Posted February 28, 2014
by Jerry Alatalo
“There is danger in reckless change, but greater danger in blind conservatism.”
– Henry George (1839-1897)
Before Hugo Chavez became President of Venezuela, that nation was undergoing austerity measures implemented at the suggestion of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who Venezuela at the time owed repayment of IMF loans. Because of those austerity measures, the tipping point being significant increases in bus fares, the Venezuelan people started protesting. Push came to shove and over 1,000 Venezuelans died at the hands of security forces under the right-wing government.
Hugo Chavez, a member of the Venezuelan army, organized a failed coup against the government, and was sent to prison for two years. After being released from prison, Chavez would run for president of Venezuela against a former Miss World/Venezuelan beauty, and won. In 2002, with events eerily similar to what is occurring in Venezuela in 2014, the opposition to Chavez organized demonstrations, the Chavez supporters were falsely blamed for killing protesters on a Caracas bridge that was carried out by sniper(s) on a high-rise in the area, and Chavez was toppled.
Days later, the Venezuelan army refused to go along with the coup, and with millions of Chavez supporters taking to the streets, Hugo Chavez was returned to the office of the presidency. Eight months later a nationwide strike was organized by Chavez’ opposition which brought the nation’s economy to a standstill. Chavez and the government were able to resume oil production, the economy doubled, poverty was reduced by 50%, and extreme poverty reduced by 70%. During this time “Christian” leader, American Pat Robertson, was filmed saying that Hugo Chavez needed to be assassinated, that “we can take him out”.
Hugo Chavez was born in a mud hut in Venezuela in extreme poverty. During the rest of his life his what has been called “Bolivarian Revolution” has moved to the rest of Latin America.
In Bolivia, the first indigenous person ever was elected president and he is Evo Morales. In Oliver Stone’s film Mr. Morales spoke about the war on drugs: “the pretext of the war on drugs, the fight against drug trafficking, what’s being implemented is a politics of control, not just against Bolivia, but many other Latin American countries. The war on drugs is part of the United States’ geopolitical interests. ”
“They will always try to criminalize the fight against neoliberalism, colonialism, and imperialism. It’s almost normal, the worst enemy I have is the media… I feel more like a union leader than a president.”
In 2001, Argentina experienced a major economic crisis, despite following the dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Nestor Kirchner would run for president and win in 2003. His wife, Cristina would succeed him as president and said to Oliver Stone, “We who live in this region don’t have the experience of one country imposing its ways on another country. Rather, we have suffered at the hands of colonialism. We’re all different people with different societies and different histories.” Stone: What do you think of the press calling Chavez a dictator? Her reply: “I don’t think there has ever been a government in Latin America or the world that has held the amount of elections as that of Hugo Chavez. I think this is like his 13th election. I haven’t seen many dictators win 13 consecutive elections. One may or may not agree with the things he says, but to say that in Venezuela that there isn’t the freedom to say what one thinks, I don’t believe that at all. It’s quite the contrary.”
President Cristina Kirchner on Argentina’s economic crisis: “The IMF recommended a wave of privatizations, state non-intervention in the market, that the market could solve everything, pegging the peso to the dollar, and so on. In order to maintain this fiction, the country endured a brutal financial situation, because the money came in from the IMF, there was a huge amount of interest on the loan for Argentina. Later they pulled out, this led to the largest deficit in the history of Argentina that rose to the level of 160% of Gross National Product. It left us with 25% unemployment, 56% poverty, and 30% extreme poverty. In the end, everything that could be regarded as a social tragedy. All this exploded in 2001-2 with a brutal devaluation of the currency, which signified a huge transfer of wealth. This is what Nestor Kirchner inherited in 2003. That’s why we began a different policy than before, and we confronted the IMF.”
Nestor Kirchner on his personal meeting with George W. Bush: “That day Latin America was able to defeat the plans of the world’s leading power, represented by President Bush and his free-trade policies, and that we were able to do it collectively. I will never forget that day. So much so that I kept the chair from that meeting and it’s in my house. That day, we had the courage to not just speak on the radio when the man is not around, or when the empire’s representative isn’t there, we acted collectively and in coordination. That was one of the most important steps ever taken in the region.” Stone: What is it like to say ‘no’ to a banker? Nestor Kirchner: “Well, you’re either a subversive, on the left, a thief, or shameless. When you see a politician that is very friendly with the economic sectors, something’s fishy. Those sectors think only about their benefit and not the benefit of society. Now, in this period which Cristina Kirchner is leading, is a different and more difficult time. I had to pull this country out of hell.”
“The president has to grow the economy, make sure the distribution of income is fair. The sectors that control the economy, the sectors that want profit always and never gives back, the sectors that don’t want to cooperate, are the sectors that react. They want to keep doing things the old way, where wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few… I say that it’s not necessary to kneel before power, nor do you need to be rude to say the things you want to say to those who are against our actions.”
“We had a discussion in Monterrey, I said that a solution for the problems right now, I told Bush, is a Marshall Plan, and he got angry. He said the Marshall Plan is a crazy idea of the Democrats. He said the best way to revitalize the economy is war, and that the United States has grown stronger with war. He said that. These were his exact words. Well, he was talking about the United States. The Democrats had been wrong. All of the growth of the United States has been encouraged by the various wars. He said it very clearly. President Bush is, well, he’s only got six days left, right? Thank God.”
Hugo Chavez during these days had returned to Venezuela. He stood before thousands of Venezuelans in a soccer stadium and shouted, “To hell with the free-trade agreement!”
Former Bishop and current adherent to the ideas of “Liberation Theology” Fernando Lugo, became president of Paraguay. “My family was persecuted by (Dictator) Stroessner. My father was sent to prison twenty times. It is a paradox that I now live in the house where Stroessner lived.” Stone: Are the great changes in Latin America due to Liberation Theology? “Without a doubt. We believe that the roots of the change here in Latin America began with a new way of thinking. Fifteen or twenty years ago, no one would have thought that an indigenous person would become president, that two women would become presidents of two important countries, that a metal worker would become president, that a soldier would be president, and least of all, that a Bishop would become president. I believe that there is a new actor here, and that is the social movements.”
“The opposition definitely comes from those groups which have traditionally been the privileged ones in Paraguay, especially after 61 years under a hegemonic party. It hasn’t been easy to create change in the country. Here, there is a group which has been historically privileged in the government, with the country’s resources. We want to be consistent with the theory of Liberation Theology. If there are going to be the privileged, then it has to be those who in the past have been forgotten: the indigenous, the landless, the uneducated, the sick. Those are the ones who need to be the first priority. We are committed to honest transparency, and to give back dignity to our institutions, and with much more social justice. I can’t get away from the 30 years I spent in the church. It’s like Saint Paul says, “one sows the seed, another fertilizes it, another raises it, so another may harvest it.”
Union leader/metal worker Lula da Silva became president of Brazil.
“We have had governments that were subservient. Many times, it was also the same with the elite. Everything American was good, everything European was good, everything Japanese was good. Everything that was ours was worthless. I learned as a trade unionist that one only respects someone who respects themselves. I personally have no interest in fighting with the United States. The only thing I want is to be treated as equals. When I met with the head of the IMF and paid off the debt in full, he did not want me to pay the debt. He said, ‘Don’t worry about the money, we can roll it over. Keep the money.’ We paid off the IMF, we paid off the Paris Club, we do not owe anything to anybody. And now we have $260 billion surplus.”
Stone: Latin American bank? “Yes, and I’m working toward this, with Argentina, we have trade in our own currency. Now, it’s a process that we’ve begun, that we’re building. I dream that we have the structure of a common currency in South America and to have a South American parliament, and a South American constitution, and a South American labor federation. We’re changing the level of governance in Latin America. For the first time, the poor are treated like human beings. The growth of the left in Latin America is a result of the strength of democracy itself. I am truly optimistic.”
Rafael Correa became president of Ecuador.
“President Chavez started a new era in Latin America. For us right now, it is very hard to make the changes we would like to make and that the country needs. Now that we have many friendly governments in the region, like President Chavez, President Morales, the Kirchners in Argentina, Lula in Brazil, I imagine how hard it must have been 10 years ago for Chavez to have undertaken all those things alone in a Latin America full of neoliberal governments. Chavez has been a great influence. He’s been a great example in many ways. We love the U.S. very much. I lived there. I studied there. We love the people of the U.S. very much. But obviously the U.S. foreign policy is questionable.”
“That’s why when they want to pressure us to maintain their military base in our country, a foreign base that they didn’t pay anything for, either, and they accuse us of being extremists because we don’t want the base. If there’s no problem having foreign military bases in a country, we set a very simple condition, we would keep the military base in Manta, provided they let us put a military base in Miami. If there’s no problem with foreign bases then we should be able to have one over there.”
Stone: DEA in Ecuador? “Well, what they’re doing is sort of advising, but we’re limiting the influence they used to have. They used to finance large parts of our forces, we’re changing all of that.” Stone: Correa one of the ‘bad left’? “With all due respect, knowing the American media, I would be more worried if they spoke well of me.”
Stone: You’re the godfather? Raul Castro: “No, maybe the first, but not the godfather. Everybody is grown up and all walk with their own two feet, with their own ideas, and contributing new ideas. For example, socialists in the 21st century, they aren’t inheritors of any of our work. We’re all definitely inheritors of something from someone. The Cubans are the heirs of the liberators of the Americas, starting with Bolivar and Sucre, Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Haitian, the first and only revolution led by slaves in the history of the world. We are the heirs of some of the more recent battles, of other companions who have fallen like Che Guevara.”
“But each one is learning their own identity and finding their own identity within the continent. We aren’t the godfathers and they aren’t the heirs. And the Cuban revolution has made it to the half-century mark as a whole. And the Cuban people, despite having explosive personalities, have learned to be patient and that is a remarkable thing. And this explosive combination, like Fidel said of the Europeans, our Spanish side, and our African side, we’re ready for another fifty years.”
Venezuela and the legacy of Hugo Chavez in 2014
Hugo Chavez led the entire South American continent away from the IMF and American economic controls. “I hope Obama will be a new Roosevelt, and Obama will implement a “New Deal”, not only for the U.S., but for all the continents of the world.”
Chavez died of cancer in 2013 at age 58. He made clear his choice of Nicolas Maduro to succeed him. Venezuela now is experiencing similar conditions to 2002, when a coup to take down Chavez was defeated by the military and the Venezuelan people. Venezuela remains a nation that has the largest oil reserves in the world.
“And perhaps this is one of the things that keeps us going. The optimism, faith, and hope. And the concrete evidence that we can change the course of history.”
– Hugo Chavez (1955-2013)
However people may view Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution in Latin America, the events that have occurred on the South American continent are profound in their effect on the lives of many millions of men, women, and children. In the simplest of terms, the South American experience in recent years has been about political philosophy and the positives and negatives – the differences between socialism and capitalism.