Venezuela: Reality versus reporting

The NY Times is, once again, doing their best to lead the corporate media spin campaign in-progress, constructing a consensus on Venezuela according to pre-conceived conclusions, and not according to the realities on the streets in Venezuela.

The NY
Times is, once again, doing their best to lead the corporate media spin
campaign in-progress, constructing a consensus on Venezuela
according to pre-conceived conclusions, and not according to the realities on
the streets in Venezuela.

The spin –
in all corporate media I've read – has been:

1) Chavez
tried a slight-of-hand "power grab" (this is repeated over and over)
via a constitutional reform.

Venezuelans, recognizing his authoritarian and dictatorial tendencies, rejected
his attempts to be Preident for life, voted against the proposed changes,
demonstrating that the population does not support his crazy proposals.

Democracy wins, Venezuelans celebrate, and we all live happily ever after (unless
the villain Chavez tries another trick, he-he-hoo-hoo-ha-ha… stay tuned noble

While it
makes a nice and tidy story (and short enough to fit into articles), this does
NOT coincide with reality in Venezuela.

Why not?

1) It is
incredibly simplistic to say this was about a Chavez power-grab, as both the
process and content of the proposed reform were complex. The process itself was
a 3-tier process that included an initial proposal of 33 articles by Chavez, a
"parliamentary in the streets" open period of proposals from social
organizations and the people, and an additional 36 articles added by the
National Assembly (which included the "street parliamentary" stage).

If this
were about an abusive power-grab, Chavez – who holds a significant majority in
the National Assembly – could have simply pushed it through for a vote in the
Assembly w/out a popular vote, knowing it would be rubber-stamped. Why didn't
he just do that?

2) This
power-grab President-for-life theory seems the biggest concern to the
international press. It was of concern to some and discussed in Venezuela for
sure, but the discussion went much deeper (although not nearly deep enough).
The final proposal was very complex, including:

* Providing
a social-security fund for workers in the informal economy.

* Making
illegal descrimination based on sexual orientation (as well as other things,
but this was the most controversial amongst the anti-discrimination clauses,
given that Chavez has very strong support amongst evangelicals, and is himself
quite socially conservative on several issues.)

* Removing
the autonomy of the Central Bank.

* Creating
new forms of property, including Collective Property, Public Property, Mixed
Property, and Social Property (both direct and indirect). …all this in
addition to "recognizing and guaranteeing Private Property".

* Creating
gender parity in state institutions

* Reducing
the work day to a maximum 6 hours, the work week to a maximum 36 hours

* Creating
parity in the voting system in universities (currently a professors vote counts
for 40 student votes, and university workers can't vote. This would change to
include students, workers, and faculty as equals)

* Altering
the character of the army such that it is "popular" and

* Lower the
voting age from 18 to 16

* Creating
new forms of local government, including something like a confederation of
cities based on the "commune", which would have been a constitutionally
recognized local entity

* The
creation of by-appointment Vice-Presidents who would oversee newly designated
(rural) areas to ensure they are part of the national distribution of resouces,
decision-making, etc.

And these
are only amongst the most heavily discussed. There were 69 articles in-all.

single one merits much discussion, even if in most cases they reflect popular



what kept abstention high and lost the vote – confusion – and not a rejection of
Chavez. This confusion was, of course, fed by a reported $8 million in US
funding of opposition propaganda and student groups that, sadly, had an impact.
By the Dec. 2 vote the rumors of "if it passes the state will take my
house" were widespread, and not accidental.

People –
many, many people – decided simply not to vote rather than betray Chavez and
vote their concerns about one or another article, even if they support the
bulk. Chavez still has a roughly 65% approval rating (according to polls
conducted over the last week). Again, 3 million people (8 million in-all voted
Dec. 2nd) who voted for Chavez a year ago simply did not vote. Yes, some who
have voted for Chavez did vote against the proposal, but it is considered a
relatively small percent of the overall vote, and not the massive anti-Chavez
upheavel we've been hearing about.

4) In
addition, the "President-for-life" claim is worth questioning. The
proposed article #230 reads in its entirety: "The Presidential Period is 7
years. The President of the Republic may be reelected." (En
espanol: "El periodo presidencial es de siete anos. El Presidente o
Presidenta de la Republica
puede ser reelegido o reelegida.")

What this
means is that presidential elections would be held every 7 years, and any
opposition group would be able to put the president's office up for a recall
vote (as determined by anohter article) at the mid-way point of every 7 year
term. Chavez stays in office if and only if he is re-elected every 7 years by
direct popular vote.

5) In
reality, if this article – eliminating presidential term limits – is taken-up
by the population and re-submited as a single-issue popular referendum (a
bottom-up initiative is permitted by the Venezuelan constitution) it would
likely receive far greater support than the reform proposal as a package, and
likely pass. Again, despite media reports, there is broad support for Chavez as
a leader amongst a large majority of the population, and most want him to
continue beyond 2013, despite a minoroty whose voice is amplified greatly by
international press in the name of "the Venezuelan people". The
divisions are based largely on class and, like most countries, the wealthier
classes represent a significant minority.

What many
see as most hopeful – and most often ignored by international media – is the
tremendous bottom-up participation in neighborhoods across Venezuela, also
challenging media-constructed myths. As of a few days ago, people across Venezuela are
beginning to collect signatures to to re-submit parts of the referendum. This
would seem to be completely spontaneous and without much
organization/coordination, and will likely NOT be a successful electoral
strategy unless it is better organized, but demonstrates the popular nature and
bottom-up support of this process. Again, this will of course not be reported
widely by international press, doing their best to paint Venezuela as a
dictatorial state.

6) While we
may or may not support term limits (many international followers have questions
about a process so dependent upon one person), this is something for the people
of Venezuela
to determine. Unless there are gross violations of Human Rights (such as is the
case in Colombia,
for example), it would seem it is our job to support their sovereign decision.

7) Lastly,
reports in the international press are absent of any context and filled with
eurocentric racism and double-standards:

When can we
expect outcries about France's
political system, where there are no term limits and the president alone can
dissolve the French National Assembly?

When will
the NY Times claim "dictatorship" in Italy, where the parliament and
representatives from regions elect the president (i.e. NOT a direct popular
vote), and there are no term limits?

When will
we gasp out loud and call "crazy" (as Chavez is called) the
anti-democratic traditions in the UK, where there are no term limits, where the
prime minister holds office "at Her Majesty's pleasure", and where it
is custom to kiss the hand of the monarch of the day, before being recognized
as Prime Minister. Even the opposition is referred to as "Her Majesty's
Loyal Opposition."

addition, the claims that abounded of "no election monitors" negate
the presence of more than 100 organizations and individuals, including the
NAACP and officials from organizations in multiple African countries. It would
seem you need to be white and/or linked to the OAS (Organization of American
States) or the Carter
Center to be considered a
legitimate election monitor.

Leet is a Minnesotan currently living in Venezuela. He has worked for
Witness for Peace and currently serves as the Venezuelan correspondent for
MIRAc – the Minnesota Immigrants Rights Action Coalition.