A balanced look at Hugo Chavez


By Ben Cohen

Any time a government refuses to obey Washington's orders, they are subjected to a lengthy campaign of negative publicity and smear tactics. Hugo Chavez is the latest victim of Washington's fury, and has been portrayed as a vicious dictator and abuser of human rights.

The truth, of course, is somewhat different. It doesn't take a genius to understand that the only reason we know Chavez's name is because of Venezuela's massive oil wealth. If Venezuela produced tomatoes, Chavez would be about as well known as Valdas Adamkus (the president of Lithuania for those of you not up on your Eastern European politics). Chavez's main crime, other than being a wildly popular leader, is that he believes Venezuela's resources should benefit Venezuelans rather than U.S corporations. Chavez has renegotiated deals with the U.S oil companies in Venezuela, bringing back much of the profit to his own people, which he has redistributed to the poorest parts of the country.

Health clinics, roads, schools and cooperatives have been a major part of the governments program, much to the annoyance of Washington who believes the money should be serving their own companies and the Venezuelan corporate elite.

There are of course, issues with Chavez's presidency as there are in
any democracy. The personality cult and moves to consolidate power are
not healthy, and the shutting down of opposition media outlet RCTV did not do his image any favours abroad. 

However, it is worth noting that power in Venezuela has been held in
corporate hands for many years, and it was a popular movement that put
it back under state control. Chavez maybe consolidating power, but he
has an explicit mandate to do so (around 60% of the population support
him). In regards to shutting down RCTV, the television station openly
supported deposing Chavez via a military coup. Let's suppose CNN
supported a military coup of the Bush Administration. They would be
closed down instantaneously and people would be in prison or executed
for treason. In comparison, Chavez looks like a bit of a soft touch.

Having been ravaged by debt and corporate capitalism for decades,
Venezuelan society has suffered immensely from massive inequality,
devastating poverty and crumbling infrastructure. U.S oil companies
have stolen much of Venezuela's resources over the years, sucking most
of the profit back to America. There was scant attention paid to the
poverty and criminal actions of previous governments, largely because
the U.S was profiting handsomely. The Chavez government is putting and
end to it, and Washington does not like it.

In 2002, the attempted coup against Chavez (with the help of the CIA)
lasted 47 hours before the people took to the streets to reinstall
their democratically elected leader. However hard the U.S government
and media try to isolate and disenfranchise the Venezuelan leader, they
will ultimately fail. Despite his reliance on personality, Chavez is
clearly part of something much, much bigger.

A graduate in Politics and International Relations from the
University of Sussex, Ben Cohen is a boxing journalist for
Secondsout.com and Boxing Monthly. He is the founding Editor of The
Daily Banter.