The Venezuela Information Centre and Verso Books launch of Richard Gott's new book, 'Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution' (Verso, 2005, £9.99), was a big success. About 200 people packed Bolivar Hall, the Venezuelan embassy's cultural centre in London, on 10th August. They included senior-level representatives from six national trade unions, the Greater London Authority and the Green Party together with journalists, academics, students, NGO workers and members of the Latin American community in London.
Venezuelan ambassador, Sr. Alfredo Toro Hardy opened the event and was followed by Richard Gott, Tariq Ali (a member of the advisory board of Telesur, the new Latin American television channel) and Gordon Hutchison (acting secretary of the Venezuela Information Centre).
Sr. Alfredo Toro Hardy welcomed the publication of this "very important book". He explained that President Chavez was challenging the Washington neo-liberal consensus by implementing extensive social reforms.
Richard Gott said that his new book updates an earlier edition by telling the story of Venezuela’s last five years. In 2001 President Chavez introduced 49 radical new laws, including those for land and oil industry reform. "The conservative opposition woke up to the fact that Chavez was not a country bumpkin or a jumped-up military officer but a serious guy intent on transforming the country". However all their attempts to overthrow the government back-fired. The 2002 coup attempt led to the compulsory retirement of right wing generals; the oil lock-out enabled Chavez to ensure that oil revenues were used for social programmes; and the referendum proved he had huge popular support.
Venezuela was now preparing for a possible future US invasion. While the US government had run out of internal allies and could not install "an Iraqi-type stooge regime", Richard warned that it could have a new strategy.
There would be problems for the Bolivarian revolution if Brazil’s President Lula lost his re-election contest in October 2006 to a traditional right wing candidate closely aligned to the US.
Richard concluded by rebutting the charge that Chavez is a "populist leader" giving the people what he thinks they want. Instead "he is trying to have a crash education course" focused on young people, "so that in one generation the people in the shanty towns are in the position where they make decisions about their own future and discover what it is that they really want".
Tariq Ali spoke of "genuine mass enthusiasm" for the Bolivarian government. Venezuela proved that "democracy could be used by the radicals" and not just by the US pumping in money to secure sympathetic governments.
This made it extremely difficult for Washington to denounce the Bolivarians as dictators even though sections of the media, such as the UK-based 'Economist' and 'Financial Times', continued with their "grotesque reporting". The reason for this hostility was clear. "In a world where no alternative appeared possible…suddenly a development took place in Latin America that was very different."
The changes in Venezuela had been against the background of a wave of new social movements across Latin America. "Lessons can and should be learnt" by trade unions in the West from the partial victories won by these movements.
The election of Chavez had created a new situation showing that "you can take power …democratically and then begin a process of … extremely important reforms."
The Bolivarians were planning to use Venezuela’s bountiful oil wealth to help other Latin American countries. They had recently been attacked by the US State Department for supporting social movements in Bolivia and elsewhere. "Well, so what!" said Tariq. In Bolivia’s forthcoming presidential election the US would back their candidate while the bulk of Latin America supported Evo Morales.
"It’s impossible to understand what Chavez is doing unless you see it in a Latin American context". Tariq explained that Telesur had been set up as a satellite TV channel which was not dependent for news on the CNN and BBC World. Its aim was "to aid and encourage, in the best Bolivarian traditions, the integration of Latin America". It would let people know what was really going on across the continent and include coverage critical of governments.
Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution was "the single most important political, economic and social process taking place on a global scale. Slowly the news is beginning to spread."
Gordon Hutchison declared that "ahead of all countries in Latin America, Venezuela is making poverty history!" Because of the education, health and other social reforms it is likely to meet its United Nations Millennium Development Goals three years ahead of schedule.
Gordon explained that the Venezuela Information Centre had been set up in May as a broad-based UK movement intent on spreading the truth about Venezuela. Already it had organised a successful visit to Britain by Ruben Linares, a national leader of the UNT (the Venezuelan trade union federation). It plans to organise more public meetings, visits and cultural events.
Copies of 'Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution' will be on sale at main UK bookshops from 16th August. For more information about ordering the book go to: www.versobooks.com