Opinion and Analysis: Media Watch
Foreign Policy Fantasies About Venezuela
A response to the cover story in the latest (January/February 2006) Foreign Policy Magazine.
Thanks to Josh Eidelson for pointing out some of the flaws in Foreign Policy’s latest (January/February 2006) cover story, “Hugo Boss: “How Chavez is refashioning dictatorship for a democratic age.” The article is much worse than Eidelson describes it, as will be seen below. The idea that <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />
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Let me correct one error in Eidelson’s description, which he may have gotten from the Foreign Policy article, before proceeding: the government of
Now for some of the mistakes in the Foreign Policy piece by Javier Corrales:
“Chavez is “now approaching a decade in office.” [p.33] Hugo Chavez took office in February of 1999. I have never seen anyone round up to 10 from a number just under 7. Perhaps the subtitle of this article should have been “Refashioning Arithmetic for an Innumerate Age.”
“the poor do not support him [Chavez] en masse.” [p.35] This can be refuted by any recent poll, as well as by opposition pollsters themselves. Chavez’ recent approval ratings have ranged from 65 to 77 percent. Where does this support come from? The upper classes? Perhaps this is another arithmetic problem. Also, a look at the results of the August 2004 referendum, which Chavez won by 59-41 percent, shows one of the most polarized voting patterns in the hemisphere, with poor areas voting overwhelmingly for Chavez and the richer areas voting overwhelmingly against him.
“Chavez has failed to improve any meaningful measure of poverty, education, and equity.” [p.35] As I noted in a prior post (http://www.tpmcafe.com/story/2005/11/3/154920/231): The official poverty rate now stands at 38.5 percent, but that counts only cash income. For example, if the
The poverty rate when Chavez took office, in the first quarter of 1999, was 42.8 percent. So there is a meaningful measure of poverty reduction, especially if non-cash benefits are taken into account. Also, the government declared in October that 1.48 million Venezuelans have been taught to read as a result of a massive literacy drive that began in 2003. Although there is so far no independent verification of the number, even if it turned out to be significantly overestimated, there is no doubt that a very large number of Venezuelans (total population: 25 million) have learned to read under the program.
“Following the 2004 recall referendum, in which Chavez won 58 percent of the vote, the opposition fell into a coma, shocked not so much by the results as by the ease with which international observers condoned the Electoral Council’s flimsy audit of the results.” [p. 39] Actually, according to all news reports at the time, they were shocked by the results; they announced that the referendum was stolen, and most of the opposition continues to maintain this position. There was nothing “flimsy” about the audit, and there is no more doubt about the results of this referendum than there is that Ronald Reagan beat Walter Mondale by a similar margin in 1984. I have explained this in a previous post http://www.tpmcafe.com/story/2005/12/2/17334/7970 , and in a paper refuting alleged statistical evidence of fraud http://www.cepr.net/publications/venezuela_2004_09.pdf , and so will not belabor the point here. Also, the
Corrales’ attempt to raise doubts about the referendum result is particularly disturbing in light of recent events in
The opposition’s primary argument for boycotting elections is that they cannot “trust” the electoral process, based on the conspiracy theory, widely held by the opposition in
Thus, with their own polls showing that they would win about 30 percent of the Congress, they opted for a long-term strategy of destabilization – to try to de-legitimize the government rather than participate in an open and transparent, democratic electoral process that was once again certified as such by international observers, this time including a 160-member team representing the European Union. Such has been the problem for several years: with the brief exception of the August 2004 referendum, wherein the opposition leadership temporarily agreed to play by the rules of democracy – until they lost the vote -- they had previously tried to overthrow the government by means of several oil strikes (one particularly economically devastating in 2002-2003) and a military coup in April 2002, which was supported by the Bush Administration. The Bush Administration also appears to be at least tacitly supportive of the opposition leaders’ decision this month to withdraw from electoral politics altogether. In its zeal to create an imaginary “dictatorship” in
The editors of Foreign Policy chimed in with a box [p.38] about Chavez accusing him of “meddling in the internal politics of his neighbors” –
There is little evidence that Venezuela today is less democratic than it has ever been, and in fact by most standard political science measures it is more democratic.
In any case there is much more in this article that is inaccurate, grossly exaggerated, or misleading – in fact that describes most of the piece. But rather than wasting more space on this, readers may want to write to the editors of Foreign Policy -- fpletters@CarnegieEndowment.org -- and ask them why they printed something like this. And rather than just printing a 300-word letter, will they ever allow the publication of an article on Venezuela from a different point of view, one that better reflects not only the view of most Venezuelans, but most of this hemisphere? This is unlikely, but it is worth asking them why such an article would be forbidden. It would presumably have to be of much higher quality than the present one and more accurate, not necessarily pro-Chavez, but something that respects democracy, even when poor people repeatedly elect a government that the U.S. State Department doesn’t like.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (www.cepr.net) in
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