People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 11

March 17, 2013


Viva Chavez!


Prakash Karat


WITHIN six months of his historic re-election as the president of Venezuela for the fourth time, Hugo Chavez, the revolutionary leader, is dead.  Cancer, which he was fighting against since June 2011, finally took away the life of the 58-year old leader who had emerged as the symbol of the new wave of the Left in Latin America.  His passing away has plunged the people of Venezuela and Latin America into grief and the loss is felt widely by the Left and progressive forces all over the world. 


Chavez has died at a time when he was needed the most. After the election in October 2012 which he won with a 55 per cent majority, he was set to serve another term of six years from 2013 to 2019 – a period crucial for consolidating the revolutionary process that he had initiated and to advance the regional integration of Latin America in which he had played a key role. But that was not to be. 


What Hugo Chavez accomplished in the 14 years since he became president is truly extraordinary. This has two dimensions – the internal one within Venezuela and the external one in Latin America and foreign policy in general.




Chavez strove to build an alternative path to the neo-liberal model in Venezuela. The success he achieved made him a powerful pole of attraction for the entire Left in Latin America.  After he took office in 1999, Chavez first embarked on the adoption of a new constitution which truly devolved power to the people.  From 2002, after the coup against him was foiled by the popular upsurge, he went about the task of asserting national sovereignty over the oil resources of the country.  Venezuela has the biggest oil reserves in the world.  Chavez brought the giant oil company – PDVSA – under government control and made the western oil companies conform to stringent terms.  He defied the conventional oil exporting countries pattern of parking their petro-dollars in the US and western banks.  Nationalisation of the electricity and telecom industries followed.


Land reforms were implemented and altogether three million hectares of land was distributed to tens of thousands of farmers. 


The next step Chavez took was to use the oil revenues for the welfare of the people.  A number of social missions were set-up such as Mission Robinson, Sucre and so on, named after the liberators of South America to eradicate illiteracy, to promote education, health, food and housing facilities for the people.  The results of these pro-people policies were remarkable.  The Bolivarian Republic reduced poverty by half; the poverty rate dropped from 42.8 per cent in 1999 to 26.5 per cent in 2011.  Extreme poverty fell by 70 per cent from 16.6 per cent to 7 per cent in the same period. Illiteracy was eradicated and the number of teachers went up from 65,000 to 350,000.


The health mission saw the setting up of a network of primary health centres.  These centres, to begin with, were manned by 14,000 Cuban doctors and medical personnel and provided first class medical care.


According to the UNDP, Venezuela, which was the country with the highest inequality in the 1990s, became the least unequal in Latin America (with a Gini co-efficient of 0.39 in 2011).


This major social change was accomplished by harnessing people’s power.  The Bolivarian revolution process saw the setting up of 35,000 communal councils and a network of popular organisations at the grassroots level.  Chavez recognised the need to organise a party and converted the Movement for the Fifth Republic into a political party, the United Socialist Party (PSUV).


Chavez and the revolutionary process faced intense hostility and constant attacks from the oligarchy consisting of the big business, landed elite and upper echelons of the bureaucracy.  They   were backed by the United States and foreign capital. This hatred was intensified by the fact that Chavez rallied the army and remoulded it into a popular nationalist force.  With the support of the working people and the armed forces, Chavez foiled one conspiracy after another to destablise the revolutionary process. 


On the external side, Chavez forged a close and strong alliance with Cuba.  He embraced the revolutionary ideology of Fidel Castro and soon became its  successful practitioner.  His leadership of Venezuela helped the Left advance in Latin America. After his first victory in 1998, other Left electoral victories followed in Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and so on.




Chavez propounded the Bolivarian vision of a united Latin America free from imperialist domination, the vision of Simon Bolivar, the liberator of South America from Spanish rule.  He was instrumental in the setting up of the ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of America) which comprises eight countries – Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia being the core countries which initiated the step.  This was followed by UNASUR and finally his last major step in December 2011 was the formation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) at Caracas.   All these regional bodies have kept out the USA and Canada from North America. 


The setting up of the Bank of the South, the television station Telasur and the virtual currency Sucre are all products of this regional cooperation. Chavez set-up the Petrocaribe to provide oil at cheap financial terms to the poor countries of the region like Haiti.


Above all, Chavez forged the strong alliance with Cuba which helped the latter to tide over the difficult period after the fall of the Soviet Union.  In his letter to Chavez, when he left Cuba for the last time on February 17 to die in Venezuela, Fidel wrote: “When the socialist camp collapsed and the USSR disintegrated and imperialism with its sharpened knife tried to drown the Cuban revolution in blood, Venezuela, a relatively small country in a divided America, was capable of preventing that.”




Such was the revolutionary, internationalist vision of Chavez.  His foreign policy was guided by a central point, how to resist imperialist hegemony and protect the sovereignty of the third world countries, so that they can develop of their own free will.


I had met Hugo Chavez in December 2004 in Caracas. In a nearly hour-long meeting, he had set out his vision of South-South cooperation, of how to revive the non-aligned movement and his own evolving ideas about socialism.  He discussed his forthcoming visit to India in 2005 and expressed his keen interest to go to Kolkata. 


No other leader in the world did as much as Hugo Chavez to set the 21st century on a new course.


The Left and popular forces in Venezuela are determined to carry on with the path set by Hugo Chavez. They will face enormous challenges in the days to come. Our solidarity and support will be with them at every step and at all times.