As the entire world held its breath over the outcome of this year’s US presidential election, the most important election of 2012 was already in the books — and the Left won.
On October 7, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was re-elected, taking over 54 percent in a vote that featured a coherent, united opposition campaign and a record voter turnout of over 80 percent.
Despite tall tales and smears from a virulently hostile media — both at home and abroad — challenger Henrique Capriles had no choice but to concede defeat immediately; all credible observers agreed the voting process itself was beyond reproach.
This election extends the lease on life of Latin America’s “pink tide” of progressive change, driven, over the past decade, by the combination of robust social movements and left (or centre-left) governments in power. Venezuela has been central in establishing and spreading the alternative trade and economic integration partnership known as ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas), as well as building new political instruments like UN ASUR which have countered the old, discredited Organization of American States.
The wave of social change that has swept Latin America in the last decade might never had happened at all, if the masses of Caracas had not intervened to overturn an attempted coup against Chávez in April 2002.
Chávez’s latest term runs until 2019, with many variables and dangers looming, given his recent bout with cancer, regional elections ahead, and other challenges. It’s fair to say that Chávez’s solid voter support is due in no small part to the concrete improvements to the lives of the poor and working classes, although Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution” remains rife with contradictions.
Chávez has been among the few world leaders denouncing false solutions to climate change and weak, non-binding international “agreements” on emissions, yet at home revenues are fuelled by the heavy, Tar-Sands-like oil exports from the Orinoco Belt. And then there are the absurd subsidies to the domestic market that make gasoline dirt cheap.
Similarly, the Bolivarian Constitution acknowledges the right to self-determination of Venezuela’s Indigenous peoples, and the government even renamed Día de la Raza (Columbus Day in the US) as the Day of Indigenous Resistance. Nevertheless, in remote Amazon regions, miners have continued to operate on Indigenous lands with impunity, and mega-projects such as natural gas pipelines face opposition from affected Indigenous communities.
The centrality of Chávez’s personality to the process has raised concerns about authoritarianism, yet his charismatic leadership and experimentation with new democratic forms has energized participatory processes. Because most of the world sees Venezuela through a very distorted corporate media lens, too little is known about advances in worker co-management, community councils, or the social “missions” that have lifted so many from poverty.
To paraphrase Brecht, amid these contradictions lies a lot of hope.
Time and again, a clear majority has voted for a process that aims for socialism.
Few radical Left leaders have ever been re-elected as many times as Chávez.
Remember that it was Chávez who helped bring the “s-word” back into something like common currency at least on the Left, first raising the call for a “21st- Century Socialism” at the 2005 World Social Forum in Brazil. Venezuela may be far from a socialist country at present, but it has done much to add some content to the ubiquitous slogan, “A Better World is Possible.” We should take heart from Venezuela. But we should take action, too. Trade union and civil society delegations and ongoing relationships should be more seriously cultivated. The Left should move to defend and explain ALBA as vigorously as we once mobilized against the FTA, NAFTA and the FTAA.
We must do our share to give the Bolivarian Revolution and Latin America’s “pink tide” room to breathe. In doing so, we might just find some of the inspiration needed to sweep away Harper and develop a serious challenge to corporate rule.
Homepage image from chavezcandanga via Flickr.
This article appeared in the November/December 2012 issue of Canadian Dimension (The Art of Protest).