Dead Men Left

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Hugo Chavez - a damn sight better than Blair

Hugo Chavez won the recall referendum. Won it substantially. Won it by 1.5m votes, 58% to 42%. Won it fairly, if Jimmy Carter's word is anything to go by. After years of coups, plots, slanders in his own media, and a constant, corrosive drip-drip-drip from Washington, Chavez has come through it all to finally deliver something the left and all progressives worldwide can smile about. By no means perfect, by no means ideal, Chavez has spat in the face of the mandarins of the "Washington consensus"; and spitting with him are the bulk of the Venezuelan people. Tariq Ali, in today's Independent, makes the case for Chavez's popularity:

Just under a million children from the shanty towns and the poorest villages obtain a free education; 1.2 million illiterate adults have been taught to read and write; secondary education has been mmade available to 250,000 children whose social status excluded them from this privilege during the ancien regime; three new university campuses were functioning by 2003 and six more are due to be completed by 2006...

Between 1958 and 1994, four years before Chavez's first election victory, Venezuela earned $300bn from oil exports. Very little of this immense wealth trickled down to the poor. Neo-liberalism arrived with a vengeance in 1989, under President Perez's "Great Turn". The numbers living in the direst poverty increased from 36% to 66%; Perez shot down thousands of demonstrators. Under Chavez, whilst the wealthy, Washington-inclined elite have conspired, crossing the boundaries of supposedly sacred legality with abandon, the Chavez government has delivered immense benefits for the impoverished of Venezuela.

This is not the self-emancipation of the working class. This is not the foundation of a new society. But in a world dominated by a shameless connivance to the market, this is something to be supported. And yet, somewhere along the line, a small group of self-styled pro-war "leftists" have missed out on all this. How strange, though it has provoked me to blog the happy occasion. For the rest of us, time to follow Blair's advice: "rejoice!"