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Is Hugo Chavez creating a dictatorship in Venezuela?

category international | anti-capitalism | opinion/analysis author Saturday May 13, 2006 23:42author by DF - ISN Report this post to the editors

Critics of Hugo Chavez have renewed their charges of authoritarianism against the Venezuelan leader. How well do these claims stand up?

As Evo Morales moves to reclaim his country’s hydrocarbon reserves, attention has again been drawn to the man seen as the root of Latin America’s creeping radicalization – Hugo Chavez. It’s typical of short-sighted establishment pundits to hold one man responsible for a process that involves millions of people and vast social movements. But there’s no denying that Chavez is the dominant political personality in Latin America, much to the discomfort of right-wing forces.

Clumsy attempts to portray Chavez as a tyrant have stumbled when confronted with the facts. Donald Rumsfeld may have the insolence to compare Chavez with Adolf Hitler, confident that his words will be echoed by Fox News and the rest of the conservative propaganda machine. But anyone who cares to look at the Venezuelan political scene with open eyes will have trouble swallowing such lies. Chavez has been elected and re-elected on multiple occasions since 1998, in votes deemed free and fair by international observers.

A more sophisticated line of attack has been doing the rounds lately, and needs to be addressed. Peter Beaumont of the Observer drew on such arguments in a recent article profiling Chavez: “In his seven years in power he has consolidated personal control over all of Venezuela's institutions. The army answers to Chávez, as does the central bank, the treasury and the state oil-company PDVSA … he has packed the judiciary with his supporters and rewritten the constitution to suit his ends. Most worryingly, he has talked about finessing the constitution to enable him to stay in office until 2030.”(1)

In a similar vein, the Mexican journalist Alma Guillermoprieto made reference in the New York Review of Books to “Chávez's determined assault on the institutions that make representative democracy possible (he prefers his own brand of "democracia participativa", which has little room for opposition parties or civic rights).” (2) These are serious charges, and alarming ones if well-founded.

So do they have any substance? It’s certainly true that Chavez has taken steps to remove army officers who oppose his government. This is hardly surprising, considering that the army command played a key role in the failed coup of 2002. If the coup had been successful, Chavez himself would almost certainly have been killed, and there would have been a Chilean-style blood-bath of his supporters.

In other words, it would have been a shocking dereliction of duty for Chavez to leave the army untouched after the coup: cutting the plotters down to size was essential if any form of democracy, “representative” or “participativa”, was to be preserved. Guillermoprieto herself notes that even so, “an unknown number of military personnel – including several army officers I interviewed – dislike Chavez and his leftist politics intensely, if not openly.”(3)

As for moves to control the central bank and the Treasury – it speaks volumes about the prevailing ideology in the western world that such moves could be seen as “undemocratic”. Leaving the main tools of economic policy in the hands of unelected bureaucrats may be the standard practice in Europe and the United States, where the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve are answerable to nobody. But it is still a travesty of democracy, and no progressive government could be expected to follow suit.

Chavez has also removed a large chunk of the management at PVDSA, the state oil company. Why? Because they organised a lock-out in tandem with the opposition towards the end of 2002. Having failed to unseat Chavez by military coup, his opponents tried again, using economic sabotage as their weapon. Although they did plenty of damage to the economy, they failed to bring down the government. Chavez was certainly under no obligation to leave Venezuela’s key economic resource in the hands of his sworn enemies.

The charges relating to the judiciary appear much more serious at first sight. According to Guillermoprieto: “The high court is now Chavista, and since the National Assembly appoints all judges, the justice system in Venezuela has become almost entirely pro-Chavez.”(4) Surely this confirms her claim that Chavez has attacked “the institutions that make representative democracy possible”?

Not so fast. Reform of the judiciary was always part of the Chavista programme. The constituent assembly elected in 1999 appointed an emergency commission to investigate all judges with more than seven complaints against their record. Opinion polls showed that 90% of the population lacked faith in the existing judiciary. Over 2,000 judges and court officials were investigated for corruption or incompetence.

The senior ranks of the judiciary made their attitude to “representative democracy” clear after the failed coup against Chavez. The Supreme Court halted moves to prosecute army officers implicated in the coup, ruling that the events of April 2002 had been a “power vacuum”, not a coup d’etat. The Chavez government made no attempt to interfere with this absurd judgement, but pressed ahead with its plans for reform.(5)

With this in mind, it appears less than startling that the Chavez government should find it necessary to reform the Venezuelan judiciary – especially when its most senior figures effectively legitimised an authoritarian coup against the elected leader of their country.

It’s true that Chavez has “rewritten the constitution to suit his ends”. Or rather, that one of his first acts as President was to call elections for a popular assembly that drafted the new constitution. Although his supporters had a majority in the assembly, NGOs were invited to submit proposals for change, and many of them were accepted.

One of the key provisions of the new constitution made all elected officials subject to recall by referendum – this clause was used by the opposition in 2004 to call a vote on the Chavez government well before his term was over. In other words, Chavez has indeed reshaped the political frame-work – and made it more accountable to the people.

Finally, the claim that Chavez intends to stay in office until 2030 has been put about by many commentators. This claim is based on a distortion of remarks made by Chavez earlier this year. Chavez appealed to the opposition not to boycott the presidential elections due to be held this December.

Boycott of the electoral process appears to be the last desperate gambit of the opposition. Having failed to unseat Chavez by force, having lost decisively at the ballot box, his opponents then pulled out of last year’s legislative elections, hoping to discredit the vote. The General Secretary of the Organisation of American States summed up their attitude: “We had a problem with the Venezuelan opposition, which assured us that they would not withdraw from the process if certain conditions were met. These were met and, despite this, they withdrew.”(6)

Chavez hopes to avoid a repeat performance in this year’s election. He warned them that if they did not run a candidate and Chavez was re-elected unopposed, he could then decree a referendum to change the constitution and remove term limits, allowing him to run again and again. In theory he could remain in power until 2030 – as long as the Venezuelan people voted for him. Thanks to clumsy (or malicious) reporting by the Associated Press, this warning became a threat by Chavez to make himself president-for-life.

Behind the misleading rhetoric of his critics, there is one undeniable truth – Hugo Chavez has played a commanding role in the progress of the Bolivarian revolution. His personality has been central to the political struggles of the last eight years. This does not make him a tyrant in the fascist mould, as many have implied. Hitler and Mussolini may have been charismatic, larger-than-life personalities - but so were Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

But when Chavez himself is talking about “a new socialism for the 21st century”, reliance on one man is unhealthy. If the revolution in Venezuela is to sustain itself for the future, it will have to create structures and organizations that make “democracia participative” a living reality. Popular power is the real antidote to tyranny, not a phony system of “checks and balances” that acts as a barrier to democracy.

(1) Peter Beaumont, “The new kid in the barrio”, Observer May 7th 2006 – http://observer.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,1769146,....html

(2) Alma Guillermoprieto, “The Gambler”, New York Review of Books October 20th 2005 –http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18355

(3) Alma Guillermorprieto, "Venezuela according to Chavez", National Geographic Magazine April 2006

(4) ibid.

(5) See Michael McCaughan, The Battle of Venezuela, (New York, 2005) p.92,133-4,153

(6) Justin Delacour, "Associate Press falsely portrays Chavez as seeking a 25-year term" - http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1723

Related Link: http://www.irishsocialist.net/venezuelabook.html
author by The Bush End Times Death Cult - Bush's End Times Bible Bomberspublication date Sun May 14, 2006 01:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Bush: "Y'all bash and Murder that Filthy Liberal Chavez and help me Steal his Oil fer Jesus and Yull git tuh Heaven."

author by iosafpublication date Sun May 14, 2006 17:18author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Nor do I think all the rhetoric aside, he is creating an "axis" in South America. He continues to talk about allowing oil to reach 100$, he continues to be the main supplier of Hydro-Carbons to the USA, and he continues to lead a state without an indymedia.
But none of that matches up to "dictatorship". What is wrong with Chavez is that the West (in particularly the english speaking west) simplifies his political contribution and plays willingly to his posturing. They do this for many reasons - Show business Politics is one. Undermining or omitting the political progress or situations in other Latin American states is another. Chavez stands for a type of "leftwing regime" which is not possible in many societies. If he and he alone is portrayed as the post-cold war succesor to "organised socialism", the knock on effects are huge. When in fact he is nothing of the sort, he's a showman, a personality, hops on the plane and gets in the photo everytime, inteferes blatantly in the internal politics of other states whilst at the same time undermining their trade blocks (does he do what he did in Peru to get Humala elected? or ensure that he isn't? does he play old man Castro as a puppet or is it the other way around?)
- In short he is not as simple as he appears to either friends or enemies. Venezuela has played a key role in the oil and gas global economy and geo-political game which is as much played by states as multi-national-corporations for a very long time. It was the "secret" agreement to key prices low between "nationalist Saudi" and "socialist" Venezuela which led to the foundation of OPEC and the mysteries of the Tehran 1971 declaration and the "first oil crises". Since then Venezuelan regimes whomever they are "fronted" by have proven masters at long term strategic planning of their markets, power & so on...
(would he fix Oil prices again in a secret agreement with Iran?)

Chavez is a popularist president who goes on TV and waves a baseball bat, posing as an ordinary guy. It works. Most of his population are ordinary guys, with very low levels of education or culture compared to the South American average. It works as well as George Bush's "Texan cowboy hands dangling at the side how are y'll doin?" most of Bush's compatriots are just like Venezuelans except with less average cocaine intake and more church-going. That is within Venezuela.
Beyond his borders he comes across as a "caudillo", but that is not such an insult, "caudillismo" is an established political phenomona in Latin America. & in english Chavez takes on a completely different magic. It is very important to remember that the same words said before different audiences or in translation take on very different meanings. Saddam Hussein's oratory and the "mother of all battles" was in arabic a wonderfully classical and witty polished slogan. In yankee english it was hyperbole and hubris. I must admit I think Chavez plays double-bluff a lot of the time, and the Europeans are for the moment quite delighted to see his state continue doing what it has done for so long - Supply Oil and Gas . All too often the "politics" of speeches and TV blurs the real business stuff going on behind. And most European Union business with South America is not done with Venezuela who to the contrary does most of her business with the USA. You could call them "chalk & cheese" "tweedledum & tweedledee" trade partners & behind it all - "best of buddies".

author by iosafpublication date Sun May 14, 2006 18:27author address author phone Report this post to the editors

If you want to understand what endears everyone to Hugo Chavez or what riles everyone about Hugo Chavez, all you need to do is click this link :- http://indymedia.ie/article/76021 & ask yourself and neighbours why he put both his hands on Michelle Bachelet's shoulders (socialist president of Chile but not ally of Venezuela http://indymedia.ie/article/73802) the moment that the "greenpeace" carnival girly summed up the capitalist or socialist world's attitude to global eco-disaster which in no small way is centred (though not caused) in South America. = Why did he do that? Look at the photo, its the second one. Angela Merckel looks shocked to her right :- is she afraid to look at Evangelina Carrozzo in the gogo costume? or has she been startled by the sudden appearance of those two big hands? Then look at Bachelet's expression, she's a woman of the world and significantly the leader of the richest most EU friendly state on that stage. Penultimately look at Chirac, he's man whose speeches I've managed to satire convincingly in French for a French readership, a man who I assure you has only 4 facial expressions.
Lastly wonder why Bertie another hail fellow well met, happy with the trite cliché eejit, who with Chavez is the only democratically elected world leader to share the task of representing his nation with a blood brother wanted to stand next to Hugo? answer - I told him to c/f http://indymedia.ie/article/75264#comment148647
Because it wasn't the other way round. But I assure you all - Hugo wanted to stand behind Michelle, and he's a "larger than life" chap ( in the finest Fianna Fail tradition of Lawlor & Haughey ) who gets what he wants. Thats how "the Show-business & Mafia mix" works.

author by Danpublication date Sun May 14, 2006 19:18author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think I'd find it easier to respond to that if I could tell what point you were making (if any).

Does this involve ducks somehow?

author by Paul O'Cpublication date Sun May 14, 2006 22:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Many thanks for an interesting, timely (given the recent EU-LA summit and the outrageous, neo-colonial comments of some of the major figures in the European political elite relating to Morales’ nationalisation policy) piece Dan.

In contrast Iosaf’s comments are, as usual, impenetrable (Joyce reincarnated, I wonder?). Events in Latin America are of central importance for the future of the global left and it merits as much discussion and debate as we can manage.

Indeed, what Chavez has done to date appears to me to be on the whole positive, but the problem, I believe, is that the movement in Venezuela (and by extension in the rest of Latin America) has become inseparable from one particular personality, I think that this has the tendency to disempower people at the same time as the personality concerned seeks to empower them, although we will have to wait and see.

Dan is right to point out that Chavez is not the movement, but rather a leading figure in a much larger, content wide movement that can trace its causal roots to the fact that LA was the laboratory (first in Pinochet’s Chile and then the rest of the continent) for what we now call neo-liberalism. Given the neo-liberal push in Europe it is essential that we here keep abreast, in both a critical and fraternal mind frame, of developments in the Bolivarian revolution.

author by iopublication date Mon May 15, 2006 01:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

but anyway, for those readers whose understanding of South American politics, and Global Hydrocarbon politics is a bit more advanced - here's the first hint ever from Mr Chavez that he's thinking "Iran". I pointed out in a previous comment that the first "non-popularist" socialist regime of Venezeula fixed the price of Oil back in the mid 20th century. & I've been hinting at the potential of such an act were it happen again for the last couple of weeks. So If you're intellect can go beyond "one socialist regime" or even "one continent" to the true "global anti-US imperialist project" write letters to Tehran & ask them to tender for Bolivian Gas management.

Related Link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4771229.stm
author by Jeremiah O'Mahonypublication date Mon May 15, 2006 01:43author address author phone Report this post to the editors

And they should make a point of paying in Euros rather than dollars.

author by John Pilgerpublication date Tue May 16, 2006 16:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Venezuela's president is using oil revenues to liberate the poor - no wonder his enemies want to overthrow him

I have spent the past three weeks filming in the hillside barrios of Caracas, in streets and breeze-block houses that defy gravity and torrential rain and emerge at night like fireflies in the fog. Caracas is said to be one of the world's toughest cities, yet I have known no fear; the poorest have welcomed my colleagues and me with a warmth characteristic of ordinary Venezuelans but also with the unmistakable confidence of a people who know that change is possible and who, in their everyday lives, are reclaiming noble concepts long emptied of their meaning in the west: "reform", "popular democracy", "equity", "social justice" and, yes, "freedom".
The other night, in a room bare except for a single fluorescent tube, I heard these words spoken by the likes of Ana Lucia Fernandez, aged 86, Celedonia Oviedo, aged 74, and Mavis Mendez, aged 95. A mere 33-year-old, Sonia Alvarez, had come with her two young children. Until about a year ago, none of them could read and write; now they are studying mathematics. For the first time in its modern era, Venezuela has almost 100% literacy.

This achievement is due to a national programme, called Mision Robinson, designed for adults and teenagers previously denied an education because of poverty. Mision Ribas is giving everyone a secondary school education, called a bachillerato. (The names Robinson and Ribas refer to Venezuelan independence leaders from the 19th century.) Named, like much else here, after the great liberator Simon Bolivar, "Bolivarian", or people's, universities have opened, introducing, as one parent told me, "treasures of the mind, history and music and art, we barely knew existed". Under Hugo Chávez, Venezuela is the first major oil producer to use its oil revenue to liberate the poor.

Mavis Mendez has seen, in her 95 years, a parade of governments preside over the theft of tens of billions of dollars in oil spoils, much of it flown to Miami, together with the steepest descent into poverty ever known in Latin America; from 18% in 1980 to 65% in 1995, three years before Chávez was elected. "We didn't matter in a human sense," she said. "We lived and died without real education and running water, and food we couldn't afford. When we fell ill, the weakest died. In the east of the city, where the mansions are, we were invisible, or we were feared. Now I can read and write my name, and so much more; and whatever the rich and their media say, we have planted the seeds of true democracy, and I am full of joy that I have lived to witness it."

Latin American governments often give their regimes a new sense of legitimacy by holding a constituent assembly that drafts a new constitution. When he was elected in 1998, Chávez used this brilliantly to decentralise, to give the impoverished grassroots power they had never known and to begin to dismantle a corrupt political superstructure as a prerequisite to changing the direction of the economy. His setting-up of misions as a means of bypassing saboteurs in the old, corrupt bureaucracy was typical of the extraordinary political and social imagination that is changing Venezuela peacefully. This is his "Bolivarian revolution", which, at this stage, is not dissimilar to the post-war European social democracies.

Chávez, a former army major, was anxious to prove he was not yet another military "strongman". He promised that his every move would be subject to the will of the people. In his first year as president in 1999, he held an unprecedented number of votes: a referendum on whether or not people wanted a new constituent assembly; elections for the assembly; a second referendum ratifying the new constitution - 71% of the people approved each of the 396 articles that gave Mavis and Celedonia and Ana Lucia, and their children and grandchildren, unheard-of freedoms, such as Article 123, which for the first time recognised the human rights of mixed-race and black people, of whom Chávez is one. "The indigenous peoples," it says, "have the right to maintain their own economic practices, based on reciprocity, solidarity and exchange ... and to define their priorities ... " The little red book of the Venezuelan constitution became a bestseller on the streets. Nora Hernandez, a community worker in Petare barrio, took me to her local state-run supermarket, which is funded entirely by oil revenue and where prices are up to half those in the commercial chains. Proudly, she showed me articles of the constitution written on the backs of soap-powder packets. "We can never go back," she said.

In La Vega barrio, I listened to a nurse, Mariella Machado, a big round black woman of 45 with a wonderfully wicked laugh, stand and speak at an urban land council on subjects ranging from homelessness to the Iraq war. That day, they were launching Mision Madres de Barrio, a programme aimed specifically at poverty among single mothers. Under the constitution, women have the right to be paid as carers, and can borrow from a special women's bank. From next month, the poorest housewives will get about £120 a month. It is not surprising that Chávez has now won eight elections and referendums in eight years, each time increasing his majority, a world record. He is the most popular head of state in the western hemisphere, probably in the world. That is why he survived, amazingly, a Washington-backed coup in 2002. Mariella and Celedonia and Nora and hundreds of thousands of others came down from the barrios and demanded that the army remain loyal. "The people rescued me," Chávez told me. "They did it with all the media against me, preventing even the basic facts of what had happened. For popular democracy in heroic action, I suggest you need look no further."

The venomous attacks on Chávez, who arrives in London tomorrow, have begun and resemble uncannily those of the privately owned Venezuelan television and press, which called for the elected government to be overthrown. Fact-deprived attacks on Chávez in the Times and the Financial Times this week, each with that peculiar malice reserved for true dissenters from Thatcher's and Blair's one true way, follow a travesty of journalism on Channel 4 News last month, which effectively accused the Venezuelan president of plotting to make nuclear weapons with Iran, an absurd fantasy. The reporter sneered at policies to eradicate poverty and presented Chávez as a sinister buffoon, while Donald Rumsfeld was allowed to liken him to Hitler, unchallenged. In contrast, Tony Blair, a patrician with no equivalent democratic record, having been elected by a fifth of those eligible to vote and having caused the violent death of tens of thousands of Iraqis, is allowed to continue spinning his truly absurd political survival tale.

Chávez is, of course, a threat, especially to the United States. Like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, who based their revolution on the English co-operative moment, and the moderate Allende in Chile, he offers the threat of an alternative way of developing a decent society: in other words, the threat of a good example in a continent where the majority of humanity has long suffered a Washington-designed peonage. In the US media in the 1980s, the "threat" of tiny Nicaragua was seriously debated until it was crushed. Venezuela is clearly being "softened up" for something similar. A US army publication, Doctrine for Asymmetric War against Venezuela, describes Chávez and the Bolivarian revolution as the "largest threat since the Soviet Union and Communism". When I said to Chávez that the US historically had had its way in Latin America, he replied: "Yes, and my assassination would come as no surprise. But the empire is in trouble, and the people of Venezuela will resist an attack. We ask only for the support of all true democrats."

Related Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/venezuela/story/0,,1773965,00.html
author by geoffpublication date Tue May 16, 2006 17:36author address author phone Report this post to the editors

...in yesterday's Sunday Times, was trying to claim that Chavez was on his way to becoming a dictator. He cited the example of certain journalists and campaigners being denied welfare and passports for starting a campaign to have him ousted via referendum (Chavez has rewrittten the constitution so that any President can be removed via referendum before his term of ofice is complete) . He also chided the left for defending Chavez and ignoring certain elements of his tenure as President.

Of course, this ignores the fact that the man is simply redistributing the wealth. It is all very well for Western Nations to pour scorn on Chavez's brand of socialism, especially given the fact that the EU, TIMF and World Bank are notable in their ideological zeal in promoting low tax, free marketism.

It is my opinion, though, that the current Anglo American system of low tax, privitisation is only possible in the first place, because such systems were preceded by high tax, public spending economies.

In the US, this began with Roosevelt in nthe thirties, using Government internvention to get people working during the Depression and get their children educated. Britain started on this interventionist phase under Bevin after the War, and Ireland, while burdened with high taxes and emigration, nonetheless got it's poulation educated up to secondary standard, albeit with help from the Church.

Free Market models only work in States with advanced economies in the first place. To force Latin America to adopt this same system is not only morally wrong, it is, for the majorety poor, impractical.

Chavezism will hopefully continue, and remove the natural resources of wealth from the few and put it into health, education and public spending. If free marketism is such a workable ideal, well then, logically, one should wait until Chavez's unprecedented interventionism gets the poor off their feet, and gives more people there the tools necessary for them to be involved with the national economy.

Surely that is what the free market is about, fair competition, right? If you are some snobby troll who wishes to bad mouth Chavez and praise Bush, and ridicule Chaxvez's efforts, then it is not the free market youi support, it is a form of feudalism. The corporations have replaced the landed aristocracy.

author by Danpublication date Wed May 17, 2006 23:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Still haven’t a clue what Iosaf is on about I’m afraid. I suspect I’m not alone.

Thanks for the comments, Paul. The fact that Chavez has played such a central role in the Venezuelan revolution is obviously a problem – not because Chavez has done a bad job (on the whole I think he’s performed quite well), but because it’s not healthy to rely on one man to that extent. I suspect the whole process could easily have been side-tracked if Chavez had succumbed to pressure and ditched his more radical policies.

His two predecessors, Perez and Caldera, were both elected on platforms opposing neoliberalism, then changed tack very quickly once in office. If Chavez had done the same, I don’t know if the social movements in Venezuela would have been ready to respond in the right way. People mobilised very quickly in April 2002 because the situation was crystal clear – the traditional elites were trying to destroy the government that people had voted for, and they had to be stopped. If the threat had been more subtle and gradual, coming from within, you probably wouldn’t have seen the same response.

But it seems as if a lot of progress has been made in the right direction since then. The people who voted for Chavez in 1998 have come a long way, and the whole population is politically engaged. There’s still plenty of work to be done. The Chavista parties like the Movement for a Fifth Republic and the PPT leave a lot to be desired. “Popular power” is just a phrase unless you have organisations and structures that can give it some expression. The Venezuelan political system is a quite advanced form of representative democracy, but it’s not yet what could be called participatory democracy.

There’s an interesting document at this link (http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/article.php3?id_a...e=891) by revolutionary socialists in Venezuela, giving their take on where the revolution should go from here. Standing in solidarity with the Venezuelan people certainly doesn’t mean supporting everything that Chavez does or says. People should really ditch the habit of supporting individual leaders: we should support Chavez if he takes the right steps, and criticise him if he takes the wrong ones.

At the moment, the force that seems most worthy of support from progressive activists is the UNT, the radical union federation that was founded after the old bureaucracy threw its lot in with the anti-democratic opposition. It’s already the biggest union federation in the country, many of its leading organisers come from the revolutionary left, and its programme calls for workers’ management of production (there’s an ongoing experiment at the state aluminium plant, which could set a good example for the rest of the economy: http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/article.php3?id_a...e=881).

While keeping in mind the need to be critical, we should still be 100% behind the Chavez government when it clashes with imperialism (great quote from Barroso at the EU summit attended by Chavez and Morales: “We are a Europe that is against populist tendencies”. Well we knew that already didn’t we? Any government that bases itself on what the people want is clearly a threat to democracy).

There was an editorial in Murdoch’s Times the other day that should remind everyone what’s at stake here. Under the charming title “Chav Politics” (of course, it’s only die-hard Marxists who believe in class conflict…), the rag went on to inform us:

“according to his promotional material, the Venezuelan leader is all that stands between enlightenment and President Bush inflicting his twisted values (such as democracy, the rule of law and market economics) on the entire world … President Chávez demands attention, not just because he can wear a natty suit and, on occasion, employ moderate tones. Because of rocketing prices, Venezuela's oil revenues have quadrupled since 1998, giving him economic and political clout that he is exploiting with relish.

His credentials as a leader of heroic stature would be laughable if not so grave. On his watch, poverty rose as oil prices climbed for the first time since records began. Murder has tripled, making Caracas the continent's killing capital. His disrespect for property, the rule of law and press freedom is now threatening to infect Bolivia. Corruption is endemic. He may be elected, but he talks of remaining in power until 2031, and is no democrat.”

I’ve left out the childish insults (scared conservatives find it hard to disguise the fear that lies behind their sneer). The naïve might wonder whether “the rule of law” has been extended by the Bush administration to Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. But of course, this would be to forget that “the rule of law” means “the reign of capital”.

When that reign is threatened by upstarts like Chavez, you don’t need mere “evidence” to convict them – assertions will do. This is the same Times, of course, that approved of Pinochet’s coup in 1973: its editorial informed the readers that “reasonable military men” would have found it necessary to intervene under the circumstances (at the time that edition went to press, the reasonable military men were busy hacking off people’s hands in Santiago stadium and raping female prisoners).

author by debaserpublication date Mon May 28, 2007 05:59author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Okay....I thinks it's best if we all pretend that Mr. Chavez is not making extremely scary depressions to the idea of free thought in his country. Whom really wants to express themselves genuinely.

author by fairmediapublication date Fri Nov 30, 2007 23:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hugo shut down the independent media channels and print sources!!! The article doesn't mention this! It's IRONIC that a story on IndyMedia DOESN"T mention this FACT anywhere in the article!!! WHY doesn't it mention this? WHY is it OK for anybody in ANY position of power to shut down INDEPENDENT MEDIA??? By the way, STATE RUN MEDIA is NOT INDEPENDENT-----that he did leave in place.

author by davekeypublication date Sat Dec 01, 2007 00:46author address author phone Report this post to the editors

There's nothing independant about a media which openly supported and facilitated the attempted coup. A media run by and for the elites and easily used as a tool to dumb down and distract the population. I would speculate that this type of 'independant' media is a luxury Venezuela can't afford while in the sights of the neo-cons.

author by Aragonpublication date Sat Dec 01, 2007 03:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Chavez did not 'shut down' anything. He didnt bother to renew a single station's terrestrial broadcast licence. They still broadcast by satellite and cable.

author by Chepublication date Sat Dec 01, 2007 10:59author address author phone Report this post to the editors

From the piece referred to by Sceptic,

"The proposal, which would abolish presidential term limits and expand presidential powers, is nothing less than an attempt to establish a socialist state in Venezuela. As our Catholic bishops have already made clear, a socialist state is contrary to the beliefs of Simón Bolívar, the South American liberation hero, and it is also contrary to human nature and the Christian view of society, because it grants the state absolute control over the people it governs."

How could anyone take seriously the person who wrote this drivel. A plea for a return to a state run by " catholic bishops". Talk about one step forward and two steps back.

author by Scepticpublication date Sat Dec 01, 2007 11:17author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the catholic bishops should be running the State. However if Chavez or the system he is developing is perceived to be very antagonist to religion it is a valid for someone who cares about these things to point it out among many other criticism and concerns raised in the article. You cannot dismiss it that easily.

author by Chepublication date Sat Dec 01, 2007 11:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"As our Catholic bishops have already made clear, a socialist state is contrary to the beliefs of Simón Bolívar, the South American liberation hero, and it is also contrary to human nature and the Christian view of society"

Maybe I missed something so perhaps you might interpret what the above is intended to convey and oblige.

author by Scepticpublication date Sat Dec 01, 2007 15:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Bolívar was a social conservative. The usurpation of his name by Chaves is therefore is ill fitting.

author by FuckYouSepticpublication date Sat Dec 01, 2007 16:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors

If we had an independently run radio / tv network here, financed by vested interests who preferred fianna gael and who spent all day insulting bertie and his government and making libellous and unsubstantiated claims about his actions and accusing him of being a criminal and suffering from mental illness. How long would bertie tolerate that before finding some sneaky way of silencing them?

Look how long the centre for public enquiry lasted. And all their research was factual and well substantiated!!

The radio network you speak of was allowed to continue broadcasting exaggerated bile and propaganda for six years after the coup in flagrant violation of its terms of broadcasting. Eventually it was clear that they would never mend their ways and make a positive contribution to venezuelan society in it's attempts to drag itself out of the quagmire it was left in by the friends and financiers of the radio station.

So hugo merely did what any other government would have done long ago. Dead right. If anything this case shows how much more tolerant hugo was of dissent than your average head of government!!!

author by Scepticpublication date Sat Dec 01, 2007 17:46author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I never mentioned anything to do with radio stations but since you bring it up the essence of freedom of the press and of expression is that you tolerate the people you don’t like not just those you do. A despotic government will always find a reason to close down a newspaper or jail political activists or journalists if they want to – e.g. they are foreign backed, they are not constructive, they are vested interests or whatever. The Cuban and Iranian regimes do this all the time. For those who value press freedom events in Caracas are alarming. The Centre for Public Enquiry was closed down by its patron after Mr. Connolly refused to leave following his unmasking for passport fraud and dodgy trips to Colombia. Mr. Connolly is very much still in business in several media.

author by Chepublication date Sat Dec 01, 2007 18:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Some facts about he of who we speak by an expert who is not known to be an uncritical admirer of Chavez, César Chelala;

"Chávez is essentially a product of the failure of Venezuelan traditional parties to bring progress with economic justice to Venezuelans. He is as disliked by the elites in Venezuela as by members of the Bush administration - many of whom have been favorite targets of Chávez's scorn.

The feeling is mutual. At her Senate confirmation hearings in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Chávez of meddling in the affairs of Venezuela's neighboring countries, a charge recently repeated by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during his visit to Latin America earlier this month.

Chávez, by contrast, has accused the United States of trying to topple him and has charged that U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials stationed in Venezuela have been conducting espionage and ordered them out of the country. In addition, to increase the Bush administration's displeasure, he hired 16,000 Cuban doctors to provide free medical attention to the poor. The Bush administration has been a severe critic of Chávez's close ties to Fidel Castro.

After winning a recall referendum, Chávez has embarked on a Latin American crusade that has won him popular support in several countries in the continent. He has carried out important economic cooperation agreements with countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Through the PetroCaribe program, he has offered Venezuelan oil in very favorable conditions to Caribbean nations. He has also signed energy deals with France, India and China.
Chávez has done more for the poor and dispossessed in his country than any Venezuelan president in recent memory.

His government is pursuing an ambitious agrarian reform program. In addition, he is carrying out an educational program for people in the shantytowns of Venezuela aimed at including the disenfranchised and ignored into the country's political process.

Chávez has used oil revenues to finance infrastructure development, conduct literacy programs and create scores of small-scale workers' cooperatives in agriculture and other sectors. In 2004 Venezuela's state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PdVSA) spent more than $3.7 billion in housing for the poor, free medical clinics, schools, and literacy programs. More than 1.2 million adults have learned how to read since Chávez came into office, and the country now has one of highest literacy rates (93.4 percent) in the hemisphere.

Why do Venezuela's elites hate him so? Maybe because he has sharply curtailed their benefits. Through his "Zero Evasion Tax Plan," he has forced large corporations and landowners to pay taxes to an extent that they haven't done in the past. Elites, mainly white, also may hate him because, in this racially divided country, he is a darker color than they are.

Chavez's bold political initiatives have clearly put him on a collision course with the United States, a course in which he has the overwhelming support of the Latin American masses. Unless the relationship between both countries is more carefully managed, democracy may become the main casualty of this confrontation."

If only we had had him here when the Celtic Tiger was about the place. We might even have a Health Service that all can access based only on medical need only.

author by FuckYouSepticpublication date Sun Dec 02, 2007 01:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Reliable and predictable as usual septic. Hard to believe so perfect a citizen of the modern capitalist system could exist. Sorry about confusing the radio remark as yours but it was just so like something you would say. As it happens you went along with it anyway so no harm done.

Frank connolly was attacked by Mcdowell who leaked information to the newspapers and made personal approaches to the person funding the CPI which resulted in funding being cut off.

Frank will make a personal statement about his wherabouts etc when formal charges are brought against him. Until then he is innocent until proven guilty and on principle has nothing to say on the matter. Rightly so.

You do believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty don't you septic? And if he is guilty, then explain why no case has been brought against him.

Mcdowell used his position in an appalling manner to undermine a vital government watchdog body which was doing a great service to the Irish public. No wonder then that it drew the Ire of the government who made every effort to shut it down. They have a lot to hide, as recent revelations have made patently obvious.

author by Scepticpublication date Sun Dec 02, 2007 14:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I do believe in the presumption of innocence in judicial setting until a trial is over. Innocent until proven guilty refers mainly to not being punished through the penal system until guilt is found. However that does not mean that I don’t believe Connolly used a false passport to travel to Colombia and consorted with the FARC there in the company of IRA people. That is what is believed by McDowell on the basis of evidence presented to him by the Gárda authorities and the Departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs the latter being the entity that issues passports. I have more faith in the judgment of these people than I would have in Connolly’s not very strong denials. One can form of view on something without it having been through a court.

author by comom - regular folkpublication date Fri Mar 20, 2009 17:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Beware fo my poor grammar, as much as I love English my original language its Spanish (I will do my best).

Com'on, its amazing how many people support's Chavez actions, I understand, we all want a fair world, a better world, to help the poor, all those things are right and fine. And yes we must work to balance the gaps between the richest and the poorest.

But Chavez, as other power-sickened men before him, started well (nice plans, nice ideas), plus he used the older trick in the book in a poor society: populism, populism takes advantage of the poor it does not help them, at least the way it is carried by potential dictators, populism its easy and effective. Populism won him his early elections. But he has had many opposers, from media, businesspeople, midleclass and yes the filty rich, not to mention the failed coup he faced, also its loosing support, and encarcelating oooposer such as the major he took into jail last night, with no trial.

To say that he was won many elections.... I just ask yourself, when has a Dictator lost a popular election?

His actions are one collection of steps towards dictatorship, how convenient was that the congress (not to say "his" congress) modified the constitution so he could be re-elected for ever. Many people died in Latin America and the world to have constitutions that read, "NO RE-ELECTION" that was a specific aspect to prevent, super heros, super leaders, that know better, like Chavez. I wonder no one else can lead Venezuela after Chavez term has finished? What makes him so special?

The military are controlling (they just took ports and aiports by force last night), but to his backers every action he takes its ok, its based on some good reason, normally the kool-aid Chavez gives, he is becoming each day more blalant and aggressive to achieve his Bolivarian dream version, who knows what he is thinking of doing? To unify Latin america (not a bad plan at all if only was feasible) he will need other nations. Today he is working mainly trough diplomacy and cooperation with leftist candidates. But not everyone likes him and tensions are mounting for instance with Colombia, and Mexico will not back him one bit, he has helped the good willed Evo, and financed López Obrador in Mexico, failing to win elections in Mexico.

I live in Latinamerica, In Mexico, and have the luxury of knowing a few Venezuelans (granted not enought to have a scientific poll...), but their testimony of the actions and their lecture of the situation its by far not as romantic and "Go Caudillo!" as - its seems to far be from well read intellectual opinions I read here. From frozen currency, people scared, the taking private property (of the filty rich and midle class in order to give it poor families), to pilots from airlines, bringing food into Venezuela.

I have no proof, no hard facts just testimonies of a few venezuelans, I have not met ONE venezuelan that tells me Chavez is not a nutcase and a dangerous man, so I only have an invitation for you to analyze Chavez in closer in detail

Thas my 5 cents.

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