On March 1 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stood firm in support of Libya in order to fight what he considered the plans of military invasion implemented by the ‘Empire’. He made public a peace proposal he offered to Gaddafi. A few hours later, a correspondent from the pro-Bolivarian Venezuelan channel TeleSur dispatched to Benghazi, described on Venezuelan private radio the situation he was witnessing in Libya. Describing the bloody scene at Abdajia hospital and quoting some of those injured, he offered a overview of what he considered the widespread human rights abuses committed by forces loyal to Gaddafi. At the same time he reported Libyan protesters had rejected USA military intervention, but wondered why Hugo Chavez was aligning himself with Gaddafi and betraying their fight for freedom.
It is significant that this was a Telesur man, a media outlet normally offering unconditional support for the ideals of the Bolivarian revolution embodied by the Venezuelan President. The split is symbolic of what is going on not only in Venezuela, but in the whole of Latin America, between the leaders of the last decade of revolutions and the grassroots leftist social movements, which have passionately supported and endorsed the revolutionary calls from their leaders.
This Latin American domino effect started with a few words of support for Libya from Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and a brief tweet from Hugo Chavez: “Viva Libia y su independencia!”. Fidel Castro soon joined the round of accusations against western governments and accused the media of manipulating the news of thousands of casualties and the bombing of civilians by Gaddafi forces. Several leftist intellectuals in Latin America supported the anti-imperialist stance of their leaders along with the main representatives of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), such as Ecuador and Bolivia.
Chavez’ peace proposal didn't manage to achieve its aims of stopping international intervention in Libya, and it had no particular influence in blocking the implementation of UN Resolution 1973. However, his support for Gaddafi has had multiple consequences within the continent and among leftist or resistance groups around the world, directly affecting his personal reputation abroad.
The Arab revolutionary masses were shocked by his support for the Libyan leader. Over recent years, Arab masses have fallen in love with South American leaders as a consequence of their public support for the Palestinian cause and the anti-imperialism they have in common. Lately, Chavez and Morales denounced the military campaign perpetrated by Israel during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, both expelling their Israeli ambassador from their countries.
The Bolivarian Government’s support for Gaddafi also provoked strong indignation among conservative and liberal groups worldwide. Among others, half-Peruan and self-declared liberal, Nobel Prize-winner Mario Vargas Llosa, a common target of leftist intellectuals within the continent, launched an indirect message to Chavez and his allies by affirming that the spirit of the Arab revolutions will soon reach South America too and it will topple the few dictatorships still present in the region.
The other South American left, the one aligned around the new Brazil leadership of President Dilma Rousseff, inexplicably did not intervene in the debate and did not side with the strong position of their continental comrades. Since the beginning of the crisis, Brazil and its allies advocated a solution within the framework of the Security Council of the United Nations, with Brazil finally abstaining from supporting UN Resolution 1973. Brazil, through the recognition of an independent Palestinian state last December, a step which was followed by almost all the other Latin American countries, has started approaching Middle East issues in a way designed to procure a more substantial place among world powers. The Arab uprisings indeed stopped the planned diplomatic counter-offensive of the South American bloc led by Brazil in its tracks, and provoked too the postponement of the summit of South American-Arab Countries (ASPA) that was to be held in Peru in February.
The stance of the Bolivarian states on the Libyan crisis provoked a further serious debate around the role of these same South American leftist leaders, the exchange spreading especially among those social movements which have been the real grassroots powers behind the historical turn to the left of the continent initiated by the election of Chavez as President in 1998. These movements soon rejected the position of Chavez and Castro as a mistake, criticizing the realpolitik implemented by their governors. Instead, they gave their unconditional support to the Libyan population against the brutal repression enacted by Gaddafi. The discussion spread worldwide from within leftist groups, affording a rare opportunity to question the usefulness of the old anti-imperialist position of leftist governments in Latin America. Marxists, members of the Fourth International, Bolivarian youth, young Cubans, they all acknowledged the powerful momentum and the revolutionary struggle of the Arab masses. A fuller debate was only cut short by the implementation of UN Resolution 1973, which helped to realign leaders and movements under the umbrella of a common anti-imperialism and the repudiation of any military intervention.
Chavez launched the Bolivarian revolutionary dream in the late nineties by giving hopes of dignity and a better future to the people, especially the poor, who were cut off from divvying up of the rich natural resources of their countries controlled by conservative oligarchies and foreign powers. The South American masses were moved above all by the moral claim to dignity: the same invisible force that in 2002 drove the Venezuelan population against the coup d'état permitting Chavez to return legitimately to the Palacio de Miraflores, the President's house. The dignity and ethical moral claims of South American people after decades of foreign intervention hand in hand with oligarchic power or military dictatorships was the same dignity pursued today by Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Algerians and those in the region asking now for a better future.
Unlike in Latin America, the several Arab uprisings have had no leaders to follow and anti-imperialism was not on the demonstrators’ agenda. The absence of the myth of the external manipulation was indeed one of the main peculiarities of these uprisings. Foreign interference is not new in Latin America and that partly explains the widespread anti-imperialist stance on that continent. In the past Castro, Ortega and Chavez have had to face up to the active boycott of various US administrations. Not surprisingly, after the orchestrated coup d'état that pushed him out of power for a few days in 2002, Chavez in particular has started seeing imperialist fingerprints everywhere he looks.
European and US administrations have their own agenda concerning the new Arab geopolitical landscape. In recent years, all the European leaders made a visit to Gaddafi's tent, in immoral pursuit of signatures on rich contracts for their national companies. Chavez is not commercially unknown to Gaddafi as well. Reciprocal visits in recent years produced the ratification of important bilateral agreements and a step forward for the new multi-polar world Chavez advocates. And Gaddafi too is not anymore the socialist he claimed to be in the seventies, but a modern capitalist investor, with shares in some of the companies which are now pillars of the world capitalist system.
The anti-imperialist Bolivarian stance on the Libyan crisis has served to highlight what already was palpable: the increasingly noticeable split between leftist social movements and those Latin American leaders who in the last decade gave people hope for more equal societies. As Chavez said in 1998 to a cheerful crowd when he was elected, “The power you have given to me does not belong to me. This is your power. You will rule the country”.
Now, as in 1998, the power is in the hands of the Arab people. This is what we should concentrate on, not on those leaders, whoever they may be, who one after another are losing popular support. Things are at last turned upside down and these masses, not their leaders, now embody the new challenge for a different world and a more equal future.