The former US president George W. Bush called Hugo Chavez of Venezuela a “devil” and allegedly backed his opposition in the subsequent elections, to the point that there were rumours, confirmed by Chavez, that the Americans had hatched a plot to kill him. Reports alleged that organisations like FBI and CIA were all primed up wanting to get rid of Chavez. There were numerous other assassination attempts, ranging from attempts by Gov. Manuel Rosales (his arch rival in domestic polity belonging to Un Nuevo Tiempo) to those by the Columbian secret police. However, all those attempts were foiled by the mercy of his fate, before he eventually died bravely fighting cancer on March 5, 2013.
As his coffin, draped in the national flag, was passed through the streets of Caracas, the very sight of swelling crowds flocking in for the last glimpse of their beloved leader spoke volumes of his popularity and larger-than-life image. And why not! He was a socialist leader who had the guts to take US by its horns and who showed the world, along with Cuba, that sustained progress, development and prosperity are also possible with socialistic ideologies. His Bolivarian Revolution had all the ingredients of a socialist movement, yet it reaped a rich harvest of development and poverty reduction. He nationalized a large set of industries, especially those that were essential for economic and social development. In order to destroy cartelisation and illicit hoarding (that have critically adverse effects on the lower strata of society), Chavez strategically nationalised cement companies, steel plants and supermarkets. He then swiftly nationalized the oil and gas sector, leaving a powerful lobby of petro-oligarchs completely dumfounded. So much so, under the Bolivarian Revolution, he drafted trade policies that promised cheap oil to poor neighbouring countries – something that can never be expected from the so-called elitist capitalist nations. Unlike the West, he also brought education and health under government control and used it as a catalyst for poverty alleviation. The tangible proof of his success is reflected in the UN Economic Commission for Latin America report stating that the poverty rate in Venezuela was sliced from 48.6 per cent in 2002 to 29.5 per cent in 2011.
The bigger significance of his achievements was not only about what he did but also how he did it! His influence was profound not only in Venezuela but also in Latin America per se, because of the mass empowerment of people and his stubborn anti-imperialist stand. His all-out war against behemoth institutions and repealing the existing constitution after being elected for his first term made him popular among the masses. Interestingly, while repealing the constitution, instead of the popular vote turning against him (as can be expected when such moves are undertaken), he received an overwhelming stamp of approval from the deprived and disadvantaged masses, as he could explain to them the advantages of his new constitution and of his policies. The new constitution enforced free and quality healthcare (as a human right) through the Mission Barrio Adentro program which further bans any attempt of privatization of healthcare in the nation. Going a step further, the new constitution also introduced clauses wherein the masses could remove their president from the office even before the end of his term – a right that truly defines the essence of democracy!
He could convince the entire Latin America about not only the virtues of socialism but also the perils of capitalism – a demonstration that, if anything, deeply infuriated United States. His nationalistic stand was anti-US as it was a protectionist measure and was perceived as an unfair trade policy directly clashing with WTO doctrines. Despite global disconcert, Chavez hammered his way to electoral victories, one after another. It was possible primarily because his government was adept in handling the economy, supporting the same with the emotional play of boosting dignity, sovereignty, independence and democracy. Chavez spent a massive $1 trillion on social welfare programs along with ensuring a low inflation rate, negligible fiscal deficit and healthy growth – all cornerstones of successful socioeconomic initiatives. Moreover, his handsome allocation in the social sector helped the country attain 100% literacy by 2006 and free healthcare for all. In a one of its kind policy, Venezuela also achieved food sovereignty, which addressed the problems of food scarcity and malnutrition and in-turn increased total food consumption by more than 90 per cent in a short span of 9 years.
Among the three major socialist nations facing the wrath of United States – viz. Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea – Venezuela is the only one that is exempt from US sanctions. Unlike what it did with some other socialist nations, US didn’t target Venezuela with economic and trade sanctions as Venezuela had successfully made its presence inevitable in the American market. Venezuela is among the top five suppliers of crude to US – up to 900,000 barrels of oil find their way to the US market on a daily basis, and 600,000 barrels of crude get refined at the recipient country’s CITGO facility! This is a catch too valuable for the US to miss on its own economic map. The other two socialist pariahs don’t enjoy the petro-blessings and hence the axe of sanctions has befallen them. Now, in the life after Chavez, Venezuela must hold its head high on the path shown by the ex- leader – and should ensure that it doesn’t become another pawn in the backyard of US. Sensing the opportunity, US will try to bolster its own sympathizers in Venezuelan politics to grab hold of the nation economically, politically and culturally, as it has done with many in the past.
The new leader must know that being a US puppet would be catastrophic for the Latin American nation as it will lose its sovereignty, its economy and its independence. US, in that case, would try to force open a free market structure with all the reasons in the world to ruin a perfectly created and well-functioning system. A sudden transition from a nationalistic economy to a market economy is always filled with the dangers of collapse and chaos; and in case Venezuela goes that way, it would eventually vanquish the uplifting of the masses and could well lead to lopsided wealth distribution, as is exemplified in most capitalist economies. A few rich individuals, all waiting for the economy to further liberalise, would control the economy and give birth to a new band of crony capitalists in the entire vicinity. A USSR-like unfolding is imminent; and if that happens, it would lead to havoc in the country and it would not be worthy of the future that Hugo Chavez envisioned for his treasured Venezuela. The new set of leaders needs to make sure that they carry forward the legacies left behind by Chavez and not jump onto the bandwagon of capitalism and instant-liberalisation of the economy. The writing on the wall is vivid – Venezuela is able to escape the clutches of neo-imperialism only because of its strong social fabric, stable political structure and its dominance in global trade market! Chavez is dead! Long live Chavez!
- 29 March 2013 |