Venezuelan voters have approved a referendum that ends term limits
for the president and all other elected officials. Fifty-four percent
of those who took part voted in favor of the measure February 15.
The Washington Post,
in its colorful fashion, stated the matter like this: "President Hugo
Chávez persuaded Venezuelans today to end term limits through a
referendum that allows him to rule far into the 21st century to
complete his socialist transformation of this oil-rich country."
is already 54 years old. If he rules for another 20 or 30 years, "far
into the 21st century," he'll be older than John McCain and won't
remember how many houses he owns.
The Post went on to
say that "Chávez took office in 1999 and has since amassed overwhelming
control over virtually every government institution." This statement is
a gross exaggeration, but reporter Juan Forero probably had to skip
lightly over the truth to meet a deadline. He also failed to state that
the referendum ended term limits for all elected officials and is
likely to turn the National Assembly into a geriatric ward.
only one exception, the major newspapers in Caracas always go well
beyond the timid Post when expressing their contempt for President
Chávez. El Universal stated that 54.36 percent of the voters
"endorsed President Hugo Chávez's proposal to amend the Constitution in
order to establish endless reelection of all elected officials."
other words, from now on it's automatic. According to the Constitution,
once you're in, you're in forever. That's how it works in the U.S.
Senate. Why not do the same in Venezuela?
At El Universal,
the Cold War never ended and never will. Consider the first sentence
from an editorial called "Communism," dated September 09, 2008:
"Venezuela is sliding down the steady slope toward the dictatorial
communist life of Cuba."
Moreover, "The authorities insist that
its iron-fisted rule reflects the will of the people. True, millions of
Venezuelans appear to be going along with whatever the government
demands out of fear, complacency or neglectfulness."
point, I feel the need to suggest that millions of Venezuelans may not
really be fearful, complacent, or neglectful. I think that millions of
people favor the policies of Hugo Chávez and the United Socialist Party
of Venezuela (PSUV) because socialism has improved their lives.
February of this year, the Center for Economic and Policy Research
(CEPR) released a study of the first 10 years of the Chávez
administration. Mark Weisbrot, Rebecca Ray, and Luis Sandoval wrote
this report, which is called "The Chávez Administration at 10 Years:
The Economy and Social Indicators." I'll list only a few of the details
from this study.
"During the current economic expansion, the
poverty rate has been cut by more than half, from 54 percent of
households in the first half of 2003 to 26 percent at the end of 2008.
Extreme poverty has fallen even more, by 72 percent."
1998-2006, infant mortality has fallen by more than one-third. The
number of primary care physicians in the public sector increased
12-fold from 1999-2007, providing health care to millions of
Venezuelans who previously did not have access."
"There have been
substantial gains in education, especially higher education, where
gross enrollment rates more than doubled from 1999-2000 to 2007-2008."
labor market also improved substantially over the last decade, with
unemployment dropping from 11.3 percent to 7.8 percent. During the
current expansion it has fallen by more than half. Other labor market
indicators also show substantial gains."
I'll stop there. I
realize that many readers have an aversion to statistics. But the point
of these and many other statistics is that the Bolivarian Revolution in
Venezuela is working. It has decreased poverty while improving health
care, education, employment, and other opportunities for the common
people. That's why 54 percent of the population voted in favor of
abolishing term limits.
The evidence in this report is not part
of a conspiracy launched by Hugo Chávez and the PSUV. The CEPR is a
nonpartisan think tank located in Washington, D.C. Its advisory board
includes Nobel Laureate economists Robert Solow and Joseph Stiglitz;
plus Janet Gornick, Professor at the CUNY Graduate School and Director
of the Luxembourg Income Study; Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics
at Harvard University; and Eileen Appelbaum, Professor and Director of
the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University.
blessed with large reserves of oil, and Chávez has increased the
country's revenues by raising the amount foreign oil companies must pay
to extract that oil. Critics of Chávez and the PSUV say that the
current recession in North America and elsewhere has caused a decline
in the price of oil and will put an end to the successes of the last 10
But Venezuela has $82 billion in reserves and can survive
an occasional decline in the price of oil. Oil prices have gone up and
down in the past and will continue to do so in the future. In addition,
the Venezuelan economy is not entirely dependent on oil. Mining,
manufacturing, agriculture, and other enterprises also contribute to
Critics also blame the country's inflation on
Chávez. Inflation presently hovers at around 30 percent per year. But
the CEPR study points out that this figure is about the same as it was
10 years ago when Chávez was first elected.
Like any other
country, Venezuela has many problems. The present government is doing
more than any other in recent memory to improve the lives of the poor
majority while defending the rights of the wealthy minority. It helps
no one to pretend that the Bolivarian Revolution will follow the same
path as the Cuban Revolution. History is far more complicated than that.
And it verges on criminality when the Washington Post
claims that Hugo Chávez is an authoritarian leader. Where was the Post
when the Bush-Cheney autocrats attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, kidnapped
and tortured both soldiers and civilians, denied American citizens
their constitutional rights, and applauded loudly when Pedro Carmona
and a squad of Venezuelan generals launched a coup against Hugo Chávez,
the democratically elected president of the Bolivarian Republic of
Fortunately, other Venezuelan military officers did
not approve of treason. And patriotic citizens of Venezuela came down
from the barrios and demanded to have their president returned to
office. Those heroes saved their democracy from the kind of fascism
that devastated Chile. And Pedro Carmona — who held the office of
president for only 48 hours — will be forever remembered as "Pedro the
Patrick Irelan is a retired high-school teacher.
He is the author of A
Firefly in the Night (Ice Cube Press) and Central
Standard: A Time, a Place, a Family (University of Iowa
Press). You can contact him at [email protected].