What's the truth about Chavez? • 17 August 2007 • The SnowBlog

What's the truth about Chavez?

           For anyone new to the blog, I put a green 'p' next to political posts so that them as don't want to read 'em don't have to. Not even a little bit by accident. I don't much like reading about the history of Latin America; too much of it reflects very badly on the West. The U.S. in particular has a nasty habit of getting rid of leaders it doesn't like in that part of the world. Arbenz in Guatemala and Zelaya in Nicaragua. And while they'll be called madmen and dictators in the press, these are democratically-elected social-reformers we're talking about. Just the sort of thing we say we promote and just the sort of thing those countries needed. It's the people we get to replace them that are the dictators.

The pattern is familiar from elsewhere in the world. Someone gets elected on a reformist ticket and notices that most of the country's wealth belongs to foreign businesses. They also note that a good chunk of their citizenry is on the poverty line. So they take the fateful step of trying to use their country's resources in the service of the country's citizens. Bad move.

The first thing the dispossessed corporations do is complain to the government in their home country. If those corporations are big and American they'll have a couple of vocal senators to speak up for them who'll point out that someone 'hostile to American interests' is in power and insist that something must be done. 'Hostile to American interests' sound like it means WMD or something, but half the time it just means they won't honour the agreements to be robbed their puppet predecessor signed. The 'something that must be done' on more than one occasion has ended up being a CIA project to fund opponents of the foreign leader and - if it comes to it - to install a dictator who will do as they're told. 

Evil? Yes of course it is. And Britain would do that stuff like a shot if it had the resources, but mainly it can only watch America overthrow democracies and sigh enviously. 

The more recent version of that game has been to lend money to desperate countries via the IMF and then to make one or two rules about how the recipients must behave. One or two suicidal rules. If you want the loans you have to agree to all sorts of dangerous things - things that no Western country would ever consider doing. Drop all your import and export tariffs, allow foreign ownership of everything, then allow foreign money to leave the country unfettered if problems arise - and problems most assuredly will arise. And then there's some small print about not spending money on reckless frivolities like medicine and food for the sick and hungry. That last one is what, according to Economics Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, guarantees there'll be food riots in countries receiving IMF 'assistance'.

Sadly for the loan recipients, these insane rules have never yet fixed an economy. In fact they've torpedoed over two dozen of them, which is exactly what you'd expect them to do. But the mostly American IMF investors generally get their money back, and Wall Street gets to loot an entire nation. Forcing a developing country to go head-to-head in trade terms with the rest of the world - without the protection of trade tariffs - has never yet produced an economic force that can rival America. Imagine. It's only ever destroyed the economy of the countries forced to try it. And there's more good news - the lenders not only (eventually) get their money back, help their friends to loot a nation and reassert their dominance of trade in the hemisphere, they also end up with a country that owes them oodles of money and can't pay. It can't pay, of course, because the strings attached to the IMF loan throttled their economy. So loan 'negotiations' become an immensely powerful way of exerting influence in the region. You can't really say no to America when you owe them so much money.

But since Hugo Chavez was elected as leader of Venezuela, none of those things have happened his country. U.S. adventures in Iraq have pushed the price of oil up to the level where Venezuela's oil reserves are worth exploiting. If oil was cheap, it wouldn't be profitable to extract it; but oil is as dear as it's ever been and that makes Venezuela's massive reserves suddenly worth an absolute fortune.

And what is Chavez spending the money on? Well, he wants to offer education to everyone for a start - everyone, no matter how old or poor. And train doctors; he likes doing that. And he's been offering Venezuelan loans to his neighbours so that they won't have to go to America's pet loan shark, the IMF. And selling cheap fuel to the poor - the monster. He wants to set up a regional trade zone, free from America's control, and to bring the southern Americas into the twenty-first century - and he wants to do it along socialist lines where the people, and not just the corporations, benefit.

What else? Well, he also spends a lot of time talking about how America wants to kill him. Which makes him sound a little bit crazy. Except that America does have a bit of a thing for killing foreign leaders who annoy them. Every time the CIA declassifies another piece of its history we learn about another one. Oh, and Chavez was kidnapped for a little while during a coup attempt in 2002 and it turned out that Washington was lending a hand. Democracy, shemocracy, as they say in U.S. foreign policy circles.

It all seems too good to be true if you ask me. Which is why it's troubling to read stories about Chavez wanting to scrap term limits so that he can keep running the country forever. And about how he has his own weekly unscripted TV show where he rambles on about how great he is and how much he's done for the country. And worst of all is the news that he shut down a whole TV network for disagreeing with him. Most of the Western press agree: he might have repeatedly won the popular vote in free elections but he's well on his way to becoming a dictator now.

I don't know what to make of it. South America should have a lot fewer poor people than it does and vigorously pro-trade and pro-socialist governments seem like just what the region needs. America and the IMF have both exerted their influence to do enormous harm there and I think Latin America would be much better off without them. On the other hand, egomaniacal cult-of-personality dictators are not the solution.

So it was with interest that I read this article in the International Business Times which explains Chavez didn't shut down a TV network that 'disagreed' with him - it's still broadcasting. No, he refused to renew the monopoly of a TV network that had called for a coup against him in the past. Now that network will face more competition. And yet I could have sworn that I read in all sorts of newspapers about how he'd stifled the free press when they disagreed with him. For all I know, he might still turn out to be a bad man, but I have to say, it'll take more than the usual pack of lies that comprises most mainstream foreign reporting to make me believe it. 


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