A (Short) Tale of Two Continents

What is there to be drawn from Hugo Chávez’s election victory yesterday in Venezuela? The first thing that comes to mind is that Latin America is a continent of people on the way up, and that Europe is a continent of people on the way down.

Zooming in to a country level, we can say, looking on at the jubilant multitudes on the streets of Caracas, that the people of Venezuela realise for themselves that sovereignty and independence are gained and maintained through struggle and dissensus.

For the popular classes of Venezuela, the words ‘sovereignty’ and ‘independence’ are inconceivable without other words, such as justice, equality, freedom, struggle, democracy, and –yes- socialism. In Ireland, by contrast, ‘sovereignty’ and ‘independence’ amount to little more than catchwords bandied about by ruling elites to justify one more raid on all that is held in common. Is your community being stripped of its public services? Excellent: one more step towards getting our sovereignty back! Has your mother been moaning in agony on a hospital trolley for the last twenty four hours? Wonderful: her sacrifice will see us on the road to independence once again! Have your home help hours been cut? Excellent: your helplessness at home is a solid indicator of our sovereignty regained! Are you fleeing the fear of shame and deprivation in search of a job in Canada or Australia? Marvellous: we value our independence too highly to have you depending on us.

Whilst 81% of the Venezuelan public turned out to take part in electoral process that would be universally recognised as free and transparent were it not for the presence of substantial numbers of recalcitrant right-wing cranks, democracy in Europe is reduced to the status of a sick joke.

It wasn’t Hugo Chávez who, after suffering a referendum defeat, said “answer the right way next time – or else!” Hugo Chávez isn’t a former Goldman Sachs bigwig, installed at the behest of international banking confreres to impose their will on the population. It wasn’t Hugo Chávez who threatened people destitution unless they changed the constitution to make neo-liberal ideology the substance of everyday life. It wasn’t Hugo Chávez who prioritised the repayment of banker debt over the funding of hospital treatment, or education, or social assistance payments. When rampaging fascists target immigrants in a country ransacked by big European banks, it isn’t Hugo Chávez whose rule they seek to uphold as its ultimate guarantors.

The avalanche of lies, distortions and ignorant ravings that burst forth about Venezuela in the mainstream English language media (we can say similar things about media in other languages) has an easy explanation: they hate democracy.  What we’re bombarded with, day in, day out, are messages aimed at producing submission and resignation when faced with the rule of ‘the markets’ and their infernal, all-encompassing logic. This logic dictates there can be no such thing as a democracy that doesn’t submit to the rule of neoliberal capitalism. That’s why Hugo Chávez appears in Western media as a dictator, or a buffoon, or both. That’s why there is an incessant focus on him, and not on the majority of Venezuelans who have seen what neo-liberalism has to offer and, having fought to rid themselves of it, are in no mood for turning the clock back. Chávez’s oligarchy-backed opponent, Henrique Capriles, was forced to stand on a platform that promised to maintain the social gains of the Chávez years, even if he and his backers had no intention of keeping those promises once elected.

“Don’t kick the future in the face!” pleaded Enda Kenny during the Fiscal Treaty referendum campaign. But the Venezuelan people have already seen the European future in their own past, and have opted for a different future. That is precisely why a resounding majority of them voted to return Hugo Chávez yesterday. More important, it is why they will take to the streets in defence of what they have won, against those who would seek to take it away from them, as they did on the 12th and 13th of April 2002, when they overturned the US-backed coup d’etat against Chávez.  Meanwhile in Ireland, darkness largely enfolds both what has been lost and the names of those who are taking it. Now, more than ever, would be a good time to open up a few more cracks and let the light flood in.




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