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What DN Neglected to Mention re Venezuela

By Michael Moynihan | Stockolm Spectator GroupBlog

13.06.05 | Today in DN Kultur, Stefan Jonsson tells readers of the latest advances in Latin American socialism, as relayed by the dispassionate observers at Le Monde Diplomatique. In an item on Venezuela’s “democratic revolution,” Jonsson enthuses about all those new schools built by big-hearted “Boliviarians,” the 15,000 doctors on loan from the big-hearted Cubans and the supposed “elimination” of illiteracy (According to UN figures, literacy has ticked up two percentage points under Chavez, from 90.9 percent to 92.9). Beyond these very Castroite indices—literacy and healthcare are usually cited as benchmarks of Cuba’s revolutionary success—Venezuela is requisitioning private property at a rapid clip, with "large estates that cannot provide a legal land claim” having to fork over their plots “to small farmers,” according to DN. But as one Venezuelan commentator recently noted, the two largest land seizures (of British-owned El Charcote and Venezuelan-owned Hato Piñero) were from “owners [who] had land titles going back as far as 1850.” This thin veneer of legality, which only Jonsson seems to have fallen for, prompted the Washington Post, in an unsigned editorial, to call the land seizures an “assault on private property” that is “undermining the foundations of democracy and free enterprise.”

But to DN Kultur, a Latin American strongman with a democratic mandate and a penchant for crude anti-Americanism is too romantic; another chance to relive the excitement of the Sandinista years; yet another pit stop on the political pilgrimage, in search of the “good society.” “Land, health, education. A classic recipe for fighting poverty,” says Jonsson, sounding curiously like his article’s subject.

Furthermore, he explains, prior to the victory of Bolivarianism poor Venezuelans had "never before seen people’s TV,” which will give the plebs "the opportunity to represent themselves” and their “identity.” This forthcoming Marxiod version of CNN is designed to “confront global media companies and their monopoly on information,” Jonsson says. One of the stations co-owners, we are told, without a hint of irony, is Fidel Castro, who knows a thing or two about information monopolies.

American leftists harbor far fewer illusions about Chavez than their counterparts in Europe. Left-wing magazine Salon criticized Chavez’s "quasi-messianic complex" and observed that he was the only "democratically elected head of state to visit Baghdad since the 1991 Persian Gulf War," where he toured the city in Saddam’s Mercedes. The New Republic also called the Chavez ideology "messianic", and faulted those liberals whose "romantic predispositions [have] clouded their ability to judge any regional political development since the good old days of revolution in the 1960s." Both the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times editorial pages recently called Chavez “a demagogue,” suggesting that his brand of politics is bad for regional stability. In 2004, the French watchdog group Reporters sans frontiers lamented that “press freedom was eroded a little further” with the introduction of a law curtailing critical speech. Commenting on the same legislation, Human Rights Watch warned that bring government pressure to bear on private television stations “severely threaten press freedom in Venezuela.” Marc Cooper of The Nation

bluntly called Chavez a “con man” and pointed his readers to a group of Venezuelan leftists who opposed his “authoritarian and intellectually-insulting rule.”

Chavez SupportersNow imagine the Bush administration—or Bush supporters—firing on and killing scores of Kerry supporters. Or a Bush-friendly police force "tortur[ing] some protesters…detained during recent anti-government demonstrations.” Imagine Bush providing comfortable sanctuary to a terrorist responsible for thousands of deaths in neighboring Canada, and allowing such a person to take part in a government-sponsored seminar. Imagine American public broadcasting being used to spread "neo-conservative" propaganda—and only neoconservative propaganda, under the assumption that democratically elected governments have a political mandate to control the dissemination of opinion. Imagine text books rewritten to mirror Republican ideology and a President who proclaims that he is simply “declaring war on the immorality that continues to take place in private education.” Or image that a former assistant secretary general of the United Nations and a group of apolitical Harvard and MIT professors said that Bush’s latest electoral victory was a result of fraud (Recall how the European press responded to charges of fraud after the 2000 election). Or if Bush waxed romantic about a leader who murdered 60 million people. Or if the Bush administration, swimming in oil revenue, presided over a consistently moribund economy. Or if President Bush forced state television to provide five hours of uninterrupted air time, during which he traded in conspiracy theory and harangued viewers on shadowy forces plotting their country’s downfall. Or if the White House sent the IRS those uncooperative jackals in the independent media, and then "seized equipment from the 24-hour news channel" CNN. Or publicly declared his desire to create a "white-skinned utopia"? Or referred to country that hadn’t seen a free election in fifty years as “a sea of happiness?”

Just imagine such a scenario, Steffan.

Footnote: DN’s headline declaring a “democratic revolution” is misleading. Leaving aside credible claims of vote fraud, it is worth pointing out that democracy isn’t established with by electoral victory alone; it requires consistent democratic follow-through. For example, if National Socialists come to power legally—they weren’t elected, as is often assumed—and undertake illiberal and undemocratic measures against opposition parties and media outlets, they naturally forfeit the democratic mantel. Besides, since when does the establishment of a government-funded, single-ideology television channel bode well for democracy? It is irrelevant that anti-Chavez forces own television stations and major newspapers. A government sponsored media is beholden to all of its constituents.

As I mentioned above, examples of Chavez’s assault on liberty and freedom are many. The Washington Post editorial page, outlined recent developments in Venezuela thusly:

Last Sunday hundreds of heavily armed Venezuelan troops invaded one of the country’s largest and most productive cattle ranches, launching what President Hugo Chavez describes as his "war against the estates." The next day Mr. Chavez signed a decree under which authorities are expected to seize scores of other farms in the coming weeks. This assault on private property is merely the latest step in what has been a rapidly escalating "revolution" by Venezuela’s president that is undermining the foundations of democracy and free enterprise in that oil-producing country. The response of Venezuela’s democratic neighbors, and the United States, ranges from passivity to tacit encouragement.

In the past four months Mr. Chavez has pushed through a new law that allows the government to fine or shut down private media for vaguely defined offenses against "public order." His supporters have enacted a new legal code that criminalizes anti-government demonstrations; people who bang empty pots and pans in protest, as Venezuelans have been doing for several years, can be sentenced to jail. Last month Mr. Chavez stacked the Supreme Court with 17 new appointees, including one who has suggested a constitutional amendment that would allow the self-styled "Bolivarian" leader to become president for life. Former leaders of leftist militant organizations, including one who served a prison sentence for abducting a U.S. business executive, are pouring Venezuela’s surging oil revenue into state-planned socialist cooperatives.

Footnote Two: If the “revolution” has been a success, wonders Venezualan blogger Miguel Octavio, “why is poverty up in Venezuela since Chavez took power seven years ago? Why is children malnutrition (sic) up since Chavez took over seven years ago? If oil production is at normal levels, how come oil GDP is going down despite higher prices?” Good questions.

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