HUGO CHAVEZ, the left-wing President of Venezuela, visited London last weekend as the guest of London Mayor Ken Livingstone, where he delivered a three-and-a-half-hour speech to a packed Camden Centre, attended meetings with trade union leaders and businessmen and gave lots of press interviews. But he did not meet Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The main message he delivered loud and clear was: “We have to marshal our ideas for a better world. We have to infect people. Let’s have a badge saying, ‘I’m a socialist. I will infect you’.”
He received a rapturous welcome from working class, left and progressive organisations and individuals on the strength of his courageous stand against US imperialism and his use of revenues from Venezuela’s vast oil reserves to raise living standards, education and healthcare for Venezuela’s working class – in defiance of the imperialists who think it their right to exploit all the world’s oil for their own profit.
Chavez spoke of his childhood and the effects of extreme poverty on Venezuelan children. He recalled a friend called Jorge he played ball with every day. “Then one day, he didn’t come to school. We asked why. They told us his mother had died in childbirth.
“This happened a lot because there were no doctors for anyone.” Jorge’s father had also died so “he was forced to go to work and become a child labourer. He had little brothers and sisters and they had to be fed”.
Then Chavez spoke of his own family: “Yes, I saw the pain of poverty. My little brother was called Enso, he was a very beautiful child but he became ill. I remember him lying in a hammock.
“He was always smiling. But he died. There were no doctors, nothing. We buried him in a bag. He was one of those children who are swallowed by poverty.”
This poverty existed alongside immense wealth brought by the oil.
During his army career Chavez found himself fighting Maoist rebels and realised they were the same class as himself. He began to study politics. That was the beginning of his journey to becoming what US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice describes as “the most dangerous man in the region”.
Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, who shared a platform with him at the Camden Centre, said: “I am very interested in what they are doing in Venezuela in terms of lessening the gap between rich and poor.
“Maybe the British government could learn something from that. Blair and the Government should recognise which way the wind is blowing in Latin America.”
Indeed Chavez’s success in gaining and retaining power – despite an attempted coup against him and numerous imperialist efforts to destabilise his government – that a succession of other Latin American countries have returned left-wing governments. These include Evo Morales in Bolivia and Ollanta Hulama in Peru. Others like Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico and veteran socialist fighter Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua seem likely to come to power soon.
Chavez is setting the example that is giving the working peoples of Latin America real hope and courage to defy American imperialism. He is also giving practical help with cheap oil for progressive causes – including helping the poor people of the United States itself.
Speaking about the US, Chavez told the London rally that Washington was “the greatest threat to this planet” and continued: “The final hours of empire have arrived. Now we have to say to the empire, ‘We are not afraid of you, you are a paper tiger’.” And he added that US imperialism was as doomed as a pig on its way to the slaughterhouse.