The Rebel Road…

I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man. – Ernesto Che Guevara

Chavez’s defeat.

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The meteoric rise of socialist ideology in Latin America came as no big surprise considering that the region had long suffered exploitation at the hands of the US. Adding fuel to the proverbial fire was the fact that Cuba had come out as a successful and remarkably resilient antagonist of the US and had supported and encouraged socialist development in the rest of Latin America. It was extremely interesting that it was not countries like Brazil, Bolivia or even Argentina, which had suffered catastrophic economic meltdown due to following the IMF’s neo-liberal policies without a second thought, that first saw the onset of a socialist set up, rather a country like Venezuela which had long maintained cordial ties with the US. The US interest in Venezuela was obvious from the beginning – Venezuela boasts huge deposits of oil and natural gas – and the previous Venezuelan governments had been more than happy to oblige. In fact Venezuelan oil accounts for 14 percent of all US oil imports.

Hugo Chavez, though, literally burst onto the national scene as ‘the other option’ when he tried to capture state power through a coup d’état in 1992. Although the attempt itself failed miserably, the subsequent imprisoning of Chavez along with new media coverage garnered more and more support for the would-be revolutionary. This revolutionary, however, did not rise to power as a result of using the barrel of Mao’s proverbial gun – it was the Presidential elections of 1998 which brought him into office with 56 percent of the votes in his favour. On coming to power one of the main initiatives taken by President Chavez was the institution of various public welfare programmes such as Mission Robinson, Mission Guaicaipuro, etc. Unfortunately, his presidential tenure can only be described, politely, as having been ‘difficult’. Being one of the most vocal critics of the White House – having gone as far as to refer to US President George Bush as ‘the devil’ in his speech at the United Nations – did not win Chavez any powerful friends. It comes as no great surprise that the White House has tried, time and again, to destabilise the country in order to oust Chavez from office. Rumours of US involvement in a coup against Chavez in April 2002 only served to increase the frequency and magnitude of Chavez’s criticisms of US foreign policy.

It is for all these reasons that Chavez’s current defeat in the latest referendum has left most baffled. However, it is understandable considering that Latin America has seen its share of authoritarian dictatorships and the people of Venezuela, though enamoured by Chavez and his policies of redistributing wealth, have felt it necessary to deny him access to such absolute power. In addition to this the opposition to Chavez, which has been gaining strength in recent years – in no small measure egged-on by American backing – has played its cards well. The closure of RCTV, an opposition TV Channel which was allegedly partly responsible for the 2002 coup attempt, also led to his regime being labelled autocratic.

Venezuela can hardly be claimed as a model for all nations to follow, considering it gets its revenues from a source not many countries can boast of, i.e. oil, nor is Chavez’s version of socialism ‘pure’, since the nationalisation of private property has been minimal. However, Venezuela is certainly an extremely robust economy and an experiment in a different kind of democratic socialism. The results promise to be most interesting.

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