Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa‘s idea that we are not “living in an epoch of change” but rather “in a change of epoch” is very much to the point. There is an obvious worldwide decline of existing imperialisms and historic changes in the correlation of social, class, and nation-state forces. There have arisen popular movements of “those from below,” whose most heard and respected voice was and is that of Hugo Chávez Frías. There’s even a new Latin American Pope for the first time in the Catholic Church’s history!
The military and diplomatic failures of the United States all over the world, together with the global financial crisis, have extended the US loss of world hegemony. Multiple poles of power and the rise of new economic and geopolitical alliances are replacing the only superpower. The economic power of the so-called “BRICS” (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) grows and CELAC consolidates itself.
The imperialist governments counterattack with the military repression of social movements. Intervening in dirty wars of conquest for the control of the world’s resources, they militarize the world. What are at risk are the sovereignty of nations, including food sovereignty, and the survival of humanity and the planet.
Conscious of this, President Chávez, bolstered by the nationalization of Venezuela’s petroleum and natural gas industries and by using the revenues therefrom for the working peoples of the Americas instead of the elites, began constructing an alternative of unity of peoples and states and new forms of “socialism for the 21st century.” The five points of his “Homeland Program for Bolivarian Socialist Administration 2013-2019” (see www.scribd.com/doc/110773654/Programa-Patria-2013-in-English-Chavez-s-plan-for-Bolivarian-socialist-management-2013-2019) constitute a way (not the only way) forward to “another alternative world,” indicating how other forms of organizing societies and world peace are possible and absolutely necessary.
Change of Epoch in Indo-Afro-Latin America
Since the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Mexico, the 1998 election of Hugo Chávez as President of Venezuela, and the historic 2001 “Second Summit of the Peoples” carried out in Quebec (Canada), a profound change has shaken the empire’s “backyard.” In reality, the roots of this change — as noted by Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, and other leaders — are in the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the perennial target of US-sponsored terrorism against which “the Five Cuban Heroes,” unjustly held prisoner in the United States since 1998, were fighting non-violently.
A listing of only a few of the newly created institutions reflects this “change of epoch”: CELAC; Banco del Sur; a new currency, the SUCRE; ALBA-TCP; the Council of Social Movements of ALBA and friendly countries; the South American Defense Council; UNASUR; TeleSUR, Radio del Sur, PetroSUR, and PetroCARIBE; and MERCOSUR (which Chávez made stronger and more progressive).
The goals and successes of the new reformist and revolutionary processes — in spite of limitations owing to inevitable errors in any process and the continuation of capitalism in different forms — reflect a “change of epoch” that Chávez and others helped lead:
- New forms of state — unitary, independent, pluri-cultural, communitarian
- New forms of direct participation, as in Venezuela’s communes and various constituent assemblies to write and later vote on new constitutions
- Prohibition of foreign military bases
- Land reform and sustainable agriculture, as exemplified by Via Campesina (a global coalition of peasant movements)
- Potable drinking water as a human right
- Rights of the “original peoples,” Afrodescendants, and women
- Human rights and the rights of Mother Earth (Pachamama), as recognized and fought for most integrally by the original peoples
- Communitarian media and access rights to the mass media
- Development of clean energy
- Elimination of hunger, poverty, and illiteracy
- Rejection of imperialism, colonialism, and wars
- Replacement of the goal of economic growth with that of “Buen Vivir” (living well) as championed most strongly by Evo Morales and the original peoples, or “balanced life” — as Chávez declared, “guarantee the maximum of social security, political stability, and happiness”
- Strengthening of the independence, solidarity, freedom, and integration of the peoples
The imperialists counterattack, the peoples resist
Today’s multi-pronged counterattack by the imperialists includes a new dimension of contemporary imperialism, another change-of-epoch symptom: reliance on the use of military force and the consequent militarization of societies. In “Our America” (Martí), new military bases and attempts at military and “civil” coups are being introduced. The US “Special Forces” budget has increased with unrestricted freedom for them to act in more than seventy nations. In addition, imperialism carries out cybernetic wars and dominates the mass media of disinformation. Simultaneously, it criminalizes protests and demonizes its opponents more than ever, even after their deaths (as in the case of Chávez).
In Our America, the governments of the United States and Canada are beefing up the most reactionary governments, like those of the so-called “Pacific Alliance” (Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama). The United States continues controlling its colony of Puerto Rico and a part of Cuba — Guantanamo, world symbol of modernized torture. France and the Netherlands maintain their colonies in the region, and Great Britain tenaciously defends its control of Argentina’s Malvinas (Falkland Islands).
Nonetheless, movements of popular resistance (often led by women and the original peoples) — and to a degree the states they influence — continue to combat imperialism’s counterattacks. For example, from June 20 to June 22, 2012, during the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio + 20, almost a 100,000 social movement activists carried out a “Peoples’ Summit” that insisted on the above-listed goals for ending the commercial exploitation of Mother Earth.
The more social and labor movements unify, the greater will be the threat to imperialism and the chance to realize the hopes of humanity. For me, this means thinking, imagining, and constructing — through peoples’ congresses and assemblies, dialogue, and respect for differences — new libertarian, pluralist, democratically participative, and internationalist socialisms. Such a process has already started in a growing number of countries, at uneven and ever more combined levels. The Venezuela of Chávez, like his speeches and praxis, offers us many examples of empowerment from below, above all in the development of social missions with a humanist spirit.
Ever since the “Social Battle of Quebec 2001,” where social and labor movements and the rebel voice of President Chávez denounced the imperialist annexationist plan of the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) and created conditions for a continental mobilization of the peoples that led to the defeat of the FTAA in Mar del Plata, Argentina (2005), there have emerged more efforts to unify the social movements of the South and the North, expressed in new coalitions like the Collectif de mouvements sociaux québécois amis de la CELAC-ALBA-TCP (Collective of Social Movements of Quebec Friends of CELAC and ALBA-TCP — see www.aporrea.org/actualidad/n194559.html, www.aporrea.org/venezuelaexterior/n224986.html, and www.aporrea.org/internacionales/n211877.html).
While it is clear that such dreams are necessary, we also must be realistic. We know that — with the partial exception of Cuba — we live in capitalist economies, and the governments of the South depend too much on exports of fossil fuels and primary products. We are aware that neoliberalism persists in supposedly post-neoliberal states. We know too that there are serious internal conflicts in each country and even border conflicts. Moreover, there are grave internal problems in the reformist and revolutionary processes of Our America and in our own social movements. At the same time, there exist tensions between social movements and progressive states that we must convert into creative tensions — “with all and for the good of all” in the saying of José Martí. This is what Chávez tried to do, always insisting that the peoples must organize themselves and command. And, like Chávez, we must insist on more self-criticism and creative and critical thought.
I don’t doubt that the peoples of the Americas, mobilized and responsible, will set course again. We agree it is imperative to continue developing democratically a program of anti-neoliberal, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, pro-indigenous, anti-racist, and anti-patriarchal changes in an internationalist and humanist framework, in brief, the vision of that Bolívar of the 21st Century — Hugo Chávez Frías.
Dr. James D. Cockcroft, Ph.D., Stanford University, is Internet Professor, State University of New York. A three-time Fulbright Scholar, he is an award-winning author of 50 books on Latin America, the United States, human rights, and hidden history. He is also a poet. As a Canadian immigrant, Dr. Cockcroft is one of the founders of the network of intellectuals, artists and social activists “In Defense of Humanity.” He is a member of the World Council of the José Martí Project of World Solidarity sponsored by UNESCO; the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five; the Table de Concertation de Solidarité Québec-Cuba; and civil society’s International Tribunal of Trade Union Freedom (2009 -) and International Tribunal of Conscience of Peoples in Movement (2010 -). He is a voice and a founder of the Collectif de mouvements sociaux québécois amis de la CELAC-ALBA-TCP. His blog is www.jamescockcroft.com. This article is a translation of his presentation at the Ninth International Conference of the network of intellectuals, artists, and social activists “In Defense of Humanity”: “Plan de Patria: Thought and Action of Hugo Chávez Frías,” Caracas, Venezuela, 25 March 2013. An earlier version of this essay with the title of “Cambio de Época” was published in Spanish and French as the lead article of Cambio de Época (Órgano de los Movimientos Sociales y ciudadanos de Nuestra América, Montreal — Quebec 10 años Después, Agosto 2011, Número 1). That same year it appeared online: www.aporrea.org/internacionales/a122888.html and www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=128025.