the other Venezuela story

This report from Mother Jones is decidedly not what you hear in the North American commercial media, and in any event with its length it's decidedly more information than we have come to expect from the media, regardless of bias. Don't expect the same old same old.

Like most Venezuelans, Escobar has plenty of reason to be dissatisfied. Since Chávez won election in 1998, even many of his staunchest supporters believe he has mismanaged the economy and picked needless fights with the opposition. Under his leadership, Venezuela has fallen into severe recession: Factories are shuttered, inflation is soaring, and credit has disappeared. The government sits atop the largest reserve of oil in the hemisphere, yet upwards of 40 percent of Venezuelans still live in poverty. But despite the widespread economic misery, what upsets Escobar most is that Venezuela's rich want Chávez out of power, now. Chávez, she says, is the only leader who has ever cared for Venezuela's poor. "The rich have always had so much, and we, nothing," she explains as thousands of marchers -- mostly of mestizo or African descent -- surge past, blowing whistles, singing, waving flags. "Now Chávez wants the rich still to have, but us too, a little."
It's not just a coincidence that the White House has taken such a special interest in President Chavez, a special interest exceeded only by its special interest in President Hussein.
But there's little doubt that after Iraq, Venezuela is the oil-rich country where the White House would most welcome "regime change."
But why does it look like Venezuelans themselves want a regime change? The American press and television tells us that the people want to oust their president, but this could hardly be the whole story even there were any sense at all in such a lazy explanation.
For three decades after the last dictator fell in 1958, the country was often held up as Latin America's model democracy. There were two powerful political parties, both with a strong base of support among the upper and middle classes, both able to rally large masses of the poor via well-honed patronage systems. It was, everyone liked to say, just like the United States.

. . .

And when the big oil dollars started flowing in the early 1970s, it was a system that organized one of the longest-running fiestas of the 20th century.

After the riots of the late eighties, triggered by an attempt by the conservative government to pass on to the poor, through an austerity program, much of the bill for the consequences of a decline in oil receipts, Venezuela went through economic and political agony for nearly a decade. he period of strife included an unsuccessful coup attempt led by (then Colonel) Chavez in 1992, for which he served two years in prison. A civilian Chavez was elected president in 1998 with a record 56 percent majority, and a new constitution followed in 1999, drafted by a popularly-elected Assembly and approved by an overwhelming vote in December of that year.
What Chávez has done, through the new constitution, is to start a process of formalizing and solidifying their political power, channeling their anger through political institutions rather than the streets. "Venezuela is a time bomb that can explode at any moment," Chávez said when the constitution was approved. "It is our task, through the power of the vote, to defuse it now." Chávez threatens Venezuela's elite because he wants to turn the mob of February 1989 into what he likes to call el soberano -- "the sovereign citizen." Which is reason enough, in a country where the poor and working class form a solid majority of the voting population, for the elite to want Chávez out.

About this Entry

Published on January 21, 2003 11:36 PM.

previous entry: Sharpton for candidate!

next entry: the wars on drugs, both wars