HUGO CHAVEZ’S NEW ERA OF SOCIALISM POSES NO THREAT


04.12.06
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Romanov)

Hugo Chavez and Cuba, which is worried about Fidel’s illness and its own future, are celebrating victory in Venezuela’s presidential election.
It was a predictable win, as pre-election polls showed Chavez’s opponent lagging behind him by a wide margin. However, that did not stop some people in Caracas and especially Havana from worrying over the outcome. Cuba’s economic welfare depends on Venezuelan oil and money, and its political future hinges on Chavez, one of the region’s new radical leaders.
Chavez, an inspiring speaker and political hooligan (remember his speech at the UN in which he called President Bush “the devil”), has convinced everyone that he is the successor to Simon Bolivar and Fidel Castro on the continent (General Simon Bolivar organized and led military forces in the battle to win independence for the northern part of South America from Spanish rule in the early 19th century).
Immediately after his landslide victory, Chavez announced the beginning of a new socialist era in Venezuela. Having won the support of more than 60% of the people, he has a right to do so.
Nevertheless, I would urge caution. Wise people say you can believe only half of what politicians say. In my opinion, 10% is more like it in Latin America. Chavez may step up his anti-American rhetoric while continuing and possibly even diversifying his social policies. He may continue to support Cuba and other “left-wing” countries on the continent. But I don’t think he will radically overhaul the economy or set up a Soviet-style state planning committee.
His idol, Fidel Castro, who once said that the Americans had made him a communist, started drifting from socialism towards Bolivar’s ideas after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Bolivar fought for genuine sovereignty and against poverty. Chavez has most likely described this as socialism simply because he has not yet invented a new Venezuelan term for his policy and wants to pull Uncle Sam’s beard. Chavez has read enough books to know that building socialism requires more than just oil; the Soviet Union tried to do so and failed.
Some have accused Chavez of addressing the people on the day before the election, although he had a sore throat from all his campaigning and could only croak something almost unintelligible. His red tie and the achievements of his first term, however, spoke volumes. He established tight control over the state-owned petroleum company, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), using bumper oil profits to build hospitals and schools, launch agrarian reform, fight illiteracy, and address other social programs.
Caracas has enough doctors and teachers, but the provinces had to do without them until Chavez came to power. He is paying Cuban professionals a great deal of money to teach and give medical treatment to the Venezuelan poor.
This is why Chavez has been reelected, again getting more than 60% of the vote. The people also like the anti-American speeches delivered by their loudly dressed president, who is pragmatically playing on trade disputes between the United States and the European Union and developing ties with China, India, Canada, Russia and Iran.
They say Hugo’s mother wanted him to become a priest. Instead, the boy went from a military career to revolution, and eventually became a legitimately elected president. In other words, like many before him, he preferred building the City of God here on Earth.
Will he succeed? That I don’t know. But one thing’s for sure: he did not rig the elections.