Found this great article which gives a brief but somewhat inclusive explanation of the situation in Venezuela and received permission from the author to reprint it in full here. I hope that this will help the reader to understand a little more the ground situation in Caracas beyond what the US press has given us!
James Jordan: Q&A to USA …What in the world is “wrong” with Venezuela? Venezuela Solidarity Network (James Jordan): What’s wrong with Hugo Chavez and Venezuela? Every time I turn on the news, I see another negative report! Why do the Venezuelan people keep electing him?
Maybe it’s time we stop believing the accusations of corporate media. Was corporate media telling the truth when it repeated every lie that took us into war in Iraq?
Did it give us the whole story on the events of 9/11?
When was the last time corporate media took political corruption and scandal seriously? Watergate?
The fact is the Venezuelan people DO keep electing Chavez and other Bolivarians to power. That’s called democracy, and whether the US government likes it or not, the US has no right to interfere in Venezuela’s electoral choices.
Is it true that democracy is being threatened in Venezuela?
Before Hugo Chavez was elected President, politics was dominated by two official parties (sound familiar?) that represented the interests of the wealthiest Venezuelans, but ignored the needs of the 80% who were living in poverty. When Hugo Chavez was elected, it was due to a coalition of popular forces that were rejecting “business as usual.” Corporate officers and corrupt union leaders tried to overthrow Venezuela’s elected government in 2002, but masses of people took to the streets to defend their democracy. In the last election, President Chavez won with nearly 70% of the vote. It is obvious that the Bolivarian process has the support of the majority.
Meanwhile, communities are being given direct power to implement and administer many government programs and the government is supporting an explosion of cooperative enterprises, from worker run factories to fishing and agricultural coops. No wonder, in a recent poll of South American countries, Venezuelans had the highest percentage of those who said that their country is “totally democratic.”
Why is President Chavez trying to eliminate political parties, remove term limits, and ensure that he will be elected President for life?
President Chavez is seeking to have the 24 parties that have supported the Bolivarian process unified into one party. This has no effect whatsoever on opposition parties, who are still free to organize and to run for office.
One of the reforms would remove presidential term limits. If anything, this is moving in the opposite direction of restricting democracy. If a country wants to keep reelecting someone for president, why shouldn’t they have that choice? Most countries do not have term limits for their heads of state, and in the case of countries like Israel, Spain, and Britain, the general public doesn’t even get to vote for their top leader!
What about the proposed constitutional reforms — wouldn’t they limit the Venezuelan people’s power and pave the way to dictatorship?
If anything, the constitutional reforms would broaden democracy by giving more power to community and worker councils, including power to administer many government projects. This is one of the core differences between neoliberal, representative democracy (like we have in the United States), versus participatory democracy (which is what Venezuela is developing). In participatory democracy … and under the constitutional reforms … the direct involvement of communities is maximized, rather than minimized in favor of bureaucracies and government officials.
The constitutional reforms include a provision for emergency measures in the event of a crisis. These are not significantly different than what other countries have and are not as restrictive as similar plans in the United States. These measures, for instance, include the guarantee of a fair trial. There would be no Guantanamo, and neither would there be warrant-less surveillance of millions of citizens such as is already happening without an impending crisis, in the United States.
The constitutional reforms also would require a much needed overhaul of Venezuelan jails, make National Bank management answerable to elected officials, recognize the historic and cultural importance of Afro-Venezuelans, and outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. These reforms will be subject to a popular vote, just like the constitution was. This is unusual for US citizens, whose constitution was voted on only by a handful of land-owning White men, many of who were enslaving African heritage persons, and for whom constitutional amendments are never subjected to a popular vote.
How can we talk about democracy in Venezuela when there is so much repression of the media?
Just go to Venezuela and you’ll never ask that question again. You cannot walk around Caracas or any other Venezuelan city without hearing political discussion and debate. Kiosks sell copies of the constitution, newspapers, magazines … and most the newspapers and magazines are corporate-owned, opposition media. Turn on the TV and start channel surfing, and what you’ll find is more of the same: political discussion and debate, from broad points of view, with most of the stations, again, being opposition and corporate owned. Furthermore, the government is providing millions of dollars in funding for community-owned and operated media.
There was a lot of noise made about the closing of RCTV, an opposition station … but the fact is, it was never closed, and is still available on cable and satellite. However, when RCTV’s license to use the public airwaves, free of charge, came up for renewal, it was denied. Considering that RCTV helped carry out the coup attempt against Venezuelan democracy in 2002, one can only be amazed that this is the ONLY restriction they have received.
Why doesn’t Hugo Chavez learn some manners and basic respect? Why is he always shooting off at the mouth, calling president Bush “the devil” and former president Aznar, of Spain, “a fascist? No wonder House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called him a thug and the King of Spain told him to shut up!
President Chavez does shoot off at the mouth some of the time, doesn’t he? In fact, it may well be this willingness to speak up and go head-to-head in struggle that has helped him survive. Remember that the Bush administration, with the support of Congress, funded, advised, and otherwise supported various efforts to bring down Venezuela’s elected government. This same Bush administration also engineered the overthrow of Haitian democracy and took the US to war in Iraq, against the people’s wishes.
What credentials did Bush have to go around attempting overthrows and invasions of other countries? He didn’t even win the popular vote in 2000, and there is evidence of widespread tampering with the electoral system in both 2000 and 2002. In fact, the Bush administration hired Choice Point (the same company that was paid to purge Florida voter roles before the 2000 election) to provide it with personal information on every voter in five Latin American nations, including Venezuela. Perhaps, instead of accusing Chavez of “shooting off at the mouth,” we should commend him for his forthrightness and honesty about Bush. It is the leaders who refuse to speak out, who treat this warmonger with respect that is not due him, that we should be criticizing for their silence. Silence, after all, is complicity. As for President Aznar of Spain, he and Tony Blair acted as faithful followers to their ringleader, Bush. The two of them stood side by side with him to announce the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, even though the US, British, and Spanish people were overwhelmingly opposed to this war.
And what of the King of Spain? Since when does he have the right to tell any elected head of state to shut up. No one elected him. For an unelected member of an outdated, elitist nobility to tell an elected leader of a former colony to “shut up” is the height of inappropriateness and ruling class snobbery.
I hear that runaway spending to support social programs is unsustainable because of Venezuela’s dependency on oil. Is Hugo Chavez ruining Venezuela’s economy?
It’s good to remember that social spending that educates people, keeps people healthy, and increases the buying power of the populace is basically good for the economy. In Venezuela, health care is being made available to everyone, the society is highly literate, with half of all citizens getting some kind of education at all age levels, and the buying power of the average Venezuelan is increasing. The Venezuelan economy has been steadily growing ever since workers broke the economic sabotage of 2002.
Last year, for the first time since the oil boom of the 60s and 70s, oil money has provided less than half of Venezuela’s national budget. Oil money is, indeed, being used to diversify the economy. For instance, Venezuela is especially vulnerable in its agricultural development. However, since land reform laws were adopted in the late 90s, five million acres of fallow land, plus training and farming equipment, have been given to families and coops, providing over one million Venezuelans with an income. During the land reform that was in place in Venezuela from the late 60s until the late 90s, only three and a half million acres were turned over.
Isn’t it true that President Chavez and the Venezuelan government are ignoring environmental concerns and pushing oil development without concern for its impact on nature? Isn’t it also true that the communities that suffer most from oil and mining development are indigenous communities, since so many resources are located on indigenous lands?
Venezuela, like other countries, has ecological problems. Most of these precede the Bolivarian revolution. Also, it is impossible to develop oil and mining resources without doing damage to the environment. Nevertheless, the seeds of ecological revolution can be found within the Bolivarian process.
One of the reasons Venezuela has given for demanding majority control of oil development is because of the bad environmental record of big oil companies. Venezuela is prioritizing environmental restoration after undertaking new oil or mining projects, particularly in regards to protecting and restoring rivers. Venezuela is well aware that, with Brazil, it has the largest freshwater reserves in the world — a resource more precious than oil. For the first time in Venezuelan history, affected indigenous communities are involved in all decisions about whether or not to develop these resources.
Venezuela has a policy of regarding its natural resources as being for the benefit of all the people. A percentage of oil profits are required by law to go into social programs, and oil money is funding many environmental protection and rehabilitation programs. Oil money has brought new schools, water purification plants, health clinics, etc. not only to urban populations, but also to rural and indigenous communities. Only the most foolishly idealistic would fail to see that, at this point, it is Venezuela’s oil and mineral wealth that provides the funds necessary to move beyond oil dependency and toward environmental sustainability.
Bolivarian Venezuela has made a commitment to its indigenous communities, returning hundreds of thousands of acres of ancestral land and enacting constitutional protections that are an example to other American nations. Likewise, Venezuela has made a strong ecological commitment, actively seeking to raise consciousness throughout the nation. Environmental initiatives include efforts to plant young trees around the country, to expand public transportation, to restore urban waterways, support sustainable agriculture, and to restrict heavy industrial fishing. Venezuela has begun programs such as the Garbage for Food and the Revolutionary Light Bulb programs, wherein people can trade in bags of garbage for food, and old, energy wasteful light bulbs for newer, more efficient ones.
What is the relationship of Venezuela and Iran, and why is Hugo Chavez so friendly with its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
Venezuela and Iran have a long history of relations that precede the election of either President Chavez or President Ahmadinejad. This relationship was solidified by the founding of OPEC. This relationship is economic, not ideological, and has been maintained throughout ideological shifts in both countries. Besides, Venezuela does not make the mistake of identifying a current leader with a whole nation. For instance, even though Bolivarian Venezuela is outspokenly opposed to the warring of the Bush administration, it still maintains a high level of trade and engagement with the United States, and even provides humanitarian assistance to poor communities in the US.
Venezuela also recognizes that Iran is being targeted for possible acts of aggression by the United States and others, and thus it is standing in solidarity with the people of Iran against a possible invasion or bombing campaign. Nor is the irony missed that the largest stockpiler of nuclear weapons in the world … the United States … believes it has the right to police the nuclear programs of Iran and other countries. There is no indication that the Iranian nuclear program is aimed at development of a nuclear weapon.
Meanwhile, there is no US concern about Israel, which is home to a large and illegal nuclear weapons stockpile … the only nuclear nation in the Middle East.
Corporate Press likes to make a great deal of noise any time President Chavez is seen visiting, shaking hands, or giving a hug to President Ahmadinejad or Cuba’s President Fidel Castro. Yet, there are photos of President Chavez giving hugs to Pope John Paul II, former US president Bill Clinton, Colombian president Alvaro Uribe … just to name a few. When President Chavez greets president Uribe in such a manner, this does not indicate approval of Uribe’s close associations with leaders of paramilitary death squads. In fact, President Chavez and Uribe come from opposite political ideologies. President Chavez is a diplomat who meets with many heads of state, in great part to avert confrontations and aggressions. Those who carry on the most about President Chavez making state visits with Iran and its leader are those who are most interested in going to war with Iran and with overthrowing democracy in Venezuela.
Why do the Venezuelan people and Hugo Chavez, in particular, hate the United States?
Nothing could be further from the truth!
Any US citizen who believes this should go to Venezuela and experience the warmth and generosity of its people.
US citizens who travel to Venezuela report the same experience, over and over again: Venezuelans approaching them on the streets, in meetings, at various gatherings, telling them to let the people of the US know that Venezuela is not their enemy.
Certainly it is time for the US people to stand in solidarity with Venezuela and the rest of the world in opposing US/Corporate imperialism and bringing real, participatory democracy to our own land!
- James Jordan is the Emergency Response Coordinator for the Venezuela Solidarity Network.