Bill Totten's Weblog

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hugo Chavez

by Ignacio Ramonet

Le Monde diplomatique (July 31 2007)

Few world leaders are the objects of as hateful demolition campaigns as Mr Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela. His enemies have stopped at nothing: coup d'etat, oil strike, capital flight, assassination attempts ... We haven't seen such relentlessness in Latin America since Washington's attacks against Mr Fidel Castro. The vilest calumnies have been peddled against Mr Chavez, conceived by the new propaganda dens - the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Freedom House, etc - financed by the administration of United States President George W Bush. Endowed with unlimited financial resources, this defamation machine manipulates the media relays (including the newspapers of record) and human rights defense organizations, enrolled in their turn in the service of dark designs. It sometimes also happens that, to the ruin of socialism, a part of the social- democratic left adds its voice to this chorus of slanderers.

Why so much hatred? Because at the same time social democracy is undergoing an identity crisis in Europe, historic circumstances seem to have confided the responsibility of taking the lead at an international level in the reinvention of the Left to Mr Chavez. While on the Old Continent, European reconstruction has had the effect of making any alternative to neo-liberalism practically impossible, in Brazil, in Argentina, in Bolivia and in Ecuador, inspired by the Venezuelan example, experiments that keep the hope of realizing the emancipation of the humblest alive continue to succeed one another.

In this respect, Mr Chavez's record is spectacular. We can understand how he has become the required benchmark in dozens of poor countries. In his scrupulous respect for democracy and all its freedoms {1}, has he not re-founded the Venezuelan nation on a brand new basis, legitimated by a new Constitution that guarantees popular involvement in social change? Has he not rendered their dignity as citizens to some five million marginalized people (including the indigenous people) deprived of identity papers? Has he not taken back in hand the public company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA)? Has he not de-privatized the country's principal telecommunications company as well as the Caracas electricity company and returned them to serving the public? Has he not nationalized the Orinoco oil fields? Finally, has he not devoted a share of oil rents to acquiring effective autonomy vis-a-vis international financial institutions as well as autonomy for the financing of social programs?

Three million hectares of land have been distributed to peasants. Millions of adults and children have learned to read. Thousands of medical dispensaries have been set up in poor neighborhoods. Tens of thousands of people without means, suffering from eye ailments have been operated on for free. Basic food products are subsidized and offered to those who have the least at prices less than 42% below market. The work week has gone from 44 to 36 hours, while the minimum wage rose to 204 Euros a month (the highest in Latin America after Costa Rica).

The results of all these measures: between 1999 and 2005, poverty has dropped from 42.8% to 37.9% {2}, while the population making its living in the informal economy dropped from 53% to forty percent. These retreats of poverty have allowed strong support for growth, which, during the last three years, was twelve percent on average - among the highest levels in the world - also stimulated by consumption that has grown eighteen percent a year {3}.

In the face of such successes, not to mention those obtained in the arena of international politics, should we be surprised that, for the masters of the world and their vassals, President Chavez has become a man to destroy?


Translation by Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.

Notes, References:

{1} The lies about Radio Caracas Television have just been refuted, that station having resumed its cable and satellite broadcasts since July 16.

{2} Mark Weisbrot, Luis Sandoval and David Rosnick: "Poverty Rates in Venezuela: Getting the Numbers Right", Center for Economic and Policy Research, Washington, DC (May 2006).

{3} "A Love-Hate Relationship With Chavez" by Geri Smith, BusinessWeek (June 25 2007)

Bill Totten


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