Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Meaning of Hugo Chavez

I have not posted in some time.  My apologies.  For those still reading, I work endless hours as a contractual servant to student tuition debt, paying off with interest so our military contractors and overpaid spies at the NSA can feel safe at night.  I post daily on Twitter (https://twitter.com/PetroniusTA), and if you want to follow me there, please, do so.

Back to the subject of my periodic posting, I want to send out a RIP (if an atheist like myself can do such a thing) to the recently departed President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.  For those who have read this blog over the years, I had my criticisms of President Chavez.  At times, he was too bombastic for his own good.  His views on free speech were also an issue deserving reproach, which I had no problem with dispensing when I felt the need to do so.

However, I also felt then as I do now that the greatest national political phenomenon to happen in Latin America in the past fifty years has not been in Cuba (whose government is going down the path of a Deng Xiaoping-esque marketization in the post-Fidel years), but in Venezuela.  Chavez was the rarest of Latin American leaders, a person who never sold out.  In a region known for what we in international relations call the comprador class, this is no small achievement.  Those people in the West, particularly white people (if we are being honest), take for granted that we control "our" land and countries.  Those very benefits the teabaggers in the hinterland and the offensive realists who populate our think tanks have never wanted to confront this concept of national sovereignty outside of the US because it is a luxury to most countries throughout the world.   Those few non-Western countries who have completely gained their political sovereignty and economic self-determination from Western governments are almost always portrayed in our media as the scariest proposition since Attila the Hun (or fill in name of scary dictator to manufacture consent of the governed).  Such is the fate of any political leader in the Western Hemisphere who dares to hold a public meeting and pronounce the Monroe Doctrine dead.

But ask yourself, why should the US care if Venezuela democratically elected a socialist government for the past decade and a half?  And not a watered down version of it, like most of the regimes in Latin America.  It is for the same reason we crushed Mossadeq, Arbenz, Allende, Ortega, and countless other democratically-elected socialist governments outside of the West in the past century.  Deep down, every market researcher understands that without access they cannot sell their goods, and if it is accomplished democratically it undermines any attempt by the US to depict this as a battle for 'freedom and liberty,' like the Cold War.  That is the sustained threat that Hugo Chavez posed for capitalist powers like the US, and it is why my government attempted (and temporarily succeeded) to overthrow Chavez back in 2002. 

Had Chavez been elected in 1972, instead of 1998, I have no illusions that his government would have ever survived for almost fifteen years.  Note tonight that while the anchors at Fox "news" are celebrating his death, not a single one will ever mention what our government's role was in attempting to violently dethrone this elected leader eleven years ago this next month.

Nor will the joyous anchors at our least legitimate news station mention our government's role in attempting to overthrow Chavez the very next year in a labor strike (the sight of Republicans in the US supporting a countrywide labor strike in Venezuela should not be lost in judging who was behind that affair).  Nor will they mention the role of my government in attempting to circumvent the democratic process a year after that, in 2004, by trying to have Chavez recalled.  All of these attempts to destroy what democratic culture was left in Venezuela failed and they failed miserably.  In so doing, the US cast itself on the same side of those authoritarian military regimes in Latin America that have a long bloodied past, riddled with hundreds of thousands of corpses in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chile, Brazil, Haiti, and Panama, and the surrounding oceans--regimes our government helped empower, supported, sponsored, armed, and in some cases even assisted in the massacre of their own citizenry.

Here is something you are not likely to see on the O'Reilly Factor this evening.

What Chavez represented was not just resistance to the imperialism of yet another Western capitalist state attempting to impose itself on the South, but the cause of many of the same basic principles and values Western philosophers have advocated in our own society, which we take for granted on a daily basis.  Remember child labor in the US?  I am sure you do not because it was banned during the New Deal, and outside of the speeches of Newt Gingrich and probably some gated community type in the offices of the Cato Institute you see no one wanting to bring it back in the here and now.  Venezuela under Chavez campaigned to crush the remaining child labor industries and put kids in school, and yes (dare the thought) he did it with taxpayer's money.  Imagine tax dollars supporting universal education (our public schools), healthcare (Medicare, Medicaid, whatever happens after the 2014 healthcare law), anti-poverty measures (LBJ's war on poverty), subsidies to the elderly (Social Security), etc.  These are investments we in the US and Western Europe often forget that we have, even though we did  not until the 20th century (and in the case of the US, still lacking in universal healthcare).  The Chavez government brought many of those benefits to Venezuela, uplifting millions out of the ranks of destitution.  Things no one in American news stations and editorials will be talking about tonight as being any kind of accomplishment. 

And Chavez was not like Lula or Obama, who wanted to conform to a model of capitalist globalization.  He put the concerns of poor people on the forefront of his politics.  That above all else, next to standing up to the US, is Chavez's greatest crime in the West, and it is one that we will be cursing for decades and centuries to come--or as rich white people in the US like call it, tyranny and oppression.

How sad that Greece or Spain or even our country did not have political leaders like Chavez to say no to austerity (and it is coming to this country, dear liberals who still think Obama will not sell us out on protecting Social Security and Medicare).  I am sure the poor of those countries would concur, if anyone cared to pay attention.  The same media who ignores the fact that save for Iceland no one in the West has held the bankers who wrecked our global economy five years ago accountable for their crimes, but we must hate this man who took the profits from his oil (that we deem to be our own) and spend it so crazily on such Stalinistic-Satanic endeavors like abolishing illiteracy and providing prenatal care in the countryside and poorest areas of his country. 

Was he perfect or even great in all ways?  No, of course not.  Chavez's views on media free speech was, to me, even now something I do not agree with.  I believe in free, even irresponsible, speech for my political enemies.  Also, the manner in which Chavez tried to vacillate the Catholic Church on the issue of reproductive choice, like Daniel Ortega after 2006, was a major disappointment.  Indeed, on women's rights Chavez was sometimes no different than his conservative opponents.  Nevertheless, on the elimination of poverty, Hugo Chavez was one of the few heads of state who seemed to genuinely care and want to do something about it. 

The irony is that in spite of the fact he is gone, and who knows at this point what will become of the socialist government in Caracas, the example that Chavez has set is something that will be forever remembered in Latin America.  That spirit of resistance is why he was so popular in life and will become legendary in death.  Meanwhile, back in the land of obesity and debt, tonight our 1% will celebrate, like the aristocracy of ole cheering the death of any enemy of their calumnies, immune only for now to what will one day surely befall them.  They may even know it but do not care.  Such is the appeal of mammon and what it does to the conscience of those who pursue it above all else.

I suspect even if Venezuela's socialist government were to collapse, even generations from now, the seed of resistance to the North that Hugo Chavez planted will long outlast our memories of his party's rule, and that will be the greatest legacy of his life.  Hopefully, we will remember, as well, and maybe, just maybe learn from Chavez's example, one we tend to jettison--that no matter how rich, strong, and how powerful we are, we are not of the people we try to buy and/or rule.

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