It has launched illegal and unjust wars with catastrophic human consequences; it has helped overthrow democratically elected governments; it arms and backs some of the most brutal dictatorships on the face of the earth; and it has a track record of supporting terrorist organisations. Even many of its ardent supporters admit that the US foreign policy elite has a somewhat chequered history.
Today, an American hero stands in the dock, damned for a relatively tiny ray of light he shone on the darker recesses of this elite. Over three years ago, US soldier Bradley Manning – even now just 25 years old – leaked 250,000 US diplomatic cables and half a million army reports. There has never been a bigger leak of classified material in the history of the United States.
His punishment has already been severe. According to Juan Méndez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, he has faced cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. For months, he was deprived of human contact. He was stripped of his clothes, left without privacy, and forced to sleep without any darkness. In 2011, P J Crowley was forced to resign as the US state department’s official spokesman after slamming Manning’s treatment as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”.
Manning now begins a military trial, charged with a capital offence, though the prosecution promise not to seek the death penalty, leaving him facing 20 years in prison. As two US champions of the First Amendment on free speech, Floyd Abrams and Yochai Benkler, have written: “If successful, the prosecution will establish a chilling precedent: national security leaks may subject the leakers to a capital prosecution or at least life imprisonment.”
Manning is partly being tried under the Espionage Act, a piece of legislation dating back to the First World War. He faces 22 charges in total: to 10 of them he has pleaded guilty, including wilfully communicating to an unauthorised person. But the most alarming charge is that he was “aiding the enemy” – in other words, that he intentionally helped al-Qa’ida.
No wonder powerful interests in the US want to make an example of Manning. Among the videos he released was an Apache helicopter conducting a bombing raid that killed Iraqi civilians and a Reuters journalist. “The most alarming aspect of the video to me was the seemingly delightful bloodlust they appeared to have,” Manning has said, appalled by the lack of “value for human life” shown by the pilots’ descriptions of “dead bastards”. Here was the “on-the-ground reality” of both the Iraq and Afghan wars, he claimed.
The truth is Manning has done a great service, both to the American people and to the world as a whole. US foreign policy depends on secrecy, not simply because of fear of US enemies, but because the reality would often horrify the American people.
Back in the 1970s, my parents were among South Yorkshire families who took in Chilean refugees fleeing General Pinochet’s dictatorship. One was a woman with two kids; she had been raped, her husband murdered. She ended her life by flinging herself off a Sheffield tower block. Pinochet’s bloody junta had come to power on the back of secret CIA aid: as Henry Kissinger said before the democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende was overthrown: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its people.” Under Reagan, US-backed right-wing terrorists went on a frenzied rampage across Central America: there was an intentional conspiracy to keep this horrendous reality away from the American people.
This was a long time ago, some will say; it was the Cold War, after all, and normal rules were suspended. That’s probably little comfort to those still grieving the Disappeared, and indeed there is substantial evidence of US involvement in the more recent 2002 coup against Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. But there has been a striking continuity in US foreign policy since 1898, when the American Anti-Imperialist League – dominated by an old guard horrified at a slide towards European-style colonialism – opposed the bloody invasion of the Philippines.
There has always been a somewhat Orwellian quality to US foreign policy: “we have always been at war with Islamic fundamentalism”, for example. And yet in the 1980s, US arms were distributed through Pakistan’s secret services to the Afghan mujihadeen: they were freedom-fighters, you see. Then we ended up in a never-ending war in Afghanistan, battling on behalf of a corrupt and undemocratic government, against Islamic fundamentalist elements. Several hundred miles away, the US is proactively backing Syria’s jihadists alongside its Islamist fundamentalist ally, Saudi Arabia. Waves of Islamist fighters were recruited by the calamity of Iraq.
There is nothing patriotic about the poorly scrutinised actions of the US foreign policy elite. Scores of young men or women are sent to be killed or maimed: those who call for bringing them to safety are smeared as “unpatriotic”. US civilians are put at risk of “blowback”, a CIA word for the unintended consequences of foreign interventions. They can even fail disastrously on their own terms. Back in the 1950s, the US helped overthrow Iran’s last democratically-elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, fuelling anti-American sentiment that helped drive the Iranian Revolution.
That is why Manning has done us such a service. He has encouraged us to scrutinise the hidden realities of US power, and consider the dire consequences of decisions shrouded in secrecy. His actions should compel us to build a more open, balanced world, where great powers are less able to throw their poorly understood weight around. It would be a long-term investment: the US is in long-term decline, and autocratic China may take its place, quite possibly using its power more unjustly. Better, then, to challenge this world order now.
I happen to believe the creation of such a world is not a naïve fantasy. It can and must be built. And however your trial goes, you, Mr Manning, will be remembered for your own contribution in building it.
“There is a growing sense throughout the world that capitalism isn’t working; and that the cracks we create in it may really be the only way forward.”
San Andrés de Cholula, Mexico, 03/04/13
On the outskirts of Puebla and at the foot of the giant Popocatépetl volcano lies the sleepy Mexican town of San Andrés de Cholula. It is here that, on a sunny April afternoon, we meet John Holloway. Often referred to as “the philosopher of the Zapatistas”, Holloway — who is a Professor of Sociology at the Autonomous University of Puebla — is widely known for his anti-statist conception of revolution and his intellectual support for autonomous anti-capitalist movements around the world. The publication in 2002 of his influential book, Change the World without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today, unleashed a veritable firestorm of both praise and criticism from fellow radicals and helped to provoke a period of profound introspection in Leftist circles on the meaning and necessity of revolution in the post-Cold War context of globalized financial capitalism.
For Holloway, it all starts with the Scream: a resounding roar, a ‘NO! Ya Basta! Enough already! We won’t submit any longer to the brutalizing logic of capitalist domination!’ It starts with this Scream, but it does not end there. After the refusal to participate in the reproduction of capitalist control, we open up time, space and resources for a possibly endless range of “other-doings”; for different ways of acting and being within the world. Taken together, these different refusals and other-doings constitute what Holloway calls the “cracks” in the capitalist system; the ruptures in the prison walls from which humanity collectively pushes its dignity and will to survive outward, until one day the walls cave in altogether. These cracks can occur in different dimensions (in space, in time and in terms of activity and/or resources), and at different levels. “It may be the garden in which we find ourselves”, Holloway tells us, “or it may be a good chunk of the state of Chiapas which is now self-governed by the Zapatistas.”
In this conceptualization of revolution, then, the traditional Marxist objective of taking state power becomes a hopeless endeavor. Holloway reminds us that the modern state essentially evolved in symbiosis with capital, leaving its institutional DNA imprinted with the same internal contradictions that bedevil the capitalist system as such. Taking state power with the objective of bringing about radical social change, then, is bound to reproduce the same logic of capital accumulation that the revolution was originally meant to overthrow. “States don’t make much sense,” Holloway says. “So we have to think in terms of something from below, creating our own forms of organization and interaction.” Rather than participating in the reproduction of the capital relation, in other words, our goal should be to undermine capital at its very root: by refusing to continue reproducing it through our own labor, and by rendering the capitalist state superfluous through the construction of alternative forms of self-organization from the grassroots up. In this sense, as Holloway once rightly boasted, “we are the crisis of capital — and we are proud of it!”
Walking into the botanical gardens of Cholula, we therefore immediately understand why Holloway invited us to meet him here. A beautiful small oasis of peace and quiet, the garden — which Holloway proudly tells us is the creation of his compañera — is like a crack of life inside the flattened landscape and dehumanized social universe that is today’s neoliberal Mexico; a dramatically globalized “emerging market” where an unholy alliance of U.S. interests, business power and state-sponsored violence have left the average citizen buckling under a wave of murderous organized crime and criminal levels of inequality. The garden also provides a colorful background to Holloway’s incredibly friendly and soft-spoken character. Just speaking to him about the general things of life, one would almost forget that this kind and humble man is known as one of the most militant anti-capitalist thinkers in the world. Indeed, Holloway doesn’t appear even the tiniest bit like the kind of person who would refer to the riots in Athens as a “very productive and fruitful development.”
And yet it all makes perfect sense. In a way, Holloway’s personal character and mental lifeworld already seem to be light-years beyond capitalism. Here, there is no professorial pride, no academic arrogance, no intellectual vanguardism; just a sense of humility combined with a genuine desire to change the world — without taking power. It is for this viewpoint (the impossibility of bringing about revolutionary social change by taking state power) that Holloway is best-known. In this respect, the 2002 publication of Change the World without Taking Power was remarkably well-timed. Its main ideas dovetailed perfectly with the autonomous Zapatista uprising of the preceding decade (Holloway had moved to Mexico in 1991, three years before the Chiapas rebellion began); they resonated very strongly with the claims and objectives of the Global Justice Movement that had been rocking the United States and Europe ever since the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and the bloody Genoa G8 protests in 2001; and the publication of the book coincided exactly with the ongoing popular uprising in Argentina during that country’s devastating financial meltdown in 2001-’02.
When Pluto Press published Crack Capitalism in 2010, Holloway’s decision to write a book about the many creative forms of anti-capitalist contestation once again proved to be remarkably well-timed. Coming on the heels of the global financial meltdown of 2007-’08, Crack Capitalism prefigured exactly the type of social struggles that were to transpire in the coming years. By 2011, the mass mobilizations of the indignados in Spain, the enormous anti-austerity protests in Greece, and the global resonance of the Occupy movement had made it unmistakable that autonomous forms of horizontal self-organization and direct-democratic models of decision-making had largely replaced the traditional Left as the main source of resistance to the capitalist onslaught on our human dignity — and, indeed, on our very lives. Where a decade ago a book like Change the World without Taking Power could still be considered “controversial”, today the core ideas of Crack Capitalism are all but taken for granted by a new generation of activists and politically-engaged citizens involved in anti-capitalist struggles around the world.
It was for this reason, and many more, that we decided to sit down with John in his adopted home country of Mexico and ask him for some of his views on recent developments around the world — from the role of the state in the ongoing European debt crisis to the meaning of the Greek riots, and from the legacy of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and the ability to use the state as a crack, to the powerful lessons the Zapatistas can teach us about the different temporalities of revolt in the 21st century. We are very grateful to John for his time and for his permission to reproduce the full transcript of our conversation below. As always, pregundando caminamos.
ROAR: What do you think the current capitalist crisis tells us about the nature of the state and the future of state-oriented revolutionary action?
John Holloway (JH): I think one thing that is striking about the state in the current crisis is really the degree of closure. Perhaps it’s not that we didn’t know it, but I think it’s been very striking just how the state doesn’t respond to protests and protests and protests. I suppose we can see this in Greece and Spain with their massive protests, both of the more traditional Left and of the more creative Left, if you like. The state just doesn’t listen: it goes ahead anyway. So I suppose one thing that’s become clear in the crisis to more and more people is the distance of the state from society, and the degree to which the state is integrated into the movement of money, so that the state even loses the appearance of being pulled in two directions. It becomes more and more clear that the state is bound to do everything possible to satisfy the money markets and in that sense to guarantee the accumulation of capital. I think that’s become much clearer in the last four or five years. And if that means absolutely refusing to listen to the protests, if it means letting the rioters burn down the cities, then so be it. The most important is really the money markets.
If you think of Greece in 2011 and the extraordinary demonstrations there, in which so many buildings in the center were burned down – the state just carries on regardless. I think it’s very interesting and possibly very important in terms of future directions, because the power of attraction of state-centered politics and protests really depends upon the state having some sort of room for negotiation with the trade unions and with people protesting. If the state feels there is no longer any room for negotiation, or simply gets into the habit of saying ‘we will absolutely not negotiate’, then that closes down the margin for state-centered Left politics and pushes people more towards the idea that, really, trying to do things through the state is absolutely hopeless. So perhaps we can hope that non-state oriented politics will become more and more common and more widespread throughout society.
ROAR: Isn’t that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing for a while already, especially in 2011 with the Occupy movement?
JH: Yes, absolutely, and all over the world. Sometimes people say we are entering an age of riots. A closure of the state means no negotiations, meaning that any kind of protest is pushed towards rioting. What that means in terms of how we move forward, I’m not quite sure. It can be a very productive and fruitful development.
ROAR: As a refusal?
JH: Yes, as a refusal. As a kind of total breakdown of the old way of doing things, which perhaps brought a few little benefits but really didn’t take anybody very far. And I think that more and more people are being forced to reinvent their politics or reinvent their ideas about politics, both in terms of protests – but also I think in terms of creating alternatives. If the system has no room for us, if the system simply leaves 50% of young people unemployed, if state benefits are cut back, if the state absolutely refuses to negotiate, if the police become more repressive, then I think we are forced not only to think of creative forms of protest but also ways of how we actually survive and how we actually create alternative ways of living. And we see that very much in Spain and in Greece, where things are going in that direction. I think what the crisis is also telling us is that that‘s the way to go, but that we haven’t gone far enough yet. We’re not yet in a situation where we can just tell capital to go to hell and survive without it. That’s really the problem. But I think that’s the direction we have to go in.
ROAR: The cracks in capitalism seem to flourish in times of crisis. We saw this in the popular uprising in Argentina in 2001-’02, as Marina Sitrin powerfully portrayed in her book Everyday Revolutions, and we’re seeing it in Southern Europe today. Is there a way to perpetuate such cracks beyond the economic ‘hard times’?
JH: I don’t know. First I don’t think times necessarily get better and secondly I’m not sure that we should worry too much about perpetuation. If you look at Argentina, there was clearly a sense in which things did get better. Like the economy, rates of profit recovered, a process in which a lot of the movements of 2001 and 2002 became sucked into the state. But the problems have obviously reappeared somewhere else. If you look at Spain and Greece, firstly there are no short-term perspectives of things getting substantially better. Secondly, if they did get better, then the crisis would move on somewhere else. And the search for alternative ways of living moves on.
I think there is an accumulation of experience, and also an accumulation of growing awareness that spreads from one country to another, that capitalism just isn’t working and that it is in serious problems. I think that people in Greece look to Argentina and recognize the importance of the experiences of 10 years ago. And I think that people in Argentina – even if things have improved economically for them – look to Greece and see the instability of capitalism. The failure of capitalism is showing up again in another place. I think there is a growing sense throughout the world that capitalism isn’t working. There is a growing confidence perhaps that the cracks we create or the crazinesses we create may really be the basis for a new world and a new society, and may really be the only way forward.
What I don’t like about the idea of perpetuation is that it suggests a smooth upward progress. I don’t think it works like that. I think it’s more like a social flow of rebellion, something that moves throughout the world, with eruptions in one place and then in another place. But there are continuities below the discontinuities. We have to think in terms of disrupting, bubbling movements rather than thinking that it all depends on whether we can perpetuate the movement in one place. If we think in terms of perpetuation in one place, I think it can lead us into either an institutionalization, which I think is not much help, or it can lead us into a sense of defeat, perhaps, which I don’t think is right.
ROAR: What’s wrong with institutionalization? You engaged in a debate with Michael Hardt on this issue, where the position that Hardt and Negri take is that institutionalization per se is not a problem, as long as it is part of the constituent movement; the self-organizing element of rebellion. What’s your view on this?
JH: I think institutionalization is not necessarily damaging. It may or may not be, but we should not focus on that, we should think much more in terms of movements. The danger is that we start thinking in terms of institutionalization at the point at which movements are beginning to fail. Institutionalization can be a way of prolonging their life, but then they turn into something that’s not very exciting and not very interesting. If we think of institutionalization in terms of parties, I think that can definitely be harmful. That is what is happening in Argentina at the moment. If you start thinking that you have to start preparing for the next elections, with luck we may win 1.5% of the votes, and maybe five years after that we’ll win 4% of the votes, or whatever. Once you start going in that direction I think it really is destructive; it’s a way of binding movements into the destructive boredom of state politics.
If you think of institutionalization in terms of the World Social Forum, which has been taking place in the last week or so, then it doesn’t do much harm, but that’s really not where the heart of the movements lies either. It can be useful to have meeting places and it can be useful certainly to create links between movements in different parts of the world. And I think it’s very important to overcome, in practical terms, the national orientation of movements. But institutions aren’t really where it’s happening.
ROAR: Last month we witnessed the passing of Hugo Chávez. There are those, like Dario Azzelini, who have praised Chávez for his support in the creation of tens of thousands of cooperatives and communal councils, arguing that the Bolivarian Revolution really empowered the popular base. To what extent is it possible to mobilize the state as a crack within the system of capitalist domination?
JH: I think it doesn’t work. I think that all revolutionary movements and all movements of radical change are profoundly contradictory. If you look at Venezuela, it’s very interesting because on the one hand it’s very much a state-centered movement, but on the other hand I think there are lots of genuine movements that really aim at transforming society from below, from the neighborhoods. I think with Chávez there was an awareness of that contradiction, and in lots of ways a genuine attempt to strengthen the movement from below and to strengthen the communal councils. But when you try to promote that from above, from the state, of course it’s contradictory. In some cases it has led genuinely to the strengthening of communal movements, sometimes very much in tension with the state structures.
I think that the strength of Chávismo over time is really going to depend not so much on the state organization but on the strength of these communal movements. So no, I don’t think that you can think of the state as being an anti-capitalist crack, simply because the state is a form of organization that excludes people; it is a form of organization that dovetails very easily with the reproduction of capital and derives its income from the accumulation of capital. But I think that even in those countries where the movement for radical change is dominated by the state like in Venezuela, Bolivia or even Cuba, to some extent, pushes in different directions continue at the same time.
ROAR: Have you always had this view about the impossibility of state-based revolutionary action?
JH: I think it was probably always my view. In a way it goes back to the old debates on the state, the so-called state derivation debate in the 1970s, where the emphasis was on trying to understand the state as a capitalist form of social relations. And I think I always took it for granted that of course, if you think of the state as a capitalist form of social relations, then obviously you can’t think of using the state to bring about revolution. We have to think in terms of anti-state forms of organization. So in that sense when I came to write Change the World without Taking Power, I thought I was saying something that was very obvious. I think it has always been my view, but when I came to Mexico and with the Zapatista uprising, then of course it got a new shape, a new impulse.
ROAR: There is this critique, expressed by “unrepentant Marxists” like Louis Proyect, that if you don’t take power, power takes you. What would you respond to such a form of criticism?
JH: I think if you do take power, power takes you. That’s very straightforward. I mean it’s very difficult to take positions of power at least in the sense that it’s usually used as ‘power over’. Inevitably you fall into the patterns of exercising power, of excluding people, of reproducing all that you start off fighting against. We’ve seen that over and over again. If you say ‘we are not going to take power’, I suppose one of the arguments is that if we don’t take power, then the really nasty people will take over, that by not taking power we are leaving a vacuum. I think that’s not true: we have to think in terms of capitalism as a ‘how’ and not as a ‘what’; as a way of doing things. The struggle against capital and the struggle to create a different world — for a different ‘how’ — is about a different way of doing things. It doesn’t make sense at all to say that the best way to achieve our ‘how’ is to do things in the way that we are rejecting. That seems to be complete nonsense. If we say that the struggle is really to create a different way of doing things, different ways of relating to one another, then we have no option but just to get on with doing it, and to do everything possible to resist the imposition of the ‘how’ that we reject.
ROAR: You have written that the transition from capitalism to the future world is necessarily an interstitial process, much like the transition from feudalism to capitalism. This directly contradicts the orthodox Marxist view that revolution is by definition a dramatic top-down transformation of society occurring in a very brief period of time. If this traditional view of revolution is outdated, how would you describe the interstitial process that replaces it?
JH: At first sight, the interstitial view contrasts with the traditional view that ‘we take power and we will bring social transformation from the top-down’. But in reality even that is still an interstitial concept because there was this idea that the state corresponds with society – that they are coterminous – which is obviously nonsense. State and society don’t have the same boundaries. Given that there are some 200 states in the world-system, and given that we won’t overthrow all these states on the same day, even if we want to focus on state power we will have to think interstitially. In this view, it’s just that we are thinking of states as being the relevant interstices, which seems ridiculous. What that means is that we are trying to take control of a form of organization that was constructed to promote the reproduction of capital. Everything in the last century suggests it doesn’t work.
We have to think of interstices, but in terms of our own forms of organization. States don’t make much sense. So we have to think in terms of something from below, creating our own forms of organization and interaction. We do it at the scale that we can: sometimes it’s just a little thing, like this garden we’re in. Sometimes it’s bigger, like a big chunk of the state of Chiapas now being self-governed by the Zapatistas. The question then becomes: how can we promote the confluence of these cracks?
There is this idea that the transition from feudalism to capitalism was an interstitial process, but that the movement from capitalism to communism or socialism cannot be – and that’s clearly wrong. If we think of communism, or the society that we want to create on the basis of self-determination, it has to come from below and not from the structures that deny its existence. This means an interstitial process in two temporalities, which are nicely expressed by the Zapatistas. First comes: ‘Ya basta!’ – we cannot accept this, not in terms of our survival, not in terms of our mental health. If this continues it will mean the destruction of humanity. We have to start now and break now. In this sense, the process is not gradual. It is here and now that we must create something else. But then comes the second Zapatista slogan: ‘We walk, we do not run, because we are going very far’ – a recognition that it’s not just a question of a one-day transformation of society; it’s a question of creating a new world.
Hola mi amigos!
Buenvenidos and Ding Dong, for the Dictator Hugo Chavez is dead! God struck Hugo Chavez dead with his awesome power! Let this be a message to all dictators! If God’s President Obama called you out into the Axis of Evil, your days are numbered!
For years Hugo Chavez broke the greatest commands of the Bible, refusing to bow before America’s glory and freely share all the oil in his country with the nation drafted to protect the Western hemisphere from communist East Bloc tyranny.
Chavez always bad-mouthed President George W. Bush and even made friends with mean spirited dictators like Saddam Hussein and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is rumored that Adolph Hitler may have been hiding in Argentina as well.
Most famously, Hugo Chavez threatened to not share our oil in Venezuela and Argentina with us. America automatically owns the Western hemisphere by virtue of the Monroe Doctrine, so his actions were criminal and unjust.
ith Chavez out of the way, South America is in chaos and it is the perfect chance for America to muscle in and coerce a governor over the people, to kindly rule them toward democracy and setup some Halliburton drilling. Hopefully you fools invested in that company because the fields will be a-flowing with the beautiful crude oil!
How appropriate that the Wizard of Oz is coming back to theaters soon, because the wicked dictator is dead. Bye-bye.
Millions of Venezuelans, Cubans and people around the world have paid homage to Latin American revolutionary Hugo Chávez Frias in recent days. Some 33 heads of state and representatives of 50 governments attended Chávez’s funeral.
In the first hours that he lay in state, 2 million grief-stricken Venezuelans bid their beloved Comandante farewell, in a line that stretched as long as five miles. From Mexico City to New York City, countless vigils are being organized by supporters, inspired by Chávez’s revolutionary spirit and life.
But President Barack Obama—in a 60-word statement with not one word of condolence—just promised more “policies that promote democratic principles” in Venezuela.
Obama’s cynical attitude sums up Washington’s role ever since Hugo Chávez became president. The U.S. government has spent billions of dollars to back the Venezuelan right-wing elite in one plot after another to try to overthrow him and the Bolivarian Revolution.
Hugo Chávez’s tragic and untimely death may have whetted the U.S. government’s appetite, but the imperialists are deeply mistaken if they think they can turn back history.
The massive outpouring in Venezuela is not just an expression of deep sentiment for a fallen leader. The cries of “We are Chávez!” and “Chávez Vive!” are a resounding commitment by the people, the masses who brought him back from the grip of a U.S.-sponsored military coup in 2002.
Today, they are more determined than ever to defend the Bolivarian Revolution.
Preparing for the future
When Chávez announced on December 8, 2012, that he had to return to Cuba immediately for another cancer surgery, he was very likely aware that his condition was terminal and little time remained.
He conducted himself to the end of his days in the heroic manner that characterized his life.
In what would be his last public pronouncement to the Venezuelan people, Chávez said: “If something were to happen, I repeat, if I were to become incapacitated in any way, not only should Nicolás Maduro conclude the [current] term, as the Constitution dictates, but, in my firm opinion, as full as the moon, irrevocable, absolute, total—if in that scenario new presidential elections are convened, as mandated by the Constitution—you should vote for Nicolás Maduro as president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. I ask that of you from my heart.”
He was never able to speak to his people again.
Those fateful words are extremely important, because now the election for a new president must be held within 30 days of Chávez’s death.
On March 9, the National Elections Commission set April 14 as the date to elect a new president of Venezuela. The date was extended to give time for nominations, preparation of voting machines, and a 10-day campaign period and to accommodate a Sunday date.
In the meantime, Maduro has been sworn in as interim president, and is the designated candidate for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Presumably, the right-wing opposition candidate will be Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chávez last Oct. 7.
Chávez’s enormous authority enabled him to convey to the 7 million members of the PSUV what is today a matter of pressing urgency, to unite behind a revolutionary candidate who can once again defeat the opposition.
Chávez recognized that his word would carry enormous weight among the masses, to weather the onslaught of right-wing propaganda and assault sure to come after his death.
Hugo Chávez had an abiding confidence in the people because he understood them. He came from them, from the most humble roots of Venezuelan society.
Hugo Chávez’s youth
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías was born July 28, 1954, in the small, remote village of Sabaneta, Barinas state in western Venezuela, the second of six children. Hugo and his older brother Adán—today governor of Barinas—were raised by their grandmother Rosa Inés, while the parents Elena and Hugo, schoolteachers with a meager income, lived close by with the youngest four. This was a common tradition among extended families.
Some of the stories of Chávez’s youth come from his neighbors and relatives, in the book “Our Chávez” by Cuban authors Rosa Miriam Elizalde and Luis Baez.
The village of Sabaneta had no electricity during their childhood, and the family struggled to get by. In one moving account, little Hugo was turned away from his first day at school because his grandmother couldn’t afford to buy him a pair of shoes.
But he learned resourcefulness from his elders, selling candies at school that his grandmother made, to bring home some coins.
Chávez’s young life imbued in him an enormous spirit of solidarity and generosity with the people, especially the most oppressed. As president, one of Chávez’s very first acts was to provide free school lunches for hundreds of thousands of poor children. School attendance shot up dramatically.
Years later, in July 2001, when this reporter joined thousands of people as they marched with Chávez down the streets of Caracas, he patiently took the time to receive embraces and handwritten notes from the people, to hear their encouragement or petitions for help. He made sure their needs were addressed.
Yet Chávez did not see himself as an individual whose good works alone would be enough to resolve Venezuela’s problems.
He began to adopt a concept of revolutionary societal change while in Venezuela’s Military Academy, which he entered at the age of 17 in 1971.
In the academy and army, Chávez’s radicalization was fueled by various factors, his brother Adán’s socialist influence, his own growing rebellion against military corruption and abuse, and the broader scenario of Latin American struggle.
In “Our Chávez,” he explains his political maturation: “The Hugo Chavez who started at the Academy was a boy from the countryside, a plainsman with aspirations to be a professional baseball player; four years later, a second lieutenant emerged who had set out along the revolutionary path. …
“At that stage, I began to read Fidel, Che, Mao, Plekhanov, Zamora … and books like The Bigwigs by Américo Martín; ‘The role of the individual in history’; ‘What is to be done’. And of course, I had already begun a thorough study of Bolívar.”
In 1982, Chávez formed a secret organization, the MBR 200 (Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement), of like-minded officers inside the military willing to take on the government. He would be their commander in the historic attack on the government in 1992.
Meanwhile, Carlos Andrés Pérez became president—his second term—in 1989. He immediately accepted the economic dictates of the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a multi-billion-dollar loan. The neo-liberal agreement suddenly doubled gasoline prices and hiked the price of other goods. It caused a massive spontaneous rebellion by the people in the streets of Caracas.
The uprising of Feb. 27, 1989, and government massacre that followed is known as the “Caracazo.” It is estimated that up to 3,000 people were murdered by security forces.
This brutal repression convinced Chávez and his colleagues of the need to deepen their preparations.
In the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 4, 1992, Chávez and his movement carried out their military action to attempt a takeover of Miraflores presidential palace, but they were attacked as soon as they approached. Traitors inside the movement had revealed their plans.
Historic words: “For Now”
By the end of the day, Pérez’s military defeated Chávez’s forces and was about to carry out an assault on troops loyal to him in two other regions. To avoid further losses of his men, Chávez appeared on television to tell his troops to stop the fighting.
In his TV appeal, the rebel lieutenant colonel said, “Comrades, unfortunately, for now, the goals we set for ourselves have not been reached in the capital. … we here in Caracas were not able to take power. … I assume responsibility for this Bolivarian military movement.”
Those two words, “for now,” electrified the vast majority of the population. Never before had a soldier taken on the corrupt government to vindicate the people, and he had promised to return.
In prison, Chávez became such a hero in the eyes of the oppressed, that during the presidential elections, wherever the bourgeois candidates spoke, people at the political rallies would chant for his freedom. The next president, Rafael Caldera Rodríguez, pardoned Chávez and his colleagues in March 1994.
At first reluctant to participate as a candidate in Venezuelan elections, because of his distrust of capitalist elections, Chávez was urged on by many people. He finally decided to run for president in the 1998 elections.
With no funds and only broken-down vehicles for transport, he traversed the country to denounce the traditional capitalist parties of Democratic Action and COPEI as those responsible for the country’s crisis. Huge crowds mobbed him every step of the way.
Chávez won in December 1998 with 56.2 percent of the vote under the banner of his Fifth Republic Movement. He assumed office in February 1999.
The words he spoke in his oath were unlike those of any previous president. “I swear that with this moribund constitution, I will carry out and push for the necessary democratic transformations so that the new republic will acquire a new Magna Carta fitting for the new times.”
In a process that has been repeated in Ecuador and Bolivia, the new Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela was adopted in 1999. It was the 26th constitution in Venezuela’s history, but the first that was ever approved by popular referendum, with 71.78 percent of the vote.
Free health care, free education, a ban on privatizing the country’s national resources, recognition of Indigenous and other minorities to their own culture and language, and a democratization of the political process are a few of the provisions.
Chávez was swept into office with a massive outpouring of support of the most oppressed, and he responded with all his energies and power at hand to initiate immediate and urgent programs to address the poorest sectors of the population, as well as working to empower the people at the base to defend the gains.
But it was after the right-wing’s fascist coup of April 2002—when people mobilized by the tens of thousands to demand his return and the military forces loyal to Chávez rescued him from the fascists—that the acceleration of the revolutionary process became possible.
Hugo Chávez’s legacy
Before Hugo Chávez, Venezuela was a classic model of capitalist underdevelopment: obscene opulence for the Venezuelan elite and foreign capitalists, and poverty and hopelessness for the majority. Under Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolutionary process, a whole panorama of revolutionary social programs lifted millions of Venezuelans up out of despair.
His courage and vision transformed his people into a combative force that has learned to defend what it has gained, the right to housing, health care, literacy, education, culture and most of all, independence and dignity.
Before Hugo Chávez, Latin America was fractured and under the heel of neo-liberal policies that benefited only the banks and big business. In the 1990s, Cuba was virtually alone in the Western Hemisphere, struggling mightily to defend socialism after the demise of the Soviet Union.
Chávez embraced the Cuban Revolution as his own and proudly defied U.S. imperialism, by forming together with Cuba the historic alliance of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas—ALBA. After decades of the sacking of Latin America and the Caribbean, an unprecedented process of anti-imperialist unity and transformation has begun in the continent.
One of Hugo Chávez’s greatest legacies was his fight for a socialist Venezuela, to expand and make permanent the gains that have been fought for so far.
From the viewpoint of Marxism, history and especially revolutionary change are made by great social forces and through the agency of class struggle. Marxism rejects the method of bourgeois historiography that places the role of “great men” as the central factor in the major events and developments that shape an entire historical era.
But Marxism also recognizes that particular individuals have played an indispensable part in molding together the social and political forces that created entirely new historical forces. The Russian Revolution for instance changed the character of the class struggle everywhere for the 20th century. Lenin played a unique and indispensable role during the revolutionary process, and without him it is unlikely that the Bolsheviks could have seized and retained state power.
Fidel’s leadership was another such example. His initiation and leadership of the Cuban Revolution was indispensable to its victory.
Lenin and Fidel did not simply ride a wave of revolution; they actually helped mold the forces that led to a re-shaping of history
So too with Hugo Chávez. The unique role he played in the last 15 years also molded together the forces of Latin American integration and unity on an anti-imperialist and socialist basis and changed the dynamics of the class struggle not only in Venezuela but throughout the continent. Chavez, like Lenin or Fidel was not a “superman,” but his role in the creation of ALBA and the larger unfolding process in Latin America was unique and indispensable during the past decade.
Today, the people and the struggle have been dealt a major blow with the loss of this great leader. But the social and political revolutionary movement that he catalyzed will offer up other leaders dedicated to pursuing the movement until final victory.
Upon his death, comrade Chavez has entered history not only as revolutionary life well led but as a source of confidence for all those who have been shaped by the movement he inspired—the millions who are oppressed and have been the object of extreme exploitation but have entered the political process now as actors demanding to be the shapers of their own historical destiny.
Hugo Chávez Frias Presente!
With an outpouring of great sadness, the world witnessed the passing of one of the great revolutionary leaders of our time, the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Hugo Chavez, who died on Tuesday, March 5, 2013.
All who value human rights and democracy, which does not include the Washington regime, will miss his inspired leadership.
A staunch fighter against US hegemony in the Americas, President Chavez warned, “But as we all must know, the imperial threat against our beloved Homeland [Venezuela] is alive and latent.”
No sooner had news of his untimely death been announced when lackeys from the US were caught busily trying to stir up a military coup against the Venezuelan government. Vice President Nicholas Maduro announced that a US Air Force attaché and another embassy official were being expelled for plotting to destabilize the government. Previously, the US had attempted a coup in April 2002, but President Chavez managed to return to office within 2 days.
Standing firm against the US oil giants, President Chavez nationalized Exxon Mobil’s Venezuelan heavy oil assets in the Orinoco Belt in 2007, and came out the winner against them in the subsequent litigation. Predictably in response to his death, the well-oiled capitalists of Wall Street rejoiced with an orgy of record highs on the New York stock exchange, accompanied no doubt by wild dreams of “reclaiming” Venezuela. Joining in the right-wing rapture were US politicians from both factions of the corporate party, who greeted the tragic news gleefully. With typical Republican vitriol, Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) stated, “His death dents the alliance of anti-US leftist leaders in South America.”
Particularly noteworthy for its vileness was the statement by Congressman Tom Cotton (R-AR), who acrimoniously declared, “After the welcome news of Hugo Chavez’s death… I look forward to working in the House to promote a free, democratic, and pro-American government in Venezuela.” US President Obama, displaying a minimal facade of respect, stated, “At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government.”
One US official, Representative José E. Serrano (D-NY) broke away from pack of foul-mouthed US political vultures vomiting their venom and actually spoke reverently and candidly about the deceased Venezuelan leader:
“He believed that the government of the country should be used to empower the masses, not the few. He understood democracy and basic human desires for a dignified life. His legacy in his nation, and in the hemisphere, will be assured as the people he inspired continue to strive for a better life for the poor and downtrodden.”
Constantly demeaned in the capitalist-dominated Western media who referred to him as a “theatrical leader,” a “showman,” “insane” or worse, President Chavez left a substantial legacy of progress in his country. Over the last decade in Venezuela, poverty fell by over 20 percent, income inequality is down over 2 percent as measured on the Gini index, the unemployment rate was halved, medical services have been expanded to communities that never before had even a clinic, and the country has been recognized as a leader in providing free internet access for its citizens.
This has been accomplished as a result of President Chavez’s enlightened leadership, which has created a government that invests 60 percent of its income in social programs for the benefit of its population, instead of for the benefit of the moneyed elite. At the funeral, Reverend Jesse Jackson eulogized him, saying, “Hugo fed the hungry. He lifted the poor. He raised their hopes. He helped them realize their dreams.”
Among his list of humanitarian programs was providing free heating oil to poor Americans who could not afford the high prices charged by the price-gouging US oil companies. Initiated in 2005 after the dismal failure of the Bush administration to help victims of hurricane Katrina, the program, which helps some 400,000 people, is a lifeline for the retired, elderly and those who otherwise would have to depend on the poorly funded LIEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program) that has been subject to 25% budget cuts by the Obama administration.
When torrential rains in late 2010 left over 130,000 Venezuelans homeless, President Chavez responded with an initiative named the Great Housing Mission whose goal is to provide 2 million affordable housing units for needy families within seven years. With almost 300,000 units already under construction, the program is diametrically opposed to the US response to the 2008 financial crisis, which provided bailouts to prop up the same financial institutions that caused the foreclosure flood in the first place by their predatory lending practices and unethical trading in mortgage-backed bonds and derivatives.
In short, President Chavez wisely invested in his fellow citizens while Obama greedily invested in his fellow bankers.
The wisdom of President Chavez’s economic policies can be judged by the results: Despite a lagging world economy, Venezuela has posted 8 successive quarters of GDP growth with the last quarter of 2012 at an enviable 5.2 percent; unemployment continues to fall as minimum wages have risen every year; and the oil sector grew at a rate of 1.6 percent while the construction, finance, transportation, community services/non profits, and communications sectors all grew at rates exceeding that of the GDP.
Again, compare these statistics with the abysmal record of the United States, whose 2012 4th quarter GDP grew a sickly 0.1 percent, with 12 out of 22 industrial sectors contributing to the “slowdown” led by retail trade and durable goods, and whose people are suffering from a 4-percent decline in their disposable income in January 2013. In stark contrast to the otherwise pathetic US economy is the 2012 3rd quarter $68.1-billion increase in profits of US financial corporations, which are still doing quite well, judging by the record highs on Wall Street.
President Chavez leaves a country behind that proudly sets the standard for other countries when it comes to holding fair and transparent democratic elections. The most recent presidential election on October 7, 2012 was witnessed by a team of 245 lawyers, election officials, academics and elected representatives from around the world, and saw a voter turnout of over 80 percent. The Venezuelan electoral system, praised for its “professionalism and technical expertise,” boasts sophisticated voting machines that identify voters by fingerprinting which must coincide with the individual’s identity number, thereby practically eliminating the possibility of election fraud.
While the US struggles to pass sensible reforms to its all too permissive gun ownership laws, Venezuela under President Chavez destroyed over 50,000 seized firearms in 2012. He also instituted the “Venezuela Full of Life” program, which imposed a one-year ban on the importing of firearms and ammunition, in order to enhance the safety and security of the citizenry. Organized under the Chavez administration in 2009, the Bolivarian National Police has played a leading role in public safety, crime prevention and community engagement.
Another notable accomplishment by President Chavez is the inclusion of the rights of indigenous people under the Venezuelan constitution. Ratified in 1999, Article 119 states:
“The State recognizes the existence of native peoples and communities, their social, political and economic organization, their cultures, practices and customs, languages and religions, as well as their habitat and original rights to the lands they ancestrally and traditionally occupy, and which are necessary to develop and guarantee their way of life.”
Additionally, indigenous people are guaranteed representation in the Venezuelan National Assembly, while in the US, Native peoples are excluded from representation by Article 1 Section 2 of the constitution, which only apportions full personhood to free “persons,” meaning whites.
President Chavez worked hard to gain the passage of comprehensive labor laws that protect the rights of workers. The new law signed on May 1, 2012 includes provisions prohibiting the unjust dismissal of workers, requiring the payment of severance pay to the employee regardless of the reason for termination of employment, and empowering the Labor Ministry to impose sanctions on businesses that violate the law.
Additionally, discrimination based on nationality, sexual orientation, membership in a labor union, prior criminal record, or any type of handicap is prohibited. Compare this to US labor law, where draconian “Right to Work” laws undermine employees’ ability to organize, and “At Will” employment practices allow an employer to fire an employee for virtually any reason. Of course there are restrictions, but the legal burden of proof is upon the employee who rarely can afford proper legal representation.
Hugo Chavez was a visionary: a rare leader who cared about his people and envisioned a prosperous society in which all could share in the benefits, not just an exclusive few. President Chavez has left this world, but his legacy remains with us. It is now up to us – those of us who share his noble dream of a just society and are willing to struggle for it – to fight on until the last link in the oppressive chain of imperialistic capitalism is broken.
The late Venezuelan president’s Bolívarian revolution has been crucial to a wider Latin American philosophy
Hugo Chávez. RIP.
The Commandante is dead but the Revolution continues. If there is an afterlife then Chavez is in Valhalla.
He wrote, he read, and mostly he spoke. Hugo Chávez, whose death has been announced, was devoted to the word. He spoke publicly an average of 40 hours per week. As president, he didn’t hold regular cabinet meetings; he’d bring the many to a weekly meeting, broadcast live on radio and television. Aló, Presidente, the programme in which policies were outlined and discussed, had no time limits, no script and no teleprompter. One session included an open discussion of healthcare in the slums of Caracas, rap, a self-critical examination of Venezuelans being accustomed to the politics of oil money and expecting the president to be a magician, a friendly exchange with a delegation from Nicaragua and a less friendly one with a foreign journalist.
Nicaragua is one of Venezuela’s allies in Alba, the organisation constituted at Chávez’s initiative to counter neoliberalism in the region, alongside Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia. It has now acquired a life of its own having invited a number of Caribbean countries and Mexico to join, with Vietnam as an observer. It will be a most enduring legacy, a concrete embodiment of Chávez’s words and historical vision. The Bolívarian revolution has been crucial to the wider philosophy shared and applied by many Latin American governments. Its aim is to overcome global problems through local and regional interventions by engaging with democracy and the state in order to transform the relation between these and the people, rather than withdrawing from the state or trying to destroy it.
Because of this shared view Brazilians, Uruguayans and Argentinians perceived Chávez as an ally, not an anomaly, and supported the inclusion of Venezuela in their Mercosur alliance. Chávez’s Social Missions, providing healthcare and literacy to formerly excluded people while changing their life and political outlook, have proven the extent of such a transformative view. It could be compared to the levelling spirit of a kind of new New Deal combined with a model of social change based on popular and communal organisation.
The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe. In that period Chávez won 56% of the vote in 1998, 60% in 2000, survived a coup d’état in 2002, got over 7m votes in 2006 and secured 54.4% of the vote last October. He was a rare thing, almost incomprehensible to those in the US and Europe who continue to see the world through the Manichean prism of the cold war: an avowed Marxist who was also an avowed democrat. To those who think the expression of the masses should have limited or no place in the serious business of politics all the talking and goings on in Chávez’s meetings were anathema, proof that he was both fake and a populist. But to the people who tuned in and participated en masse, it was politics and true democracy not only for the sophisticated, the propertied or the lettered.
All this talking and direct contact meant the constant reaffirmation of a promise between Chávez and the people of Venezuela. Chávez had discovered himself not by looking within, but by looking outside into the shameful conditions of Latin Americans and their past. He discovered himself in the promise of liberation made by Bolívar. “On August 1805,” wrote Chávez, Bolívar “climbed the Monte Sacro near Rome and made a solemn oath.” Like Bolívar, Chávez swore to break the chains binding Latin Americans to the will of the mighty. Within his lifetime, the ties of dependency and indirect empire have loosened. From the river Plate to the mouths of the Orinoco river, Latin America is no longer somebody else’s backyard. That project of liberation has involved thousands of men and women pitched into one dramatic battle after another, like the coup d’état in 2002 or the confrontation with the US-proposed Free Trade Zone of the Americas. These were won, others were lost.
The project remains incomplete. It may be eternal and thus the struggle will continue after Chávez is gone. But whatever the future may hold, the peoples of the Americas will fight to salvage the present in which they have regained a voice. In Venezuela, they put Chávez back into the presidency after the coup. This was the key event in Chávez’s political life, not the military rebellion or the first electoral victory. Something changed within him at that point: his discipline became ironclad, his patience invincible and his politics clearer. For all the attention paid to the relation between Chávez and Castro, the lesser known fact is that Chávez’s political education owes more to another Marxist president who was also an avowed democrat: Chile’s Salvador Allende. “Like Allende, we’re pacifists and democrats,” he once said. “Unlike Allende, we’re armed.”
The lesson drawn by Chávez from the defeat of Allende in 1973 is crucial. Some, like the far right and the state-linked paramilitary of Colombia would love to see Chavismo implode, and wouldn’t hesitate to sow chaos across borders. The support of the army and the masses of Venezuela will decide the fate of the Bolívarian revolution, and the solidarity of powerful and sympathetic neighbours like Brazil. Nobody wants instability now that Latin America is finally standing up for itself. In his final days Chávez emphasised the need to build communal power and promoted some of his former critics associated with the journal Comuna. The revolution will not be rolled back. Unlike his admired Bolívar, Chávez did not plough the seas.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez‘s death is not likely to result in near-term changes to the Venezuelan oil industry or global energy landscape, but it could ultimately result in political change that would reopen the country’s energy industry to foreign investment.
As news of Chavez’s death swept through IHS CERAWeek, the world’s largest conference for energy executives, in Houston on Tuesday afternoon, participants flocked to televisions, looking for news on the political future of a country that has the second largest oil reserves in the world.
“It’s too soon to say what Hugo Chavez’s death means for oil prices,” said IHS Vice Chair Daniel Yergin. “But it is certainly true that oil prices are what made Hugo Chavez possible,” as the collapse of oil prices in the late 1990s “gave him the opening to become president” and rising oil prices since 2000 “gave him the financial resources to consolidate power.”
Analysts and attendees at the Houston energy conference said it was unclear what would happen after the country holds an election for a new president. For now, Venezuela’s Vice President Nicolas Maduro is in charge and the country’s army chiefs are reported to be supporting him.
“Without (Chavez’s) charisma and force of character, it is not all clear how his successors will maintain the system he created,” Yergin said
Among the major integrated oil companies, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil could stand to benefit greatly from regime change in Venezuela, if the new leadership allows overseas oil companies to return, analysts said.
The nationalization of Venezuela’s oil industry in 2007 resulted in the exit of those two companies who were unable to reach a new agreement with the state-owned oil company PDVSA.
Too Early to Tell
“It’s too early to tell how the new leader will handle it, but ConocoPhillips could benefit the most,” said Fadel Gheit, senior oil analyst at Oppenheimer & Co.
ConocoPhillips was the biggest foreign stakeholder in Venezuela at the time of nationalization and could benefit greatly from regaining its former assets, Gheit said, adding: “The book value of assets that were confiscated was $4.5 billion (at the time.) The market value is now $20 to $30 billion… ConocoPhillips could eventually see a net gain of $10 billion.”
But that assumes ConocoPhillips would want to return to the country. Venezuela’s economic problems extend beyond the oil business. “It really much depends on what kind of government will follow Chavez,” said Enrique Sira, IHS senior research director for Latin America.
“The only thing for sure is the fact that the industry is in very poor condition — upstream, downstream, power, and distribution. Electricity has to be rationed. It has a gas deficit that’s been running for years and the country doesn’t produce anywhere near what it could produce,” Sira said. (Read More: Venezuela Vote, Post-Chavez, Next Risk for Oil)
ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance, who spoke Tuesday morning at the Houston energy conference prior to news of Chavez’s death, noted how the global energy landscape has changed dramatically.
“The new landscape is like someone picked up the energy world and tilted it,” he said, as countries with great demand for energy and those with ample supplies has changed. The U.S. is now exporting more of its natural resources than ever before, he said. Those exports include shipping record supplies of US gasoline to Venezuela. Meanwhile Venezuela oil exports to the U.S. are on the decline.
Sira said Venezuela could produce as much as 6 to 9 million barrels of oil a day but now it’s probably less than 2.5 million barrels. He said oil production peaked in the early year at 3.3 million barrels. (Read More: Why Venezuela’s World-Beating Oil Reserves Are ‘Irrelevant’)
Venezuela ranked fourth in oil imports to the U.S. last year at 906,000 barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). But crude oil imports from Venezuela have been declining steadily since 2004, when they peaked at 1.3 million barrels per day.
Venezuela’s refineries are also in such poor shape that it has to import gasoline and diesel from the U.S. In December, Venezuela imported a record 197,000 barrels per day of petroleum products from the U.S., according to EIA data.
In the short-run, oil prices may not be greatly impacted by regime change in Venezuela since for now the flow of oil from Venezuela to the U.S. and domestic fuel imports to the South American country are likely to continue current trends, said Houston-based energy analyst Andy Lipow. “We both need each other.”
Dismissed by anti-Chavezites. Regularly shown on Venezuelan telly.
At first, the president’s staff treated the filmmakers with suspicion and made filming difficult. After numerous delays, Bartley and Ó Briain finally got through to Chávez. They calculated that they needed to “press the right buttons” to gain his support, so they presented him with an old edition of the memoirs of [Cork-born] Daniel Florence O’Leary, who had fought alongside Simón Bolívar. Inside, they had written a quote from the Irish socialist playwright Seán O’Casey. Slowly, Bartley and Ó Briain gained their subjects’ trust, “dissolving any self-consciousness as a result of their cameras”.
Watch the full documentary here:
Vaya con Dios, Hugo Chàvez, mi Amigo
By Greg Palast
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
For BBC Television, Palast met several times with Hugo Chàvez, who passed away today.
As a purgative for the crappola fed to Americans about Chavez, my foundation, The Palast Investigative Fund, is offering the film, The Assassination of Hugo Chavez, as a FREE download. Based on my several meetings with Chavez, his kidnappers and his would-be assassins, filmed for BBC Television.
Reverend Pat Robertson said,
“Hugo Chavez thinks we’re trying to assassinate him. I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.”
It was 2005 and Robertson was channeling the frustration of George Bush’s State Department. Despite Bush’s providing intelligence, funds and even a note of congratulations to the crew who kidnapped Chavez (we’ll get there), Hugo remained in office, reelected and wildly popular.
But why the Bush regime’s hate, hate, HATE of the President of Venezuela?
Reverend Pat wasn’t coy about the answer: It’s the oil.
“This is a dangerous enemy to our South controlling a huge pool of oil.”
A really BIG pool of oil. Indeed, according to Guy Caruso, former chief of oil intelligence for the CIA, Venezuela hold a recoverable reserve of 1.36 trillion barrels, that is, a whole lot more than Saudi Arabia.
If we didn’t kill Chavez, we’d have to do an “Iraq” on his nation. So the Reverend suggests,
“We don’t need another $200 billion war….It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”
Chavez himself told me he was stunned by Bush’s attacks: Chavez had been quite chummy with Bush Senior and with Bill Clinton.
So what made Chavez suddenly “a dangerous enemy”? Here’s the answer you won’t find in The New York Times:
Just after Bush’s inauguration in 2001, Chavez’ congress voted in a new “Law of Hydrocarbons.” Henceforth, Exxon, British Petroleum, Shell Oil and Chevron would get to keep 70% of the sales revenues from the crude they sucked out of Venezuela. Not bad, considering the price of oil was rising toward $100 a barrel.
But to the oil companies, which had bitch-slapped Venezeula’s prior government into giving them 84% of the sales price, a cut to 70% was “no bueno.” Worse, Venezuela had been charging a joke of a royalty – just one percent – on “heavy” crude from the Orinoco Basin. Chavez told Exxon and friends they’d now have to pay 16.6%.
Clearly, Chavez had to be taught a lesson about the etiquette of dealings with Big Oil.
On April 11, 2002, President Chavez was kidnapped at gunpoint and flown to an island prison in the Caribbean Sea. On April 12, Pedro Carmona, a business partner of the US oil companies and president of the nation’s Chamber of Commerce, declared himself President of Venezuela – giving a whole new meaning to the term, “corporate takeover.”
U.S. Ambassador Charles Shapiro immediately rushed down from his hilltop embassy to have his picture taken grinning with the self-proclaimed “President” and the leaders of the coup d’état.
Bush’s White House spokesman admitted that Chavez was, “democratically elected,” but, he added, “Legitimacy is something that is conferred not by just the majority of voters.” I see.
With an armed and angry citizenry marching on the Presidential Palace in Caracas ready to string up the coup plotters, Carmona, the Pretend President from Exxon returned his captive Chavez back to his desk within 48 hours. (How? Get The Assassination of Hugo Chavez, the film, expanding on my reports for BBC Television. You can download it for free for the next few days.)
Chavez had provoked the coup not just by clawing back some of the bloated royalties of the oil companies. It’s what he did with that oil money that drove Venezuela’s One Percent to violence.
In Caracas, I ran into the reporter for a TV station whose owner is generally credited with plotting the coup against the president. While doing a publicity photo shoot, leaning back against a tree, showing her wide-open legs nearly up to where they met, the reporter pointed down the hill to the “ranchos,” the slums above Caracas, where shacks, once made of cardboard and tin, where quickly transforming into homes of cinder blocks and cement.
“He [Chavez] gives them bread and bricks, so they vote for him, of course.” She was disgusted by “them,” the 80% of Venezuelans who are negro e indio (Black and Indian)—and poor. Chavez, himself negro e indio, had, for the first time in Venezuela’s history, shifted the oil wealth from the privileged class that called themselves “Spanish,” to the dark-skinned masses.
While trolling around the poor housing blocks of Caracas, I ran into a local, Arturo Quiran, a merchant seaman and no big fan of Chavez. But over a beer at his kitchen table, he told me,
“Fifteen years ago under [then-President] Carlos Andrés Pérez, there was a lot of oil money in Venezuela. The ‘oil boom’ we called it. Here in Venezuela there was a lot of money, but we didn’t see it.”
But then came Hugo Chavez, and now the poor in his neighborhood, he said, “get medical attention, free operations, x-rays, medicines; education also. People who never knew how to write now know how to sign their own papers.”
Chavez’ Robin Hood thing, shifting oil money from the rich to the poor, would have been grudgingly tolerated by the US. But Chavez, who told me, “We are no longer an oil colony,” went further…too much further, in the eyes of the American corporate elite.
Venezuela had landless citizens by the millions – and unused land by the millions of acres tied up, untilled, on which a tiny elite of plantation owners squatted. Chavez’ congress passed in a law in 2001 requiring untilled land to be sold to the landless. It was a program long promised by Venezuela’s politicians at the urging of John F. Kennedy as part of his “Alliance for Progress.”
Plantation owner Heinz Corporation didn’t like that one bit. In retaliation, Heinz closed its ketchup plant in the state of Maturin and fired all the workers. Chavez seized Heinz’ plant and put the workers back on the job. Chavez didn’t realize that he’d just squeezed the tomatoes of America’s powerful Heinz family and Mrs. Heinz’ husband, Senator John Kerry, now U.S. Secretary of State.
Or, knowing Chavez as I do, he didn’t give a damn.
Chavez could survive the ketchup coup, the Exxon “presidency,” even his taking back a piece of the windfall of oil company profits, but he dangerously tried the patience of America’s least forgiving billionaires: The Koch Brothers.
How? Well, that’s another story for another day. [Watch this space. Or read about it in the book, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits. Go to BallotBandits.org).
Elected presidents who annoy Big Oil have ended up in exile—or coffins: Mossadegh of Iran after he nationalized BP’s fields (1953), Elchibey, President of Azerbaijan, after he refused demands of BP for his Caspian fields (1993), President Alfredo Palacio of Ecuador after he terminated Occidental’s drilling concession (2005).
“It’s a chess game, Mr. Palast,” Chavez told me. He was showing me a very long, and very sharp sword once owned by Simon Bolivar, the Great Liberator. “And I am,” Chavez said, “a very good chess player.”
In the film The Seventh Seal, a medieval knight bets his life on a game of chess with the Grim Reaper. Death cheats, of course, and takes the knight. No mortal can indefinitely outplay Death who, this week, Chavez must know, will checkmate the new Bolivar of Venezuela.
But in one last move, the Bolivarian grandmaster played a brilliant endgame, naming Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, as good and decent a man as they come, as heir to the fight for those in the “ranchos.” The One Percent of Venezuela, planning on Chavez’s death to return them the power and riches they couldn’t win in an election, are livid with the choice of Maduro.
Chavez sent Maduro to meet me in my downtown New York office back in 2004. In our run-down detective digs on Second Avenue, Maduro and I traded information on assassination plots and oil policy.
Even then, Chavez was carefully preparing for the day when Venezuela’s negros e indios would lose their king—but still stay in the game.
Class war on a chessboard. Even in death, I wouldn’t bet against Hugo Chavez.
The emails also leave the reader in no doubt about whom these people are helping the Venezuelan right-wing opposition: “to answer your question, the US networks are definitely involved. I cannot confirm for you if that specific gentleman is involved, but the usual establishments are”.
Edited from a piece by Paul Dobson, writing in a personal capacity, Venezuela, Feb 2013
This week Wikileaks published over 40,000 secret documents regarding Venezuela, which show the clear hand of the US in efforts to topple the progressive government of the popular and democratically elected leader Hugo Chavez.
The documents, which date from July 2004 to December 2011 and which were published through Wikileaks twitter account @wikileaks and are now available on Wikileaks Global Intelligence Files online, are based on emails taken from the private US-based intelligence company, Stratfor.
This company claims to provide analysis for multinational corporations looking to invest in Venezuela, and uses a number of local sources to develop their reports. However, their emails prove that their motives and objectives are far from independent, and they are working as an intelligence and strategy agency for those looking to develop suitable political conditions for both economic exploitation and intervention in the country.
Wikileaks describes Stratfor as “a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defense Intelligence Agency”.
“The emails”, Wikileaks goes on to explain, “show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment laundering techniques and psychological methods”.
The leaked emails cover a range of issues, but concentrate on the energy sector, especially petrochemicals and oil; political change and the state of the right-wing forces within Venezuela; and the state of the military and armed forces. They also touch on Venezuela’s relations with Cuba, China, Russia, and Iran, as well as providing bleak projections of the economy and future of the financial sector.
The firm’s emails are listed with the addresses of the sender and receiver, as well as mentioning, amongst other things, the reliability of the source from which they take the information. One email, which exposes the political requisites for reliability, according to Stratfor, uses a source described as a “Venezuelan economist in Caracas” who is described as having “source reliability: B (solidly anti-Chavez)”.
The emails mention meetings with, and biographies of, various prominent Venezuelan right-wing opposition leaders, such as Antonio Ledezma (Mayor of Caracas), Henrique Capriles (the Presidential candidate defeated by Hugo Chavez last year) and Leopoldo Lopez, as well as right wing media tycoon Rafael Poleo: “I spoke to Rafael Poleo [a very prominent Venezuelan
political analyst] a couple of days ago” reports one source. Such naming’s complete the link between right-wing anti-Chavez activities in Venezuela and US/external ambitions in the country.
The emails to and from the Stratfor staff mention various political events during the period, but focus on the student protests of 2009-2010 when right-wing student based opposition sectors manipulated for political ends the power cuts bought about by the worst drought in 100 years which left the hydro-based energy system completely dried up. They also address the
RCTV protests following the rejection of the application to renew the license of the right wing TV channel after they backed the 2002 coup d’état and publically called for the assignation of elected President Chavez.
The emails make frequent reference to a Serbia-based right wing policy group called CANVAS (Center for Applied Non Violent Action and Strategies).Here, there are numerous Word documents sent amongst the emails, many of which are classed as “not for publication” and which detail the steps recommended to enact a “revolution” which would see Hugo Chavez thrown out of power.
One is indeed referred to as “a how-to guide for revolution”. They go on to class Venezuelan people as “retarded” and who “talk out of their ass”. The country is, according to CANVAS, “absolutely a joke”.
CANVAS explains clearly their recommended strategy for toppling governments: “when somebody asks us for help, as in Vene case, we usually ask them the question ‘and how would you do it’. That means that the first thing is to create a situational analysis (the word doc I sent you) and after that comes “Mission Statement” (still left to be done) and then “Operational Concept”, which is the plan for campaign” explain CANVAS to Stratfor. “For this case we have three campaigns: unification of opposition, campaign for September elections and parallel with that a “get out and vote” campaign”.
Referring to destabilisation plans, CANVAS go on to state that “we only give them the tools to use”.
Making reference to the opposition alliance of parties, they further state that “in Venezuela’s case, because of the complete disaster that the place is, because of suspicion between opposition groups and disorganization, we have to do the initial analysis. Whether they go on to next steps really depends on them, in other words depends on whether they will become aware that because of a lack of UNITY they can lose the race before it has started”.
“This year we are definitely ramping up activity in Venezuela” they write. Referring to the 2010 Parliamentary elections, the explain that “they have elections in September and we are in close connection with activists from there and people trying to help them (please keep this to yourself for now, no publication). The first phase of our preparation is under way”.
The emails also leave the reader in no doubt about whom these people are helping the Venezuelan right-wing opposition: “to answer your question, the US networks are definitely involved. I cannot confirm for you if that specific gentleman is involved, but the usual establishments are”.
Other emails contains various attached files which provide rundowns of the exact status of the Venezuelan army, air force and navy, including numbers, equipment, and expertise.
“(We) will be sending along more info soon on the whole rundown of how Chavez has revamped the military/security apparatus over the past several years” states the sender. “It’s all scribbled on paper right now from my notes, but gotta say, I’m quite impressed with ‘ol Hugo”.
The fully detailed documents explain that “the army’s reform has stretched beyond the procurement of new assault and sniper rifles and now comprises of a modernized doctrine too. New concepts include asymmetric warfare and reliance on the country’s communication and supply infrastructure as well as popular support to resist a large scale US invasion”.
Rigoberta Menchú. (Photo/ skylightpictures)
Menchú, and other 20 “wise men” are gathered in Caracas since Thursday, to work on helping Chavez’s health improve by performing Mayan healing ceremonies.
“I am absolutely positive President Hugo Chavez received cosmic energy because our medicine comes from the deepest places of Mother Earth,” Menchú said during an official event, reported AFP.
According to the news agency, the 1992 Peace Nobel Prize met with Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro and other members of the cabinet.
Menchú said she thought that Hugo Chavez’s energy is “extraordinarily strong” and this will lead him to overcome small and large obstacles in his way.
Alluding to the cancer he is being treated for, Menchú said Chavez just needs to regenerate his body tissue in order to regain his health, reported AFP.
“This is not something folkloric. We focus our energies from the wisdom of our Mayan ancestors,” Menchú said, before asking everyone to get rid of all pessimistic thoughts surrounding the health of Hugo Chavez, reported AFP news agency.
Mayan healing ceremonies are full of sophisticated rituals dedicated to Mother Earth, Dr. Amir Farid Isahak told The Star Online.
“Their traditional medicine is similarly wholly dependent on the healing powers provided by the earth – its soil, water, plants and creatures. Most of their remedies come from the jungle,” he said.
“Mayan traditional medicine is actually very sophisticated. Mayan traditional healers try to harmonise their lives and their patients’ lives with Mother Earth. Mayan traditional healing is holistic healing, with full awareness that the body, mind, emotions, spirit and environment are all interconnected. Their healers know that healing occurs only when there is balance and harmony in the patient’s life. They also heal with love from their hearts.”
Updates on Hugo Chavez’s health
According to the Associated Press, Hugo Chavez is currently being treated at the Dr. Carlos Arvelo Military Hospital in Caracas.
“The breathing insufficiency that emerged post-operation persists, and the tendency has not been favorable so it is still being treated,” said Information Minister Ernesto Villegas on Thursday during a televised statement. Chavez is reported to be breathing through a tracheal cannula and unable to talk.
Menchú said, ”[Chavez’s] words, health, dreams, wishes will go on through all frontiers – regardless if he’s able to talk or not.”
The information on Chavez’s health status is the first one to be released to the public since the President returned to Venezuela, after a long stay in Cuba, where he was being reportedly treated for an unspecified type of cancer.
Hugo Chavez, who was recently re-elected for six more years and has been in office for 14, has not spoken publicly since December 11, and according to Venezuelan officials, besides receiving care for the respiratory infection, he is also undergoing treatment for his cancer. The type of treatment is said to be “complex” but has not been specified.
Rigoberta Menchú Tum (born 9 January 1959) is an indigenous Guatemalan woman, of the K’iche’ ethnic group. Menchú has dedicated her life to publicizing the plight of Guatemala’s indigenous peoples during and after the Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996), and to promoting indigenous rights in the country. She received the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize and Prince of Asturias Award in 1998. She is the subject of the testimonial biography I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983) and the author of the autobiographical work, Crossing Borders.
Menchú is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She has also become a figure in indigenous political parties and ran for President of Guatemala in 2007 and 2011.
With a tweet thanking God and declaring onwards to victory, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez arrived home from Cuba yesterday, to the delighted of his supporters.
“It’s fabulous news, the best thing possible,” said Chávez ’s cousin, Guillermo Frias. “Venezuela was waiting for him . . . Welcome home! Thank God he’s back!”
Fireworks were set off in some Caracas neighbourhoods as news spread and celebrations began among Chávistas, as his most fervent supporters are known. Government ministers were jubilant with one singing “He’s back, he’s back!” live on state TV.
They asked Chávez ’s euphoric supporters to respect the peace of patients at the military hospital, near a hillside shanty-town. Soldiers guarded the installation, while supporters chanted, “We are Chávez !” and “He’s back, he’s back!” At one point, medical staff asked them to quieten down.
The 58-year-old socialist leader’s homecoming in the middle of the night two months after cancer surgery in Cuba implies some medical improvement – at least enough to handle a flight of several hours.
Chávez could simply be hoping to quieten political tensions and smooth a transition to vice-president Nicolas Maduro, whom he has urged voters to back should he have to stand down and a new presidential election is held.
“We have arrived back in the Venezuelan fatherland. Thanks, my God! Thanks, my beloved people! Here we will continue the treatment,” Chávez tweeted after flying in.