August 16, 2004

Notes on Hugo Chavez

Several people in the comments can't understand why I've been thrashing on Hugo Chavez. I suggest reading about his rather unimpressive record documented by Human Rights Watch. That's a good place to start.

As far as helping out the poor, the LA Times notes:

Economic and social conditions have deteriorated dramatically. The number of Venezuelans living in extreme poverty doubled between 1999 and 2003, Chavez's first five years as president...
It's also worth noting that the Bush Administration and the oil companies dropped their antagonism to Chavez before the recall vote and tacitly endorsed "stabilty" instead. How inspiring.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2004 11:44 AM
Comments

Sometimes I guess it is about the oil . . .

Posted by: Randy Paul at August 16, 2004 11:53 AM

Randy,

The oil companies wanted to make peace with Saddam Hussein , too. They were pressured Dick Cheney to repeal the no-fly zones.

I really do hate the politics of Big Oil, but not for the reasons most people do.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2004 11:55 AM

Michael Totten

I read the HRW reports with interest.

Unless you are a complete liberal idealist though, a pragmatic question remains. Would any alternative govt be any better - considering the history of the alternatives? Only recently a military coup was attempted by the opposition - hardly a promising sign of their real intents.

Like much of human rights work, progress can be slow, incremental. Chavez needs to be pressurized to implement that change, like any other democratic govt with human rights issues. That's up to some outside pressure aswell as the Venezuelan people.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 12:06 PM

Yup, it is about the oil. For Chavez.

Hate to be a broken record, but Chavez fits the pattern of Latin American politics since independence: make promises of future perfections and provide a scapegoat when those promises fail to come true.

With oil, Chavez believes he can do whatever he wants, since he doesn't need foreign investment.

Alas, the joke will be on Hugo, since he has nearly destroyed the PDVSA. Oil exports are and will continue to steadily drop as the US and the rest of the world look for oil exports from elsewhere. But he will be in control, and I suspect that is all he cares about.

Posted by: lancer at August 16, 2004 12:10 PM

Mr. T,

Did they tacitly endorse stability instead? That seems like speculation on the author's part. The author also does make note of another possibility,

"It may be a sign that they don't want to give Chavez anything he can use to his advantage,"

Just sayin'.

Posted by: Gerry at August 16, 2004 12:12 PM

He's that guy out the A Team isn't he?

Didn't know he was into international affairs as well.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 12:14 PM

Benjamin -

"Unless you are a complete liberal idealist though, a pragmatic question remains. Would any alternative govt be any better - considering the history of the alternatives? . . . Like much of human rights work, progress can be slow, incremental. Chavez needs to be pressurized to implement that change, like any other democratic govt with human rights issues. That's up to some outside pressure aswell as the Venezuelan people."

In contrast to the "oligarchy" which allegedly controlled Venezuea before Chavez, Chavez is actively working to erode what democratic structure exists in Venezuela. If someone deserves a chance, it seems to me that it is someone other than Chavez.

Posted by: Ben at August 16, 2004 12:52 PM

If someone deserves a chance, it seems to me that it is someone other than Chavez.

Very dangerous assumption.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 12:55 PM

Look, face it, smell the coffee.

Chavez and his party has a 30-40% base.

The opposition should quit whinging, plotting, or running to Uncle Sam, and actually build a credible unified base amongst the ordinary Venezuelan people.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 12:58 PM

"Only recently a military coup was attempted by the opposition - hardly a promising sign of their real intents"

It is somewhat ironic how Chavez supporters bring up the coup in tones of outrage, do they know the man's history?

Posted by: R.F. at August 16, 2004 12:58 PM

R.F.

Yes, Chavez resorted to democracy.
The opposition should quit resorting to military coups and hair brained plots hatched with Uncle Sam. They need to start doing some real spade work.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 01:00 PM

Ben: considering the putsch, how can you honestly claim that the former oligarchy has any respect for democratic institutions? If Chavez refuses to step down from power, you might have a claim, but until then, you've got it completely turned around.

Posted by: Anon at August 16, 2004 01:05 PM

As far as the political game goes, let's face Chavez have cut the ground from underneath his critics feet, for now. They complain that he's dictatorial and then he gives them a chance to vote him out before his term is up. You can't say that's not generous.

So they opposition get their chance, and they fluff it.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 01:11 PM

then he gives them a chance to vote him out before his term is up. You can't say that's not generous.

He didn't give them jack. The recall vote was mandatory and Constitutionally required once the opposition came up with enough signatures, and Chavez's people jerked them around on the requirements for those signatures.

Posted by: Anon at August 16, 2004 01:36 PM

That's right, Anon.

But please research when that Constitution and requirement was enacted.

Then get back to me, okay? Thanks.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 01:46 PM

Here's a clue, Anon:

President Chavez said, after victory:

“Venezuela has changed for ever, there’s no going back to the past, the fourth republic.”

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 02:12 PM

Michael, that "rather unimpressive record" consists of

a) An attempt to pack the Supreme Court
b) Not investigating thoroughly enough claims of maltreatment of protestors back during the coup
c) The Venezuelan police don't protect journalists who write nasty things about Chavez from being beaten up by chavistas
d) "Insult laws" not entirely dissimilar to those of France.

It's hardly rape rooms and plastic shredders, is it? I'd bet decent money that Mexico and Russia both look a lot worse.

btw, the commenter above who claimed that oil exports are falling is wrong; production is now back up to 2.6mn bbl/day versus 3.0m before the PDVSA strike.

I also would prefer it if Martin Luther King Junior was in charge of Venezuela, but to claim that the opposition would do a better job is just black=white.

Posted by: dsquared at August 16, 2004 02:31 PM

You're also giving a very unbalanced picture of the poverty situation; it seems a bit harsh to count the effects of the massive capital outflow of 1998/9 (oligarchs putting their money offshore) and the oil industry shutdown of 2002 as failings of Chavez. Despite these two hurdles, the UN HDI is improving for Venezuela; life expectancy is getting better and the proportion of the population receiving an education is going through the roof.

Posted by: dsquared at August 16, 2004 02:47 PM

"Just under a million children from the shanty-towns and the poorest villages now obtain a free education; 1.2 million illiterate adults have been taught to read and write; secondary education has been made available to 250,000 children whose social status excluded them from this privilege during the ancien regime; three new university campuses were functioning by 2003 and six more are due to be completed by 2006."

That's why he got 58% of the vote.

And this too:

"A puppet show with a monkey playing Chavez was even organised at the US Embassy in Caracas. But Colin Powell was not amused and the Ambassador was compelled to issue an apology."

Racism.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 02:53 PM

"As far as healthcare is concerned, the 10,000 Cuban doctors, who were sent to help the country, have transformed the situation in the poor districts, where 11,000 neighbourhood clinics have been established and the health budget has tripled. Add to this the financial support provided to small businesses, the new homes being built for the poor, an Agrarian Reform Law that was enacted and pushed through despite the resistance, legal and violent, by the landlords. By the end of last year 2,262,467 hectares has been distributed to 116,899 families. The reasons for Chavez' popularity become obvious. No previous regime had even noticed the plight of the poor."

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 03:01 PM

Only 20 posts until someone trotted out literacy and healthcare. Well done, Benjamin. Well done.

Posted by: Court at August 16, 2004 04:28 PM

trotted out literacy and healthcare.

Ah, yes, well, I suppose to some richer people health care and literacy is taken for granted.

But in the poor areas of Venezuela its something wonderful and palpable.

Even with an ounce of empathy, you could work that out.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 04:41 PM

Benjamin: Ah, yes, well, I suppose to some richer people health care and literacy is taken for granted.

John Derbyshire: Wherever there is a jackboot stepping on a human face, there will be a well-heeled Western liberal there to assure us that the face enjoys free health care and a high degree of literacy.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2004 04:50 PM

Michael

Don't quote John Derbyshire at me, I will only laugh!

As I said, you have little to say to Venezuela's poor. You have no credible alternative.

But they have spoken. 58% endorsement in a democratic referendum. No jackboot there.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 05:05 PM

Michael

Eight democratic election victories in six years.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 05:07 PM

Michael

By the way, I am not a "well-heeled Western liberal" either.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 05:10 PM

Washington Office on Latin America:

"Chavez is not another Cuba, he is a social democratic populist." BBC News 24

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 05:17 PM

Is Benjamin the most boring man in the world? I vote yes.

Posted by: R.F. at August 16, 2004 05:35 PM

R.F:

That and everything else?

Can I take "boring" over "Trot", "Stopper", "Commie" etc?

What? Oh, okay. Thanks ;-)

Remember though, I am British.

Some Brits think "boring" is some sort of perverse badge of honour, you know.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 05:42 PM

Michael

An article on the dodgy that Independent article.

http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1249

There are NO "mid morning" results! ;-)

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 05:48 PM

Chavez is a thug. No if's, and's or but's. Derbyshire is right: mention literacy and healthcare and the Left swoons. Freedom is far more important than either of those. With freedom, literacy and healthcare follow. Freedom does not follow literacy and healthcare, however.

Posted by: Ben at August 16, 2004 06:40 PM

Ben

Yeah, yeah.

All these great philosophical pronouncements are one thing. But we are talking politics and govt here. We are talking brass tacks.

Chavez and his party have won 8 elections in 6 years. Fact. Chavez has instituted popular programmes for the poor. Fact.

That kind of complicates things a bit, considering too Chavez has just won fair and square with a majority of the vote in a referendum under a democratically endorsed Constitution. You gonna have to change the record. The Derbyshire shtick is getting kinda worn.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 08:03 PM

Its interesting isn't it, that some people, some Americans, the West generally, maybe, are willing to give the world long lectures on liberty.

They fail to recognise the irony of their situation, historically. Or even in relation to the present day.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 08:16 PM

Benjamin,

Have you ever been out of England? I'm sorry to keep asking you questions like this, but you really don't seem to have a firm grasp of the places you keep mentioning. I doubt you have ever been to America if you think this is not a free country or that we are less free than you are over there. Come on over sometime. Go to New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. See the real place instead of the cartoon in your head.

And I dare you to find a more liberal place on this earth, with the arguable exception of Amsterdam.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2004 09:22 PM

Benjamin -- I'd add that you should recognize in particular that America has a much stronger free speech tradition than just about any other place on earth. Libel laws, and laws in many otherwise progressive countries against hate speech and the like, strike me and many americans as outrageous.

Posted by: Markus rose at August 17, 2004 09:19 AM
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