Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

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

Isn’t it a problem though, to criticise the involvement of the right wing

military in Governments throughout Latin America, but then to accept the

involvement of the military when it’s with a left wing government? How can this fifth

republic establish its democratic credentials when the military play such a

prominent role in government, and when the president is a former coup leader?

I'm afraid I don't see a problem. I criticise the right wing military

dictatorships in Latin America for being right wing dictatorships, not for being

military. After all, lots of Latin American civilian democracies (like Allende's)

have had military men in their governments, and the history of the United

States is riddled with generals as presidents. Chavez, I agree, is slightly

different, in that he is really involving the military not just in the work of

government but also in the social programmes designed to help the poor. I think

this is both new and positive, since – apart from repression – the Latin

American military have never had much of a role. Chavez has provided them with one,

and they seem to be proud of it.

To what extent do you think racism plays a part in opposition to Chavez?

The racist nature of the opposition is an absolutely central factor. Again, a bit of history. Venezuela is a white settler state, similar to Algeria, South Africa and Rhodesia – and indeed the United States. The colons in Venezuela, the white upper and middle class in Caracas and several provincial cities, have an ancestral fear of the black and Indian population that still surrounds them. They fear that Chavez, who is clearly of black and Indian ancestry, is set to spark off a revolution organised by the under-class. Obviously there is considerable class hatred of a more familiar kind, but the degree of hatred aroused in Venezuela, directed personally at Chavez, is unusual in my experience of Latin America, and can only be explained by racist attitudes. Similar views were expressed in Chile during the Allende era, yet Allende himself – a doctor from the haute bourgeoisie – was never subjected to such personal attacks.

We've seen an attempted coup against Chavez, widespread strikes, and now this recall referendum. If it fails to see Chavez ousted, what's the next move on the part of the opposition? There have already been murmurings that violence is the only solution. Is Venezuela on the brink of a civil war?

Chavez will win, and the opposition will divide even further. The more civilised part will try to get their act together and organise themselves better for the presidential elections in 2006; the fascist element – which is probably smaller – will continue to fantasize about violence, and perhaps involve themselves in sporadic bombings and assassinations. There will be no civil war unless the Americans intervene, and, given their commitments elsewhere, that does not see too likely at the moment.

Alternatively, if the referendum goes in favour of the opposition, will Chavez leave office?

If Chavez loses the referendum – an improbable scenario – he will stand down, and stand again at the election scheduled to be held immediately after.

What role do the media play in this conflict between the Government and Opposition in Venezuela, or in other words, how free is the media?

The privately-owned media are central to the success of the opposition in persuading the Venezuelan upper and middle class, and much opinion abroad, that Chavez is some kind of dangerous demagogue who is leading the country to disaster. At the same time, the media focus is so narrow that most such Venezuelans live in total ignorance of the real social conditions in their country. This media is totally free to tell lies every day, and may possibly be the worst private media in the world. The government media, small and under-funded, struggles to make headway against this vile sludge.

Government minister Miguel Bustamante Madriz was quoted at one point, saying that &ldquoAmerica can't let us stay in power. We are the exception to the new globalization order. If we succeed, we are an example to all the Americas”. Is that paranoia or a realistic assessment, given the recent history of Latin America? Also, what stance, if any, has John Kerry taken in relation to Venezuela and support for the opposition there?

The comment made by the minister is basically a paraphrase of a comment made ages ago by Noam Chomsky, stating the obvious: any leftist or vaguely social democrat government in Latin America gets overthrown by the United States. It can't stand the example that it might give to other countries in the continent.

John Kerry and the Democrats are little different from Bush and the Republicans. Both would like to see an end to the Chavez government, and are politically close to the Venezuelan opposition.

To what extent is this Bolivarian Revolution linked to the persona of Chavez? Could it continue without him?

Chavez clearly played a vital, personal role in articulating the Bolivarian Revolution, and getting it off the ground. But he has always emphasised that his task was to mobilise people and get them prepared to make their own choices. In this I think he has had considerable success, and I think the process would continue without him if he were to disappear from the scene.

Richard Gott is author of a number of books including In the Shadow of the Liberator: Hugo Chavez and the transformation of Venezuela.(Verso Press), and his latest work, due to be published in September Cuba: A New History (Yale University Press)

The Guardian’s special report – Venezuela

Caracas Chronicles – Blog Spot of Francisco Toro (Anti-Chavez Blog of Francisco Toro, a journalist )

Venezuela Analysis (Pro Chavez news source)

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