By R. T. Luke V. Browne
I saw Hugo Chávez in action when I visited Venezuela in April 2010 for the ninth ALBA summit and to participate in that country’s celebration of two hundred years of independence.
R. T. Luke V. Browne is a West Indian politician and writer based in St Vincent and the Grenadines. He may be contacted at email@example.com
Two hundred years before my arrival in Caracas, a gentleman called Simón Bolívar won independence from Spanish rule for Venezuela and pursued freedom, unity and integration in Latin America and the Caribbean. Bolívar struggled to establish a political system founded on justice and respect for human rights. President Hugo Chávez, at the time of my trip, was extending and consolidating Latin America’s freedom and independence with a twenty-first century socialist Bolivarian Revolution.
A state governor in Venezuela recently told reporters that Chávez “liberated [Venezuelans] from transnational companies and stood up to imperialist countries.” The world knows that Chávez took control of Venezuela’s oil industry shortly after being elected to office for the first time in 1998 and reversed a policy that was closely aligned to the interests of Washington and foreign oil companies and that was antithetical to Venezuelan interests.
He strengthened his international bargaining position by revitalizing OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) and President Chávez ensured that oil revenue was used to address Venezuela’s fundamental social and economic problems such as poverty and inequality and not to fund lavish lifestyles in developed countries.
We will remember Comandante Chávez because he fought valiantly against the Washington Consensus and neoliberal policies since he saw firsthand the pain and suffering that IMF-imposed austerity caused when he was a young man in Venezuela. Chávez opposed the privatisation of his country’s all-important healthcare system to protect poor people from the possibility of commercial exploitation.
He placed appropriate controls on trade and had no illusions about the need for adequate regulation of financial institutions. There was the Washington Consensus and then there was what we may well call the Caracas Consensus.
The president’s efforts to create a more just and humane Venezuela were violently opposed by a powerful foreign government and Venezuelan oligarchs who didn’t seem to care about the 62% of the population that was living in poverty, and who were not concerned with the stark inequality for which the country had become known. There was an attempt to remove Chávez from power through a military coup in April 2002. The coup failed because of a popular uprising in support of the President. Chávez recovered from a crippling shutdown of oil production that was engineered by dissident oil executives in December of the same year as a result of his firm and courageous leadership.
The Venezuelan people gave Chávez a clear mandate to continue his profound reforms when they handed him a decisive victory in a recall vote that was held on August 15, 2004.
We will remember Hugo Chávez because of his tremendous ideological clarity and consistency which was demonstrated when he explained the character and principles of the Bolivarian Revolution to a public audience during the ALBA summit. He justified his support for the small developing countries in our region.
He was offended by the suggestion of an American president that Simon Bolívar dreamed of something like the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) that was proposed by the United States. He was outraged that Margaret Thatcher could have said that there is no alternative to global capitalism.
President Evo Morales of Bolivia believed that “the FTAA is an agreement to legalise the colonization of the Americas” and Chávez knew that the agreement would undermine sovereignty and democracy by bolstering the power of heartless corporations.
Chávez gave us an alternative to the FTAA and to global capitalism, he gave us ALBA: the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. The FTAA would have aggravated regional disparities, but ALBA agreements even had provisions for the creation of a Compensatory Fund for Structural Convergence to supervise and distribute financial assistance to economically vulnerable countries.
The FTAA, according to Chávez, did not attend to social problems, education, housing, health, the retired, or to children facing hunger. President Chávez worked very closely with President Fidel Castro to implement, through ALBA, regional socioeconomic programmes that transformed millions of lives. Thousands of Caribbean citizens have had eye operations in Cuba thanks to ALBA.
President Hugo Chávez was an indomitable defender of our region’s dignity and sovereignty. He made a remarkable contribution to the political and economic liberation of Latin America and the Caribbean. The Bolivarian Revolution that he led from Venezuela was of tremendous historic and international significance. We will remember Hugo Chávez and his heroic and sacrificial struggle against injustice and imperialism in our part of the world. He has inspired me.