In Britain we only seem to take any interest in South America when the Argentinians reiterate their claim to the island off their coast that we claim to be ours (Falklands/Malvinas). But Hugo Chavez’s death in Venezuela has excited some interest – the BBC gave extensive coverage – and the forbidden S word (socialism) somehow got uttered in British public life. Tariq Ali’s memoir in the Guardian was illuminating. More interesting I think is the assessment of Chavez’s achievements from David Abdullah in Trinidad and Tobago. David is a leader of the Movement for Social Justice in that country. He’s been a close friend of the late John la Rose, and thus an integral part of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books that John initiated in London. (More of this here.)
Thus David’s reflections on Hugo Chavez have particular resonance for me , and I thought I should share them here. Please read on . . .
THE MSJ SALUTES PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ FRIAS – OUTSTANDING FIGHTER FOR JUSTICE, SOVEREIGNTY AND LATIN AMERICAN INTEGRATION
It was just a month ago on February 4th – the anniversary of the 1992 civil and military revolt in Venezuela which brought the young Lt. Col. Hugo Chavez into political prominence – that the MSJ, together with other solidarity organizations, held an event in Port of Spain in solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution and with President Chavez in particular.
There is no doubt that President Chavez is the most outstanding leader of the first decade of the Twenty-First Century. Winning elections for the Presidency of Venezuela for the first time in 1998, his leadership on the world stage spanned two years either side of the first decade of this century. During that time he not only articulated an agenda for the progressive transformation of his country and Latin America, he walked the talk. President Chavez was not therefore a politician in the traditional sense of the word. He was a revolutionary political activist, a fighter for social justice and a champion of those in his country, his continent and those throughout the world who are dispossessed, discriminated against and who have historically had no voice in the corridors of power, and who count only at election time as voters.
During the fourteen years that he was in office, the geo-political map of Latin America was transformed. Progressive and radical governments have been elected into office throughout Latin America from Nicaragua to Argentina. Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay and Bolivia have been integral parts of this change while shifts took place in Paraguay and Honduras, only to be overturned by coup d’etats of one form or another. El Salvador too has seen a significant shift in power away from the traditional oligarchy. In all of these, the changes in Venezuela and the leadership of Hugo Chavez provided inspiration to the social movements – indigenous people, labour, farmers, youth, women, environmentalists – and other progressive political and social organizations to press forward with an agenda for change.
This agenda for change challenged the dominant neo-liberal paradigm that was being articulated by the Washington consensus – the IMF, World Bank, IDB and US State Department. That agenda, as all the data shows, has resulted in the gap becoming larger and larger between the rich and poor within countries and between rich and poor countries. President Chavez sought to change this paradigm by initiating various projects of Latin American and Caribbean integration – ALBA, Petro-Caraibe, the Bank of the South, Telesur, CELAC. He also utilized Venezuela’s energy resources to improve the quality of life of the working people and poor in his country through programmes that tackled illiteracy and poverty. There can be no doubt that very significant progress was made in this regard, as evidenced by poverty being reduced from 70.8% in 1996 to 21% in 2010, and extreme poverty from 40% in 2006 to 7.3% in 2010.
These efforts at bringing about change also resulted in the traditional wielders of political and economic power in Venezuela fighting back. Venezuela, like the rest of Latin America and unlike the English speaking Caribbean, has a deeply entrenched oligarchy – a national ruling elite which has had ownership of very large capital and wealth and which historically has controlled political power – whether by democratic or military means. This elite has also traditionally commanded the military. These powerful forces, having lost elections to Chavez effected a coup d’etat against the democratically elected President, which coup was openly supported by the US government. It failed following the intervention of the Venezuelan people who came out in their millions to defend their President.
It is the political awakening and the empowerment of the ordinary citizen in Venezuela through the major constitutional changes that President Chavez initiated that will be the strongest bulwark against the oligarchy being able to restore the old order in Venezuela. Contrary to the views of those who attacked him politically, this process of empowerment of citizens resulted in more and not less democracy in Venezuela, as democracy moved towards being participatory. It is why President Chavez faced and won more elections than any other leader in the hemisphere and why he remained till his untimely death the person who has walked in the footsteps of the Great Liberator – Simon Bolivar – in pursuing the cause of social justice, sovereignty and Latin American integration Hugo Chavez Frias rightly takes his place in the pantheon of great leaders who dedicated their life to the struggle for fundamental change in the interest of improving the lives of the poor and powerless.
The MSJ expresses our very sincere condolences to the family of President Chavez and extends solidarity to Vice President Muduro and the leadership and members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (the party founded and led by President Chavez), and to the Venezuelan people at this time of grief. Your loss is our loss! Long live the spirit of Hugo Chavez!
Movement for Social Justice
David Abdulah Political Leader
Movement for Social Justice
______________________________________________________________ 22-26 St. Joseph Road, San Fernando
Tel. No: 762-0133, 773-5417, 773-5639, 773-5436