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Editorial correspondence | Back to Politics | Back to the world news
TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

A lesson from Venezuela
Chavez is the USA's worst nightmare
How anti-American terrorism is born
It's all about oil
Can Chavez be to Venezuela what Fujimori was to Peru?
What Chavez represents

  • (december 2007) A lesson from Venezuela. Unlike George W Bush, who has tried to significantly alter the nature of USA society without allowing te people to express their opinion, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela granted its subjects a referendum. The people voted against it. Chavez admitted defeat. This is what we call "democracy". It is telling that Bush and countless members of his party and the Bush cheerleaders at Fox News keep referring to Chavez as a "dictator", while never using the same word for the regimes of Saudi Arabia or mainland China, that obviously deserve it. Bush has never once asked for the dictator of mainland China or the dictator of Saudi Arabia to step down, has he?
    The other lesson from Venezuela's referendum is that the democratic institutions of Venezuela are resilient. Let us hope that USA institutions prove to be as resilient under the relentless attacks of the corrupt Bush administration and the unelected Supreme Court. In conceding defeat, Hugo Chavez declared "the winner is the one who wins the most votes". Someone should make a huge poster and post it on the White House.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2007 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (september 2007) Chavez is the USA's worst nightmare. Some anti-USA demagogues may be popular for a while, but usually they end up alienating the very audience they target, and they become assets for the USA, the best USA propaganda one can hope for. For example, Ahmadinejad has caused so much economic damage to Iran that he has probably greatly improved the image of his enemies (i.e., the USA) in Iran.
    Chavez, though, might be the real thing. Right-wing commentators (who know very little about the meaning of the word "democracy" to start with) often call Chavez "dictator", displaying both a crass ignorance of the facts and their level of political correctedness (basically, their shows are mainly about calling political enemies names). The truth is that every poll has shown that Chavez still enjoys one of the highest approval ratings of any leader in the Americas, and almost twice higher than Bush's approval rating (and this really hurts). Chavez's approval ratings outside his own country are also consistently higher than Bush's approval ratings outside the USA, at least in Latin America. When right-waing commentators in the USA simply call Chavez dictator, they fail to see what makes him so popular, both in his own country and around the continent. What makes him popular is precisely what makes the USA unpopular.
    The USA has done precious little to fight poverty in Latin America. In fact, USA corporations have frequently been accused to be the very cause of poverty in some regions. The USA is also widely held responsible for civil wars that lasted throughout the Cold War and took a colossal toll on the fragile economies of countries such as Guatemala and Nicaragua. Last but not least, the USA is held responsible for countless ruthless dictators who caused great damage to their countries. More recently, the USA has been blamed for the excesses of the International Monetary Fund, that seems to be more interested in making poor countries pay high interest rates on loans than on helping poor countries get rich. The IMF de facto forced poor countries to sell off their natural resources to USA corporations in order to come up with the money needed to pay their debt, thus making them poorer and poorer at every vicious cycle.
    Chavez shares none of these attributes. To start with (despite the name-calling of USA right-wing commentators), his allies in Latin America are all democratically-elected presidents. They all want landslides when the people were finally allowed to vote, after decades of USA-supported dictatorships. Second, he does not "steal" the natural resources of other countries, as very few Venezuelan companies operate abroad. In fact, he sells some of his own natural resources (oil) at friendly prices to his neighbors. Chavez has bought some of the debt that these countries were not able to pay, basically taking the place of the IMF without the arrogance of the IMF. Contrary to the USA, Chavez is not supporting any of the civil wars in the world. Venezuela does not sell weapons to totalitarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia.
    Chavez has invested heavily in social programs in Venezuale, giving the poor a large share of the national oil revenues, something that no other regime of the continent had done. Chavez's policies have restored dignity to poor Latin American countries and have given hope to the poor of Venezuela.
    No wonder that Chavez is more popular than Bush.
    The more the USA attacks Chavez the more resentment it will generate in Latin America. The right way to "fight" Chavez is to do more than Chavez does for the poor of Latin America. So far it is Chavez who has done more.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2007 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (october 2005) How anti-American terrorism is born. The West and the USA in particular is still underestimating how important the pan-Arab satellite news channel Al-Jazeera has been in creating, promoting and supporting Islamic terrorism. It was Al-Jazeera (not USA foreign policies) that created a strong anti-American sentiment throughout the Arab world. It was Al Jazeera that justified the suicide bombers of the second Intifada and popularized the notion that a suicide bomber is a hero. It was Al Jazeera that hailed the Taliban as victims of an international conspiracy. It was Al Jazeera that spread the rumours about the Jews (not the Arabs) being responsible for September 11. It was Al Jazeera that spread the rumour that Osama bin Laden was innocent (e.g., that the video in which he talks about the attacks is a forge). It was Al Jazeera that kept referring to the Israelis and then to the USA in Iraq as "occupying forces", thus implying that anyone fighting them is a good person. It is Al Jazeera that defends all Arab regimes, depicting them as basically perfect (see The Islamic world is perfect: the Muslim double standard, part 2), while accusing the USA and all other Western countries of being undemocratic and full of problems. A small event like the creation of Al Jazeera (in 1996) may have been responsible for the biggest problem that the West is facing in 2005.
    Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected president of Venezuela, is using some of the money that his country is making thanks to the oil boom (Venezuela being the Americas' biggest oil producer) to fund a new tv station, Telesur, that has a strong anti-American stance, very reminiscent of Al Jazeera. Basically, Telesur bombards the Latin American public with conspiracy theories and accusations that the USA is responsible for all evils in the region, while absolving all the Latin American regime (and, of course, depicting Venezuela as virtually perfect).
    The similarities do not end here. Arab terrorists benefited from funders who had made money from the oil boom. So is Chavez. He is already suspected of helping Colombia guerrilla fight their war against the government of Colombia, and there are rumours that Chavez may be behind the unrest in Bolivia. Chavez is the only man openly supporting the regime of Fidel Castro, a regime that could fall any time without foreign intervention: Chavez is trying to keep Castro's regime alive. Thus Chavez is behind just like some of the Arab sheiks who funded Islamic fighters all over the Middle East, except that Chavez (the oil sheik of the Americas) is doing it in Latin America.
    Al Jazeera and the Arab funders of the jihad found a willing audience in the masses of unemployed young people, especially in Saudi Arabia. Venezuela's unemployment is 11%, and the rest of Latin America does even worse: plenty of potential
    While it is unlikely that a region that is fundamentally Catholic could replicate the terrorist methods of the Islamic lands, it is not unlikely that massive anti-American propaganda, unemployment and money could lead to some kind of anti-American terrorism on a large scale.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (February 2003) It's all about oil. Noone was killed in Venezuela in months of strikes and marches aimed at forcing president Chavez to resign. The whole world was watching, and public opinion from Europe to Argentina was split between pro and anti-Chavez. On the other hand, 27 people have been killed in Bolivia in similar protests demanding the resignations of president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, and hardly anyone has noticed. Chavez was elected president by the majority of Venezuelans in a fair election. Lozada was appointed president by the Bolivian Parliament after elections failed to yield a winner. Evo Morales, the Bolivian left-wing leader who defends the rights of the coca farmers and is opposed to the "war on drugs" (coca being the only source of revenues for poor farmers), is at least clean of all the scandals and corruption that haunt the opposition in Venezuela. And, yet, unrest in Venezuela worries the rest of the world more than unrest in Bolivia. The difference? Bolivia does not have oil, only poor people.
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  • (November 2002) What Chavez represents is frustration. When Chavez (a man who once tried to overthrow the democratically elected government with a coup) was elected president by the majority of Venezuelans, there was a general sense that he was a "lesser evil" (less catastrophic than the corrupt and incompetent ruling class of the past) and possibly the solution to Venezuela's problems. After all, like it or not, Chile became the poster country of Latin America during the years of Pinochet, and Peru turned from a starving country to an economic miracle during the years of Fujimori. Both greatly limited freedom, but also reined in corruption and anarchy. Latin American economies (rich in resources and cheap labor) do not need much to boom: they need a bit of order and accountability. Alas, historically those are precisely the two features that have eluded Latin American countries. Chavez, like Pinochet and Fujimori before him, was not a saint, but was in a position (outside the political establishment) to bring order and accountability to Venezuela. How could the old political class waste the great advantage that Venezuela has over the rest of the Americas? Venezuela is the fifth oil producer in the world, Venezuela has the strongest democratic traditions south of the USA (Chavez's attempted coup was the exception, not the rule), and Venezuela used to boast the second best infrastructure after Chile. How could Venezuela have wasted such an opportunity?
    Chavez was elected because the average Venezuelan is as appalled as the rest of the world. As the country went from incredulity to dismay to desperation, popoular support for a "strong man" kept growing. Chavez seized the moment.
    Chavez represents the frustration of Venezuelans, but, alas, he was not learned from Pinochet and Fujimori, and he himself has ended up wasting the opportunity. Instead of embracing much needed reforms of the kind that Pinochet and Fujimori brought to their countries, Chavez has set the clock back, and returned Venezuela to a semi-socialist model of the kind that has failed in the Soviet Union and has reduced Cuba to starvation. Needless to say, it was a matter of time before Venezuelans felt that this was even worse than corruption and incompetence: it was suicide.
    Venezuelans are now helpless. If they remove Chavez, they will be robbed again by the same class of thieves that Chavez removed from power. If they keep Chavez, they will soon be starving like Fidel Castro's subjects.
    In the meantime, Venezuela has split in two camps. The people of Venezuela have never been so polarized. The poor, uneducated masses still praise Chavez, because he was given them a few bones to chew (never mind that those "bones" have cost poor people a huge price in higher cost of living). The middle class is totally fed up. They feel paralyzed by this government. Chavez would probably lose an election in just about every major city.
    The dilemma is not only Venezuela's. The new populist leaders of South America (Chavez in Venezuela, Lula in Brazil, Toledo in Peru) represent a general trend: reacting against corruption, the masses use their newly acquired democratic rights to elect populist, socialist candidates that promise to fight corruption.
    The quandary of Latin America is that the old generation of corrupt leaders is the one that imported the US model of liberal capitalism, the model that gave the masses 1. economic development and 2. the right to vote. Despite all the social injustice and the wealth gap, there is no question that countries like Venezuela, Peru and Brazil are a lot wealthier today than they have been in generations, and that their people enjoy more freedom than ever. In fact, the old guard of politicians was removed without any need for bloody coups or revolutions. The new leaders have been elected against the will of the rich, of the army and of the USA. This was unheard of until a few years ago.
    The new leaders, on the other hand, represent a return to economic models that have largely failed. Chavez is close to recreating the widespread poverty of Cuba. Toledo in Peru is tempted to bring back the socialist ideas of Alan Garcia that caused mass starvation. And Lula in Brazil so far has only scared investors away. They are more honest than their predecessors, but do not seem to be more competent in running the country.
    The people are left with a dreadful choice: bring back the old thieves, or keep in power politicians inspired by models that have failed everywhere in the world.
    Pinochet and the first Fujimori government ruled with little or no corruption and created real wealth for the middle class. They hired competent economists to run the country rather than use demagogy. Those models, however, relied on a totalitarian regime. It is sad that no Latin American leader seems to be capable of replicating the Pinochet-Fujimori model in a democratic (non totalitarian) environment. The risk is that all these countries will go back to economic disaster, followed by military dictatorship, thus re-enacting a loop that is beginning to look like a curse.

    1819: Simon Bolivar leads Gran Colombia to independence
    1829: Venezuela separates from Gran Colombia
    1870: Guzman Blanco restores order in Venezuela
    1908: Juan Vincente Gomez seizes the power
    1935: end of the Gomez dictatorship
    1948: Marcos Perez Jimenez seizes the power
    1958: dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez is forced into exile and Romulo Betancourt is elected president in a democratic election
    1963: Raul Leoni is elected president
    1968: Rafael Caldera is elected president with 29% of the votes
    1974: Carlos Andres Perez is elected president
    1979: Weak presidents cause the collapse of the Venezuelan economy
    1989: Carlos Andres Perez is elected president and enacts an austerity program to repay the international debt
    1992: Hugh Chavez tries to overthrow Perez
    1993: president Perez, accused of corruption, is ousted by senate
    1993: Rafael Caldera is elected president
    1998: the traditional parties collapse and Hugo Chavez is elected president
    1999: Venezuela changes its constitution
    2000: Chavez is reelected under the new constitution
    2002: Millions demonstrate against Chavez' economic policies
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  • (October 1999) Can Chavez be to Venezuela what Fujimori was to Peru? Hugo Chavez, the army colonel who led a failed coup in 1992 and was elected in a landslide in 1998, is following Fujimori's strategy for healing Venezuela's chronic political malaise: stripping parliament of all powers. Corruption is so widespread that one body of the government would help the other one. The only way out is to take away their power. Chavez has a 75% approval rating, which closely mirrors Fujimori's fortunes after he did the same thing in Peru. Right now Chavez can obtain practically anything from the people and he is planning to have the new constitution approved by referendum. While it is clear that the population is fed up with the political system, it is not clear yet what Chavez will do to restore order once he has removed that political system. So far the similarities with Fujimori are obvious. But in one respect the two differ, and considerably: Fujimori was a right-wing civilian, determined to protect the rights of businessmen against the demagogy of corrupted politicians; Chavez is a left-wing military man, determined to protect the rights of the people against the power of the corporations that exploit them. Chavez is a friend of Fidel Castro. His rhetoric rings bells familiar to the leftist revolutionaries of South America, to the Sandinistas, to Salvator Allende's political heirs.

    (April 2002: Following widespread riots, Chavez was forced to resign by the army).
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