“Throughout his time as President Chavez sought to promote regional integration to tackle the social inequality and poverty which have plagued all Latin American and Caribbean nations.”
By Logan Williams
The 5th March 2023 marked ten years since the colossal loss of leading twenty first century socialist and internationalist; Hugo Chavez, who passed away at 58 years old. Chavez’s time as President of Venezuela was marked by active resistance towards both neoliberalism and US domination. It was also a time of popular mass movements struggling for independence and sovereignty throughout Latin America, inspired by Venezuela’s struggle.
Chavez’s policies on wealth redistribution, education, and foreign policy were all aimed towards these ends, and in order to examine Chavez’s legacy ten years on, we must examine each of these key areas in turn to highlight their importance for progressives around the world.
Upon his election in 1998, Hugo Chávez prioritised the re-introduction of educating the working classes and rural poor, inspired by the words of Venezuela’s national independence hero Simon Bolivar, who argued that “a people advance in step with their education”.
The prioritisation of education within the Chavista movement was reflected in Chávez’s core belief that the eradication of illiteracy was a key weapon in the fight against poverty. A key example of this dedication to reforming the education sector came after unsuccessful coup attempt of 2002 which saw the launch of “Mission Robinson I” – a massive national programme which utilised the expertise of hundreds of Cuban literacy experts to design and deliver a programme to teach citizens to read and write utilising a system of corresponding numbers.
By 2004, over 1.3 million citizens had taken part and in late 2005 UNESCO declared Venezuela as being illiteracy-free due to “Mission Robinson I.” As well as the launch of revolutionary literacy programs across the country, in order to ensure education was a right for all citizens the Chavez-led government sought to reform existing schools in inner cities and build new ones in communities long=neglected by previous neoliberal governments.
Alongside reforming the Education sector, Chavez sought to remove US mulitinationals’ domination from the economy – favouring redistributing the country’s oil wealth instead.
Areas of economic change included: the formation of cooperatives across the Venezuelan economy to the extent that 16% of all workers in 2005 worked in cooperatives, the establishment of worker co-management of factories and workplaces, the completion of land reform within both rural and urban areas in recognition of the “social debt the state owes the population” and, the nationalisation of key sections of the economy, namely, telecommunications, energy and, oil-production, which Chavez argued “are for satisfying the needs of the people, not for commerce and economic profit.”
These policies – combined with new social programmes – enabled the Chavez governments to reduce the levels of poverty from 70.8% in 1996 to 21% in 2010.
As well as offering radical domestic policies, Chavez offered a different approach to foreign policy and regional integration, greatly angering the George W. Bush Presidency in the US in particular.
Throughout his time as President Chavez sought to promote regional integration to tackle the social inequality and poverty which have plagued all Latin American and Caribbean nations. He formed one of the crucial first steps towards this goal through the establishment of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). ALBA allows nations across the regions to trade and receive aid from a position of equality as opposed to domination of global north nations, and is an example of ‘fair trade’ in action. Alongside working towards economic integration regionally, Chavez also sought to unite popular struggles against US domination throughout the region by working closely with progressive movements and fellow socialist leaders such as Evo Morales, Fidel Castro, Lula and, Rafael Correa in what is now dubbed the first “pink tide,” but perhaps should have been known as the red tide!
With the recent resurgence of the Latin American Left in a second “pink tide”, it is vital that the international progressive and socialist movements seek to solidify and spread the key elements found within Chavez’ legacy as we again discuss the relevance of socialism in the 21st century.