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Venezuela: Interview with Richard Gott

Pablo Navarrete | 12.11.2005 19:38 | Analysis

Pablo Navarrete, Caracas: Below are the answers to some questions I recently put to British journalist and author of Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution, Richard Gott.

Q: In Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution, you say that a slow-burning revolution is underway in Venezuela. Can you expand on this point?

Richard Gott: Most revolutions start with a bang, whether its the storming of the Bastille in 1789 or of the Winter Palace in 1917. There was no initial bang in Venezuela, although the new Constitution in 2000 and the 49 laws of 2001 were an indication of the direction in which the country was heading in the Chávez era. The revolutionary moment took place during the coup in April 2002, when the people (and the armed forces) mobilised themselves to defend their president. Events then began to move forward at an increasing speed, assisted by the foolishness of the opposition in organising the great strike at PDVSA [the state oil company] in December 2002, and demanding a recall referendum in August 2004 that was convincingly won by Chávez. Since that referendum the revolution has been unrolling at breakneck speed.

Q: In the book you mention how foreign media such as the Economist and Financial Times in Britain have distorted the image of the Bolivarian Revolution that reaches the outside world. What attempts have been made by the Venezuelan government to counter this disinformation?

Richard Gott: Probably the most significant effort the government has made has been to establish the Venezuela Information Office in Washington, which prints and rebuts the regular coverage of Venezuela that appears in the US press. Otherwise Chavez has frequently made himself available for interview with foreign journalists, which often produces positive results. Telesur is clearly an important initiative, but it will be some time before it begins to make a significant impact in correcting the distorted picture of Latin American reality provided by the imperialist media.

Q: The book also discusses the role of the US government in supporting attempts at removing Chávez from power. What do you think the US government’s strategy will be as regards Chávez in the run up to the December 2006 presidential elections?

Richard Gott: I don’t think that the US government has a strategy for Venezuela that is different from that of the Venezuelan opposition. The opposition is the only card that the US government possesses (it has no support within the Armed Forces), and it has proved to be a pretty weak card. Even the opposition recognises that violence is not the way forward, and at the moment I think that neither the opposition nor the US government has a credible plan for the future.

Q: What has the British government’s position been regarding the Chávez government?

Richard Gott: The British government rarely steps out of line with the United States, and it has been notably cool towards Chávez. Venezuela remains a very low priority, but since the British-based oil companies are not complaining, there is no cause for the British to take much of a stand. The British-owned land companies affected by the land reform have aroused no political concern here.

Q: Presently, the Chávez government has framed its policies in the context of working towards a "socialism of the 21st Century". In your opinion, how is Chávez's socialism different to what has come before?

Richard Gott: The point about "Chávez´s socialism" is that he does not seek to define it himself. He is a pragmatist working towards a definition of socialism that will be made by the people themselves as a result of their own experiences, and perhaps later put into a form of words by intellectuals. In other words, he is starting from practice and not from theory. The project is extremely open-ended, and certainly fulfils the statement by Simon Rodriguez that "Latin America must be original". This is the fundamental belief of Chávez.

Q: What do you see as the main internal challenges to the Bolivarian Revolution?

Richard Gott: The old opposition is effectively dead, and future challenges to the revolution will come from within the Bolivarian movement. What these will be we can only guess at from the experiences of earlier revolutions. They might be "rightist" challenges complaining about the speed of change, or "ultra-leftist" challenges demanding that something must be done about the recalcitrant bureaucracy. Almost anything is possible, but I think it will be a long time before the central direction of the revolution comes under serious attack.

Q: Finally, Tariq Ali recently said that Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution is the single most important political, economic and social process taking place on a global scale. What are your views on this statement?

Richard Gott: The global importance of the Bolivarian revolution lies in its challenge to the neo-liberal consensus that has swept the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Chávez has stated very clearly that there IS an alternative, and coming from a rich oil country he is in a good position to act independently. So his revolution is important not just for Venezuela and Latin America but as an example for the rest of the world.

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Pablo Navarrete
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