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Hugo Chavez’s death has prompted the sorrow millions of workers and popular classes around the globe, while the rich and powerful of capitalism rejoice. Despite the pressure and the millions of dollars spent to get him out of power and to undermine his significant achievements, the Venezuelan leader successfully improved the living conditions of his people and transformed the political landscape of Latin America leading a left turn.
Economically, Chavez managed to increase the minimum wage, pensions and remunerate domestic work, among other policies, all of which resulted in a significant reduction in poverty and income inequality. In contrast to promoting consumerism among the middle classes (for example, in the aspiration of a car for everyone), Chavez promoted socialist alternatives that went well beyond European social democracy. For example, non-capitalist areas were developed, with “social production companies”, co-management and co-operatives, and various nationalizations.
Politically, Chavez managed to bring together nationalist and socialist groups in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), and maintain a balance of power that brought him more than 10 electoral victories. Social programs, the famous “Missiones”, brought primary care to the hills of Caracas and the majority of people in Venezuela. The Mission Mercal allowed the working classes to access food of higher quality, despite occasional shortages. The most exploited social classes had access to education, among which were programs that reversed the social origin of the “medical establishment” to make it more responsive to the needs of the majority population. The communal councils allowed affected communities to have direct control over the management of social services, including public health services, water, property, education, sport, prevention and housing, among others. It is true that mistakes were made in planning and other policies but achievements far outweighed the failure. For example the Bolivarian revolution provided adequate housing and appliances to people living on a ranch in the hills.
It also succeeded in reducing corruption in the state oil company PDVSA. The justice system and crime in Caracas remained, however, very high, perhaps due in part to the aversion that Chavez felt towards state repression. Who can give more?
Culturally, Chavez dared to break the barriers that University classism is imposing increasingly in the North. The so-called “populist” was not. Chavez had Fidel’s cunning conjugated with the romanticism of Che, and will go down in history as an American immortal joining Allende, Neruda, Guevara, Marti and many more. Face to face, in the program “Alo Presidente” in Miraflores, the man seemed more cerebral, conscious and reflective than his public image portrayed, and certainly very brave. His ability to communicate with his people, the working classes of Venezuela, and by extension of Latin America and the world, has no match. He could talk about Meszaros, Marx and Chomsky with the same lack of pretension, simplicity and clarity with which he spoke about baseball or sang a ranchera song by Ali Primera. Making no effort, he was able to break the barriers of elitism that make culture a commodified good available to the few who have high degrees. There was not in him an iota of neocolonial inferiority complex, admiration for Anglo-Saxon culture, or identification with his historical oppressors. Chavez did not care what the imperialist North thought of him. That was one reason why the media attacked him with a frenetic fervor.
Speculation about the future of the Bolivarian Revolution north of the Rio Grande underestimates the profound changes made under Hugo Chavez. Today, there is a budding Latin American integration. The Venezuelan people, “Chavez is the people”, is now aware of their constitutional rights and is prepared to defend them. Despite the sectarianism, the “Boliburguesía”, the right-wing in the military, the Bureau of Democratic Unity (MUD) and foreign interference, it will be extremely difficult to roll back his achievements if the working classes and some middle classes continue to support his policies.
The timorous left of the North should learn a lot from him, his courage and his stubborn determination to change the course of history. He refused to follow the script that neoliberal imperialism had written for him. He believed himself to be Bolivar’s heir, he got us believe to believe it too, and he achieve it. To avoid the destruction of the planet and achieve a just and dignified life for all people, it will take many like Chavez and many Bolivarian peoples who continue his struggle.
Ah, Chavez no se va!
* Ver: Carles Muntaner, Joan Benach, María Páez. Counterpunch December 14th 2012
Carles Muntaner a Professor Universidad de Toronto y member of GREDS/EMCONET, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
Joan Benach is Professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and director of Grupo de Investigación en Desigualdades en Salud (GREDS/EMCONET), Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
Both have worked on the Public Health aspects of the Bolivarian Revolution since Chavez’s Access to power in the late nineties.
Maria Paez Victor is a Venezuelan Sociologist specializing in Health. She lives in Toronto.