Hugo Chávez: Tribune of world’s dispossessed
By John Riddell
Hugo Chávez was not only a great Bolivarian patriot; he was a tribune of the world’s dispossessed.
• At an anti-imperialist conference in Cairo in 2007, I heard Chávez hailed for his solidarity with Palestinians as “a better Arab than the Arabs”; “closer to us than the Arabs that impose injustice.”
• Chávez, the first Latin American president to declare himself of African descent, proclaimed in 2005, “Every day we are much more aware of the roots we have in Africa.”
• Under Chávez, Venezuela provided the tormented nation of Haiti with subsidized oil, infrastructure, and support for Cuban medical assistance. The U.S. ambassador there grumbled in 2007, “Chávez is winning friends and influencing people at our expense.”
• “President Chávez was a friend of White Earth Nation…. He cared for the poor,” said Minnesota indigenous leader Erma Vizenor on his death. Venezuela donated heating fuel to hundreds of thousands of needy U.S. residents and to native peoples across the country.
• Venezuelan aid to the Nicaraguan people included “subsidized oil – provided throughout the region – aid for small farmers and underpaid public employees, and significant investment to aid the hemisphere’s second-poorest economy.” (Felipe Cournoyer, Managua. But Venezuelan aid is not charity. It is founded on mutual solidarity, expressed above all through the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). Chávez was ALBA’s prime mover.
In its 2008 program, Quebec’s new broad workers’ party, Québec Solidaire (QS), hailed ALBA as the kind of treaty that Quebec needs, one “based on individual and collective rights, respect for the environment, and a widening of democracy.” Indeed, ALBA, like QS itself, is based on defense of national sovereignty. Its core members, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, have swung into action against several rightist coup attempts – winning striking victories in Bolivia and Ecuador.
Responding to Simón Bolívar’s dream of sovereignty through regional integration, ALBA emerged from resistance to the blows of neoliberalism and U.S. plans to impose “free” trade. As Paul Kellogg has written, ALBA is a “’counter-hegemonic’ approach to the processes of globalization” that have dominated the region for some decades.
The ALBA blueprint aims to conduct trade on the basis of solidarity, protected from the blows of the capitalist world market. True, ALBA does not go beyond capitalism. Nor has the revolution that Chávez led in Venezuela been able, so far, to overcome capitalist power in either the economy or the state bureaucracy. Yet Chávez framed ALBA as a road to “21st century socialism.” Certainly the growth of such a sovereign multinational alliance would improve the prospects of a future socialist undertaking.
Chávez spearheaded the development of broader instruments of regional unity: UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States). CELAC has united all states of “Nuestra América” in fraternal alliance, while excluding – to the joy of North American socialists – the obtrusive regimes of the United States and Canada. And Chávez reached beyond the continent, including by building a relationship with Iran in defiance of the U.S.-led blockade.
The government in the country where I live, Canada, responded harshly to the Venezuelan people’s freedom struggle. Canada began subsidizing the right-wing opposition to Chávez. It tried to counter Venezuela’s growing international influence. The media spread slanders that Chávez was a “dictator.” When Chávez died, Canada’s official reaction was seen by many in Venezuela as a calculated insult to his memory.
Yet as Maria Paez Victor, a Venezuelan-Canadian defender of the Bolivarian movement, reports, “whenever I have had frank conversations with Canadians about Hugo Chávez, the overwhelming reaction has been that of pleasant surprise.” Visitors returning from Venezuela report gains for the poor and marginalized, particularly in political leverage and self-government. Despite the blows of the old elite, a vibrant movement for socialism has come into being.
And this, according to Chilean writer Marta Harnecker, was “Chávez’s chief legacy.” He chose the term 21st century socialism so as not to “fall into the errors of the past” and the “Stalinist deviation,” she writes. Hugo Chávez has helped socialism begin to win a new and broader hearing from the world’s peoples.