The sins of Hugo Chavez ?
- 08 Dec 2009
In Latin America, almost one out of every ten persons lives below the poverty line. In Venezuela, a man claims one can put an end to this. Some people accuse him of all sins: “populist”, “dictator”… Michel Collon has just published The 7 Sins Of Hugo Chavez in which he points out how this experience does impact us. ? ?
Interview: Petya Micheroux
Is the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, a populist?
Michel Collon. Huge well-worn subject! As soon as someone shakes up the habits of people, all of the media tries to label that person suggesting that there is then no need anymore for people to think about the problems and the conflicts of interest involved. What does “populist” actually mean? Someone who flatters the people, making promises one cannot keep. In my opinion, this definition suits Sarkozy and the other European leaders better. They make promises while knowing they will not keep them. And Chavez did keep his promises? Michel Collon. When he took office in 1999, two Venezuelans out of every three had never seen a physician in their entire life. Since then, “Chavez the populist”, with the assistance of Cuban physicians, did organize medical centers. Not only for the poor suburbs of Caracas but also for the countryside and even the most remote regions of both the Andes and Amazon. He also eliminated illiteracy. In less than two years, 1.5 billion people learned how to read and write. The budget of National Education has been increased from 3% to 9%.
They succeeded in bringing back to education the people who had had to stop because of their poverty. No other of his predecessors succeeded in accomplishing that mission. In my opinion, a lot of people all over the world would like to have such populist leaders. Before, the oil money was only used to enrich multinational companies. Today, it helps to fight and eliminate poverty. For the rich, Chavez represents the devil, covered with sins. For the poor, he embodies hope.
Though, some reproach him for being too slow, too accommodating, not radical enough in the fight against capitalist ownership…
Michel Collon. Let us be wary of the “Just have to…” people. For them, everything is done easily. Just do this, just do that. Chavez should “just” dispossess all the capitalists and create a Labor State. He should “just” export revolution to the whole of Latin America and more blah blah. But Venezuela has few blue-collar workers. On which base should one found a “Labor State”? No, the real crucial point, the one that impedes any development for countries like Venezuela is their reliance on multinational companies.
These companies profuse their subsidized production, control the politicians and the police, foray the raw materials and all the resources and crush the salaries down, blocking the development of the third-world. Now, it is in the interest of many of the third-world social classes and strata in addition to labor classes for their country to free itself from the potency of both the US and the European multinationals. It would, thus, be beneficial to make alliances with those classes and to spare them.
Achieving this first step is not evident. In opposition to some “armchair revolutionaries”, Chavez is in charge of nurturing people. Eliminating an economy – where one can, indeed, talk about an obvious capitalistic crass exploitation – while one still has nothing else to put into its place, means allowing people to starve and, of course, to turn away from the revolution. A revolution can move neither too quickly nor too slowly. At the present stage, one should target the multinational companies and be careful with the others. One does not make a revolution based on the wishes of the revolutionaries but by taking into account the objective conditions, the powers struggles and the possibilities people do have.
Your book is in fact a perspective on the North-South relations at the scale of the American continents. You describe the North as a “resource vacuum-cleaner”. What do you mean by that?
Michel Collon. We, people from the North (Europe and the United States), must positively become aware of the mechanism that explains the discrepancy between the rich North and the poor South (even though, not everyone is rich in the North where the differences are also increasing noticeably).
The question is: In whose expense did the rich of the North make their fortunes? In the book, taking some historical surveys as background, I ring an alarm bell: Europe became rich through the pillage of gold and silver in Latin America, the mass murder of the Indians and the uprooting of ten of thousand of black people out of Africa to transform them into slaves and means of profit.
But, colonialism stopped, didn’t it?
Michel Collon. Actually not. Nowadays, the same mechanisms of sucking up the wealth are still going on, but in a much more subtle and veiled way as I explain in the chapter entitled “The Seven Plagues of Latin America”. First, of all, the plundering of the natural resources, oil and gas of course but also water and biodiversity, which are all of strategic importance in the 21st Century. Secondly, the case of subcontracting companies which use labor force in conditions similar to real labor-camps where trade unions are forbidden. Thirdly, the murder of the small-scale farming. The agro business multinationals of the North profuse their subsidized production in Latin America and in Africa. Doing this, they ruin the local peasants, forcing them to “pile up” around the cities. The southern leading elite represents the fourth plague. A local bourgeoisie paid by foreign interests and working for the multinationals.
Fifth plaque: the national debt. The banks of the North and the National Bank controlled by the rich countries carry on a blackmail strategy about a debt that has actually already largely been paid back. Sixth plague: Within a time span of twenty years, the United States and Europe forced Latin America to privatize around one thousand public companies, transferring in that way the riches and the economic power to the North. The seventh plague is the brain drain. It concerns Scientists, High Level Technicians and physicians. The South invests money to educate them but the North embezzles them. Here, those seven plagues show how colonialism and pillaging do still get their way.
Chavez carries through impressive projects. Others do not. Why is this?
Michel Collon. Eighty years of oil wealth in Venezuela produced a huge discrepancy between the rich and the poor. What Chavez is doing is changing the rules of the game. He gets back the oil money by forcing the multinational companies to pay – at last – and by taking back the control over the company that has been managing the oil sector. The revenues go, finally, into the State budget, allowing to tackle the poverty question in a radical way. Looking at the misery that prevails in Africa and the Middle East, alongside huge fortunes, one would like to “export” Chavez to those countries. Or rather let it inspire us.
Is that the reason of the anger of the United States?
Michel Collon. As Chomsky said, “It does not matter ‘where’ one finds oil in the world, the United States systematically will say that geographers have made a mistake and that it is located in the United States”. Chavez refused this logic.
Which are the threats the United States have weighing on Venezuela?
Michel Collon. There are three of them.
1. The billion Dollar CIA funding to maintain a putschist opposition sustained by the disinformation campaigns of the media.
2. The construction of seven new US military bases in Colombian territory. What a coincidence! Those US bases always being erected near the strategic natural resources and in the right place to encircle rebel countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Equator and eventually Brazil.
3. Washington reactivated the 4th fleet whose role is to “survey” Latin America. Used against Germany in the years ‘40-‘45, suppressed when the continent was declared “under control” and, today, reactivated under the commandment of an admiral whose career was made in the “Special Forces” (specialized in landing operations and military coups).
In your book, you also analyze Chavez’s errors and fragilities. What are they?
Michel Collon. Venezuela is neither the hell nor the paradise described in the media. Still, the problems remain huge. Especially bureaucracy. Inherited from the previous regime, it sabotages itself as if it is trying to outdo itself. The new social climbers act in the same way. We can also add corruption, which of course is not a prerogative of Venezuela. If Chavez does not succeed in solving the latter problem, revolution will lose the confidence of the people and will break down for sure. A close relative of Chavez told me that 60% of the reforms decided on have never been implemented. This allows one to understand the full extent of bureaucracy and corruption.
Venezuela is far away, how does a book like yours concern the Belgian reader?
Michel Collon. The victories are few in Europe currently. One encounters much pessimism and fatalism. Latin America, on the other hand, brings us a message of hope. Chavez, Evo Morales and all those Latinos are actually facing the same problems as we are: poverty, neoliberalism, destruction of the social benefits and of the public utilities, pillage of the labor and of the resources etc. And they are succeeding in reversing the trend! Not only are they resisting, but they are also gaining victories while making significant social breakthroughs for the people.
Venezuela shows us that a different world is possible?
Michel Collon. One will, of course, highlight that Belgium and France do not have oil but that it is not most essential point. The biggest “sin” of Chavez is that he gave back the masses their rightful place; that he made the people aware it is possible to take one’s destiny into one’s own hands. And this fact also concerns us because we also experience the rich-poor gap and the plunder of the fruits of the labor. Chavez and the Venezuelans show us that people are on one side while money is on the other side. The people are what is the most important: they represent the huge majority with shared values inherent in them and these values are not compatible with the interests of the multinational companies.