The Economist Gets Economical with the Truth on Venezuela’s Municipal Elections

A good writer can say a lot with a few words, and indeed the latest article by The Economist on Venezuela's recent municipal elections manages to say plenty about the value of facts at the neoliberal ideologue's favourite rag.

Despite facing some stiff opposition, The Economist easily takes the cake for sheer number of lies per word churned out in their analysis of the 2013 municipal elections in Venezuela.

The errors come thick and fast, starting in the second paragraph, where The Economist states that the “most painful loss for the ruling Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) was Barinas, home of the Chávez family”. It would indeed be a painful loss- if it were true. Former President Hugo Chavez was actually born in Sabaneta, which is the capital of Alberto Arvelo Torrealba municipality. If The Economist had actually looked at the results of the election, they would have seen that Anibal Chavez (the former president’s sibling) easily won the municipality again with 62.87% of the vote. To be fair, Chavez did indeed move to the Barinas state capital to attend high school, but it’s Sabaneta that is nationally recognised as the former president’s hometown, not Barinas.

“We have a divided country , no one got 50%…”

The Economist’s utter ignorance of the man who was president of Venezuela for 14 years is just an appetiser. Next we hear an uncritical regurgitation of Henrique Capriles’ line that Venezuela is “split into two halves”, and a lament that the “president’s half is the one with all the levers of real power”.

The first point is indeed true…just like in most of the world’s representative democracies. In the municipal elections, the ruling PSUV and its allies won over 49% of the popular vote, while the main opposition coalition, the MUD secured 43%. In other words, the difference between the two camps was around 6%. Last year Barack Obama held the White House with 51.1%, while Mitt Romney had 47.2%. Do those few percentage points of difference mean that the US is divided? Of course! That’s how representative democracy works.

In fact, if The Economist wants to understand why voters are often divided, then perhaps The Economist should read The Economist’s resigned endorsement of Obama to get a feel for why different candidates can appeal to different people.

However, we start to run into trouble when the author asserts that “all the levers of real power” belong to Maduro.

Not exactly.

A sizeable chunk of Venezuela’s media, largest business federation and much of the country’s corporate class aren’t aligned with the government by any stretch of the imagination. But perhaps The Economist is arguing that big business isn’t a “lever of power”. It wouldn’t be the first time the magazine has published a sob story about the victimised corporate elite.

“I think the message that this was an opportunity for change did not reach [people]… if I had I achieved this then today we would have a country painted blue.”

Moving on, in the next paragraph we are informed that the “the broadcast media—now either state-controlled or cowed into obedience—ignored Mr Capriles”. Yet, if The Economist cares so much about Capriles, why aren’t they concerned about the impostor that keeps appearing on Venezuelan television pretending to be him? This impostor recently slithered into the Venevision studios and faked a full length interview – the fraudulent Capriles sounds so real you could be forgiven for thinking it was actually him! Venevision isn’t the only broadcaster that has been duped by this bodysnatching fiend; Globovision aired a speech by that same impostor on election night, obviously thinking it was Capriles! Here he is again on TeleSUR! This slippery impostor has even hoodwinked CNN en Español into thinking he is the real Capriles. It seems like everyone is giving this impostor airtime, while the real Capriles is obviously being ignored. Lucky The Economist sees through the facade, and knows that the real Capriles has been completely absent from the airwaves.

“The government is a cheater that plays dirty, it doesn’t respect the laws…”

Next, The Economist states that “[c]andidates and leaders of the MUD were threatened with jail”. Indeed, during an ongoing crackdown on corruption, a number of opposition figures have been arrested. The Economist decided not to mention that during this same crackdown, some of Maduro’s allies have also been arrested. This doesn’t prove that some arrests aren’t politically motivated, it just proves that some scepticism of opposition claims that all their people are squeaky clean is probably warranted. Scepticism would also have been useful before making the next claim that the “entire apparatus of government was deployed to help the PSUV”. Really, was it? In the past the Carter Centre has expressed concern over the use of state resources in elections, and again reports of misuse of government property cropped up on 8 December. Yet the extent of misuse is unclear, and it would be nice if The Economist could cite some evidence when it says the “entire apparatus” was deployed (what about the water coolers in government offices, were they also conscripted?). Without any evidence to the contrary, it sounds like maybe The Economist is exaggerating just a little. Worse still, however, is the sin of omission. Capriles reportedly campaigned in 117 municipalities in 21 states in the lead up to the elections. Earlier in the year his regular international escapades started to grate on some of the denizens of the state he’s supposed to be governing, Miranda. Yet The Economist doesn’t seem too concerned about the possibility that maybe Capriles is misusing his governorship. But of course, at The Economist the idea that both sides may have accountability problems doesn’t seem to get broached very often.

In the next paragraph, The Economist trots out the same tired argument that the Venezuelan economy is trashed thanks to “Chávez’s populist policies that got the country into its mess”, pointing to an “inflationary spiral”. But again, this simply doesn’t make sense. Inflation has indeed spiked this year, but in general inflation was lower under Chavez than previous presidents. But don’t take my word for it, just get out a calculator and compare Venezuela’s inflation under Chavez with levels in the 1980s and ’90s. Doesn’t matter how you cut it, under Chavez inflation isn’t all that bad by Venezuelan standards. For example, between 1990 to 1998 annual inflation was on average higher than years between 1999 to 2013. That’s strange, IMF data says Chavez lowered inflation, but The Economist says otherwise.

Later, The Economist wraps up its article by asking if Venezuelans “will meekly accept a sharp decline in their living standards”. Surely this is purely a hypothetical question, given that just last year alone poverty fell by 19%.

“The CNE [and] the Supreme Court are cheaters, everything is against us…”

Sandwiched between The Economist’s concerns over fictitious declining living standards and general economic collapse is one more cracker: “When Mr Capriles challenged the result of the April election, the CNE and the supreme court refused to review the evidence”.

Except they did.

When announcing the Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the case, Magistrate Gladys Gutierrez not only said Capriles failed to provide “sufficient proof” to substantiate his claims that Maduro won by fraud, but the opposition’s case was so paper thin it “trivialise[d] democratic debate”.

The unfortunate fact is that once it becomes obvious where The Economist’s opinions come from, it’s easy to see why the facts really don’t matter. Instead, The Economist’s analysis looks like the maths pop quiz of a school kid who forgot to study the night before –  identical to someone else’s in the class, mistakes and all. The answers provided by The Economist are stunningly similar to that of Capriles. In fact, Capriles’ latest interview with El Universal is littered with talking points that accurately summarise The Economist’s position. So accurately, that I found Capriles’ words helpful for organising my notes and dividing up this article. Here’s a few samplers of what he had to say:

“We have a divided country , no one got 50%…”

“I think the message that this was an opportunity for change did not come… if I had I achieved this then today we would have a country painted blue.”

“The government is a cheater that plays dirty, it doesn’t respect the laws…”

“The CNE, the Supreme Court are cheaters, everything is against us…”