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Opinion and Analysis: Politics

The Inter-American Dialogue Institute's Report on Venezuela: Another Unjustified Attack on Chavez

The Inter-American Dialogue Institute based in Washington DC just issued its policy report for July 2005 entitled "A Break in the Clouds - Latin America and the Caribbean in 2005". This document is biased against the administration of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and makes use of several baseless arguments and half-truths. 

The report clearly targets the Venezuelan leader by mentioning him four times by name, much more than the times it mentions three other Latin American presidents and ex-presidents. In addition, the report compares democracy in Venezuela, the oldest in South America, and which has been around since 1958, with that of Haiti, a country where there has only been one democratic transfer of power since the year 1809 when the country first gained independence.

The report starts with the following comparisons:

From 1999 to 2002, Argentina's economy shrank by some 20 percent, but in the last two years, it has recovered most of that decline. From 1998 to 2003, Venezuela lost nearly a quarter of its economic activity, but high oil prices propelled 16 percent growth last year.

The accelerated growth of China and India is having a mixed impact on Latin America's economies. For Southern Cone countries such as Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, as well as other resource-rich nations such as Venezuela, the rapidly expanding Chinese market for foodstuffs and minerals has produced sharply increased export revenues.

In the first paragraph above, the statistics for Argentina are softened up while the numbers for Venezuela are amplified to give a more dramatic tone: Venezuela lost nearly a quarter of its economic activity", while for Argentina "the economy shrank by 20%". Statements that are very similar in content. That paragraph also treats the growth in Venezuela of 16% as just due to oil prices, perhaps implying that Venezuela has been lucky. However, in the second paragraph the report contradicts itself when it recognizes that exports of foodstuffs and minerals from Venezuela to China have sharply increased. So, is the 16% growth is only due to oil revenues? Reports on the growth of non-oil related sectors such as construction, transportation and telecommunications in Venezuela, show that the economic growth was not just tied to oil. The recovery of political stability after four years of internal battles, and the implementation of currency controls to curb capital flight, help explain this growth.

The report contains the following inflammatory, baseless and biased analysis of the Chavez Administration:
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez's six-year-old government has sharply restricted democratic competition and badly damaged the nation 's representative institutions. To be sure, Chávez maintains a significant measure of popular support and has managed to win a long series of elections, including last year 's all-important referendum on whether he should remain in office. But he has eliminated most checks on his power and stifled the activities of opposition groups. He has packed the Supreme Court with his supporters, harassed civil society groups, and secured congressional approval for laws curtailing freedom of the press. His rule has divided the country and could yet provoke open political strife. Venezuela, moreover, is a potential source of regional instability. As long as oil prices remain high, Chávez will have the resources to stir up further the already unsettled politics of neighboring countries.

In the last 6 years, the number of NGOs and political parties in Venezuela has increased significantly, including the addition of many organizations run by women, Indians, blacks, unions, campesinos and people from other social extracts. During the same time, there have been more electoral processes than in the previous 20 years. In addition to the above, the growth rate of registered voters in presidential elections doubled from the period 1993-1998 to the period 1998-2004, from 14% per year to 27% per year.

To state that checks on the president have been eliminated demonstrates that the writer does not really know what is happening in Venezuela. Just last year, the president faced a call for referendum, which he survived very easily with 60% of the votes. This also demonstrates that the society is not divided as the report suggests. Especially nowadays, when President Chavez has the support of 70% of the population, based on recent reports from opposition poll agencies. The results show that instead of division, there is an overwhelming majority of the population in agreement with the president's political project.

Opposition groups have been able to openly protest and insult the president on television, radio, newspapers, and have even tried to remove the president violently in failed coup in 2002. For somebody to state that freedom of the press has been curtailed does not realize that during the Chavez administration not a single journalist has been sent to jail, and not a single radio, TV station or newspaper have been closed, except for those closed by an opposition Mayor, and by Pedro Carmona, the dictator that briefly took power after the 2002 coup d'etat against Chávez. The jailing of journalists and the closing of media outlets were a common occurrence during previous administrations, apart from the kidnapping and disappearance of people who were not in agreement with the government. Criticisms of the Chavez government are prominent in all of the major Venezuelan news outlets, another evidence of the freedom with which the press operates.

The nomination of new judges is the result of many months of discussions in the National Assembly. As a result, new Supreme Court judges were postulated. ¿Is Chavez to blame for the fact that the coalition of parties that support him has a majority in the elected National Assembly?

Also, to say that the government of Venezuela is a source of instability in the region has to ignore that in the last two years Venezuela has signed more economic treaties with many Latin countries than any other country in the region. Many treaties have been signed with: Cuba, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, and recently with many countries of the Caribbean through the creation of the oil company PetroCaribe.

To finalize this rebuttal, the report states that:

And the OAS, while it has played a constructive political role in a number of countries, has proven unable in recent years to do much to protect democratic practice in such places as Venezuela, Haiti, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador, where it is most threatened.

The writer of this report apparently does not know that the OAS Secretary General, Cesar Gaviria, spent almost two years in Venezuela, overviewing the electoral processes and presiding a negotiating table between opposition and government leaders. Even the Carter Center participated as observer in elections and the referendum process, and found no evidence of fraud in each case.

The report completely ignores the progress that has been made in Venezuela in terms of Human Rights for minorities, access to healthcare and education for the poor, and the implementation of participatory democracy, among other things.

It is sad to see organizations that call themselves "prestigious" come out and publish reports containing so many baseless arguments y half-truths against a government that is genuinely acting for the benefit of the majority of Venezuelans for the first time since Simon Bolivar ran through the plains and mountains of Venezuela spreading his ideals of freedom and liberty.

The full Inter-American Dialogue report can be read at: http://www.iadialog.org/publications/default.asp
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