VENEZUELA: US hypocrisy as reforms defeated 'for now'

@intro ="The United States government cheered the outcome of Venezuelan's constitutional reform referendum of December 2, which prompted Venezuela's Ambassador to the U.S. to accuse the Bush administration of a 'double standard' because of its criticisms of the referendum shortly before the vote", Kiraz Janicke wrote in a Venezuelanalysis.com article on December 4.

Both the US government and the international corporate-owned media have been running a constant campaign of demonisation against the elected government of President Hugo Chavez, based on the argument that he either is a dictator, or would have become one had the proposed constitutional reforms, narrowly defeated by a few hundred thousand votes (50.7% to 49.3% with 90% of the votes counted), been adopted.

In particular, many articles in the international media either implied, claimed outright, or uncritically reported the allegations of anti-Chavez voices inside Venezuela, that Venezuela no longer has free elections and that the referendum vote would be rigged.

Janicke reports that US President George Bush gave a "rare unscripted press conference" following the outcome of the referendum vote in which he claimed the proposal in the reforms that would have abolished presidential term limits would have let Chavez "stay in power for life". Bush claimed the Venezuelan people "rejected one man rule ... they voted for democracy".

Janicke writes: "However, Venezuelan ambassador to the US Bernardo Alvarez denied that the reforms were anti-democratic and accused the Bush government of ... only valuing the Venezuelan electoral system if the results are in accord with US policies."

Alvarez said the US government now expresses "their jubilation for the results of the referendum instead of sending an apology and recognizing the transparency of the electoral system and the dynamic of participatory democracy in Venezuela".

Two days before the referendum, US State Department spokesperson, Sean McCormack had stated it was not clear "if the result would reflect the will of the people". Janicke reports that the day after the vote, McCormack told reporters that "We don't have any reason to doubt that this result reflects the will of the Venezuelan people".

Contrary to the claims of the US government and the international media, the general thrust of the proposed constitutional reforms was thoroughly democratic and progressive, aiming to institutionalise the new forms of popular power, such as communal and workers' councils, which are being constructed from the grassroots in Venezuela. Other progressive measures included lowering the voting age from 18 to 16; banning discrimination against gays and lesbians; enforcing 50% gender parity in all elected positions; granting social security to informal workers for the first time; lowering the working week to 36 hours with no loss in pay; and strengthening environmental protections.

The right-wing opposition in Venezuela, expecting the "Yes" vote would win, had made it clear it would refuse to accept such a result. In some cases, right-wing protests had already begun on the night of the vote when initial reports indicated a victory for the "Yes" campaign.

In contrast, Chavez had repeatedly stated before the vote that he would accept the result. As in recent elections, the vote was witnessed by a large number of independent observers, including from the Organisation of American States and the European Union, who concluded it was free and fair. Chavez immediately addressed the nation, accepting the defeat and congratulating his opponents. In doing so, he not only handed his opponents a lesson in how to accept a defeat, he proved that democracy is alive and well in Venezuela — and the fate of the nation lies with its people.

In his speech accepting defeat, Chavez stated he "would rather it is this way", saying he would not have wanted a narrow victory, as it would have been a "pyrrhic victory". Other analysts have also emphasised this point, arguing that a narrow victory would have been rejected by the opposition (and the US government and international media) and led to violence and rioting, threatening to take the country towards civil war.

In order to prevent this course, the "Yes" vote would have needed a clear, decisive victory that would be difficult to question, and would have provided a powerful mandate for the radical changes contained in the proposals. In the absence of such a mandate, which would have required millions of more votes rather than a few hundred thousand, a narrow defeat was probably the lesser of two evils for the Chavista camp.

Chavez also argued: "It is a great political jump that 49% voted for socialism." He emphasised that he accepted that the proposed constitutional reforms had been defeated "for now", a reference to Chavez's famous speech accepting defeat "for now" in the failed military rebellion he led in 1992. The phrase helped make Chavez a popular hero. Chavez insisted he was not retreating from the course set out in the proposed reforms, but would continue to campaign for them.

Chavez has stated that any future initiatives to reform the constitution, and revive the defeated proposals, would have to come from the people themselves. Prensa Latina reported on December 7 that the National Indigenous Movement of Venezuela had organised a strategy meeting that day to discuss re-initiating the constitutional reform process. Support for the reforms in the referendum from indigenous people, whose rights would have been strengthened, was 98%. The meeting discussed the causes of the defeat of the "Yes" vote as well as the possibility of collecting the necessary signatures, 15% of the electorate, to initiate a new referendum.

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