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lunes, abril 25, 2005

Chavez’ speech at the Tercer Encuentro

The week before last I participated in the “Third International Conference in Solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution” (quite a mouthful!) I’ll be posting reports here bit by bit, as I get them written up.

Tercer Encuentro

Let’s start at the beginning – the opening plenary, featuring a speech by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in the Teatro Teresa Carreño, across the street from the tony Caracas Hilton. In additional to the national and international conference participants, huge numbers of locals had come to hear the speech, and the place was packed. Everyone entering had to wait in a long line to pass through a metal detector (though really, security was pretty lax.)

What with one thing and another it took me more than an hour to check in with the conference organizers and get inside. But I needn’t have worried; they were only about a quarter of the way through the program, which included various speeches, a video, and a performance by the Venezuelan Symphonic Orchestra. I was sitting next to an impatient young Venezuelan woman who just wanted to see Chavez, complaining that he never comes on time.

When he did come, the crowd went wild. A sea of people wearing red shirts (the color of Chavez’s movement), cheered, waved flags, and lifted banners with messages of support. This was what they’d been waiting for.

La irrupción de las mujeres

Chavez made his way across the stage, greeting everyone seated there (most of whom belonged to the organizing committee for the conference) one by one.

He began his speech by drawing attention to the fact that a majority of the people on stage were women, taking it as an indication of “the eruption of women” in the “revolution”; that is to say, in leadership positions, in all aspects of public life. “A revolution that doesn’t produce an eruption of women would not be a revolution,” declared the president, citing other examples of women’s participation including the facts that the majority of students in the new Bolivarian University of Venezuela are women. (One of the two-day workshops that made up the heart of the conference focused on women’s movements: you can read a report on it here.)

President Chavez greeting the conference organizers

Chavez onstage

After that he called out all countries represented at the conference (a long list!), with cheers for each one. After a reminder from audience (evidently another speaker had gone through the same list earlier), he added, tambien hay representante del pueblo de Haiti, to great applause. I think the Palestinians also got a standing ovation.

Interaction with the crowd continued throughout; not long afterwards, someone yelled out “patria o muerte” and Chavez repeated it, adding “aquí hay patria para todos o no hay patria para nadie,” (here our homeland is for everyone or it is for noone) which won more cheers.


Next Chavez went through a recent history of “revolutionary” effort, beginning I think with the Caracazo.On that day [of the Caracazo], he said, the people surged out to say no to the IMF, to say no to the Washington Consensus. A few years later, in 1990 and ’91, the students and student leaders were massacred by the reactionary forces.

Finally, he continued, in 1997-’98 was created El Polo Patriótico, with its goal of a democratic revolution. Then came Chavez’s election and the Constitutional Assembly of 1999, creating the new Constitution which ushered in the Fifth Republic. Chavez lavished praise on this Bolivarian Constitution, calling it the only one in Venezuelan history drafted by a Constitutional Assembly elected by the people for that purpose, and the only Constitution ratified by popular vote. Some of the Constituyentes who helped write that document in 1999 are here today, in this auditorium, noted the President.

Finally, he touched on the theme of the 2002 (this week being its third anniversary). He read off the names and ages of those killed at Puente Llaguno, with a chorus of “¡presente!” after each one. Chavez went on to remember “y todos que dieron su vida por la vida de la patria, del pueblo, de la revolución. Y los heroes anonimos,” all those who came out in the streets.

No pudieron parar el pais

Chavez especially thanked the Venezuelan women for their role in resisting the coup. He told about a group of women, all over 70, who walked to Miraflores (during the coup, as I understand it); when he asked them how they had planned to get back home, one of them looked at him and said, “If you didn’t come back, we weren’t going back.”

He equally thanked the workers who did not stop working during the oppositions’ calls for general strikes, and the workers’ leaders who resisted pressure, death threats, and firings. The President called out workers of all sectors here present, many of whom had brought their banners.


They [the opposition, the strike leaders] believed that the governors, the mayors, and most importantly the people, would put themselves at their orders, se va a rendir a la orden de ellos. The electrical workers would shut the lights off, the coffee growers would stop producing and there wouldn’t be coffee. But it wasn’t true. They were mistaken.

With all the accumulated power that the oligarchy held, “no pudieron parar el pais” – they could not bring the country to a halt, claimed Chavez proudly.

An interesting tidbit regarding the labor movement came when he talked about meeting with Máspero and other labor leaders. He acknowledged that we do have differences between us, and the labor leaders have differences between each other. But, he continued, that’s normal. The important thing is that at the moment of battle, we were united.

¡Los pueblos del mundo despiertan de nuevo!

Continuing to broader themes, the president emphasized that “our revolution is modest: it owes much to the movements of the world.” And these movements, he proclaimed, are now gaining worldwide: “The peoples of the world awake again!” He followed with a great call for unity: ¡Unidad! No to dogmatism, no to sectarianism.

Venezuela no se meterá con nadie, but nobody better mess with us

U.S. intervention remains the greatest enemy. Chavez put forward two scenarios: wither the U.S. provokes an invasion of Venezuela, or they interfere with the election and then cry fraud. You know, he told the audience, that el plan de la CIA ya está en marcha, el plan del Pentagon ya está en marcha.

For this reason, next year Chavez’s goal is to win the presidential race with 10 million votes; far more than in past elections, though he has consistently come out ahead by some 20 percentage points. But to make absolutely clear who the people support, he aims to get 10 million votes and remain until 2013, when his second term will end.

I am not indispensable

At this, some of audience yelled for him to stay longer. (There is a movement afoot for Chavez to run again, remaining in office until 2021.) But he responded, “It doesn’t matter who completes the work of the president – I am not indispensable. It’s in the hands of the people.”

After handing over the presidency, perhaps I’ll work in a Bolivarian school in PDVSA (the state oil company), or in the reserves. The most important is not the individual, but the collective, emphasized Chavez.

“Easier for a camel...”

Throughout the speech, Chavez quoted a wide range of famous figures, from the Bible to Trotsky, from Simón Bolívar to Victor Hugo. In one instance he reminded listeners that “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

We don’t want to be rich, we want to live modestly, continued the President. We seek an economy founded in our own values, our own necessities. We must respect the people, the laws of the republic, the Venezuelan Constitution, so we can live in peace

He used the opposition march two days ago commemorating April 11th, allegedly quite small – 250 people – as evidence that the opposition is diminishing, losing power. Though of course, he added, they have the right to march, with their torches and all (it was a candlelight procession).

The transformation is taking place – but slowly

He spoke to the continual problems of the Venezuelan economy, of poverty and unemployment. The economy is growing, asserted Chavez. The transformation is taking place. I’d like it to be faster, but economic changes have their own pace, and the transformation is happening, although slowly.

Of course, the overwhelming factor in Venezuela’s economy is oil. Chavez described petroleum as having “the weight of an elephant in a swimming pool” in the nation’s economy. This means that Venezuela will not be left in peace to work towards economic transformation.

Said Chavez: All over the world, countries who’ve tried to take control of their own oil, the leaders have been overthrown [by the imperialist powers..] Equally in Venezuela after we passed the Law of Hydrocarbons – but only for two days!

Yo soy socialista

Chavez ended his lengthy speech will a call towards socialism – a topic which he has only begun to touch on in the past few months. Much experience, many years of reading and reflection, said the President, have made me into a socialist.

I read about “the third way”, Chavez noted, and it appeared interesting. But finally I was convinced that there are no feasible alternatives to socialism. We cannot tolerate “Judas capitalism” that puts money above all, and people last, without value. Rather we seek the socialism which puts human beings first.

That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a room full of a thousand or more people cheering wildly for socialism.

Puente Llaguno

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