Venezuela’s radical president Hugo Chavez received a rapturous reception at a packed meeting in London last Sunday. “We are participating in a revolution,” Chavez told his audience.
“We have to take up what Rosa Luxemburg said – the choice is socialism or barbarism,” he added. “I have no doubt when I say that what we have to do is begin a new socialist project.”
His three hour speech ranged far and wide. But opposition to US imperialism was a recurrent theme and a US invasion of Iran was, he said, “the greatest threat to the planet”.
Chavez came to London as a guest of London mayor Ken Livingstone, who hosted Sunday’s 800-strong gathering. As Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the journalists’ NUJ union, pointed out, a much larger audience would have attended given the opportunity.
The London visit came in the wake of an official EU-Latin America summit, and an alternative summit organised by social movements, in the Austrian capital Vienna last week.
Both summits were dominated by the Bolivian president Evo Morales’s recent decision to nationalise his country’s oil and gas resources and to ally in trade agreements with Cuba and Venezuela.
In the official summit this led to infighting between leaders, with Chavez accusing other Latin American leaders of being “lapdogs of imperialism” and saying socialism was being chosen by the people instead of capitalism.
At the alternative summit, events in Bolivia were met with euphoria. Morales received a standing ovation when he described how revenues from nationalised oil would be used for health and education.
Morales’s comments also reflected the role that social movements have played in bringing him to power. Sharing the panel with European activists such as French farmers’ leader José Bové, Morales said, “I come from you. I am part of you.”
He described how in Bolivia, “the social movements united and organised together. We started in the country and advanced in the city, incorporating sections of workers such as the miners”.
Speakers at the final rally in Vienna included Joao Pedro Stedile, whose MST landless workers’ movement has organised half a million Brazilians in land occupations.
Stedile announced to rapturous applause that “the Brazilian people support the nationalisation of oil and gas”.
He said that Bolivia should carry out agrarian reform and “start by expropriating the big Brazilian landowners”. However, he added, “Instead of sending troops to occupy the land, call us and we will send thousands of landless workers.”
Such solidarity contrasted starkly with the positions of the Brazilian government, which at the official summit threatened legal action against Bolivia in defence of its gas interests.
Stedile added that there was a “new breeze” in Latin America but that it was also in Europe, citing the recent victories by young people in France.