Tariq Ali is a writer and filmmaker. He has written more than a dozen books on world history and politics—including Pirates of the Caribbean, Bush in Babylon, The Clash of Fundamentalisms and The Obama Syndrome—as well as five novels in his Islam Quintet series and scripts for the stage and screen. He is an editor of the New Left Review and lives in London.
Once I asked whether he preferred enemies who hated him because they knew what he was doing or those who frothed and foamed out of ignorance. He laughed. The former was preferable, he explained, because they made him feel that he was on the right track. Hugo Chávez's death did not come as a surprise, but that does not make it easier to accept. We have lost one of the political giants of the post-communist era. Venezuela, its elites mired in corruption on a huge scale, had been considered a secure outpost of Washington and, at the other extreme, the Socialist International. Few thought of the country before his victories. After 1999, every major media outlet of the west felt obliged to send a correspondent. Since they all said the same thing (the country was supposedly on the verge of a communist-style dictatorship) they would have been better advised to pool their resources.
I first met him in 2002, soon after the military coup instigated by Washington and Madrid had failed and subsequently on numerous occasions. He had asked to see me during the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. He inquired: "Why haven't you been to Venezuela? Come soon." I did. What appealed was his bluntness and courage. What often appeared as sheer impulsiveness had been carefully thought out and then, depending on the response, enlarged by spontaneous eruptions on his part. At a time when the world had fallen silent, when centre-left and centre-right had to struggle hard to find some differences and their politicians had become desiccated machine men obsessed with making money, Chávez lit up the political landscape.