Remembering Chris Hani

10 April 2015 marks the 22nd anniversary of the tragic assassination of Chris Hani, a legendary freedom fighter and one of the most courageous and talented leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle. Although he was only 50 at the time of his death, Hani’s contribution to the struggle was that of several lifetimes.

Born in 1942 in the Transkei, he was politicised by the sheer poverty that he saw around him in his early life. He joined the ANC’s Youth League at the age of 15, and quickly went on to become a dedicated organiser. As a student radical at the University of Fort Hare (whose alumni include Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Robert Mugabe, Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda), he was recruited to the South African Communist Party (SACP) by the veteran anti-apartheid leader, Govan Mbeki. In 1962, Hani became a member of the newly-formed Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) – the military wing of the ANC – and it was above all his heroic activities in this organisation over the course of three decades that led to his well-deserved reputation as one of the most important figures in the history of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Regenerating the struggle

Throughout the 1950s, the ANC’s stock had grown as a result of its effective disobedience and defiance campaigns along with its propaganda work. The Freedom Charter, which put forward the core principles of the Congress Alliance (which included the ANC, the SACP, the South African Indian Congress, the South African Congress of Democrats and the Coloured People’s Congress), was adopted in 1955 at the Congress of the People and became a rallying cry for opponents of apartheid across the country.

However, with the banning of the ANC, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and other liberation organisations in 1960; the introduction of ever more repressive laws; and the Rivonia Trial of 1963 – which saw the imprisonment of almost the entire leadership of the MK (including Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu) – the movement had hit a low point by the mid-1960s. Underground activity inside South Africa was almost non-existent, and the exile movement had not yet become an effective force.

At this point, a critical lifeline was offered by the Soviet Union, which provided financial support and extensive military training to hundreds of MK cadres, including Hani (as detailed at length in Vladimir Shubin’s book, ANC – A View From Moscow’). Tanzania and Zambia, which gained their independence from Britain in 1961 and 1964 respectively, allowed the ANC and MK to set up bases in their newly liberated territories, and Hani was involved in setting up the first military camps of South African liberation fighters.

In 1967, Hani led an operation to insert ANC and ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union) troops into Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), with a view to opening up infiltration roots into South Africa. Militarily the campaign was far from successful – ending as it did in the loss of more than half the cadres and a forced retreat into Botswana – and yet it raised the spirits of black South Africans at an exceptionally difficult period for the liberation struggle. As Nelson Mandela says in ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, “it was a milestone in the struggle” to see MK cadres engaged militarily with the enemy for the first time, even killing some soldiers of the racist Rhodesian regime.

Hani noted at the time:

“This was a virgin victory for us, since we had never fought with modern weapons against the enemy. For us that day was a day of celebration because with our own eyes we had seen the enemy run. We had seen the enemy frozen with fear … We had also seen and observed each other reacting to the enemy’s attack. A feeling of faith in one another and recognition of the courage of the unit developed.” (cited in Shubin)

Veteran people’s lawyer Albie Sachs noted that this operation (known as the Wankie Campaign, owing to its location in the Wankie Game Reserve) turned Hani into “an admired leader … he’d been in combat and now had an unofficial, intangible sense of authority”. (More can be read about the campaign here)

Deepening the armed struggle

By the mid-1970s, Hani was at the head of an MK base in Lesotho, the purpose of which was to reinfiltrate small groups of cadres back into South Africa for short periods in order to organise armed sabotage cells. Hani was one of the first to be reinfiltrated, in 1974, successfully avoiding the South African intelligence services and setting up several cells in Johannesburg, before making his way back over the border four months later. Chris wrote of that period:

“Now we were actually building a number of units from Lesotho into South Africa … We built a network of structures inside the country. We trained people in guerrilla affairs, in politics, in intelligence and everything else … Those were exciting days for me because I was receiving these cadres coming from the Transvaal, from the Orange Free State, from the Cape and Natal. I was in touch with trade unions. I used to go in and out. Meet comrades at Sterkspruit in Transkei. I used to send some of my colleagues from our collective in Lesotho to Cape Town, to Johannesburg, to Durban for a few days. We had little meetings and discussed strategy… We began to build education groups inside Lesotho. We prepared them in terms of understanding the ANC and our struggle. We would select the best to send back into the country underground. We would say: go and form a cell or two, then come back. We are giving you a week … all the theory that we had acquired in our training and our limited experience we began to apply creatively in a new situation. And for me that was a turning point in terms of our struggle.” (cited in ‘Hani: A Life Too Short’ by Janet Smith and Beauregard Tromp)

This activity quickly became the main theatre of the armed struggle. The operations stepped up in a serious way after 1976, as thousands of young militant South Africans were forced out of the country in the aftermath of the Soweto Uprising. These young people were ready to fight, and eagerly joined the MK’s camps in Tanzania and Zambia. Chris, who by this time had been placed on the ANC’s Revolutionary Council (and was Assistant General Secretary of the SACP), was at the forefront of providing military training and political education for these new recruits.

“All those who worked with Hani noted his humility, his charm, his deep concern for the troops, and his incorruptibility – refusing to enjoy the privileges that his reputation might have earned him, and eating, sleeping and training with his comrades” (op cit).

In an interview with the ANC journal Mayibuye in 1985, Hani spoke of the need to extend the war into the white areas in order to create greater pressure for the dismantling of apartheid:

“It’s a situation of complete ruthlessness, of acts of atrocities against the blacks in our country. Now, in the face of that situation, it is important that the whites should realise that our country is in a state of civil war, because nothing is taking place where they stay. Their suburbs are still pictures of peace and stability and the usual rhythm of life continues. Their lives are not disturbed… Life for white South Africans is good. They go to their cinemas, they go to their barbecues, they go to their five-star hotels. That’s why they are supporting the system. It guarantees a happy life for them, a sweet life. Part of our campaign is to prevent that sweet life.”

Through this revolutionary upsurge in South Africa, the liberation forces started to break the back of apartheid. Hani’s key role led to him being made MK’s political commissar in 1982 and its chief of staff four years later.

Return to South Africa

In April 1990, Hani was able to return to South Africa on a provisional amnesty order from the white government, as it inched towards a negotiated settlement. He immediately began working tirelessly, travelling the country to educate people about the political process taking place and also to raise their socialist consciousness. He was everywhere received with undisguised joy, perhaps second only to Nelson Mandela in popularity.

Although he had been a military man for nearly thirty years, Chris strongly believed in the peace process. He understood only too well that the revolutionary forces were not strong enough to defeat the South African state outright, but that the combination of armed and mass struggle, described by Nelson Mandela as the liberation movement’s hammer and anvil, could together force a negotiated solution which would move the overall freedom struggle many important steps forward. Hani stated: “In the current political situation, the decision by our organisation to suspend armed action is correct and is an important contribution in maintaining the momentum of negotiation”. And just a few days before his death, he said : “The issue now is not armed struggle but elections. That needs a climate of peace and stability; we cannot afford to have that process delayed and disrupted by violent elements … Every ANC supporter should be a combatant, but a combatant now for peace.”

In December 1991, Hani was elected to the post of general secretary of the SACP, and gave up his post as MK chief of staff in order to focus on grassroots development of the party. By this time it was fairly clear that the apartheid era was coming to an end, and Chris saw the need to consolidate the position of the left within the Congress alliance, in order to push for the specific interests of the workers and peasants in the post-apartheid era. This was consistent with the vision he had always had, articulated in some brief autobiographical notes he wrote in 1991: “In 1961 I joined the underground South African Communist Party as I realised that national liberation, though essential, would not bring about total economic liberation.”

Communism and the struggle against apartheid

Hani described his enduring commitment to socialism and the SACP in the following terms:

“Why did I join the SACP? Why was I not just satisfied with the ANC? I belonged to a world, in terms of my background, which suffered I think the worst extremes of apartheid. A poor rural area where the majority of working people spent their time in the compounds, in the hostels, away from their families. A rural area where there were no clinics and probably the nearest hospital was 50kms away – generally a life of poverty with the basic things unavailable. Where our mothers and our sisters would walk 3km and even 6km whenever there was a drought to fetch water. Where the only fuel available was going 5-6 km away to cut wood and bring it back.

“I had seen the lot of black workers, extreme forms of exploitation. Slave wages, no trade union rights, and for me the appeal of socialism was extremely great. Where it was said that workers create wealth, but in the final analysis they get nothing – they get peanuts in order to survive and continue working for the capitalists. I didn’t get involved with the workers’ struggle out of theory alone. It was a combination of theory and my own class background. I never faltered in my belief in socialism despite all the problems currently. For me that belief is strong because that is still the life of the majority of the people with whom I share a common background.” (cited in Smith and Tromp)

One important – and controversial – issue related to the life of Chris Hani is the relationship between the struggle for socialism and the struggle for national liberation; and more specifically, between the ANC and the SACP. This relationship has been under almost constant attack from the 1930s onwards. The apartheid regime and its western imperialist backers used the relationship to ‘prove’ that the anti-apartheid struggle was simply part of an evil Soviet plot against western-style freedom and democracy. Meanwhile, there were plenty of people within the anti-apartheid camp who opposed the relationship on the basis that the SACP was allegedly white-dominated and that Marxism was an imported ideology that was not relevant for Africans.

Nelson Mandela comments on this issue in ‘Long Walk to Freedom’:

“It is perhaps difficult for white South Africans, with an ingrained prejudice against communism, to understand why experienced African politicians so readily accepted communists as their friends. But to us the reason is obvious. Theoretical differences amongst those fighting against oppression are a luxury we cannot afford at this stage. What is more, for many decades communists were the only political group in South Africa who were prepared to treat Africans as human beings and their equals; who were prepared to eat with us; talk with us, live with and work with us. Because of this, there are many Africans who, today, tend to equate freedom with communism.”

The fact is that the communists were extremely consistent in their support of the national liberation goals of the Congress movement, and proved themselves in struggle to be capable, courageous fighters and strategists. Indeed, the SACP “has the distinction of being the first organisation in the history of Africa to call unambiguously for black majority rule on the basis of universal suffrage. This was at a time when even the ANC stopped short of this demand.” (Statement of the SACP Central Committee in 1976)

Longtime ANC President Oliver Tambo notes:

“There was a time when anti-communism reared its head in the ANC and there were often moves for the removal of communists from ANC ranks, but … to all intents and purposes we are running a common struggle together.” Pointing out that the leading members of the Party were also leading members of the ANC, Tambo said: “From my experience, you could not have asked for more loyalty.” (cited in Shubin)

In another interview, in response to the question “is the ANC under the undue influence of white communists?”, Tambo responded:

“I don’t know where these white communists are. When I ask who they mean, they reply: Joe Slovo. When I ask who else, they are silent. It is extraordinary how white communists are credited with so much power and influence and supremacy and superiority. Why are we not being influenced by black communists? And why can’t the influence go the other way? Individual members of the Communist Party are like any member of the ANC … Our movement has never hidden the fact that there is a relationship between the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party on those questions of policy which both organisations share in common. In particular both organisations believe that in the present stage of the revolutionary process in South Africa, the primary aim is the national liberation of the most exploited and most oppressed section of the South African people – the Africans.”

The ANC-SACP alliance also helped to cement Soviet, Eastern European and Cuban support for the liberation struggle, which proved to be invaluable.

Looking towards a non-racial future

Another important and controversial issue relating to Chris Hani’s legacy is that of the ANC/SACP policy of non-racialism: the idea that the struggle against apartheid, whilst primarily fought in the interests of the most oppressed group (black Africans), was also a struggle to transcend the division of society along racial lines, and that therefore the struggle should embrace people of all races, so long as they were genuinely committed to a non-racial democracy.

The ANC’s Strategy and Tactics paper – one of its defining documents – outlines the policy as follows:

“This confrontation on the lines of colour is not of our choosing; it is of the enemy’s making. It will not be easy to eliminate some of its more tragic consequences. But it does not follow that this will be so for all time. It is not altogether impossible that in a different situation the white working class, or a substantial section of it, may come to see that their true long term interest coincides with that of the non-white workers. We must miss no opportunity to try and make them aware of this truth and to win over those who are ready to break with the policy of racial domination … Our policy must continually stress in the future (as it has in the past) that there is room in South Africa for all who live in it but only on the basis of absolute democracy … Committed revolutionaries are our brothers, regardless of the group to which they belong. There can be no second class participants in our Movement. It is for the enemy we reserve our assertiveness and our justified sense of grievance.”

Tambo also elaborated on this idea: “We call upon those in the white community who stand ready to live a life of real equality and nonracialism to make common cause with our struggle for genuine liberation … In sharp contrast to the racists who have sought to divide our country and people into racial and ethnic compartments, we have upheld the ideal of one country, one people and one democratic and nonracial destiny for all who live in it, black and white.”

The close links between the liberation movement and the Soviet Union likely had an important role in affirming the ANC’s non-racial perspective. In their biography of Hani, Smith and Tromp describe his first visit to the Soviet Union (in the early 1960s):

“In the USSR now, the men were witnesses to the way a powerful nation was run. For Hani, having joined the Communist Party a mere two years earlier, but having read extensively on socialism and Marxism, it was the culmination of theory, reading, imagining… There were no beggars and no blatant poverty. The activity in the city was frenetic: houses being built on one side, flats on the other. Later the men marvelled at the fact that education and medical attention were free to all. This was the product of the revolution. All the propaganda, the lies cranked out by the Western imperialists denouncing life in the Soviet Union, had been disproved.

“For some of the cadres, this was the first time they had experienced compassion, understanding and support from white people. This treatment strengthened their will to fight for a nonracial society.

“With three square meals a day cooked by white women, and being taught by white instructors, this was ‘a new world of equality where our colour seems to be of no consequence … where our humanity is recognised,’ wrote Hani.”

Although the policy of non-racialism was criticised harshly and frequently by separatist elements within the movement, it proved its value in practice, creating a highly effective fighting alliance, and providing a vision that the masses could relate to.

The legacy of Chris Hani

hanimandelaChris Hani was murdered on 10 April 1993 in Johannesburg by a fascist gunman by the name of Janusz Waluś, who was working with a senior Conservative Party MP on a plot to assassinate a number of prominent liberation fighters and thereby spark a civil war along race lines, derailing the negotiations to end apartheid. Their plot was unsuccessful, as the massive wave of shock and grief at Hani’s death was channelled towards a new momentum in the peace process. South Africa’s first democratic election – one of the most historic events of the twentieth century – took place a year later, on 27 April 1994.

Looking at some of the problems that South Africa still suffers today, it seems obvious that Hani would have been hugely important in the search for solutions. His words just two weeks before his death were prophetic:

“I think finally the ANC will have to fight a new enemy. That enemy would be another struggle to make freedom and democracy worthwhile to ordinary South Africans. Our biggest enemy would be what we do in the field of socio-economic restructuring. Creation of jobs; building houses, schools, medical facilities; overhauling our education; eliminating illiteracy, building a society which cares, and fighting corruption and moving into the gravy train of using power, government position to enrich individuals. We must build a different culture in this country… and that culture should be one of service to the people”.

Chris was a relentless voice for the poor and oppressed, a legend of the struggle, a man of the people who had the confidence and support of the radical youth. As Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography: “He was a great hero among the youth of South Africa, a man who spoke their language and to whom they listened. South Africa was now deprived of one of its greatest sons, a man who would have been invaluable in transforming the country into a new nation.”

Mandela’s moving words at Hani’s funeral perhaps give an indication of the type of man that the world lost on 10 April 1993:

“I would like to address a final word to Chris himself – comrade, friend and confidant. We worked together in the National Executive Committee of the ANC. We had vigorous debates and an intense exchange of ideas. You were completely unafraid. No task was too small for you to perform. Your ready smile and warm friendship was a source of strength and companionship. You lived in my home, and I loved you like the true son you were. In our heart, as in the heart of all our people, you are irreplaceable. We have been struck a blow that wounds so deeply that the scars will remain forever. You laid down your life so that we may know freedom. No greater sacrifice is possible.

“We lay you to rest with the pledge that the day of freedom you lived and died for will dawn. We all owe you a debt that can only be repaid through the achievement of the liberation of our people, which was the passion of your life. Fighter, revolutionary, soldier for peace, we mourn deeply for you. You will remain in our hearts forever!”

The memory of Chris Hani should strengthen the resolve of all those on the side of socialism and national liberation. Ho Chi Minh correctly pointed out that, “in order to become truly deserving revolutionaries, all of us must follow the examples of heroism, of utter devotion to the public interest and complete selflessness… of those who watered with their blood the tree of Revolution which has now bloomed and borne fruit.” Hani’s legacy sets an example for us all to follow.


Hugo Chávez – Internacionalista revolucionario

Traducción de este artículo en ingles

“Salvemos la raza humana, acabemos con el imperio”

En el curso de sus 14 años como Presidente de Venezuela, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías se convirtió en una figura muy admirada entre la izquierda internacional. Aunque cualquier liderazgo revolucionario real y palpable siempre atraerá las sospechas de los socialistas de tertulia occidentales (y ciertamente Chávez tuvo su buena dosis de detractores), este grandioso personaje conquistó los corazones con su inmenso amor por el pueblo venezolano y su voluntad de defender alto y claro los ideales socialistas en un mundo post-soviético del fin de la historia donde pocos tuvieron el coraje de exponer tal punto de vista.

Nadie podría negar el papel que Chávez ha tenido como líder latinoamericano de la reacción contra el dogma neoliberal; tampoco se podría negar la naturaleza progresista y a favor de los pobres de los programas sociales de Venezuela. Bajo el liderazgo de Chávez, la riqueza petrolera de Venezuela (acompañada de los préstamos sin intereses chinos) se ha empleado de un modo excelente. Con la ayuda de los conocimientos expertos cubanos, el analfabetismo ha pasado a ser un mal recuerdo en Venezuela. El acceso a la educación ha aumentado drásticamente a todos los niveles, y se considera un componente fundamental de la creación de la democracia. Son famosas las palabras de Chávez, cuando sostuvo que “si queremos acabar con la pobreza, démosle poder a los pobres. ¡El conocimiento y la conciencia son el principal poder!”

Una vez más, con la ayuda de Cuba, el programa Barrio Adentro acercaba una sanidad de gran calidad a las comunidades más pobres de Venezuela, la mayoría de las cuales no había tenido acceso de ningún tipo a asistencia sanitaria profesional. Muy a pesar de las multinacionales occidentales, un gran número de empresas han sido nacionalizadas y se han llevado a cabo numerosos experimentos con la gestión de los trabajadores y la propiedad colectiva. Se han creado consejos comunalesde base por todo el país para atraer a las masas y crear una democracia más significativa. El proceso político puesto en marcha por Chávez es un programa orientado al socialismo que da prioridad a las necesidades de millones de personas ordinarias: los habitantes de los barrios marginales, los trabajadores, los campesinos, los desempleados, los indígenas, los africanos, los excluidos. Mientras tanto, el gobierno de Chávez celebraba elecciones como si fuesen a pasarse de moda. Este profundo proceso en Venezuela es tan emocionante que incluso ha conseguido ganarse el apoyo de secciones de la izquierda liberal occidental, por lo general tan clara en su rechazo total a los estados antiimperialistas y socialistas, desde A(rgentina) hasta Z(imbabwe).

Pero si hay un aspecto del legado de Hugo Chávez que hace sentir incómoda a la mayoría de la izquierda occidental (y que enfurece a las clases gobernantes occidentales) es el inquebrantable antiimperialismo de Chávez, su tenaz insistencia en la unidad a toda costa contra el principal enemigo. A nadie le cuesta alabar un hermoso programa de alfabetización, pero qué incomodo es ver a Chávez alinearse con lo que la caverna mediática del planeta ha etiquetado hace tiempo como “brutales dictaduras” en Iràn, Irak, Siria, Zimbabue, Cuba, Libia, Bielorrusia, Vietnam y Corea del Norte: “¿Cómo se le ocurre a Chávez? ¿Por qué tiene que llevarse tan bien con Rusia y China, los abusadores en serie de derechos humanos?“ Podemos descubrir este tipo de juicio en muchos de los obituarios a Chávez emanando de la izquierda occidental.

Por ejemplo, la indomable Organización ‘socialista’ internacional se quejaba de que “el legado internacional del presidente venezolano … se ha visto empañado por su atroz apoyo a Gadafi, Assad, Ahmadinejad y al estado chino”. A Owen Jones, ganador en 2013 de Britain’s Got Left-Liberal Talent, le preocupaban las “desagradables asociaciones extranjeras de Chávez. Aunque sus aliados más cercanos fueron sus compañeros de centro-izquierda elegidos democráticamente en Latinoamérica, también apoyó a brutales dictadores en Irán, Libia y Siria. Esto ha mancillado sin duda su reputación” (debería señalar de paso que el aliado más cercano de Chávez era Cuba, que suponemos que Jones no considera “democráticamente elegido” ¡y que se aparta mucho del centro-izquierda!).

Esta pauta – celebrar la política nacional de Venezuela mientras se denuncia su postura internacional – es un útil recordatorio de los límites de la democracia social occidental y claramente de todo el concepto de “libertad de expresión” en las sociedades capitalistas. Básicamente, se acepta un punto de vista ‘alternativo’ – y puede que hasta se le dé voz en los medios de comunicación liberales – en la medida en que se mantenga en límites bien definidos, dentro de lo razonable. El estado británico está dispuesto a tolerar un punto de vista minoritario que fomente una versión menos perturbada del capitalismo, especialmente si es en un país que no tiene demasiada conexión con los intereses económicos británicos. Lo que las clases dominantes occidentales nunca tolerarán – y por tanto lo que la izquierda socialdemócrata no promocionará – es una unidad antiimperialista global; hablamos de un apoyo inequívoco y coherente a todos los estados y movimientos que luchan contra el imperialismo. Dicha unidad es precisamente lo que presenta una amenaza existencial contra el imperialismo; es precisamente lo que Project for a New American Century (PNAC, Proyecto para un nuevo siglo americano) busca destruir; es precisamente lo que las inagotables estrategias de divide y vencerás buscan subvertir; es, en resumen, la única esperanza de poner fin a la dominación imperialista y crear un mundo donde los pueblos puedan desarrollarse en paz y seguridad. Como el propio Chávez afirmó: “Salvemos la raza humana – acabemos con el imperio”.

Chávez apoyó sin fisuras al movimiento global hacia la multipolaridad; a la creciente coordinación entre la familia progresista de naciones. Apoyó los profundos vínculos económicos, políticos y culturales entre estos estados que desafían la hegemonía occidental. Este aspecto de Chávez es absolutamente central para su legado político, y es lo que las clases dominantes occidentales más desprecian de él (en sus ojos había “heredado el manto de Fidel Castro como principal fastidio de Washington en Latinoamérica”). Lo que pretendo mostrar con este artículo es que, en lugar de meter bajo la alfombra el internacionalismo revolucionario de Chávez, o verlo como una mancha en su reputación progresista, este legado antiimperialista tiene que explorarse, entenderse, defenderse y construirse sobre él.

“No hay fronteras en esta lucha a muerte. No podemos ser indiferentes a lo que sucede en cualquier parte del mundo, ya que una victoria sobre el imperialismo de cualquier país es nuestra victoria; así como la derrota de cualquier país es la derrota de todos nosotros” (Ernesto Che Guevara).

La construcción del frente antiimperialista mundial

El mundo actual puede resultar implacable, especialmente para aquellos países con ideas ‘extravagantes’ sobre hacerse con el control de sus recursos naturales, la redistribución de la riqueza, la redistribución de la tierra, la puesta en práctica de una política exterior independiente y todo ese tipo de cosas. Los países de América Latina que, en el siglo XX, intentaron ejercer su independencia y soberanía fueron castigados por sus “pecados” con golpes de Estado brutales y despiadadas dictaduras (Argentina, Brasil, Chile). La minúscula Cuba ha sido sometida a medio siglo de bloqueo económico implacable, desestabilización política, aislamiento diplomático y unos cuantos cientos de intentos de asesinato. Cuando Zimbabue transfirió tierras de los colonos blancos ricos a los trabajadores nativos, negros y pobres, las clases gobernantes de Gran Bretaña y EE.UU. dejaron bien patente su descontento poniendo en marcha una campaña feroz de desprestigio contra el ZANU-PF y contra Robert Mugabe, así como imponiendo sanciones, y canalizando grandes sumas de dinero al opositor Movimiento para el Cambio Democrático. Cuando el presidente de Ucrania, Viktor Yanukovich rechazó el paquete de préstamos de la UE, con toda la bateria de consecuencias desagradables que dicho paquete conllevaba, y optó en su lugar por la ayuda económica rusa, éste fue inmediatamente barrido del poder por una “revolución” apoyada por Occidente. Los intentos de Vietnam, Corea, Irak, Yugoslavia, Afganistán, Granada, Nicaragua, Libia, y otros países, para forjarse un camino independiente han tenido como respuesta guerras imperialistas sin cuartel.

Sólo hay dos opciones viables para sobrevivir en un mundo tan hostil: capitular, o unirse y luchar.

Hugo Chávez veía el mundo de una forma muy lucida, casi visionaria; ello gracias a su profundo conocimiento de la historia mundial, a haber sido capaz de identificar el imperialismo liderado por Estados Unidos como el principal obstáculo para la paz y el desarrollo, y a sus propias experiencias a la hora de tratar de ejercer la soberanía y construir el socialismo en Venezuela (en medio de intentos de desestabilización y de golpes de Estado respaldados por la CIA). Chávez veía a Venezuela como parte de un movimiento global que desafiaba medio milenio de colonialismo, imperialismo y racismo; un movimiento global que incluía a China, Brasil, Rusia, Zimbabue, Libia, Siria, Sudáfrica, Cuba, Bielorrusia, Vietnam, Irán, Ecuador, Bolivia, Corea del Norte, Nicaragua, Argentina y algunos más. Chávez era consciente de que el enemigo utiliza todas las artimañas existentes para socavar a aquellos países que se niegan a alinearse con el Consenso de Washington, y comprendió la necesidad urgente de una unidad muy amplia con el fin de resistir este ataque. Esta interpretación llevó a Chávez a ser totalmente coherente en su lucha contra el imperialismo. Si la unión hace la fuerza, entonces uno no puede quedarse de brazos cruzados viendo como el imperio va derribando uno a uno a nuestros aliados. Como él mismo dijo durante una visita a Sudáfrica en el 2008:

“No se puede perder ni un día, ni un segundo, en esa tarea de unirnos los países del Tercer Mundo, del Sur”

De ahí que las sólidas relaciones que Chávez y su equipo construyeron con todos los estados socialistas y antiimperialistas no fueran ni anómalas, ni resultado de algún desafortunado accidente, ni de error de juicio, sino el resultado de una postura ideológica y estratégica clara para el chavismo.


“La civilización árabe y la nuestra Latinoamericana están llamadas en este siglo que comenzó a cumplir un papel fundamental en la liberación y salvación del mundo contra el imperialismo, contra la hegemonía capitalista y neoliberal que está amenazando la supervivencia de la especie humana. Siria y Venezuela están en la vanguardia de esta lucha.” (Hugo Chávez, 2010 , en el transcurso de la visita de Bashar Al-Assad a Caracas).

chavez-assadAl inicio de su presidencia, Chávez identificó a Siria como un aliado clave – uno de los pocos países en el mundo árabe que habían mantenido siempre una posición firme contra el imperialismo y el sionismo (recordemos que Chávez fue un firme defensor de Palestina y enemigo de Israel).

Siria, orgulloso miembro del famoso grupo ‘Más allá del Eje del Mal’ de John Bolton, era despreciada por occidente por su liderazgo en el apoyo a la resistencia palestina a lo largo de cuatro décadas, por su alianza con el movimiento de resistencia libanés Hezbolá (en 2006, el apoyo sirio resultó crucial para Hezbolá a la hora de derrotar a Israel en el sur del Líbano), y por su alianza con Irán.

En una visita a Damasco en agosto de 2006, Chávez, tras una larga reunión con el presidente sirio Bashar al-Assad, declaró: “Hemos decidido ser libres. Queremos colaborar en la construcción de un nuevo mundo donde los estados y la autodeterminación de los pueblos sean respetados… Tenemos la misma visión política y vamos a resistir juntos la agresión del imperialismo norteamericano”. En una nueva visita a Siria, en 2009, para elaborar un plan de cooperación económica, Chávez describió al pueblo sirio como “arquitecto de la resistencia” al imperialismo, y apeló a la unidad de los pueblos del Sur Global, proclamando: “debemos luchar para crear una conciencia libre de la doctrina imperialista… luchar para derrotar el atraso, la pobreza, la miseria (…) para convertir a nuestros países en verdaderas potencias a través de la conciencia de la gente”.

En el 2011, cuando Siria se vio amenazada por un golpe de Estado, bajo la doctrina de “cambio de régimen”, Chávez y su gobierno se apresuraron a declarar su lealtad al gobierno sirio. “Esta es una crisis planeada y provocada… Siria es una nación soberana. La causa de esta crisis es solo una: el mundo ha entrado en una nueva era imperial”. Es una locura”. Tras haber dejado muy clara su postura política, Venezuela pasó de las palabras a los hechos, enviando combustible diesel gratis a Siria en múltiples ocasiones para ayudarles a superar la escasez causada por las sanciones.

No hace falta decir que la postura abiertamente antiimperialista de Venezuela no fue apreciada por buena parte de la izquierda occidental. La web “Counterfire”, entre otros, castigó a Chávez en términos inequívocos por su apoyo abierto al gobierno sirio: “La declaración de apoyo del presidente venezolano Hugo Chávez al ‘líder socialista y hermano Bashar al Assad’, diciendo que es el objetivo de una operación imperialista para derrocar a su régimen y culpando a los EE.UU. por los disturbios en el país, es un insulto a los manifestantes sirios y a los mártires que perdieron la vida en el levantamiento contra el régimen autoritario sirio”. Según Al-Jazeera (portavoz de la monarquía Catarí – principal proveedor de armas y dinero a los grupos rebeldes de Siria), “Chávez y otros se desacreditaron y, probablemente, anularon la posibilidad de cualquier alianza duradera entre los revolucionarios árabes y fuerzas simpatizantes en América del Sur.”

Chávez no se dejó influir por estas críticas; defendió a Siria en su lucha contra la campaña para derrocar a su gobierno, en un momento en el que hacerlo resultaba altamente impopular. ¿Cómo podría no apoyar a Assad? Él es el líder del pueblo Sirio.”

En el transcurso de tres años, la verdadera naturaleza de la crisis Siria se ha hecho cada vez más evidente. Al mismo tiempo, el mito de la oposición democrática-socialista-feminista-pacífica-secular se ha ido desvaneciendo para dejar paso a una realidad bastante menos de color de rosa: la de sectas fundamentalistas asesinas (armadas hasta los dientes por Arabia Saudita, Cátar y Turquía, con la aprobación tacita de Gran Bretaña y los EE.UU) que están arrasando el país. (Mi artículo ‘La Descriminalización de Bashar‘ aborda este tema en detalle). Ahora está claro para todos que el plan de Occidente era sacar a Siria del eje de la resistencia, pero no siempre ha sido el caso. Analizando la situación desde el punto de vista del antiimperialismo militante, Chávez fue capaz de entender el panorama global desde un principio, en un momento en que otros muchos se creyeron las campañas de mentiras y de demonización.


Hugo Chávez vio en el líder libio, Muammar Gaddafi, a un aliado importante en la lucha mundial contra el imperialismo: alguien que sacó a su país de la dependencia colonial, que construyó un avanzado sistema de bienestar social (con el índice más alto de desarrollo humano, la esperanza de vida más alta, la más baja mortandad infantil y la tasa de alfabetización más alta de África), y que apoyó sin fisuras a movimientos socialistas y antiimperialistas de todo el mundo, desde Irlanda hasta Sudáfrica, de Nicaragua a Palestina, de Dominica a Namibia. De hecho, Chávez visitó Libia en cinco ocasiones durante su presidencia. En Trípoli, durante la celebración del 40 aniversario de la revolución libia (2009), declaró que Venezuela y Libia “comparten el mismo destino, la misma batalla contra un mismo enemigo y vamos a ganarla”. A continuación, hizo un emotivo llamamiento a la unidad africana:

“El África es el África, y el África más nunca debe permitir que vengan países de más allá de los mares a imponer los sistemas políticos, económicos o sociales que el África y sus pueblos necesitan. África debe ser de los africanos y solo mediante la unidad África será libre y grande.”

Moammar Gadhafi, Hugo ChavezTan sólo unas semanas después, Gadafi llegó a Venezuela en su primer viaje a América del Sur. Durante la Cumbre África-América del Sur, celebrada en la Isla de Margarita, Chávez regaló a Gaddafi una réplica de la espada del héroe de la independencia de Venezuela, Simón Bolívar. Chávez declaro: “Gadafi es para Libia lo que Bolívar es para nosotros.” El objetivo común de Chávez y Gadafi fue el de de marcar el comienzo de una nueva era de cooperación a gran escala entre África y América Latina.

Al igual que en Siria, Chávez entendió desde el principio lo que el ‘levantamiento’ en Libia significaba. Mientras los iluminados de la izquierda británica, como Gilbert Achcar, pedían a gritos una zona de exclusión aérea para lograr deshacerse de Gadafi, Chávez salió en defensa de su amigo y compañero: “Se está tejiendo una campaña de mentiras con respecto a Libia. Yo no voy a condenar a Gadafi. Sería un cobarde si condenara a alguien que ha sido mi amigo.”

Venezuela encabezó los llamamientos por una solución pacífica a la crisis, ofreciendo sus servicios en varias ocasiones para mediar entre el gobierno libio y los rebeldes. “Vamos a tratar de ayudar, de interceder entre las partes. Un alto el fuego, sentados alrededor de una mesa. Ese es el camino en este tipo de conflictos.” Lamentablemente, los rebeldes y sus aliados de la OTAN no tenían el más mínimo interés en negociaciones.

Junto con sus aliados regionales, Cuba, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua y Ecuador, Venezuela denunció sin ambigüedades el salvaje bombardeo de la OTAN. “Libia está bajo fuego imperial. Nada lo justifica”, dijo Chávez. “Bombardeo indiscriminado. ¿Quién le dio a esos países el derecho? Ni Estados Unidos, ni Francia, ni Inglaterra, ni ningún país tiene derecho a lanzar bombas… Desearía que estallase una revolución en los Estados Unidos. Vamos a ver lo que harían.” Chávez resumió de forma muy clara y sencilla lo que era la “post estrategia del consenso de Washington” adoptada por la OTAN, al declarar: “El imperio se está volviendo loco y es una amenaza real para la paz mundial, el imperialismo ha entrado en fase de locura extrema”. Y en agosto de 2011, cuando Trípoli fue sometida a base de bombardeos, Chávez predijo, en lo que sería una profecia, que “el drama de Libia no termina con la caída del gobierno de Gadafi. La tragedia de Libia apenas está comenzando.”

Libia fue otro de los temas en los que el sólido antiimperialismo de Chávez chocaba frontalmente con el liberalismo primer-mundista de la izquierda occidental. Mientras que Alex Callinicos , principal teórico del vergonzosamente mal llamado “Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores” (Reino Unido), llamaba a sus seguidores a “_unirse a las celebraciones de los Libios por la desaparición del tirano*”, la noticia del asesinato de Gadafi orquestado por la OTAN afectó mucho a Chávez: *”Lamentablemente, se ha confirmado la muerte de Gadafi. Fue asesinado… le recordare toda mi vida como un gran luchador, un revolucionario y un mártir.”*

Si, hay un patrón de comportamiento. La izquierda occidental, casi invariablemente, ha optado por apoyar las campañas de demonización contra los Estados socialistas y antiimperialistas, orquestadas por la prensa de extrema derecha. Por su lado Chávez, incansable, vio más allá de la propaganda y se mantuvo fiel a su sueño de unidad mundial contra el imperio. En un mundo de cobardía e inconstancia, se alzo y dijo: Yo no soy un cobarde, yo no soy un veleta.

Chávez partía de una postura de desconfianza instintiva hacia la propaganda proveniente de occidente. Nunca se dejo arrastrar por los relatos simplistas sobre ‘dictadores diabólicos’, como Blofeld, el personaje malvado de la serie James Bond. Su trayectoria y su experiencia política le habían enseñado que los medios de comunicación no son de fiar; que los imperialistas manipulan cada noticia para satisfacer sus propios intereses. Los medios de comunicación en Venezuela siguen estando principalmente en manos de las elites, que odiaban a Chávez, al que sometían a ataques racistas y clasistas, a la par que propagaban mentiras y calumnias sobre él. Así las cosas, para Chávez estaba muy claro que lo que se decía sobre los otros países del ‘Eje del Mal Prolongado’ eran, con toda probabilidad, estupideces.

Mientras tanto, ¿qué países ayudaron a Venezuela, apoyando sus políticas, apoyando la integración regional de América Latina? ¿Qué países apoyaron los movimientos de liberación en todo el mundo? ¿Qué países apoyaban la liberación de Palestina -por ejemplo, suministrando armas para la defensa de Gaza? ¿Qué países se enfrentaron a EE.UU., Gran Bretaña, Francia e Israel?


Irán es otro de los países que viene siendo sometido regularmente a las campañas occidentales de calumnia y demonización, pero también es otro país con el que Hugo Chávez creó fuertes vínculos de amistad, con el consiguiente disgusto del imperialismo occidental. En un artículo fascinante por su estupidez publicado en marzo del 2007, el veterano republicano Bailey Hutchison vociferaba lo siguiente: “En su lucha contra el ‘imperialismo’ estadounidense, Chávez ha encontrado un aliado muy útil en el más importante patrocinador mundial del terrorismo – el gobierno de Irán. Es uno de los pocos líderes que se atreve a apoyar públicamente el programa de armas nucleares de Irán. Y los ulemas iraníes han recompensado la amistad de Chávez con lucrativos contratos, incluida la transferencia de tecnología y de profesionales iraníes a Venezuela. El mes pasado, el Sr. Chávez y el presidente iraní Mahmoud Ahmadinejad anunciaron planes para crear un fondo común por valor de dos mil millones de dólares, parte de los cuales será utilizado como un ‘mecanismo de liberación’ contra los aliados norteamericanos… Si no se ponen límites a esto, los Sres. Ahmadinejad y Chávez podrían convertirse en el nuevo tándem Khrushchev- Castro del inicio de este siglo XXI, canalizando armas, dinero y propaganda a América Latina, y poniendo en peligro una región de democracias frágiles y economías volátiles.”

Iran's President Ahmadinejad is welcomed by Venezuela's President Chavez in CaracasChávez visitó Irán en numerosas ocasiones, y de igual forma recibió a su homólogo iraní, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, en Venezuela varias veces. A pesar de sus diferencias ideológicas y de tener concepciones filosóficas distintas, los dos líderes crearon una sólida alianza basada en la unidad anti-imperialista. “Nosotros sabemos que Irán es uno de los objetivos que el imperio yanqui tiene en el punto de mira hace mucho tiempo”, Chávez dijo. “Cuando nos reunimos los diablos se vuelven como locos.” Ahmadinejad describió a Chávez como a “un hermano y compañero de trinchera” y calificó a Irán y Venezuela como piezas fundamentales de un frente revolucionario “que se extiende hasta el este de Asia” desde América Latina. “Si hubo un dia en que mi hermano Chávez y yo, junto a otros pocos, estuvimos solos en el mundo, hoy contamos con una larga lista de mandos de la Revolución y gente de a pie resistiendo codo a codo.”

Uno de los resultados de las estrechas relaciones de amistad que establecieron los dos países fue que la cooperación, a nivel práctico, se incrementó. El comercio se multiplicó por 100 desde el 2001 (se estima que el comercio bilateral supera los 40 mil millones dólares), y los dos países se embarcaron en empresas conjuntas en varias áreas, incluyendo la energía, la agricultura, la vivienda y la infraestructura. La experiencia iraní en el ámbito de construcción fue aprovechada para construir miles de viviendas para los pobres de Venezuela.

Chávez defendió el derecho de Irán a desarrollar la energía nuclear y señaló con mucha agudeza que la cuestión nuclear estaba siendo utilizada por occidente para movilizar a la opinión pública en favor de una guerra, “de la misma forma que usaron la excusa de las armas de destrucción masiva para hacer lo que hicieron en Irak.” Chávez manifestó el firme apoyo de Venezuela a Irán con respecto a la amenaza de guerra contra ellos: Deberí a aprovechar esta oportunidad para condenar esas amenazas militares que se están haciendo contra Irán. Sabemos que nunca serán capaces de ponerle límites a la revolución islámica de ninguna manera. Estaremos siempre juntos, no sólo resistiremos, sino que juntos saldremos victoriosos.”


Una de las prioridades de Hugo Chávez, en los primeros años de su presidencia, fue revitalizar la Organización de Países Exportadores de Petróleo (OPEP), a fin de asegurar un acuerdo que regulase la producción y aumentase los precios. Tras haber fijado una fecha para una cumbre de la OPEP que reuniese a todos sus miembros (se trataba de la segunda en la historia de la organización y la primera en 25 años), Chávez se embarcó en una gira para visitar los diez países de la OPEP con el fin de invitar personalmente a cada jefe de Estado. Este itinerario incluía necesariamente a Irak, miembro de la OPEP. La visita de Chávez a Irak, en agosto de 2000, produjo una oleada de controversia, indignación y ansiedad en todo el mundo occidental.

“Washington dijo que estaban en contra de mi visita a Bagdad, yo les dije que iba a ir de todas formas. Ellos argumentaron que había una zona de exclusión aérea y que no podría atravesarla sin riesgo de que me derribasen el avión. Pero fuimos a Bagdad de todos modos y hablamos con Saddam”. (Citado por Bart Jones en “La Historia de Hugo Chávez”).

chavez-saddamDe hecho, Chávez fue el primer jefe de Estado que visitó Irak tras la imposición de sanciones por la ONU en 1991. Para poder esquivar la prohibición de vuelos internacionales hacia Irak, Chávez y su equipo cruzaron desde Irán a Irak por tierra y después volaron a Bagdad en helicóptero. Allí fue recibido personalmente por Saddam Hussein, quien lo llevo a hacer una visita nocturna por Bagdad. En respuesta a las críticas de la “comunidad internacional”, Chávez declaró desafiante: “Lamentamos y denunciamos la injerencia en nuestros asuntos internos. Ni la aceptamos, ni la aceptaremos… Estamos muy contentos de estar en Bagdad, de oler el aroma de la historia y de caminar por las orillas del río Tigris.”

Los dos dirigentes mantuvieron largas conversaciones, descritas por Chávez como fructíferas. “Descubrí que era un hombre educado, que comprendía todo aquello relacionado con la OPEP”. Chávez y sus colegas también aprovecharon la oportunidad para denunciar el régimen de sanciones internacionales responsable de las muertes de cientos de miles de niños iraquíes. El vice ministro de exteriores, Jorge Valero, declaró: “El presidente Chávez reafirma la posición venezolana de apoyar toda iniciativa que ponga fin a cualquier tipo de bloqueo o sanciones unilaterales a Irak o a cualquier otro país del mundo.”

Uno de los resultados más impactantes de los esfuerzos de Chávez fue que, apenas unas semanas después de su visita a Bagdad, y en el marco de la cumbre de la OPEP en Caracas, Irán e Irak celebraron las conversaciones al más alto nivel desde la trágica y terrible guerra que tuvo lugar entre los dos países (que duró de 1980-1988 y que tuvo como resultado al menos un millón de muertes). El Vicepresidente iraquí, Taha Yassin Ramadan, dijo que las conversaciones con el presidente iraní, Mohammad Khatami fueron cordiales y francas. Hablamos de la cooperación entre los dos países y acordamos trabajar conjuntamente para la mejora de las relaciones entre los dos países.” Chávez comentó: “Estoy a su servicio para ayudarles … a la reactivación plena de las relaciones entre dos pueblos hermanos, dos países hermanos , que también son miembros de la OPEP, y que piden un impulso en la reunificación de todo el mundo árabe-islámico.”

El hecho de que Chávez estuviera dispuesto, y fuera capaz de facilitar este proceso, ya nos habla de su genialidad estratégica y de su visión a largo plazo. A pesar de ser plenamente consciente de la dolorosa enemistad entre Irán e Irak; a pesar de ser consciente de las dificultades que conllevaba el camino de la reconciliación, Chávez supo que aliviar la tensión entre estas dos grandes naciones significaba darle un impulso al frente anti-imperialista mundial. Los efectos secundarios podían conllevar la reconciliación entre Irak y Siria (Siria era un aliado muy próximo de Irán), entre Irak y Libia (quien había apoyado a Irán en la guerra Irán-Irak), entre Irán y el mundo árabe en general, y entre las diferentes facciones palestinas. Si este proceso de acercamiento hubiera logrado plasmarse, la región en su conjunto habría estado en una posición mucho más fuerte en su lucha contra el imperialismo y el sionismo. Se habría avanzado en la lucha palestina por la autodeterminación, y se podría haber evitado la desastrosa guerra de Irak, en la que más de un millón de iraquíes perdieron la vida. De hecho, la posibilidad de una unidad regional basada en la reconciliación entre Irán e Irak pudo haber sido uno de los factores que decidieron a EE.UU. y a Gran Bretaña a lanzar la invasión de Irak en el 2003.


chavez castro 2El estado más difamado en el hemisferio occidental, Cuba, ha sufrido durante años un bloqueo económico y diplomático impuesto de forma brutal. Hasta hace pocas décadas, la mayoría de los gobiernos latinoamericanos evitaban a Cuba por temor a molestar a sus amos al norte de la frontera. Sin embargo, la situación ha cambiado significativamente en los últimos 15 años, desde que Chávez emprendio la Revolución Bolivariana en Venezuela.

Chávez nunca ocultó su afecto por Cuba, ni su admiración por el socialismo cubano y su internacionalismo militante, ni su respeto por Fidel Castro en tanto que revolucionario.

“Fidel para mí es un padre, un compañero, un maestro de la estrategia perfecta.” Hugo Chávez, 2005.

Durante su visita a Cuba en 1999, Chávez, dirigiéndose a la audiencia de la Universidad de La Habana, dijo que “Venezuela está navegando hacia el mismo mar que el pueblo cubano, un mar de felicidad, de justicia social y de paz verdaderas… Aquí estamos, más alerta que nunca, Fidel y Hugo, luchando con dignidad y valor para defender los intereses de nuestros pueblos y haciendo realidad el pensamiento de Bolívar y de Martí. En nombre de Cuba y Venezuela, quiero hacer un llamamiento a la unidad de nuestros pueblos y de las revoluciones que encabezamos. Bolívar y Martí, un país unido!” (citado en Richard Gott ‘Hugo Chávez y la Revolución Bolivariana’). En una de las ocasiones en que respondía a la acusación de que Cuba era una “dictadura”, Chávez señaló que Cuba tiene formas de democracia mucho más profundas y amplias que los países que vierten las acusaciones. “Mucha gente me ha preguntado cómo puedo apoyar a Fidel si es un dictador. Pero Cuba no es una dictadura… es una democracia revolucionaria.”

cuba-venezuelaEn el 2000 se firmaron una serie de acuerdos de ayuda mutua, que actuaron como un balón de oxigeno para la economía de Cuba y resultaron cruciales para el éxito de los programas sociales de Venezuela. El programa de salud comunitaria Barrio Adentro llevo el conocimiento médico cubano a millones de pobres venezolanos. Según estimaciones oficiales, “ha salvado la vida a 1,5 millones de venezolanos. Y otros 1,5 millones se beneficiaron también (sin coste alguno) de la cirugía ocular de la Misión Milagro, otro programa cubano de atención sanitaria, creado en 2004, para proporcionar cuidados oftalmológicos gratuitos a la poblacion”.

Además: “Otros 53,000 venezolanos con enfermedades crónicas han recibido atención sanitaria gratuita en Cuba, gracias a un Acuerdo bilateral firmado entre las dos naciones latinoamericanas que refuerza los servicios sociales y mejora la calidad de vida de la población Venezolana.” Por otro lado, Cuba proporcionó también profesionales y apoyo técnico al programa de alfabetización de Venezuela, que ha resultado un rotundo éxito al eliminar el analfabetismo del país.

Venezuela paga por estos servicios cruciales para la nación con petróleo gratuito o fuertemente subvencionado, lo que ha significado un enorme impulso a la economía cubana. Venezuela también ha ayudado a Cuba con prestamos e inversiones por valor de miles de millones de dólares. Ello significa que ha roto con pleno conocimiento y orgullo el bloqueo económico de los Estados Unidos contra Cuba. En una larga entrevista concedida a Aleida Guevara, Chávez decia: “Antes, Venezuela no vendía petróleo a Cuba. ¿Por qué no? Por una orden de Washington, por el bloqueo, y la Ley Helms-Burton. A nosotros eso no nos importa nada, Cuba es nuestra nación hermana y le venderemos a Cuba.”

Chávez recibió incontables andanadas de críticas desde los Estados Unidos por su relación con Cuba. No hace falta decir que no le afectaron en lo más mínimo.

“Nunca me cansaré de manifestar mi reconocimiento al fantástico apoyo de Cuba, de subrayar mi gratitud en público, donde sea que me halle, con quien quiera que este, en el foro mundial al que se dé la ocasión de dirigirme, sin importarme cuantos rostros ardan de rabia porque me este refiriendo a Cuba en estos términos… [En la Cumbre de las Américas de Monterrey en el 2003] me dijeron que Bush ardía de rabia. Yo no le estaba mirando, pero luego me contaron que se había puesto rojo y se quedó inmóvil, inexpresivo sentado en su sillón. Yo había mencionado a Cuba tres veces.. Había agradecido al pueblo cubano y a Fidel su ayuda. No lamento nada… Eso es lo que Gaddafi me dijo cuando le conté por teléfono lo que había ocurrido en Monterrey. Me preguntó porqué Cuba no estuvo en una cumbre que es para la totalidad del continente Américano. ‘Ah bueno! Es porque Estados Unidos excluyó a Cuba.’ Me respondió, ‘Escucha Hugo, en una ocasión aquí, en África, los británicos trataron de impedir que Mugabe, el presidente de Zimbabue, asistiera a una reunión de la Unión europea sobre África. Nosotros dijimos que si Mugabe no venia, nadie vendría. América Latina debería hacer lo mismo.’” (Citado en Aleida Guevara Chávez, Venezuela y la Nueva América Latina)

La mera mención de los nombres de Castro, Gaddafi y Mugabe en un mismo párrafo basta para sacar una mueca de dolor a los socialdemócratas de la Izquierda liberal -tan desmesurado es su afán por ser aceptados; tal su esclavitud a la máquina de propaganda imperialista occidental. Chávez, al contrario, no permitió a los imperialistas influenciar su juicio ni un átomo. Simplemente seguía adelante con el trabajo de construir un frente anti-imperialista global por todos los medios necesarios. Como la embajadora de Argentina en el Reino Unido lo expresó durante una reciente conferencia de la Campaña de Solidaridad con Venezuela:

“Chávez nos enraizó al tronco de la unidad, con la base más amplia que se pueda dar: la unidad con cualquiera que tenga la mas mínima posibilidad de unir sus fuerzas contra el Imperialismo.”

Multipolaridad: desmontando el imperio

Con el declive de la hegemonía política y económica de los EE.UU., el ascenso de China, la progresiva emergencia de América Latina, y el resurgimiento de Rusia a partir del fin de la era Yeltsin, el mundo se mueve inexorablemente hacia un modelo ‘multipolar’– “un patrón de múltiples centros de poder, todos con una cierta capacidad para influenciar cuestiones internacionales, dando forma a un orden concertado“ (asi define Jenny Clegg la multipolaridad en su libro, China’s Global Strategy). China ha sido especialmente dinámica en la promoción de la multipolaridad como un medio realista de contener el imperialismo, al tiempo que se trabaja por un orden mundial democrático y estable en el que los países antiguamente oprimidos puedan desarrollarse en paz. Hugo Chávez fue un firme defensor de este concepto, y lo conectó al pensamiento del héroe de la independencia de Venezuela, Simón Bolívar:

“Bolívar concibió un ideal internacionalista. Habló de lo que hoy nosotros llamamos mundo multipolar. Propuso la reunificación de América del Sur y Centroamérica en lo que llamó la Gran Colombia, para posibilitar negociaciones sobre una base de igualdad con las otras tres cuartas partes del globo. Eso ya era una visión multipolar.” (Citado en Bart Jones The Hugo Chávez Story)

Integración regional

Chávez persiguió enérgicamente la integración regional dentro de Suramérica, Centroamérica y el Caribe como medio para crear una fuerza unida y progresista que pudiese conectar “con igualdad con las otras tres cuartas partes del mundo”. Los analistas antiimperialistas nicaragüenses Jorge Capelán y Toni Solo afirman que “en Latinoamérica, es imposible participar en la construcción de alternativas socialistas y anticapitalistas sin luchar al mismo tiempo por integrar la región política, económica e incluso culturalmente… Ese es el legado de Bolívar, como fue el legado de Martí, Sandino, Mariátegui, Gaitán, Che, Fidel Castro y muchos otros revolucionarios latinoamericanos desde la Independencia. Esto es así porque los poderes coloniales e imperialistas necesitaban dividir la región en pequeños países para explotar sus recursos y mano de obra. No es algo que se haya inventado Chávez, es una perspectiva antigua en la región.”

chavez lula kirchnerSe ha perseguido este proyecto a través de la creación de diversas organizaciones de integración regional, en particular ALBA (Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América ), CELAC (Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños) y UNASUR (Unión de Naciones Suramericanas), así como proporcionando apoyo a otras naciones latinoamericanas y caribeñas con visiones semejantes, por ejemplo, ofreciendo a los países más pobres de la región acceso al petróleo venezolano en condiciones preferenciales. En la era actual estamos siendo testigos del resurgir de una Latinoamérica que cada vez está más dominada por países progresistas y que está moviéndose con confianza hacia la integración y la solidaridad. El analista español Ignacio Ramonet comenta que “el ejemplo de Chávez se ha seguido, con diferentes matices, en otros países. En Brasil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, entre otros, se han dado una serie de procesos que, hasta cierto punto, han avanzado por la ruta abierta por la Revolución bolivariana.”

Con el liderazgo de Chávez y Lula en particular, Latinoamérica ha conseguido estar más cerca que nunca de la soberanía económica. En 2005, el plan de EEUU de una zona de libre comercio en las Américas (Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas (ALCA)) fue integralmente derrotada en la Cumbre de las Américas en Mar del Plata, Argentina. “Sin el liderazgo conjunto de Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, Lula da Silva y el fallecido presidente argentino Néstor Kirchner, esta derrota estratégica del imperialismo en Latinoamérica no habría sido posible.”

La amistad con China

Más allá de Latinoamérica, Chávez puso muchos esfuerzos en crear firmes lazos con las principales potencias emergentes del mundo, especialmente con China y Rusia – naciones que Fidel Castro describió como “los dos países llamados a liderar un nuevo mundo que permita la supervivencia humana, si el imperialismo no desata antes una guerra criminal de exterminio.”

Bart Jones escribió, “la mayor iniciativa internacional de Chávez fuera de América Latina estuvo enfocada hacia China… El hambriento mercado energético de China era el candidato ideal para los planes de Chávez de distanciarse, lo máximo posible, de la esfera de influencia de Estados Unidos y de promover un mundo multipolar. Chávez llegó a un acuerdo para enviar petróleo a China. Comenzó con un compromiso en el 2005 de suministrar treinta mil barriles al día. En el 2007 saltó a trescientos mil, con una última meta de medio millón de barriles al día para el 2009 o 2010. Esto era parte de un plan para incrementar, desde el 15 por ciento al 45 por ciento, la cantidad de crudo y otros productos petrolíferos que Venezuela enviaría a Asia.”

Chávez vio claramente que China era un socio crucial en la batalla por un Nuevo Mundo, y la visitó seis veces a lo largo de su mandato, estableciendo estrechos lazos económicos, diplomáticos y políticos. En su primer viaje, en 1999, expresó su admiración por el modelo económico chino de socialismo de mercado, declarando: “Asistimos al triunfo de la Revolución china.” El modelo chino, con el Estado controlando las posiciones de mando de la economía, mientras apoya una economía privada regulada para los sectores menos cruciales, ha desempeñado un papel importante en la conformación de la propia política económica de Venezuela en los últimos 15 años.

En el 2006, Chávez sulfuró a imperialistas y liberales de todo el planeta al describir la Revolución china como “uno de los mayores acontecimientos del siglo XX”, y al decir que el Socialismo chino es “un ejemplo para aquellos dirigentes y gobiernos occidentales que argumentan que el Capitalismo es la única alternativa.” Durante el mandato de Chávez, Venezuela se convirtió rápidamente en uno de los aliados clave de China en América Latina, y Chávez fue considerado como un “gran amigo del pueblo chino”.

chavez huAl aclamar la emergencia de China como gran potencia mundial, Chávez planteaba la diferencia fundamental entre el papel de China – que se ha desarrollado mediante su propia diligencia y perseverancia – y el de las potencias colonialistas/imperialistas, que construyeron su riqueza a partir del saqueo, el genocidio, el golpismo, el terror y la explotación. “China es grande, pero no es un Imperio. China no atropella a nadie, no ha invadido a nadie, no va por ahí lanzando bombas a diestro y siniestro.” El sucesor de Chávez, Nicolás Maduro, abundó en este punto: “Las relaciones internacionales de China parten de una base de igualdad, demostrando así que, en este comienzo del siglo XXI , es posible construir nuevas potencias mundiales sin la práctica imperialista de la colonización y la dominación.”

Venezuela ha sido receptora de extensas inversiones en infraestructura, y de grandes préstamos amistosos de China que han sido cruciales para sostener los programas sociales y los avances en el proceso de industrialización. Al pagar con petróleo a China (por una cantidad aproximada de 600,000 barriles al día), Venezuela puede seguir trabajando en pro de su objetivo de diversificación del comercio exterior. Desde el 2001 Venezuela y China han firmado 480 acuerdos de cooperación y han participado en 143 proyectos conjuntos… Desde el 2005 al 2012 China prestó a Venezuela 47 mil millones de dólares, lo que equivale al 55% del crédito chino emitido a naciones sudamericanas en ese periodo.” La relación continua afianzándose, y la reciente visita a Venezuela de Xi Jinping produjo 38 nuevos acuerdos por un valor de 18 mil millones de dólares, incluyendo “un préstamo directo a Venezuela de 4 mil millones de dólares y otros 14 mil millones de dólares de financiación china para el desarrollo en proyectos de energía , minería, industria, tecnología, comunicaciones, transporte, vivienda y cultura” (ibídem).

La amistad con Rusia,

Por supuesto, las batallas para defender a Venezuela, para lograr integrar América Latina, y para construir un mundo multipolar no son sólo económicas o diplomáticas. La dominación militar preponderante de EE.UU. y de sus aliados requiere que las fuerzas anti-imperialistas sean capaces de defender sus logros con armas. Siendo el propio Chávez un militar, el Comandante nunca se cansó de afirmar que la Revolución venezolana es “pacífica, pero armada“. Si pensamos que en una amplia división del trabajo entre los constructores del mundo multipolar, China es la central motora económica, entonces Rusia tiene la iniciativa en las cuestiones militares.

chavez putinUna nota necrológica en en la web Russia Today señalaba que, desde el 2005, “Venezuela adquirió armas de Rusia por valor de 4 mil millones de dólares, incluyendo 100,000 rifles Kalashnikof. Además, los dos países organizaron varios ejercicios navales conjuntos en el Mar Caribe. En el 2010, Chávez anunció que Rusia iba a construir la primera planta nuclear de Venezuela y que el país había suscrito otros contratos petrolíferos con Moscú por valor de 1600 millones de dólares.” Nicolás Maduro, entonces ministro de Asuntos exteriores, tenía muy clara las implicaciones de esta relación de su país con Rusia: “El mundo unipolar está colapsando y despareciendo en todas sus facetas, y la alianza con Rusia es parte de ese esfuerzo para construir el mundo multipolar.”

Tras la compra a Rusia de una partida de misiles tierra-aire S300 en el 2009, Chávez declaró de forma contundente: “Con estos cohetes va a serle muy difícil a los aviones extranjeros venir a bombardearnos.” Visto el trágico destino de Libia solo dos años después, seria difícil aducir que el presidente de Venezuela sufría de paranoia.

A lo largo de la última década, el progresivo alineamiento de Rusia con el Sur Global ha supuesto un gran impulso para las fuerzas de la multipolaridad y del anti-imperialismo, especialmente cuando se compara con los oscuros días del clientelismo del bufón Yeltsin. Rusia ha aceptado este papel con aplomo, reconociendo que la continuidad de su independencia y de su desarrollo está estrechamente ligada al éxito de China, de África, y de América Latina. Algunos aseguran que Vladimir Putin le dijo a Chávez que su reelección en el 2012 fue “el mejor regalo que me podían haber hecho en mi 60 cumpleaños”. Unos meses después del fallecimiento del comandante Chávez, Nicolás Maduro presidió la ceremonia de dedicatoria de una calle de Moscú a Hugo Chávez Frías.

Avance en nombre de Hugo Chávez

La inoportuna muerte de este brillante ser humano fue un duro golpe para la humanidad progresista y deja un vacío que será muy difícil de llenar. Uno debe evitar caer en la adoración de héroes y la versión individualizada de la historia al estilo Hollywood, pero no se puede negar que ciertas personas, por su resolución, su comprensión, su determinación, su heroísmo, sus dotes de liderazgo, su genio creativo, su carisma, su devoción por el pueblo, desempeñan un papel destacado.

chavez2Hugo Chávez era así. Trabajó sin pausa en la consecución de su visión: por una Venezuela socialista; por una Latinoamérica unida y soberana; y por un orden mundial justo y multipolar, libre del dominio imperialista. Su visión era contagiosa y sirvió para inspirar a personas de todas partes del planeta. Dio vida a un proceso revolucionario global que se había manifestado muy poco desde el auge de la década de 1970 (Mozambique, Angola, Chile (1970-73), Guinea Bissau, Afganistán, Zimbabwe). En el período transcurrido fuimos testigos del declive y caída del “Bloque del este”, el surgimiento de economías neoliberales, la difusión del “ajuste estructural”, el impacto genocida del VIH/Sida y de una profunda desilusión entre la mayoría de la izquierda. La Revolución bolivariana, combinada con el ascenso de China y un mundo multipolar emergente, ha devuelto la esperanza.

Hablando recientemente en el Museo Histórico 26 Julio en Santiago de Cuba, Xi Jinping afirmó que: “Los mártires revolucionarios son tesoros espirituales preciados que nos han inspirado a continuar avanzando.” Que el trabajo, ejemplo e ideas de Hugo Chávez continúen inspirándonos y educándonos, y que su internacionalismo revolucionario siga siendo estudiado y respetado.

Hugo Chávez – Revolutionary Internationalist

“Let’s save the human race – let’s finish off the empire”

In the course of his 14 years as President of Venezuela, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías became a much-admired figure among the international left. Although any actual-existing revolutionary leadership will always attract the suspicion of western coffee-shop socialists (and Chávez certainly had his fair share of detractors), this larger-than-life figure won hearts with his immense love for the Venezuelan people and his willingness to loudly stand up for socialist ideals in a post-Soviet end-of-history world where few had the courage to set forth such views.

Nobody could deny Chávez’s role in leading the Latin American backlash against neoliberal dogma; nor could they deny the progressive, pro-poor nature of Venezuela’s social programmes. Under Chávez’s leadership, Venezuela’s oil wealth (supplemented by Chinese soft loans) has been put to excellent use. With the help of Cuban expertise, illiteracy has become a thing of the past in Venezuela. Access to education has been vastly increased at all levels, and this is considered as a fundamental component of building democracy. Chávez famously said that “the only way of ending poverty is giving power to the poor. Knowledge and consciousness are the main power!”

Again with Cuba’s help, the Barrio Adentro programme has brought high quality healthcare to Venezuela’s poorest communities, most of which previously had zero access to professional healthcare of any kind. Much to the dismay of the western multinationals, a large array of businesses have been nationalised, and there have been numerous experiments with worker management and collective ownership. Grassroots communal councils have been set up across the country with a view to engaging the masses and building a more meaningful democracy. The political process set in motion by Chávez is a socialist-oriented programme that prioritises the needs of the millions of ordinary people: the slum-dwellers, the workers, the peasants, the unemployed, the indigenous, the African, the disenfranchised. Meanwhile, Chávez’s government held elections like they were going out of fashion. This profound process in Venezuela is so exciting that it has even been able to win support from sections of the western liberal-left, usually so reliable in its outright rejection of anti-imperialist and socialist-oriented states, from A(rgentina) to Z(imbabwe).

However, one aspect of Hugo Chávez’s legacy that makes much of the western left rather uncomfortable (and makes the western ruling classes furious) is Chávez’s uncompromising anti-imperialism – his absolute insistence on at-all-costs global unity against the main enemy. Everybody likes a nice literacy programme, but why oh why did Chávez have to go and align himself with brutal dictatorships in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Libya, Belarus, Vietnam and North Korea? Why did he have to be so friendly with serial-human-rights-abusing Russia and China? Such a sentiment could be found in more than a few Chávez obituaries emanating from the western left.

For example, the irrepressible International ‘Socialist’ Organisation complained that “the international legacy of the Venezuelan president … has been tarnished by his appalling support of Gaddafi, Assad, Ahmadinejad and the Chinese state.” Owen Jones, 2013 winner of Britain’s Got Liberal-Left Talent, was troubled by “Chavez’s unpleasant foreign associations. Although his closest allies were his fellow democratically elected left-of-centre governments in Latin America, he also supported brutal dictators in Iran, Libya and Syria. It has certainly sullied his reputation”. (I should point out in passing that Chavez’s closest ally was Cuba, which Jones presumably does not consider to be “democratically elected” and which is rather a long way “left-of-centre”!)

This pattern – celebrating Venezuela’s domestic policy whilst denouncing its international stance – is a useful reminder as to the limits of western social democracy and indeed the whole concept of ‘freedom of speech’ in capitalist societies. An ‘alternative’ viewpoint is basically accepted – and can even be given a voice in the liberal media – to the extent that it keeps within reasonably well-defined limits. The British state is willing to tolerate a minority viewpoint that promotes a slightly less deranged version of capitalism, especially if it’s in a country that doesn’t have much connection with British economic interests. What the western ruling classes will never tolerate – and therefore what the social-democratic left will never promote – is global anti-imperialist unity; is the unambiguous and consistent support for all states and movements fighting imperialism. Such unity is precisely what presents an existential threat to imperialism; it is precisely what the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) seeks to destroy; it is precisely what the endless divide-and-rule strategies seek to subvert; it is, in short, the only hope of putting a stop to imperialist domination and creating a world where peoples can develop in peace and security. As Chávez himself put it: “Let’s save the human race – let’s finish off the empire”.

Chávez gave his whole-hearted support to the global movement towards multipolarity; to the increasing coordination between the progressive family of nations. He supported deep economic, political, cultural and military ties among those states that challenge western hegemony. This aspect of Chávez is absolutely central to his political legacy, and is what the western ruling classes hated him for most (in their eyes he had “inherited Fidel Castro’s mantle as Washington’s main irritant in Latin America”). What I attempt to show with this article is that, rather than sweeping Chavez’s revolutionary internationalism under the carpet, or seeing it as a blot on his progressive copybook, this anti-imperialist legacy needs to be explored, understood, defended and built upon.

“There are no boundaries in this struggle to the death. We cannot be indifferent to what happens anywhere in the world, for a victory by any country over imperialism is our victory; just as any country’s defeat is a defeat for all of us.” (Ernesto Che Guevara)

Building the global anti-imperialist front

The modern world can be a very unforgiving environment, particularly for countries with eccentric ideas about taking control of their own natural resources, redistributing wealth, redistributing land, having an independent foreign policy, that sort of thing. Those countries of 20th century Latin America that attempted to exercise independence and sovereignty were punished for their sins with brutal coups and merciless dictatorships (Argentina, Brazil, Chile). Tiny Cuba has been treated to a half-century of ruthless economic blockade, political destabilisation, diplomatic isolation and a few hundred assassination attempts. When Zimbabwe transferred land from wealthy white colonisers to impoverished black indigenous workers, the ruling classes of Britain and the US made clear their dissatisfaction by orchestrating a vicious slander campaign against Zanu-PF and Robert Mugabe, imposing sanctions, and channelling large sums of cash to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. When Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych rejected the EU’s many-rather-unpleasant-strings-attached loan package, opting instead for Russian economic assistance, he was promptly swept out of office by a western-backed ‘revolution’. The attempts of Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Grenada, Nicaragua, Libya and other countries to forge an independent path have been answered with all-out imperialist war.

To survive in such a hostile world, there are only two real choices: capitulate, or unite and fight.

Hugo Chávez had a very clear and far-sighted worldview, informed by his rich knowledge of world history, his identification of US-led imperialism as the major obstacle to peace and development, and his own experiences of trying to exercise sovereignty and build Venezuelan socialism in the face of destabilisation and CIA-backed coup attempts. He saw Venezuela as part of a global movement challenging half a millennium of colonialism, imperialism and racism; a global movement that included China, Brazil, Russia, Zimbabwe, Libya, Syria, South Africa, Cuba, Belarus, Vietnam, Iran, Ecuador, Bolivia, DPRK, Nicaragua, Argentina and more. He recognised that the enemy used every trick in the book to undermine those countries that refused to go along with the Washington Consensus, and he understood the urgent need for a very wide-ranging unity in order to resist this onslaught. This understanding led Chávez to be totally consistent in his anti-imperialism. If unity is strength, then one can’t just stand by and watch the empire pick off our allies one by one. As he put it during a visit to South Africa in 2008:

“A day can’t be lost and a second can’t be lost in the work of uniting us, the countries of the Third World… Only united will we be free and only free will we be able to develop ourselves fully.”

Therefore the strong relationships that Chávez and his team built with all socialist and anti-imperialist states are no anomaly, no unfortunate accident, no error of judgement, but represent an ideological and strategic position with is central to Chavismo.


“Arab civilization and our civilization, the Latin American one, are being summoned in this new century to play the fundamental role of liberating the world, saving the world from the imperialism and capitalist hegemony that threaten the human species. Syria and Venezuela are at the vanguard of this struggle.” (Hugo Chávez, 2010, during Bashar al-Assad’s visit to Caracas)

chavez-assadEarly on in his presidency, Chávez identified Syria as a key ally – one of the few countries in the Arab world that had consistently taken a firm stand against imperialism and zionism (Chávez, let it be noted, was a staunch supporter of Palestine and opponent of Israel).

Syria, a proud member of John Bolton’s prestigious Beyond the Axis of Evil group, is despised by the west for its leading role in supporting Palestinian resistance over the course of four decades, its alignment with the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah (Syrian support was crucial to Hezbollah’s 2006 defeat of Israel in South Lebanon), and its alliance with Iran.

Visiting Damascus in August 2006, Chávez stated, after a long meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: “We have decided to be free. We want to cooperate to build a new world where states’ and people’s self-determination are respected… We have the same political vision and we will resist American imperialist aggression together.” Visiting Syria again in 2009 to put together a plan of economic cooperation, Chávez described the Syrian people as “architects of resistance” to imperialism, and called on the peoples of the Global South to unite, proclaiming: “We should fight to create consciousness that is free from imperialist doctrine… fight to defeat backwardness, poverty, misery… to convert our countries into true powers through the consciousness of the people.”

When Syria came under threat of regime change in 2011, Chávez and his government were quick to state their loyalty to the Syrian government. “This is a crisis that has been planned and provoked… Syria is a sovereign nation. This crisis has a single cause: the world has entered into a new era of imperialism. It’s madness.” Having made its political line very clear, Venezuela followed up by putting words into action, shipping free diesel fuel to Syria on multiple occasions to help it overcome shortages created by sanctions.

Needless to say, Venezuela’s unambiguously anti-imperialist position wasn’t appreciated by many on the western left. Counterfire, among others, chastised Chávez in no uncertain terms for his vocal support for the Syrian government: ”The statement of support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to ‘the socialist leader and Brother Bashar al Assad’, claiming he is the target of an imperialist operation to overthrow his regime and blaming the US for unrest in the country, is an insult to the Syrian protesters and the martyrs who lost their lives in the uprising against the Syrian authoritarian regime.” According to Al-Jazeera (mouthpiece of the Qatari monarchy – a major supplier of arms and money to rebel groups in Syria), “Chavez and others discredited themselves and probably discouraged any lasting alliance between Arab revolutionaries and sympathetic forces in South America”.

Chávez was not swayed by such judgements; when it was deeply unfashionable to do so, he defended Syria from the regime change campaign it was (and still is) struggling against. How can I not support Assad? He’s the legitimate leader.”

In the course of over three years, the true nature of the Syria crisis has become increasingly transparent, as the myth of the democratic-socialist-feminist-peaceful-secular opposition has faded away and been replaced by the rather less rosy reality of murderous sectarian fundamentalists – armed to the teeth by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, with the open approval of Britain and the US – tearing the country apart. (My article ‘Decriminalising Bashar’ deals with this issue in detail). That the west’s plan is to remove Syria from the resistance axis is now clear for all to see, but that wasn’t always the case. Analysing the situation from a standpoint of militant anti-imperialism, Chávez was able to understand the big picture from the start when so many others fell for the campaign of lies and demonisation.


Chávez recognised Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as an important ally in the global struggle against imperialism: someone who had successfully led their country away from colonial dependency, developed an advanced social welfare system (with the highest human development index, highest life expectancy, lowest infant mortality and highest literacy rate in Africa), and tangibly supported socialist and anti-imperialist movements around the world from Ireland to South Africa, Nicaragua to Palestine, Dominica to Namibia. Indeed, Chávez visited Libya five times during his presidency. In Tripoli for the 40th anniversary of the Libyan revolution (2009), he declared that Venezuela and Libya “have the same fate, the same battle against a common enemy and we will win.” He went on to make an impassioned call for African unity:

“Africa should never again allow countries to come from across the seas to impose certain political, economic, and social systems. Africa should be of the Africans, and only by way of unity will Africa be free and great.”

Moammar Gadhafi, Hugo ChavezJust a few weeks later, Gaddafi arrived in Venezuela for his first ever trip to South America. At the Africa-South America Summit held on Margarita Island, Chávez presented Gaddafi with a replica of a sword used by Venezuelan independence hero Simón Bolívar, stating: “Gaddafi is for Libya what Bolívar is for us.” It was Chávez’ and Gaddafi’s shared goal to usher in a new era of wide-ranging, meaningful cooperation between Africa and Latin America.

As with Syria, Chávez understood from the beginning what the ‘uprising’ in Libya was all about. While luminaries of the British left such as Gilbert Achcar were loudly calling for a no-fly zone to help get rid of Gaddafi, Chávez spoke out in defence of his friend and comrade: “A campaign of lies is being spun together regarding Libya. I’m not going to condemn Gaddafi. I’d be a coward to condemn someone who has been my friend.”

Venezuela led the calls for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, offering its services several times to help mediate between the Libyan government and rebels. “Let’s try to help, to intercede between the parties. A cease-fire, sitting down at a table. That’s the path when facing conflicts of this sort.” Sadly, the rebels and their NATO backers were not in the slightest bit interested in negotiations.

Together with regional allies including Cuba, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador, Venezuela unamiguously denounced the barbaric NATO bombing. “Libya is under imperial fire. Nothing justifies this,” said Chávez. “Indiscriminate bombing. Who gave those countries the right? Neither the United States, nor France, nor England, nor any country has the right to be dropping bombs… I hope a revolution blows up on them in the United States. Let’s see what they do.” Summing up NATO’s post-Washington Consensus strategy in a very clear and simple way, he stated: “The empire is going crazy and it’s a real threat to world peace as imperialism has entered its phase of extreme craziness.” And in August 2011, when Tripoli was bombed into submission, Chávez predicted with remarkable prescience that “the drama of Libya isn’t ending with the fall of Gaddafi’s government. The tragedy in Libya is just beginning.”

Libya was another issue on which Chávez’s solid anti-imperialism was totally at odds with the first-world liberalism of the western left. Whereas Alex Callinicos, leading theoretician of the embarrassingly misnamed Socialist Workers Party (UK), called on his followers to “join the Libyan people’s celebrations of the tyrant’s demise”, Chávez was shaken by the news of Gaddafi’s NATO-orchestrated murder. Regrettably, Gaddafi’s death has been confirmed. He was murdered… I will remember him all of my life as a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr.”

Yes, there is a pattern here. Whereas the western left has almost invariably fallen for the demonisation campaigns orchestrated against socialist and anti-imperialist states by the right-wing press, Chávez unfailingly saw through the propaganda and stayed true to his dream of global unity against the empire. In a world of cowardice and fickleness, he stood up and said: “I am not a coward, I am not fickle.

Chávez started from a position of instinctive distrust for the propaganda that comes out of the west. Never did he fall for simplistic ‘evil dictator’ Blofeld-style cat-stroking-supervillain narratives. His whole life and political experience had taught him that the mainstream media is not to be trusted; that the imperialists spin every news item to suit their own interests. The Venezuelan media is still mainly run by the elite, who hate Chávez, who have always subjected Chávez to racism and classism, who have always spread lies and slander about him. It was easy enough for him to derive from that experience that what they said about the other countries in the ‘extended Axis of Evil’ was also probably nonsense. Meanwhile, which were the countries helping Venezuela out, supporting its policies, supporting regional integration of Latin America? Which were the countries supporting liberation movements around the world? Which were the countries supporting the liberation of Palestine – for example supplying the weaponry for the defence of Gaza? Which were the countries standing up to the US, to Britain, to France, to Israel?


Iran is another country that is routinely subjected to slander and demonisation in the west, and is another state with which Hugo Chávez built a lasting friendship, much to the dismay of western imperialism. In a fascinatingly silly article published in March 2007, senior US Republican Bailey Hutchison ranted: “In his struggle against US ‘imperialism,’ Mr. Chavez has found a useful ally in the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism — the government of Iran. He is one of the few leaders to publicly support Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, and the Iranian mullahs have rewarded Mr. Chavez’s friendship with lucrative contracts, including the transfer of Iranian professionals and technologies to Venezuela. Last month, Mr. Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed plans for a $2 billion joint fund, part of which will be used as a ‘mechanism for liberation’ against American allies… Left unchecked, Messrs. Ahmadinejad and Chavez could be the Khrushchev-Castro tandem of the early 21st century, funneling arms, money and propaganda to Latin America, and endangering that region’s fragile democracies and volatile economies.”

Iran's President Ahmadinejad is welcomed by Venezuela's President Chavez in CaracasChávez visited Iran several times, and hosted his Iranian counterpart – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – in Venezuela on several occasions. Despite their differing ideologies and philosophies, the two leaders created a solid alliance based on anti-imperialist unity. “One of the targets that Yankee imperialism has in its sights is Iran, which is why we are showing our solidarity,” Chavez said. “When we meet, the devils go crazy.” Ahmadinejad talked of Chávez as “a brother and trench mate” and described Iran and Venezuela as being key parts of a revolutionary front “stretching all the way to East Asia” from Latin America. “If one day, my brother Mr. Chávez and I and a few other people were once alone in the world, today we have a long line of revolutionary officials and people standing alongside each other.”

As a result of the friendly relations established between the two countries, practical cooperation has blossomed – trade has increased more than a hundred-fold since 2001 (bilateral trade reputedly exceeds $40 billion), and the two countries have joint ventures in several areas including energy, agriculture, housing, and infrastructure. Iran’s construction expertise has been used to build thousands of homes for Venezuela’s poor.

Chávez stood up for Iran’s right to develop nuclear power, and correctly noted that the nuclear issue was being used by the west to mobilise popular opinion for war, “like they used the excuse of weapons of mass destruction to do what they did in Iraq.” He declared Venezuela’s firm support for Iran with respect to the threat of war against it: I should use the opportunity to condemn those military threats that are being made against Iran. We know that they will never be able to restrict the Islamic revolution in whatever way… We will always stand together, we will not only resist, we will also stand victorious beside one another.”


One of Hugo Chávez’s priorities in the early years of his presidency was to revive the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), with a view to securing agreement that oil production should be reduced and the price should be increased. Having set a date for a full OPEC summit (only the second in the group’s history, and the first in 25 years), he went on a tour of all ten OPEC nations in order to personally invite each head of state to the summit. This itinerary necessarily included Iraq, an OPEC member. Chávez’s visit to Iraq in August 2000 sent waves of controversy, outrage and anxiety across the western world.

“Washington declared they were totally opposed to my visit to Baghdad. I told them I was going anyway; they argued there was a no-fly zone I couldn’t pass through or they might shoot down the plane. But we went to Baghdad anyway and spoke to Saddam.” (Cited in Bart Jones ‘The Hugo Chavez Story’).

chavez-saddamChávez was in fact the first head of state to visit Iraq since the imposition of UN sanctions in 1991. In order to side-step the international flight ban in place against Iraq, Chávez and his team crossed into Iraq from Iran by land and were then flown to Baghdad by helicopter. There he was received in person by Saddam Hussein, who drove him round Baghdad for a late-night tour of the city. Responding to criticism from the ‘international community’, Chávez stated defiantly: “We regret and denounce the interference in our internal affairs. We do not and will not accept it… We are very happy to be in Baghdad, to smell the scent of history and to walk on the bank of the Tigris River.”

The two leaders had extended discussions, described by Chávez as fruitful. “I found him an educated man who understands everything linked to OPEC.” Chávez and his colleagues also took the opportunity to denounce the sanctions regime responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. “President Chavez affirmed the Venezuelan position supporting any accord against any kind of boycott or sanctions that are applied against Iraq or any other country in the world,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Jorge Valero.

One fascinating outcome of Chávez’s efforts is that, a few weeks after his visit to Baghdad, on the sidelines of the OPEC summit in Caracas, Iran and Iraq held their highest-level talks since the bitter and horrific war between the two countries (which lasted from 1980 to 1988 and resulted in at least a million casualties). Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan said that the talks between him and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami had been cordial and frank. We discussed co-operation between the two countries and agreed to work jointly for the improvement of relations between the two countries.” Chávez commented: “I am at their service to help… the full reactivation of relations between two fraternal people, two fraternal countries, which are also members of OPEC, and which are calling for a boost of reunification of the whole Arab-Islamic world.”

That Chávez was willing and able to facilitate this process speaks to his strategic brilliance and his long-term vision. Fully understanding the painful history of enmity between Iran and Iraq; fully understanding how arduous the road of reconciliation was likely to be; he nonetheless recognised that diffusing the tension between these two great nations would be a significant boost to the global anti-imperialist front. Its side-effects might have included reconciliation between Iraq and Syria (the latter being a close ally of Iran), between Iraq and Libya (which had supported Iran in the Iran-Iraq War), between Iran and the Arab world in general, and among the different Palestinian factions. Had this process of rapprochement reached its logical conclusion, the region as a whole would have been in a much stronger position in its ongoing struggle against imperialism and zionism. It would have pushed forward the Palestinain struggle for self-determination, and it may have prevented the disastrous Iraq war in which over a million Iraqis lost their lives. Indeed, the prospect of regional unity based on Iran-Iraq reconciliation may well have been one of the factors that informed the US and Britain’s decision to launch their invasion of Iraq in 2003.


chavez castro 2The most maligned state in the western hemisphere, Cuba has been hit hard over the years by an aggressively-enforced US economic and diplomatic blockade. Until recent decades, most Latin American governments steered clear of Cuba for fear of angering their paymasters north of the border. However, the situation has changed significantly in the last 15 years since the beginning of Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution.

Chávez never made a secret of his affection for Cuba, his admiration for Cuba’s socialism and militant internationalism, and his respect for Fidel Castro as a revolutionary.

“Fidel to me is a father, a comrade, a master of perfect strategy.” Hugo Chavez, 2005.

Visiting Cuba in 1999, Chávez told the audience at the University of Havana that “Venezuela is traveling towards the same sea as the Cuban people, a sea of happiness and of real social justice and peace… Here we are, as alert as ever, Fidel and Hugo, fighting with dignity and courage to defend the interests of our people, and to bring alive the idea of Bolívar and Martí. In the name of Cuba and Venezuela, I appeal for the unity of our two peoples, and of the revolutions that we both lead. Bolívar and Martí, one country united!” (cited in Richard Gott Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution). Defending Cuba against claims that it’s a ‘dictatorship’, Chávez pointed out that Cuba has much deeper and broader forms of democracy than those countries making the accusations. “People have asked me how I can support Fidel if he’s a dictator. But Cuba doesn’t have a dictatorship… It’s a revolutionary democracy.”

cuba-venezuelaA series of mutually beneficial deals were signed in 2000 which have been an economic lifeline for Cuba and which have been crucial to the success of Venezuela’s social programmes. The Barrio Adentro community healthcare programme has brought Cuban medical expertise to millions of poor Venezuelans. According to official estimates, it has “saved the lives of 1.5 million Venezuelans. Another 1.5 million Venezuelans have also received free eye surgery from Mission Miracle, a similar health care programme founded in 2004 to provide cost free optical care to residents.”

Further: “More than 53,000 Venezuelans have received free health care for chronic diseases in Cuba thanks to a bilateral agreement signed between the two Latin American nations that has increased social services and improved the quality of life for residents of Venezuela.” Additionally, Cuba has provided expertise and support for Venezuela’s literacy programme, which has been successful in wiping out illiteracy.

Venezuela pays for these crucial services with free or heavily discounted oil, which is an enormous boost for the Cuban economy. Venezuela has also helped Cuba with billions of dollars’ worth of loans, investments and grants. In doing so, it has knowingly and proudly broken the US economic blockade of Cuba. In an extended interview given to Aleida Guevara, Chávez notes: “Before, Venezuela didn’t sell oil to Cuba. Why not? Because of a ruling from Washington, because of the blockade, and the Helms-Burton Law. We don’t give a damn about this, Cuba is our sister country and we will sell to Cuba.”

Chávez came under a great deal of criticism from the US for his relationship with Cuba. Needless to say, this didn’t affect him.

“I will never tire of acknowledging Cuba’s fantastic support, of highlighting it and expressing my gratitude in public, wherever I am and whoever I am with, in whatever world forum I happen to be addressing, regardless of how many faces burn with anger because I refer to Cuba in these terms… [At the Monterrey Summit of the Americas in 2003] they told me Bush was burning with anger. I was not looking at him, but afterwards I was told he turned red and sat motionless in his chair. I had mentioned Cuba three times. I had thanked the Cuban people and Fidel for their support. I have no regrets about that… That is what Gaddafi said to me when I told him by telephone what had happened in Monterrey. He asked why Cuba had not been at the meeting for the entire continent of the Americas. ‘Ah well! That’s because the US excluded Cuba.’ He said to me, ‘Listen Hugo, on one occasion here in Africa, the British tried to prevent Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, attending a European Union meeting on Africa. We said that if Mugabe didn’t go then nobody would. Latin America should do the same.'” (Cited in Aleida Guevara Chávez, Venezuela and the New Latin America)

The mere mention of the names Castro, Gaddafi and Mugabe in the same paragraph is enough to make liberal-left social democrats wince, such is their desire for acceptability; such is their enslavement to the western imperialist propaganda machine. Chávez, on the other hand, didn’t let the imperialists influence his thought one bit. He simply got on with the job of building the global anti-imperialist front by any means necessary. As Argentina’s ambassador to the UK, Alicia Castro, put it at a recent Venezuela Solidarity Campaign conference:

“Chávez rooted us in the basis of the widest possible unity – unity with anyone with the slightest chance of joining forces against imperialism”.

Multipolarity: breaking down the empire

With the decline of US economic and political hegemony, the rise of China, the emergence of progressive Latin America, and the resurgence of Russia since the end of the Yeltsin era, the world is moving inexorably towards a ‘multipolar’ model – “a pattern of multiple centres of power, all with a certain capacity to influence world affairs, shaping a negotiated order“ (Jenny Clegg, China’s Global Strategy). China has been particularly active in promoting multipolarity as a realistic means of containing imperialism and creating a democratic and stable world order in which formerly oppressed countries can develop in peace. Hugo Chávez was a strong supporter of this concept, linking it back to Venezuela’s independence hero Simón Bolívar:

“Bolívar engendered an international idea. He spoke of what today we call a multipolar world. He proposed the unification of South and Central America into what he called Greater Colombia, to enable negotiations on an equal basis with the other three quarters of the globe. This was his multipolar vision.” (Cited in Bart Jones The Hugo Chávez Story)

Regional integration

Chávez energetically pursued regional integration within South America, Central America and the Caribbean as a means of creating a united, progressive force that could indeed engage “on an equal basis with the other three quarters of the globe.” The Nicaraguan anti-imperialist analysts Jorge Capelán and Toni Solo write that “in Latin America, it is impossible to engage in the construction of socialist and anti-capitalist alternatives without at the same time struggling to integrate the region politically, economically and even culturally… That is the legacy of Bolivar, as was the legacy of Martí, of Sandino, Mariátegui, Gaitán, Che, Fidel Castro and many other Latin American revolutionaries since Independence. This is so because the colonial and imperial powers needed to split the region up into small countries in order to exploit its resources and labour. This is not something Chavez made up, it is an old insight down here.”

chavez lula kirchnerThis project has been pursued through the creation of various organisations of regional integration – in particular ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) and UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) – and through providing inspiration and practical support to other Latin American and Caribbean nations with similar visions, for example by providing the poorer countries in the region with access to Venezuelan oil on preferential terms. What we are witnessing in the present era is the emergence of a Latin America which is increasingly dominated by progressive countries and which is moving confidently towards integration and solidarity. Spanish analyst Ignacio Ramonet comments that Chavez’s “example has been followed, with different shades, in other countries. In Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, among others, there has been a series of processes which, to a certain degree, have advanced along the road opened by the Bolivarian Revolution.”

With the leadership of Chávez and Lula in particular, Latin America has been able to get closer to economic sovereignty than it has ever been. In 2005, the US plan for a free trade zone in the Americas (Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)) was comprehensively defeated at the Summit of The Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina. “Without the joint leadership of Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Lula da Silva and late Argentinean president Néstor Kirchner, this strategic defeat of imperialism in Latin America would not have been possible.”

Friendship with China

Beyond Latin America, Chávez worked hard to establish firm friendships with the world’s major developing powers, in particular China and Russia – which countries Fidel Castro recently described as “the two countries called upon to lead a new world which will allow for human survival, if imperialism does not first unleash a criminal, exterminating war.”

Bart Jones writes that Chavez’s “biggest international initiative outside of Latin America involved China… China’s starving energy market made it a perfect match for Chávez’s plans to divest himself as much as possible from the United States and foster a multipolar world. He struck a deal to send China oil. It started with a commitment in 2005 to supply thirty thousand barrels a day. By 2007 that was to jump to three hundred thousand, with an ultimate goal of half a million barrels a day by 2009 or 2010. It was part of a plan to increase from 15 percent to 45 percent the amount of its crude and other oil products Venezuela sent to Asia.”

Chávez clearly saw China as a crucial partner in the struggle for a new world, visiting six times over the course of his presidency and forging close economic, diplomatic and political relations. On his first trip, in 1999, he expressed his admiration for the Chinese economic model of market socialism, declaring: “We are witnessing the triumph of the Chinese revolution.” The Chinese model, with the state controlling the commanding heights of the economy whilst encouraging regulated private enterprise for less crucial areas, has played an important role in informing Venezuela’s own economic policy over the last 15 years.

In 2006, Chávez angered imperialists and liberals the world over by describing the Chinese revolution as “one of the greatest events of the 20th century”, and saying that Chinese socialism is “an example for Western leaders and governments that claim capitalism is the only alternative.” During Chávez’s tenure, Venezuela quickly became one of China’s key allies in Latin America, and Chávez was considered as a “great friend of the Chinese people”.

chavez huCelebrating the emergence of China as a major world power, Chávez pointed out the fundamental difference between the role of China – which has developed through its own diligence and persistence – and the colonialist/imperialist powers, who built their wealth on the basis of plunder, genocide, coups, terror and exploitation. “China is large but it’s not an empire. China doesn’t trample on anyone, it hasn’t invaded anyone, it doesn’t go around dropping bombs on anyone.” Chávez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, follows up on this point: “China practises international relations on the basis of equality. It shows that, just starting the 21st century, it is possible to build a new world power without the imperialist practice of colonisation and domination.”

Venezuela has been the recipient of extensive infrastructure investment and large, friendly loans from China that have been critical for sustaining the social programmes and the development of industrialisation. By paying China in oil (to the tune of approximately 600,000 barrels a day), Venezuela is able to work towards its aim of trade diversification. Since 2001 Venezuela and China have signed 480 cooperation agreements and participated in 143 joint projects… From 2005 to 2012 China lent Venezuela US$47 billion, accounting for 55% of Chinese credit issued to South American nations in that period.” The relationship continues to deepen, with Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Venezuela resulting in 38 new agreements worth 18 billion USD, including “a US$4 billion direct loan for Venezuela and US$14 billion in Chinese financing for development projects in energy, mining, industry, technology, communications, transport, housing and culture” (ibid).

Friendship with Russia

Of course, the battles to defend Venezuela, to integrate Latin America and to build a multipolar world are not solely economic or diplomatic. The prevailing military dominance of the US and its allies means that anti-imperialist forces must be able to defend their gains with arms. Himself a military man, Comandante Chávez never tired of stating that the Venezuelan Revolution is “peaceful but armed”. If, in the broad division of labour connected with building a multipolar world, China is the economic powerhouse, then Russia is taking the lead on military matters.

chavez putinAn obituary on Russia Today noted that, since 2005, “Venezuela has purchased $4 billion worth of arms from Russia, including 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, and the two countries have held joint naval exercises in the Caribbean Sea. In 2010, Chavez announced that Russia would build Venezuela’s first nuclear power station, and that the nation had agreed to a further $1.6 billion in oil contracts with Moscow.” Nicolas Maduro, who was foreign minister at the time, was clear on the global significance of his country’s relationship with Russia: “The unipolar world is collapsing and finishing in all aspects, and the alliance with Russia is part of that effort to build a multipolar world.”

Speaking very plainly after the purchase of a consignment of S300 surface-to-air missiles from Russia in 2009, Chávez said: ”With these rockets it’s going to be very difficult for foreign planes to come and bomb us.” Given the fate of Libya just two years later, it would be difficult to argue that the Venezuelan president was suffering from paranoia.

Over the course of the last decade, Russia’s increasing alignment with the Global South has been a huge boost for the forces of multipolarity and anti-imperialism, especially when contrasted with the dark days of clientelism under the buffoon Yeltsin. Russia has taken on this role with poise, recognising that its continued independence and development is closely bound up with the success of China, Africa and Latin America. Vladimir Putin reportedly told Chávez that the latter’s re-election in 2012 was the “best present I could have for my 60th birthday”; and, a few months after Chávez’s death, Nicolas Maduro presided over the naming ceremony for Hugo Chávez Street in Moscow.

March forward in the name of Hugo Chávez

The untimely death of this brilliant human being was a terrible blow for progressive humanity to bear, and leaves a gap which is very difficult to fill. One has to guard against hero worship and the Hollywood-style individualised version of history, but there’s no denying that certain people – through their strength of purpose, their understanding, their determination, their heroism, their leadership skills, their creative brilliance, their charisma, their devotion to the people – play an outstanding role.

chavez2Hugo Chávez was such a person. He worked ceaselessly in pursuit of his vision: for a socialist Venezuela; for a united and sovereign Latin America; and for a fair, multipolar world order free from imperialist domination. His vision was infectious, and served to inspire people around the world. He breathed life into a global revolutionary process that had been little in evidence since the upswing of the 1970s (Mozambique, Angola, Chile (1970-73), Guinea Bissau, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe). In the intervening period we saw the decline and fall of the ‘Eastern Bloc’, the rise of neoliberal economics, the spread of ‘structural adjustment’, the genocidal impact of HIV/AIDS, and a deep disillusionment among much of the left. The Bolivarian Revolution, combined with China’s rise and an emerging multipolar world, has brought new hope.

Speaking recently at the July 26 Historical Museum in Santiago de Cuba, Xi Jinping said: “Revolutionary martyrs are precious spiritual treasures that have inspired us to continuously march forward.” May the work, example and ideas of Hugo Chávez continue to inspire and educate us, and may his revolutionary internationalism continue to be studied and honoured.