Analysis: a controversial character

Mat Owens 30 October 2008

Hugo Chavez recently threatened to put his political rival ‘behind bars’- an unfortunate comment to have made- but just one example of the diverse facets making up his colourful character.

Chavez is a controversial figure, and it would be difficult for anyone to agree with all his actions, but he is leading Venezuela and Latin America into a much-needed revival of independence, self respect, economic security and Pan-American integration.

His current ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ is a broadly socialist, populist and humanist mass political movement based loosely on an interpretation of the independence hero Simón Bolívar’s philosophy for a united Latin America.

Chavez, followed by left-wing governments in the majority of Latin America, has implemented his plan for 21st-century Socialism with an almost aggressive speed, nationalising key industries such as telecommunications, electricity and large parts of the energy sector, a move echoed by his staunch allies Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Evo Morales of Bolivia.

In a continent with the largest gap between rich and poor, this radical path is necessary; it is clear that the free-market economic policies of the US are not appropriate and are in fact to blame for the roller coaster ups and downs of South American economies in the recent past, such as the 2001 collapse of the Argentinian peso caused by irresponsible lending by the IMF. It is fitting that careless lending has also fuelled the current crisis, further proving the need for ‘another way”.

Chavez’s socialist reforms make Venezuela unique; ‘petro-dollars’ allowed a massive ramp-up of social spending, and the introduction of ‘Missions’ has provided free education, discounted food, social welfare and healthcare to poor citizens, a move praised by the World Health

Organisation and UNICEF. Furthermore, Chavez, Correa and Morales have championed indigenous rights, land reform and environmental protection, three of the most divisive issues in Latin American politics.

America’s hostility towards Socialist Venezuela is hypocritical and sickening.

They claim Chavez is a ‘threat to democracy’, yet he introduced legislation allowing a referendum at anytime to remove him, which was triggered in 2004 and which he survived; in addition he has stated he will stand down in 2013 when his current term expires.

The US recognised a short-lived regime which took power from the democratically-elected Chavez in a 2002 coup, while their record of supporting murderous dictators such as Pinochet in Chile shows a strategy of reckless disregard for ordinary people in pursuit of outdated anti-Communist policies.

Chavez’s foreign policy may be contentious but by supporting Palestinian and Lebanese causes against Israeli aggression, as well as siding with Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the recent Georgian war, he highlights that there are two sides to every conflict. Just because the US decides to take sides does not make it the right decision; past US involvements in conflicts should send a stark warning of that.

Latin America is emerging from the shadow of US imperialism that dominated its politics for the past 100 years. The election of Bolivia’s first indigenous president, the first left-wing presidents for Uruguay and Paraguay and left-leaning regimes in Argentina and Brazil show that change is occurring in Latin America and the spirit of co-operation is strong with regional trading blocs and defence partnerships springing up.

Venezuela is leading ordinary Latin Americans to a richer, healthier and fairer future.

Mat Owens