Chavez Wins Again, West Goes Crazy

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Ben Cohen
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From the Independent:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez promised to deepen his socialist revolution after a comfortable election victory that could extend to 20 years his polarizing leadership of the South American OPEC nation.

Tens of thousands of ecstatic supporters thronged the streets around the presidential palace overnight, pumping fists in the air after the former soldier beat opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by 9 percentage points.

The new six-year term will let Chavez consolidate his control over Venezuela's economy, possibly by extending a wave of nationalizations, and continue his support for left-wing allies in Latin America and around the world.

The reaction in the West has been entirely predictable - dismay - as the controversial Chavez held onto power. It is hard to get a balanced picture of the Chavez government given the extraordinary propaganda leveled against the former soldier and self styled 'socialist revolutionary'. Contrary to popular opinion, Chavez is not a dictator and has never rigged an election (he has now been democratically elected three times, all monitored and verified by international institutions). He has not, as many believe, nationalized all of Venezuela's industry, or taken over the private media. What he has done though is to attempt to drive a better bargain for Venezuela with US oil companies, distribute money to the poor, and set up trading agreements that help rather than hurt regular Venezuelans. The US has viewed this as being unacceptable, attempting to help overthrow the Chavez government in 2002, and doing their best to undermine him at every given opportunity.

There are many worrying elements about Chavez and his style of government - the cult of personality, the extension of Presidential terms, and inflammatory and unhelpful rhetoric against the West. The Chavez government also has a patchy human rights record, and the President has done himself no favors with his bombast and narcissism, drawing attention away from his many achievements (economic growth, and the highest literacy rates in the region to name two). But the West's overwhelmingly negative portrayal of his government are unwarranted, particularly given the atrocious human rights record of neighboring Columbia - the biggest recipient of US aid in the region - and the complete lack of media attention it is given.

There are many, many problems in Venezuela, and Hugo Chavez is not perfect by any means. But Venezuelans have chosen socialism over American style free markets again, and their choice must be respected.

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