With the death of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela and the world have lost a leader whose primary concern was to bring a new system into existence — one he referred to as 21st Century Socialism. This meant a lot of things to Chávez, including making sure that all people had access to the necessities of life as well as creating a new reciprocal relationship with other countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
The decline in poverty (especially extreme poverty) and the increase in access to food, health care, and decent housing have been important accomplishments. But perhaps the greatest achievement was the constant effort to devolve power to people at the local level.
Those unfamiliar with Venezuela will be surprised by that last sentence because there were many aspects of a top-down way of operating. But the creation of community councils throughout the country empowered people to make decisions about the needs of their communities and they were then provided with the resources needed to improve their lives. Through these thirty thousand community councils and the literally thousands of worker cooperatives formed, a lot has been happening through local initiative and an energized population.
It is true that so much of what has happened economically was made possible by capturing oil wealth — which had long disappeared into the coffers of the wealthy and multinational corporations — and using it for the benefit of the people.
Hugo Chávez was well aware, as many Venezuelans are, of the problems that remained in the country. But this remarkable man has created space to try new ideas and begin the process that will hopefully lead to a lasting transformation to a more humane society. And in his relations with neighboring countries he set a tone for cooperation and reciprocity among nations of the South, something that we all hope will be able to continue.
Farewell Comrade Chávez
Hasta la Victoria Siempre!
Fred Magdoff is professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont. He is co-author (with John Bellamy Foster) of What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (Monthly Review Press, 2011). See, also, Fred Magdoff, “Reflections on Venezuela: Food, Health, Democracy, and a Hope for a Better World” (MRZine, 4 February 2008). More articles by Magdoff may be found at <monthlyreview.org/author/fredmagdoff>.