The Venezuelan people: masters of revolution

February 12, 2010

Inside the Revolution: A Journey into the Heart of Venezuela
Directed by Pablo Navarrete

If you think you know everything about Venezuela, well, think again. Pablo Navarrete's documentary Inside the Revolution: A Journey into the Heart of Venezuela is a very thoughtful look at 10 years of change since Hugo Chavez's election in 1998.

You won't find "Chavez the hero" or "Chavez the villain" here — there's less of Chavez than in most portraits of the country.

The film trades on ambiguity and contradiction. Venezuela has long been the "magical country", with oil wealth shaping social development in unpredictable ways.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote novels such as Love in the Time of Cholera, based on astonishing events on the Caribbean coast that Venezuela shares with Colombia.

The biggest contradiction of all is that Venezuela, a country known for its love of Big Macs, baseball and all things American, has led global opposition to George Bush's foreign policy, the Washington Consensus and the US-shaped New World Order.

For 50 years,Venezuela was run by an increasingly corrupt elite, rotating power between the two main political parties — Accion Democratica (social democrats) and COPEI (christian democrats).

In 1989 during the "Caracazo" hundreds of people were killed and thousands injured, as police fired on protesters mobilising against International Monetary Fund (IMF)-inspired spending cuts. It was Latin America's Tiananmen Square, but unlike Tiananmen, it received virtually no attention outside the country at the time.

Chavez, then a young army officer, rebelled against the killings and mounted a coup to protect citizens from the military assault. He famously surrendered on national television and radio, but only "por ahora" (for now). After imprisonment and then a pardon, he won the presidency in 1998.

Chavez's victory ended the old two-party era and, though he initially proclaimed a brand of "third way" politics, he later moved sharply to the left.

The traditional elite, strongly aided by the US, mounted a full-scale assault on his government, culminating in a 2002 coup where he was temporarily removed from power.

Inside the Revolution argues that despite the ambiguities, the world's media looks at Venezuela from the perspective of the "folks on the hill", the wealthy and well connected elite. The changes in Venezuela threaten them, and they are in constant revolt, while the perspective of the majority of Venezuelans is ignored.

Even the so-called liberal press finds it easier to go to the relatively well-heeled parts of the country rather than talk to the people of the barrios (poor neighbourhoods), peasant farmers or indigenous people.

This film talks to the people: farmers, community organisers and — most of all — the hip-hop revolution artist "Master".

Such accounts displace Chavez from his pedestal and put the people at the centre. The Venezuelan people — especially those excluded from influence — revolted against the IMF cuts, swept away the corrupt governing parties, pushed the present government in more radical directions and put Chavez in power, even rescuing him during the coup.

While the film corrects the avalanche of elite commentary on Venezuela, it's also unsparing in its criticisms of the corruption, crime and concentrations of power that remain in the country.

In one bit of electric footage, Master and his rappers play to Chavez, slipping in an unscheduled number to rap out to the president, standing just feet away, the failings of his government. You will have to watch for yourself to see his reaction.

Capitalism is increasingly in crisis: the financial catastrophe and recession are only part of its failings. People are looking for an alternative, and this film contains an interesting discussion of what 21st century socialism could mean.

This is socialism with direct democracy, Marx, the Latin American leader Simon Bolivar, radical Christianity, free software, anarchism and much else in the mix.

Master notes somewhere at the beginning of the film that "culture is the train ideologies travel by". Have a good trip — we are entering new territory.

[From Red Pepper.]

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