This night was a possible singularity in the narrative overlay of our time here in Caracas, of my time on this planet. Shivers in my limbs tonight in reaction not to the massive spectacle that constituted Chavez`s impassioned speech before a crowd of perhaps cinco mil venezolanos, cubans, bolivians, peruvians, etc. Punctuated by both ample anecdotes and a song, he spoke for approximately 3 hours in front of a massive cornucopia and a table filled with special guests including Cindy Sheehan. It felt a great deal like other political spectacles, and there was great cognitive tension between the throngs of screaming fans and the totally legit things they were screaming about. The revolution has been institutionalized here, but not reified, thus there is no sense of coercion or trixie-ness in the tenacity of the propaganda, just a man (modestly dressed in an untucked red button down shirt and pants) speaking with way more truth and reason than I had been prepared for, that I have ever seen in politics in the US. Opening acts included a dude on pan pipes and a popular Brazillian 12 string guitarist. The people, now ready to hear Chavez, were very excited and loud and it took a few minutes for them to calm their chants enough to let Chavez complete a sentence.
I dont know exactly how what is happening here went unnoticed by myself for so long, but the evidence indicates overwhelmingly that something deep and important is going on, a genuinely alternative worldview, completely different from how politics is done in the US and the western world, and also from the way socialist revolutions have been conducted in the past. Constant references are made to the heroes of previous latin american revolutions, Che Guevara, Emiliano Zapata, Farabundo Martí, but this process is on an entirely different and ultimately much more pragmatic scale than both the failed socialist experiments of the developed world and the guerilla communist model of 3rd world emancipation. Venezuela is and remains an industrialized nation rich in resources, especially oil and natural gas. Chavez has chosen (and based his career on) resistence to what is considered western (and especially US) imperialism, imposed throughout the americas in the form of trade agreements and coercively structured foreign debt, and there was no shortage of direct criticism and overt name calling during this speech. Harsh and compelling critiques were made of the war in Iraq, noting the billions spent (and funnelled to private US companies) while 40 million live in poverty with a failing public education system. President Bush was referred to repeatedly as Mr. Danger.
Chavez described his plan for a more particpatory alternative to the current attempts at economic integration of the americas. ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America, stands in contrast to ALCA, (known in english as the FTAA - free trade area of the americas) in its focus on fair trade, right of nation states to protect and encourage endogenous industries, the diversity and autonomy of indigenous peoples and protection of the environment.
The overhwhelming affect of the speech was one of rationality over polemics, awareness over blindness, honesty over glib cynicism. The importance of time really got through to me tonight, the feeling that this is happening now. He paraphrased a scientist saying that human beings are the only species imbued with such a seemingly pronounced capacity for self-destruction. There was an innate sense of history, that this could only happen now, and that it cannot be put off or discredited because we really are at a turning point in our narrative and history may not allow us the luxury of preparing for a socialism for the 22nd century.
Imperialism is not a word we here very often in the US outside of certain slightly insulated leftist circles, but latin americans have grown bold in their critique of U.S. foreign policy. Chavez compared it to Rome, but called ours the cynical empire, in that we are not always aware of the extent to which our actions constitute imperialism: invasion in the name of democracy, forced neocolonial economic relations, failing media and educational systems and a nearly non-functional electoral system. He posed the question: what if the US government decided to stand for peace in the world? To admit mistakes of the past and declare itself a government for the people instead of of over it?
Whether we personally see value in Bolivarian Socialism for the 21st century or not, his criticisms are well founded and prescient. We have seen what doesn´t work in Latin America and in the world and it is our responsibility to come up with radical and practical alternatives that are so obviously better that they do not require propaganda to be disseminated, media monopolies to be protected, massive militaries to be defended, or excessive resources to be accomplished. Alternative networks and institutions must be created that simply outmode the old, sweep power out from under itself and restore balance and sobriety and community to a cancerous and aberrant world.