Though of course one would never celebrate the unavoidable fragility of human life, it was perhaps fitting that 91 year-old former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet suffered a heart attack on Sunday, December 3.
On the same day, Hugo Chavez — the man whom the United States and Venezuelaâ€™s elite have tried to consign to the same fate as Chileâ€™s Salvador Allende — scored a massive election win, reaffirming the mandate of the Bolivarian Revolution and its project of creating a “21st century socialism.” After defeating a coup in 2002, an employerâ€™s strike and oil stoppage in 2002-2003, and a referendum in 2004, Hugo Chavez easily dispatched challenger Manuel Rosales, winning over 60% of the vote, according to unofficial results.
A strengthened “Axis of Hope”
It was indeed a very significant weekend in Latin American politics. On Saturday, December 2, hundreds of thousands of Cubans mobilized to mark the 80th birthday of Fidel Castro. The ailing leader, who stepped down from his official posts earlier this year, did not attend the rally, fueling widespread speculation that he is gravely ill and will never return to power.
The alliance of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, which author Tariq Ali among others has dubbed the “Axis of Hope”, has emerged as a powerful challenge to the interests of U.S. imperialism in the region and internationally. The renewal of Chavezâ€™s mandate for another six years only makes this axis stronger.
Given the electoral triumph of the Bolivarian forces and Castroâ€™s health situation, one can easily speculate that the forces of Empire will be focusing increased efforts at destabilizing the regime in Havana, with a longer-term view to re-imposing a pliant, capitalist government. This strategic aim has been an obsession of U.S. administrations for decades and, furthermore, was reconfirmed in a nearly 500 page official policy adopted in 2004. The codification of a policy of regime change is not surprising, and many of the prescribed methods for destroying Cubaâ€™s socialist government are already being accelerated with a view to capitalizing on Fidelâ€™s exit from the scene.
Chronicles of a fall (many times wrongly) foretold
Over the years, a cottage industry of right-wing commentators has existed, anticipating the fall of the government in Havana. These vultures of the pen have, indeed, been circling for decades. In 1992, for instance, the Miami Heraldâ€™s Andres Oppenheimer wrote Castroâ€™s Final Hour.
Oppenheimer is still producing twice-weekly shrill diatribes against Chavez, Castro and everyone remotely on the Left in Latin America. His tactical advice is instructive when analyzing the U.S. approach to Castroâ€™s illness, as he urges a cautious, slow and deliberate approach to regime change in Cuba (â€˜Hostile words play into Castro handsâ€™, The Miami Herald, August 3, 2006).
Indeed, only the most irrational of even right-wing commentators believe that the United States has a short-term military option against Cuba. Raul Castroâ€™s speech at the December 2 rally in Havana included both an “olive branch” offer of negotiations with the U.S. based on mutual respect and a re-emphasis of Cubaâ€™s military preparedness:
“We shall continue to consolidate our nationâ€™s military invulnerability based on the strategic concept of the War of All the People which we planned and began introducing 25 years ago. This type of popular war, as repeatedly proven throughout modern history, is simply invincible.”
Election victory allows “increasingly defiant challenge to U.S. influence”
Oppenheimer, who wrote a column in advance of the Venezuelan elections asserting a fraudulent win for the “narcissist-Leninist” president, might do well to begin work on a book entitled â€˜Chavezâ€™s Final Hour.â€™ The Venezuelan leader now has at least another six years in power. (There has been discussion of removing term limits, and Chavez has at times boasted that he will stay in office until 2021.)
Fidelâ€™s “final hour” appears to have lasted about fifteen years. The alliance with Venezuela in particular could ensure that future efforts at regime change in Havana will continue to fail. Speaking to a rally of hundreds of thousands, a week before his re-election, Chavez took the opportunity to dedicate his victory, in advance, to the Cuban Revolution. No one, of course, should confuse this unequivocal support with the lie that the Bolivarian Revolution aims to copy or import the Cuban system.
Venezuelan socialism will have to define itself through participation and struggle, and many contradictions and challenges remain. Oppenheimerâ€™s flailing aside, Rosales has acknowledged his defeat, and even the international media has pretty much had to call this election as it is.
The Associated Press storyâ€™s lead summed it up nicely, “Emboldened by a resounding re-election, President Hugo Chavez has all the political capital he needs to drive