Venezuela: Democracy or dictatorship?

Much coverage of the Venezuelan revolution in the corporate-owned media presents a severely distorted picture of what is occurring in Venezuela and the nature and actions of the government of President Hugo Chavez. James Jordan, the emergency response coordinator for the US-based Venezuela Solidarity Network (<http://vensolidarity.org>), attempts to answer some of the key lies and distortions.

What's wrong with Hugo Chavez and his country? Every time I turn on the news, I see another negative report! Why do the Venezuelan people keep electing him?

Maybe it is time we stopped believing the corporate media. Was corporate media telling the truth when it repeated every lie that took us into war in Iraq? The fact is the Venezuelan people do keep electing Chavez and his supporters to power. That's called democracy, and whether the US government likes it or not.

Is it true that democracy is being threatened in Venezuela?

Before Chavez was elected president, politics was dominated by two official parties (sound familiar?) that represented the interests of the wealthiest Venezuelans, but ignored the needs of the 80% who were living in poverty. When Chavez was elected, it was due to a coalition of popular forces that rejected "business as usual". Corporate heads and corrupt union leaders tried to overthrow Chavez in 2002, but masses of people took to the streets to defend their democracy. In the last election, Chavez won with nearly 63% of the vote.

Communities are being given direct power to administer many social programs and the government is supporting an explosion of cooperative enterprises — from worker-run
factories to tens of thousands of cooperatives. In a recent poll of South American countries, Venezuelans had the highest percentage of those who said that their country is "totally
democratic".

Why is Chavez trying to eliminate political parties, remove term limits, and ensure that he will be elected president for life?

Chavez is seeking to have the 24 parties that have supported the Bolivarian process unified into one party. This has no effect whatsoever on opposition parties, who are still free to
organise and to run for office.

One of the reforms would remove presidential term limits. If anything, this is moving in the opposite direction of restricting democracy. If a country wants to keep reelecting someone for president, why shouldn't they have that choice? Most countries do not have term limits for their heads of state, and in the case of countries like Britain and Australia, the general public doesn't even get to vote for their top leader!

But won't the proposed constitutional reforms limit people's power and pave the way to dictatorship?

If anything, the constitutional reforms would broaden democracy by giving more power to community and worker councils. This is one of the core differences between representative democracy versus participatory democracy (which is what Venezuela is developing). In participatory democracy, the direct involvement of communities is maximised, rather than minimised in favour of bureaucracies and government officials, which is how representative democracy works.

The constitutional reforms also would require a much needed overhaul to humanise Venezuelan jails, make central bank management answerable to elected officials, recognise the historic and cultural importance of Afro-Venezuelans, and outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. These
reforms will be subject to a popular vote, just like the constitution was.

How can we talk about democracy in Venezuela when there is so much repression of the media?

Just go to Venezuela and you'll never ask that question again. You cannot walk around Caracas or any other Venezuelan city without hearing political discussion and debate. Kiosks sell copies of the constitution and most of the newspapers and magazines are corporate-owned and pro-opposition. Turn on the TV and you'll find more of the same. Furthermore, the government is providing millions of dollars in funding for community-owned and-operated media.

There was a lot of noise made about the "closing" of RCTV, an opposition-aligned station. The fact is it was never closed, and is still available on cable and satellite. However, when RCTV's license to use the public airwaves, free of charge, came up for renewal, it was denied. Considering that RCTV helped carry out the coup against Venezuelan democracy in 2002, one can only be amazed that this is the only restriction they have received.

I hear that runaway spending to support social programs is unsustainable because of Venezuela's dependency on oil. Is Chavez ruining Venezuela's economy?

It's good to remember that social spending that educates people, keeps people healthy, and increases the buying power of the populace is basically good for the economy. In Venezuela, health care is being made available to everyone, the society is highly literate, and the buying power of the average Venezuelan is increasing. The Venezuelan economy has been steadily growing ever since workers broke the economic sabotage at the start of 2003.

Last year, for the first time since the oil boom of the '70s, oil money has provided less than half of Venezuela's national budget. Oil money is being used to diversify the economy. For instance, Venezuela is especially vulnerable in its agricultural development. However, since land reform laws were adopted under Chavez, 5 million acres of fallow land,
plus training and farming equipment, have been given to cooperatives.

Isn't it true that Chavez and the Venezuelan government are ignoring environmental concerns and pushing oil development without concern for its impact on nature? Isn't it also true that the communities that suffer most from oil and mining development are indigenous communities, since so much resources are located on indigenous lands?

Venezuela, like other countries, has ecological problems. Most of these precede the Bolivarian revolution. Also, it is impossible to develop oil and mining resources without doing damage to the environment. Nevertheless, the seeds of ecological revolution can be found within the
Bolivarian process.

One of the reasons Venezuela has given for demanding majority control of oil development is because of the bad environmental record of big oil companies. Venezuela is prioritising
environmental restoration after undertaking new oil or mining projects, particularly in regards to protecting and restoring rivers. For the first time in Venezuelan history, affected indigenous communities are involved in all decisions about whether or not to develop these resources.

Venezuela has a policy of regarding its natural resources as being for the benefit of all the people. A percentage of oil profits are required by law to go into social programs, and oil money is funding many environmental protection and rehabilitation programs. Only the most foolishly idealistic would fail to see that it is Venezuela's oil and mineral wealth that provides the funds necessary to move
beyond oil dependency and toward environmental sustainability.

Bolivarian Venezuela has made a commitment to its indigenous communities, returning hundreds of thousands of acres of ancestral land and enacting constitutional protections that are an example to other American nations. Likewise, Venezuela has made a strong ecological commitment, actively
seeking to raise consciousness throughout the nation. Environmental initiatives include efforts to plant young trees around the country, to expand public transportation, to restore urban waterways, support sustainable agriculture, and to restrict heavy industrial fishing. Venezuela has begun programs such as the Revolutionary Light Bulb programs, wherein people can trade in bags of garbage for food, and old, energy wasteful light bulbs for newer, more efficient ones.

What is the relationship of Venezuela and Iran, and why is Chavez so friendly with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Venezuela and Iran have a long history of relations that precedes the election of either Chavez or Ahmadinejad. This relationship was solidified by the founding of OPEC. This
relationship is economic, not ideological, and has been maintained throughout ideological shifts in both countries. Besides, Venezuela does not make the mistake of identifying a current leader with a whole nation. For instance, even though Venezuela is outspokenly opposed to the policies of the Bush administration, it still maintains a high level of trade with
the US, and even provides humanitarian assistance to poor communities in the US.

Venezuela also recognises that Iran is being targeted for possible acts of aggression by the US and others, and is standing in solidarity with the people of Iran against a possible invasion or bombing campaign. Those who carry on the most about Chavez making state visits to Iran are the most interested in going to war with Iran and with overthrowing democracy in Venezuela.

Why does Chavez hate the US?

Any US citizen who believes this should go to Venezuela
and experience the warmth and generosity of its people. US citizens who travel to Venezuela report the same experience, over and over again: Venezuelans approaching them on the streets, in meetings, at various gatherings, telling them to let the people of the US know that Venezuela is not their enemy.

[Visit <http://venezuelasolidarity.org> to find out about the solidarity campaign in Australia.]

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.