Understanding Hugo Chávez

Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution: Hugo Chávez Talks to Marta Harnecker, trans. Chesa Boudin (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2005) 203 pages, $15.95 paperback.

Who is this guy who refuses to be intimidated by Bush and his legions of mercenaries and mouthpieces?  Who is this guy who is referred to as a pivot in the Latin America “axis of evil” by the Namer-of-Names Most High, Donald Rumsfeld?  But, more importantly, who is this guy whom millions of the working poor in the Southern Hemisphere look to as a leader in their struggles for economic and social justice?

Hugo Chávez Friás, current president of Venezuela, is a contradiction in terms: a leader who follows his people, a military man driven by compassion for the poor people that he was originally trained to suppress, a deadly serious man with a lively sense of humor who laughs at himself, an idealist who understands realpolitik better than the professional cynics, a dedicated perfectionist who admits when he is wrong, and a philosopher who insists on demystifying politics and society so that even the most humble of citizens can participate in transforming the world. 

All of these facets of Chávez, the man, shine through the dialogue in Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution, but the book is not a biography.  It is an invaluable document for understanding the ongoing Bolívarian Revolution, possibly the only viable response to the juggernaut of neoliberalism that is despoiling Latin America through NAFTA, CAFTA, and seeking ever more through the FTAA.

Surprisingly, the interviewer Harnecker, obviously simpático, asks Chávez all the hard questions.  How can you call what is happening in Venezuela a revolution when it is not anti-capitalist?  You call your movement a constitutional revolution, but is such a thing even possible?  How can you claim to be anti-neoliberal and not renounce the international debts that drain the lifeblood from Latin America?  What were you thinking when made the mistake of appointing so-and-so?  How can you justify thus and such?  Question upon question.  Harnecker is relentless, Chávez equally candid, though sometimes long-winded.  Sometimes she cuts him off with a fresh query.

Those of us living in the belly of the beast need to listen closely to this dialogue and ponder both the questions and the answers therein.  Margaret Thatcher and her lapdog Ronnie Reagan declared in the 1980s that there was no alternative to the Great Anglo-American Way — neoliberalism — but that is exactly what the Venezuelan Revolution is all about: finding an alternative.  It won’t be long before we all will have to weigh in on the question of the future of neoliberalism and the gangsters that perpetuate it on the people of the world.

Richard D. Vogel is an independent socialist writer. He has recently completed a book, Stolen Birthright: The U.S. Conquest and Exploitation of the Mexican People.