sábado, 7 de febrero de 2009
Chávez in The Guardian Weekly
The current printed edition of The Guardian Weekly has another article about Chávez. It's not a good one. The story is misinformed and misleads the readers. The main idea is that, although he has 10 years in office, and he's seeking for at least another ten or twenty, he must be doing something well. “ 'He's obviously doing something right', said Steve Ellner (...)”. In the core of the article the reader doesn't know if the reporter is quoting a government document or if he's giving an account of stated and generally accepted facts. It went like this: “Today 30% of the population is classified as poor, compared with 50% in 1998. Extreme poverty is said to have tumbled from 42% to 9.5%. Inequality narrowed and Venezuela rose up the UN's development index. Social programs known as “missions” widened access to health and education and reduced illiteracy. The economy ballooned by 526%, unemployment was halved to 6% and Venezuela instituted Latin America's highest minimum wage, $372 a month.”
Those supposed statistical facts are not true. Above I reproduce some words I pronounced last year in a cine forum about human rights that was exhibited along several New Zealand cities. The movie, a kiwi production directed by Julia Capon and Ricardo Restrepo, basically portrayed Mr. Chávez and his “revolution” in a very kind way, and is called “Now the people have awoken”.
I was born in Venezuela and was living there between 1999 and 2007, roughly the time span of Chavez presidency. I would like to begin saying that I didn’t just see the movie, (like many of you just did): I was inside it. And from the inside, I didn’t see what was shown here. What I did actually see, and I can testify from first hand experience, is that the most basic human rights are being smashed by Mr. Chavez and his followers:
1. The right to live.
Mr. Chavez ordered, in the coup he attempted in 1992, that the troops seizing the TV channels should shoot everyone they met, in order to be absolutely sure of commanding those strategic places. His order was strictly followed by one of his captains (now he is a minister) and in the State TV Channel eight TV technicians were murdered. They were unarmed and they didn’t resist the military orders. That first episode just setted the tone for things to come.
The 11th of April of 2002, Mr. Chavez, afraid of being overthrown, ordered the army to confront a street demonstration of nearly one million people. The tanks left headquarters and the military shot the demonstrators. I was there half an hour before and they were common guys just like you and me. 21 people were killed that day. You can see those images in Youtube. Later, as he always does, Mr. Chavez blamed the opposition and the United States for these murders. (Recently he has been blaming the United States of forging documents accusing him of supporting and financing Colombian FARC. Let’s wait a little bit, until international pressure builds up. Then, as usual, he will acknowledge for this and much more).
2.The right to work.
There are lists in Venezuela describing the political preferences, the actual votes, of each and every citizen. That’s not a secret. Theses lists even have names like “The Tascon list” or “Maisanta list”, and their existence, after overwhelming evidence, was acknowledged by Chavez himself. I was lucky for I worked for a private company. Because people who worked for the government or for one of their huge companies, were fired. Several friends of mine, software and oil engineers, were fired. Thousands of oil technicians live abroad, because they were fired, by Chavez himself, during a TV show, and they couldn’t find work anywhere because their names were in these lists.
3.The right to speech.
Chavez enforced a law of media “contents”. There is a special decree that gives him the power to write down new laws and each and every member of parliament supports him. This law enables him, for instance, to forbid things like The Simpsons. The main social media in Venezuela, the older and most seen of all, was a TV channel named RCTV. It was shut down because its journalists insisted on defending peolple´s right to truthful and timely information. The government officials argue that the State was the owner of the air over the country, the space where the TV waves were broadcasted, and the government simply decided to not renew the permits to use the air!
4.The right of property.
The government establishes, by decree, the price of everything, from milk and poultry to medical fees. Companies are forced to sell at these prices, even if they have to sell at a price below their costs. Supermarkets, for example, have to show that they have placed their orders in their suppliers, even if they lost money selling these products. Otherwise they can be accused of plotting against the revolution and all their properties, including land an general ownership, can be confiscated. I worked for a supermarket company and this company (as all others) were threatened, and several of their stores were shut down, almost every week.
People en Venezuela can’t freely decide where in the world they wish to live, because Chavez’s government doesn’t sell international currency to common citizens. Each person is allowed to spend 3000 dollars a year when and if they travel abroad. If you were to live in Venezuela, you would not be able to have an “overseas experience”, as you call it, unless you were willing to leave the country with nothing more than your clothes.
The right to live, the right to work, the right to speech, and the right of property, are the most basic human rights. The movie we just saw simply ignores them and focuses on defending an abstract left wing point of view. We normally associate human rights with people whose freedom is menaced by authoritarian governments. We are not used to see the human rights flag being used to defend governments or regimes. But, sadly, this is a very common viewpoint embraced by sensible people who, living far away from Latin America, try to figure out what’s happening there. This is what is commonly believed about Venezuela, by an intellectual and fashionable left wing:
1.Venezuela has been ruled in the past by an outnumbered elite, of wealthy white racists –the oligarchs- who, by criminal means, stole the country oil richness and left the majority of its people living in misery. That’s not true and I am going to explain it.
2. Outside Venezuela, some people like to believe that this inequality situation ended the day Chavez arrived to power, elected by these poor masses. It is not true that he was elected exclusively by the poor, and it is not true that poor people now are better off than they were before.
3. Some people apparently believe that Chavez remains in power at a great cost, because he has to face a criminal opposition, from the inside, and the American Empire from the outside who tried to overthrown him in 2002. That’s false.
1.In first place, let’s examine the Oligarchs theory. I oppose Chavez’s regime and yet I’m not an oligarch. I don’t have and never had had land or big properties, in Venezuela or anywhere else. We belong, my wife and I, to the working class, and we are not rich by any possible account. Chavez’s opponents are people like us, millions of people like us. We opposed Chavez politics but we were never “plotting” as Mr. Buchanan says in this movie. We never received money for that, as Mrs. Eva Gollinger says in this film. We certainly are not agents from the United States. And surely enough we never wanted to kill Mr. Chavez.
2. According to this film, Chavez changed all that and now, in Venezuela, people live better than before. That’s not true. When Chavez first gained power a Venezuelan president had four years to fulfil his electoral promises. Chavez has been in office for ten years and poverty remains practically by the former levels. The movie tells us that poverty was reduced by half but this is completely false. What happened was that economic freedoms were suspended, and nowadays the government is the only one entitled to have international currency. The government decides what the price of the dollar is, who is authorized to buy it, how much can be bought and when. If anyone in Venezuela decided to make a movie about New Zealand they would have to ask the government to sell them some dollars. They couldn’t just go to a bank like you can here. Of course, unless the government had some interest in the movie, they would not give them a cent, and so they would have to buy the dollars in the so called black market. It is illegal, by Chavez’s laws, to have, buy or sell international currency. So, the government doesn’t want to know what is the dollar price in the parallel market where currency is actually available. That’s why all the statistical data about Venezuela’s economy is calculated by an artificial currency rate. It is as if the New Zealand government decided that one NZ dollar was equivalent to three American dollars. In a matter of seconds New Zealand would be one of the richest countries in the world. When you try to estimate Venezuela’s poverty levels in the traditional way economists do it, you would reach the conclusion that poverty was cut by half. But if you measure poverty, for instance, by number of calories people consume, or any other non currency indicator, you will discover that poverty remains about the same if not worst.
3. Chavez is struggling with a criminal opposition that already delivered a coup. Not true.
People in Venezuela are against Chávez because they don’t understand why, for instance, London transportation system is being subsidized with Venezuelan money, whilst Caracas has one of the most chaotic transportation systems of the world. Or why their president is supporting, by all class of means, a terrorist organization that has killed hundreds of people in neighbour Colombia. They protest because they cant find basic products to buy like milk or meat. Very soon Mr. Chávez figured out that the best way to cope with the criticism was accusing people of plotting against him because he was a revolutionary leader. In his first three years in power, mainly due to an absolute lack of knowledge and experience, Chávez was unable to rule. He, and the people he chose had not the slightest idea about governing. When people began criticising he started to concentrate more an more power on his hands and began nurturing a discourse of hate and divisionism, intending to separate rich from poor, revolutionary and opponents, whites and not so whites, nationalist and American agents. That ample social base that acclaimed him by 1998 was gone by 2002. Millions of people decided to express their discontent with street rallies and demonstrations. Celia and I were two of them, two among millions who were protesting in the streets in order to be heard by the government and the international opinion. We participated in a half dozen rallies that were asking for Chávez’s resignation. The 11th of April 2002, in the middle of a general national strike, almost a million people were protesting in the streets. To prevent them to arrive near his offices Chávez ordered the army lo leave their headquarters and to disperse the multitudes with war tanks. 21 people died that day in the streets of Caracas. But an overwhelming number of military officers, including lots of generals, refused to carry out that order. They were supposed to be Mr. Chávez’s subordinates, but after some meetings, they decided to ask him for his resignation. Chávez renounced by the dawn of April the 12th and his defence minister announced his resignation to the country in a formal speech delivered by television. Nothing was planned beforehand and, due to so many opinions and contradictions, the “chavistas” leaders found enough time to rejoin their forces and occupy the centre of the city. Basically this was the famous coup de CIA supposedly plotted against him: he just resigned because his generals asked him to.
We were two of near a million people who were protesting in the streets of Caracas on the 11th of April, claiming for Chávez’s resignation. We believed, and still do, that he was not trying to help Venezuelans but that is was only trying to perpetuate himself in power. We still believe in this, and if we had to rally again, now, we would. That is the reason why we came here today. To give voice to all those millions of people in Venezuela whose voices were not recorded in this movie.