The authoritative first-hand account of contemporary Venezuela, Hugo Chávez places the country’s controversial and charismatic president in historical perspective, and examines his plans and programs. Welcomed in 1999 by the inhabitants of the teeming shanty towns of Caracas as their potential savior, and greeted by Washington with considerable alarm, this former golpista-turned-democrat took up the aims and ambitions of Venezuela’s liberator, Simón Bolívar. Now in office for over a decade, President Chávez has undertaken the most wide-ranging transformation of oil-rich Venezuela for half a century, and dramatically affected the political debate throughout Latin America.
In this updated edition, Richard Gott reflects on the achievements of the Bolivarian revolution, and the challenges that lie ahead.
As neoliberal policies and monetary hegemony continue to dominate around the globe, protests for democracy and against the political elite are widespread. With the start of the World Cup in Brazil it is, yet again, kicking off everywhere.
Riot police fired percussion grenades and teargas at anti-World Cup protesters in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro on Thursday as the countdown to the kick-off was marred by demonstrations in at least 10 Brazilian cities. Just hours before the opening ceremony at the Itaquerão stadium, about 100 protesters started fires and threw rocks at police in an apparent attempt to block a road leading to the venue.
The "Our Cup is on the Street" protests are targeting the high cost of the stadiums, corruption, police brutality and evictions. "The World Cup steals money from healthcare, education and the poor. The homeless are being forced from the streets. This is not for Brazil, it's for the tourists," said Denize Adriana Ferreira in this Guardian report.
The following reading list from Verso suggests books to help us understand the multifaceted histories of uprising in Central and South America, as well as the anti-world cup protests.
Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague
by Marc Perelman
What does hosting the World Cup really mean for Brazil? Marc Perelman explores this, and more, in Barbaric Sport.
Boycott Football and Fifa - read his piece on the world cup here.
Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of A New Architecture
by Justin McGuirk
Justin McGuirk travels across Latin America in search of the activist architects, maverick politicians and alternative communities already answering these questions. From Brazil to Venezuela, and from Mexico to Argentina, McGuirk discovers the people and ideas shaping the way cities are evolving.
'We want FIFA standard schools and hospitals' - what the World Cup means for Rio: read an extract from Radical Cities here.
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.