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Unjustified hatred from Greg Palast

By Tomas Sancio | Venezuelan Politics

08.03.05 | If you want to call at least more than 40% of the Venezuelan population (by the National Elections Council's own figures) racist, then please do it with a bit of data and don't hide some facts. That is called biased reporting and is completely unfair with the people that actually live here. It does a lot more harm than good and doesn't help the people that you think it will help.

I'm referring to this specific article. This article is so misleading that it's hard to know where to start.

Chapter 1 (misleading): "77% of Venezuela's farmland is owned by 3% of the population, the 'hacendados.'" First of all, 3% of the population is 720,000 people, which seems a lot. He must of have meant something else. Instead of saying a half-truth, let's say that 8.6 MM Hectares of land is in the hand of the Venezuelan State. The Ministery of Agriculture even has a plan for 2004-2007 to produce different crops in 3 MM Ha. of land. One cannot place the blame of the lack of food production solely on the the "hacendados" when the State takes 5 years to establish a production plan on its own land.

Chapter 2 (misleading): "I met one of these farmlords in Caracas at an anti-Chavez protest march. Oddest demonstration I've ever seen: frosted blondes in high heels clutching designer bags, screeching, "Chavez - dic-ta-dor!" The plantation owner griped about the "socialismo" of Chavez, then jumped into his Jaguar convertible." Anti-Chávez demonstrations have logged more than 600,000 people. If Jaguar could sell that many cars, then they would have a dedicated plant here. I looked for Venezuela under the "additional market" segment in the web page to no avail so their car sales are lower than many other countries. This chapter is also mean-spirited as it implies that "frosted blondes" do not have the right to protest. That is racism. One cannot push a political option by stepping on other people's consitutional rights, even if they are blond.

Chapter 3 (arguable):"That week, Chavez himself handed me a copy of the "socialist" manifesto that so rattled the man in the Jag. It was a new law passed by Venezuela's Congress which gave land to the landless. The Chavez law transferred only fields from the giant haciendas which had been left unused and abandoned." If you read the second page of the law, it says that it "moves away from teh classic notion of property as an absolute right". If you think that it shouldn't scare people with properties, then consider what would happen if your property was not sacred. Although I personally believe that the law has some good intentions, it just starts off by scaring the land owners that have produced a great share of the agricultural output in the country.

Chapter 4 (wrong): "This land reform, by the way, was promoted to Venezuela in the 1960s by that Lefty radical, John F. Kennedy. Venezuela's dictator of the time agreed to hand out land, but forgot to give peasants title to their property." The last formal dictator of Venezuela was Marcos Pérez Jiménez, who was removed from office in 1958. The Presidents of the 60's were Rómulo Betancourt, Raúl Leoni and Rafael Caldera, all elected.*

Chapter 5 (wrong): "For the first time in Venezuela's history, the 80% Black-Indian population elected a man with skin darker than the man in the Jaguar." Again, according to the CNE, Chávez won the Recall by slightly less than 60%. The previous part in the paragraph talks about 80% of the population being of dark color. There is no issue with that as we do not keep track of people in certain positions having a certain race. For example, "el negro" Prieto and "el negro" Fermín are two politicians that made close seconds in Presidential elections, so there is nothing new about having dark-colored people in the government. It may be surprising for an American (where there IS racial profiling) but not for us, where the race cannot be found in any of our documents. So this is very new to us.

Chapter 6 (wrong): "and today with a nearly two-to-one landslide victory in a recall referendum," Let's see 60/40 = 1.5 which is not 2x. Then again "nearly" can be used for "nearly" anything. 60% is closer to 50% than to 80% so you could argue (more accurately) that the election was a tie. Let's call things by their name, please.

Chapter 7 (arguable): "While in control of the OPEC secretariat, Chavez cut a deal with our maximum leader of the time, Bill Clinton, on the price of oil. It was a 'Goldilocks' plan. The price would not be too low, not too high; just right, kept between $20 and $30 a barrel." This assumes that OPEC secretary calls the shots of the organization. If he paid attention to the Economical news of the time, he would see that the bureaucrat that really mattered (and still does) in the OPEC was the Saudi Arabia Oil Minister. Giving Chávez credit for establishing the bands really stretches it.

Chapter 8 (contradicts himself): "To him, the oil industry's (and Saudi Arabia's) freedom to set oil prices is as sacred as freedom of speech" See? He writes the 8th chapter and contradicts what he said in the 7th.

Chapter 10 (misleading): "Chavez had his Congress pass another oil law, the "Law of Hydrocarbons," which changes the split." The new distribution was approved previously when a sector of the oil production was opened but never put into effect. What Chávez did was put it into effect. If anybody wants to take a look at the original contracts, they will find the info there. The lower commission was given originally to help the companies by lowering the startup costs. Now that they are profiting, the higher commissions start kicking in. He wants to make Chávez an enemy of the contractors when the new commissions had already been signed. Did anybody hear a complaint in the news for breach of contract?

Chapter 12 (wrong): "And he did. "Chavez gives them bread and bricks," one Venezuelan TV reporter told me. The blonde TV newscaster, in the middle of a publicity shoot, said the words "pan y ladrillos" with disdain, making it clear that she never touched bricks and certainly never waited in a bread line." This is completely wrong. I don't care if the reporter's frown made you feel uncomfortable, but you could note that most Venezuelans (of any social class) have had to make lines for their Identification Card, License or Passport. Currently, the middle class in La Trinidad has to sleep over in line to receive the form to get the passport and then make another multi-hour line to get it. I made a multi-hour line in March of 2004 to get my ID and it's still not ready. So, please check your facts.

What is really wrong about this chapter is that it assumes that by handing out bricks to people, you will eventually help them. If you do some research in the Central University's (UCV) Department of Urbanism, you will find out that without planning, adding bricks to a "barrio" will just make matters worse. Populism is bad because it affects the work of 35 years that these people have carried out. And yes, they spend a lot of time in the slums and talk to the people. I had the chance to work a couple of days in a slum and there is an increase in the sicknesses that kids get when the houses are poorly planned (e.g. when a bedroom is separated from a humid slope with just a brick wall.

Chapter 14 (no data): "Secret contracts were awarded by our Homeland Security spooks to steal official Venezuela voter lists. " This line is half sad, half funny and 100% ridiculous. This line was never mentioned in the Venezuelan press because it was so out-of-whack. The National Elections Council (at the time) was a 5-person body with 3 pro-government people. They originally blocked the Recall because they considered that the signatures were not valid. After a second signing, they caved in. Meanwhile, the government party was hosting public identification events (where they handed out ID's and red shirts) to gather more voters to their side. Do you really think that Venezuelans (from any side) would believe that the CNE did not control the voting lists?

Chapter 16 (mean-spirited): "And the fact is that most people in this slum-choked land don't drive Jaguars or have their hair tinted in Miami. Most look in the mirror and see someone "negro e indio," as dark as their President Hugo." The author insists that people will vote for Chávez for racial reasons. That's simply incorrect because Claudio Fermin (who is darker than Chávez and called "el negro", go figure) lost last October to Juan Barreto (fairly skinned) for Mayor of Caracas. Guess who voted for Claudio? The same ones who voted against Chávez. Again, converting Venezuelan politics into racism is wrong and mean-spirited. Please don't export the worse part of the USA to our country.

Chapter 17 (explains everything): "The official CIA handbook on Venezuela says that half the nation's farmers own only 1% of the land. That is, until their man Chavez took office. Even under Chavez, land redistribution remains more a promise than an accomplishment. But today, the landless and homeless voted their hopes, knowing that their man may not, against the armed axis of local oligarchs and Dick Cheney, succeed for them. But they are convinced he would never forget them." Alas, the man has a conscience (or at least some sense). His final conclusion is that Chávez is good not because he delivers, but because he gives people hope. In the first 15 years of the previous law (the one that was replaced with Chavez's law), the government handed out 3 million hectares or land. That represents 200,000 Ha. per year. On May 30, 2003, a government official (Chávez's brother, Adan), stated that 739,000 Ha. had been given to peasants from the unused portion of the government land. That represents 185,000 Ha. per year. Therefore, under the SAME legal frame, Chávez's government had given LESS land to the people than the governments he criticizes so much.

Many people that voted against Chávez did so because he didn't deliver and because they cannot live on hope alone. Short-sighted people don't recognize that and jump to the conclusion that the opposition is racist and dislikes poor people. The flames of hatred are fanned by uninformed opinions like the one made by Greg Palast.

More on the subject:
* Additionally, the peasants DID have the titles, they just sold the land and moved to the cities. Giving them land only did not work then and will not work now. In theory, it sounds good, but there are some people that just don't want to work in a farm so many of them will cash in on their gift. The new law says that in that case, the State will be able to recover the land, only if people are not producing in it. However, you may buy contiguos territories from people that received it from the State and then become a new landlord. It happened once and can happen again.

The article mentions that an ex-Mayor complained because his land was being reassigned only to find out that his papers were bunk. Now, THAT is something worth mentioning: if you can't prove that the land is yours, then the government (any government in the world) has the right to reassign it. However, nobody mentions this because it is not news. People just rather jump to conclusions and accuse some of "oligarchs" and others of "communists".

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