With little interest in Venezuela following the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, aside from the election results of Nicholas Maduro taking Chavez’s post and continuing the party’s platform, the media has set its sights on Venezuela again, this time with the condemnation of the Chavista government and its dictatorial rule against the protesters.
The truth is much more complicated than that. In most cases the media, with few from the left, have either ignored the protest sprouting throughout the high income areas of the country, or follow in suite with the mainstream to condemn the government’s “socialist” behavior for the problems. Although outlets have been following this developing situation in Venezuela as deaths are rising and political unrest continues, few have really examined the true nature and cause.
Since Chavez took office in 1998, most US media outlets have been waiting for the government to collapse and fall back into the hands of elites. This was seen during the attempted and failed coup against Chavez in 2002, backed by the US. Even after Chavez’s death and Maduro’s presidential election, the US rejected to recognize the government as legitimate.
This begs the question, what makes the Chavista government so terrible in the eyes of the US? Many attribute the violence and economic inflation as the main cry for action. Crime, although still a serious issue, has gone down over
the last year. An irony of the situation is the crime the protesters speak out against is many times caused by the protesters themselves. Most of the violence, burning fires, assaulting citizens, propping road blockades, trashing of
government buildings and harassing of government and police officials has come from the protesters themselves. The government has been slow in responding, which many attribute to why the violence has worsened. Here is the catch-22: If the government arrests or uses force to put a stop to the violence, this could come across as neutral to the already government-bashing news networks that exist within the country and that is being exposed already as repressive from US and other media outlets. How does a government contain a growing movement of dissenters that appear to be the victims? The US condemns the use of force, yet our own government has used violence and force to deal with Occupy,
environmental movements, and even school protests.
Aside from the crime, inflation has been another issue and Venezuela being a country that has one of the highest inflation in the world, is an issue that demands action. Michael Albert of Z-Magazine gets more in-depth to the many causes of inflation, but to try and simplify one of the many components are the subsidies on milk and other supplements for the poor to benefit. By helping out the poor with government subsidies, it lowers the overall cost of products, which businesses or higher income individuals can sell to the bordering countries for a higher price and gain a profit. This in effect exploits the subsidy as well as deflates the Bolivar dollar. Michael Albert has several proposals that the government can do in response; fine the businesses that are selling to other countries or hoarding the products, and or provide a
personal subsidy to the poor and raise the prices to match bordering countries. The government is currently working on raising wages, but needs to address the growing inflation in order for a wage increase to have a real impact.
Some media groups have suggested that the protesters claim that they have no future. Although Venezuela has many demanding issues it needs to deal with, the country is and has been a case experiment for something that has never
been seen in another country with the success that Venezuela has had. To give a few insights as to what the country has been in pursuit of for the last decade and a half; enlarging the public participation, undercut old forms of authority,
the development of work councils and neighborhood councils and communes, as well as trying to redistribute the wealth in Venezuela to the poor. Since Chavez took office in 1998, the country has cut poverty, unemployment (extreme poverty by 70%), and infant mortality rate in half. They have developed educational programs and universal healthcare access that extends to the poor.
The reason I bring these achievements up is because the Chavista government is pushing for real change within the Capitalist country. Yes, the country, by many standards is still a capitalist country. The programs being put forth are socialist, but they’re having a real positive impact for the majority of the population and poor. In some ways, this can be the socialist experiment that, if it continues to flourish and succeed, can be a replicated product for other struggling economies.
All that being said, I recognize the issues that Venezuela is facing. Like stated above, inflation, crime, and the Bolivar (dollar), which has devalued in recent years, are serious problems. Yet, with the protests, there is
the legitimacy of their demands and what they want. The protests are being backed by US and headed by Leopoldo Lopez. He has taken ranks in place of Capriles, losing candidate to Maduro. Lopez has recently been arrested for
inciting the protests in violence and disrupting the community. Lopez is also a person who was educated in elite college in the US and comes from a elite upper class group in Venezuela. At the same time, the group who has not joined the
protests are the poor, the majority of people from communities of middle/lower class have supported the government and in effect not joined the protest.
Yet, what you’re probably hearing from other media outlets, including even left publications like MotherJones, who I usually agree with, put forward false information that has been debunked by other reporters who have been to Venezuela. George Ciccariello-Maher for the Nation and DemocracyNow, Roberto Lovato for New American Media, and
Michael Albert of Z-magazine provide a sobering analytic perspective of what is going on on the ground of Venezuela. I recommend people who are interested in understanding this event to check out those reporters.
In the end, it seems quite apparent that the protesters want to overthrow the current government as they call for Maduro’s exit. This puts forth the question, is it fair for a minority group of protesters to overthrow a democratically
elected government? I would say no, but this also gets into a deeper question on how the government should react and how can they defuse the situation without forgoing the progress they’ve made? At the same time, they do have to
accommodate the public as a whole and they do need to tackle these issues that are impacting the countries economy that otherwise not attended will give more weigh into the protesters in overthrowing the current government.
The most recent news since April has revealed that outside countries have helped the protesters and government to come together in order to find some common ground. This is good news, but as Michael Albert writes, “The issues is
having the poor and working people bear the burdens (as in the US response to its own crises), or having the share of social product that goes to those with lower income rise, and the share goes to the rich fall, as would occur in any
morally worthy country.
For more information on Venezuela check out:
-George Ciccariello-Maher’s two articles in the Nation, his book We Created Chavez, and his interview on DemocracyNow and Citizenradio
-Roberto Lovato’s interview on DemocracyNow and articles in the Nation
-Michael Albert’s work at Z-magazine
-Greg Grandin’s articles on Chavez and Venezuela in the Nation
-Seumas Milne articles and interview with current President Maduro in the Guardian