If there was one man the Caribbean and the Americas could not afford to lose, it was Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela. Yet, as life would have it, Chavez is the man we lose this week, at the relatively young age of 58.
The reason we could not afford to lose Hugo was because he stood for poor people and for people of color, and because he controlled the fabulous petroleum resources of Venezuela. In other words, Chavez’s heart was in the right place, and he had the wherewithal to help the people of countries like Belize.
In real terms, Venezuela’s aid to Belize while Chavez was Venezuelan president was more significant and substantial than aid to Belize from the mighty United States of America. The American newspapers and television networks tried their best to make Hugo Chavez out to be a buffoon. The American government wanted a different kind of government in place in Venezuela, a government which would facilitate the exploitation of Venezuela’s petroleum resources by American oil companies. Hugo Chavez was too nationalistic for them, and American foreign policy supported all those who were opposed to Chavez.
The system of venture capitalism, of which the United States is the leading proponent, favors the accumulation of profits. Simply put, capitalists want to spend as little as they can to earn as much as they can. The difference between what you spend and what you earn is your profit. When an American capitalist, or a British one, for that matter, invests in any of our smaller, poorer countries, his profit margin is always much greater when he can deal with a corrupt, dictatorial government than when he has to deal with a government of the people. Governments of the people are described as “socialist,” or “communist” in the case of Cuba. Under Hugo Chavez, Venezuela became socialist. Corrupt Third World governments are described as “democratic” and “free market.”
The proponents of free market capitalism say that it is a more energetic and creative economic system than state socialism. They argue that greater profits for investors and entrepreneurs leads to more serious investment, innovation, and growth. That may very well be, but there is an aspect to free market capitalism which has historically spelt pain and suffering for Africa and native America. That aspect is that capitalism always has to be expanding outside of its home base and penetrating new markets in order to continue growing. Historically, what this meant was that Europe invaded, conquered, enslaved, and exploited Africans and native Americans.
Some will say to you that it was merely incidental that Europeans were white and that their victims were of color: the relevant fact was, they will say, Europeans were superior and our ancestors were inferior. Whatever the case, European and neo-European capitalism has walked hand in hand with international white supremacy over the last five hundred years.
In 1791, the first successful blow in this region against the marriage of European capitalism and white supremacy which rules us, took place in Haiti. As a result of a black slave rebellion, Haiti became independent of France in 1804. A Haitian president, Alexandre Pétion, was able to assist the South American liberator, Simón Bolívar, in his struggles to free Venezuela of Spain’s colonial yoke. Venezuela became independent of Spain in 1821, along with most of the countries of Central and South America.
By the end of World War II in 1945, wealthy, ruling elites had emerged in all of these former Spanish colonial territories, and these elites became allied with the United States in the system of free market capitalism. This was an alliance which benefited both the United States and the national bourgeoisie in these countries, but the masses of the people suffered. So liberators rose up in Guatemala in 1951, in Cuba in 1959, in Chile in 1973, and in this third millennium we have seen the rise of liberators in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, and so on.
The difference between Hugo Chavez and the other liberators was that he dared to dream the dream of Simón Bolívar, which is to say, he dreamed of unifying South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Chavez dreamed of creating a system which was not dominated by the United States and its free market capitalism. Moammar Gaddafy was dreaming a similar dream, that of uniting the countries of Africa and creating an economic system there which was not dominated by Europe. Last year, Gaddafy was overthrown and killed, and now Hugo Chavez is dead.
Belizeans are a people who have benefited greatly from our proximity and access to the economy and opportunities of the United States. Belizeans are therefore pro-American. Our people do not really know that much about Hugo Chavez. We know, however, that the elitist national bourgeoisie of Guatemala claim half of our country. Belizeans are beginning to understand that if the American government is allowed to have its way, and if all things are equal, Washington will support Guatemala City. Belizeans have to find a way to bring pressure on Washington so that the Americans do not support the Guatemalans in this claim matter.
Unfortunately, the issue between Guatemala and Belize involves petroleum resources, the same issue which has had American governments supporting all the opposition to Hugo Chavez.
Venezuela does have a claim to part of Guyana, and, as regionally conscious as Hugo was, he never, as far as we know, renounced that claim. So, things geopolitical are not all that simple. The key for Belizeans is to be informed enough to know precisely who are our friends and who are our enemies at any given moment in time. On the basis of all the information we have, we can say that Hugo Chavez was Belize’s friend. We therefore mourn him, deeply. Rest in peace, brother Hugo Chavez. Maximum respect.