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Tariq Ali's Latin American "axis of hope"

  • 11 July 2007

A few years ago, in Caracas, a school principal showed me a photo of herself and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. "Can you see how Chávez is leaning down so as not to overshadow me?" she said while recalling how members of the Opposition, during the April 2002 coup, had attempted to destroy the new Bolivarian primary school where she worked.

Each time I visit Latin America I experience a mixture of joy and rage over its abysmal poverty and the kaleidoscope of people's personal experiences, which are so often connected to political history.

When the possibility to interview Tariq Ali, author of Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, presented itself, I knew I had to take the opportunity. Ali's involvement with Latin America stretches back almost four decades. In 1967, as the world protested against the war in Vietnam, Ali was in Bolivia as a member of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, to observe the trial of Régis Debray as Che Guevara aimed to create a new revolution. Ali also took photos of "every Bolivian army officer in the region" for the Cubans, which on one occasion almost cost him his life.

The old rebel in Ali has not mellowed. When the left-wing army colonel Hugo Chávez won a landslide presidential election in late 1998, links between Caracas and Ali were soon established. Today he is a member of the advisory board of TeleSur — a TV network which is a joint venture between Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Having conversed with Chávez on various occasions, Ali believes he is "a politician who speaks from the heart." In his view:

"He is not a politician who is manicured. He is not a politician whose speeches are prepared by public relations advisors. He doesn't have any spin-doctors, and so you have to take most of what you get, which is good, with the occasional over-the-top remark."

In a world replete with politicians who construct almost every detail of their public appearances, it is easy to forget that Chávez is schooled in another type of politics. Even for many Chávistas, however, the President does on occasion go too far in his public statements, which at times have caused unnecessary diplomatic clashes with other countries in the region.

When asked about the political situation in Venezuela, Ali states that the Chávez government is not:

"...nationalising everything under the sun. They are using their state