Alexander Mercouris – Last Word On Chavez

When I said this post would be “the last post” on the matter, I meant posts written by myself. :) Alexander Mercouris’ was too good to pass up, so it is reprinted here:

Any discussion of Chavez must explain why he was (to his detractors) such a terrible man. He was a terrible man because he did a terrible thing. This terrible thing was to distribute Venezuela’s oil wealth to the majority of its people by funding ambitious health, education and social security programmes.

To understand why doing this was so terrible one must understand something about the historic situation not just in Venezuela but throughout Latin America (Costa Rica being the exception). Briefly, political and social power in Latin America since before independence from Spain has been concentrated in a small group of wealthy families who conduct bitter and even violent political feuds with each other using labels such as “Liberal” and “Conservative” but who unite when faced by a challenge to their power. This oligarchy sustains itself through the support of a middle class that sees its social and economic interests as bound up with those of the oligarchy. Concepts of a wider social contract underpinned by shared patriotism and by a sense of social responsibility do not exist. The mass of the population are excluded and typecast as lazy, shiftless, dishonest and violent. This justifies denying them a share in the country’s economic profits, which supposedly neither belong to them or are deserved by them, and which makes any attempt to share these economic profits with them a theft from those to whom these profits supposedly actually belong. All this is underpinned by an ugly strain of racism with the middle class and the oligarchy priding themselves on their whiteness whilst often concealing their mixed origin whilst emphasising or exaggerating the colour of the poor.

The result is that governments in Latin America have historically failed to provide even the most basic services at even a remotely satisfactory level. The only institutions in Latin American that have historically been reasonably funded have been the very highest echelons of the state bureaucracy and the judiciary (which is usually recruited directly from the oligarchy) and the army and police whose main function is not to defend the nation from foreign aggression to keep the poor in order.

In such a system requiring the oligarchy and the middle class to pay taxes to fund say a good system of universal secondary education from which the poor might benefit is an idea so outrageous that it is guaranteed to provoke passionate and often violent anger and resistance. Americans, Europeans, East Asians and indeed Russians find all this very difficult to understand. As a Greek I am better able to understand it not only because it resembles the historic situation in my own society but because a section of my family emigrated to Argentina where they are today members of what was once the country’s oligarchy.

Not surprisingly in a Continent where basic education and health care for the bulk of the population was scarcely provided (though the means to do so was always there) economic development has been disappointing to say the least. However since this is a system that is deeply embedded and which is sustained by often extreme violence all previous attempts to change it have been largely unsuccessful with reformers likely to end up either in exile or dead. I am not going to discuss the role of the US in sustaining this system since it is so well known. I would say that I do think people who blame the US for Latin America’s problems overlook the many internal reasons why Latin American societies have historically been as dysfunctional as they are.

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A Few Myths About Chavez’s Venezuela

Okay, I promise this will be the last post on the matter. But some of the tropes that come up time and time again in coverage of Chavez’s legacy, from neocons and faux-leftists alike, just have to be addressed for me to rest easy. Note that this is NOT meant to be comprehensive; just some things that continuously get slipped in on the side and tend to get taken for granted.

Chavez rigged elections. Look, I like to think I’m objective here. Some politicians I like rule countries where electoral fraud is widespread. But Venezuela isn’t Russia in this respect. Not only are election results consistent with pre-elections, unbiased polls, but Venezuela’s voting technology makes fraud extremely difficult. See Mark Weisbrot:

In Venezuela, voters touch a computer screen to cast their vote and then receive a paper receipt, which they verify and deposit in a ballot box. Most of the paper ballots are compared with the electronic tally. This system makes vote-rigging nearly impossible: to steal the vote would require hacking the computers and then stuffing the ballot boxes to match the rigged vote.

Unlike in the US, where in a close vote we really have no idea who won (see Bush v Gore), Venezuelans can be sure that their vote counts. And also unlike the US, where as many as 90 million eligible voters will not vote in November, the government in Venezuela has done everything to increase voter registration (now at a record of about 97%) and participation.

Chavez closed down critical TV stations. And yet the old case of the failure to prolong RCTV’s broadcasting license continues to be cited as the main evidence of this media “suppression.” E.g. from the faux-liberal Daily Beast:

And yet Latin America’s new democratic leaders rarely spoke against the excesses of Chávismo, turning a blind eye when he canceled the operating license of independent broadcaster RCTV in 2007…

What typically goes studiously unmentioned is that RCTV gleefully and one-sidedly supported the foreign-backed coup attempt against the legitimately elected Chavez administration in 2002. In many other countries, this would have been considered treason, with the attendant penalties of long-term imprisonment or even execution. In humane Venezuela, however, you just lose your broadcasting license.

Electricity blackouts. Guardianista presstite Rory Carroll, who clearly has an agenda:

He leaves Venezuela a ruin, and his death plunges its roughly 30 million citizens into profound uncertainty.

Because that exactly describes an increase in GDP per capita from $4,105 in 1999 to $10,810 in 2011 (according to his own newspaper). As Craig Willy says:

But particularly hilarious is this statement:

Underinvestment and ineptitude hit hydropower stations and the electricity grid, causing weekly blackouts that continue to darken cities, fry electrical equipment, silence machinery and require de facto rationing.

Because of course they never happen in pro-Western, investor-friendly countries.

Chavez stole $2 billion. These are rumors that keep slithering about in the comments from various neocons, although they rarely pop up into mainstream media texts outright. Apparently this claim comes from some right-wing law firm in Miami that claims the Castro brothers of Cuba are billionaires too. I find it about as credible as claims about Putin’s $40 billion fortune (or is it $70 billion now?), initially made by some non-entity Russian political scientist, and Gaddafi’s $200 billion fortune, probably spread by the CIA or somesuch in the course of NATO’s assault on the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (very ironic, coming from thieves who had seized Libya’s foreign-based assets). Funny how it’s always those who dare stand up to Western imperialism who get accused by their flunkies of massive corruption, no? I wonder if one causes the other?

Oil dependence. A lot of the presstitutes have accused Chavez of increasing Venezuela’s oil dependence, e.g.:

Former minister Gerver Torres points out that in 1998 oil represented 77 percent of Venezuela’s exports but by 2011 oil represented 96 percent of exports. That means today only around 4 percent of the goods that Venezuela exports are non-oil products! The Venezuelan economy relies almost exclusively on the price of oil and the ability of the government to spend oil revenues.

That’s kind of what happens when the oil price goes from being $11.91 per barrel (in 1998) to $87.04 (in 2011)! Funny how they harp on about how rising oil prices “unfairly” helped Chavez but then instantly shut up about it when making THIS particular point.

Higher violent crime. Not a myth. In fact, as I made clear, it’s one of the Chavez administration’s very biggest failings. Then ago, we also have many of the presstitutes claiming he was a dictator – even though the precise opposite happens with real dictators (they don’t tolerate alternate sources of violence, and they don’t bother with legal niceties; they just put all the suspected mafiosi up against a wall – put the two together, and violent crime almost always plummets under the rule of real dictators. The Sicilian Mafia actually provided help to Allied troops against the Mussolini regime).

He was friends with Ahmadinejad. Plenty of Western politicians are friends with Saudi prices. Drop the double standards.

He was anti-American. Well, what can you expect if you plot a coup against someone and then incessantly demonize him for not respecting democracy? Like Castro, incidentally, he actually started out fairly pro-American. It didn’t have to be this way.

He didn’t build skyscrapers. This has to be read to be believed. From AP’s Pamela Sampson:

Chavez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.

The author’s agenda speaks for itself. (Not to mention her ignorance – while Venezuela remains fiscally sound, Dubai’s big tower remains 80% unoccupied and needed a $10 billion bailout. Had Chavez listened to people like these then Venezuela would have gone bankrupt for real, not just in their sordid, bitter like imaginations).

Hugo Chávez Shuffles Off This Mortal Coil, But The Light Of The Bolivarian Revolution He Ignited Will Endure Forever

We all suspected this would come sooner or later. As it happens, Chavez struggled heroically against his cancer, confounding the intensive Schadenfreude and concerted death wishes of his loathsome detractors month after arduous month.

But this is what you can expect to get when you look out for your own countrymen and stand up to imperialism. Probably no other modern national leader apart from Putin has been quite as consistently and caustically vilified by the Western media.

They say that he managed to squander Venezuela’s oil wealth. I suppose he is guilty as charged, if by “squander” you mean spending it on ordinary Venezuelans as opposed to funneling it away to foreign bankster rats. During his rule, real GDP increased by 50%, poverty has halved, inequality was reduced to a very low level at least by Latin American oligarchic standards, infant mortality was greatly reduced, and virtually the whole array of other socio-economic indicators that states care to track, from access to clean drinking water to enrollment in higher education (which increased by a stunning 138%), saw great improvements. At the same time, contrary to the claims of the neoliberal propagandists, debt hasn’t increased; it was a modest 45% of GDP as of 2011 (IMF), which reduces to 25% if only central government debt is accounted for. The national accounts have on average been balanced.

venezuela-gdp

This was all achieved despite the real negative impacts of the 2002-2003 oil industry strikes, which occurred in tandem with an abortive CIA-backed coup, and the global Great Recession; not to mention Venezuela’s own legacy of corruption and backwardness inherited from previous regimes.

The traitorous cockroaches, including on my very blog, claimed Chavez “oppressed” them and stole the elections. They said he was a dictator for refusing to extend the license of their opposition RCTV channel. The irony is that in any actually democratic country it would have been instantly shut down and they’d have been locked away for decades for treason, if not lined up against the wall like the rabid scum they are. They materially supported a foreign backed coup against a legitimately elected national leader and then had the gall, the temerity, the sheer chutzpah to complain that one of their talking shops was taken away from them! Even though much of the media in Venezuela remains in oligarch pockets and continues to tell lies about pro-Chavez electoral fraud, when all the polls indicate that that is indeed the will of the people. Of course there’s nothing contradictory about that. The seditious vermin despise the Venezuelan people and would much rather dissolve them and elect another (as opposed to emigrating and parasiting off some other country).

The incorrigibly thievish liberals, no doubt full of projection, claim that Venezuela under Chavez has become one of the most corrupt countries in the world. They cite the loathsome Corruption Perceptions Index in support of this view – i.e. the perceptions of the same internationalist banksters and “experts” who have such a withering hatred for those countries that dare to stand up against Western imperialism. Asking ordinary people reveals quite a different picture: Fewer ordinary Venezuelans (some 20% of them) said that had to pay a bribe in the past year than in Colombia (24%), the Western puppet state next door.

latin-america-homicide-rates

Perhaps the only real failing of the Chavez administration is its inability to control violent crime. Venezuela now has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. But this was part of a general Latin American trend, and what’s more, could just as easily be attributable to a regrettable if admirable surfeit of humaneness in the Venezuelan criminal justice system (it has not had the death penalty since 1863).

Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías brought hope and a credible promise of a better tomorrow to a benighted country, and was the bane of the rootless cosmopolitans and comprador elites that hypocritically shrilled about his supposed corruption and selling out to Cuba even as they frantically shuffled their ill-gotten billions into Swiss vaults and dialed their CIA handlers for advice. Yes, he was loathed by the Latin American offshore aristocracy, the neocons, and the Guardianista-type, “humanitarian bomber” Pro War Left and Western chauvinists in liberal clothing. But he was also beloved of the millions of Venezuelans, who resisted oligarch media pressure and mafia-like “international community” and continued to give El Comandante – in some of the world’s cleanest and most transparent elections – term after term to implement his vision of a just and sovereign Latin America.

If it is true that one gets to know a man by his friends and enemies, then he qualifies as one of the very greatest national leaders of modern history. He now shuffles off this mortal coil, leaving behind his struggles and haters, and ascending to the realm of God, where he can contemplate the crystalline tranquility of the cosmos; but the light of the Bolivarian Revolution that he ignited on this lower plane of existence will endure – and continue shining hope into the hearts of men all over the world unto the ages of ages.

PS. For more statistics and objective assessments of Chavez’ achievements, consult Mark Weisbrot’s classic, “The Chávez Administration at 10 Years: The Economy and Social Indicators.

Victimized Venezuela III: Myths And Reality

At the recent Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, two great leaders, Obama and Chavez, shook hands in what could be the symbolic first gesture of reconciliation. Treasonous neocons will no doubt rush to condemn this as yet another limp-wristed and unilateral concession to “America’s enemies”, reminding their listeners that Chavez closed down opposition media, nationalized American assets and welcomed Russian warships and strategic bombers to his realm.

Yet their stubborn animosity is worse than just imperialist arrogance – it is stupid. They fail to realize that in the past decade Latin America in general, and Venezuela in particular, has become too politically mature to be easily manipulated into serving US (corporate) interests by economic hitmen, CIA operatives and their local surrogates. It is to Obama’s credit that he is willing to move from willful denial to cautious acceptance of the decline of overt American power in Venezuela and elsewhere.

For that is the new reality. The Venezuelan opposition is increasingly discredited for its unconstructive hostility to the government and extra-legal attempts to overthrow Chavez, one of which nearly succeeded in 2002. This resulted in blowback against the US for its covert involvement  The government’s refusal to renew the licenses of opposition media outlets that seditiously backed the abortive coup is thus completely understandable, as is Chavez’ personal animosity towards Bush and outreach to other states in similar straits. Furthermore, it should be noted that the owners of newly nationalized companies, including American ones, were fairly compensated.

Meanwhile, within five years of taking real power in Venezuela, a corrupt, disorganized and class-ridden country, Chavez managed to a) double the GDP, b) halve the number of people living in poverty and c) drastically improve practically every indicator of social wellbeing from child mortality rates to inequality to tertiary education enrollment rates (I already covered these successes in prior posts). This does not mean that Venezuela is no longer a corrupt, disorganized and class-ridden country – it still is, to an extent – but the improvements are undeniable and Chavez enjoys high approval ratings. It is thus unseemly and dishonest of the Western MSM to excoriate Chavez as a thuggish populist strongman and economic illiterate.

Let us hope they take a clue from Obama. Or from Mark Weisbrot and his fellow authors, who in their latest paper, The Chávez Administration at 10 Years: The Economy and Social Indicators, give a glowing verdict on the achievements of the Bolivarian revolution.

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Victimized Venezuela

Chavez is frequently shafted in the Western media, who allege that the only reason the Venezuelan economy is doing well is because of record oil prices. This is not to mention all the invective hurled against the Chavez administration for its supposed disrespect for democracy, from refusing to renew the licenses of TV stations support foreign-sponsored coup attempts against him (while ignoring human rights violation in friendly countries in the region like Colombia, where more union workers are killed annually in than in the rest of the world combined) to the latest smear job by the Economist about crime.

But let’s focus on the economic-boom-is-because-of-oil mantra. Having disproved similar claims about Russia, I decided to investigate this further. Novel Prize winning economist Stiglitz has praised Venezuela’s economic policies. And I found this excellent paper, Update: The Venezuelan Economy in the Chávez Years by Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval from 2008. I’ve quoted its main findings.

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