Battle cry from Caracas

Published : Jan 14, 2005 00:00 IST

At a meeting of intellectuals and artists from across the world in the Venezuelan capital, President Hugo Chavez calls upon progressive forces to unite and defend humanity against imperialism.

in Caracas

IN a stirring speech to around 400 intellectuals and artists who assembled from all over the world in Caracas in the first week of December, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called for a "new offensive" against the forces that rode roughshod over humanity. At this "dangerous stage of the world's history it is necessary to take the fight to the enemy, we have to attack right away", he said, at the opening ceremony of the World Forum of Intellectuals and Artists in Defence of Humanity on December 2.

There are few leaders in the world who would dare to make such pronouncements in the glare of the international media. Chavez added that as a "revolutionary military man" he had learned that the best form of defence was attack. "In the defence of humanity, we must take the offensive - humanity must take the offensive."

In his long speech, which kept the audience enthralled, Chavez recalled that when he was in the Venezuelan Army, he had to hunt revolutionary guerrillas on orders from his superiors. But the times have dramatically changed, he said. Former guerrillas occupy prominent positions in the Chavez-led Venezuelan government. Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez was once a leading guerrilla fighter with a bounty on his head. Chavez, however, emphasised that the revolution under way in Venezuela was "peaceful but armed". In this context, he mentioned the recent arms deals he signed with countries such as Russia. "We will purchase the minimum arms required to defend the revolution."

Taking a dig at the strategy adopted by the West to combat terrorism, Chavez said: "We cannot fight terrorism with more terrorism." In Chavez's book, the killing of innocent civilians in places such as Iraq's Falluja is state terrorism. In fact, his criticism of the United States' military tactics during the invasion of Afghanistan infuriated the Bush administration. Airing his views on Venezuelan state television, Chavez showed pictures of children and women killed in the indiscriminate aerial bombing carried out by U.S. forces. "We condemned the American attacks on Afghanistan but also criticised September 11 and the Madrid bombings," Chavez pointed out. He described Falluja as a "tragic symbol" of all that had gone wrong in the so-called U.S. war against terrorism.

Chavez said that imperialism had opted for the path of violence in Venezuela in its bid to scuttle the revolutionary process under way in the country. Evidence that surfaced recently has proved conclusively the U.S. intelligence agencies' role in the abortive coup attempt of 2002. A political furore erupted in Spain in November 2004 when the new Socialist government, during Chavez' visit, accused the former centre-right government of being privy to the U.S.-financed coup plot against him. Nineteen people had died in the coup attempt. On November 18, Danilo Anderson, a Venezuelan magistrate investigating the coup, was killed in a car bomb attack. According to Venezuelan officials, Anderson had uncovered evidence that implicated Otto Reich, the notorious former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, and Elliot Abrams, the high-profile member of the American National Security Council. The anti-Chavez coup plotters were backed by funds from the Washington-sponsored National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

In late November 2004, the Bush administration acknowledged that it had prior information about the coup attempt. It did not bother to inform the Chavez government of the coup in the making. Right-wing Venezuelans opposed to the democratically elected Chavez government have been undergoing arms training in Florida with the express purpose of undermining democracy in the country and assassinating its President.

The Bush administration has refused to extradite Venezuelans resident in the U.S. who have been implicated in the coup plot and accused of planning terrorist attacks inside Venezuela. Anti-Chavez groups trained by U.S. intelligence agencies are alleged to be behind Anderson's killing. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) station in Caracas is one of the biggest in the world. Chavez mentioned the incident in his opening speech. A Venezuelan media personality who played a leading role in the 2002 coup attempt told a U.S. television channel, Miami Channel 41, that "Venezuela's problems can be resolved by means of a rifle with a telescopic sight and good aim". The disgraced former President of Venezuela, Carlos Andres Perez, in exile in the U.S., told a Venezuelan paper that "Chavez must die like a dog, because he deserves it". But no action has been taken by the Bush administration while it goes about fighting terrorism selectively.

ACCORDING to Venezuelan observers, it was a new Chavez who addressed the World Forum. They said that he had never been so forthright in his views on imperialism and related issues. In his speech, the Venezuelan President criticised the model of "liberal" democracy encouraged by the West. He said that the model had turned out to be a farce in Latin America. He described the two-party system in Venezuela that was in vogue since the 1950s as "a trap" since it allowed the oligarchs alone to come to power. The results of the August referendum and the local elections in November have shown that the Venezuelan people have decisively turned their back on the old system. The two established parties that had a stranglehold on power were now permanently confined to the dustbin of history.

"I prefer revolutionary democracy any time," said Chavez. He said that the results of the August referendum showed this kind of democracy at work. He pointed out that more than three million Venezuelans were enfranchised in three months before the referendum. Before Chavez made his impact on the Venezuelan political scene in a big way, voting was confined mainly to the urban elite. Voter turnout used to be as low as in most U.S. presidential elections. Since 1998, Chavez has faced the electorate six times, emerging triumphant each time. He said that in the next general elections to be held in 2006, he aimed for an all-out sweep for the progressive forces gathered under the "Bolivarian" banner.

"Politics is in command," Chavez affirmed. The country's public sector oil company, PDVSA, is spending more than $3 billion on social projects under its supervision. Previously, the PDVSA was more interested in parking its profits in international banks and earning high interests. The government is planning to use the bulk of the extra revenue it earned from the increased oil prices in 2004 to bolster public finances, despite the objections of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Regional and international cooperation in the hydrocarbon sector is one priority area for the government. Chavez emphasised the "key" role his country had played in recent years in strengthening the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Before Chavez emerged on the scene, OPEC was prone to be manipulated by Washington. Chavez has been saying that he intends to strengthen cooperation among Latin American oil producers so that it benefits the region, including those countries that do not have large oil and gas reserves.

While in Havana in the third week of December, Chavez and Cuban President Fidel Castro proposed the creation of an alternative trade bloc to the one proposed by the U.S. for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Chavez has never hidden his appreciation for the Cuban leader. He told the World Forum delegates that Venezuela and Cuba shared a "common world view". Fidel accepted the name Chavez proposed for an alternative trade bloc, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). The proposed trade bloc would eliminate trade barriers and tax obstacles, provide incentives for investments and help speed up the economic integration of the region. As a beginning, Venezuela announced that it would finance Cuban industrial projects and supply oil at $27 a barrel, as part of the accord to "apply the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas".

Both Chavez and Castro declared that the U.S.-proposed Latin American free trade zone is dead. Chavez described the FTAA as "perverse" and part of the U.S. plan to reinforce the imperialist agenda in the Andean countries.

In his concluding speech on December 5, Chavez once again touched on the urgent need for progressive forces to unite in Latin America and the rest of the world. "In the dangerous stage the world is in today, it is necessary to take the fight to the enemy." He said that the progressive forces would have to start working together immediately. "Tomorrow can be too late," Chavez said quoting Castro.

Acting on the recommendations of the Forum, Chavez announced that a permanent Anti-Globalisation Office would be set up in Caracas. The office for "the network of networks" will connect the five continents of the world. "Let's take the networks everywhere we go, in the valleys, the mountains, the barrios, the workplace, the study halls, the military barracks and extend the network across planet earth. The movement will be converted into a wave, a human wave," said Chavez.

At the concluding session, Chavez did not forget to salute the "Cuban Five", as the five Cubans unjustly imprisoned by the Bush administration are known throughout Latin America. Their only crime was exposing a U.S.-based terrorist plot against Cuba. The wives of the "Cuban Five" were specially invited for the occasion. Chavez said that Castro and the Cuban revolution were examples for the rest of the world to emulate.

Observers of the Venezuelan scene noted that it was for the first time that Chavez openly embraced the socialist model of development. "We have to take up socialism again" and leave "capitalism behind", Chavez told the packed and cheering hall. Transforming "ideas into facts" has been a hallmark of the government led by Hugo Chavez.

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