Daniel Ortega, blessed by the church, flanked by a former Contra as his vice-president and still loathed by the US ambassador, may be a sickly shadow of his former self, but his victory undoubtedly reflects the desire of Nicaraguans for change. Will Managua follow the radically redistributive policies of anti-imperialist Caracas or confine itself to rhetoric and remain a client of the International Monetary Fund?
Ortega's victory comes at a time when Latin America is on the march again. There have been some spectacular demonstrations of the popular will in Porto Alegre, Caracas, Buenos Aires, Cochabamba and Cuzco, to name but a few cities. This has offered a new hope to a world either deep in neoliberal torpor (the EU, the US, the Far East) or suffering from the military and economic depredations of the new order (Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, south Asia).
The noises emanating from the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba, and from the giant social movements from below in Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil, are obviously not welcomed by the global elite or its media apologists. The struggle spearheaded by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela against the Washington consensus has attracted the fury of the White House. Three attempts (including a military coup backed by the US and the EU) were made to topple Hugo Chávez.
Chávez was first elected president of Venezuela in February 1999, 10 years after a popular insurrection against the IMF readjustment programme had been brutally crushed by Carlos Andrés Peréz, whose party was once the largest affiliate of the Socialist International. In his election campaign Peréz had denounced the economists on the World Bank's payroll as "genocide workers in the pay of economic totalitarianism" and the IMF as "a neutron bomb that killed people, but left buildings standing".
Afterwards he caved in to the demands of both institutions, suspended the constitution, declared a state of emergency and ordered the army to mow down the protesters. More than 2,000 poor people were shot dead by troops. This was the founding moment of the Bolivarian upheaval in Venezuela.
Chávez and other junior officers organised to protest against the misuse and corruption of the army. In 1992 the radical officers organised a rebellion against those who had authorised the butchery. It failed because it was soon after the traumas of 1989, but people did not forget. That is how the new Bolivarians came to power and began to slowly and cautiously implement social-democratic reforms, reminiscent of Roosevelt's New Deal and the policies of the 1945 Labour government. In a world dominated by the Washington consensus this was unacceptable. Hence the drive to topple him. Hence the demand by Pat Robertson, the leader of political Christianity in the US, that Washington should organise the immediate assassination of Chávez. Venezuela, till now an obscure country as far as the rest of the world was concerned, suddenly became a beacon.
The majority of the people who elected Chávez were angry and determined. They had felt unrepresented for 10 years; they had been betrayed by the traditional parties; they disapproved of the neoliberal policies then in force, which consisted of an assault on the poor in order to shore up a parasitical oligarchy and a corrupt civilian and trade-union bureaucracy. They disapproved of the use that was made of the country's oil reserves. They disapproved of the arrogance of the Venezuelan elite, which utilised wealth and a lighter skin colour to sustain itself at the expense of the dark-skinned and poor majority. Electing Chávez was their revenge.
When it became clear that Chávez was determined to make modest changes to the country's social structure, Washington sounded the tocsin. Nowhere has the embittered bigotry emanating from this quarter been more evident than in its actions and propaganda against Venezuela, with the Financial Times and the Economist in the forefront of a massive disinformation campaign.
They are united by their prejudices against Chávez, whose advent to power was viewed as an insane aberration because the social reforms funded by oil revenues - free health, education and housing for the poor - were regarded as a regression to the bad old days, a first step on the road to totalitarianism.
Chávez never concealed his politics. The two 18th-century Simóns - Bolívar and Rodríguez - had taught him a simple lesson: do not serve the interests of others; make your own political and economic revolution; and unite South America against all empires. This was the core of his programme.
In a speech in Havana in 1994, Chávez stated: "Bolivar once said that 'Political gangrene cannot be cured with palliatives', and Venezuela is totally and utterly infected with gangrene ... There is no way the system can cure itself ... 60% of Venezuelans live in poverty ... in 20 years more than $200bn just evaporated. So where is the money, President Castro asked me? In the foreign bank accounts of almost everyone who has been in power in Venezuela ... the coming century, in our opinion, is a century of hope; it is our century, it is the century when the Bolivarian dream will be reborn."
Tariq Ali's new book, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, is published by Verso.
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