The Importance of Defending Venezuela

Most governments in the world enjoy precious little popular support. For example, when British prime minister Theresa May was forced to announce her resignation in May 2019, the masses didn’t rush out to the streets to declare their undying fealty; more like, the ground shook with the simultaneous muttering of the words “good riddance” from millions of homes and workplaces throughout the country.1 It may then have come as a surprise to some when, in early 2019, millions of ordinary Venezuelans – working people, peasants, students, barrio-dwellers – flocked to the streets to defend their elected government from an attempted coup.

Their appearance was a response to the little-known Venezuelan politician Juan Guaidó declaring, on 23 January, that he was the legitimate president of Venezuela.2 His announcement was particularly curious given that the Venezuelan presidential election had taken place just eight months previously and his name didn’t even appear on the ballot paper. Although Guaidó’s claim to the presidency had all the credibility of the average new-age mystic’s claims to divinity, the governments of the US, UK, Canada, Brazil, Colombia and the majority of the EU countries were quick to recognise his authority.

Guaidó had pinned his hopes on winning the support of key figures in the military and significant sections of the working classes. The latter in particular have suffered badly over the last few years, the result of sanctions, US-directed economic destabilisation and low oil prices. It was perhaps not total fantasy that they might lend their support to anyone that promised a way out of the current mess; to someone who had the ‘connections’ necessary to call off Washington’s attack dogs. Such blackmail tactics are nothing new. They’ve been used around the world, from Nicaragua to Zimbabwe, occasionally with some success. If you suffocate someone and then promise to let them breathe, there’s at least a decent chance they’ll accept whatever strings you attach.

However, the Venezuelan masses didn’t follow that script. Just as they did in April 2002 – when Venezuela’s business class joined forces with the yellow CTV union to seize power – the people of the barrios (shanty towns), the low-paid workers, the tenant farmers, the Afro-Venezuelans, the indigenous, the women, the LGBTQ+ coordinated with the military in order to defeat the coup and to defend their revolution.3

This says something important about the nature of the ongoing political struggle in Venezuela. It shows that the radical governments of the last two decades have achieved something very significant that goes beyond the economic benefits accrued to ordinary people, beyond the millions of homes built, beyond the provision of healthcare and education services. What has been created in Venezuela isn’t just a benevolent state; it’s a democratic revolutionary process that has given the working masses a voice, a stake in society. This process has politicised the millions, mobilised them, empowered them, drawn them for the first time into the running of their own society. It has taken up their interests and developed structures that allow them to take up their own interests. That’s why millions of Venezuelans defend their state even as it faces a level of systematic sabotage and destabilisation that’s creating widespread suffering.

This article explores the significance of the Venezuelan revolutionary process and the crucial importance of defending it for socialists around the world.

A path to socialism in the 21st century

Analysing the experiences of the Paris Commune of 1871, Marx started to develop his ideas around the political framework needed for building socialism, famously noting that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes”.4 That is, the capitalist state is set up specifically to preserve capitalism; it is in essence just a “committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”5, and therefore the working class and its allies will have to replace it with their own state, one designed to preserve and build socialism. This is precisely what the oppressed masses of Russia, Vietnam, Korea, China and Cuba did.

The advantages of stripping the capitalist class of its power are clear enough. Given a state set up to defend private property, capitalists can easily find ways to re-consolidate their power even when they find themselves occasionally having to cope with left-wing governments. The experience of Salvador Allende’s government in Chile (from 1970 to 1973) provides some of the strongest evidence in support of Marx’s theory of the state. Allende was a Marxist; his Popular Unity government aimed to build a society organised in the interests of workers and peasants. After several attempts, he won the presidential election in 1970, and the country was quickly swept up in an exciting and all-encompassing democratic process, nationalising the copper mines, tackling inequality and oppression, and inspiring millions of people to get involved in building a new Chile.

From the moment of Allende’s election, the US intelligence agencies worked with the Chilean elite to try and prevent his being inaugurated, and then worked systematically for three years to destabilise the country at every level. US president Richard Nixon ordered the CIA to “make the economy scream”6 in order to unseat Allende. The bulk of the leadership of the armed forces, inherited from 150 years of plutocratic rule (and colonial Spanish rule before that), aligned themselves with the old ruling classes and, with the backing of their friends in the US, conducted a coup against Allende. Thousands of leftists and trade unionists were murdered, and a brutal capitalist dictatorship was installed.

Many concluded from the Chilean experience that the only path to socialism was, after all, “the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions”7 and the establishment of a workers’ state – a dictatorship of the proletariat. After all, Allende was overthrown by the capitalist state that he was putatively in charge of. The counterfactual, then, is that if Allende had led an armed revolutionary movement and had been able to “break up, smash the ready-made state machinery”,8 Chile could have remained on the socialist path.

Which would be all very well, but for the non-trivial problem of forcibly overthrowing capitalist states, which is harder than it sounds.

The period from the late 1960s to 1980 witnessed the victory of liberation movements in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Mozambique, Angola, Guinea Bissau and Zimbabwe and elsewhere, as well as socialist-oriented revolutions in Nicaragua, Grenada, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Yemen and Ethiopia. The earlier part of that period also saw an upswing of radical activism in the west. Those years can reasonably be considered the end of the first wave of socialist advance. The ensuing two decades were characterised mainly by retreat: the decline and fall of the Soviet Union and its European allies;9 and the emergence of neoliberalism as the hegemonic global economic system. The socialist movement lost its first revolutionary base area. Unions and traditional networks of solidarity were broken down. Workers became ever more atomised. Even the limited social democracy constructed in much of the capitalist ‘west’ came under attack from deregulation, privatisation, de-unionisation and generalised marketisation.

The Global South meanwhile was subjected to abhorrent ‘structural adjustment’, putting an end to decades of slow but steady improvement in living standards.10 In the handful of socialist countries that survived the counter-revolutionary juggernaut of 1989-91, survival required tough choices that seemed to run against the natural trajectory of socialism: the expansion of market forces and foreign capital in China,11 and opening up to mass tourism and tourist-related small business in Cuba.

In the same period, imperialist states leveraged the technological revolution to bolster their defences against political revolution. Military and surveillance technologies advanced (and continue to advance) rapidly, and the techniques of political propaganda reached extraordinary new levels of sophistication, making Orwell’s cliched portrayal of a Soviet 1984 look positively quaint. In 1917, the Bolsheviks were able to win power because Russia was, in Lenin’s words, the wooden link in an iron chain.12 Today’s chain is made of hardened steel, and it’s the iron link that’s the weak one.

This is the context in which Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution should be understood. In a time of hopelessness, a time of neoliberal domination, a time of socialist defeat and the “end of history”13, a time of brazen military attacks on countries that refused to conform to the Washington Consensus, Venezuelan revolutionaries found a way to break the chain, to capture power – albeit partial and heavily contested – and to start along the road to socialism.

While they had finally arrived in government through similar means to Allende’s Popular Unity (with Hugo Chávez winning the 1998 presidential election), their initial hold on power was much less tenuous as a result of the government’s support by much of the military. Chávez often stressed that the revolution had the means to physically defend itself. “I warned the Venezuelan oligarchy and the counterrevolutionaries not to make the mistake of believing that this peaceful revolution is an unarmed revolution. We are peaceful, but we are armed.”14 Victor Figueroa Clark notes in his biography of Allende that while the progressive states of modern-day Latin America do face many of the same challenges Chile did, they’ve been able to analyse the weaknesses of that process: “Success in overcoming these challenges has owed much to lessons learned from Allende’s overthrow”.15

Another aspect of building self-defence capacity has been the work done by the Venezuelan government over the course of 20 years to democratise society; to engage people in politics, to construct organisations of popular power, and to develop a legal framework that privileges the needs of ordinary people. The recently deceased Chilean political scientist Marta Harnecker16 observes, for example: “It is probable that Venezuela is the only country which has a ministry devoted to participation: the Ministry of Popular Participation and Social Development, which was created in mid-2005. One of its principal objectives is to remove obstacles and make it easier for there to be popular participation from below throughout the country.”17

From around 2005 onwards, the Bolivarian Revolution has been explicitly socialist in its direction. Highlighting the significance of Hugo Chávez’s speech at the World Social Forum in January 2005, at which Chávez first announced that his goal was to build socialism, Iain Bruce writes: “All of a sudden, here was a process that openly and deliberately claimed it was aiming for socialism. And that was something nobody in a similar position had dreamed of saying since long before the collapse of the Soviet bloc a decade and a half earlier… As such Venezuela has become the laboratory for a new cycle of revolutionary theory and practice.”18

In forging this path, Venezuela’s revolutionaries have played a crucial role in kicking off the second wave of socialist advance. The Bolivarian Revolution was the first sustained experiment in the construction of working class power in several decades. Moreover, its journey towards socialism has been combined with an insistent internationalism that sought the broadest possible anti-imperialist unity on a global scale. Venezuela has thus moved from the capitalist periphery – as a supplier of petroleum and beauty queens – to the socialist centre – as a supplier of inspiration and essential experience.

Why Venezuela?

Venezuela in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a country on the edge. Known for the extravagant tastes of its upper classes – the “Saudis of Latin America”, soaking in the country’s abundant oil reserves – Venezuela was one of the most unequal societies on the planet, and this inequality was getting worse by the day as a result of ruthless neoliberal policies.

In early 1989, then president Carlos Andrés Pérez announced a series of harsh austerity measures, including a 100% increase in the price of gasoline, an end to food subsidies, and price increases for electricity, water and other basic services. A few days later, the powderkeg of profound poverty, inequality and alienation exploded in the Caracazo, a mass rebellion in which the capital’s barrios rose up in response to an overnight hike in bus fares.19 This was “the most spectacular demonstration of a series of ‘IMF riots’ or ‘bread riots’ of the 1980s and early 1990s”.20 US-based political scientist George Ciccariello-Maher, author of We Created Chávez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution, writes that the Caracazo “was a full-scale insurrection whose participants stared revolution in the face only to suffer the crushing reply of the state’s iron heel.” Although it was violently repressed, “the Caracazo sounded the death knell of the old system, simultaneously reflecting and contributing to the inevitability of its collapse and thereby setting into motion the entire process that came after.”21

The Caracazo didn’t come out of nowhere. Spontaneous as it was, it was also connected to revolutionary networks of various kinds, some of which had operated for many decades.22 Some level of formal capitalist democracy had existed in Venezuela since 1958, when the military dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez (backed to the hilt by the US, of course) was overthrown. The democratic system that replaced the military dictatorship was, well, not very democratic. The two major parties, Acción Democrática and COPEI (Independent Political Electoral Organisation Committee), coordinated from the beginning to ensure the frictionless rule of big business, lubricated by the sharp repression of any forces of the left. Venezuela “increasingly became a showcase for a mildly reformist, yet stridently anticommunist government that served as a trusted US ally during the Cold War.”23

The repression against the Communist Party and the various organisations of radical workers and students led to armed insurrection. Throughout the 1960s, communist groups took up guerrilla warfare against the government, for a while united in a single organisation: the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN). The guerrilla movement didn’t succeed in its aim of overthrowing the state, although it did carry out some wonderfully audacious actions, including the kidnapping of United States Air Force lieutenant colonel Michael Smolen in an attempt to prevent the execution of the captured Vietnamese liberation fighter Nguyễn Văn Trỗi.24 By the end of the 1960s, the movement was “utterly divided, isolated from any serious mass support, and confronted a repressive state that enjoyed ever-increasing levels of legitimacy.”25 Apart from anything else, a China-inspired rural guerrilla struggle found it difficult to take root in what was already a highly urbanised society (more than 70 percent of Venezuelans were living in cities by 1970).

In spite of the near-comprehensive collapse of the guerrilla movement, its traditions and many of its participants didn’t vanish. Ciccariello-Maher notes: “Those radical energies from below that had generated the guerrilla struggle to begin with, those demands of the popular masses that the new democratic regime was either unwilling or unable to meet, did not simply disappear into thin air. Instead, the ostensible failure of the guerrilla struggle gave way to a dispersed multiplicity of revolutionary social movements, and former guerrillas themselves courted ‘legality’ in a variety of ways, with both sectors twirling helically around one another in a constant struggle to both revolutionise the state and avoid its tentacles.”26 These radical movements took root in poor urban communities and in industry, breaking the stranglehold of the pro-capitalist trade unions (which functioned essentially as branches of Acción Democrática).

So there was a diverse, experienced and creative left in Venezuela, with strong connections to the masses. With the emergence of Chávez as a nationally-known figure in the aftermath of his leadership of a failed military coup in 1992,27 many of these streams coalesced into a broad movement for change. After the election victory of 1999, many radical leaders – including several former guerrilla fighters – became key figures in the government.

Another important and surprising component of the Venezuelan left was to be found in the armed forces, which had several influential socialist and radical nationalist cells. Venezuelan academic Miguel Tinker Salas explains that “Venezuela’s military differs from similar institutions in Latin America that had been the sole domain of the landed or political elites: throughout much of its twentieth-century history, its officers and noncommissioned personnel have been drawn from diverse socioeconomic sectors of the population. The military provided many of these young officers a way to climb the social ladder. In the military they found like-minded colleagues who expressed concern about the direction of the country and the corruption evident in the political class.”28 Hugo Chávez himself, a man of decidedly humble origins, of mixed African and indigenous descent, reached the position of lieutenant colonel in the Venezuelan Army.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, recognising the unusual nature of the Venezuelan military, revolutionary groups thought of forming a ‘civic-military union’ to overthrow the existing order. This is the milieu in which Chávez developed his ideas. His older brother Adán was involved with the Party of Venezuelan Revolution (PRV), one of the parties that arose from the ashes of the guerrilla movement, led by Douglas Bravo.29 Chávez for a time held regular meetings with Bravo, who later became (as he is now) an ultra-left critic of the Bolivarian Revolution. As Richard Gott puts it, “Chávez did not emerge from a vacuum. He was the heir to the revolutionary traditions of the Venezuelan left.”30

These then were the key objective factors that contributed to Venezuela being able to take the lead in the second wave of socialist advance: stark poverty and widening inequality; the hegemony of neoliberal economics; widespread frustration at decades of corrupt, phoney democracy; the existence of a capable and experienced radical left; and the existence of a progressive trend within the military. Thus an environment existed in which a social transformation was possible. It then took the creative genius, courage, determination, energy and compassion of Hugo Chávez to develop a specific programme – rooted in pro-poor radical nationalism – that could win over a popular majority.

A society run in the interests of the masses

The struggle for dignity is called Bolivarianism in Venezuela; in Cuba, this struggle is called socialism. (Fidel Castro)31

Is Venezuela a socialist country? It’s a complex and contested question, since not everybody is agreed on what socialism is and there’s no accepted set of measures for defining a given society as officially ‘socialist’. Most people agree that Cuba is socialist and that the US isn’t; between those points lies debate and controversy. What we can usefully say is that Venezuela is moving in the direction of socialism; it is undergoing a process of democratisation, through which power is increasingly wielded by, and in the interests of, working people rather than the owners of capital. Definitional problems aside, this is surely the important thing: the direction of travel, towards “liberation from imperialist domination, the construction of the unity of the peoples of Latin America, and the establishment of genuine democracy that serves its workers.”32

The central focus of the Venezuelan state is to improve the lives of its people: to eliminate poverty, to improve access to education and healthcare, to engage people in the organisation of their own lives, to make dignified housing available to everybody, to tackle all forms of discrimination, and to position Venezuela within a rising multipolar system that rejects imperialism. Its government has broken with free market fundamentalism, and has supported public and cooperative ownership. It is friendly to trade unions and social movements, and it works to empower workers, peasants, indigenous people, Afro-Venezuelans, women and youth. It is, in short, a society run in the interests of the masses.

The major class base for the Venezuelan government is the poor majority, “hitherto disorganised, effectively out of reach of traditional politics”.33 The most numerous element is the non-privileged working class, typically living in barrios and working in the informal sector. This is the section of the population that had been persistently ignored by Venezuelan governments and indeed by the wider world. Prior to 1999, such workers had not been unionised, and had only limited access to basic services. In addressing itself primarily to this section of the working class, the Chávez government broke with Latin American Marxist orthodoxy, which had tended to focus on either the industrial working class or the peasantry (according to circumstances and/or ideology). Furthermore, the Venezuelan state has allied itself with all oppressed groups and popular struggles: for racial and gender justice, for indigenous rights, to end discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, to conserve the environment. As such, it has become a powerful political tool of all the oppressed.

The Chavista conception of socialism is, in the words of Marta Harnecker, “a new collective life in which equality, freedom, and real and deep democracy reign, and in which the people plays the role of protagonist; an economic system centred on human beings, not on profits; a pluralistic, anti-consumerist culture in which the act of living takes precedence over the act of owning.”34 This is what Venezuelans, in the face of great difficulty and resistance, are building.

As an aside, it’s worth discussing the fact that Chávez didn’t always present the Bolivarian Revolution as being ‘socialist’; the process was above all ‘Bolivarian’. For all the things he was, Simón Bolívar (the leader of Venezuela’s independence war of the early 1800s and an insistent proponent of Latin American unity) could not reasonably be described as a socialist. But Chávez recognised that, at least in the late 1990s, ‘socialism’ was a dirty word for most Venezuelans. “In those days even the left hid the socialist banner,” Chávez said. “Almost no movement on the left in the Americas, with the exception of Cuba, lifted this banner. The big parties of the left distanced themselves from the socialist project and the word itself disappeared from the political lexicon.”35 In the figure of Bolívar – Venezuela’s national hero – Chávez saw the opportunity to get people on board with a progressive project on the basis of continuing Bolivar’s work, that is, completing the national democratic revolution, shaking off the domination of foreign powers (Spain in Bolívar’s time, the US in Chávez’s time), and working towards continental solidarity and unity. Leveraging Bolívar’s legacy was controversial in some quarters. Veteran journalist and Latin Americanist Richard Gott writes that most Marxist writers perceived Bolívar as “a typically bourgeois figure whose actions had only served the interests of the emergent imperial power of the time… For years, this caricature portrait of Bolívar as an imperialist stooge effectively precluded the left from examining his more positive characteristics.”36 However, Chávez instinctively understood the value of Bolívar’s legacy for uniting the largest possible section of the population around progressive goals. Crucially, the bulk of the military were much more immediately favourable to Bolívar than to Marx.

In economic terms, Venezuela has developed an alternative model of a mixed economy that rejects neoliberalism and incorporates socialist concepts. From very early on in the Chávez presidency, Venezuela emphasised close coordination with other oil producers in order to raise global oil prices, which it then used to fund radical social programmes with unprecedented reach.

The poverty rate in 1999 was in the region of 50 percent.37 Extreme poverty was around 20 percent. Within a few years, overall poverty was halved, and extreme poverty reduced to 5 percent as a direct result of government interventions. Miguel Tinker Salas observes that the massive public social investment, much of it carried out via a series of misiones (missions), “has had a significant impact on the lives of millions of people in Venezuela. The missions have been funded with the profits generated from PdVSA [Petróleos de Venezuela, the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company]… The revenue the government allocates for social spending has increased dramatically in the last decade, upwards of sixty percent according to some estimates. The number of missions has increased significantly to over twenty-five different programs, addressing health, literacy, education, sports, identity, land reform, senior citizens, the indigenous, culture, music, children, pensions, and energy, among others.”38

As part of the Barrio Adentro mission, several thousand clinics and diagnostic centres have been built to provide medical services to poor communities that previously had no such access. (This programme has been constructed with the assistance of thousands of Cuban doctors, whose services are paid for with cut-price Venezuelan oil).39 In more recent years, Barrio Adentro has been expanded to provide a more integrated healthcare approach, including exercise facilities and nutrition classes. According to Richard Gott, “the scale of Barrio Adentro was something entirely new. I visited several of these Cuban-run health centres in 2003 and 2004, in both town and country, and the enthusiasm and commitment of the Cubans and their warm reception by local people were clear indications of the forward march of the revolution. Many of the Cubans had already had experience of working in Third World countries – in Haiti and Honduras, in the Gambia and Angola – and this was their first chance to see a Latin American society so dramatically divided between rich and poor. They provided a local health service twenty-four hours a day, week in week out, and had soon become a familiar institution in the localities.”40

Misión Robinson deployed a network of instructors to teach literacy to the over one million adults that were illiterate in 2003. Just two years later, Unesco declared Venezuela as a “territory free from illiteracy”.41 Per capita spending on education increased 51 percent between 2003 and 2007.42 Millions of children have been provided with free laptops, running a customised version of Linux developed by the Venezuelan government, in line with its embrace of open source software.43

The housing mission – Misión Vivienda – was launched in the early 2000s to address Venezuela’s housing crisis, building hundreds of thousands of housing units in integrated housing zones with education and healthcare facilities. According to the most recent estimates, 2.3 million homes have been built (Venezuela has a population of 32 million).44 These apartments are typically sold to families with long-term low-interest rates of credit.

An array of businesses have been nationalised,45 and there have been numerous experiments with worker management and collective ownership.46 PdVSA has been brought under strict government control. Grassroots communal councils have been set up across the country with a view to engaging the masses and building a more meaningful democracy.47 Ciccariello-Maher writes that local communal councils started to be established throughout Venezuela in 2006. “Within one year, 18,320 communal councils had been established, and that number has since exceeded 40,000. According to the 2006 law, these councils seek to ‘allow the organised people to directly manage public policy and projects oriented toward responding to the needs and aspirations of communities in the construction of a society of equity and social justice’”.48 The result has been a remarkable democratisation. “A whole section of Venezuelan society, the poor in general but in particular the urban poor of the Caracas hillsides, several millions of people who had been buried in silence, obscurity and neglect, have suddenly ‘emerged’ from the shadows and established themselves as actors, as protagonists both of their own individual stories and of the nation’s collective drama.”49

The Venezuelan state is in the process of becoming a workers’ state. Its leadership has not been in a position to dismantle the capitalist state, but it is gradually reducing its scope whilst building up a socialist alternative.

The Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin reflected on his trips to Venezuela and the differences between the pre-Bolivarian and Bolivarian eras:

I found a country that had nothing in common with the one I had known. A true social revolution — it is not excessive to say so — had occurred in the sense that, finally, we could see Indians, blacks, and mixed race people —the majority of the population — elsewhere than in the street! Until the arrival of Hugo Chávez, all the powers in the country were reserved for the whitest of the white, strictly European in origin. This change is not, in my opinion, of secondary significance. It is the proof that political power (but nothing more, understand) has passed to the representatives of the Venezuelan people as it really is. It is the proof that the Chávez government is not that of some soldier — one of mixed race, at that — but the result of a real mass movement… That is what I call a revolutionary advance.50

Nicolás Maduro, interviewed by the BBC, recently outlined his government’s key objectives: “We are in a battle … to reduce poverty, misery, to increase job capacity, to establish a social security system to protect 100% of our pensioners, to establish a public health system that reaches all the Venezuelan population… We have made a commitment between 2017 and 2025 to reach a state of zero poverty and we are going to accomplish it.”51

Reflecting on the Venezuelan state’s priorities, actions and support base, it’s clear that it is a socialist-oriented state, that is, it is moving in the direction of socialism. Its survival is therefore of obvious importance to socialists worldwide.

Integration in the global front against imperialism

Let’s save the human race – let’s finish off the empire (Hugo Chávez)52

The achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution in terms of the wellbeing of the Venezuelan people are impressive in their own right, but the revolutionary process in Venezuela also has a wider – global – significance that deserves attention. I have written in some detail on this subject,53 so I’ll stick to a brief overview here.

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, DPR Korea, Nicaragua and elsewhere. This thinking is reflected in the internationalist outlook of the Venezuelan state from 1999 until the present day.

Venezuela is a leading proponent of multipolarity – “a pattern of multiple centres of power, all with a certain capacity to influence world affairs, shaping a negotiated order”.54 Chávez linked multipolarity to Simón Bolívar’s concept of regional unity: “Bolívar 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.”55

Recognising that maximum coordination is necessary in order to effectively stand up to US imperialist domination, the Venezuelan state has been at the forefront of the effort to build an organisational and economic structure for regional integration of Latin America and the Caribbean. This effort has included the creation of the anti-neoliberal trade agreement ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America),56 the regional bloc CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States)57 and the trade bloc UNASUR (Union of South American Nations). This cooperation reached its high point in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when progressive governments were in power in Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay; these governments achieved an unprecedented level of coordination and cooperation. Unfortunately, efforts to promote regional integration have suffered severe setbacks in the last few years, particularly with the judicial coup against the PT-led government in Brazil58 and the about-turn of the Lenín Moreno government in Ecuador,59 alongside electoral reverses in Argentina and Chile. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru have now left UNASUR and set up an alternative, PROSUR, an initiative led by the US-aligned reactionary governments of Chile and Colombia.60

For decades a client state of the US, Venezuela in the last 20 years has focused on developing strong relationships with countries around the world, particularly those states that are amenable to mutually beneficial cooperation. Miguel Tinker Salas notes that, “in the past Venezuelan politicians seldom ventured from travel between Caracas and Washington, occasionally visiting New York and the United Nations, but never including Beijing, Moscow, Brasilia, Buenos Aires, and much less Tehran or Luanda, Angola on their itinerary. Now they do so frequently. Although the United States is still an important market for its oil, Venezuela no longer privileges relations with Washington, and instead promotes ties and pursues investments from countries as distinct as Brazil, India, Iran, Russia, and China.”61

Chávez clearly saw China in particular 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. In China, the Venezuelan leadership has found an inspiring example of what it’s possible for a developing country to achieve when freed from the domination of imperialism. Visiting Beijing in 2006, Chávez praised China for having converted itself from a “practically feudal” society into a world-leading economy in the space of a few decades. “It’s an example for western leaders and governments that claim capitalism is the only alternative. We’ve been manipulated to believe that the first man on the moon was the most important event of the 20th century. But no, much more important things happened, and one of the greatest events of the 20th century was the Chinese revolution.”62 The burgeoning political relationship has been matched in the economic sphere, with China providing billions of dollars worth of oil-backed loans,63 thereby allowing Venezuela to diversify its buyers and China to diversify its suppliers – key strategic goals in both cases. The extensive Chinese loans have been crucial in terms of financing Venezuela’s social projects.

Tinker Salas writes: “Hoping to strike a balance in its international affairs, Caracas endorsed economic arrangements with China, Cuba, Iran, and Russia, especially in areas such as health, telecommunications, auto manufacturing, oil explorations, and the production of machinery. The Chinese constructed and launched into space Venezuela’s two orbiting telecommunication satellites. Iran operates a tractor and car factory in the country and the Russians have become one of the leading arms suppliers of the Venezuelan military… As part of a policy to promote South-South relations, the country expanded diplomatic relations with most countries in Africa and in 2009 hosted the Africa-South America summit.”64

Beyond mutually beneficial economic relations, Venezuela has also provided strong diplomatic and practical support to liberation movements worldwide (for example Palestine65 and Western Saraha66), and has stood firm with those states in the direct crosshairs of western imperialism, most prominently Syria67 and Libya.68 Additionally, it has sought to build good relations with progressive forces in the imperialist heartlands, including with the London Assembly during Ken Livingstone’s tenure as mayor.69

A friend in need

“They choke us and they ask us, why are we suffocating?” (Nicolás Maduro)70

The Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela is currently facing its biggest challenge to date, one that poses a mortal danger. In 2013 it was hit with two major blows: the death of Hugo Chávez and the collapse of international oil prices. Those two factors combined to create a fragile situation which the Venezuelan elite and its US backers sought to take advantage of.

Chávez’s untimely death was a terrible setback. To millions of Venezuelans, he embodied the revolution, and the whole process was defined to a significant degree by his vision, determination, boldness and charisma. Thankfully there are many capable leaders in the Venezuelan state, and 15 years in power was sufficient to develop a strong cadre at all levels of government. Chavismo has survived. Unfortunately oil prices have yet to substantially recover. Oil provides 90% of Venezuela’s export income and 50% of government revenues. Reduced fiscal income means reduced service provision, which leads to popular dissatisfaction. Steve Ellner remarks that “oil prices under Maduro have not only been low since 2014 but nosedived, just the opposite of what happened under Chávez. This is particularly problematic because high prices create expectations and commitments that then get transformed into frustration and anger when they precipitously drop.”71

Of course, the continued heavy reliance on petroleum income highlights the failure to date of the Venezuelan socialist project to meaningfully diversify its economy. The fact is that Venezuela has been a petro-state ever since the discovery of massive oil reserves in the Maracaibo Basin a century ago. The government can probably be criticised for not investing more in diversification during the decade or so when oil revenues were unusually high. Kicking the oil habit is unquestionably difficult, and may well require several more decades, but it will be indispensable to the survival and advance of Venezuelan socialism.

With the economy in trouble, the US and its local allies didn’t waste any time driving the knife in. As Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jorge Arreaza, writes: “Imperialist actors have sought, by any means available to them, to overthrow and eliminate the Bolivarian Revolution, to retake political control of the country, so that the riches of Venezuelans can once again be used as tribute to benefit transnational capital.”72 Domestically, the opposition parties – wealthy, white, pro-US and fanatically anti-Chavista – stepped up their efforts to make the country ungovernable, organising violent demonstrations, spreading lies (through their domination of print and television media) and hoarding goods so as to create shortages and drive inflation. The US has added to this pressure with wide-ranging sanctions – “a savage and criminal financial and commercial blockade.”73

The sanctions are designed specifically to cause hardship among ordinary Venezuelans and to break their support for the Bolivarian Revolution. The calculation is, needless to say, that worsening conditions will lead to the downfall of the Chavista government and ultimately the rolling back of the socialist advances of the last two decades. Certainly the sanctions are already wreaking havoc. World-renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs states plainly that “American sanctions are deliberately aiming to wreck Venezuela’s economy and thereby lead to regime change. It’s a fruitless, heartless, illegal, and failed policy, causing grave harm to the Venezuelan people.” Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs published a report in April indicating that sanctions to date have led to 40,000 deaths as a result of food and medicine shortages.74

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of defending Venezuela. Defending Venezuela means supporting the second wave of socialist advance; it means defending the gains of two decades of hard-won progress; it means maintaining the trajectory towards a multipolar world; it means challenging the US’ attempt to reimpose the Monroe Doctrine.75 In 2015, the Argentinian sociologist Atilio Boron wrote powerfully about the critical importance of the Bolivarian Revolution: “The struggle being waged in Venezuela today is decisive not only for this South American country, but for all the emancipatory processes underway in Latin America and the Caribbean… What we are waging, in the homeland of Bolívar and of Chávez, is our battle of Stalingrad. If the oligarchic-imperialist reaction is successful in its efforts, all of Latin America will feel the heavy blows… It will be a terrible lesson against the countries whose governments had the audacity to defy the empire.”76 These words continue to resonate.

Those of us around the world who support socialism, who defend the right of nations to self-determination, who oppose imperialist domination, have a duty to stand up for Venezuela. The world needs more socialist-oriented states, not fewer! We must apply pressure to our governments not to participate in sanctions or other forms of economic destabilisation. We must resolutely oppose any threat of military intervention. Those whose governments have signed up to the US-led regime change agenda must demand those governments stop supporting Juan Guaidó’s attempted coup and that they limit their involvement to supporting peaceful dialogue. We should work hard to raise awareness, to refute the pervasive lies and slander that appear in the media (including the supposedly left-leaning press – The Guardian is among the worst offenders when it comes to Venezuela). We should support independent media groups such as Venezuela Analysis that are working to counter the relentless information warfare.

Let’s be inspired by the US activists who put themselves in the firing line in order to protect the Venezuelan embassy in Washington.77 Those in Britain should join and support the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign.78 Those in political parties should pass resolutions calling for an end to sanctions and destabilisation. The further the message spreads, the better. Let’s do everything we can to defend Venezuela.

  1. Even if this jubilation is tempered by the knowledge that her likely successor, Boris Johnson, is even more reactionary. 

  2. USA Today: U.S. recognizes Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido as president; Russia backs Maduro, 2019 

  3. Liberation News: Massive rallies for Maduro held in Venezuela, ignored by war-mongering corporate media, 2019 

  4. Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, 1871, Chapter 5 

  5. Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848, Chapter 1 

  6. Democracy Now: Secret Documents Show Nixon, Kissinger Role Backing 1973 Chile Coup, 2013 

  7. Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), Chapter 4 

  8. Lenin, State and Revolution, 1917, Chapter 3 

  9. See Carlos Martinez, The End of the Beginning: Lessons of the Soviet Collapse, LeftWord Books, 2019 

  10. See for example Ha-joon Chang: 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, Penguin, 2011 

  11. For further discussion on China, see Invent the Future: Is China Still Socialist?, 2018 

  12. Lenin, The Chain Is No Stronger Than Its Weakest Link, 1917 

  13. Wikipedia: The End of History and the Last Man 

  14. Chavez: Venezuela and the New Latin America: Venezuela and the New Latin America – Hugo Chavez Interviewed by Aleida Guevara, Ocean Press, 2005 

  15. Victor Figueroa Clark, Salvador Allende – Revolutionary Democracy, Pluto Press, 2013 

  16. Aporrea, Marta Harnecker: un tesoro de los pueblos, 2019 

  17. Marta Harnecker, Rebuilding the Left, Zed Books, 2007 

  18. Iain Bruce, The Real Venezuela: Making Socialism in the 21st Century, Pluto Press, 2008 

  19. Venezuela Analysis: Venezuela Marks 25 Years Since “Caracazo” Uprising Against Neoliberalism, 2014 

  20. Vijay Prashad, The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South, Verso, 2013 

  21. George Ciccariello-Maher, We Created Chávez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution, Duke University Press, 2013 

  22. This story is told in detail in Ciccariello-Maher, ibid

  23. Miguel Tinker Salas, Venezuela What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford University Press, 2015 

  24. New York Times: Venezuelan Terrorists Kidnap U.S. Colonel and Threaten Him (1964) 

  25. Ciccariello-Maher, op cit 

  26. ibid 

  27. Christian Science Monitor: Chávez celebrates failed coup that propelled him into office, 2012 

  28. Tinker Salas, op cit 

  29. New York Times: Venezuelan, Like Castro, Has Brother at the Ready, 2011 

  30. Richard Gott, Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution, Verso, 2005 

  31. Cited in Richard Gott, op cit 

  32. MR Online: Samir Amin: Chávez Has Died, But the Bolivarian Revolution Continues, 2013 

  33. Gott, op cit 

  34. Marta Harnecker, Chávez’s Chief Legacy: Building, with People, an Alternative Society to Capitalism, 2013 

  35. Cited in Bart Jones, Hugo!: The Hugo Chavez Story from Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution, Steerforth, 2008 

  36. Gott, op cit 

  37. World Bank poverty data: Venezuela 

  38. Tinker Salas, op cit 

  39. See for example Venezuela Analysis: A Look at the Venezuelan Healthcare System, 2009 

  40. Gott, op cit 

  41. Telesur: Venezuela: 10 Years Free of Illiteracy, 2015 

  42. Figures cited in Tinker Salas, op cit 

  43. Fox News: Venezuela’s Chavez Touts Linux as Microsoft Alternative, 2006 

  44. Telesur: Venezuelan Gov’t Delivers 2.3 M Houses Despite Economic War, 2018 

  45. BBC News: Nationalisation sweeps Venezuela, 2007 

  46. Venezuela Analysis: Venezuela, Worker Control, and Self-management, 2010 

  47. Venezuela Analysis: Cooperation, Co-operatives, & Revolution in Venezuela, 2012 

  48. Ciccariello-Maher, op cit 

  49. Iain Bruce, op cit 

  50. Samir Amin, The Long Revolution of the Global South, Monthly Review Press, 2019 

  51. BBC News: Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro interview: Full transcript, 2019 

  52. Washington Times: Losing Latin America, 2007 

  53. Invent the Future: Hugo Chávez – Revolutionary Internationalist, 2014 

  54. Jenny Clegg, China’s Global Strategy, Pluto Press, 2009 

  55. Cited in Bart Jones, op cit 

  56. ALBA info: What is ALBA? 

  57. CELAC International: About CELAC 

  58. The Intercept: Brazil Prosecutors Plotted Against Lula’s Party in 2018 Election, 2019 

  59. Jacobin: Lenín Moreno’s Betrayal, 2019 

  60. FT: Prosur risks joining the list of failed pan-South American institutions, 2019 

  61. Tinker Salas, op cit 

  62. Taipei Times: Chavez to triple oil sales to China, 2006 

  63. SCMP: China hits back at US criticism of oil-for-loan investments in Venezuela, 2018 

  64. Tinker Salas, op cit 

  65. Reuters: Venezuela’s Chavez accuses Israel of genocide, 2009 

  66. Venezuela Analysis: Venezuela’s President Chavez calls for liberation of the Sahrawi people, 2009 

  67. Fox News: Venezuela’s Chavez meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad, vows to fight US ‘imperialism’, 2010 

  68. Al Jazeera: Chavez proposes talks for Libya, 2011 

  69. FT: Livingstone secures cheap oil from Chávez, 2007 

  70. BBC News: Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro interview: Full transcript, 2019 

  71. Venezuela Analysis: How Much of Venezuela’s Crisis is Really Maduro’s Fault?, 2019 

  72. Jorge Arreaza: Venezuela, epicenter of the historic dispute, 2019 

  73. ibid 

  74. Counterpunch: War on Venezuela?, 2019 

  75. Washington Post: What is the Monroe Doctrine? John Bolton’s justification for Trump’s push against Maduro, 2019 

  76. Cuba and Venezuela Solidarity Committee: Dr Atilio Boron expresses solidarity with Venezuela, 2015 

  77. Sputnik: Activists Who Protected Venezuelan DC Embassy Call for Mass Mobilization, 2019 

  78. VSC 

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.

Towards a common ideology in the struggle against imperialism

This is an expanded version of a speech given by Carlos Martinez at the event ‘STRIKE THE EMPIRE BACK: legacies and examples of liberation from neo-colonialism and white supremacy’

As far as most people are concerned, ‘ideology’ is a term of abuse, an insult you fling around: we accuse people of being “too ideological”, of being bookworms, of dividing people with “isms and schisms”, of “thinking too much” (I have to say I’ve never in my life met anyone who actually thinks too much, but I’ve met plenty of people who don’t think enough!).

The Cult of Activism

There is this view that ideology divides us, that it gets in the way of working together, that it’s not really relevant, and that we need to focus purely on ‘action’, on practical activity, on campaigning. We don’t have need to inform our activism with analysis and understanding, we need to do like Nike: just do it. Pickets are good, placards are good, campaigns are good, petitions are good, demonstrations are good, fundraising is good, concerts are good; debate, books, history, study, analysis: not so much. Inasmuch as we need to occasionally need to spread ideas, we do it in cute 140-character slogans on Twitter, or Lord of the Rings memes on Instagram.

In part, this is a reaction to what’s called “ivory tower syndrome” – academics and intellectuals, sitting up in their ivory towers, writing beautiful words but having neither the intention nor the ability to put theory into practice. And even the beautiful ideas the generate are very flawed because they’re so divorced from reality and from the masses.

That is a genuine problem. However, as the saying goes, you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If I bite into an over-ripe strawberry and it tastes rotten, I don’t conclude from that experience that I’ll never eat a strawberry again. If there are ivory tower ideologues who are over-ripe and rotten, let’s ignore them and develop the ideology we need, the ideology that serves us.

The state of the movement

As it stands, we as a movement (inasmuch as there is a ‘movement’ – here I am using it as a general label for the various individuals and groups who oppose the status quo and who want to build an alternative) are quite active. There’s quite of lot of activism around, and yet, if we’re honest, we’re getting nowhere.

We’re no more united than we ever were – in fact we’re less united. We’re no more effective than we ever were – in fact we’re less effective. We have meetings, demonstrations, campaigns, pickets and so on, but almost never win anything, and we don’t really play to win; we’re just out there flying the flag.

And yet oppressed and working class people are under attack. In the course of the last three decades, the ruling class have managed to smash the majority of the unions and the community organisations. They’ve privatised everything. They’ve gone to war, killing our brothers and sisters in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya in the hundreds of thousands. Benefits are cut, jobs disappear, wages are reduced, zero-hour contracts are introduced, bedroom taxes are introduced, banks are bailed out, student fees keep on rising, people are thrown in prison for protesting. Racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia are still prevalent with the dominant culture.

Meanwhile our political representation gets worse and worse, as the whole mainstream spectrum shifts to the right – as evidenced by UKIP’s success at the European election, and by the increasingly blurred lines between Tory and Labour politics.

As for the ruling class, the elite, the government, the police, the corporations, the 1% – they know what situation we’re in and therefore they know they can get away with pretty much anything they want. They know we are not in a position to fight the fight. That’s one of the main reasons we have whatever democratic rights we do have; that’s one of the main reasons they let us have the vote; that’s one of the main reasons they allow some level of freedom of speech: because they know full well we won’t use it to achieve anything meaningful.

Our ‘activism’ hasn’t prevented any of this. In some situations it’s even made it worse. To give a (thankfully) extreme example: when NATO was gearing up for its regime change operation against Libya, a sovereign African state, quite a few well-known activists thought the best thing to do would be to occupy Saif Gaddafi’s house in London, thereby totally playing into the mainstream agenda of demonising a state that the west was about to bomb into the stone age. What a situation, where you have courageous, passionate, righteous people – activists, people who are supposed to be on our side – and the media is able to play them like puppets!

Ideology is nothing to be scared of

If we don’t want to be played like puppets, we need ideology, we need understanding. It’s nothing to be afraid of. An ideology is simply a system of ideas – a set of beliefs, goals and strategies in relation to society. I think this scary word, ideology, can be summed up by three simple questions:

  • What is the current situation of society?

  • What changes do we want to achieve?

  • How do we go about creating those changes?

If you look around the world, and you look into history, you see that every movement that ever achieved anything meaningful is or was built on some kind of ideology. For example:

  • Malcolm X had an ideology, which one could argue was a mix of black nationalism, anti-imperialism, global south unity, socialism and pan-africanism, with Islam providing a moral-spiritual basis.

  • The Black Panthers had an ideology, based in Marxism, Maoism, black nationalism.

  • Closer to home, Sinn Fein and the IRA – who fought the British state to a stalemate (I wish we could do that!) – have an ideology, grounded in Irish nationalism, anti-imperialism and socialism.

  • The leaders of the Iranian revolution had and have an ideology, based in radical Islam, anti-imperialism, anti-zionism and orientation towards the poor. You can say something similar about Hezbollah, the only fighting force in the world to have defeated the Israeli army in battle (#JustSayin).

  • The liberation struggles in Vietnam, South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya, Guinea Bissau, Zimbabwe, Palestine, Namibia, Algeria, Korea; the revolutions in Cuba, China, Russia, Grenada, Nicaragua: they all had/have an ideology, a system of ideas/beliefs/goals/strategies that people unite around.

These ideologies have plenty in common, particularly in terms of opposition to imperialism, opposition to colonialism, opposition to racism, and a general orientation in favour of the poor and marginalised. However, none of them are identical, and each reflects to some degree the history, traditions, culture and conditions of the people involved.

The President of the Cuban Parliament made an interesting self-criticism recently, when discussing the variations within the revolutionary process in Latin America:

“What characterises Latin America at the present moment is the fact that a number of countries, each in its own way, are constructing their own versions of socialism. For a long while now, one of the fundamental errors of socialist and revolutionary movements has been the belief that a socialist model exists. In reality, we should not be talking about socialism, but rather about socialisms in the plural. There is no socialism that is similar to another. As Mariátegui said, socialism is a ‘heroic creation’. If socialism is to be created, it must respond to realities, motivations, cultures, situations, contexts, all of which are objectives that are different from each other, not identical.”

There are theories that can point us in the right direction; there is history to learn from; but there’s no cookie-cutter that we can pick up to get rid of capitalism and imperialism.

What about us?

We too need an ideology. We need to work out a shared belief system, an agreed set of goals, an agreed set of strategies, that we can unite around and work together to create meaningful change. We need to answer those three questions: where are we at? Where do we need to be? How do we get there?

We will not agree on everything. There are a whole host of important issues that we have to be willing to agree to differ on. But I am convinced that there is space for a common platform.

Just look at the other side. The enemy has ideology. The elite, the rulers of society, the ultra-rich, the government, the state – they have an ideology. It’s imperialism and neoliberalism: the most brutal, the most harsh, the most ruthless form of capitalism, promoting nothing less than ‘freedom’ – total freedom for the rich to get ever richer.

Plus they’re so generous, they realise that the masses need an ideology too, so they create a ready-made ideology for us! The ideology they give us is: consumerism, individualism, diversions, divisions, racism, sexism, homophobia, selfies, twerking, porn, Call of Duty…

And we congratulate ourselves on all this freedom and democracy we’ve got! “It’s a free country”, we say. No! It’s not freedom, it’s not democracy. It’s bread and circuses. Give the masses cheap food and cheap entertainment, keep them divided, and you’ve got them under your control.

Minimum platform

What type of ideology do we need? Good question :-)

That’s the long conversation that we need to continue, in a spirit of inclusiveness, openness, comradeship, creativity and generosity. It’s going to take a while.

To me, in today’s world, perhaps the most relevant examples to look at can be found in Latin America, in particular in terms of the legacy of Hugo Chávez, may he rest in peace.

What does Chávez represent? The essence of ‘Chavismo’, I believe, is: 1) creative, non-dogmatic, up-to-date socialism; 2) consistent, militant anti-imperialism.

Socialism – there’s another scary word that isn’t really that scary. What is the socialism that is being pursued in Venezuela (and Cuba, and Nicaragua, and elsewhere)?

  • Adopting policies that favour the poor: pursuing redistributive economics and social programmes that aim to permanently raise the status and living conditions of those at the bottom of society.
  • Promoting the interests of the indigenous, the African, the worker, the woman. Protecting freedom of worship. Addressing discrimination on every dimension, in the interests of building unity and justice.
  • Attempting to break the power of the old elite, the rich, the right, who have held society in their grip for so many centuries.
  • Constructing a popular democracy, a state that is “for us, by us”.

As for Chávez’s legacy of anti-imperialism, that means consistently uniting with the widest possible forces against the main enemy. Chávez built solid, meaningful alliances with a very diverse range of states and movements, from Cuba to Brazil to China to Russia, Syria, Iran, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Belarus, Gaddafi’s Libya, Angola, DPR Korea, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, and so on.

He wasn’t a gullible liberal or a radical fashionista; he didn’t disown his allies just because the western press was demonising them. He kept his eye on the prize of ending imperialist domination for once and for all and constructing a new, multipolar world where countries can develop in peace.

He always said that one should unite with anyone who had even the slightest chance of joining the fight against imperialism. I think that idea gives as a decent clue as to how we should move forward.

20 Reasons to Support Cuba

The 26th of July is celebrated in Cuba as the Day of National Rebellion, in honour of the attack on the Moncada army garrison in Santiago de Cuba on 26 July 1953. This attack, led by Fidel Castro, was the beginning of the revolutionary armed struggle against the Batista regime.

To help mark 60 years of the Cuban Revolution, I have put together a list of 20 reasons why all sensible, progressive people should support and defend Cuba.

1. Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world

Cuba’s literacy rate of 99.8% is among the highest in the world – higher than that of both Britain and the US. The Cuban Revolution has placed a very strong emphasis on literacy, considering it an essential component of empowering the population. Just two years after the seizure of power in 1959, the Cuban government embarked upon one of the most ambitious and wide-ranging literacy campaigns in history, sending tens of thousands of students to the countryside to form literacy brigades. Within a year, the literacy rate was increased from 70% to 96%. Additionally, over the past 50 years, thousands of Cuban literacy teachers have volunteered in countries around the world including Haiti and remote indigenous communities in Australia.

2. Health-care is free, universal, and of high quality

It is a small, poor island that does not exploit other countries and which suffers from a suffocating economic blockade, yet Cuba “boasts better health indicators than its exponentially richer neighbour 90 miles across the Florida straits.” Life expectancy is an impressive 79. Infant mortality is 4.83 deaths per 1,000 live births compared (better than the US figure of 6.0, and incomparably better than the average for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is around 27 deaths per 1,000 live births). Cuba has the lowest HIV prevalence rate in the Americas. There is one doctor for every 220 people in Cuba – “one of the highest ratios in the world, compared with one for every 370 in England.” Healthcare is community-based, prevention-oriented, holistic, and free.

As Kofi Annan said: “Cuba demonstrates how much nations can do with the resources they have if they focus on the right priorities – health, education, and literacy.”

3. Education is free, universal, and of high quality

If you want to understand the true nature of a society, then a study of its education system is a good place to start. In Cuba, high quality education at every level is regarded as a human right, and has been the major priority of the government from 1959 onwards. The result is that a poor, underdeveloped country with widespread illiteracy and ignorance has become one of the most educated nations in the world. (Incidentally, you might think that a ‘dictatorship’ obsessed with preserving its grip on power – as the Cuban government is portrayed in the imperialist world – would worry about the consequences of creating generations of skilled critical thinkers!)

This article by Nina Lakhani in The Independent gives a useful overview:

“Education at every level is free, and standards are high… The primary-school curriculum includes dance and gardening, lessons on health and hygiene, and, naturally, revolutionary history. Children are expected to help each other so that no one in the class lags too far behind. And parents must work closely with teachers as part of every child’s education and social development… There is a strict maximum of 25 children per primary-school class, many of which have as few as 20. Secondary schools are striving towards only 15 pupils per class – less than half the UK norm.

“School meals and uniforms are free… ‘Mobile teachers’ are deployed to homes if children are unable to come to school because of sickness or disability… Adult education at all levels, from Open University-type degrees to English- and French-language classes on TV, is free and popular.”

The quality of Cuba’s education is recognised at the top international levels; for example, Cuba is ranked at number 16 in UNESCO’s Education for All Development Index, higher than any other country in Latin America and the Caribbean (and higher than the US, which is ranked at number 25).

4. The legacy of racism is being wiped out

Pre-revolutionary Cuba was, in effect, an apartheid society. There was widespread segregation and discrimination. Afro-Cubans were restricted to the worst jobs, the worst housing, the worst education. They suffered from differential access to parks, restaurants and beaches.

The revolution quickly started attacking racism at its roots, vowing to “straighten out what history has twisted.” In March 1959, just a couple of months after the capture of power, Fidel discussed the complex problem of racism in several speeches at mass rallies.

“In all fairness, I must say that it is not only the aristocracy who practise discrimination. There are very humble people who also discriminate. There are workers who hold the same prejudices as any wealthy person, and this is what is most absurd and sad … and should compel people to meditate on the problem. Why do we not tackle this problem radically and with love, not in a spirit of division and hate? Why not educate and destroy the prejudice of centuries, the prejudice handed down to us from such an odious institution as slavery?”

The commitment to defeating racism has brought about tremendous gains in equality and racial integration. Isaac Saney writes: “It can be argued that Cuba has done more than any other country to dismantle institutionalised racism and generate racial harmony.”

Of course, deeply ingrained prejudices and inequalities cannot be eliminated overnight, and problems remain, especially as a result of the ‘special period’ in which Cuba has had to open itself up to tourism and some limited foreign investment. Racism thrives on inequality. However, Cuba remains a shining light in terms of its commitment to racial equality.

Assata Shakur, the famous exiled Black Panther who has lived in Cuba for several decades, puts it well:

“Revolution is a process, so I was not that shocked to find sexism had not totally disappeared in Cuba, nor had racism, but that although they had not totally disappeared, the revolution was totally committed to struggling against racism and sexism in all their forms. That was and continues to be very important to me. It would be pure fantasy to think that all the ills, such as racism, classism or sexism, could be dealt with in 30 years. But what is realistic is that it is much easier and much more possible to struggle against those ills in a country which is dedicated to social justice and to eliminating injustice.”

Isaac Saney cites a very moving and revealing anecdote recounted by an elderly black man in Cuba:

“I was travelling on a very crowded bus. At a bus stop, where many people got off, a black man got a seat. A middle aged woman said in a very loud and irritated voice: ‘And it had to be a black who gets the seat.’ The response of the people on the bus was incredible. People began to criticize the woman, telling her that a revolution was fought to get rid of those stupid ideas; that the black man should be viewed as having the same rights as she had – including a seat on a crowded bus. The discussion and criticism became loud and animated. The bus driver was asked to stop the bus because the people engaging in the criticism had decided that the woman expressing racist attitudes must get off the bus. For the rest of my trip, the people apologized to the black comrade and talked about where such racist attitudes come from and what must be done to get rid of them.”

Who can imagine such a scene occurring on a bus in London, Paris or New York?

5. Women’s rights are promoted

Cuba has an excellent record in terms of building gender equality. Its commitment to a non-sexist society is reflected in the fact that 43% of parliament members are female (ranking fourth in the world after Rwanda, Sweden and South Africa). 64% of university places are occupied by women. “Cuban women comprise 66% of all technicians and professionals in the country’s middle and higher levels.” Women are given 18 weeks’ maternity leave on full pay, with extended leave at 60% pay until the child is one year old.

A recent report by the US-based Center for Democracy in the Americas (by no means a non-critical source) noted: “By several measures, Cuba has achieved a high standard of gender equality, despite the country’s reputation for machismo, a Latin American variant of sexism. Save the Children ranks Cuba first among developing countries for the wellbeing of mothers and children, the report points out. The World Economic Forum places Cuba 20th out of 153 countries in health, literacy, economic status and political participation of women – ahead of all countries in Latin America except Trinidad and Tobago.”

6. Community spirit still exists

Modern capitalism breaks down communities. Consumerism and individualism create isolation and depression. Poverty creates stress and family tension. Inequality leads to crime, which leads to a culture of fear – something that is completely inimical to the project developing a sense of community and togetherness. Anyone who has experienced life in a modern western city will understand this only too well.

Cuba provides a very different example. It is an exceptionally safe country, with very little in the way of violent crime. With a high level of participation in local administration, social stability, social welfare, low unemployment and a media that promotes unity rather than disunity, Cuba’s sense of community is something that visitors quickly notice.

Assata Shakur mentions this, and contrasts it with the US:

“My experience in the United States was living in a society that was very much at war with itself, that was very alienated. People felt not part of a community, but like isolated units that were afraid of interaction, of contact, that were lonely. People didn’t build that sense of community that I found is so rich here [in Cuba]. One of the things that I was able to take from this experience was just how lovely it is to live with a sense of community. To live where you can drop in the street and a million people will come and help you. That is to me a wealth that you can’t find, you can’t buy, you have to build. You have to build it within yourself to be capable of having that attitude about your neighbours, about how you want to live on this planet.”

7. There will be no capitulation to capitalism

The Cuban leadership have had any number of opportunities to sell out their people and to abandon the cause of socialism. If Fidel had been willing to convert himself into a fluffy social democrat, abandon militant internationalism, abandon the government’s commitment to equality and social justice, and accept the subjugation of Cuba’s economy to the IMF and World Bank, he would be portrayed throughout the western world as a brilliant and righteous man. Instead he has spent over half a century being portrayed as a ruthless, corrupt dictator.

Many expected that Cuba would give up the cause when its major supporters – the Soviet Union and the eastern European people’s democracies – did. It was an era when socialism seemed doomed; the “end of history.” And yet the Cubans never considered such an option. They could see the type of catastrophic consequences that capitalist restoration would bring: massive impoverishment and demobilisation of the masses; the collapse of the basic moral fabric of society; an explosion of crime, drugs, racial division, alienation, prostitution; along with, of course, the accumulation of obscene wealth in the hands of a few. In a thinly-disguised attack on Gorbachev’s policy of endless compromise with the west and his readiness to throw away any semblance of revolutionary leadership and vigilance, Fidel said in 1989:

“It’s impossible to carry out a revolution or conduct a rectification without a strong, disciplined and respected party. It’s not possible to carry out such a process by slandering socialism, destroying its values, discrediting the party, demoralising its vanguard, abandoning its leadership role, eliminating social discipline, and sowing chaos and anarchy everywhere. This may foster a counter-revolution – but not revolutionary change.”

The 2002 Constitution, approved by 98% of the electorate, states:

“Socialism, as well as the revolutionary political and social system established by this Constitution, has been forged during years of heroic resistance against aggression of every kind and economic war waged by the government of the most powerful imperialist state that has ever existed; it has demonstrated its ability to transform the nation and create an entirely new and just society, and is irrevocable: Cuba will never revert to capitalism.”

Over a million people – nearly a tenth of the country’s entire population – turn out to celebrate International Workers’ Day every May 1st. In spite of some limited market reforms that have been implemented in order to revitalised the economy, Cuba is still very much organised along socialist lines. The working class has a firm grip on political power. In an era such as ours, Cuba’s continuing commitment to socialism is very much something to celebrate.

8. Cuba is a functioning socialist democracy

Cuba is far more democratic than Britain or the US. The process of decision-making is far more open to grassroots participation, and is in no way connected with wealth. It is easy enough to see that one cannot expect to be successful in politics in the capitalist countries without a good deal of money behind you; political success is therefore predicated on the financial backing of the wealthy, who expect return on their investment. Political representation in Cuba is nothing like this. Representatives are elected by the people, and are expected to serve the people.

Despite popular belief, elections do take place in Cuba. They take place every five years and there have been turnouts of over 95% in every election since 1976… Anybody can be nominated to be a candidate for election. Neither money nor political parties or orators have a place in the nomination process. Instead, individuals directly nominate those who they think should be candidates. It is not a requirement that one be a member of the Communist party of Cuba to be elected to any position. The party does not propose, support nor elect candidates.” As a result, the Cuban Parliament has representatives from across society, including an exceptionally high proportion of women.

Beyond representative democracy, Cuba also has a meaningful direct democracy. The Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs) were formed in the early years in order to organise the population to defend the revolution. “Membership is voluntary and open to all residents over the age of 14 years. Nationally 88% of Cuban people are in the CDRs. They meet a minimum of once every three months to plan the running of the community; including the organisation of public health campaigns to promote good health and prevent disease; the upkeep of the area in terms of waste and recycling; the running of voluntary work brigades and providing the adequate support to members of the community who are in need of help (for example in the case of domestic disputes etc). The CDRs discuss nationwide issues and legislation and crucially, feed back their proposals to the National Assembly and other organs of popular democracy.”

Looking at the Cuban system of democracy, you begin to understand the painfully shallow nature of western-style parliamentarism, where ‘democracy’ means nothing more than “the oppressed [being] allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament.”

9. Cuba is a key member of the progressive family of nations

Cuba continues to pursue policies of south-south cooperation and anti-imperialist unity. Its foreign policy has in no way been swayed by the never-ending propaganda and manipulation of the corporate press. It maintains excellent relations with Venezuela, China, DPR Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Brazil, South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe, Syria, Belarus, Iran, Russia, Ecuador, Laos, Algeria and other not-very-fashionable countries. Cuba was a founder member of ALBA and is very active in the recently-formed CELAC. It consistently uses its role at the UN to support the progressive nations and oppose imperialism, for example voting against resolutions seeking to demonise Syria and speaking out boldly against the despicable war on Libya.

10. Cuba is a friend to Africa

Africa is the continent that has suffered most and benefitted least as a result of the rise of capitalism. Its enormous contribution to world history has been all but forgotten, and much of the continent exists in a state of chronic underdevelopment, the result of half a millennium of slavery, colonialism and imperialism at the hands of a rising western Europe.

Cuba, recognising its own African roots (“the blood of Africa runs deep in our veins,” as Fidel famously said), has from very early on in its revolution supported and built close links with Africa. Its role in defending Angola and liberating Namibia and South Africa is one of the most inspiring examples of revolutionary international solidarity. Nelson Mandela put it well:

“The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice unparalleled for its principled and selfless character… We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defence of one of us.”

Cuba has excellent, mutually supportive with many African states. One way it provides support is by offering thousands of fully subsidised places at its universities (for example, there are 1,200 South Africans currently studying medicine in Cuba). Cuba is very active in the fight against the scourge of AIDS internationally, for example having helped Zambia to start manufacturing its own antiretrovirals.

11. Cuba has achieved sustainable development

The World Wildlife Fund called Cuba “the only country in the world to have achieved sustainable development,” measured as a combination of human development index and environmental sustainability. Cuba is a world leader in the adoption of environmentally friendly technology. “Organic urban farms in Havana supply 100% of the city’s consumption needs in fruit and vegetables” – rather different to London, where we rely on a disgustingly exploitative and ecologically disastrous cash crop system.

Cubans understand that the protection of the earth’s resources is a global project. Fidel Castro has been very vocal at international bodies for over 20 years, particularly in drawing attention to the responsibilities of the imperialist countries, whose ruthless quest for profit has caused untold damage to the planet. “With only 20% of the world’s population, [the imperialist countries] consume two-thirds of all metals and three-fourths of the energy produced worldwide. They have poisoned the seas and the rivers. They have polluted the air. They have weakened and perforated the ozone layer. They have saturated the atmosphere with gases, altering climatic conditions with the catastrophic effects we are already beginning to suffer.”

12. Poverty is becoming a thing of the past

Considering it is an third world nation with limited natural resources, suffering under economic blockade and coping with the loss of its major trading partners in the early 90s, Cuba’s achievements in wiping out poverty are spectacular.

A Cuba Solidarity Campaign fact sheet notes:

“Before 1959 only 35.2% of the Cuban population had running water and 63% had no WC facilities or latrines; 82.6% had no bathtub or shower and there were only 13 small reservoirs. Now 91% of the population receives sustainable access to improved drinking water. Sanitation has been a priority since the revolution and 98% of Cubans now have sustainable access to improved sanitation.

“Before 1959 just 7% of homes had electricity. Now 95.5% of Cubans have access to electricity. Solar panels and photovoltaic cells have been installed in schools and clinics in isolated areas.”

Income disparity is exceptionally low. No Cuban starves; no Cuban is homeless; no Cuban is deprived of education, healthcare or housing. There are very few countries in the world that show such unambiguous dedication to people’s basic human rights.

13. There is no homelessness in Cuba

A country that truly cared for its people would move heaven and earth to ensure that they all had somewhere to live. This is exactly what Cuba does. Rich countries like Britain and the US (which has over 600,000 homeless) could learn a thing or two.

14. Cuba makes an important contribution to science

At the time of the revolution, Cuba was stuck in a vicious cycle of underdevelopment, without the knowledge, resources or political will to use science as a tool to improve the lives of its people. Now there are over 230 institutions devoted to scientific research and innovation. Cuba’s biotech industry is considered the best in the world among developing countries, and has generated important innovations in cancer research, AIDS research. Cuba created the world’s first vaccine against meningitis B. Nobel Prize-winning scientist Peter Agre has stated that “what this small country has done in the progress of science and eradication of diseases is worthy of recognition,” adding that Cuban science’s greatest asset is its large pool of highly qualified, enthusiastic young scientists.

15. Free medical training is given to thousands of international students

Cuba provides full free medical training (including food and board) for hundreds of students from across the world, with a special emphasis on Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. With over 10,000 current students, la Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina may well be the largest medical school in the world. The quality of the training is world class: the school is fully accredited by the Medical Board of California, which has the strictest US standards. The only contractual obligation for students is that, having completed their training, they return to their communities and use their skills to serve the people. Another demonstration that socialism implies a level of humanity, compassion and altruism with which capitalism simply cannot compete.

16. Gender justice is being achieved

Cuba has, over the last 20 years, been making dramatic progress towards full equality for all, regardless of sexual preference. Cuban-American journalist David Duran writes: “Cuba is leading by example and positively affecting the lives of not only the LGBT people who reside there but others all over the world who see these massive changes taking place so quickly in a country where most would think the topic of homosexuality would be off-limits.”

The National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) campaigns for “the development of a culture of sexuality that is full, pleasurable and responsible, as well as to promote the full exercise of sexual rights.” This includes working to combat homophobia and to move on from the ‘machismo’ culture often associated with Latin America.

In a display of humility and honesty very rare for a politician, Fidel Castro in 2010 admitted responsibility for the mistreatment of homosexuals in Cuba in the early decades of the revolution.

17. Natural disasters are dealt with better than anywhere else

Like other countries in the region, Cuba is vulnerable to hurricanes, flooding and earthquakes. These natural disasters, if not properly prepared for, can cost thousands of lives. However, with its well-oiled Civil Defence System and highly mobilized population, “Cuba is one of the best-prepared countries in the world when it comes to preventing deaths and mitigating risks in case of disasters.” Although recent hurricanes have caused major disruption and economic damage, the numbers of dead and injured have been impressively low as a result of Cuba’s preparation and relief efforts. One need only compare this with the US government’s response to Hurricane Katrina (with its 1,833 fatalities) to see the difference in priorities between the two countries’ governments.

18. Cuba’s major export is doctors

Cuba’s ‘Operation Miracle’ has helped restore sight to millions of people across Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba also has a huge number of doctors working in other countries of the Global South, helping to spread Cuba’s hard-won expertise in the field of saving lives. “A third of Cuba’s 75,000 doctors, along with 10,000 other health workers, are currently working in 77 poor countries.”

In response to the Haiti earthquake disaster of 2010, Cuba immediately (within hours) sent 1,500 medical personnel to help with the relief efforts. “They worked in 20 rehabilitation centres and 20 hospitals, ran 15 operating theatres and vaccinated 400,000 people. By March 2010 they had treated 227,143 patients in total (compared to 871 by the US).” Cuba has even offered to develop a complete programme for reconstructing Haiti’s healthcare system. Emily Kirk and John Kirk note: “Essentially, they are offering to rebuild the entire health care system. It will be supported by ALBA and Brazil, and run by Cubans and Cuban-trained medical staff. This is to include hospitals, polyclinics, and medical schools. In addition, the Cuban government has offered to increase the number of Haitian students attending medical school in Cuba. This offer of medical cooperation represents an enormous degree of support for Haiti.”

Cuba provides Venezuela with 31,000 Cuban doctors and dentists and provides training for 40,000 Venezuelan medical personnel (in exchange for which, Cuba receives 100,000 barrels of oil a day – a great example of two countries cooperating on the basis of their strengths).

19. Cuba loves sport

The Cuban Revolution has, from the beginning, recognised the value of sports in terms of promoting health, building community and developing national pride. Since 1959, Cuba has developed a wide-ranging sports infrastructure and has achieved massive levels of participation. In the 54 years since the revolution, the island has won 67 Olympic gold medals, compared with just four in the preceding 60 years. It consistently comes second (behind the US) in the Pan-American Games, punching well above its weight.

20. Cuba loves culture

Cuba places a strong emphasis on affording its citizens the facilities for cultural expression and enabling them to nurture their talents. Cuban children are guaranteed free access to artistic education, including musical instruments. There are more than 40 art schools, along with a system of neighbourhood cultural centres around the country for enabling art and music. The state level support, combined with a deep-rooted culture of music and dance, makes for a hugely vibrant and participatory culture. Music is everywhere in Cuba, and being a street musician is a state-licenced job. “If you stop to listen, you’re expected to pay, and musicians are around every corner.”

The full range of musical forms are supported and promoted, from classical music to Cuban folk music to hip-hop. The Ministry of Culture even has a division devoted to hip-hop, and Fidel has referred to rap as “the vanguard of the revolution.”


Cuba is under constant threat from US imperialism. Its development is made unnecessarily difficult by an unfair and illegal blockade. Yet it stands as one of the great beacons of socialism, and deserves the support of progressive people everywhere.

Some essential reading

  • Isaac Saney – Cuba: A Revolution in Motion
  • Richard Gott – Cuba: A New History
  • Cuba and Angola: Fighting for Africa’s Freedom and Our Own
  • DL Raby – Democracy and Revolution: Latin America and Socialism Today
  • Theo MacDonald: The Education Revolution
  • Piero Gleijeses: Conflicting Missions
  • George Lambie: The Cuban Revolution in the 21st Century
  • Salim Lamrani: The Economic War Against Cuba