In Defense of Venezuela

JUAN BARRETO via Getty Images

By Dan Kovalik (originally on Huffington Post)

The U.S. media, echoing the sentiments of the U.S. government, is openly encouraging violent regime change in Venezuela. An emblematic story from yesterday was aired in what is considered a “liberal” media source, National Public Radio (NPR). In short, this piece featured claims of Venezuela at the precipice of “economic collapse,” and spoke in glowing terms of the opposition’s hopes for a “coup” to overthrow President Maduro. This type of reporting is not only irresponsible, but it is deeply misinformed.

While the U.S. government and media have been portraying Venezuela as a basket case ever since Hugo Chavez took office in 1999, this is far from the truth. Indeed, if we look at the UN’s Human Development Index, which measures several key indicators of the health of a country’s citizenry (e.g., life expectancy, income, education, equality), we see that Venezuela has actually experienced a steady growth in such human development indicators since Chavez took office with a total Human Rights Index score of .662 in 2000, and rising to .748 in 2012. See, Table 2 at p. 149 of the UN Report. Significantly, Venezuela had a huge relative increase in this index during that time, jumping nine (9) rankings in the HDI chart from 80 to number 71 in the world.

If we compare this to Venezuela’s neighbor, and chief U.S. ally in this hemisphere, Colombia, that country has been stuck at position 91 in the world during that time same time period. Moreover, in terms of human rights, there is no comparison between these two countries with Colombia, one the largest recipients of U.S. military support in the world, having the dubious distinction of leading the world in forced disappearances at 50,000 and internally displaced peoples at over 5 million.

Moreover, it is the very poor and those of darker skin tone who have benefited most from the improvements since the election of Hugo Chavez, and it is they – by the way, the vast majority of the Venezuelan population — who support Chavez and his successor the most. Of course, the U.S. government and its compliant media openly side with the white, wealthy elite – such as Kenyon and Harvard trained right wing leader Leopoldo Lopez — against Venezuela’s poor in their current cheer leading for the opposition. Again, the NPR story is notable in this regard.

Without irony, the media fulminates about Venezuela’s alleged lack of democracy (again, ignoring Colombia’s death squad violence against its own population) to justify its open support of Venezuela’s elite opposition. However, as Chilean writer Pedro Santander recently put it so well:

Regarding the supposed “democratic deficit of the Venezuelan regime”, the facts speak for themselves. Since 1998 there have been four national plebiscites, four presidential elections, and eleven parliamentary, regional, and municipal elections. Venezuela is the Latin American country with the highest number of elections and it also has an automatic electoral system (much more modern than Chile’s one), described by Jimmy Carter, who has observed 92 elections in all continents, as “the best system in the world”.

As Santander further explains, the current violent demonstrations by the opposition come on the heels of national municipal elections in which the Chavistas won 242 mayoralties out of 317. Again, the reporting of such media outlets as NPR is stunning in that, while acknowledging these recent election results and the fact that the opposition has no electoral path to governing for two years, it nonetheless purports to be supporting democratic values by applauding the opposition’s efforts to obtain governance through violent, non-electoral means. However, this position is not surprising given the fact that U.S. was quick to recognize (and indeed, helped to instigate) the right wing coup government which seized power in 2002, and which immediately abolished the Venezuelan legislature and Supreme Court. Again, the U.S. government, never really caring about democracy in Latin America, was nonplussed by such anti-democratic maneuvers by its right-wing friends.

What’s more, the media’s current claims of “economic collapse” in Venezuela are also quite exaggerated. Indeed, as Venezuelan-born sociologist María Páez Victor explains, “The Venezuelan economy is doing very well. Its oil exports last year amounted to $94 billons while the imports only reached $59.3 billons – a historically low record. The national reserves are at $22 billons and the economy has a surplus (not a deficit) of 2.9% of GDP. The country has no significantly onerous national or foreign debts.” But again, we do not hear such voices in our allegedly free press.

And, while the U.S. government and media are trying to blame the Venezuelan government for the current violence in that country, the well-respected Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) concludes the very opposite — that indeed the Venezuelan government has exercised great restraint in the face of the violent acts of the opposition.

As Noam Chomsky opined, Hugo Chavez led “the historic liberation of Latin America” from the over 500 years of subjugation it had suffered since the time of the Conquistadors. The U.S., for centuries viewing Latin America as its own “back yard” which it presumes to have the right to dominate, opposes that process of liberation, and would like to reverse it. It is getting quite willing help from the U.S. media which has lost any sense of independence from its government.