This blog entry comes in four parts:
First, I was sent an email link to an article by The Economist regarding the referendum in Venezuela. It was forwarded to me by a friend, who received it from their coworker and thought I would be interested.
See it here: ECONOMIST ARTICLE.
Second, I replied to my friend with the following response:
Remember that article about Venezuela in the Economist that you forwarded to me, from your coworker? Thanks for sending that, by the way. It made my blood boil, and as usual, I renewed my hatred for the economist with the force of a thousand burning suns. But nevertheless, it's always good to read reactionary neoliberal CIA-fed propaganda in order to know what that perspective has to say.
Anyway, if your coworker is interested in Venezuela, I would recommend these two sites which provide more in-depth analysis:
http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/ (this one is absolutely excellent with new articles every day just about venezuelan politics)
http://radiovenezuelaenvivo.blogspot.com/ (this one is recommended by Masaya and there are some pearsonites involved with it - this is the site where I listened to Chavez explain the election results and humbly concede defeat and his intention to listen to the democratic will of the people - he really is an exemplary democrat - despite what the media have to say)
The BBC seems to be quite moderate in their reporting, though they still pay more attention to opposition arguments than government ones. The CBC is just about as bad as the economist - their current Latin America correspondent, Connie Watson, is from Peace River, Alberta (which is just a little interesting tid bit).
No matter what the media badgers on about regarding Chavez's so-called "dictatorial tendencies", the important facts are:[click on link below to expand to full post]
a) Venezuela has one of the highest required percentages of a vote for a constitutional change, which Chavez only lost by 0.7% (meaning of course that in most democratic countries these reforms would have been passed with the amount of votes Chavez won).
b) Studies have shown that the Western media has disproportionately reported on stories about Chavez and the question of power compared to the dozens and dozens of countries out there that are American allies that have outright dictatorial regimes. For some reason the media fails to talk about these countries at all when they engage in their "freedom-loving", "democratic" diatribes.
c) In the run up to the referendum the media went on and on and on about the proposed reform to withdraw limits on the amount of elected terms that the president can run for. For the record, the following countries ALREADY HAVE UNLIMITED TERMS clauses within their constitutions: Japan, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, United Kingdom and CANADA.
d) They also claimed that the proposed emergency rule clause was a way for Chavez to seize power and override any legislation he wanted - but again, this is a clause that we have in Canada. If Canada used it during the FLQ crisis (when the threat to Canada's government was not really significant), can you imagine what the government would do if Harper was kidnapped for two days by his bitter enemies? OF COURSE they would enact emergency rule! And yet, even though Chavez HAS been kidnapped and assassination plots abound, he has pardoned the majority of his kidnappers: He's merely trying to include a constitutional clause to protect the government from the undemocratic coup plotters backed by millions of dollars in CIA funding.
All this to say, I'll be the first to admit Chavez isn't perfect and that he has to work harder to make the revolution less about him and more about the principles of equality, but it is unbelievably frustrating to read the heaps and heaps of feces that comes from the likes of the Economist.
Third, my friend replied with responses from her coworker.... which I have compacted here:
Finally, this was my response to the above questions/comments:
Thanks for initiating a discussion. I love this stuff… reminds me of being a student.
Sorry for this rather long response. I have taken some previous writings regarding Venezuela and infused them within...
Also, you’ll have to excuse the excessive rhetoric in my last email (especially in my descriptions of The Economist), which was partially designed to humor [my friend]. I recognize that that magazine is well established, with a massive readership among the global elite class (including business leaders and political decision makers). The reason I hate it is that it brands itself as an impartial news source (they actually use the word “newspaper” instead of “magazine”) when they have a clear political and economic agenda to enforce neoliberalism upon domestic economies of the world (and the global economy too). Such neoliberal policies (such as free trade, privatization, and fiscal conservatism), in turn, have been exposed as being part of an elite project to maintain wealth and power in the hands of the few. Yes, every media network has its bias, but when that bias is one that increases inequality, it deserves strong criticism.
I don’t know enough about the Canadian restrictions on the use of the emergency rule to comment more on its use in this country. The point is that such a clause does not exist in Venezuela, which is why they were trying to include it within the proposed constitutional reforms. And while the US-funded opposition went to great lengths to suggest that this would be misused by Chavez, there is a recent historical precedent for requiring such a clause in that country (the 2002 failed coup against Chavez). There are examples aplenty of failed coups being manipulated to launch authoritarianism, but if anything, Chavez has demonstrated that that is not his goal – and again, he pardoned many of the coup plotters for their participation in the unsuccessful coup against him. Also, it should have been reported that one of the main purposes of that suggested clause was to use emergency rule in cases of humanitarian and natural disasters. In countries with such widespread poverty, earthquakes and floods tend to cause more deaths and devastation than in countries with expensive infrastructure. This is something Chavez has written a lot about when he was an army general – how to reconcile the national military with the needs of the people (in order to mobilize state-paid soldiers to help build infrastructure and come to the aid of communities facing floods and hurricanes, droughts and the likes, rather than fight foreign wars). In other words, this clause was taken totally out of context by the Western media, which was desperate to try to portray Chavez as a power hungry dictator. Chavez has never imposed emergency rule because that is not allowed in the constitution, but guess which Venezuelan head of state did impose a type of emergency rule in Venezuela? Pedro Carmona, the coup leader who took Chavez’s place for two days while Chavez was being kidnapped in April five years ago. With one decree, Carmona dissolved the Supreme Court and the democratically elected National Assembly and suspended the Constitution! AND there is plenty of footage of key White House spokesmen on CNN congratulating Carmona and “the people of Venezuela for bringing democracy back”! Unbelievable!
This brings me to the “CIA-fed” comment I made and the question of media bias. I doubt that The Economist calls up the CIA and asks them for facts and figures to include in their reports (although the Economist Intelligence Unit’s country-by-country analyses are strikingly similar to those within the CIA’s World Factbook… hmm). Anyway, I was referring to a recently leaked CIA document which outlined the agency’s recent plans to disseminate false information in the lead up to the referendum. In one month alone, the CIA spent $8 million dollars on anti-Chavez propaganda (http://www.counterpunch.org/petras11272007.html). Undoubtedly, this included feeding information not just to the Venezuelan opposition media, but also to the big Western media networks. And if you were trying to reach business leaders and international government advisors, and you had an $8 million/month budget, wouldn’t you try to get your information to The Economist? That said, Venezuela is very possibly the country with the most free press, because they have the most vehement anti-government media operating there. There are many TV stations that are openly anti-government and even admit their bias. Of these stations, only one was denied a broadcasting license by the government, because of the direct role it had played in inciting violence, riots and the relationship it had to the 2002 coup plotters. Again, people tried to make this sounds like Chavez was squashing dissent, but as media analyst David Edwards explains, “95% of the media in Venezuela is fiercely opposed to the government. This includes five privately owned TV channels controlling 90% of the market. All of the country’s 118 newspaper companies, both regional and national, are privately held, as are 706 out of 709 radio stations.” If that’s not free press, I don’t know what is! (http://mala.mayfirst.org/node/8) Edwards also explains how the government’s decision not to renew RCTV’s license was reported in 207 articles in the US press, and 23 articles in the BBC. By contrast, when the President of Honduras (Manuel Zelaya) declared that “all TV and radio stations [in Honduras] broadcast one-hour prime-time [government propaganda] programs every day for 10 days” in May of this year, it was only mentioned in the US press in 4 articles, and in the British press in 1 article. For the record, Bush is great friends with the autocratic Zelaya because the latter is a proponent of the US-Central America Free Trade Agreement. Here’s a photo of them shaking hands: (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/06/20060605-1.html)
Regarding unlimited election terms, I have to admit that on a personal level, this is one element of the American presidential system that I truly admire (a maximum of 2 terms). Nothing makes me happier than knowing Bush can never run again (though there is nothing in the Constitution from preventing his brother to do so). I think it’s good to get new faces in there, and politics should be less about personalities and more about principles. Nevertheless, if the citizenry wants to ELECT someone as their leader for more than two terms, shouldn’t they at least have the option do decide that themselves? I fail to see the problem with (false) accusations (that Bush himself made) that Chavez “wants to be president for life”. Well, I’m sure lot’s of people want to be President for life, but thanks to the flourishing democracy in Venezuela, the electorate can decide if he gets to be so or not – it’s not up to megalomaniacs, it’s up to the people. And yet, if Chavez really wanted to be president for life, why did he announce yesterday that he plans to step down in 2013 when his current term ends? (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7131993.stm). Finally, I also noted the difference between parliamentary and presidential systems, but it should be mentioned that the US only ratified presidential term limits in 1951, and that Italy and France (two of the countries I mentioned) both have presidential systems and no limits on the amount of terms a president can serve. (And don’t even get me started on parliamentary systems still have constitutional ties to monarchies! We still have the Queen of the British Empire’s head on all our coins – it’s as if we’re still living in Medieval times, when the idea of “limits” on leadership terms was a fantastical idea).
As for your point that that there are a “number of occurrences that do not support democracy (an independent judicial system, free press, and civil liberties)” in Venezuela, I’m not sure what these occurrences are. As I mentioned above, Venezuela’s media is arguably the most free in the world. In terms of the judicial system, the judicial reforms Chavez made in 1999 were praised by international human rights organization, because the previous “independent” courts were closed to the public, guilt was presumed before innocence, judges were highly corrupt, and police were able to detain people for up to eight days without any charges laid. Luckily the democratically elected national assembly reformed the backwards judicial system there. (http://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/Americas/Venezuela-JUDICIAL-SYSTEM.html)
As for civil liberties, I offer this example of the thousands of anti-Chavez protesters who marched freely on November 29th (without the kind of riot police violence that we have here in Canada): http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/2923
Finally, to answer your question, I am not fond of Chavez’s increased military spending, in the same way that I am not fond of Canada’s increased military spending or America’s increased military spending. As a Canadian and an American, it is my civic responsibility to criticize the horrendous and destructive wars taking part in Afghanistan and Iraq. So, I leave it up to Venezuelans to take Chavez to task on military spending, but in Venezuela’s defense, Chavez is not looking to start foreign wars like our Prime Minister is. Chavez claims that recent helicopter, patrol boat and ammunitions purchases are for national defense. While the US is unlikely to launch a direct war with Venezuela, they do provide over $600 Billion in MILITARY FUNDING to Colombia EVERY YEAR, and there seems to be quite a military presence amassing on the Colombian side of the Colombia-Venezuela border. Nevertheless, Chavez has tried to reach out to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe many times and has plans for the creation of an economic trading network in Latin America that includes Colombia. Chavez was also asked to help negotiate hostage releases between the Colombian military and the FARC. But that American pawn, Uribe, suddenly told Chavez off and now there is a serious diplomatic row between those two countries (again, probably a result of American influence). Finally, as I mentioned above, Chavez has different designs for the Venezuelan military: He wants soldiers to take part in community building projects.
Though I will give you this: In addition to military spending, Chavez has made a really dumb move in befriending Iran’s Ahmadinejad. The latter made such a fool of himself on his recent tour to the US – he really is an autocratic idiot that nobody likes (including most Iranians). I think Chavez’s relations with him are political and more based on lending support for Iran’s sovereignty.