[A-List] Loathed by the Rich
shimogamo at attglobal.net
Fri Aug 13 19:59:25 MDT 2004
Why Hugo Chavez is Heading for a Stunning Victory
by Richard Gott in Caracas, The Guardian (August 07 2004)
To the dismay of opposition groups in Venezuela, and to the surprise
of international observers gathering in Caracas, President Hugo Chavez
is about to secure a stunning victory on August 15, in a referendum
designed to lead to his overthrow.
First elected in 1998 as a barely known colonel, armed with little more
than revolutionary rhetoric and a moderate social-democratic programme,
Chavez has become the leader of the emerging opposition in Latin America
to the neo-liberal hegemony of the United States. Closely allied to
Fidel Castro, he rivals the Cuban leader in his fierce denunciations
of George Bush, a strategy that goes down well with the great majority
of the population of Latin America, where only the elites welcome the
economic and political recipes devised in Washington.
While Chavez has retained his popularity after nearly six years as
president, support for overtly pro-US leaders in Latin America, such
as Vicente Fox in Mexico and Alejandro Toledo in Peru, has dwindled to
nothing. Even the fence-sitting President Lula in Brazil is struggling
in the polls. The news that Chavez will win this month's referendum
will be bleakly received in Washington.
Chavez came to power after the traditional political system in Venezuela
had self-destructed during the 1990s. But the remnants of the ancien
regime, notably those entrenched in the media, have kept up a steady
fight against him, in a country where racist antipathies inherited from
the colonial era are never far from the surface. Chavez, with his black
and Indian features and an accent that betrays his provincial origins,
goes down well in the shanty towns, but is loathed by those in the
rich white suburbs who fear he has mobilised the impoverished majority
The expected Chavez victory will be the opposition's third defeat in as
many years. The first two were dramatically counter-productive for his
opponents, since they only served to entrench him in power. An attempted
coup d'etat in April 2002, with fascist overtones reminiscent of the
Pinochet era in Chile, was defeated by an alliance of loyal officers
and civilian groups who mobilised spontaneously and successfully to
demand the return of their president.
The unexpected restoration of Chavez not only alerted the world to an
unusual leftwing, not to say revolutionary, experiment taking place in
Venezuela, but it also led the country's poor majority to understand
that they had a government and a president worth defending. Chavez was
able to dismiss senior officers opposed to his project of involving the
armed forces in programmes to help the poor, and removed the threat of
a further coup.
The second attempt at his overthrow - the prolonged work stoppage in
December 2002 which extended to a lockout at the state oil company,
Petroleos de Venezuela, nationalised since 1975 - also played into
the hands of the president. When the walkout (with its echoes of the
CIA-backed Chilean lorry owners' strike against Salvador Allende's
government in the early 1970s) failed, Chavez was able to sack the
most pampered sections of a privileged workforce.
The company's huge surplus oil revenues were redirected into imaginative
new social programmes. Innumerable projects, or "missions", were
established throughout the country, recalling the atmosphere of the
early years of the Cuban revolution. They combat illiteracy, provide
further education for school dropouts, promote employment, supply cheap
food, and extend a free medical service in the poor areas of the cities
and the countryside, with the help of 10,000 Cuban doctors.
Redundant oil company buildings have been commandeered to serve as the
headquarters of a new university for the poor, and oil money has been
diverted to set up Vive, an innovative cultural television channel that
is already breaking the traditional US mould of the Latin American media.
The opposition dismiss the new projects as "populist", a term
customarily used with pejorative intent by social scientists in
Latin America. Yet faced with the tragedy of extreme poverty and neglect
in a country with oil revenues to rival those of Saudi Arabia, it is
difficult to see why a democratically elected government should not
embark on crash programmes to help the most disadvantaged.
Their impact is about to be tested at the polls on August 15. Vote "Yes"
to eject Chavez from the presidency. Vote "No" to keep him there until
the next presidential election in 2006. The opposition, divided
politically and with no charismatic figure to rival Chavez to front
their campaign, continue to behave as though their victory is certain.
They discuss plans for a post-Chavez government, and watch closely the
ever-dubious and endlessly conflicting opinion polls, placing their
evaporating hopes on the "don't knows". They still imagine fondly that
they can achieve a victory comparable to that of the anti-Sandinistas
in Nicaragua in 1990.
Yet their third attempt to derail the government is clearly doomed.
The Chavez campaign to secure a "No" vote has struck the country like
a whirlwind, playing to all his strengths as a military strategist and
a political organiser. A voter registration drive, reminiscent of the
attempt to put black people on the election roll in the United States i
n the 1960s, has produced hundreds of thousands of new voters. So too
has a campaign to give citizenship to thousands of long-term immigrants.
Most will favour Chavez, and Chavez supporters are already patrolling
the shanty towns and the most remote areas of the country to get the
vote out on August 15.
One unexpected bonus for Chavez has been the dramatic and perhaps
semi-permanent increase in the world oil price. As he explained to me a
few days ago, he is now able to direct the extra revenues to the poor,
both at home and abroad, for Venezuela supplies oil at a discount price
to the countries of Central America and the Caribbean, including Cuba.
Chavez celebrated his 50th birthday last month, and he has talked of
soldiering on as president for years in order to see through the reforms
he envisages. That is not such an improbable proposition.
He has also been helped by the changing political climate in Latin
America. Other presidents have been climbing over themselves to be
photographed with him. He has patched up relations with Colombia and
Chile, hitherto cool, and last month reinforced his friendly relations
with Brazil and Argentina by signing an association agreement with the
Mercosur trading union that they lead. Once perceived by his neighbours
as a bit of an oddball, he now appears more like a Latin American
statesman. Up and down the continent he has become the man to watch.
Faced with a Chavez victory, the opposition may yet turn in desperation
to violence. His assassination, hinted at recently by former president
Carlos Andres Perez, or the deployment of paramilitary forces of the
kind unleashed in recent years in Colombia, is always a possibility.
Yet the more civilised sectors of the opposition will set themselves,
with luck, to the difficult task of organising a proper electoral force
to challenge Chevez in 2006. When I asked an uncommitted bookseller
whether he would vote to sack the president in mid-term, he replied:
"No, they should let him get on with the job".
Richard Gott is the author of In the Shadow of the Liberator: Hugo
Chavez and the Transformation of Venezuela, published by Verso.
His latest book, Cuba: A New History, will be published next month
by Yale University Press
Please also see:-
by Greg Palast, GregPalast.com (August 11 2004)
"US Supports Anti-democratic Forces in Venezuela Recall"
by Robert Jensen, ZNet (August 11 2004)
"Venezuela's Chavez Gathers Momentum As Recall Approaches"
by Bart Jones, National Catholic Reporter (August 10 2004)
Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/
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