“Chavez is Not Just a Political Leader; He is Also a Revolutionary Who Has Defended the Oppressed”

In order to understand Venezuela´s political panorama, for example the presidential elections this coming October 7 and the recent declarations of Colombian ex-president, Alvaro Uribe, against the country, we interviewed the editor of Chaos in Spain´s Network, Catalan sociologist and graduate in Latin American studies, Anibal Garzon Baeza.

By Lucía Berbeo - Rebelión

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (psuv.org)
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (psuv.org)
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In order to understand Venezuela´s political panorama, for example the presidential elections this coming October 7 and the recent declarations of Colombian ex-president, Alvaro Uribe, against the country, we interviewed the editor of Chaos in Spain´s Network, Catalan sociologist and graduate in Latin American studies, Anibal Garzon Baeza, who gave us an extensive analysis of the different events taking place in the South American nation.

LB: Recently the ex-president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, stated that during his administration he was on the verge of carrying out a military intervention in Venezuelan territory, but due to lack of time, he never followed through. What is your opinion regarding this declaration?

We have to analyse the political impact which Uribe was looking to make with his demagogic statements. Any analyst knows that Uribe has never had the opportunity to carry out a military intervention in Venezuela for numerous reasons. The first is that, if he had attacked the country, many of Colombia´s troops would have been deployed in a bi-national conflict, which would have given free space to the FARC and ELN guerrillas, who had to concede territories that they had previously controlled in 1999 through Plan Colombia, supported by the US and Europe.

With the bi-national conflict, the guerrillas would have gained political ground as well as territory from Colombian state forces. A second factor is that the conflict would have gone beyond the Colombia-Venezuela border and become a continental issue. Venezuela is a country that, under Chavez, has strengthened relations with other Latin American countries through strong South-South cooperation, for instance, through Petrocaribe or the ALBA-TCP. Venezuela has also managed to overcome the historical control of the Organization of American States through founding new organizations such as CELAC or UNASUR, as well as having recently joined MERCOSUR. For this reason, an attempt by Colombia to invade Venezuela would be met by support from other Latin American countries for Chavez, not because they hold political sympathies, but because they would oppose an attack against continental integration. In this sense, the demagogic strategy of Uribe is an attempt to attract attention from ultra-conservative and anti-socialist sectors in Colombia which are critical of the new stable relationship between the current President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, and Hugo Chavez.

LB – It is no secret that the ex-president of Colombia is advising the Venezuelan right-wing presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles. How do you see that relationship? Will it work well for them?

Let´s remember that the very same Capriles began his campaign with a rhetoric that focused on implementing capitalism with a social conscious, as in the Brazilian model. These false statements are an indication of the contextual realities of the region. Right now in Latin America an anti-neoliberal ideology is dominant - even the bourgeoisie themsleves have to use this ideology in order to win votes, even though it is not their preferred model. But demagogy has its limit and Capriles´ relationship with Uribe is a demonstration, not just of a link between these two people, but of a whole rightwing international neoliberal structure which includes other politicians such as Aznar and Bush, who in 2011 met with the Venezuelan businessman Gustavo Cisneros, who supports Capriles´ election campaign, in the Dominican Republic in order to plan what action they would take to prevent the reelection of Chavez.

To answer the question, it´s obvious that the Venezuelan people look negatively upon the relationship between Capriles and Uribe, I think that it has been a huge error for Capriles to ally himself with the fascist Uribe, who is a political figure that has been quite rightly discredited across the continent, where he is known for his aggressive militaristic strategies, exemplified through his relationships with paramilitaries, the “false positive” scandal, or his killing sprees against the civilian population, such as in the mass grave found in La Macarena.

LB – In your opinion, what differentiates the ex-governor of Miranda (Capriles) from the current president, Hugo Chavez?

Quite simply, they are different in terms of social classes, what Karl Marx has termed the actors of the “motor of history”. Whilst Chavez has sought to improve the conditions of the oppressed social classes throughout his 13 years of administration, through providing services such as health, education and housing to those with low incomes, Capriles is attempting to paralyse this process through privatising all these services, reducing the role of the state in the economy so that Venezuela returns to the market as the supposed regulator for society, a market which leaves a large part of the population completely marginalized due to their lack of capital. This is nothing new; history repeats itself through the dialectic between the left and the right, when each sector defines itself through the interests of a social class.

LB – This coming October 7, the presidential elections will be held in Venezuela. Do you think the conditions are right for Hugo Chavez to be ratified as president?

According to the majority of the different electoral opinion polls, Chavez would obtain more than 50% of the votes and Capriles wouldn´t even reach 30%. These figures point towards the victory of Chavez, but beyond these secondary sources, the question should actually be; what would happen if Chavez didn´t win the presidential elections? Could this give way to an armed conflict in Venezuela? Let´s bear in mind that the anti-democratic right-wing attempted to get rid of Chavez through a coup in 2002, but the civilian population, with 3 years of Chavez in government, took to the streets to defend him and put a stop to the putschists´ attempts. Ten years after this coup in Venezuela, and strong grassroots political structures have been established, such as the communal councils, which are social sectors which manage part of the resources delegated by the Bolivarian Revolution. These actors would surely be repressed if the right-wing came to power, and this could generate an intense national conflict which would have a huge impact on a continental level.

LB - In spite of the different campaigns and situations that the Venezuelan president has had to face, such as the state coup and the managerial oil strike, amongst others, from your point of view what has maintained Chavez in power and allowed him to consolidate the revolution to become a reference point, not just within Venezuela, but internationally?

On a national level, the principal factor has been in reconstructing a new state which has incorporated tens of thousands of families who had been traditionally excluded by the system. Let´s remember that the coup was brought down by the popular classes, not by the middle class which is now Chavista due to a peak in the national economy, but which tomorrow could side with the opposition. The managerial petrol strike was the same; the revolution was defended by youths who had no labour experience in the industry, and not by the labour aristocracy which generated the strike. Material improvements have been the main reason that the Venezuelan people have defended the revolution. Whilst on an international level, perhaps the main reason has been more symbolic, Chavez as a new political leader has revitalised the global left´s discourse after the crisis represented by the fall of the USSR.

LB – Anibal, as a European and a person who has travelled to numerous countries and has been able to get to know the reality of various peoples, why should we bet on socialism and not capitalism?

Leaving my own political criteria to one side and using a scientific sociological basis, we can see that the implementation of a socialist model means that any citizenry is going to live in much more equal conditions where people, no matter what family they are born into, have the right to study, public healthcare, a decent job, in order to develop themselves as collective individuals.

For example, Cuba, since the socialist revolution in 1959 and in spite of the difficult conditions occasioned by the US embargo, is the only country in Latin America which has eliminated child malnutrition, according to the 2012 UNICEF report. We could talk about what are referred to as the regional capitalist powerhouses, such as Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, in terms of their GDP (Gross Domestic Product), but if a child dies due to lack of food or public services, or if some people can study and others can´t, then from my point of view they aren´t powerhouses, but rather archaic systems leftover from colonialism which we must move beyond.

LB – To round off, what would you say to the leader of the Bolivarian revolution, Hugo Chavez?

If the commander-president Hugo Chavez were to read this interview in any given moment, I would like to thank him for the learning process which he has led and which he has extended to the Venezuelan people since he came to power democratically in 1999. His initial Keynesian comments relating to the supposed third way, a capitalist model which has its theoretical origins in England, were overcome by his inclination for a Latin American socialist model which he began to become aware of through his wide theoretical readings on the achievements made and the errors which are necessary to correct in the history of socialist revolutions. Chavez is not just a political leader, but also an intellectual of the oppressed in the 21st Century, and I think he is conscious of the national and international class struggle that takes up the political agenda.

Translated by Rachael Boothroyd for Venezuelanalysis.com

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