November, where the US failed to force through its key project for a Free Trade Area of the Americas,
which would further expose the continent to domination and exploitation by US corporations. In the 1980s and ’90s, the
US and international financial institutions forced severe neoliberal policies onto Latin America, impoverishing millions of people.
The first signs of the regional revolt came in Venezuela in February 1989, when
the poor spontaneously rose up against International Monetary Fund-imposed price rises on basic goods. Through the 1990s,
movements against neo-liberalism grew. In Bolivia, a mass revolt stopped the attempt to privatise
the nation’s water in 2000. In 2003 and 2005, mass revolts overthrew pro-US governments in Bolivia in battles that centred
on the demand, supported by Morales, to nationalise Bolivia’s gas reserves. In most countries the mass movements, while putting governments on the back foot and forcing concessions,
are yet to win power. But in Venezuela, the struggle has gone beyond periodic revolts
and into an ongoing revolution to transform the nation. The government of socialist President Hugo Chavez, elected in 1998,
has led the poor majority in a battle to take control of Venezuela’s resources and
put them to use to overcome crippling poverty and underdevelopment. When Chavez began introducing reforms that benefited the
poor over the rich, the local elite and multinationals — backed by the US government — responded
with repeated attempts to overthrow the government.
The resistance to any encroachment on their power by the capitalist elite has radicalised Venezuela’s poor, who have
come to realise that it is impossible to achieve change simply by electing a government and getting it to enact reforms. The
Venezuelan people have been forced to take the road of revolution and fight for popular power on the streets. In the process,
many have drawn the conclusion that capitalism cannot be reformed. In Venezuela, the revolution has raised
the banner of socialism again, well after it was declared dead and buried with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Venezuelan revolution
is working to build a “new socialism of the 21st century”, based on principles of democracy and humanism. And
it is working: poverty is decreasing (by 3 million people last year alone) and the poor are winning more and more power.
Imperialism is yet to be defeated in Latin America, but it is being pushed onto the back foot. From
Bolivia to Venezuela to Cuba, people are putting paid
to the notion that the only spirit Che Guevara represents today is the vodka that the Smirnoff corporation uses his face to
flog. The exact opposite is true: the revolutionary socialism that Che fought and died for is alive and well — and advancing.
[Stuart Munckton is the national coordinator of the socialist youth organisation Resistance.]