Alan Woods speaking at the rally
On the 15th August this year a recall referendum was held in Venezuela. Do you know what a recall referendum is? It is an admirably democratic mechanism, whereby a government, or a leadership, which gets too far out of touch with the electorate, or the membership, can be called to account through a referendum.
I can think of several leaders on a world scale who would greatly benefit from the application of this mechanism. In the first place George W. Bush. It would be very good if he could be recalled through a referendum! I can also think of another leader – a lot nearer to home – who would be a very suitable candidate for recall. But I will not mention any names in order not to hurt anybody’s feelings! [laughter]
Now why is it that George Bush cannot be recalled through a referendum? The reason is that no such mechanism exists in the American Constitution, admirable as that document is in many respects. It only exists in Venezuela, thanks to the very democratic Constitution introduced by Hugo Chavez.
What was the result of this referendum? Chavez won by a majority of 60 percent. This is an astounding result. Just imagine: President Chavez has been in power for six years. In 1998 he was elected with a majority of 56 percent. How many leaders in the world today could get re-elected after six years with a majority of this size?
This referendum was subjected to an intense scrutiny, among others by Jimmy (“Peanuts”) Carter. All of them were forced to concede that the referendum was scrupulously fair and democratic.
But maybe there was a poor turnout. No, the turnout was an astounding 90 percent. Just compare this with participation in elections in Britain. In the local and European elections the level of participation is extremely low, and it is not much better in national elections. It is difficult to get people to come out to vote. In the USA the situation is even worse.
Why are people so reluctant to vote? In 30 years of membership of the Labour Party I have never found that people say: “Labour is too extreme” or “You are too left wing.” That is not what they say. They say: “What is the point in voting?” “It will make no difference.” “They are all the same.”
Well, in Venezuela, people do not think that it will make no difference. There is quite a big difference. The Chavez government has taken some very important measures in the interests of the people. In this Conference I have often heard the phrase: “Education, education, education.” Does that sound familiar to you? Yes, but in Venezuela they have increased spending on education by three times, and the same is true for health.
Comrades and friends, there is a lesson here, and it is this: the supposedly apathetic and passive masses will always respond when they see a government that is taking energetic measures in their interest!
In the months before the referendum the media on a world scale tried to present the idea that Chavez was a dictator. Now this lie has been exposed. This “dictator” has won every national and local election for the past six years with resounding majorities. In fact he has won more elections in such a short period than any other leader on a world scale. Yet before the referendum what is laughingly called the “free press” was shouting about dictatorship in Venezuela.
Now they have fallen silent. Shtumm! They have nothing to say about the referendum. But does this mean that the problem is solved, and that Washington will now leave Venezuela alone? No! It means nothing of the kind!
The fact is that the American imperialists will never be reconciled to the Venezuelan Revolution, any more than they will ever be reconciled to the Cuban Revolution. And for the same reason. It provides an example for the millions of poor, downtrodden, hungry people of Latin America. That is why they cannot accept it.
The attacks on Venezuela will continue, led by the most powerful nation on earth. But is there a power that is greater than the power of US imperialism? Yes, there is such a power! It is the power of the world working class, the power of the international labour movement, the Labour Party and the trade unions!
Comrades and friends, brothers and sisters! Socialism is international or it is nothing. The Labour Movement was founded on the basis of the struggle against injustice in Britain and internationally. It inscribed on its banner the struggle against colonialism and imperialism, against the bullying of small and weak nations by great powers.
The Hands off Venezuela Campaign is now active in over thirty countries [applause]. But we need your help! We appeal to you to join us. We ask you to raise the question of Venezuela in every trade union branch and every Constituency Labour Party. Together we can succeed.
HANDS OFF VENEZUELA! [applause]
September 29, 2004