Amid Rival Tours of Latin America and the Caribbean

Chávez Debates Bush on Simón Bolívar and the Kind of Revolution America Needs


[Editors’ Note from Labor Standard: Before leaving on his tour of five Latin American countries U.S. President George W. Bush, in a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, equated George Washington and Simón Bolívar. In reply Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez pointed out some key differences between the two “liberators”—specifically, that while Washington ended up a wealthy and successful owner of a slave plantation after winning independence from Britain, Bolívar freed his slaves and gave away his land in the struggle for independence from Spain, and died a pauper.

[Chávez spoke on this subject at a rally of some 40,000 people in Argentina on March 9, across the La Plata River from where Bush was visiting Uruguay. A translation of key passages from Chávez’s March 9 speech was posted March 12 on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” web site (www.democracynow.org). We reproduce that translation for the information of our readers, preceded by Amy Goodman’s introductory remarks.]

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush has arrived in Guatemala for the second-to-last stop of his five-nation tour of Latin America. [Bush had visited Brazil first, then Uruguay, then Colombia.—L.S.] He is meeting with Guatemalan President Oscar Berger for talks that are expected to be dominated by immigration and free trade.

Bush’s visit to the region has been marked by mass protests and marches. In Brazil Thursday, 30,000 people took to the streets. The next day in Uruguay, some 6,000 marched in the capital of Montevideo. In Bogota, police made 120 arrests when 5,000 protesters marched just one mile from where Bush held talks with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Bush will travel to Mexico later today for the last leg of his tour.

While many analysts agree that the president’s trip is part of an effort to gain back influence in the region, the White House has sought to portray the tour as part of a humanitarian effort to address issues of poverty. Last week in Washington, President Bush spoke before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, not far from the White House, there’s a statue of the great liberator Simon Bolivar. He’s often compared to George Washington—Jorge W. Like Washington, he was a general who fought for the right of his people to govern themselves. Like Washington, he succeeded in defeating a much stronger colonial power. And like Washington, he belongs to all of us who love liberty. One Latin American diplomat had put it this way: “Neither Washington nor Bolivar was destined to have children of their own, so that we Americans might call ourselves their children.”

We are the sons and daughters of this struggle, and it is our mission to complete the revolution they began on our two continents. The millions across our hemisphere who every day suffer the degradations of poverty and hunger have a right to be impatient. And I’m going to make them this pledge: The goal of this great country, the goal of a country full of generous people, is an Americas where the dignity of every person is respected, where all find room at the table, and where opportunity reaches into every village and every home. By extending the blessings of liberty to the least among us, we will fulfill the destiny of this new world and set a shining example for others. Que Dios les bendiga. [May God’s blessings be with you.]

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush, speaking in Washington last week. In addition to the mass protests against his presence in the region, Bush has been dogged by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who’s on a counter-tour of Latin America at the same time. In fact, Chávez has practically shadowed Bush since the beginning of his trip. When Bush was in Uruguay on Friday, Chávez held a mass rally in neighboring Argentina. When Bush flew to Colombia, Chávez addressed thousands in Bolivia. When Bush was in Guatemala, Chávez was again close by in neighboring Nicaragua. [And while Bush went on to Mexico, Chávez went to Jamaica and Haiti.—L.S.]

Today, we’re going to play an excerpt of one of Chávez’s speeches, this at the mass really in Argentina on Friday. The Venezuelan president launched a stinging attack on Bush, who was in Uruguay, just thirty miles away across the La Plata River.

PRESIDENT HUGO CHÁVEZ: [translated] On the other side of the river, that is where that little gentleman of the North must be. Let’s give him a big boo! Gringo, go home!

I am convinced that our friends in Brasilia and in Montevideo are not going to feel offended, because we would not want to hurt any of our brethren from Uruguay or Brazil. We recognize their sovereignty. We recognize that those governments have the sovereign right to invite the little gentleman of the North, if they so choose.

But [Argentinian President Nestor] Kirchner and I don’t need to plan anything to sabotage this visit, because we are witnessing [a visit by] a true political cadaver. The president of the United States is a political cadaver. He doesn’t even smell of sulfur anymore. He doesn’t even smell of sulfur or brimstone, if you will. No longer.

What you smell from him now is the stench of political death. And not long from now, he will turn to dust and disappear. So we don’t need to put forth any effort to sabotage the visit of the president of the United States to some countries, sister countries of Central and South America, of course. We don’t need to do that. It’s a simple coincidence, the visit of Nestor [Kirchner] to Venezuela and our visit here to Buenos Aires.

Well, we nevertheless need to thank that little gentleman who’s visiting us, because if he were not here in South America, perhaps this event would not have been so well attended. We have organized this event to say no to the presence of the chief of the empire here in the heroic lands of South America.

The imperial little gentleman who’s visiting Latin America today said about seventy-two or forty-eight hours ago in one of his speeches, when he was announcing that he was leaving for Latin America—he compared Simón Bolívar to George Washington. In fact, he even said the ridiculous thing—and I can’t say it’s hypocrisy, because it is simply ridiculous, the most ridiculous thing he could say. He said, today we are all children of Washington and Bolívar. That is, he thinks that he is a son of Bolívar. What he is, is a son of a—but I can’t say that word here.

So he has said—and you should listen to what he said here—he said that now is the time to finish the revolution that Washington and Bolívar commenced. How’s that for heresy? That is heresy and ignorance, because we have to remember—and I say this with all due respect to George Washington, who is historically one of the founding fathers of that country—but we must also remember the differences and how different George Washington and Simón Bolívar were, are, and will always be.

George Washington won a war to gain the independence of the North American economic elite from the English empire, and when Washington died, or, rather, after winning independence and after having been the president of the United States, after ordering the massacre of the indigenous peoples of North America, after defending slavery, he ended up being a very rich owner of slaves and of a plantation. He was a great landowner. That was George Washington.

Simón Bolívar, although he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and at eight years old his parents died and he inherited a large fortune, together with his brothers, and he inherited haciendas and slaves. Simón Bolívar, when history led him—and as Karl Marx said, men make history, but only as far as history allows us to do so—when history took Bolívar and made him the leader of the independence process in Venezuela, he made that process revolutionary. Simón Bolívar turned over all of his land. He freed all of his slaves, and he turned them into soldiers, and he brought them here. He brought them to Peru and [Cochabamba, in Bolivia, the northern neighbor of Argentina], and he worked together with the troops of [the Argentinian independence fighter] San Martín to liberate this continent.

That was Simón Bolívar.

And Simón Bolívar, having been born with that silver spoon in his mouth, when he died on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, when he died on December 17 in 1830, he was wearing someone else’s shirt, because he had no clothes [of his own]. Simón Bolívar is the leader of the revolution of this land. He is the leader of the social revolution, the people’s revolution, a historic revolution. George Washington has nothing—nothing—to do with this history.

It was in 1823 [while Bolívar was still alive—L.S.] that [U.S. President] James Monroe said, “America for the Americans.” And when I say this tonight, I say it because I want to remind you, my brothers of Argentina, of Venezuela, and of the Americas, that the presence of the president of the United States in South America represents all of that. He represents that Monroe Doctrine of “America for the [North] Americans.” Well, we will have to tell him: North America for the North Americans and South America for the South Americans. This is our America.

The president of the United States, that political cadaver—and when I say political cadaver, I mean that although he would like to see me as a real cadaver, I want him to be a political cadaver, and he already is a political cadaver. The president of the United States has the lowest level of credibility and acceptance from his own people[, although] he is the current president of the United States.

It would appear that he doesn’t even dare mention my name, because he was asked in Brasilia today in a press conference—I saw it, I watched it at the hotel—and the journalist asked him, “It is said that you are here to stop Chavez’s movement in South America.” And it looked like he almost had a heart attack when he heard “Chavez,” because he actually stuttered a couple of times, and he actually changed the subject. He didn’t answer the question. He didn’t answer the question at all. So he doesn’t even dare [mention my name].

But I definitely dare to say his name. The president of the United States of North America, George W. Bush, the little gentleman of the North, the political cadaver that is visiting South America, that little gentleman is the president of the United States, and in all the history of the United States, he has the lowest level of approval in his own country. And if we add to that the level of [dis]approval that he has in the world, I would think he’s really in the red now, with negative numbers [below zero]…