August 25, 2005

Waiting in Venezuela

While the focus of late has been on Pat Robertson's rather unfortunate slip of the tongue, an article in today's Independent looked at how people in Venezuela feel about their president and about those who want to "take him out."

Since the Venezuelans elected Hugo Chavez, their own left-wing democrat, in a 1998 landslide, they have been waiting for their 11 September. That's why it did not surprise anyone here this week when Pat Robertson - one of America's leading evangelicals and a friend of George Bush - openly called for a US-backed murder of their President.

In the four corners of the Plaza Bolivar - Caracas's Trafalgar Square - there are groups of citizens who work in shifts, waiting, permanently waiting, to mobilise for when an attack on Chavez happens. They are known as the "hot corners", and everybody in the city knows to head there if there is an attack on Venezuela's elected leader.

Laydez Primera, 34, has been doing an eight-hour shift. He explains: " Los esqualidos [the squalid ones, as the opposition is often called] and Bush have tried everything to get rid of Chavez. They know we have elected him in totally open elections, but they don't care. They have tried forcing a recall referendum in the middle of Chavez's term, but the President won by 60 per cent. They have tried saying the elections were rigged, but the opposition asked Jimmy Carter to come and watch the elections, and he said they were totally free. He didn't say that about the election of Bush in Florida! And they even tried staging a coup. We will never, never forget that."

Several months back there was an article in the Washington Post about how Liberation Theology has not quite died out in South America. Reading the Indy article reminded me one, why it has survived despite the Vatican's attempts to stamp it out, and two, why we still need it. While it's had its problems and excesses, it has also matured, as have leftist movements in South America. And I look with a cautious optimism to see how a renewed preferrential option for the poor will play out down South.