Victory for Hugo Chavez in the upcoming Venezuelan elections would be a ‘victory for workers and for the poor,’ journalist Seamus Milne told a packed ‘Rally for Venezuela’

A win would boost the process of radical change which is sweeping the continent, but if Chavez was defeated by the forces of reaction, Venezuela would see a return to neoliberalism. ‘The stakes are very high indeed,’ he warned the meeting, organised by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (VSC), held at the NUT headquarters.

Alternatives to neoliberalism

Latin America was the first region to experience neoliberalism, with the 1973 US-engineered coup in Chile which brought dictator General Pinochet to power. It was also the first to revolt against neoliberalism with the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998 with a large majority.

Speakers including Frances O’Grady, Deputy General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Billy Hayes of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and socialist MP Jeremy Corbyn talked about how Chavez’s election had swept away old elites, leaving a rump of the wealthy elite who see the redistribution of wealth as a violation of their birthright, and more than 70% of Venezuelans who agree with socialism in Venezuela.

In the same way that the 1973 Chilean coup had had an effect on living standards in the West, so progressive governments in Latin America, and the relative prosperity of countries like Cuba, show people around the world that there is an alternative to cuts and austerity.

Jeremy Corbyn conceded that there were still substantial problems in Venezuela, but argued for the importance of the ‘direction of travel’ of progressive change. He hoped the example of what can be achieved by a popular democratic movement would ‘filter through’ to people in Britain on the 20 October TUC anti-austerity demonstration.

US imperialism

Many speakers noted how the Chavez government has challenged US domination in the region, in stark contrast to the neoliberal austerity policies of the developed West. Stop the War’s Lindsey German said, ‘Just because the US is in the mire in Afghanistan and the Middle East that doesn’t mean it’s forgotten about Latin America.’

She added that, ‘We know that from Honduras and Paraguay. Mitt Romney says Venezuela is spreading dictatorship in Latin America. But we know no one’s allowed to do that except the US. Chavez opposed war with Iraq. How much better a place the world would be if the millions of demonstrators had been listened to.’

‘The sooner the US drops its notion that Latin America is still its backyard the better,’ anti-war campaigner and VSC supporter Georgie Stagg told Counterfire after the meeting.

‘The US should take note of Chavez’s government’s social policies on health care, education, social housing and job creation, as well as the re-nationalisation of its oil industry. We must be vigilant and ready to counter anti-Chavez rhetoric.’ She added that the ‘US will not allow these elections to take place without interference. The US want Chavez out of power ‘by any means necessary.’

Defending democracy

The press coverage of Chavez’s government in the UK is almost entirely negative. A recent study found that only 6% of all coverage was positive. In the face of such concerted attempts to ensure that public opinion here is against Chavez, we must remember that despite its faults, Venezuela is one of the few genuine social democracies of the modern era.

Anti-austerity activists must support the right of Venezuelans to vote freely in elections that the EU has described as some of the best in the world. At a time when democracy is under attack even in the developed west, the struggle for social justice in Latin America is part of a wider struggle for progressive change.

Dan Poulton

Dan is a writer, broadcaster and campaigner.  His most recent documentary was The New Scramble For Africa and his documentaries have appeared regularly on the Islam Channel. He is an organiser for Counterfire and a regular contributor to Counterfire site.