<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
 English | Español August 15, 2018 | Issue #29

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Al Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
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Globalizing the Bolivarian Revolution

Hugo Chávez’s Proposal for Our América

By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

April 24, 2003

““The life of the nation is at stake”
-Hugo Chávez, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Hugo Chávez Frías, president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, is a patriotic soldier, a tireless worker, uniquely charismatic, a friend of the poor, an enemy of imperialism, and a model revolutionary leader.

Alex Contreras with President Chávez in Miraflores
During the course of the World Gathering of Solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution, which ran from April 10 to 13 in Caracas, I had two opportunities to speak with President Chávez – first, at a lunch in Miraflores Palace for about 30 intellectuals and social activists from around the world; and second, at a private dinner with three fellow Latin American leaders.

People close to the president describe him as a man of boundless energy and an incredible work ethic: a natural leader and an uncompromising individual.

When Chávez arrives at the Government Palace, he makes quite an entrance. He responds to a salute from his security guards with a slap on the back and friendly hello. “How you doing?” he asks them. They chat and laugh all the way to his office, as Chávez gets the latest news and his schedule for the day. Colonel Jorge Barrientos Fernández, a man very close to the president, confessed that Chávez is like a river: “the more you throw at him, the higher he rises.”

A Government of the People

Just like the president, people from all sectors of Venezuelan society can enter Miraflores Palace. It’s estimated that every day more than fifty people try to

On April 13 in Caracas, Venezuelans reject the coup of a year ago and celebrate the Day of Dignity. Photo: Alex Contreras
see the president every day, and more than 700 write letters, with various demands. All of these petitions are answered. By presidential order, the staff is instructed to attend to all the demands of the people, from the smallest to the most complicated.

At the luncheon that Chávez hosted on April 12 in Miraflores’ Bayacá Hall, Colonel Barrientos was seated to my right, and answered all my questions about the head of state.

“The president is an example for all of us,” he said. “He starts working at six in the morning and doesn’t quit until after three AM. He has extraordinary energy, and this gives us a lot of strength.” Although the military no longer has the privilege it did under previous administrations, soldiers are willing to give their lives for the “proceso,” or change process. That’s one thing that makes the Bolivarian Revolution different than many others – the revolution is supported by the masses, but also by the military.

The president’s security chief, Barrientos, has known Chávez since he was a cadet. “He was always a leader, a role model, and a man of unbending will,” he said. “He was never a conformist, and would give us long talks about the revolution.” The top officers of all three branches of the armed forces, he said, support the Venezuelan revolution; the opposition traitors’ numbers are small.

In Spite of the Media Blackout

Although the Venezuelan commercial media – controlled by giant multinational corporations and under pressures from the US government – attack the Bolivarian government twenty-four hours a day, one can’t help but see important changes here, changes that benefit the public.

During the last two years, the government has built 150,000 new housing units. Fifteen thousand of these units were handed over to the victims of catastrophic foods that hit the coastal state of Vargas in 1999. Three thousand Bolivarian Schools have opened, where children get the attention and adequate nutrition they once lacked. More than two million people have drinkable running water for the first time. More than three thousand Venezuelans have received free medical treatment in Cuba. Millions of small farmers have benefited from the “Land Law,” which redistributes unused farmland. The government has tripled the public university budget and raised teachers’ salaries. The privatization of the electric, gas, and water industries has been stopped.

Thousands of men and women fill Bolívar Avenue on April 13, 2003. Photo: Alex Contreras
As he listed these achievements, the Colonel beamed with pride. This is the “proceso” – the change process supported by the majority of the people of Venezuela, and rejected by the “squalid ones” whose numbers grow smaller every day.

At this time, President Chavez began to speak. “In Venezuela,” he said, “we are developing a model of struggle against neoliberalism and imperialism. For this reason, we find we have millions of friends in this world, although we also have many enemies.”

Chavez wore a dark suit, a white shirt, and red tie, at the luncheon. Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage, US sociologist and noted analyst James Petras, the Argentinian activist and leader of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo movement Hebe Bonafini, the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement representative Jaime Amorín and others were also there. Chávez, as promised, kept his comments brief.

The Hurricane has Begun

Around one in the morning on Monday, April 14, Chavez received three indigenous leaders, all major figures in their own countries, at Miraflores. This authentic journalist had the privilege of witnessing the president’s meeting with Bolivian congressman and coca-growers’ leader Evo Morales, Ecuador’s indigenous leader Blanca Chancoso, and Honduran peasant farmers’ leader Rafael Alegría.

Rafael Alegrìa of Honduras, President Hugo Chávez, Blanca Chancoso of Ecuador, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Narco News correspondent Alex Contreras, in the Palace gardens.
From an unlit garden, Chávez emerged from the shadows wearing jeans, a t-shirt and blue sneakers. This was a casual affair. “Hey, careful Evo, we want you alive!” was the first thing Chávez said as the three greeted him excitedly.

A small table for five people was served. “I don’t drink,” said Chávez, “but let me offer you some wine.”

“We know how to drink, and to make a toast,” someone answered. “To Bolivarian unity!” They shared a smoke as well.

The first thing the leaders talked about was security – the security of the Bolivarian leader, but also of the other leaders, organizers, and activists, opposed to the global policies of the US empire.

I’m sure you will understand, kind readers, that the subjects these leaders went on to discuss were off the record. After the four had spent more than an hour in sincere and relaxed conversation, the time came to say their goodbyes, with a handshake, an embrace, and, of course, a group photo as a souvenir.

“The hurricane of revolution has begun,” Chávez told them, “and it will never again be calmed.”

“We’ll keep the flame burning, comandante,” responded Alegría, the Honduran farmers’ leader.

“We will return, and there will be millions of us,” said Chancoso.

“Thank you, President Chávez,” said Morales, who almost won the Bolivian presidency last year. “I leave here full of ideas for the struggle ahead in 2007,” the next general election in his country.

As we left Miraflores, around three in the morning, the president was just receiving the Cuban delegation, headed by Vice President Carlos Lage. One of the security guards at the palace told us that they have adjusted to Chávez’s rhythm.

“It’s all for the revolution,” he said. “Revolution is synonymous with sacrifice. We should all be willing to sacrifice ourselves for a better future for our children.”

As we walked through the halls and courtyards of Miraflores, from where the fascist coup led by businessman “Pedro, the Brief” Carmona” massacred the Venezuelan people one year ago, I remembered the words of President Hugo Chávez:

“Faced with the outrageous excesses of the powerful, our only alternative is to unite… That’s why I call upon all of you to globalize the revolution, to globalize the struggle for the freedom and equality of mankind.”

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America