Comments on the Venezuelan Presidential Election, by Peter Bohmer:

It is really important and also our responsibility that we demand the U.S. government accept the victory of Nicolas Maduro as President of Venezuela. His margin in the recent election of April 14th, 2013 was almost as big a margin as Obama in 2012 in terms of winning voting percentage.As far as I know the U.S. and Spain are the only two countries who have not accepted the results. This is interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela and unacceptable. The losing candidate, Capriles, and the right-wing in Venezuela not accepting their loss in a system where votes are counted very accurately and carefully creates a very dangerous situation. Destabilization somewhat reminiscent of the attempted 2002 coup is occurring including attacks on community media. Let us also challenge the U.S. media misrepresentation and stress the fairness of the count of the April 14th election.

That is the main issue and should be our main focus, support for the electoral process in
Venezuela and Maduro’s electoral; victory as President .

As someone who is in solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution, a secondary but important
issue is why the election was so close, especially since Maduro seemed comfortably ahead in the polls? This is not questioning his victory but the small margin, 2 percentage points. I hope that the response in Venezuela goes beyond the necessary defense of Maduro’s victory; that it extends to a serious examination of some of the ongoing problems such as corruption, clientalism, violence and major inefficiencies in some public programs. I hope there is a major and ongoing process where there is consultation with the popular classes about their criticisms and this leads as quickly as possible to the deepening of the revolution –growth of participatory democracy, popular power and socialization of the economy.

The death of President Hugo Chávez is a great loss for the people of Venezuela and to
people all over the world. U.S. imperialism and the right-wing and the rich in Venezuela
are using this period as an opportunity to intensify their efforts to destroy the development of “Socialism for the 21st Century” and turn back the advancements. The Venezuelan people no longer have Chavez to support them. My hope is that out of the tragic death of Chávez that participatory democracy and socialism from below can flower and expand and that the Maduro led government will support this transformation rather than move to the right to appease the opposition.

La lucha continua, Peter Bohmer

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Venezuela: Ups and Downs of an Election Observer

We encourage you to read this article by an election observer in the most recent elections, who has been observing Venezuelan elections for nearly 20 years. Source:

Venezuela: Ups and Downs of an Election Observer

By Julia Buxton – Latin American Bureau, April 28th 2013

I have observed elections in Venezuela in various capacities for nearly twenty years. It was the issue of electoral transparency in the country that framed my doctoral thesis[1] after a scoping visit revealed intense popular concern that Andrés Velásquez, leader of the leftist La Causa Radical (LCR) party had been denied victory in the 1993 presidential contest through election fraud. Every taxi driver, waiter and street vendor I met decried the electoral ‘theft’ committed by the traditionally dominant parties AD and COPEI, which it was believed had ensured the defeat of Velásquez and the victory of the octogenarian founder of COPEI, Rafael Caldera.

When I began the fieldwork for the thesis, I honed in on Andrés Delmont, the representative of LCR in the Venezuelan national election administration, the Consejo Supremo Electoral (CSE). Allocated a seat on the CSE board under a proportional representation system, Delmont had a PhD in mathematics from Birmingham University and a wealth of detail as to how election fraud was committed.

At this point in time, Venezuela had a manual voting system, few polling stations and a huge swathe of its disaffected and alienated population missing from the electoral register. Residents of the barrios were unable to register without proof of address, something they were hard pressed to provide living as they did in the informal settlements that cascade down the slopes of Caracas.

Delmont showed me sheet after sheet of actas, the record of totalised votes submitted to the CSE from each polling station. Typically the thumb prints required as proof of identity from voters were anonymous black blobs, the number of votes cast rarely matched the number of registered voters, and the votes registered per party frequently did not match the final vote tally written into the acta. If LCR did not have witnesses present when votes were being manually counted and written up in the acta, the party ran the risk that votes cast in their favour would simply be ignored and not entered into the acta. And the election register was not up to date, enabling a significant number of dead people to rise Lazarus like in order to vote for the traditional parties. Acta Mata Vota (the acta kills the vote) was a popular expression at this time.     

Twenty years on from the defeat of Velásquez, and I had the opportunity to observe the voting process of April 14th. One of 150 electoral ‘accompaniers’ invited by the Consejo Nacional Electoral (which replaced the CSE in the 1999 Constitution), I was sent to Barinas, the home state of Hugo Chávez. My team comprised an American lawyer, a judge from Argentina, a Panamanian diplomat, a Bolivian election commissioner, a German journalist and a Brazilian official from Mercosur.

We departed for the sweltering central plains after two intense days of briefing and training in Caracas organised by CNE officials and which included visits to voting stations as they began setting up, and an afternoon of meetings with representatives from the ruling PSUV’s Hugo Chávez Command and opposition MUD’s Simón Bolívar Command. From the MUD we were joined by María Corina Machado,[2] (in) famously feted by US President George Bush. She worked the room of observers with finesse, weaving her magic and charisma around high-level election technicians dispatched from India, South Korea, Guyana, Jamaica … professional individuals that certainly do not qualify as the complicit patsies subsequently portrayed by the MUD and their supporters in Washington.[3]

Machado had not figured upon redoubtable British journalist, Hugh O Shaughnessy. During their warm hand shake he asked her about her role in the April 2002 coup attempt that led to the temporary removal of President Chavez. Her claim to have had no involvement was undermined by a quick Google of signatories to the 2002 decree dissolving the Chávez government. O’Shaughnessy pressed on in the Q and A. She conceded that she had signed it, but by accident – she had just thought it a petition.

Barinas was hot but extraordinarily subdued. 2013 was not a rerun of the carnival atmosphere of the 2006 presidential election. There were no dogs died red in support of the PSUV, no festive rallies or swarms of Chávez supporters roaring around on motorcycles with flags and bandanas. A stop at a traffic light did not bring the throng of loyal Chavista hawkers wielding posters of the PSUV candidate Nicolas Maduro or the singing and chanting around stationary trucks, buses and cars I had seen in 1998, 2000 or 2006. Just a disconcerting quiet and barely any posters of Maduro – or even Chávez, the popular former president whose image and voice Maduro had corralled into his own campaign.

As the CNE Barinas staff drove us around the state, we saw newly constructed hospitals, schools and houses. Our hotel was evidently part of the Barinas construction boom, brand new but, like much that we had seen, eerily empty. After a very long day, we met with representatives of the main parties, MUD, PSUV, UVIPA and Unidad Democratica. The MUD representative grumbled about the advantages of incumbency and state spending – nothing we could directly address so he closed with the claim Colombian guerrillas were being allowed to enter Barinas to vote for Maduro. This was an echo of Ms Machado the day before. When a colleague in my team stressed this was an extraordinarily serious claim and we needed evidence to investigate, the salience of the issue seemed to dissipate for the MUD representative.

We were at the first of the multiple sites we visited on voting day by 5.50am. We watched the plugging in of the electronic voting machines and the setting up of the boxes in which the receipt from the electronic machine was deposited by voters. This innovation provides the voter with proof their touchscreen vote has been read correctly, while serving as a mechanism for a thorough and transparent audit of the votes that are electronically received by the CNE in Caracas from each voting table around the country.

My team went out of their way to check the opposition MUD had witnesses present at each polling station and at the multiplicity of voting tables within each station. We asked each and every witness we spoke to if they had any concerns or issues to raise. No single problem was reported: no problems with the biometric finger print reader, with the touchscreen machines, with the election register, with the allocation of tables, with the time it took to vote. We noted how efficaciously the voting tables functioned, elections having acquired a level of routinisation that breeds capacity and speed of voting. Also observed was how communities worked together across partisan difference, sharing food, coffee and water at the polling stations throughout the long and hot day.

At no point did we see MUD witnesses or voting table functionaries being marched out of polling stations at gun point as alleged by the MUD after the votes were counted. We saw no attempt to block people voting or intimidation by PSUV supporters.[4] On the contrary: election day in Barinas was a muted affair, begetting as much excitement and intensity as the parish council elections in my home town of Ilkley.

We were at a polling station with 7 tables when the voting process began to close at 6pm. We moved freely around the 7 electronic machines as they totalised the vote and issued final vote count receipts. Capriles, Capriles, Capriles – each time with a tiny margin. There was no reaction at the voting tables. Administrators simply got on with packing up. And there was no one outside when we left the polling station, no great throng of voters desperate to know the result, no party or anxiety.

We returned to the CNE office in Barinas, where my Panamanian colleague and I took occasional jaunts to the roof. Aside from a small group of young men in red t-shirts in the far distance, we saw nothing of interest, no cause for concern. We returned to our empty hotel and the television, where in the company of the Civil Defence and National Guard officers assigned to escort us, we watched CNE president Tibisay Lucena announce the results. One officer clenched a fist that might have been raised in triumph had he been in more convivial company. But the waiters and kitchen staff were more focused on keeping the buffet warm, his colleagues on eating supper. The fist was slipped back into his pocket. We waited for the Maduro acceptance speech, hoping for a final bit of magic to raise spirits on a flat day. But it was a disappointment.

In this context, the violence of the following day was not expected. When the gates of the hotel were thrown back to allow us to depart for the airport, we saw a street lined with soldiers holding back a noisy crowd of Capriles supporters.[5] The transformation of the atmosphere, from relaxed and friendly to threatening and aggressive was astonishing, the tension of Barinas a perfect preparation for what was to greet us in Caracas.

Back in Caracas and holed up in the Tamanaco hotel on the ‘good side’ of town, the evening was spent listening to the endless honk of car horns and clatter of pots and pans as Capriles supporters responded to their defeated candidate’s request that they protest as yet unproven allegations of election fraud. Reunited with other British delegates and American colleagues from the US Guild of Lawyers we briefly contemplated venturing out, but a short trip to the local supermarket evidenced this was not a night for strolling the streets. Like Maduro’s supporters, we gave way in the face of the bitter fury of the defeated, a hunkering down that will inevitably characterise the years ahead for the new government.

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Venezuela Delegation

Commemorate the anniversary of the people´s victory over the
2002 US-backed coup and observe the
Special Presidential Election
Venezuela delegation
April 10-16, 2013
Sponsored by
Meet with grassroots organizations and possibly government officials to learn about the legacy of Hugo Chavez during this crucial time in Venezuela, and how they plan on preserving it into the future.
Delegation leader Lisa Sullivan is Latin America Liaison for the School of the Americas (SOA) Watch and was instrumental in meeting with President Chavez and convincing him to have Venezuela withdraw from the SOA. She has lived in Venezuela for over 20 years, raised a family there, and has been actively involved in organizing the poor and other social movements as a Maryknoll  lay missioner.
Our international delegation will be in Venezuela to express solidarity with the social justice movements there during a historically important time. April 11-13 are the dates of the US-backed and SOA graduate-led coup in 2002. We will be there for the anniversary celebration of the successful overturning of the coup when Hugo Chavez returned to the presidential palace on the 13th of April.
Then on April 14, there will be presidential elections, where we will switch gears and serve as international, nonpartisan (or neutral) election observers. The polls have indicated overwhelming popular support for Chavez’s vice president and successor Nicolas Maduro, so the US-backed opposition will be trying to cast aspersions on the electoral process.
The Venezuelans have defeated the 1% before. Come reflect and remember with them. And then observe while they do it again.
Please join us. The $750 delegation fee includes room, at least 2 meals per day, and in-country travel. It does not cover transportation to and from Venezuela.
This delegation is sponsored by the Task Force on the Americas and SOA Watch. For more information please contact Dale Sorensen,, 415/924-3227.
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Hugo Chávez Presente!

Talk at Hugo Chávez Memorial
Peter Bohmer,
Olympia, Washington
March 13, 2013

Hugo Chávez Presente!
Hugo Chávez was reelected President of Venezuela on October 7, 2012 receiving 55% of the vote. This was a significant victory with a sizable margin although smaller than Chávez’s margin in 2006. The opposition candidate for president, Henrique Capriles Radonski received 44% of the vote.

Hugo Chávez had been dealing with serious bouts of cancer and received many treatments in Cuba. He returned in late February, 2013 to Venezuela where his condition worsened and he died Tuesday afternoon, March 5th, 2013 in Caracas of a heart attack. It is a tragic loss for the people of Venezuela, for Latin America and the world. Hugo Chávez presente!

He was a great man who has profoundly improved the lives of most Venezuelans, of millions and millions of Latin Americans in the present, and I am quite sure in the in the future for the better. Chávez totally connected with the popular classes of Venezuela, the street vendors, the housewives, the workers, the campesinos, through the programs he started for education and health care for all, for reduced food prices, and job training and money for the mothers of the barrio, by his love, respect for, and listening to the people; and by his voicing so powerfully their aspirations. The revenues from oil for the first time benefitted the people of Venezuela as it funded the many social programs. He also sold oil at reduced prices to other countries in the Americas and heating oil at reduced prices to poor people in the South Bronx and on Indian reservations in South Dakota. Chavez’s initiation of and support for the development of popular power and a participatory democracy such as communal councils showed his trust and respect for the popular classes. Hugo Chávez was central to the process of the inclusion of the formerly excluded–to poor people no longer being the scorned and becoming subjects of their history.

Chávez empowered the poor of Venezuela as they empowered him. The advance of the
Venezuelan revolution is about the growing consciousness, power, self-organization,
community, and rising income of the popular classes; and the innovative social programs for and often organized at the grassroots, aided and abetted by President Chávez. Hugo Chávez presente!

He was an original and creative thinker and doer; someone who was constantly experimenting with how to create a just and equal and self-determining society. In 2005, he named it, “Socialism for the 21st Century”—a socialism whose center was ethical and cooperative human beings in a society organized to meet human needs. Equally important was Chávez’s central role in challenging U.S. global domination in the hemisphere and globally, and furthering Latin American solidarity. Chávez was a nationalist, a Latin-Americanist and an internationalist.

He made mistakes. He was too loyal to some of the people around him in Venezuela and perhaps too supportive of leaders around the world who challenged U.S. domination but was repressive in their own country. Chávez probably should have delegated more tasks and details to others, and should have made more of a priority the reduction of violent crime, and the reduction of corruption and bureaucracy. He was human. His accomplishments totally outweighed his mistakes. Hugo Chávez presente!

He qualitatively changed Venezuela and the world for the better like few individuals have ever done. Because of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela is on a path where there is the real possibility of a society that is both socialist and democratic, a participatory democracy and participatory 21st century socialism. Millions and millions of people in Venezuela and around the world and I mourn him. Hugo Chávez presente!

Before the October, 2012 elections, Chávez had named Nicolás Maduro as the next Vice-
President. He chose him as his successor. Maduro, a former trade union leader was foreign
minister in the Chávez administration from 2006 to 2012. He has been acting president the last few months, and now is the temporary President. The Venezuelan election commission set April 14, 2013 as the date for the new election to complete Chávez’s term.

Nicolás Maduro is comfortably ahead of the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski. My guess is that Maduro will be elected President on April 14th, and that that there will be no major changes in Venezuelan policies or the Venezuelan model, domestically and internationally. Nicolás Maduro has been a strong supporter of Chávez’s policies and shares Chávez’s ideology and politics. Although Maduro does not have the charisma of Chávez nor the intense love by the Venezuelan people, Chávez’s designation of Maduro as his desired successor carries a lot of weight with those who supported Chávez. Hopefully, the population will get more involved in building popular power as they understand they no longer have Chávez to solve their problems. Hugo Chávez presente!

Hugo Chávez lives on. Besides mourning him, let us honor Chávez by challenging U.S.
domination and militarism abroad, by stopping U.S. intervention in Venezuela and in other countries like Bolivia who are becoming independent of the United States—politically and economically. Let us honor and remember and learn from the inspiring example of Hugo Chávez by ending poverty and homelessness in the United States, by transforming this country, and by constructing our own 21st century socialism in the United States. With the Venezuelan people, Hugo Chávez showed it can be done in Venezuela. We can do it here. Hugo Chávez Presente!

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Hugo Chavez memorial!

This Wednesday, March 13th, 1:30 to 3:30 P.M.
Place: Sem 2, A1105, The Evergreen State College

Memorial to celebrate life of Hugo Chavez– video clips and short presentations on the significance of Hugo Chavez to Venezuela, the world and to us. There will be time for sharing our reflections. We would love if you would prepare something, 3 minutes or so to share with us or a visual or music.  For more info contact Larry Mosqueda or Peter Bohmer

Please share with others!

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Yo Soy Chavez

HUGO CHÁVEZ: 1954-2013

We join with the vast majority of the Venezuelan people and the people of Latin America in expressing our deep sense of sorrow at the death of Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela.

Lisa Sullivan, Latin American Director of SOA Watch (School of the Americas Watch) and a long-time resident of Venezuela wrote this remarkable reflection on the occasion of his death.


Reflections by Lisa Sullivan on the death of President Chavez

Barquisimeto, Venezuela    May 5, 2013

In the past hours my inbox is bursting with messages of condolences from El Salvador, Haiti, Chile, California, Oregon, Spain, Michigan, Italy, North Carolina, Costa Rica, Miami, Nicaragua, Japan, Honduras, and just about everywhere in between, expressing solidarity with my loss. The notes are profound and personal.  It’s as though Chavez were my father.

The truth is,  Chavez is my father, and he is the father of  all of my Venezuelan compatriotas with whom I have had the immense privilege of sharing my life and raising my children for so many years in this beautiful and generous land. Twenty of those twenty-eight years have been defined, in great part by Chavez.

When I received the news of Chavez’s passing yesterday, the only feeling I can describe is that of being suddenly left an orphan.  I immediately called my daughter in Virginia, as I knew she would understand.  Several years ago when we went to live in the US for her high school senior year, Maia would tell me: I miss papa so much. And,  I miss Chavez. I miss hearing his voice on tv as I go to sleep. I felt so safe. as though nothing could happen to me, nothing could happen to Venezuela.

Indeed, the people of Venezuela, the people of Latin America, the people of the Caribbean, feel suddenly orphaned from those strong and powerful arms that held us to his heart like a man defending his most vulnerable child against a raging storm. He believed in us. He told us stories and sang us songs and reminded us of our unique and dignified history. He affirmed and upheld our best qualities, he told us that we were as lovely as the stars, as bright the sun, as free as the wind, as deep as the ocean and as powerful as all the forces of the universe.

And now, he is gone. But as I took the streets last night and this morning, like millions of other Venezuelans, to embrace strangers and cry in their arms, I found too that we had grown up. In those two decades on the Venezuelan public scene and  14 years at the helm, Chavez had given the most precious gift a surrogate parent can offer: the gift of adulthood.   Let there be no doubt: the Venezuelan people have come of age. Chavez is gone, but this what resonates on every street and every plaza today: yo soy Chavez. I am Chavez .I am the leader, the dreamer, the visionary, the teacher, the defender of justice, the weaver of a another world that is possible.

That phrase brought me back to 2005, when  I was visiting a nun on a hillside barrio in Caracas, one of those of thousands of barrios where Venzeuelans had been relegated like unwanted trash. No water, no sewage, no schools, no streets. Her name was Begonia , and she was telling me how she had walked for hours to see Chavez pass by.  When teased by other nuns for being a “Chavista” she said. no, I’m not a Chavista, it’s that Chavez is a “Begonista”. He believes in all the things I have held dear for decades: the dignity of the poor, the right of the blind to see and those in chains to be freed.

Two days after I heard Begonia’s story, Chavez himself invited me to talk to him, along with Fr. Roy Bourgeois. He had heard us speak on tv about the grassroots movement to close the SOA and wanted to learn more. Thus, I found myself in the presidential office with a man noted for his long discourses, talking to the best listener I have ever encountered.  Chavez was fascinated by Roy’s story of believing so much in his cause that he was willing to go to jail, enthralled by Venezuelan accent in Spanish, and my decision to raise my kids in a barrio. He asked about each of my children’s interests, and made sure that he spelled their names correctly as he signed a poster for each.

Oh, and he ordered Venezuelan troops to stop training at the SOA.  Defiantly opening the door for five other countries to follow suit.

That’s who Chavez was. Deeply personal, celebratory, affectionate, and willing to muscle his way to the farthest limb to take a stand for justice, indifferent to the consequences. That powerful muscling was what had turned me off to him at first. Having spent a lifetime taking a stand for peace, I couldn’t fathom looking to a military man for leadership, much less for inspiration. It took family and neighbors to change my thinking: look, Chavez is like the pilot at the helm of a boat. We’re in that boat, and we’re going UP stream. (i.e. against the neo-liberal tide) Not downstream. Who do you want at the helm? a polite weakling? Or someone with muscles?

Fourteen years later, Chavez has guided that boat so powerfully and masterfully that not only are other boats following in its wake, but his power was so great, he seems to have literally reversed the river’s current. We’re floating downstream, on a river of independence, sovereignty, dignity,Latin American unity, in a nation that has the least gap between rich and poor, a nation whose college enrollment rivals several European countries, a nation whose oil now funds schools and hospitals instead of personal bank accounts in Miami.

Fourteen years ago my barrio neighbors didn’t dream of going to college, much less becoming doctors in their communities. Fourteen years ago my neighbors could barely fit in their tin or mud homes, much less envision living in a spacious three bedroom house with indoor bathrooms that cost almost nothing  . Fourteen years ago, only those on the wealthy east side of my city felt they were citizens. Now we know we all are (State Department and Pentagon be forewarned).

When Chavez first announced his cancer almost two years ago, I awoke after another sleepless night and listened again and again to his speech. He referred to a song by our beloved singer/songwriter Ali Primera, who also died too young.  Chavez repeated the lines:  hay semerucos alla en el cerro y una canto hermoso para cantar. (there are cherry trees on the hillside and lovely song to sing). So much beauty around us, so much to do.  As someone who spends every free hour planting trees on a mountain and singing with children, that felt like a personal mandate.

Actually, I do believe this is Chavez’s true mandate:  Embrace your passion,and then share it with others.  If you can play the guitar, teach a kid to strum,  if you love basketball, shoot hoops with a teen. If you can fix a bike, teach the skill to an unemployed friend.  If you have oil, share it with those who can’t afford their heating oil in Maine, if you have doctors, send them where there are none. Celebrate your beauty, your history, your dignity, and honor those qualities others: as family, as neighbors, as nations, as global citizens.

Today in Venezuela our sadness is deeper than Lake Titicaca, colder than Patagonia, larger than the Amazonia and harsher than the Atacama.  But, we also know that together -as Venezuelans, as Americans and Caribeños,  we are invincible.

That is Chavez’s legacy.  Yo soy Chavez. Tu eres Chavez. Todos somos Chavez.

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Hugo Chávez Kept His Promise to the People of Venezuela by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera

President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias passed away today, and much of the mainstream media coverage has been negative here in the United States. We encourage you to read this alternate perspective.

Read from source:

Hugo Chávez Kept His Promise to the People of Venezuela

The late Venezuelan president’s Bolívarian revolution has been crucial to a wider Latin American philosophy

He wrote, he read, and mostly he spoke. Hugo Chávez, whose death has been announced, was devoted to the word. He spoke publicly an average of 40 hours per week. As president, he didn’t hold regular cabinet meetings; he’d bring the many to a weekly meeting, broadcast live on radio and television. Aló, Presidente, the programme in which policies were outlined and discussed, had no time limits, no script and no teleprompter. One session included an open discussion of healthcare in the slums of Caracas, rap, a self-critical examination of Venezuelans being accustomed to the politics of oil money and expecting the president to be a magician, a friendly exchange with a delegation from Nicaragua and a less friendly one with a foreign journalist.

Nicaragua is one of Venezuela’s allies in Alba, the organisation constituted at Chávez’s initiative to counter neoliberalism in the region, alongside Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia. It has now acquired a life of its own having invited a number of Caribbean countries and Mexico to join, with Vietnam as an observer. It will be a most enduring legacy, a concrete embodiment of Chávez’s words and historical vision. The Bolívarian revolution has been crucial to the wider philosophy shared and applied by many Latin American governments. Its aim is to overcome global problems through local and regional interventions by engaging with democracy and the state in order to transform the relation between these and the people, rather than withdrawing from the state or trying to destroy it.

Because of this shared view Brazilians, Uruguayans and Argentinians perceived Chávez as an ally, not an anomaly, and supported the inclusion of Venezuela in their Mercosur alliance. Chávez’s Social Missions, providing healthcare and literacy to formerly excluded people while changing their life and political outlook, have proven the extent of such a transformative view. It could be compared to the levelling spirit of a kind of new New Deal combined with a model of social change based on popular and communal organisation.

The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe.

The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe. In that period Chávez won 56% of the vote in 1998, 60% in 2000, survived a coup d’état in 2002, got over 7m votes in 2006 and secured 54.4% of the vote last October. He was a rare thing, almost incomprehensible to those in the US and Europe who continue to see the world through the Manichean prism of the cold war: an avowed Marxist who was also an avowed democrat. To those who think the expression of the masses should have limited or no place in the serious business of politics all the talking and goings on in Chávez’s meetings were anathema, proof that he was both fake and a populist. But to the people who tuned in and participated en masse, it was politics and true democracy not only for the sophisticated, the propertied or the lettered.

All this talking and direct contact meant the constant reaffirmation of a promise between Chávez and the people of Venezuela. Chávez had discovered himself not by looking within, but by looking outside into the shameful conditions of Latin Americans and their past. He discovered himself in the promise of liberation made by Bolívar. “On August 1805,” wrote Chávez, Bolívar “climbed the Monte Sacro near Rome and made a solemn oath.” Like Bolívar, Chávez swore to break the chains binding Latin Americans to the will of the mighty. Within his lifetime, the ties of dependency and indirect empire have loosened. From the river Plate to the mouths of the Orinoco river, Latin America is no longer somebody else’s backyard. That project of liberation has involved thousands of men and women pitched into one dramatic battle after another, like the coup d’état in 2002 or the confrontation with the US-proposed Free Trade Zone of the Americas. These were won, others were lost.

Like Bolívar, Chávez swore to break the chains binding Latin Americans to the will of the mighty. Within his lifetime, the ties of dependency and indirect empire have loosened.

The project remains incomplete. It may be eternal and thus the struggle will continue after Chávez is gone. But whatever the future may hold, the peoples of the Americas will fight to salvage the present in which they have regained a voice. In Venezuela, they put Chávez back into the presidency after the coup. This was the key event in Chávez’s political life, not the military rebellion or the first electoral victory. Something changed within him at that point: his discipline became ironclad, his patience invincible and his politics clearer. For all the attention paid to the relation between Chávez and Castro, the lesser known fact is that Chávez’s political education owes more to another Marxist president who was also an avowed democrat: Chile’s Salvador Allende. “Like Allende, we’re pacifists and democrats,” he once said. “Unlike Allende, we’re armed.”

The lesson drawn by Chávez from the defeat of Allende in 1973 is crucial. Some, like the far right and the state-linked paramilitary of Colombia would love to see Chavismo implode, and wouldn’t hesitate to sow chaos across borders. The support of the army and the masses of Venezuela will decide the fate of the Bolívarian revolution, and the solidarity of powerful and sympathetic neighbours like Brazil. Nobody wants instability now that Latin America is finally standing up for itself. In his final days Chávez emphasised the need to build communal power and promoted some of his former critics associated with the journal Comuna. The revolution will not be rolled back. Unlike his admired Bolívar, Chávez did not plough the seas.

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