Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Arundhati Roy on India´s Globalization Problems

Unfortunately, India is in as much trouble as the rest of the world, despite Gandhi´s amazing presence there historically.  It´s worth a visit to the Right Livelihood Award to check out some of the excellent activist efforts that have been going on there. 


Arundhati Roy: Is India on a Totalitarian Path?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 09:09 By Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh, Democracy Now! | Video Interview

2014 0416royArundhati Roy's trenchant analysis of the destructive impact of global neoliberalism on India is availble directly from Truthout by clicking here. Capitalism: A Ghost Story is a passionate, detailed journey through the injustices of systemic inequality.
As voting begins in India in the largest elections the world has ever seen, we spend the hour with Indian novelist and essayist Arundhati Roy. Nearly 815 million Indians are eligible to vote, and results will be issued in May. One of India’s most famous authors - and one of its fiercest critics - Roy is out with a new book, Capitalism: A Ghost Story, which dives into India’s transforming political landscape and makes the case that globalized capitalism has intensified the wealth divide, racism, and environmental degradation. "This new election is going to be [about] who the corporates choose," Roy says, "[about] who is not going to blink about deploying the Indian army against the poorest people in this country, and pushing them out to give over those lands, those rivers, those mountains, to the major mining corporations." Roy won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel, The God of Small Things. Her other books include An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire and Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers.
AMY GOODMAN: Voting has begun in India in the largest election the world has ever seen. About 815 million Indians are eligible to vote over the next five weeks. The number of voters in India is more than two-and-a-half times the entire population of the United States. The election will take place in nine phases at over 900,000 polling stations across India. Results will be known on May 16th.
Pre-election polls indicate Narendra Modi will likely become India’s next prime minister. Modi is the leader of the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party. He serves—he served as the chief minister of Gujarat, where one of India’s worst anti-Muslim riots occurred in 2002 that left at least a thousand people dead. After the bloodshed, the U.S. State Department revoked Modi’s visa, saying it could not grant a visa to any foreign government official who, quote, "was responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom." Modi has never apologized for or explained his actions at the time of the riots.
Modi’s main challenger to become prime minister is Rahul Gandhi of the ruling Congress party. Gandhi is heir to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that’s governed India for much of its post-independence history.
Several smaller regional parties and the new anti-corruption Common Man Party are also in the running. If no single party wins a clear majority, the smaller parties could play a crucial role in forming a coalition government.
Well, today we spend the hour with one of India’s most famous authors and one of its fiercest critics, Arundhati Roy. In 1997, Roy won the Booker Prize for her novel, The God of Small Things. Since then, she has focused on nonfiction. Her books include An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers and Walking with the Comrades. Her latest book is titled Capitalism: A Ghost Story. Nermeen Shaikh and I recently sat down with Arundhati Roy when she was in New York. We began by asking about her new book and the changes that have taken place in India since it opened its economy in the early ’90s.
ARUNDHATI ROY: What we’re always told is that, you know, there’s going to be a trickle-down revolution. You know, that kind of opening up of the economy that happened in the early '90s was going to lead to an inflow of foreign capital, and eventually the poor would benefit. So, you know, being a novelist, I started out by standing outside this 27-story building that belonged to Mukesh Ambani, with its ballrooms and its six floors of parking and 900 servants and helipads and so on. And it had this 27-story-high vertical lawn, and bits of the grass had sort of fallen off in squares. And so, I said, "Well, trickle down hasn't worked, but gush up has," because after the opening up of the economy, we are in a situation where, you know, 100 of India’s wealthiest people own—their combined wealth is 25 percent of the GDP, whereas more than 80 percent of its population lives on less than half a dollar a day. And the levels of malnutrition, the levels of hunger, the amount of food intake, all these—all these, you know, while India is shown as a quickly growing economy, though, of course, that has slowed down now dramatically, but at its peak, what happened was that this new—these new economic policies created a big middle class, which, given the population of India, gave the impression of—it was a universe of its own, with, you know, the ability to consume cars and air conditioners and mobile phones and all of that. And that huge middle class came at a cost of a much larger underclass, which was just away from the arc lights, you know, which wasn’t—which wasn’t even being looked at, millions of people being displaced, pushed off their lands either by big development project or just by land which had ceased to be productive. You had—I mean, we have had 250,000 farmers committing suicide, which, if you even try to talk about, let’s say, on the Indian television channels, you actually get insulted, you know, because it—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I mean, that’s an extraordinary figure. It’s a quarter of a million farmers who have killed themselves.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah, and let me say that that figure doesn’t include the fact that, you know, if it’s a woman who kills herself, she’s not considered a farmer, or now they’ll start saying, "Oh, it wasn’t suicide. Oh, it was depression. It was this. It was that." You know?
AMY GOODMAN: But why are they killing themselves?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Because they are caught in a debt trap, you know, because what happens is that the entire—the entire face of agriculture has changed. So people start growing cash crops, you know, crops which are market-friendly, which need a lot of input. You know, they need pesticides. They need borewells. They need all kinds of chemicals. And then the crop fails, or the cost of the—that they get for their product doesn’t match the amount of money they have to put into it. And also you have situations like in the Punjab, where—which was called the "rice bowl of India." Punjab never used to grow rice earlier, but now—
AMY GOODMAN: In the north of India.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yes, in the north. And it’s supposed to be India’s richest agricultural state. But there you have so many farmer suicides now, land going saline. The, you know, people, ironically, the way they commit suicide is by drinking the pesticide, you know, which they need to—and apart from the fact that the debt, the illness that is being caused by all of this, in Punjab, you have a train called the Cancer Express, you know, where people just coming in droves to be treated for illness and—you know, and—
AMY GOODMAN: And the train is called the Cancer Express?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yes, it’s called the Cancer Express. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Because of the pesticide that they’re exposed to?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah, and they are. And this is the richest state in India, you know—I mean agriculturally the richest. And there’s a crisis there—never mind in places like, you know, towards the west, Maharashtra and Vidarbha, where, you know, farmers are killing themselves almost every day.
AMY GOODMAN: I was wondering if you could read from Capitalism: A Ghost Story.
ARUNDHATI ROY: So, "In India, the 300 million of us who belong to the new, post-IMF 'reforms' middle class—the market—live side by side with the spirits of the nether world, the poltergeists of dead rivers, dry wells, bald mountains and denuded forests; the ghosts of 250,000 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us. And who survive on less than half a dollar, which is 20 Indian rupees, a day.
“Mukesh Ambani is personally worth $20 billion. He holds a majority controlling share in Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), a company with a market capitalization of $47 billion and global business interests that include petrochemicals, oil, natural gas, polyester fibre, Special Economic Zones, fresh food retail, high schools, life sciences research and stem cell storage services. RIL recently bought 95 per cent shares in Infotel, a TV consortium that controls 27 TV news and entertainment channels in almost every regional language.
RIL is one of a handful of corporations that run India. Some of the others are the Tatas, Jindals, Vedanta, Mittals, Infosys, Essar. Their race for growth has spilled across Europe, Central Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their nets are cast wide; they are visible and invisible, over-ground as well as underground. The Tatas, for example, run more than 100 companies in 80 countries. They are one of India’s oldest and largest private sector power companies. They own mines, gas fields, steel plants, telephone, cable TV and broadband networks, and they run whole townships. They manufacture cars and trucks, and own the Taj Hotel chain, Jaguar, Land Rover, Daewoo, Tetley Tea, a publishing company, a chain of bookstores, a major brand of iodized salt and the cosmetics giant Lakme—which I think they’ve sold now. Their advertising tagline could easily be: You Can’t Live Without Us.
"According to the rules of the Gush-Up Gospel, the more you have, the more you can have."....

Interference with US Volkswagen Plant Union Vote

The VW plant employee vote on creating a UAW union branch is a great illustration of the state of the US political economy today, and the existence of an anti-democratic oligarchy and plutocracy. 


A Primer on the Antiunion Campaign at Volkswagen

Monday, 14 April 2014 12:02 By John Logan, Truthout | Op-Ed

The Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., Jan. 28, 2014. (Photo: Tami Chappell / The New York Times) The Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., Jan. 28, 2014. (Photo: Tami Chappell / The New York Times)
Given the dizzying array of antiunion forces that were involved in the campaign to undermine workers' choice to form a union at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, a who's who of who did what in the dirty tricks campaign may come in handy.
On April 9, the United Auto Workers (UAW) subpoenaed Republican Sen. Bob Corker, Governor Bill Haslam and 18 other state officials to appear at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB hearing into third-party intervention in the union election at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Given the dizzying array of antiunion forces that were involved in the campaign to undermine workers' choice, it's easy to lose track of who did what.
The anti-UAW campaign at Volkswagen had everything: a senator deliberately misleading workers; a governor offering Volkswagen hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars - but only if the union lost - senior state politicians openly making threats of financial retribution; Republican staffers secretly coordinating the anti-UAW campaign with notorious union busters; shadowy organizations with links to the nation's leading right-wing activists; an Ayn Rand-inspired anti-union consultant; and AstroTurf organizations that purported to be groups of rank-and-file workers. And this is only what we know so far.
Here's a quick primer to the main actors in the campaign to subvert workers' choice:
Competitive Enterprise Institute: A shadowy libertarian organization with links to the Koch Brothers and right-wing foundations. CEI's involvement was primarily through right-wing activist Matt Patterson, who later went on to spearhead the antiunion campaign with the Center for Worker Freedom.
Center for Worker Freedom: A special project of Grover Norquist's American for Tax Reform. CWF Director Matt Patterson spent a year in Chattanooga spreading misinformation. After the election, he boasted that his strategy of involving workers' families and the community had caused "strife."
Bob Corker: Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) twice told workers he had been given assurances that Volkswagen would expand production at Chattanooga if they voted against the union. It wasn't true. Never before has a senator misused his position to interfere in a union election at a private company in this way.
Jim Gray: Antiunion consultant Gray heads a South Carolina firm that has a "primary focus on union avoidance." After attending an anti-UAW planning meeting, Gray stated, "I'm just here to help out." It appears that Gray helped arrange the production of the antiunion campaign videos.
Bill Haslam: Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam offered Volkswagen $300 million in subsidies, but only if the UAW lost. Written at top of the confidential document was the following caveat: "The incentives described below are subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee."
Peter List: A notorious antiunion consultant, List is the founder and CEO of Kulture Labor Relations. According to a profile in Fortune magazine, List is "a firm believer in Ayn Rand's philosophy of radical individualism" who "opposes all state efforts to regulate labor relations." In a 2007 organizing campaign, NLRB member Dennis Walsh wrote that in his effort to "persuade" workers, List had engaged in "patently unlawful" activities.
National Right to Work Committee Legal Defense Fund: The organization claimed that it only provided free legal support for antiunion workers, but the UAW has alleged that a NRTW lawyer was also involved in coordinating the antiunion campaign.
Maury Nicely: A Chattanooga antiunion lawyer who fronted Southern Momentum, Inc., Nicely told Reuters that his group had raised over $100,000 from antiunion businesses and individuals. Despite purporting to represent ordinary Volkswagen workers, none of SMI's funding came from workers, and few Volkswagen workers had any direct involvement with it.
Projections, Inc.: One of the country's leading "union avoidance" firms, Projections created three antiunion videos for SMI, which were shown at public meetings, put on SMI's "" website and given to workers on flash drives so they could watch them with their families. The videos implied that workers job security would be threatened if they voted for the union.
Robin Smith: Chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, Smith compared the UAW to an "infestation" of "Ichneumon wasp larvae." When the NAACP expressed support for an investigation into Haslam's secret offer, Smith tweeted: "@NAACP supports @UAW at @VW in Chattanooga. Those allies tell the tale." As indicated by her comments, the Tennessee GOP establishment intervened in the election in a disgraceful manner.
Southern Momentum, Inc.: SMI was the one antiunion group that claimed to represent ordinary Volkswagen workers. In reality, it was another AstroTurf organization, headed by antiunion lawyer Maury Nicely, funded by antiunion businesses, and which hired expensive external union avoidance professionals.
Bo Watson: State Senator Watson and other senior state politicians threatened to block financial incentives for the company - which the workers understood would threaten their job security - if workers voted for the UAW. The day before workers started voting, Watson stated at a press conference that, "members of the Tennessee Senate will not view unionization as in the best interest of Tennessee," and that lawmakers would "have a difficult time convincing our citizens to support any Volkswagen incentive package."
Todd Womack: Corker's chief of staff was in direct contact with Tennessee politicians - including members of the Governor's cabinet - and union avoidance groups about anti-UAW messaging. Womack sent an email concerning the three Projections anti-UAW videos. Recipients of his message included Grey, List, and the heads of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce and Tennessee Manufacturers Association.
The Volkswagen election showed the extraordinary lengths to which Republican lawmakers and antiunion organizations are prepared to go to subvert workers' right to choose a union. Whatever the eventual outcome at Chattanooga, they must never get away with these dirty tricks again.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission

John Logan

John Logan is a professor and director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University.

Interestingly enough, VW was OK about unions, thanks to the urging of their pre-existing unions in Germany, and didn't oppose this vote at all. In fact, they tacitly approved of it. VW wants Workers Councils in the US like they use in Germany, a structure that is properly illegal in this country without the presence of a Union. It makes for a more efficient operation of production, not to mention happier workers.
The Republican politicians opposed it for ideological reasons and as part of a wider allegiance to plutocratic special interests.
If the company was truly enlightened, they'd walk away and go to somewhere like Detroiit, set up the plant with a Union presence. But I don't expect this to happen--they've put a lot into investigating this site. But it'd send a great message to the Republicans.

Agreed. Ultimately, a non-profit needs to create a certification for automobiles that parallels Fair Trade for imported agricultural products (which has emphasized co-ops, and just advanced to living wages for hired labor). Jobs For Justice, for example. Without visibility, much leverage for worker justice is lost. FSC for forests is another example. Need that market visibility for consumer choice and consciousness....

Monday, April 7, 2014

Uruguay and Chavez

I'd heard about the legalization of marijuana in Uruguay, but my wife heard a little more on the radio recently here in Brazil.  So I then found these two pieces.  I finished reading Bart Jones' bio of Hugo Chavez some weeks ago, and really liked it.  It gives great details on all sorts of aspects of his life and times, including the economic oligarchy's hyper-antagonism supported or lead by US Intelligence in the form of the National Endowment for Democracy and US AID.  In the Overview below, I would edit it to include after his "autocratic streak" that Chavez has channeled (it) to benefit the people, which accounts for......

Uruguay's president José Mujica: no palace, no motorcade, no frills

In the week that Uruguay legalises cannabis, the 78-year-old explains why he rejects the 'world's poorest president' label
José Mujica plans adoptions to teach children farming
José Mujica
José Mujica, the Uruguayan president, at his house in Montevideo. Photograph: Mario Goldman/AFP/Getty Images
If anyone could claim to be leading by example in an age of austerity, it is José Mujica, Uruguay's president, who has forsworn a state palace in favour of a farmhouse, donates the vast bulk of his salary to social projects, flies economy class and drives an old Volkswagen Beetle.
But the former guerrilla fighter is clearly disgruntled by those who tag him "the world's poorest president" and – much as he would like others to adopt a more sober lifestyle – the 78-year-old has been in politics long enough to recognise the folly of claiming to be a model for anyone.
"If I asked people to live as I live, they would kill me," Mujica said during an interview in his small but cosy one-bedroom home set amid chrysanthemum fields outside Montevideo.
The president is a former member of the Tupamaros guerrilla group, which was notorious in the early 1970s for bank robberies, kidnappings and distributing stolen food and money among the poor. He was shot by police six times and spent 14 years in a military prison, much of it in dungeon-like conditions.
Since becoming leader of Uruguay in 2010, however, he has won plaudits worldwide for living within his means, decrying excessive consumption and pushing ahead with policies on same-sex marriage, abortion and cannabis legalisation that have reaffirmed Uruguay as the most socially liberal country in Latin America.
Praise has rolled in from all sides of the political spectrum. Mujica may be the only leftwing leader on the planet to win the favour of the Daily Mail, which lauded him as a trustworthy and charismatic figurehead in an article headlined: "Finally, A politician who DOESN'T fiddle his expenses."
But the man who is best known as Pepe says those who consider him poor fail to understand the meaning of wealth. "I'm not the poorest president. The poorest is the one who needs a lot to live," he said. "My lifestyle is a consequence of my wounds. I'm the son of my history. There have been years when I would have been happy just to have a mattress."
He shares the home with his wife, Lucía Topolansky, a leading member of Congress who has also served as acting president.
As I near the home of Uruguay's first couple, the only security detail is two guards parked on the approach road, and Mujica's three-legged dog, Manuela.
Mujica cuts an impressively unpolished figure. Wearing lived-in clothes and well-used footwear, the bushy-browed farmer who strolls out from the porch resembles an elderly Bilbo Baggins emerging from his Hobbit hole to scold an intrusive neighbour.
In conversation, he exudes a mix of warmth and cantankerousness, idealism about humanity's potential and a weariness with the modern world – at least outside the eminently sensible shire in which he lives.
He is proud of his homeland – one of the safest and least corrupt in the region – and describes Uruguay as "an island of refugees in a world of crazy people".
The country is proud of its social traditions. The government sets prices for essential commodities such as milk and provides free computers and education for every child.
Key energy and telecommunications industries are nationalised. Under Mujica's predecessor, Uruguay led the world in moves to restrict tobacco consumption. Earlier this week, it passed the world's most sweeping marijuana regulation law, which will give the state a major role in the legal production, distribution and sale of the drug.
Such actions have won praise and – along with progressive policies on abortion and gay marriage – strengthened Uruguay's reputation as a liberal country. But Mujica is almost as reluctant to accept this tag as he is to agree with the "poorest president" label.
"My country is not particularly open. These measures are logical," he said. "With marijuana, this is not about being more liberal. We want to take users away from clandestine dealers. But we will also restrict their right to smoke if they exceed sensible amounts of consumption. It is like alcohol. If you drink a bottle of whisky a day, then you should be treated as a sick person."
Uruguay's options to improve society are limited, he believes, by the power of global capital.
"I'm just sick of the way things are. We're in an age in which we can't live without accepting the logic of the market," he said. "Contemporary politics is all about short-term pragmatism. We have abandoned religion and philosophy … What we have left is the automatisation of doing what the market tells us."
The president lives within his means and promotes the use of renewable energy and recycling in his government's policies. At the United Nations' Rio+20 conference on sustainable development last year, he railed against the "blind obsession" to achieve growth through greater consumption. But, with Uruguay's economy ticking along at a growth rate of more than 3%, Mujica – somewhat grudgingly, it seems – accepts he must deliver material expansion. "I'm president. I'm fighting for more work and more investment because people ask for more and more," he said. "I am trying to expand consumption but to diminish unnecessary consumption … I'm opposed to waste – of energy, or resources, or time. We need to build things that last. That's an ideal, but it may not be realistic because we live in an age of accumulation."
Asked for a solution to this contradiction, the president admits he doesn't have the answers, but the former Marxist said the search for a solution must be political. "We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means – by being prudent – the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction," he said. "But we think as people and countries, not as a species."
Mujica and his wife chat fondly about meetings with Che Guevara, and the president guesses he is probably the last leader in power to have met Mao Zedong, but he has mixed feelings about the recent revolts and protests in Brazil, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere. "The world will always need revolution. That doesn't mean shooting and violence. A revolution is when you change your thinking. Confucianism and Christianity were both revolutionary," he said.
But he is cynical about demonstrations organised by social networks that quickly dissolve before they have a capacity to build anything lasting. "The protesters will probably finish up working for multinationals and dying of modern diseases. I hope that I am wrong about that."

Life history
Shot, arrested, jailed and elected

1969 Active in the Tupamaros revolutionary group, which earned a reputation as the "Robin Hood guerrillas" by robbing delivery trucks and banks and distributing the food and money among the poor.
1970 Arrested for the first of four times. Mujica escapes Punta Carretas prison in a daring jailbreak. Shot and wounded numerous times in conflicts with security forces.

Tax justice and social justice in Uruguay

....From an expenditures perspective, the last two left-wing governments have focused on correcting inequality and ensuring the realization of rights, increasing expenditures from 20 to 25%. According to the Directorate General for Taxation, unlike what happened in the 90s, since 2003 Uruguay is growing economically, and since the new tax reform was introduced in 2007, inequality has been reduced and is now at its lowest in the last 30 years.
The DGI Director said, "A society can only guarantee long-term growth if it distributes the fruits of its prosperity in an appropriate manner among all citizens and members. But it can only ensure the conditions for redistribution and for improving equity and social cohesion through securing significant growth rates during a prolonged period". In terms of income, the challenge Ferreri raises is to move ahead in progressivity increasing the weight of direct taxes, not only on earned personal income but also on income capital and business revenues. In terms of expenditures, the challenge is to address issues like innovation, education and developing infrastructure skills. According to this high-ranking officer, this requires encouraging private sector investments to be able to allocate public expenditure towards eliminating inequity.
Minister Eduardo Brenta presented key advances in terms of employment and social security. Firstly, he highlighted legal reforms including the laws on collective bargaining, protection for union organizing, domestic work, 8-hours of work for rural workers and outsourcing. Then, he referred to the improvements in employment, unemployment and salary indicators for Uruguay. The country has reached its highest employment rate in history, with unemployment staying at about 5%, below what is known as the structural unemployment rate, which means that sectors that were formerly excluded from the labor market are now included. The Minister also presented the positive evolution of the real wages (a 40% increase since 2002) and the national minimum wage (that will have grown 108% during the current administration, from 5,000 to 10,000 Uruguayan Pesos). Brenta considered that this situation refutes a paradigm: "Reality has shown that we have managed to grow and at the same time distribute wealth through a set of policies", including tax and labor policies.
However, women and youth still face challenges in entering the labor market and are over-represented in informal employment. The Minister mentioned a series of laws that the government will promote to improve these groups' inclusion in the labor market, including prolonging maternity and paternity leave, creating parental leave and a youth employment law. He also highlighted the need to create a National Care System that "we will probably be able to consolidate in the next term". The Minister sees this as a strategic national goal: "We must not only build equality but also ground that equality in a sustainable economic model (...) because the resources available in Uruguay still lie with women and youth. The country can not afford these resources to not play a significant role in the development process".
Researcher Florencia Amábile presented the findings from the research studies conducted by the Economy Department of the Social Sciences Faculty at Universidad de la Republica, whose goal was to analyze the redistribution effect of household taxes and the social expenditures (2009).   The conclusions presented by Amábile show that in terms of inequality, Uruguay is the second country that has reduced the Gini Index the most, but drops to the fourth place in effectiveness. In relation to poverty, Uruguay is placed first both in reduction and in effectiveness. Combining taxes and transfers, "Uruguay has managed very well to combat poverty in terms of effectiveness of its expenditures, but its performance in terms of inequality has not been equally good", said Amábile. In terms of reducing inequality and poverty, even though in-kind transfers for health and education are important, effective spending is achieved through direct transferences (non-contributory pensions :disability and old age pensions, family allowances and other BPS - Social Welfare Bank - subsidies). She highlighted that the households receiving non-contributory pensions are usually childless and with fewer members -.
Even though the international comparison shows that poverty rates have been lowered and social expenditure has contributed to it, poverty has not been eradicated. Only 5% of the poor are not getting any direct transfer. This shows that the persistence of poverty does not appear to be related to lack of coverage or to the per capita value of the transfers. Amábile thinks that policies need to be more focalized and there is also a need to consider if other interventions are required.


Ruling elites in Venezuela, the United States and Europe, and even Hugo Chávez himself though for different reasons, have been eager to have the world view him as the heir to Fidel Castro. But the truth about this increasingly influential world leader is more complex, and more interesting.. The Chávez that emerges from Bart Jones’ carefully researched and documented biography is neither a plaster saint nor a revolutionary tyrant. He has an undeniably autocratic streak, and yet has been freely and fairly re-elected to his nations presidency three times with astonishing margins of victory. He is a master politician and an inspired improviser, a Bolivarian nationalist and an unashamed socialist. His policies have brought him into conflict with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and major oil companies. They have also provided a model for new governments and social movements in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina. When in September 2006 he declared at the United Nations that ‘the devil came here yesterday … the President of the United States’, it was clear that he was taking on challenging the most powerful nation on earth, in conscious imitation of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar.