Venezuelas Leap Backwards was the headline verdict of the January 10 Washington Post editorial, which attempted to throw doubt on the legitimacy of the December 3 presidential election in Venezuela that returned socialist President Hugo Chavez to office with a record 7.3 million votes (63% of the total vote cast)."Venezuela's Leap Backwards" was the headline verdict of the January 10 Washington Post editorial, which attempted to throw doubt on the legitimacy of the December 3 presidential election in Venezuela that returned socialist President Hugo Chavez to office with a record 7.3 million votes (63% of the total vote cast).
Ignoring the conclusion of all electoral observers — including from the European Union, the Organisation of American States and the Carter Center — that the vote was free and fair, the Post argued the "majority" of voters were intimidated, and implied that Chavez has no mandate because "only" 7 million voted for him.
The January 11 Los Angeles Times got in on the act in an editorial entitled "Fidel Chavez?" that baldly stated, "Venezuela's presidential election last month may have been fair and free, but it's increasingly unlikely the next one will be". It concluded that "Venezuela's people may have just succeeded in voting themselves out of power". In an opinion piece in the January 11 Sun Sentinel, Guillermo Martinez claimed there were "few remaining niceties of democracy" in Venezuela.
What has caused such pessimistic pronouncements on the state of Venezuela's democracy? After all they come just after pro-Chavez forces won their 11th-straight electoral victory in just eight years; Chavez pledged to place planned changes to the constitution to a referendum, as he has done in the past; and plans were announced to expand institutions of direct democracy, such as the communal councils that give the poor control over their communities.
The answer is that the corporate-owned media are terrified of the revolutionary process being led by the Chavez government that is organising Venezuela's working people to overcome the exploitation of Venezuela's economy by predominantly US corporations. The spate of hysterical allegations against Chavez have coincided with his announcement, at the swearing in of his new cabinet on January 8, of plans to nationalise companies that had been privatised by previous governments as a step on the road to the construction of a "socialist republic" — as Chavez promised in his election campaign.
Declaring "homeland, socialism or death!", Chavez repeated his government's plans during his inauguration on January 10. According to the press office of the state-owned oil company PDVSA, Chavez also outlined planned changes to the constitution that would extend laws guaranteeing state control over Venezuela's oil reserves to the entire hydrocarbon sector.
Immediately affected by the plans are telecommunications company CANTV (privatised in 1991 with the largest shareholder the New York-based Verizon), electricity company Electricidad de Caracas (owned by US company AES Corporation), and projects to mine heavy crude oil in Venezuela's Orinoco belt — home to the world's largest untapped reserves.
Venezuelanalysis.com reported on January 15 that the oil giants BP, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Statoil have US$17 billion invested in the region. The PDVSA press office reported that the government's plans would involve forcing corporations into new joint ventures guaranteeing the state-owned oil company a majority share. Associated Press reported on January 16 that Venezuela announced it was ending negotiations with affected oil companies and moving to carry out its plans regardless of opposition. The increased oil revenues will enable the government to further increase social spending, which has already fuelled an average of 12% economic growth over three years and resulted in millions of people no longer officially living in poverty.
Telecommunications minister Jesse Chacon explained that the CANTV nationalisation would enable the government to extend the telecommunication network, arguing "On passing into the hands of the state, it means that it will be able to ... maximise coverage", rather than profits. A January 12 article posted on Marxist.com by Jorge Martin, an activist with the British Hands off Venezuela solidarity group, reported that the ministry of labour was meeting with workers' representatives in the companies to be nationalised and a discussion about the "setting up of workers' councils" was underway.
The Washington Post editorial claimed that with such measures, Venezuela's people "can look forward to steadily diminishing freedom ... and national impoverishment". The editorial ignores the impoverishment 80% of the population were condemned to as a result of neoliberal policies such as privatisation before Chavez came to power in 1998.
The corporate media has attempted to cover the real source of its anti-Chavez hysteria — concern for corporate profits — by raising a number of false allegations about attacks on democracy by the Venezuelan government. The most serious, because it exploits very healthy sentiments of ordinary people in support of freedom of speech, is that Chavez is "shutting down" opposition media. The evidence is the decision of the Chavez government not to renew the concession to Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), owned by multi-millionaire Marcel Grainer, to use the publicly owned Channel 2. The Washington Post, like much of the corporate media, outright lied by reporting that Chavez "has said he will close down" the station. In fact, the station is free to continue to broadcast via cable or satellite TV. The concession to broadcast via Channel 2 is likely to be granted to a group of cooperatives — in other words to a section of the population who have never had access to the mass media.
The government has good reason not to renew the concession, which was granted to RCTV in 1987 and expires on May 28. The company abused its concession not only by using the station to help organise the failed military coup against Chavez in 2002 — and by continuing to broadcast appeals for the violent overthrow of the government — but also by failing to pay its taxes or fines levied against it for violations of Venezuela's broadcasting laws, according to a January 13 Venezuelanalysis.com article by Eva Golinger.
No media outlet has been shut down by the Chavez government. Rather, the government is encouraging an explosion of community media among the poor majority. The ministry for communication registered 10,000 independent media producers last year alone.
While Grainer has claimed the failure to renew his concession is an attack on the rights of RCTV workers, communications minister William Lara pointed out that as RCTV is free to keep broadcasting, any lay-offs would be a political decision of Grainer himself, according to a January 7 Venezuelan government statement. Lara also encouraged RCTV workers to form a cooperative in order to participate in the new use of Channel 2.
It is clear that for the corporate media, any attack on the privileges of the corporate elite is an "attack on democracy". Unwilling to acknowledge the democratic nature of the process of change in Venezuela, all moves are explained as Chavez "centralising power". On the contrary, Venezuela is both showing that it is possible to challenge the corporate interests that many have argued are too powerful to confront, and that to do this requires empowering the poor majority in an extension of democracy. For his role in leading this process, Chavez is hated by the rich.