Dateline December 3, 2007 – the
corporate media is euphoric after Venezuelans narrowly defeated Hugo Chavez's
constitutional reform referendum the previous day. The outcome defied
pre-election independent poll predictions and was a cliffhanger to the end.
Near-final results weren't announced until 1:15AM December 3 with about 100,000
votes separating the two sides and a surprising 44% of eligible voters
abstaining. On December 7, Venezuela's
National Electoral Council (CNE) released the final outcome based on 94% of
ballots counted. A total of 69 amendment reforms were voted on in two blocks:
For Block A: No – 50.65%; Si
(Yes) – 49.34%;
For Block B: No – 51.01%; Si
(yes) – 48.99%.
Below is a sampling of
corporate media gloating. They deserve a bit of slack as they've waited nine
years for this moment, and they may not get another for some time. Venezuelans
lost, they won, but Chavez may be right saying reform lost "por ahora (for
now)." In a post-election comment on Venezuelan state TV channel VTV he
added: Reform is slowed but alive, and "the Venezuelan people have the
power and the right to present a request for constitutional reform before (my)
term (in office) finishes, of which there is still five years."
Under Venezuelan law, the
National Assembly (NA) can pass new socially beneficial or other legislation
any time provided it doesn't conflict with constitutional law. The Constitution
can only be changed by national referenda in one of three ways – if the
President, the NA, or 15% of registered voters (by petition) request it. The Constitution, however, prevents the President
from seeking the same amendments twice in the same term, but they can become
law through popular initiatives or a constituent assembly.
In addition, Chavez can use his
constitutionally allowed Enabling Law authority until next summer when it
expires. Under it, he can pass laws by decree in 11 key areas that include the
structure of state organs, election of local officials, the economy, finance
and taxes, banking, transportation, the military and national defense, public
safety, and policies related to energy.
Chavez had this authority two
previous times and used it in 2001 to pass 49 legal changes to make them
conform to the Constitution in areas of land and banking reform and for more
equitable revenue-sharing arrangements with foreign oil companies in
joint-state ventures. He wanted it this time to accelerate democratic change at
the grassroots and be able to transfer power to the people through communal
councils. He may also use it to advance his social and economic model based on
equitably distributing more of the national wealth through investments in
health care, education and social security. If these type reform measures are
proposed, he'll get strong public support for them provided he keeps them
simple and explains them properly and often.
In his post-election comments,
Chavez stressed another reform proposal is coming "next year or in three
years. It doesn't have to be exactly the same. It can be in the same direction,
but in a different form, improved and simplified, because I have to accept that
the reform that we presented was very complex."
The pre-election debate and
propaganda assault made it more complex, and the opposition out-muscled reform
supporters. With proper planning and implementation, that problem is
correctable, and in the meantime, the NA can enact some reforms legislatively
and Chavez can do it on his own by decree. Expect that to happen and for most
Venezuelans to support it enthusiastically.
Already, members of Venezuela's
National Indigenous Movement (MNIV) want constitutional reform reinitiated,
intend to mobilize, and may begin collecting signatures for a petition drive
for it. They met to strategize on December 7 after which MNIV coordinator
Facundo Guanipa announced that Venezuela's
small indigenous population near-unanimously supports Chavez's reforms
according to referendum data results.
For now, however, the gloaters
have center stage and aren't quoting OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel
Insulza's comment that "Quite a few myths on the Venezuelan democracy are
falling down. It works like all democracies….I hope the US government
can acknowledge, as all of us, that it was a fair, clean process."
Don't count on it or from the
dominant media, and start off with this writer's favorite press adversary – the
Wall Street Journal's Mary Anastasia O'Grady, this time on a Journal-produced
three minute video available online. She warms up fast with comments like the
referendum, if passed, would have given Chavez "dictatorial power to rule
for life," and Venezuela
has a "rigged electoral system." Outrageous and false on both counts,
of course, but this is typical O'Grady ranting.
Further, she claimed near-final
tallies were available around 8:15PM, but the National Electoral Council (CNE)
waited until 1:15AM to report them. In fact, reporting was delayed because the
election was too close to call, and it was agreed in advance not to do it until
90% of the votes were counted. At that point, the result was announced. One
other O'Grady gem was Chavez came to power in 1999 by "removing" the
"old elite" implying that defeating them decisively and
democratically was improper – vintage O'Grady with more from her ahead assured.
The Journal wasn't through. An
online op-ed read: "Venezuelans Rain on Hugo (and it's) more than a
setback for Venezuela's
messianic strongman. It is a victory for the ideal of liberty across Latin
America….kudos….to the people of Venezuela (by preventing Chavez
from) impos(ing) what amounted to a personal coup against that nation's
democracy. He tried to bully Venezuelans into voting for one-man rule and a
hard model of socialism. They said no (and CNE waited until 1:15AM) when it
became clear that there was no way to fudge the results."
According to the Journal,
Chavez's package "would have eviscerated Venezuela's civil liberties (and)
end guarantees of private property." A final jab was in the form of a
warning that Chavez still controls the country's political institutions and
"remains a threat to (the) region. He's in a race against time (to advance
his) expansionist agenda (that) has the potential to undermine Colombia's democracy, and has already
destabilized Bolivia and Ecuador."
Phew, and Rupert Murdoch hasn't yet taken over the paper he bought last summer
when he finalized a deal for Dow Jones & Company.
Enter the New York Times and
its man in Caracas,
Simon Romero, whose style outclasses Journal writers but not his substance. His
byline on December 3 read "Venezuela Hands Narrow Defeat to Chavez
Plan" that would have granted him "sweeping new powers. Opposition
leaders were ecstatic," and Zulia
State governor and Chavez 2006
presidential opponent, Manuel Rosales, said "Tonight, Venezuela has
won." His next day report trumpeted the setback saying the "vote sets
roadblocks (and) has given new energy to (the) long-suffering opposition."
It's "an expression of….government mismanagement (and) a warning to Mr.
Chavez that he had finally overreached (in wanting to end presidential) term
limits and greatly (centralize) his power." It's a "sharp rebuke
(from voters to) let Mr. Chavez know (they're reluctant) to follow him much
farther up the path to a socialist future."
Still more from Romero, along
with Times op-ed writers, that "Reflection and Anger (came) After
Defeat," and Chavistas are "being consumed by recrimination and
soul-searching" following voter rejection. "Chavez lash(ed) out at
his opponents (and) dismissed (their victory) with an (unmentioned)
obsenity," and "Chavismo" needs "to embrace a more
That was a warm-up for op-ed
writer Roger Cohen. He chimed in with a backhanded salute for "the
humiliation of a 51 to 49 percent rejection to end term limits and undermine
private property rights." He stopped short of mentioning most West
European and other parliamentary systems allow unlimited reelections, and the
latter accusation if false. Then Cohen attacks calling Chavez a
"strongman….a caudillo….a menace (and) his 'socialismo' equals
'Hugoismo.' " He aimed to "accumulat(e) power through threats,
slandering opponents as 'traitors,' (and) buying support with $150 million a
day in oil money."
It gets worse: "his crony
bankers (are) pocketing millions by arbitraging the disparity between the
official and black-market (bolivar) rates. Crime and drug-trafficking are
thriving." His socialism is "the Russian (equivalent of) 'Soviets,'
(and) I salute the Venezuelan people" for imposing "The Limits of (a)
21st-Century Revolution." On December 3, Cohen listed them in eight
Venezuelan marketplace and political rules to show by his logic Chavez
"can('t) turn back the clock far enough to change" them.
The Times wasn't done, and on
December 4 it lashed out editorially with "A Tale of Two Strongmen."
The other was Vladimir Putin after his December 2 parliamentary election
victory. According to The Times, it was a "referendum on himself (in which
he) cynically manipulated a huge victory…." Chavez wasn't as lucky in
his "latest and most outrageous power grab (so there's) hope (Venezuelan)
political competition….will now flourish." The Times concedes he's
"still very powerful," so "The international community
will….have to keep up the pressure on (him because he) hasn't suddenly become
The Washington Post had it's
post-election say with a similar slanderous agitprop editorial torrent – that
"Mr. Chavez had proposed to make himself a de facto president for
life….Polls before the vote showed only about a third of Venezuelans favored
the amendments (and) Urban slum dwellers who have supported Mr. Chavez in the
past had good reason for second thoughts: Thanks to his crackpot economic
policies….the outcome will not restore full democracy (because Chavez) still
controls the legislature, courts, national television and the state oil
company, and he retains the authority to rule by decree." False on all
counts except that most democratically elected legislators and Chavez-appointed
judges support Bolivarianism as embedded in the country's Constitution they're
sworn to uphold.
The AP was also hostile calling
Chavez "conflict-prone (with a) larger-than-life personality leav(ing)
little room for compromise (that) ensur(es) more friction (in a) deeply
polarized (country)." But "Sunday's victory has energized the
opposition (that can petition) for a recall referendum once Chavez reaches the
midpoint of his six-year term in December, 2009."
In the West as well, the Los
Angeles Times was celebratory in calling Sunday's defeat "a remarkable
indictment of (Chavez's) agenda." But it headlined: "Chavez isn't
finished." Even in defeat, he'll be "able to pass many of his desired
reforms legislatively" since he controls the NA and Supreme Court. The
Times cited "images of huge (opposition) student marches," but the
"biggest factor (on) Sunday (was) Chavez's own nonsensical economic
policies, which have caused many of his impoverished supporters to wonder if he
really knows what he's doing." They're "like Soviet Russia or modern Cuba (and) Chavez's socialist ideals are leading
to a precipice, and it's the poor who will suffer most if it goes over the
Time magazine wondered
"How Will Chavez Handle Defeat? (and) Why Venezuelans Turned on
Chavez." It reported "panic set in around 7PM Sunday evening,"
but it wasn't until 1:00AM that "el comandante" conceded defeat. In
the view of Time writer, Jens Erik Gould, they worried more about a Chavez
power grab and ability to seize private property than the proposed social
benefits for the poor and popular grassroots power they'd get. But while
"defeat may….slow the President down….he and his allies still have
wide-reaching powers (so the) battle is far from over" with no doubt left
which side Time backs.
Business Week magazine was
vocal about what was "Behind Chavez's Defeat in Venezuela" in an article full
of the usual kinds of errors, misstatements and pro-business slant. It said
"rejection….may mean more stability for business and the economy"
without ever mentioning business is booming, and the economy is one of the
fastest growing ones in the world under Chavez's "socialist vision."
The article quoted the
opposition saying if the referendum passed "We would have woken up in a
dictatorship….a possible victory….undermined business confidence….defeat
calls into question whether Chavez will be able to deepen his socialist
revolution….the majority in Venezuela doesn't share Chavez's socialist vision….There
is growing discontent with Chavez's leadership." Victory would have let
Chavez "seize private property….curb private ownership….undermine Venezuela's democratic and capitalist
foundations, and allow Chavez to create a state styled on communist Cuba if
Anti-Chavez post-election rants
could fill volumes. A few more follow below:
— the San Francisco Chronicle
lamented that "Chavez (still) holds all the cards (and) The opposition has
yet to find a leader that can match Chavez's magnetic personality and
— Bloomberg.com was also
dismayed that one defeat won't "likely….stop (Chavez's) drive to
economy….he may nationalize industries, seize property and weaken central
— the state-run Voice of
America (VOA) trumpeted George Bush's post-election comment that Chavez's
defeat is a "vote for democracy;" it never mentioned his pre-election
rant about Venezuela
— CBS News headlined
"Chavez's Democratic Authoritarianism (so) Despite (electoral defeat), Venezuela's
President will continue toward absolute rule;"
— the Christian Science
Monitor said "Venezuela's
Chavez Defiant, Despite Defeat….few believe the results will cause (him) to
alter his course,"
— the Financial Times in a
"Chronicle of a defeat foretold" sees Chavez's support among the poor
eroding as "Venezuelans are seeing things with greater realism;"
— the Economist sees his
"aura of invincibility….forever damaged, the battle for succession seems
bound to begin soon (and) Survival strategies no longer….involve
unquestioning loyalty to the 'commandante.' The fighting back is just
— CNN was also at the
forefront of what Chavez at a post-election press conference called its manipulation
campaign. He said Defense Minister Rangel Briceno was "very angry by
(CNN's) manipulating campaign….all over the world," he's preparing to
sue the cable network, and "behind (it) is the evil face of the United States;"
— the BBC is notorious as a
"guardian of power;" it headlined "White House….welcomes the
defeat of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's controversial
reform….referendum….(and said) the people spoke their minds….that bodes
well for the country's future and freedom and liberty….(Venezuelans didn't)
want any further erosion in their democracy and their democratic
institutions;" pro-Chavez voices or a clear explanation of the issues were
nowhere in sight pre or post-election;
— the Chicago Tribune
headlined "Chavez chastened, hardly capitulating (as) political leaders
and analysts said it is too early to say whether the slim defeat….represents
just a bump in the road….or the awakening of a durable and vibrant
— the London Guardian's Seumas
Milne headlined Chavez was "Down but not out in Caracas" in writing
for a paper with a long history of pro-state support and too little of it for
its people. Milne, on the other hand, struck another note saying Bolivarianism
suffered a setback (but) "it's far from finished (and) Sunday wasn't a
crushing defeat." It also "discredit(ed) the canard that the country
is somehow slipping into authoritarian or even dictatorial rule….The
referendum was a convincing display of democracy in action….The revolutionary
process underway in Venezuela has delivered remarkable social
achievements." Halting or reversing them "would be a loss whose
significance would go far beyond Venezuela's borders (but) Chavez's
comments and commitments (show) there is no mood for turning back."
Chavez is resilient and will
rebound from one electoral setback. Don't ever count him out or underestimate
his influence over what co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy
Research, Mark Weisbrot, says is "A historic transformation….underway in
Latin America (following) more than a quarter
century of neoliberal" rule. Long-time Latin American expert, James
Petras, puts it this way: "The referendum and its outcome (while important
today) is merely an episode in the struggle between authoritarian imperial
centered capitalism (Chavez opposes) and democratic workers centered socialism
(it's hoped Bolivarianism will deliver)." The spirit of democracy thrives
and one electoral setback won't derail it.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago
and can be reached at [email protected].
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The
Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Mondays at noon
US central time.