has been a thorn in the flaccid side of the US government for the last seven years or so. Traditionally the country had been a compliant US satellite ravaged by massive inequalities, chronic illiteracy, minimal health provision and all the signs of a healthy capitalist democracy. In 1998 the population voted Hugo Chavez into power on a platform of land reform, rights for women
and indigenous people, and free healthcare and education. Chavez sees these reforms as forming a coherent and more thoroughgoing whole which he and his supporters have termed the "Bolivarian revolution" (a name inspired by Simon Bolivar
who led the resistance to the Spanish Empire in the early-19th century helping win independence for Bolivia, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela). This hasn't gone down well with the country's traditional elite - who hadn't done so badly out of the old way of doing things, thank you very much - nor their allies in Washington.
The seven years of Chavez's rule have witnessed an abortive US-backed coup
; an opposition-led "general strike
"; the purchase
of around 40 tanks - ultimately cancelled
- by the Colombian government for the ostensible purpose of patrolling the Venezuelan border; the capture of 88 Colombian paramilitaries
, part of a larger group of around 130, in a ranch in Venezuela; a referendum
on Chavez's presidency instituted by the opposition; Chavez's rise likened
to that of Hitler by Donnie Rumself; and calls
by US Christian leader Pat Robertson for Chavez to be assasinated. Long story short: the US and its proxies are out to get him.
Clearly, Chavez fits into a long tradition of left-leaning leaders in South America who have been the target of American opprobrium as a result of their distasteful orientation towards the wrong sections of society. This isn't to say he should be beyond criticism. Clearly he's a classic populist and the "revolution" he is leading seems far too closely tied to its leader, a potentially fatal flaw for both. Similarly, a "self-confessed" anarchist like myself would argue that Chavez is, radical rhetoric aside, essentially a reformist social democrat and I'd like to see things taken considerably further. Nevertheless, the "Bolivarian revolution," such as it is, has clearly had a beneficial impact for many from Venezuela's poorest communities and presents a real opportunity
for serious, radical change, not only in Venezuela, but in other countries inspired by its deviation from the neo-liberal consensus. Oh, and if I have to explain to you why American intervention's a bad idea you're probably in the wrong place.
Hitherto, I haven't written much about Venezuela because it's always seemed to be an issue in which there is limited potential for me to exert any influence. The British government hasn't got it's hands anywhere near as grubby in the whole affair as it has in, say, Iraq. At least not yet. With which note of ambiguity I turn to the reason for this post's existence.
During Prime Minister's Questions
on Wednesday, Colin Burgon asked
Tony Blair (somewhat naively in my opinion) whether he was as happy to see the rise of the left
in Latin America as "many on the Labour Benches" and suggested "that it would be bad news for all concerned if we allowed our policy towards those countries, especially Venezuela, to be shaped by a really right-wing US Republican agenda." Tony Blair only agreed "up to a point":
It is rather important that the Government of Venezuela realise that if they want to be respected members of the international community, they should abide by the rules of the international community.
So quoth the man responsible for taking his country to war in the Iraq in the face of international law, global opinion and the UN. Apparently not content with this mendaciousness Our Glorious Leader continued:
I have to say to him that the most important thing is that countries in south America and north America realise that they have much in common, much to gain from each other and much to gain from each other particularly through the principles of democracy.
Of course, Chavez is fully aware of this and doesn't need reminding of the fact. While the US has gone out of its way to undermine Chavez's presidency, Chavez has limited his response to rhetorical outbursts which although often colourful and sometimes ill-conceived hardly threaten Bush or his regime. Indeed, Chavez has done much for his internationalist credentials by offering to send
millions of litres of cut-price oil to help low-income families heat their homes.
Misrepresentations and criticisms aside, Blair did promise to carefully reflect on Burgon's question, which presumably means we can expect government policy to be the mirror image of what the MP had in mind. To be unduly fair to the warmongering twat his comments on Cuba were rather closer to the mark, but does anybody take his suggestion that he'd like to see "a proper functioning democracy" seriously inlight of the bloodsoaked "democracy" he has so graciously helped install in Iraq?
Unsurprisingly, the Venezuelan government didn't take too kindly to Blair's admonition. Chavez denounced
Blair as "a pawn of imperialism, trying now to attack us from Europe" and accused him of being "the main ally of Hitler" - an apparent reference to Tony's close relationship with George Bush. "You, Mr Blair, do not have the morality to call on anyone to respect the rules of the international community. You are precisely the one who has flouted international law the most... siding with Mr Danger [George Bush] to trample the people in Iraq." The vice-president also chimed in
, albeit in slightly less colourful terms.
Hopefully Blair's comments won't amount to anything more than a throw-away remark. There can be little doubt, however, that they are indicative of Blair's thinking and government policy. As such we can expect Blair to support US policy in Venezuela with the same enthusiasm as a did over Iraq. Not that this should be a particularly surprising revelation.
, Latin America
, South America