The Poverty of Hugo Chávez

Hugo Chávez claimed to weep when he opened up the coffin of his political hero, Simón Bolívar, as investigations were under way in Venezuela to check no ‘foul play’ was involved in his death.

But the exhuming of Bolívar provides us with the analogy of the day with which Chávez should look into his own political mission.

While opening up Bolívar, Chávez should open himself up, and take a look at the state of his Bolívarian revolution, and the world in which he tries to operate that revolution.

The 21st century socialism of Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador appeal against the years of bullying from the US of its mineral wealth, now largely turned on its head owing to nationalisation programmes, and the re-appropriation of wealth back into poor cities and welfare initiatives – once little more than a fantasy.

Although Cuba is an ally of Venezuela, Communism on the little island stands for something rather different historically. Once economically dependent on the Soviet Union, Castro’s Cuba became isolated on its demise, the problem of which became further exasperated by the USA’s trade embargo, though this did not put the political structure of Cuba and support for Castro into jeopardy (in fact during the revolution, through to the Bay of Pigs invasion, the embargo and other instigations of American aggression only made the Cubans appreciate their governance more).

Latin American socialism does not pursue the same end game as the USSR, but that is not to say Chávez has not engaged in the pursuit of expansionism predicated, where not on socialism, on anti-Americanism. This has most dubiously found him aligned with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Along with the Iran-tractor project in Venezuela, Iran loaned Bolivia $230m to set up a state cement company to curb the concentration of profit under Evo Morales’ watch. Left-wingers across the globe chose not to kick up a fuss about this. After all ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of our America) – the economic model set up by Chávez to resist the relentless pursuits of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) – was still in its early stages, at the time only having 6 countries on board.

That was until Chávez started praising Ahmadinejad personally at a similar time as praising Robert Mugabe, and pondering whether Idi Amin was just a misunderstood patriot.

The International Marxist Tendency, the fringe organisation led by Alan Woods in the UK with the closest relationship to Chávez and Venezuela, even republished a statement by the Venezuelan Revolutionary Marxist Current, which stated, in reply to statements made by Chávez in June 2009 regarding Iran:

On June 18, president Chávez once again congratulated Ahmadinejad on his reelection as a president and added the “solidarity of Venezuela in the face of the attack by world capitalism against the people of that country”. The Revolutionary Marxist Current in Venezuela, disagrees with this position and we would like to contribute to the debate with the above observations.

Their input made no difference. But the IMT continue to stand by Chávez, now simply referring to his alignment with Ahmadinejad as an error.

Chávez yesterday (16/07/10) made a statement regarding the suicide bombings claimed by Jundullah (an organisation based in Balochistan, Pakistan, fighting for the rights of Sunnis in Iran) in Zahedan, south-east Iran, which killed at least 27 people on Thursday the 15th.

He said:

The Venezuelan government and people express their deepest sympathy to the relatives of the victims of this coward crime, carried out with irrational hate against innocent people.

The authors of this savage crime will be subjected to the justice of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s authorities.

China’s People Daily mention that Chávez went on to stress “the “strong ties” between his country and Iran and voiced firm support to the Iranian people.”

Many on the left would point out that there is disparity between Chávez voicing support both for the justice of the Islamic Republic and the Iranian people – but, alas, there is a failure for Chávez to see this (it should be, thus, no surprise that recently Venezuela, as well as Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, announced their support for Iran’s nuclear programme – even amid the joke about helping Iran build a nuclear bomb).

This is in large part down to the fact that Chávez views his enemies’ enemies as his friends. Nowhere can this be better illustrated by Chávez’ praise for Carlos the Jackal (CtJ – whose real name is Ilich Ramírez Sánchez); a Venezuelan convict in prison in France, for crimes including a notorious raid on the OPEC HQ in Vienna resulting in the deaths of three people (is it a statement too far to remind ourselves that Iran is OPEC’s second largest oil producer).

What Chávez identified in CtJ was the 70s revolutionary, member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), rather than the creator of a series of bomb attacks designed for French newspapers who were considered pro-Israel, the failed assassination of Joseph Sieff – a Zionist businessman – and countless other near-successful acts terrorism.

Furthermore, CtJ, while in prison, authored a book discussing his conversion to a radical creed of Islam, and his support for Osama Bin Laden.

Chávez obviously should have been more careful with his words than to praise a murderer, but his admission is not without a little historical irony.

The link here is that with the demise of communism, and the fading out of revolutionary fervour in the two countries that survived its fall – Cuba and China – something else has to fill its place.

The French academic Gilles Kepel, in a lecture he gave to the LSE recently, discusses his view that the pull-out of the Red Army in Afghanistan circa 15 February 1989 was a “watershed event” and underlined the weakness of Soviet power, ending with the the fall of the Berlin Wall. Kepel’s further contention is that without the victory of political Islam, there might not have been the same exposure of weakness and “Gorbachev would probably have had more cards in his hand at the time”.

Henceforth, part of the demise of communism was political jihad in Afghanistan. Furthermore, political Islam, which found its new wave in this event, is the most likely candidate to have taken communism’s place in being the enemy of US-styled capitalism.

It is no small irony that Cuba and Iran share allies when the latter under Ahmadinejad has more to be grateful of from the political Islam that emerged victorious from Afghanistan (at the expense of the USSR who bankrolled Cuba) than it does the revolutionary workers who overthrew the Shah in the seventies, only to have that hijacked by fundamentalist mullahs afterwards.

Chávez’ brand of socialism of course is far too small to occupy that place, and socialism in the world is too small a contender in the game for the world.

He has chosen to broaden his punch by taking in anti-Americans of all excesses, this includes Ahmadinejad’s Islamic Republic – which is to socialism what Chávez is to speechlessness.

Chávez’ socialist project is relatively small, and will only play a small role in counter-hegemonic activities against “US imperialism”. But he even puts this in jeopardy by appealing to support from, and heaping praise upon, individuals and nations who are patently anti-socialist and anti-progressive. It is no wonder he praised Carlos the Jackal; the man is dreadfully confused.

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5 Responses to The Poverty of Hugo Chávez

  1. James Doran says:

    Chavez’ eccentricities perhaps reflect the situation he is in – there’s a certain isolation and introversion associated with positions of leadership. It’s not hard to see why he would identify himself with Mugabe and Ahmedinajad, etc.

    But on the other hand, the Venezuelan government has attempted to build regional and global ties with countries which are isolated – Belarus, Iran, Zimbabwe. There’s a certain logic to this, in terms of diplomacy and trade – Chavez couches this in terms of resistance to “US imperialism”. Similarly concerning relations with China, though this is put in terms of a “multi-polar” world – something which suits the language of Chinese politics

  2. Tom Miller says:

    “He has chosen to broaden his punch by taking in anti-Americans of all excesses, this includes
    Ahmadinejad’s Islamic Republic – which is to socialism what Chávez is to speechlessness.”

    Here here. I would initially have described myself as ‘pro-Chavez’, but I now think that has to be ‘sceptically pro-Chavez’. I don’t think this sort of nonsense sits alongside his domestic programmes, which on balance have been positive compared to anything his country has faced before.

    But Chavez has basically take the revolution in a poor direction – towards the politics of personality, and crude left-nationalism of the sort described here. The crudeness of his purported ‘anti-imperialism’ means he is essentially failing in his duty of solidarity with the oppressed.

    • Tom,

      You’re right to reflect on Chavez’ domestic record. Much has been done to smear him (oily money, thriving private sector still existent, RCTV controversy) and I wouldn’t follow that lead here.

      There is confusion about the availability of staples in Venezuela which has been exaspperated by flat earth journalism, but I’ve been lucky enough to see the stalls set up by the PDVSA myself, offering government subsidised provisions, barely covered by anti Chavez press outlets.

      However what this undue criticism does is obscure justified criticsm of Chavez, and his presence as an international figure, which I think puts in jeopardy that noble project of socialism in the twenty-first century

  3. Pingback: Catching up belatedly « Poumista

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