Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Crisis in Caracas – but for whom? Hugo Chavez and the recall referendum in Venezuela.

Your book was published in 2000 (and in paperback in 2001), what significant changes have taken place since then? For example, your book outlined a situation where opposition to Chavez was leaderless and directionless – this has obviously changed.

My book was written for the world outside Venezuela (though it has subsequently been published in Spanish) to provide an introduction to what I perceived to be an interesting and unusual political experiment in Latin America. People didn't seem to understand whether he was Mussolini or Stalin, and I very quickly (and correctly) placed him in the leftist camp. I confess that I was surprised by the hostility to Chavez that arose both at home and abroad, since to me he seemed to be a perfectly usual example of a progressive military man, comparable to Velasco Alvarado in Peru or Omar Torrijos of Panama. Chavez was somewhat different in that he clearly had a democratic vocation. He was also interesting in his choice of historical figures to preside over the fate of his proposed revolution: Simon Bolivar, Simon Rodriguez, known as Robinson, and Ezequiel Zamora. All three choices indicated that Chavez was a man of the left.

Since the book was published, the coup and counter-coup of April 2002 occurred, as well as the petrol stoppage of December 2002. Both were important attempts by the opposition to overthrow Chavez, and on both occasions the opposition was defeated, thereby strengthening his position. During the coup counter-coup, the &ldquoPinochet” section of the opposition came to the fore, but since then more moderate voices have prevailed. Yet the opposition remains disunited and leaderless, and lacks any kind of characterful leader, let alone a charismatic figure like Chavez.

One thing that strikes me is the polarised nature of debate on Venezuela: the anti-Chavez media portrays a military strong man, who may very well be mad, while the pro Chavez media portray an opposition that is US backed, and willing to use any means to halt the Bolivarian Revolution. Outside of these caricatures, what are the serious objections to Chavez and his government?

The opposition claim that Chavez is mad is completely out of order. I have met him and had long conversations with him on many occasions, and he is very far from being mad. He is one of the most versatile, well-read, and interesting political figures that I have ever met in Latin America (after a long life devoted to the topic). The pro-Chavez camp quite correctly claims that the opposition is backed by the United States – just read the US press and the foreign news agencies – and (also evident during the coup in April 2002) is prepared to use force to overthrow Chavez.

The only serious objection to the Chavez government is that it is taking a very long time to get the country re-organised. Yet this is natural during a revolutionary upheaval, in which the government is spending much time dealing with the problems

created by the opposition, and is also having to work with an idle and bureaucratic state machine. I expect changes in this area after August 15th.

What's the background to these Colombian paramilitaries that were found earlier in the year?[Editor's note: In March of this year, 70 alleged paramilitaries from Colombia were arrested in what appeared to be a paramilitary training camp, roughly 10 miles from the capital Caracas]

There is little doubt that sections of the opposition remain wedded to the idea of bringing down Chavez by force. In this context, they have been examining the situation in Colombia with a view to importing the Colombian civil war model into Venezuela. The two countries, geographically adjacent, are not remotely similar in history, geography, politics or society, and it is very difficult to see Venezuela going down the Colombian road. The introduction of Colombians into a possible training camp in Venezuela (I think those involved were illiterate lumpen rather than peasants or paramilitaries) was clearly yet another own goal for the opposition – discovered and dismantled before time.

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