PRESIDENT Chávez presented before the Venezuelan Parliament his report on activities undertaken in 2011 and the plan for those to be undertaken this year.

Having strictly complied with the formalities this important activity demands, he addressed in the Assembly official state authorities, parliamentarians from all parties and sympathizers and opponents that the country brings together in its most solemn event.

The Bolivarian leader was amiable and respectful with all those present, as is his way. If someone asked to speak in order to make some clarification, he immediately gave him or her that opportunity. When one parliamentarian, whom he had greeted amiably, just like other opponents, asked to speak, he stopped reading his report and gave her the floor, in a highly dignified political gesture. My attention was caught by the extreme harshness of the verbal attack on the President which put his cordiality and sangfroid to the test. It was an unquestionable offense, even though that may not have been the intention of the Assembly member. Only Chávez was able to respond serenely to the insulting epithet of "thief" which she used to judge the President’s conduct in relation to laws and measures adopted.

After confirming the precise term used, he responded to the individual request for a debate with an elegant and calm expression, "Eagles don’t hunt flies," and without any further words, calmly proceeded with his presentation.

It was a difficult test of mental agility and self-control. With moving and profound words, another woman, evidently from a modest background, expressed her shock at what she had seen, prompting fervent applause from the vast majority of those present which, given its volume, seemed to come from all of the President’s friends and many of his opponents.

Chávez invested more than nine hours in his accountability speech without any waning of the interest fuelled by his words and, perhaps because of the incident, was listened to by an incalculable number of people. For me, someone who, on many occasions, has addressed difficult problems in extensive speeches, always making the maximum effort so that the ideas I wished to convey would be understood, I cannot find an explanation as to how that soldier of modest origins was capable of maintaining such far-reaching oratory with his agile mind and unequalled talent without losing his voice or reducing its strength.

For me, politics is the broad and resolute battle of ideas. Publicity is the task of publicists, who are possibly aware of techniques to make listeners, spectators and readers do what they are told. If this science, art or whatever it may be called, is used for the good of human beings, it would merit respect; the same respect merited by those who instruct people in the habit of thinking.

A grand battle is being waged today on the Venezuelan stage. Internal and external enemies of the revolution would prefer chaos, as Chávez affirms, rather than the country’s just, orderly and peaceful development. Accustomed as I am to analyzing events that have taken place over more than half a century, and to observing with an ever-increasing number of facts on which to base a judgment of the hazardous history of our time and human behavior, one almost learns to predict the future development of events.

Promoting a profound Revolution was no easy task in Venezuela, a country with a glorious history, but immensely rich in resources of vital necessity for the imperial powers which have established rules and are still establishing rules in the world.

Political leaders in the style of Rómulo Betancourt and Carlos Andrés Pérez lacked the minimum personal qualities for undertaking the task. The former, moreover, was excessively vain and hypocritical. He had more than enough opportunities to understand the Venezuelan reality. In his youth he was a member of the Political Bureau of the Costa Rican Communist Party. He was very well informed about Latin American history and the role of imperialism, poverty indices and the merciless plunder of the continent’s natural resources. He could not fail to know that in an immensely rich country like Venezuela, the majority of its people were living in extreme poverty. Film material is available in the archives and constitutes irrefutable evidence of these realities.

As Chávez has explained on so many occasions, for more than half a century Venezuela was the largest oil exporting country in the world; at the beginning of the 20th century European and yankee warships intervened in order to support an illegal and dictatorial government which had handed the country over to foreign monopolies. It is well known that incalculable funds left the country to swell the assets of monopolies and the Venezuelan oligarchy itself.

For me, it is enough to recall that when I visited Venezuela for the first time, after the triumph of the Revolution, to thank the country for its sympathy and support for our struggle, oil was barely worth two dollars a barrel.

Later, when I traveled there for Chávez’ swearing in, the day that he swore on "the moribund Constitution" sustained by Calderas, oil was worth seven dollars a barrel, despite the 40 years that had passed since my first visit, and almost 30 since the "worthy" Richard Nixon declared that gold standard for the dollar had ceased to exist and the United States began to buy the world with paper money. For 100 years, Venezuela was a supplier of cheap fuel to the economy of the empire and a net exporter of capital to developed and rich countries.

Why did these repugnant realities predominate for more than a century?

Officers from the Latin American Armed Forces had their privileged schools in the United States, where the Olympic champions of democracies educated them in special courses directed at preserving the imperialist and bourgeois order. Coup d’états would be welcome as long as they were destined to "defend democracies," preserve and guarantee this repugnant order, in alliance with the oligarchies; whether voters know how to read and write or not, had homes, jobs, medical services and education or not, was of no importance as long as the sacred right to property was sustained. Chávez brilliantly explains these realities. Nobody knows what took place in our countries like he does.

Even worse, the sophisticated nature of weapons, the complexity of deploying and using modern weapons which requires years of study and the training of highly qualified specialists, plus their almost inaccessible price for the weak economies of the continent, created a superior mechanism of subordination and dependency. Using mechanisms not even discussed with governments, the United States makes the rules and determines policies for soldiers. The most sophisticated torture techniques were transmitted to the so-called security agencies to interrogate those who rebelled against the foul and repugnant system of hunger and exploitation.

In spite of that, more than a few upstanding officers, sickened by so much obscenity, valiantly tried to eradicate that shameless betrayal of the history of our struggles for independence.

In Argentina, Juan Domingo Perón, an army officer, was capable of designing an independent policy with a working class base in his country. He was overthrown in a bloody military coup, expelled from his country and maintained in exile from 1955 to 1973. Years later, under yankee aegis, the ruling power was assaulted again, tens of thousands of Argentines were killed, tortured and disappeared, and were not even capable of defending the country in the colonial war instigated by Britain with the complicit support of the United States and the henchman Augusto Pinochet, with his cohort of fascist officers trained in the School of the Americas.

In the Dominican Republic, Colonel Francisco Caamaño Deñó; in Peru, General Velazco Alvarado; in Panama, General Omar Torrijos; and captains and officers in other countries who anonymously sacrificed their lives, were the antithesis of the traitorous conduct personified by Somoza, Trujillo, Stroessner and the bloody dictatorships of Uruguay, El Salvador and other countries in Central and South America. Those revolutionary soldiers did not express points of view technically elaborated and in detail, and nobody had the right to demand that of them, because they were not academics educated in politics, but men with a sense of honor who loved their country.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how far honest men, who condemn injustice and crime, are capable of advancing along the revolutionary path.

Venezuela constitutes a brilliant example of the theoretical and practical role revolutionary military officers can play in our peoples’ struggle for independence, as they did two centuries ago, under the brilliant leadership of Simón Bolívar.

Chávez, a Venezuelan military officer of modest origins, began his political life inspired by the ideas of the Liberator of America. Martí wrote about Bolívar, a source of endless inspiration, "He won sublime battles with barefoot, half naked soldiers… Never, in the world, has there been so much fighting, or better fighting, for freedom."

Of Bolívar, he said, "One can speak from a mountain as a stage… or with a clutch of free peoples in one’s fist…

"... What he did not do has yet to be done… Bolívar still has much to do in America."

More than half a century later the emblematic, renowned poet Pablo Neruda wrote a poem about Bolívar which Chávez often quotes. Its final verse reads,

I met Bolívar one long morning,

In Madrid, facing the Fifth Regiment,

Father, I said, are you, or aren’t you or who are you?

And looking toward the mountain garrison, he said,

I awake every 100 years, when the people awake.

The Bolivarian leader does not limit himself to theoretical issues. Concrete steps were not long in coming. The English-speaking Caribbean countries, where luxurious modern yankee cruise ships arrive to challenge their right to receive tourists in their hotels, restaurants and recreational centers – usually of foreign ownership but which at least provide employment – will always thank Venezuela for the fuel supplied with special credit afforded, when oil reached a price of more than $100 a barrel at times.

The small state of Nicaragua, homeland of Sandino, General of the Free, where the Central Intelligence Agency organized an exchange of weapons for drugs –facilitated by Luis Posada Carriles after he was rescued from a Venezuelan prison – which cost this heroic people thousands of deaths and mutilations, has also benefited from Venezuela’s solidarity. These are examples without precedent in the history of this hemisphere.

The disastrous Free Trade Agreement which the yankees presumed to impose on Latin America, as in Mexico, would turn Latin American and Caribbean countries not only into the region of the world where wealth is most unequally distributed, which it is, but also into a gigantic market where even corn and other foods which serve as traditional sources of plant and animal protein, are replaced by subsidized crops from the United States, as has already occurred in Mexico.

Used automobiles and other goods are replacing those manufactured in Mexico; the cities, as well as the countryside, are losing their capacity to provide employment; trafficking in drugs and guns is increasing; in growing numbers adolescents, barely 14 or 15 years of age, are being transformed into terrible delinquents. Never before had anything been seen like buses or other vehicles full of people, who paid to be transported across the border in search of employment, kidnapped and killed en masse. The known figures grow year to year. More than 10,000 people are losing their lives every year.

It is not possible to analyze the Bolivarian Revolution without taking these realities into consideration.

The armed forces, in such social circumstances, are obliged to conduct interminable, devastating wars.

Honduras is not an industrialized, financial or trading country, not even a large producer of drugs, yet some of its cities have experienced record numbers of deaths due to drug violence. In exchange, headquartered there is the United States Southern Command’s important base for its strategic forces. What is developing there, and what is being developed in more than a few Latin American countries is the Dantesque framework described, from which some countries have begun to escape. Among them, and in the first place, is Venezuela, not only because it possesses a plenitude of natural resources, but rather because it rescued them from the insatiable greed of foreign transnationals and has unleashed considerable political and social forces capable of achieving a great deal. The Venezuela of today is a very different one from which I witnessed just 12 years ago, which profoundly impressed me at the time, seeing how the Phoenix was emerging from its historic ashes.

Alluding to the mysterious computer of [FARC leader] Raúl Reyes in the possession of the United States and the CIA, since the attack organized and equipped by them within Ecuadorian national territory, in which Maulanda’s successor was assassinated, as were various other unarmed Latin Americans, they have launched their version of the events, in which Chávez supported the "FARC narco-terrorist organization." The real terrorists and drug-traffickers in Colombia have been the paramilitary forces who supplied U.S. traffickers with drugs to be sold in the world’s largest narcotics market: the United States.

I never spoke with Marulanda, but I did speak with honorable writers and intellectuals who knew him well. I analyzed his thinking and history. He was undoubtedly a brave and revolutionary man, which I do not hesitate to affirm. I explained why I did not agree with his tactical conceptions. In my opinion, two or three thousand men would have been sufficient to defeat a conventional army in Colombian territory. His error was to conceive a revolutionary army with almost as many soldiers as the adversary. This was exceptionally expensive and virtually impossible to manage; it became impossible.

Today, technology has changed many aspects of war; forms of struggle are also changing. It is a fact that the confrontation of conventional forces, between powers which possess nuclear weapons, has become impossible. One doesn’t have to possess the knowledge of Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking or thousands of other scientists to understand that. It is a latent danger and the result is known or should be known. Thinking beings could take millions of years to repopulate the planet.

In spite of everything, I fulfill my duty to fight, which is something per se innate in humans, to seek solutions which will allow a more rational and dignified existence.

Since I knew Chávez, already in the Venezuelan presidency, from the final stages of the Pastrana government I always perceived his interest in peace for Colombia, and he facilitated meetings between the Colombian government and revolutionaries headquartered in Cuba – understand this clearly, for a genuine peace agreement and not a surrender.

I do not recall ever having heard Chávez promoting anything but peace, or mentioning Raúl Reyes. We always addressed other issues. He particularly appreciates Colombians; millions of them live in Venezuela and all of them are benefiting from social measures adopted by the Revolution, and the people of Colombia appreciate him almost as much as those of Venezuela.

I wish to express my solidarity and esteem for General Henry Rangel Silva, Chief of the Operational Strategic Command for the Defense of the Bolivarian Republic. I had the honor of meeting him when, already some months ago, he visited Chávez in Cuba. I could appreciate in him an intelligent and sound man, capable and at the same time modest. I heard his serene, courageous and clear speech, which inspired confidence.

He directed the organization of the most perfect military parade that I have seen in a Latin American military force, which we trust will serve as an encouragement and example for other sister armies.

The yankees have nothing to do with that parade and would not be capable of doing it better.

It is extremely unjust to criticize Chávez for resources invested in the excellent weapons displayed there. I am sure that they will never be used to attack a sister country. Arms, resources and knowledge must march along the paths of the unity to be formed in America, as the liberator [Simón Bolívar] dreamed, "… the greatest nation of the world, less on account of its extension and wealth than for its freedom and glory."

Everything unites us more to each other than to Europe or the United States itself, apart from the lack of independence imposed on us over 200 years.

Fidel Castro Ruz

January 25, 2012

8:32 p.m.