Hugo Chavez: dictator or democrat?

Chavez’ natural constituency: the poor and the youth

(All pictures are from a rally in Petare, Caracas, as Chavez campaigned for the October 2012 presidential elections and celebrated his 58th birthday on 28 July 2012. All photos by YVKE Mundial.)

I have a strong interest in the politics of Venezuela because I am fascinated by the ongoing political transformation that has been occurring since 1999, the so-called ‘Bolivarian Revolution’. It is the country which I know the most about other than the UK and the USA. As a result of my curiosity about the country I am increasingly able to spot the shocking lies which are routinely thrown around by western officials, the right wing press and, shamefully, even the BBC. The process of becoming aware of these widespread misconceptions has opened my eyes to how little we understand about non-western countries, the reality of post-colonial relations, how easily lies about non-western countries propagate, and has led me to be increasingly self-critical about my own assumptions about the world.

So, to answer the question posed in the title: Democrat. Democrat is emphatically the answer to this question. It really annoys me that it’s even necessary to write a post explaining why because the accusation that he’s a dictator is simply not credible.

Chavez (on the right, in blue with the red beret) is mobbed by a crowd in Petare, Caracas

The upcoming elections in October at which Chavez is expected to win another 6 year term, will be Venezuela’s 15th election since Chavez became President in 1999, including Presidential elections, referendums, local elections and parliamentary ones. All have been declared free and fair including by international bodies such as the EU and Organisation of American States. Just last month, Jennifer McCoy, director at the Carter Center (that’s an American NGO, of all things!), described Venezuela’s electronic voting system as one of the most reliable in the world. At the coming elections, the Union of South American Nations will amongst the 200 international observers.

Jubilant supporters climb on railings to get a better view of a rally

So he is elected president on three separate occasions in free and fair elections, his people still support him in overwhelming numbers and yet he’s an evil autocratic dictator? Unbelievable. If anyone still doubts his commitment to the democratic process, I would point out that when he lost the 2007 constitutional referendum, he accepted the results. There have been other accusations leveled at him, including the revocation of opposition media licenses, intimidation, and political interference in the judiciary, but each of these are as baseless as the first accusation. Let’s not quibble about this: calling him a dictator is a lie. The public is being routinely lied to. But then again, if you follow politics closely enough you will realise that it’s not all that uncommon that outrageous distortions of the truth go unchallenged by our lacklustre media which seems to think that separating truth from deceit is not their job. Indeed, it is far easier to lie about foreign countries because we have very little depth of knowledge and no frame of reference with which to discern what would otherwise be obvious falsehood.

The slander of the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, is most casually and viciously used in the right wing press. This should not come as a huge surprise since Chavez is a leftist socialist (not, I should add, a Marxist) whose coalition of supporting parties led by The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) contains a minority of Communists, Marxists and revolutionary leftists. And if the reactionaries at the Telegraph are allergic to socialists/feminists/greens, they go into full frothing at the mouth anaphylaxis whenever Communists are mentioned. Using the Telegraph as an example then, Chavez has been described in its venerable pages as; ‘President-for-Life Chavez’; ‘calorifically challenged Venezuelan Marxist bully boy’; ‘loonie-left demagogue’;  ‘tin-pot tyrant Hugo Chavez’; ‘Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tedious Mini-Me in Latin America’; ‘the Butcher of Caracas’ and so on and so forth until the words begin to lose meaning (as if calling him a ‘butcher’ bore any relation to reality in the first place…).

Chavez is often seen campaigning in the Barrios on the back of a flatbed truck

However it’s not just recognised right wing organisations like the Telegraph that make this kind of assertion. Our dearly beloved BBC is a very rare beast indeed: a genuinely trusted news source. It trades almost entirely on their reputation for ‘journalistic standards’ and you’re meant to respect and revere the words of their reporters because, unlike nakedly ideological sources like the Daily Mail, the BBC’s reporters have the weight of their organisation’s ‘ethics’ behind them. However, as this graph shows, the BBC’s reporting has also taken unjustifiable liberties with the facts.

The graph above compares the number of articles describing Chavez as either ‘totalitarian’, ‘authoritarian’, a ‘dictator’, ‘tyrant’, or ‘autocrat’, with the number of articles that refer to ‘election wins’ or ‘elected’ (the words ‘landslide’ and ‘victory’ were also included). Given that one is verifiable fact and the other is extremely dubious speculation, the references are clearly utterly disproportionate. They also once compared him to Hitler. Just sayin’.

You might rightly ask, then, what the fuck is going on? How come these distortions are being made by the BBC? There is an argument that the inaccuracy of the BBC’s reporting results from the fact that BBC journalists, themselves being from a particular middle class background, end up living in well-to-do parts of Caracas. From this point of view, they simply don’t see the reality of the situation. If so, it would confirm Charles Hardy’s claim that we tend to be given ‘the perspective of an international correspondent… who works in a downtown office building of an opposition newspaper and lives in an apartment in a wealthy neighborhood’.

The reality of media manipulation in this country is a very complicated thing indeed which I am working on explaining in a future post. For now, however, let me say this: Viva Chavez!

(more on the BBC and the upcoming elections can be found here http://www.newsunspun.org/article/choosing-sides-the-bbcs-coverage-of-the-venezuelan-election-race )

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