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Archive for December 8th, 2007

Weisbrot On Chavez

Posted by Phoenix Woman on December 8, 2007

“He had faults, like other men; but it was for his virtues that he was hated and successfully calumniated.”   –Bertrand Russell, on the American revolutionary Thomas Paine.   

So opens Mark Weisbrot’s excellent The Nation article on Hugo Chavez, and sets the tone for what is to follow (emphases mine):

The defeat of the Venezuelan government’s proposed constitutional reforms last Sunday will probably not change very much in Venezuela. Most of what was in the reforms can be enacted through the legislature. This is especially true for the progressive reforms: social security pensions for informal sector workers, free university education, the prohibition of discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. The negative elements, such as expanding the government’s powers in a state of emergency, probably wouldn’t have changed much if they had passed. The Chávez government has never declared a state of emergency and did not invoke any special powers even when most democratic governments in the world would have done so, e.g., during the oil strike of 2002-2003, which crippled the economy and almost toppled the government for the second time in a year, or after the April 2002 military coup. (It is also worth noting that even if they had passed, the amendments wouldn’t have given the Venezuelan government the authority to commit the worst infringements on civil liberties that the Bush Administration has made in its “war on terror.”)


Most important, the character of the political battles in Venezuela has not changed. The popular presentation of this contest as between pro-Chávez and anti-Chávez forces is misleading. It is a struggle of left versus right, with the two sides divided and polarized along the lines of class, democracy, national sovereignty and race.


The referendum shifted these political dividing lines only very slightly and very likely temporarily. Some within the progovernment coalition opposed the reforms, and it appears that the amendments failed mainly because a great many of Chávez’s supporters didn’t vote. But there is no indication that these people have shifted to the opposition camp, and polls show that Chávez and the government remain highly popular. The opposition to the government is still a right-wing opposition, despite the addition of a mostly well-off student movement that is more ideologically mixed–including the student opposition leader Ivan Stalin Gonzalez, who recently defended his namesake in the Wall Street Journal.

With regard to democracy, there has always been a clear difference between the two sides. Chavez’s immediate acceptance of a razor-thin margin of defeat before all the votes were even counted should cut through all the media hype about a “strongman” and a “dictator.” Chávez congratulated his opponents on their victory. As in previous elections, he had publicly committed to accepting the results before the vote and had called on the opposition to do the same.

On the other side, the opposition tried several oil and business strikes and a military coup in April 2002 to win what it could not gain at the ballot box. The first act of the short-lived coup government was to abolish the Constitution and dissolve the Supreme Court and the elected National Assembly. The coup was reversed due to massive prodemocracy street demonstrations, but eight months later the opposition once again tried to topple the government with a devastating management-led oil shutdown. Unlike in the United States, where we have three sets of labor laws that would have put the leaders of such a strike in jail, the Chávez government allowed the strike to run its course, with the economy crippled in the process.

Only after all extralegal means failed to dislodge the government did the Venezuelan opposition resort to the ballot box, exercising its constitutional right to a recall referendum on the presidency in August 2004. The opposition lost by a margin of 59 to 41 and promptly refused to accept the result. Although vote-rigging was nearly impossible under the dual electronic-plus-paper-ballot voting system and the result was certified by the Carter Center and the OAS, the opposition–which has its own media and invents its own reality–to this day holds to conspiracy theories that the referendum was stolen by a fantastic electronic fraud. In December 2005, seeing that it would lose congressional elections, the opposition boycotted, despite the OAS and European Union observers’ condemnation of the boycott.

The opposition did finally accept its defeat in the December 2006 presidential elections, which Chávez won with 63 percent of the vote and the highest turnout ever. And now that it has finally won at the ballot box, there is a possibility of an opposition emerging that is more willing to play by the democratic rules of the game. The student movement seems to have more elements that favor democratic means of challenging the government, and may have played a role in persuading others in the opposition to vote in the referendum. But they have not transformed the opposition into a democratic movement.

Go read the whole thing. It’s a nice corrective to the US-financed garbage that passes for “news” about Venezuela and Chavez.

Charles adds:  The text of Chavez’s speech in English is here and a Flashpoints interview with Greg Wilpert is here. It positively amazes me that even relatively smart guys like Keith Olbermann and Barry Ritholtz start to foam when they talk about Chavez. If you read the mainstream press and then you actually listen to what Chavez says, the effect is something like walking out of a Leni Riefenstahl film and into The Daily Show. You will never trust American media again. Could someone tip Keith and Barry that they’re being used like garden shears?

Posted in bogus "voter fraud" claims, Bush, Bush Family Evil Empire, BushCo malfeasance, The smear industry, Venezuela, voting rights | 4 Comments »

Ann Coulter: above the law or below the law?

Posted by Charles II on December 8, 2007

BradBloghas the story

Posted in election theft, Florida (where magical things happen) | 28 Comments »

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