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After the death of President and revolutionary Hugo Chávez, the leader of the Rural Landless Workers Movement of Brazil (MST) Joao Pedro Stedile highlights how people were able to reclaim their power in the political construction towards the liberation of the continent.
In interview with Real World Radio in Caracas, a few minutes before Nicolas Maduro was sworn in as acting president, and as Chavez’s funeral services were still happening, Stedile described Chavez’s appearance in the Latin American political scene as the first and firm defeat of neoliberalism.
He also said that Chavez introduced a change in the idea of national sovereignty by and for the peoples, far from the proposal of the local elite groups and transnational institutions, which conceived it as a form of exploitation and accumulation of capital and natural goods.
Even under anti-neoliberal governments, Stedile mentioned the case of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, the modus operandi of the political parties that support them have put the people outside the process. Hugo Chavez’s legacy now puts the challenge to left-wing social movements and organizations to continue with his project to ensure absolute liberation that will only be achieved through popular mobilization.
There follows a transcription of the interview with Stedile
“It is a privilege to have come to Caracas on behalf of LaVia Campesina and MST, but also a big responsibility. This afternoon (Friday 8th March) we were in the funeral services of the [Venezuelan] President. Almost 3 million people came and 3 million more are expected. The government has already announced that they would extend the services for another seven days. The atmosphere is of extreme sorrow, but also with a sense of commitment. I have heard many people, humble people, peasants, workers, military, young people, students, taking up the commitment to continue with this project.
I believe Chavez was very wise in that sense, because at all times he said that the main actors in this change were the people, as the only way to achieve real change.
The people understood the message and they are taking their historic fate in their own hands to make changes in Venezuela. This has a repercussion in the whole continent because there are some visionary projects here like UNASUR (South American Union of Nations), the expansion of Mercosur (Venezuela became member in 2012), CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) and the Bank of the South.
I am now at the building of the National Assembly where Nicolas Maduro will be sworn in as acting President and they said the date for the new elections will be announced on Monday.
There will be at least two candidates: Maduro, to continue with the revolutionary process, and the right-wing will go with Henrique Capriles, who was defeated by Chavez in 2012. Candidates from small parties might also run”.
The past fifteen years of Chavez’s administration in Latin American history have been so intense that it will take some time to have a proper assessment. Some think that Chavez rescued the idea of “revolution” and “socialism” almost ten years after the fall of the Soviet Union. What is your take on this?
I agree that his historic legacy will be properly assessed some years from now. This is still very recent and our feelings might get in the way of our analysis. But as part of our history, the Venezuelan process was first the defeat of neoliberalism as an ideology. Here they began to defeat neoliberalism in 1998 and then that began to happen in the rest of the continent.
I think Chavez reclaimed something that the left-wing had not thought thoroughly about, which is the need for peoples’ sovereignty, national sovereignty. The idea of nation has always been tainted by fascism of by bourgeoisie corporate views. Chavez reclaims this concept and feeling of homeland, as a nation, as a people.
This will have a very important meaning because the peoples are called to defend their territories, their natural goods and to use that natural richness to solve their problems, as it is the example of Venezuela with their oil.
A third legacy is the recovery of the role of the masses in politics. Chavez can be roughly compared with a Maoist because he always wanted to include the masses. Unfortunately, in Latin America even in countries like Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, where we manage to elect anti-neoliberal governments, the politics are still very institutionalized, very dependent on election campaigns, where the masses only participate through television.
Here in Venezuela, as well as in Bolivia, the masses are actively involved in politics, in the streets. The funeral is an example of this, I could witness that. There was a government plan to have a three-day funeral service, they would close the service with the visit of heads of State on Friday 8. However, the masses demanded the right to say good bye to the President, so the government respected that and announced a 7-day extension. The masses making decisions so that the members of government are clear on the principle of this politics: all power in the hands of the people and the people has to enforce that power.
These lessons will remain for generations. Chavez has become a hero of the Latin American independence of the 21st century.
The Latin American social movements gathered in Caracas together with the heads of State and government of the world to honor Hugo Chavez and to express their solidarity with the Venezuelan people. The integration of the social movements of ALBA is a process began in the continent, of which MST and other movements are a part. Does Chavez’s death change this process in any way?
I don’t think so. We have assessed the correlation of forces and the class struggle in our continent, where there are currently three conflicting projects. There’s the US project, of the US capital, the transnational corporations that want to recoloniz Latin America; there is another project that accepts continental integration from a capitalist perspective: our bourgeosie wants to keep the profits and not give it to the US. This could imply a redistribution of income, but it is not a project to liberate our continent. And the third project is the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of the Americas), which is essentially the proposal to create permanent economic integration mechanisms with the people at the centre, not only governments or trade agreements.
The social movements are part of this permanent construction. When we organize a common program to eradicate illiteracy, such as the program “Yes I can” in Cuba, that is to build an alternative. Or reclaiming factories as it happened in Uruguay with Envidrio (an Uruguayan glass company that was recovered by its workers with Venezuelan funding) that is to build an alternative project. When we do cultural integration like you do at Real World Radio, like Daniel Viglietti who signs about what he believes, that is integration of our peoples. The Social Movements of ALBA is a movement to coordinate these efforts and I think Chavez’s death will rather strengthen our commitment that social processes that go beyond leadership. That is why we are here with the social movements of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Honduras and many other countries. Today we remembered one of our inspirations in the struggle for land, Raul Sendic. We really appreciate that struggle began by the sugar cane workers and that had so much impact on the takeover of land in Rio Grande do Sul. We feel them as our brothers in this big Latin American homeland.
“No queremos ser mártires, no queremos que hayan más mártires en este país, pero también hay una responsabilidad histórica de hacer valer la palabra y demostrar que tenemos derecho a la construcción de un mundo mejor. Y no podemos huir a esa responsabilidad”, dijo a Radio Mundo Real la dirigente garífuna Miriam Miranda, coordinadora de la Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH).
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