by Keith Richmond
THE Venezuelan government defended its proposed constitutional reforms â€“ promising a referendum on them before the end of the year â€“ and hit out at US policy in Latin America at the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth.
Speaking at a packed fringe meeting Temir Porres, chief of staff for foreign affairs in the Venezuelan government, attacked the neo-liberal policies and IMF-imposed programme of cuts of the previous rÃ©gime which culminated in riots on the streets of the capital Caracas.
Mr Porres said: â€œWe are victims in Venezuela of the imperial policy of the United States â€“ let us not forget that a coup d’Ã©tat was plotted against us by the US government â€“ but we have had a constitutional and democratic revolution and we want to keep it that way. That’s why we are giving more power to the people. We want to deepen our democracy. But the probable constitutional reforms will only be put in place if the people vote for them in a referendum in December.â€
Graham Goddard, deputy general secretary of Unite Amicus, said: â€œVenezuela has become a beacon of inspiration to people across the world seeking a more just and equal society. President Hugo ChÃ¡vez and his supporters have won 11 elections in nine years. The reason for this support is simple Ââ€“ the ChÃ¡vez government is transforming lives.
â€œExtreme poverty has been halved, illiteracy eliminated and millions of people can now see a doctor for the first time. But the success of the government has not gone unnoticed â€“ that’s why the Bush administration is running a misinformation campaign against Hugo ChÃ¡vez.â€
Ken Livingstone said ChÃ¡vez had been the subject of a â€œGoebbels-style tissue of liesâ€ by the US. â€œThe profits from Venezuelan oil used to go into the pockets of American oil companies and into the pockets of the 200 richest families in Venezuela. Now they go to help the poor.â€
He added: â€œThe ChÃ¡vez government is the most exciting thing to come out of Latin America since the Cuban revolution.â€
Dr Julia Buxton told the meeting: â€œWhat is going on in Venezuela is an exercise in participatory democracy not liberal democracy.â€ And in a dig at hostile coverage of the country in the British media, she added: â€œThat’s what The Guardian doesn’t understand.â€