Dr. Dawg


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Adios, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías. You will be missed by the people who matter, the ones now clogging the streets of Caracas to mourn your death.

And you will be missed by those of us who insist on hoping, against all odds, that another world is possible.

Our Prime Minister, to his shame, wasted no time in spitting on your grave. But we all know what he stands for—concentration of executive power, muzzling of dissent, weakening of legislative authority, appointing cronies to high positions, including the judiciary…. Hmm. Perhaps we might be forgiven for seeing a little political projection in his comments?

Meanwhile, Canada’s “national newspaper” has admitted that poverty dropped in Venezuela since Chávez first took office—but it’s all the oil wealth, see.

But Venezuela has always had oil wealth. Under Chávez, however, it was squandered on schools, hospitals, daycare centres, clinics and public housing. Poverty dropped, literacy soared, unemployment fell, infant mortality plummeted, public health markedly improved. By almost every indicator, ordinary Venezuelans have seen remarkable improvement in their lives.

Obviously the man was an economic primitive.

Nothing, indeed, seems to inspire more dread than a socialist with resources. The ruling capitalist elites of the world, the purveyors of failed neoliberalism, the “end of history” types, the ones squatting on their dead money, have fallen all over themselves to proclaim, in the teeth of the evidence, that his rule was a failure.


Once again, Canada’s great grey newspaper speaks:

Increasing authoritarianism marked his later years in office; in 2006, Mr. Chavez nationalized electricity companies and held a referendum which eventually passed to change the Constitution to allow unlimited terms in office for elected officials.

What sterling examples of authoritarianism! Chávez held a referendum (which he lost the first time around). Term limits no longer apply, but only after the people decided so. Canada, of course, doesn’t have term limits. Neither does Great Britain, the “mother of democracy.” This is doublethink, in its pure state. Staggering to behold. Almost beyond words.

In fact, Chávez preferred to work within the legal system he inherited. There was a short-term coup in 2002, organized by the usual suspects (see the documentary, below). Loyal soldiers and a popular uprising of support restored him to office after only a couple of days. The Supreme Court of Justice, stuffed with anti-Chavistas, freed the coupsters. Chávez accepted the ruling, but restructured the court later on, to the usual shrill chorus of opposition. Eventually he issued a blanket pardon to more than sixty plotters.

Stalin he was not.

We hear much, too, about Venezuela’s precious private media, and Chávez’s undemocratic actions toward them. But those media played an active role in the 2002 coup, with one-sided coverage and offers of free airtime to propagandize for the insurrectionists.*

A thought-experiment: armed revolutionaries seize control of Ottawa and spirit away Stephen Harper, only to discover that they are hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. Global Television and CTV, for whatever reason, cast their lot with the two-day insurrection, airing anti-Harper propaganda and giving strict instructions that pro-government outrage is not to be covered. Harper is swiftly returned to power. What then, business as usual? No retaliation for treason and sedition? No future licensing problems, at least, for Global and CTV?

Doublethink, once again, in its refined state—or maybe it’s just propaganda for the simpletons to swill. In any case, for Chávez, there was plenty more where that came from.

On international affairs, Chávez’s position was fairly predictable, but his initiatives were anything but. He moved to create an “axis of good” in Latin America (ALBA), created a progressive regional petroleum pact, and was a co-founder of the anti-IMF Bank of the South. He hewed to a well-worn but never out of date anti-US-imperialist line that resonated well in the region and elsewhere, but it wasn’t just rhetoric: on the basis of those politics, he built important progressive alliances among a number of Caribbean and Latin American nations.

Obviously Chávez made his share of mistakes, on all fronts. But as noted, he generally respected the rule of law, or at the very least worked within it rather than suspending it. His way was not the brutal overthrow of the established order, a crushing of democracy, rule by Central Committee and endless purges. Chávez faced fourteen electoral contests, winning thirteen of them. When he didn’t get his way in the constitutional referendum in 2007, he accepted defeat.

The real problem for an elected regime of revolutionary socialist intent is to find its uncharted way in the very belly of the beast. The ruling class and most of its formations and institutions remain solidly in place, implacably opposed to everything the new leader tries to do, and that de facto establishment will inevitably be reinforced by massive foreign support, both material and diplomatic. Its propaganda organs will lie, misrepresent and spin every move he makes, and (putting in parentheses their usual squalling about democracy) they will even provide substantial aid to an armed insurrection against him and his democratically elected government.

Unable to provide an immediate replacement, the new regime will struggle to operate under the old capitalist system, making the transfer of wealth to the poor a daunting proposition, with hyperinflation one of its more visible signs. The government and the ruling system will find themselves at complete odds. Inevitably, there will be major stresses and strains.

After a few years of that, plus a serious coup attempt, even a saint might succumb to the temptation to centralize power, and from time to time get heavy-handed with opposition, and throw his weight around. He will become increasingly impatient with the long distance the Bolivarian Revolution must still go in order to effect fundamental change. His frustration will grow, and it will show, and the opposition will howl. Chávez was not immune to any of these tendencies. But none of this detracts from his fervent love for Venezuela and its people, and, of far more moment, the major gains that he was able to achieve on their behalf.

Was Venezuelan bolivarianismo just a one-man show, soon to be replaced with an endless supply of US-backed yes-men and the restoration of business as usual? While traditional American gun-boat diplomacy and skilled subversion face increasingly formidable obstacles, the coup in Honduras a scant four years ago should temper our optimism somewhat. Yet even the conservative Honduras leader who took over at that time has stepped warily. He immediately called for national dialogue, his ousted rival is now back in the country and politically active, and he has befriended Daniel Ortega, the (admittedly flawed) President of Nicaragua—a charter member of ALBA. Chávez had all the forces of privilege arrayed against him, but he also attracted a number of powerful allies and friends. The political balance has shifted to the left in Latin America, and he helped to make that happen.

Meanwhile, the parochial, blinkered Globe & Mail once again trumpets the end of history: “The Bolivarian revolution - named for the independence hero Simon Bolivar - did not succeed.” But it’s hardly begun, and there is no sign that it will be stopped anytime soon, if ever. One gifted, charismatic leader built its solid foundation. ¡Hugo Chávez, presente!

* “Margarita López Maya, ‘Venezuela 2002-2003: Polarization, Confrontation, and Violence,’ in Olivia Burlingame Goumbri, The Venezuela Reader, Washington D.C., U.S.A., 2005, pages 15, 16. The value of the donated time has been placed at Bs. 1.6 millardos - close to $US 3 million.”

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on March 6, 2013 7:58 PM.

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