The press of course went into high dudgeon, and not just for the obvious reason that it's one thing for opponents in the Middle East to call the United States the Great Satan and another thing for the president of a Latin American country to personally single out its president as Beelzebub, on US soil no less.
I think what really rankled was that Chávez was claiming a privilege that had long belonged to the United States, that is, the right to paint its adversaries not as rational actors but as existential evil. Latin American populists, from Argentina's Juan Perón to, most recently, Chávez, have long served as characters in a story the US tells about itself, reaffirming the maturity of its electorate and the moderation of its political culture. There are at most eleven political prisoners in Venezuela, and that's taking the opposition's broad definition of the term, which includes individuals who worked to overthrow the government in 2002, and yet it is not just the right in this country who regularly compared Chávez to the worst mass murderers and dictators in history. New Yorker critic Alex Ross, in an essay published a few years back celebrating the wunderkind Venezuelan conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, fretted about enjoying the fruits of Venezuela’s much-lauded government-funded system of music training: “Stalin, too, was a great believer in music for the people.”
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Just under a million Venezuelan children from the shanty towns and the poorest villages now obtain a free education; 1.2 million illiterate adults have been taught to read and write; secondary education has been made available to 250,000 children whose social status excluded them from this privilege during the ancien régime; three new university campuses were functioning by 2003 and six more are due to be completed by 2006.
As far as healthcare is concerned, the 14,000 Cuban doctors sent to help the country have transformed the situation in the poor districts, where 11,000 neighbourhood clinics have been estab- lished and the health budget has tripled. Add to this the financial support provided to small businesses, the new homes being built for the poor, an Agrarian Reform Law that was enacted and pushed through despite resistance, legal and violent, by the landlords. By the end of 2003, just over 2,262,467 hectares had been redistributed to 116,899 families.
The bizarre argument advanced in a hostile editorial in The Economist (as in Gunson's article in Vertigo) during the week of the referendum, namely, that all this was done to win votes, is extraordinarily obtuse. Here the defenders of the global elite confuse their own machinations with reality. In the globalised world, where there are no basic differences between competing political factions of the elite, politics is exclusively about power; a world in which Clinton and Bush's billionaire backers, or the financiers who supported first Thatcher, then Blair, can cross sides with ease.
The Bolivarian currents in Latin America are important precisely because they pose a challenge to traditional cacique politics. That is why they are loathed by the elites and their media propagandists. If Chávez had simply been interested in power he could have easily done a deal with the local oligarchy and won the support of the global financial press. The Bolivarians wanted power precisely so that real reforms could be implemented.
Hugo Chavéz, the president of Venezuela, has died in a military hospital after a long battle against cancer, Reuters has reported, prompting a wave of mourning in the country he ruled since 1999 with a globally distinctive and influential style of leadership.
The symbol of Latin American socialism succumbed to a respiratory infection on Tuesday evening, 21 months after he first revealed he had a tumour. He had not been seen in public for three months since undergoing emergency surgery in Cuba on 11 December.
He will be given a state funeral in Caracas, likely to be attended by millions of supporters and leftwing leaders from across the globe who have been inspired by Chavéz's doctrine of "Bolivarian 21st-century socialism."
Hugo Chávez (waving a replica of 19th century revolutionary Símon Bolívar's sword) has once again triumphed over the bastions of neoliberal capitalism. After 14 years in power, he won 55% of the vote on a record 81% turnout, proving to the World Bank, the IMF, Barclays, and the United Statess (among others) that the people want socialism, not corporate imperialism. As Seamus Milne notes in the Guardian, despite the fact that Chávez's opponent Henrique Capriles was backed by the US (whose antagonism toward his government is well-known and most noteably manifested itself in a failed coup in 2002) and outspent him three to one using virtually all of the private media to his advantage, it was a decisive victory. Only two states, in which most all of the wealthy & bourgeois reside, went to Capriles. The other twenty-one went to Chávez. Milne celebrates the importance of this victory,
Venezuela and its Latin American allies have demonstrated that it's no longer necessary to accept a failed economic model, as many social democrats in Europe still do. They have shown it's possible to be both genuinely progressive and popular. Cynicism and media-fuelled ignorance have prevented many who would naturally identify with Latin America's transformation from recognising its significance. But Chávez's re-election has now ensured that the process will continue – and that the space for 21st-century alternatives will grow.