Hugo Chavez Still Defiant
And the president is…Hugo Chavez!
The fierce leader of Venezuela has been derided as a “populist dictator”, “drug-trafficker” and “tyrant”. Coverage of Venezuela’s recent elections have cast Chavez in a similar light. Outgoing World Bank President Robert Zoellick taunted, “Chavez’s days are numbered”. Barclay’s was prematurely overcome with joy calling the elections for center-right candidate Henrique Capriles. According to the western media the economy of Venezuela has been teetering on the brink of collapse for over a decade. Sound-bite after sound-bite someone is railing that Chavez is an enemy of freedom, a supporter of rogue states and a reckless squanderer of oil wealth.
Despite the notion propagated by the West and onanistic corporate elites that they would finally see Chavez displaced in a “too close to call” election, the reality is Chavez won by a substantial margin, 11 percent and for obvious reasons.
Before we go any further lets debunk once and for all that Chavez rigged the election. Venezuela boasts the reputation for having one of the fairest electoral systems. Canadian based Foundation for Democratic Advancement ranked Venezuelan elections number 1 in fairness (http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/6336). The International Elections Report released by the Carter Center for Peace also found Venezuelan elections to be among the fairest in the world. Capriles himself conceded that the elections were “clean”. Although he lamented that Chavez’s state resources put him at an unfair advantage. Nevertheless there was no Palm Beach County “butterfly ballot controversy” going on here.
The Chavez story you don’t hear in the western press is that of a transformational leader who took a defiant stand against western imperial forces and turned the tides for a country that suffered immensely under the neoliberal policies dictated by the Washington Consensus.
Since Chavez first came to office in 1998 he has cut poverty in half in his country and deep poverty by over 70 percent. Nationalizing the oil industry was a boon that redistributed wealth to a perennial underclass. Revenue from oil sales were used to establish an expansive health care system that today provides millions with health care for the first time. Many patients are treated by world class Cuban doctors who have come to practice in Venezuela under an initiative Chavez spearheaded. College enrollment has more than doubled. Voters re-elected the President on Monday because they have experienced substantial improvements in their lives since he was chosen as leader 16 years ago.
This election invigorates the progressive wave rolling across the Latin world. Chavez, like the other leftist leaders in his hemisphere, have pulled their countries from economic stagnation, political instability and at times, war. No wonder why his popularity shined through at the polls. Chavez is among a group of Latin American presidents that have garnered overwhelming support for challenging neoliberal orthodoxy and implementing social programs that saved millions from poverty. NY Times reporter Mark Wesbrot published this list of popularly elected leaders:
“Rafael Correa, who was reelected president of Ecuador by a wide margin in 2009; the enormously popular Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, who was reelected in 2006 and then successfully campaigned for his former chief of staff, now President Dilma Rousseff, in 2010; Evo Morales, Bolvia’s first indigenous president, who was reelected in 2009; José Mujica, who succeeded his predecessor from the same political alliance in Uruguay — the Frente Amplio — in 2009; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who succeeded her husband, the late Néstor Kirchner, winning the 2011 Argentine presidential election by a solid margin.”
Less than a decade ago the Bush administration sought to oust Chavez for good. In a secretly backed coup, America threw its weight behind businessman Pedro Carmona. Carmona was installed. But the coup was reversed within 48 hours restoring Chavez to power. Washington’s ambitions to prop up a leader running on deregulation, privatization and hacking social programs (the typical conditions of securing US financed loans) would never materialize. Chavez bounced back bedeviling the Bush administration. Salivating foreign investors and oil tycoons lost their shot at bonanza in the resource-rich country.
Venezuela is not without it’s problems. Rampant crime plagues neighborhoods. Many complain of a lack of law enforcement. Inflation roils the economy. Poor infrastructure is also a long term economic issue that the country will have to confront.
Yet Venezuela’s economy has been growing for two and half years uninterrupted. Oil exports bring in soaring revenues. “The country has a sizeable trade surplus. Its public debt is relatively low, and so is its debt-service burden. It has plenty of room to borrow foreign currency and can borrow domestically as well at low or negative real interest.” Compared to anemic growth in the US and the financial crisises threatening the Europe, Venezeula is in outstanding shape.
In addition to economic growth Venezuela’s political influence has spread throughout the region. A financing partnership has been forged with China, priming the country for steady investment. Washington continues to isolate Venezeula, thus isolating itself from a hemisphere weary of America’s interests.The Obama administration has shown no signs of considering Chavez as anything but anathema. The threat that Chavez represents to western hegemony is real.
Lula da Silva was asked what Chavez’s re-election would mean for the country: “A victory for Chávez is not just a victory for the people of Venezuela but also a victory for all the people of Latin America … this victory will strike another blow against imperialism.”
Don’t be surprised when you hear about the other Chavez, a Chavez with pointy horns as American global influence continues to wane.