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VENEZUELA’S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION October 10, 2012

Posted by wmmbb in LATIN AMERICA.
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Hugo Chavez was returned with 54% of the vote in two-way contest, which might be seen as a fairly solid result, especially since holding power since 1998, except for an aborted coup.

Turnout for the election was high. 80% of potential votes cast their ballots, and this number included the expatriates in the United States. The Opposition seems to have been organized and competitive. Observers noted the thoroughness of the voting system. Jimmy Carter said it was the best he had observed.

Creating a fair voting system drew neither praise or recognition from the North Atlantic critics. They were more concerned to carp on the economy, and give the implicit blame to Chazev and his philosophy of government.

Robert Plummer comments for the BBC:

Since Hugo Chavez became president in 1999, income inequality in Venezuela has been gradually declining, as it has in most of the region.

The country now boasts the fairest income distribution in Latin America, as measured by the Gini coefficient index.

Brazil’s economy has grown faster than Venezuela’s
Last year, Venezuela’s Gini coefficient fell to 0.39. By way of comparison, Brazil’s was 0.52, in itself a historic low.

So every Venezuelan now has a more equal slice of the cake. The trouble is, that cake has not been getting much bigger.

“Venezuela is the fifth largest economy in Latin America, but during the last decade, it’s been the worst performer in GDP per capita growth,” says Arturo Franco of the Center for International Development at Harvard University.

As Mr Franco says, it depends on how you measure Venezuela’s progress.

If you compare life under Mr Chavez with the previous 20 years, under a now discredited two-party system widely blamed for rampant corruption, the Chavez era is preferable.

But if you look at the superior economic performance of neighbouring Brazil and Colombia during the same period, it suddenly doesn’t look so rosy.

And given that the price of a barrel of oil is now roughly 10 times what it was when Mr Chavez was first elected, his opponents say that he could and should have done more.

Brianna Lee at Council of Foreign Relations reflected on what the possible election results might have meant for US policy and for the Venezuelan economy:

The Venezuelan economy also is highly dependent on its oil sector, which comprises 95 percent of its total export revenue and 40 percent of the government’s budget revenue. Chávez has greatly expanded the purview of the state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) beyond its oil operations, using much of its revenues to provide funding and management for the country’s social programs. Critics contend that the company is rife with mismanagement and that low levels of investment into oil production operations have caused production to fall. The oil industry has also been a central part of Venezuela’s foreign policy, bolstering relationships between the country and its Latin American neighbors, as well as with countries like China and Russia. The United States is Venezuela’s biggest importer of crude oil, allowing the two countries to retain strong economic ties while diplomatic relations remain fraught.

Chávez is a vocal critic of capitalism and has openly decried U.S. economic and political and influence over Latin America. He has accused the United States of an imperialist foreign policy on several occasions, particularly over its role in the war in Iraq. As a result, Chávez has made attempts to “bring about change in the international structure, to have more of a multipolar world, and to have more power to the south, not so dominant either by the United States or by the northern countries,” says Jennifer McCoy, director of the Carter Center’s Americas Program. Chávez assumes an important leadership role among leftist countries in the region, including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. He has rejected regional bodies and agreements that he deemed too dominated by U.S. influence, including the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the Organization of American States (OAS), in favor of creating alternative regional blocs such as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) and the newly created Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

At Common Dreams they concluded that Chavez’s victory suggests that the Left is still strong in Latin America:

“Hugo Chávez’ re-election to another 6-year term shows that Venezuela, like the rest of South America, prefers governments of the left that have improved living standards and greatly reduced poverty and inequality,” said Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C.

“Chávez is often portrayed as though he were from Mars, but really the similarities between what he has done and what his neighboring left governments have done are much greater than the differences,” said Weisbrot.

Other left governments, including Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, and Bolivia have also reduced poverty and inequality and at the same time taken more control over their energy resources. Weisbrot noted that all of these governments are closely aligned and have similar goals for regional economic integration – Venezuela was recently admitted to Mercosur at the first opportunity – and all have become much more independent of the United States.

“It’s really not surprising that all of these governments get re-elected, and generally despite most of the media and the wealth and income of the country being in the hands of the opposition,” said Weisbrot. “These governments have delivered on a number of their promises.”

I suppose that one gets used to the usual slated reporting that goes on, in which the bias and worldview is unconscious, or at least supposedly consensual, as in the report that The Sydney Morning Herald chose from the William Neuman Caracas in The New York Times.

James Petras provides the most detailed account I have seen of the socio-economic voting landscape in Venezuela divided between the competing candidates for president. He concludes:

What is at stake in the October 2012 election is not only the welfare of the Venezuelan people but the future of Latin America’s integration and independence, and the prosperity of millions dependent on Venezuelan aid and solidarity.

A Chavez victory will provide a platform for rectification of a basically progressive social agenda and the continuation of an anti-imperialist foreign policy. A defeat will provide Obama or Romney with a trampoline to re-launch the reactionary neo-liberal and militarist policies of the pre-Chavez era – the infamous Clinton decade (of the 1990’s) of pillage, plunder, privatization and poverty.

So Chavez won, but let’s not forget what has happened in Honduras.

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