October 10, 2012

Que vivà Chavéz!

Seumas Milne writes at The Guardian:

... Despite claims that Latin America's progressive tide is exhausted, leftwing and centre-left governments continue to be re-elected – from Ecuador to Brazil and Bolivia to Argentina – because they have reduced poverty and inequality and taken control of energy resources to benefit the excluded majority.

That is what Chávez has been able to do on a grander scale, using Venezuela's oil income and publicly owned enterprises to slash poverty by half and extreme poverty by 70%, massively expanding access to health and education, sharply boosting the minimum wage and pension provision, halving unemployment, and giving slum communities direct control over social programmes.

To visit any rally or polling station during the election campaign was to be left in no doubt as to who Chávez represents: the poor, the non-white, the young, the disabled – in other words, the dispossessed majority who have again returned him to power. Euphoria at the result among the poor was palpable: in the foothills of the Andes on Monday groups of red-shirted hillside farmers chanted and waved flags at any passerby.

Of course there is also no shortage of government failures and weaknesses which the opposition was able to target: from runaway violent crime to corruption, lack of delivery and economic diversification, and over-dependence on one man's charismatic leadership. And the US-financed opposition campaign was a much more sophisticated affair than in the past. Capriles presented himself as "centre-left", despite his hard right background, and promised to maintain some Chavista social programmes. ...

Venezuela's revolution doesn't offer a political model that can be directly transplanted elsewhere, not least because oil revenues [which have quadrupled under Chavez] allow it to target resources on the poor without seriously attacking the interests of the wealthy. But its innovative social programmes, experiments in direct democracy and success in bringing resources under public control offer lessons to anyone interested in social justice and new forms of socialist politics in the rest of the world.

For all their problems and weaknesses, Venezuela and its Latin American allies have demonstrated that it's no longer necessary to accept a failed economic model, as many social democrats in Europe still do. They have shown it's possible to be both genuinely progressive and popular. Cynicism and media-fuelled ignorance have prevented many who would naturally identify with Latin America's transformation from recognising its significance. But Chávez's re-election has now ensured that the process will continue – and that the space for 21st-century alternatives will grow.

human rights