che
Guevara's best efforts, is dead in any event. But Bolivarianism?
Venezuela has shown that it is very much alive, and the vitality
of this new movement is summed up by what Chavez has to say to the
decadent elites of North America and Europe:
movement is gaining strength and very soon the world will know about
the Venezuelan people. In Washington nobody mentions George Washington,
in France no one talks of Napoleon, but in Venezuela the image of
Bolívar is painted on the walls and his image is worn on
the T-shirts on the chests of young people."
the great enemy of the cosmopolitan elite that stands, or
thinks it stands, at the "end of history" is on the march
in every region of the world. The blowback
from the policy of US hegemonism, with it's triumphalist proclamation
of a "New World Order," is gathering momentum, from South America
to East Asia, from the Middle East to the Balkans. In addition to
Russia, China, and a growing pan-Slavic sentiment in Eastern Europe,
opposition to US hegemonism is rising in the most unlikely places
and coalescing in the most unexpected forms: the Arab resistance
to American dominance is now linking up with the Bolivarians in
South America via OPEC, which is these days headed up by a Venezuelan.
Clinton was reportedly on the phone to Chavez recently, begging
for a break on oil prices to no avail.
is yet another negative aspect of the Clinton foreign policy legacy
that we have so alienated Chavez with "Plan Colombia" that Venezuela,
once the major weak link in the OPEC cartel, is now the strongest
advocate of keeping prices high. Before Venezuela's 1998 presidential
election, the US State Department denied Chavez a visa to visit
the United States on the grounds according to Albright
that he had once been the leader of a coup, and therefore a criminal
unworthy of entry. What Albright neglected to mention, as
Steve Ellner points out, was that Chavez's chief rival, Francisco
Arias Cárdenas, the number two man in the coup and now
estranged from Chavez, was granted a visa: " In one respect,"
flexibility paid off as the more tractable Arias broke with Chávez
and was his main rival in special elections held on July 30. During
the campaign, Arias criticized Chávez's defiant attitude
toward the US and his kind words for Cuba. The rejection of Chávez's
visa request boomeranged. Just after the request was denied, Chávez's
our own secretary of state preaches to American blacks that they
must pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and praises the military
as a character-building institution, this is hailed by everyone
as the wisdom of the ages: but when a South American chief executive
says the same thing, in the same tone gee, they even look
alike! somehow this doesn't go over very well. The New
York Times liberals discover that he is an incipient "fascist"
and probably an anti-Semite; the conservatives uncover his Communist
credentials. The reason for the confusion, and the angry denunciations,
is because Chavez puts Venezuela first not the "global community,"
or the transnational corporations, or the "New World Order," but
the people and welfare of his own people. And that is a sin our
ruling elite can neither understand nor forgive.
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