A mark on history
The last time I wrote an editor’s letter, Hugo Chávez had just been re-elected president in Venezuela. This time, his death, after weeks of mounting speculation, has been announced.
During the media blackout while he lay in hospital, his opponents exercised their vituperation, his followers offered prayers. According to the country’s Constitution, fresh elections will need to be held within 30 days.
For now, amid fears of public disorder and political succession, it is difficult not to wonder what the mark of his leadership will be on history. The sheer scale of the deployment of the nation’s wealth (mainly oil resources) towards provision for the poorest is impossible to ignore, despite the criticisms of megalomania or even corruption. Will the Bolivarian revolution that he spearheaded, which has brought land reform, free healthcare, education and, more recently, free or affordable housing to millions, now falter, at a time when the world is more ready than ever for a genuine politics of equality?
If Chávez’s claims sometimes seemed grandiose, the venom of his moneyed opponents was usually more unreal. One Venezuelan expatriate I met insisted that everything Chávez claimed to have achieved was lies regardless of proof; wealthy parts of the country should secede; the poor were being misled. The conviction with which this was said reinforced a cliché – money does strange things to people.
In this edition we discuss the amazing Venezuelan project to build three million homes – public housing to shelter the most vulnerable. Its future will depend on Venezuela’s political leadership after Chávez.
Also in this issue, Jeremy Keenan offers an alternative explanation for what happened at the Tiguentourine gas plant in Algeria in January – with Algeria’s secret service heavily implicated in both the kidnappings and the bloodbath that followed. And film director Ken Loach talks to us about his political passions and inspirations.
Next month our focus moves from housing to land and the urgent issue of what massive land grabs in the Majority World mean to the people on the ground.
Dinyar Godrej for the New Internationalist co-operative.