The Guardian 23 March, 2005
"The New Century Belongs To
Socialism" — Hugo Chávez in Kolkata
Hugo Chávez Rafael Frias, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela boldly asserted that the 21st century belonged to the working people of the world and it belonged without doubt to socialism before an audience of several thousand people in and outside of the sprawling Rabindra Sarovar stadium in south Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on March 5.
Chávez reached Kolkata in the early evening and was greeted along both sides of the road he took to the Rabindra Sarovar venue by thousands of people who waved both the Red Flag and the Venezuelan colours while shouting slogans welcoming the Latin American leader to Kolkata. The scene reminded one of the times when Nelson Mandela, Nguyen Vo Giap, and Yassser Arafat had visited the city in the past.
By the time Chávez reached the stadium, the venue was completely filled with people and the surrounding roads were jam-packed with people eager to listen to the Latin American leader and to catch a glimpse of him in the two large-screen closed-circuit videos erected outside.
Chávez began by endearing himself to the hearts-and-minds of the gathering by enunciating clearly in Bengali: "Ami apnader bhalobashi". ("I love you all"). He was cheered throughout his speech, and as he subsequently started using words that sounded familiar to the audience, he was greeted with loud cheering even before the official interpreter, who was often lost for words, could render the Spanish into Bengali.
Referring to the ambience witnessed by him at the World Social Forum in Porto Allegre in Brazil, the Venezuelan President compared the scene with that he experienced here in Kolkata. Loud cheering followed. He said that it had been his long-cherished dream to come to Kolkata and Bengal, and that he was overwhelmed at experiencing the emotion that the people of the metropolis had generated in him by the sincerity of their welcome.
Chávez said that he had already concluded six bilateral treaties with India and that he looked forward to the cooperation between the two countries — as between workers, peasants, fishing-folk, students, youth, and women of India and Venezuela — widening and deepening. "We shall supply oil to India", said the Venezuelan President.
Stand against imperialism
Kolkata, said Chávez, "is a city of working class and has an intellectual tradition and it has always stood against colonialism and imperialism: no wonder the British colonialists thought it prudent to shift the capital away from this great city".
For 27 years a Left Front Government — led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) — has been in office in the state of West Bengal and the Venezuelan leader declared amidst cheering that it was his firm belief that the Left Front Government would "continue to serve the people for very many more years to come".
"People of Kolkata", said Chávez, "I embrace you all."
Chávez said that he would take the opportunity to send forth his greetings to "two other Communist governments of the world: China and Cuba", and say saludos to Fidel and Hu Jintao.
Comparing the situation prevailing in Venezuela to that in Bengal, Chávez said that both their people were engaged in battling poverty, and in alleviating misery while going on the path to development.
In Chávez's words: "We have come to your state to learn how to work for the people, by remaining with the people all the way". Chávez said that he was repeatedly struck by the similarity of the ambience, political, social, and environmental, prevailing in Kolkata and Bengal, and that in Venezuela. "I do believe that everything here looks very familiar to me as if I am still in Caracas."
Chávez declared amidst cheering that while the 19th century belonged to Europe and the 20th century to the USA, the 21st century belonged to socialism and to the working people of the world. The 21st century will surely witness the people of Asia-Africa-Latin America winning their rights from the grip of the imperialists. "The people of these continents must unite and struggle and imperialism will bow low before us", declared the Venezuelan leader.
Quoting Karl Marx, Chávez called upon the working people of the world to unite and said that the time had come to iterate that slogan all over the world as the working people struggle against imperialism. Chávez said Imperialism had ruined the economies of both Latin America and India, and imperialism was also a sworn enemy of democracy.
Chávez said that for three years now Venezuela had been engaged in a struggle to ward off US moves against it. He said that although the US was determined to destroy Venezuela, the people of Venezuela are determined to triumph over imperialism. "If the US launched an aggression against Venezuela", declared Chávez, "they shall have to pay the highest price."
The history of Venezuela was in the process of being rebuilt through revolution, Chavez asserted, and he said that no one could defeat the Venezuelan revolution.
"Socialism is the future"
"We want the 21st century to be the century of social justice, of the triumph of the working people everywhere, and of Socialism. Socialism is the future and it is a certainty", declared Chavez before ending his speech by reciting a Tagore poem, which was then recited in the original by Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
Earlier, welcoming Chávez, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee briefly described the anti-imperialist tradition of Kolkata and declared that Chavez, a friend of and a comrade to Fidel Castro, was also the torchbearer of the tradition set by the Latin American hero of anti-colonial struggle, Simon Bolivar.
Summarising the achievements chalked up by Chávez's government, Buddhadeb said that the government has handed over two million hectares of land to three million peasants. A food distribution program has been launched for the poor in the towns and villages. A great drive has been initiated for literacy.
Venezuela has sent oil to Cuba, which has sent 14,000 doctors to Venezuela, a bright example of cooperation in Latin America.
Buddhadeb described Chávez's triumphant return via a referendum after having been conspired against by the US to put him out of office. The Free Trade Agreement of the Americas has been rendered ineffective under Chavez's initiative.
The Bolivarian Alternative of America was the way of the future, said the Bengal chief minister. Buddhadeb hoped that Chávez's visit would strengthen the ties between India and Venezuela. He ended his speech by declaring that the people of India and of Bengal would always remain with Chávez.
Welcoming Chávez, Bengal Governor, Gopal Krishna Gandhi said that a golden thread of empathy bound together the people of Venezuela and India.