I have just finished this hugely enjoyable biography of Hugo Chavez, in fact once you start reading it is ridiculously hard to put down. The book is excellently written and paced and is easily one of my top five books of the year.
Bart Jones is clearly a Hugo Chavez apologist but then against the mountain of manipulated stories that are constantly churned out against Chavez, it feels comforting that someone is prepared to present the other side.
The book comprehensively recounts his life, from an impoverished child living in a mud hut to him as a (democratically elected many times!) president of a country with the highest oil reserves in the world, Venezuela. If America didn’t hate him so much, it would make an excellent Hollywood film!
So many elements of this book are fascinating. Both Chavez’s failed coup in 1992 and then the (American Backed, who else?) coup against him in 2002, are as gripping as any thriller novel you could hope to find. I had already read a lot about the 2002 coup and watched the documentary ‘The revolution will not be televised’ (well worth a watch) but I was still totally gripped as the narrative of the coup unfurled.
Why do the elite hate him so much? When he came to power, Chavez rejected neo liberalism completely; instead his plan was to use the vast income from oil to make life better for the millions of poor that dwelt in the barrios. A US government spokesman said they disliked him because they believed that ‘He didn’t have American interests at heart’ (Why the fuck would he? He’s Venezuelan. Come to that, why the fuck should anyone, other than Americans, have the interests of America at heart?)
He initiated huge social programmes for health, food and education. Obviously, the money he was using for his social programmes was previously being diverted to the super wealthy elite leaders of Venezuela and to the US of A, neither of them were happy with this new turn of events. Chavez should have been afraid, as we have seen in the last decade America will stop at nothing for oil. Chavez stood toe to toe with them though.
So equally fascinating then, is the constant battle waged against him by the elite right of the country and the US. They tirelessly work behind the scenes to get rid of him, by coups, industrial action, constant lies in the mainstream press and disinformation. It is an insightful expose of how far the west will go to punish apostates to the new cult of neo liberalism.
The most enjoyable part of the book for me, was a chance to look at Chavez as a man. He is often unconventional, sometimes erratic, certainly unpredictable but always hugely likeable. He seems, as we all are, an imperfect person whose heart is in the right place though. He has tried with all his energies to empower the poor and make their lives better. He is desperate to eradicate the inequality between rich and poor. He is above all an egalitarian.
We are just 18 days away from the next election in Venezuela and a cursory search on Google will show you how they media are trying with all their might to discredit him. He is constantly called a dictator although he has won four democratic elections by a landslide. He is often accused of harbouring terrorist and allowing drug trafficking, which is clearly untrue. Whatever happens, it seems Chavez may have done even more for his country than his hero, Bolivar ever managed.
Long live Chavez!