by Sam McGill, 12 July 2011.
“ I swear to you that we will win this battle...we'll win it together. The battle for life, the homeland and the revolution!”
With these words, Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, addressed 100,000 Venezuelans from Miraflores presidential palace, Caracas as part of a civic-military parade to mark 200 years of Independence from Spanish rule. His return to Venezuela muffled frenzied media speculation surrounding his health and ability to lead the Bolivarian Revolution, for now.
Chavez had been visiting Latin American and Caribbean countries in advance of the founding meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations (CELAC). Whilst in Cuba, Chavez was unwell and underwent emergency treatment in early June to remove a pelvic abscess. Thanks to the high standard of Cuban healthcare and medical attention, repeated checks on Chavez's health by Cuban doctors uncovered a small cancerous tumour which was then removed. Adding to Cuba's reputation as a leading healthcare provider, Chavez was able to return to Caracas just in time for the bicentennial independence celebrations on 5 July.
True to form, Venezuela's opposition media and its international lackeys in the New York Times, CNN and the BBC, seized on the opportunity to attack Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution. Their aim was to create a climate of uncertainty about Venezuela's future, claiming that Chavez's absence was unconstitutional, and even spreading rumours that Chavez was in a coma or dead!
On Saturday 25 June, the Miami-based Spanish-language newspaper, El Nuevo Herald, published an article stating that Chavez was in a ‘critical’ and ‘serious’ state, according to comments supposedly made on Friday to the newspaper by ‘United States intelligence sources’. The paper quoted no other sources, nor did it explain how the US sources got this information.
Furthermore, on 26 June, a group called Wikileaks Argentina, not associated with the document-leaking organisation Wikileaks, put out a tweet saying that an Argentinian embassy cable had confirmed that Chavez had died of a heart attack in Cuba. The tweet prompted a range of articles, blog entries, and speculation, but was later revealed as a hoax and the twitter account was deleted.
This led the New Statesmen paper to headline with ‘Hugo Chavez: not dead’ and the BBC with ‘Absence of Ill Hugo Chavez sparks speculation’. During his time in Cuba, Chavez addressed Venezuela regularly by telephone, most notably on 10 June, then again on 30 June. Chavez participated in several working meetings with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s Vice-president Elias Jaua and the Head of Venezuela’s National assembly, Fernando Soto Rojas. Despite this the opposition and international media attempted to create confusion and panic.
Adding to international media attacks, on 3 July in the Observer, Rory Carroll paraded quotes from an interview with Noam Chomsky, claiming that Chomsky had turned on his ‘old friend’ Chavez. As usual Carroll selected his quotes carefully to portray Chomsky as accusing the socialist leader of ‘amassing too much power’ and of making an 'assault' on Venezuela's democracy. The tactic backfired as Chomsky publicly complained about the article, stating Carroll had been ‘quite deceptive’ and ‘dishonest’ in his portrayal of the interview. Chomsky demanded the news outlet print the interview in full and the Guardian was forced to highlight his complaints and publish the whole transcript. Although on this occasion Rory Carroll was exposed for his manipulative and biased journalism, the media affair adds to the barrage of attacks on Venezuela and Chavez.
To read the full story see ‘Chomsky Says UK Guardian article ‘Quite deceptive’ about his Chavez Criticism’.
Moreover, when Chavez signed accords and enacted a law from Cuba, the opposition crowed that this was unconstitutional and Chavez's absence and health required he step down from the presidency. One opposition legislator, Julio Borges, went so far as to say the President is prohibited from governing outside of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. This would imply that a Venezuelan president lost his powers once stepping outside the boundaries of the capital district, a ridiculous concept.
Article 234 of Venezuela's constitution stipulates that the country’s President can be temporarily absent for a total 180 days without having to delegate presidential powers to the Executive Vice-President. After an initial absence of 90 days, a second period of 90 days can be granted if approved by the majority of the National Assembly. Chavez has rarely had time off in the 12 years he has been President of Venezuela. This is in stark contrast to US president George Bush who in 2005 took a five week holiday. Bush is also known for having taken a month holiday just before the 11 September 2001 attacks, in the first year of his administration. By August 2006, he’d spent over a year of his presidency at his ranch, for an average of 9 weeks per year. In the US, the President frequently makes executive decisions while travelling abroad or away from the White House. President Obama even authorized the military attacks against Libya while on a visit to Brazil in March 2011 and just last month signed the extension of the controversial Patriot Act from France using a method called the “auto-pen”. The “auto-pen” is an automated signature issued without the presence of the President.
The media uproar is symptomatic of the opposition's obsession with demonizing Chavez and any progressive changes in Venezuela. As Eva Golinger, Venezuelan lawyer and author of ‘Postcards from the Revolution’ blog, rightly points out:
‘When he’s here, the opposition wants him gone, and has attempted everything from coup d’etats, economic sabotages, assassination attempts and even calling for foreign intervention, to get him out. When he’s temporarily absent, they want him back. When photographs and video images were shown of him from his recovery location in Havana, opposition spokespeople and media demanded he make a speech. When he’s in Venezuela making speeches and talking on television, they want him silenced.’
Venezuela: with or without Chavez:
During the bicentennial independence celebrations, Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution showed itself to be evermore determined to continue its path towards socialism and independence, with or without Chavez.
Elias Sanchez, communal council spokesperson in Merida affirmed, ‘Right now we're called on to reflect deeply and to double all our efforts for the transformation of society, that's how I feel right now. Rather than this fight for a just and sovereign country being over, now is when there is a people that is conscious of its responsibilities. We mustn't lose sight of our final objective, nothing should distract us. I want to say to Chavez, thank you for kindling the revolutionary flame, thank you for giving us the tools to make a revolution, thank you for broadening our collective memory and making us aware of our rebellious past…’
Elba de Alastra, of the San Antonio communal council in Coro, Falcon, added, ‘Although one day, there will have to be someone else, because he’s not immortal...No, no sir, this won’t stop our revolution...it will drive it forward. Look at me, I’m retired, but am I at home? No. I’m out working for my community, the community that Chávez gave to us – we didn’t have this before - now the communities have the power, the communities make decisions. Last night it made us stronger, to see him there [following Chavez’s TV appearance from Havana on 30 June] and know that he is going to come out of this. We are more united than ever.’
Although it is clear that Chavez is key in driving the Bolivarian revolution forward, 12 years of struggle and progression has awakened a Venezuelan people who are determined to preserve the gains they have made. The millions of people who have benefited from free healthcare and education for the first time, the communal councils able to organise to meet the needs of their communities for the first time, Venezuela's indigenous populations whose rights, land and languages are enshrined in the constitution for the first time - this is a population who will fight to the bitter end against any return to the misery and poverty inflicted by decades of US domination.
Viva Venezuela! Viva Chavez!
Socialismo o Muerte!