Who am I?Where am I?

06 March 2009

Hugo Chavez

Please note that this is an article I submitted for publication in January of 2007. It was not published. I recently came across it and decided to publish it on my blog even though it is slightly outdated. - Nomadic Richard

Hugo Chavez is one of the most devisive leaders on the world stage today. World opinion (if not Venezuelan opinion) is split. Chavez is the object of intense loathing on the one hand from groups that say he is an autocratic and somewhat authoritarian despot who seeks to emulate Fidel Castro and transform Venezuela into a communist state. The converse opinion paints Hugo Chavez as a Brobdingagian philanthropist who is the first Venezuelan President to truly implement policies designed with the interest of the proletarian lower classes at heart.

George W. Bush has proven to be the “Great Divider,” despite earlier his record and and reputation of uniting politicians from both sides of the aisle whilst governor of Texas. Yet, excpept for a period of just over two years from the end of 2003 until the first half of 2006, there has generally been a consensus on Bush. Partisan politics aside, Americans overwhelmingly favored how Bush handled the country immediately following September 11th. We approved of the war in Afghanistan and the fight against the Taliban just as much as we now loathe the flibbertigibbet who has brought us the debauchery that has become our policy in Iraq. We approved and disapproved of George Bush together as a country. The same cannot be said of Hugo Chavez. Rarely has a world leader evoked such a dichotomy of devisive opinions. The questions arise: Who is Hugo Chavez and why is he so devisive? What to make of Hugo Chavez?

By the lights of the Bush administration, the President of Venezuela is an anti-American trouble maker, a sychopant of Fidel Castro, who is keen to play politics with Venezuela's oil industry by influence peddling throughout the Western Hemisphere. To the frustrated Venezuelan opposition, Chavez is a leftist dictator who incited and then exploited a wave of class and racial divisions and rode it to the presidency, and who, in office, has assumed despotic new powers at every chance. To others, Chavez is out-of-touch utopian who sooner or later will ruin the Venezuelan economy. Chavez is refreshingly free with his opinions of the Bush administration as exemplified by his speeches at the United Nations and numerous published interviews. He freely calls the United States a terrorist state, ridicules George W. Bush, and generally makes a nuisance of himself to the current administration. He is convinced that the Bush administration backed, or at least conscienced, a coup attempt against him in 2002, a claim that existing evidence supports . In a non-susurrus tone, Chavez repeats this allegation at every turn.

Chavez’s governing style is populist, and he routinely lambastes Venezuela's elite class. This is a convenient castigation, which endears him to his populist supporters yet, since the opposition, and until the rise of Chavez, Venezuela’s political landscape, has been dominated by this landed gentry. However, Chavez won a free and fair election in 1998 with 56% of the vote, a number many world leaders from Mugabe to Bush must envy. His support base and poll numbers have meteorically risen since then. Chavez has survived a coup attempt and a strike and with each emergence, his popularity has risen. Furthermore, Chavez has for the first time enfranchised the 80% of Venezuela’s population that live in townships outside of Venezuela’s cities or labor on the multitude of plantation like ranches throughout the country. The opposition’s claims of race and class baiting makes political sense in a country with the glaring socio-economic inequalities that exist in Venezuela. With 80 percent of the population living in abject poverty and with the vast majority of this group indigenous or black, race is inextricably linked to class. Thus, the consolidation of power by enfranchising this group makes politically sensible.

The Chavez government has brought healthcare and education to many of the ranchos and rural areas, which before now have seen little of either. These “missions” are paid for by profits stemming from Venezuela's oil industry, which Chavez contrversially nationalized. Chavez replaced a government that, though democratic, was widely seen as corrupt. The redistribution of wealth, social policies, and the perception that Chavez is not in the hip-pocket of Washington, has endeared him to the masses of Venezuelans that form the core of the Chavez base. The main point used by the Venezuelan opposition is that Hugo Chavez is autocratic. The opposition points out that Chavez has used censored the media and restructured the judiciary system. The censuring of the media that has occurred is not censorship in its purist form. The Chavez government has regulated a few television stations. How is this different than the South African government of Mandela and Mbeki, which owns the controlling stake in SABC, one of the two television stations in the country? Governments all over the world control some aspects of the media within their borders. Why should Venezuela be different?

The judiciary system, according to Richard Gott, author of the book Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, was a “complete mess” when Chavez was first elected. The judiciary branch attempted to block all attempts at reform. Chavez simply tried to stack the courts in much the same way that Franklin D. Roosevelt unsuccessfully attempted early in his presidency. The comparisons between FDR and Chavez are not as farfecthed as they seem at first glance. Roosevelt’s New Deal included a progressive income tax system. So does Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution. The New Deal created Social Security in the United States. The Bolivarian Revolution is attempting to mimic this. Roosevelt advocated huge public works projects in order to ameliorate unemployment during the Great Depression. Chavez is embarking on a plan that includes massive spending on public works projects to ameliorate Venezuela’s massive unemployment. The Tennessee Valley Authority was created under Roosevelt to, among other things, provide cheap electricity to the masses of the population in the United States. Chavez is investing Venezuela’s vast oil revenue into sources that will provide cheap electricity to the masses of the population in Venezuela and Latin America. What the American government seemingly fails to realize (then again this administration always seems to miss the boat on foreign policy issues) is that Chavez is here to stay and he could be used in a useful partnership to end our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. According to Hugo Chavez, Venezuela has the largest supply of crude oil in the world. Venezuela has the largest supply of natural gas in the Western Hemisphere and the eighth largest supply in the world. Is this the grandiose bragging of a madman? Not according to the United States Department of Energy, which agrees with these statements.

What’s the catch? The reasons the United States need Chavez are obvious, but why does Chavez need the United States? Despite the seemingly endless supply of Venezuelan oil, Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan people cannot easily benefit from this resource. The crude oil contained within Venezuela is a heavy crude oil that is much more costly to drill, process, and refine. It is not cost-effective to drill Venezuelan oil unless the price of oil is at $50 or above. This may seem a high cost until one remembers that the price of Brent crude was hovering around $75 per barrel at times during the past year. Chavez is more than willing to sell the United States all of the oil it needs if in exchange the United States would work to help him keep the oil price around $50 per barrel. This could potentially be a win-win situation for both the Venezuelan and American people and would protect investments in heavy crude production. However, because of the Bush family relationship with the Saudi government, which is far from democratically elected, and Bush family interests in Middle Eastern oil, it is not desirable for this administration to genuinely explore alternative means of procuring the petrol energy upon which the United States is reliant. Thus, the Venezuelan oil industry languishes, and Hugo Chavez is forced to find alternate sources of consumption for their supplies.

This is seen in Washington as influence peddling and beligerance, however Chavez has been forced into this position by the United States government’s refusal to purchase more Venezuelan crude. Chavez has sought to sell more oil in South America, Cental America, and the Caribbean. He has increased subsidized sales to Argentina, Uruguay, Haiti, Cuba, Dominca, the Domincan Republic, and several Central American countries. According to Chavez, “[Venezuelan] oil is helping the poor.” Chavez offerred assistance, in the form of cheap petrol, to facilitate the clean-up and recovery of New Orleans. This offer was refused by the White House. Chavez has delivred cheap gasoline to filling stations in the Bronx and other poor communities. In addition to the many altruistic intentions that Hugo Chavez has repeatedly demonstrated, he has started institutions that promote Venezuelan culture as well as Latin American culture and seeks to limit the influence Pax Americana has on the television and film industry within Venezuela. This has been accomplished through the creation of subsidized television stations that broadcast a high content of Venezuelan shows. Furthermore, he has yet to demonstrate many of the characteristics that historically have manifested themselves in past dictators. Thus, the allegations of Chavez transforming his government into a despotic autocracy are grossly exaggerated and generally baseless. Chavez is simply seeking to free Venezuela and Latin America from the styming effect of American protectionist economic policies, which negatively affects the Caribbean, Central America, and South America and creates a dependence on the United States.

In seeking to alleviate poverty in the Western Hemisphere, Chavez has sought to cut the historical strings through which the United States has proven to be a less than benevolent puppeteer. When the real Chavez stands up, his policies and viewpoints have angered the historical powerbase both locally in Venezuela and abroad in Washington. Yet these same policies have endeared him to the the masses of the Venezuelan population who view him as a modern day Robin Hood. Viva Chavez! Viva!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, I think Chavez and Venezuela are facing the same painful obstacles as most of the develeoping world. It is a shame that all this economic power is disabling the third world countries in a way that it seems like forever getting out of poverty. I just hope that my offsprings will be lucky enough to see the change in developing world out of this never-ending mess. I sure don't have much confidence that I will in, which is very alarming expecially when I am only 31 yrs old.

Otherwise, I would like to thank you, Nomadic Richard for highlighting the issues that most of us ignore..well not really but just not having time is surely not enough to help us grow. Thank you for the educational journey that I go through every day for reading from your blog.

PS: The new site design looks great. It definitely is fresh and I like it :)