Imperialism’s plans for counter-revolution in Venezuela were rocked this week when a huge popular outpouring greeted Hugo Chavez’s official nomination as president for a third term.
Washington’s choice Henrique Capriles has offered sympathetic words to Chavez over his battle with cancer but seeks to make the president’s health an election issue.
“Look at me. Aren’t I young and fit? Not like that old half-dead Chavez” was the Capriles subtext as he led tens of thousands of supporters on a six-mile tramp through Caracas on Sunday to lodge his candidate papers for the October 7 presidential election.
Chavez had given heart to his supporters the previous day by announcing that tests following extensive chemotherapy in Cuba indicated that his treatment had gone well.
“Everything turned out absolutely fine. I feel very well,” he declared in the Miraflores presidential palace.
The president betrayed no dimming of his combativeness or confidence in electoral victory, adding that “the bourgeoisie will never again return to this building.”
If Sunday’s impressive turnout cheered anti-Chavez forces home and abroad, Monday’s mass rally would have made them gag on their cigars, as it dwarfed the Capriles march.
The president was resplendent in his tracksuit in the colours of the national flag, on a converted lorry which bore the slogan “Chavez, heart of my homeland.”
The streets of Caracas turned red as the T-shirts of his massed supporters blurred in a mist of rose petals and confetti to greet their revolutionary hero. Giant plastic Chavez inflatables were secured above the crowd, arms waving.
Chavez walked stiffly, hand-in-hand with two of his daughters, into the National Electoral Council offices – prompting Capriles to tweet: “This candidate isn’t walking. He’s out of petrol. A better progressive future is coming.”
This charmer has complained about some of the unflattering comments made about him by Chavez supporters, but his tweet shows him at least equally capable of dishing it out.
Chavez handed in his nomination papers, telling officials that he did so “with a promise to fight, to battle and of course to win.”
Mounting a stage outside the offices he was soon in familiar mode, joining a band to deliver an energetic rendition of a traditional folksong from the grasslands of his birthplace Barinas before addressing the red-clad throng for over two hours.
If Capriles’s comments about Chavez’s health were ungracious, they were as nothing compared to the oafish remarks of World Bank president Robert Zoellick who told a Washington audience that the Venezuela president’s days were “numbered.”
Zoellick speculated that “if his subsidies to Cuba and Nicaragua are cut, those regimes will be in trouble. There will be an opportunity to make the western hemisphere the first democratic hemisphere. Not a place of coups, caudillos and cocaine but of democracy, development and dignity.”
Venezuela Information Minister Andres Izarra condemned “an expression of hatred from the necrophilic right wing of the world,” adding: “The predatory capitalism that the World Bank promotes has numbered the days for all of humanity.”
Chavez offered “deaf ears to foolish words,” stressing that by contrast the days of global capitalism, “of which the World Bank is a part,” are numbered.
The president noted that Venezuela no longer has to “depend on that dreadful bank,” receiving loans worth billions of dollars from Russia and China that don’t carry the punitive conditions associated with international financial agencies’ loans.
Freedom to plough its chosen economic furrow allowed the National Assembly finance committee to allocate a further 5.9 billion bolivars (£884 million) last month to increase child allowances, sports development and computers for schoolchildren.
Zoellick is no fool. He knows the significance of victory or defeat for Chavez. So does his candidate Capriles.
This representative of Venezuela’s minted minority understands the attraction to working people of the revolutionary government’s various “missions” to provide social security benefits to the poor, its minimum wage policy and its housebuilding programme, which is why he pledges unconvincingly to retain them if successful in October.
Yet Capriles is bound to the government programme issued in January by the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) of opposition parties, which characterises the “preservation and guarantee” of private property as “an inalienable right.”
MUD savages the “explosive increase in the public sector, in both institutions and functionaries” under Chavez, proposing full or partial privatisation in the sectors of communications, electricity, agriculture, education, health, construction water services and, above all, oil.
It would also “revise” state-subsidised prices for electricity, water and petrol.
The government’s missions are funded at present by profits provided by the state-owned PDVSA oil company but would depend under a MUD government on “regular public finances and the support of the private sector.”
Needless to say, a Capriles-MUD administration would reverse the Bolivarian government’s international relationships, returning to Washington’s tutelage and breaking special trading links with Cuba and other regional states.
MUD has descended to the level of decrying Chavez as “weak” for relying on diplomacy to deal with a border dispute with Guyana over the mineral-rich Essequibo region.
Despite all its efforts, opinion polls still show Chavez riding high as this unquenchable personality promises to win by a “knockout” over the best imperialism can offer.