Democracy In Venezuela
By Floyd Crosby
Having visited Venezuela with a particular interest in the political situation there, I am incensed by the increasingly strident cries by U.S. politicians that its President, Hugo Chávez, is “a dictator” and “an enemy of the U.S.” whom the U.S. should remove (just as it has removed other democratically elected leaders who did not comport with U.S. corporate interests).
While Chávez certainly has his faults as a political leader, he is not a dictator. He has been elected President four times: in 1998 with 56% of the vote; in 2000, under a new Constitution, with 60% of the vote; in a 2004 recall, following an unsuccessful three-day coup supported by the U.S. in 2002, with 59% of the votes in a 70% turnout; and in 2006 with 63% of the votes in a 74% turnout. His elections have been declared to be free and fair by international observers, including those from the Carter Center. He is supported by the majority of Venezuelans, who are poor, but vehemently opposed by the wealthy who previously ran the country for their own benefit.
Chávez is not an enemy of the U.S., but he is an avowed socialist who does not want Venezuela to be controlled by U.S. corporations, as it and other Central and South American nations often have been. In 2004 he persuaded Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, Nicaragua, and some smaller countries to join with Venezuela in the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas as an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas proposed by the U.S. and intended to be dominated by it.
In 2008 he led Venezuela and eleven other nations to form the Union of South American Nations as a counter to the Organization of American States that the U.S. has dominated. In 2009 he established with other South American countries the Bank of the South as an alternative to the International Monetary Fund that is dominated by the U.S.
These declarations of independence from the U.S. have incurred the ire of its corporatist government. Bolivia and Ecuador, and their democratically-elected presidents, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa, are also frequently called “enemies of the U.S.” because they have joined with Venezuela in defying it, and the decision of Honduras’s democratically-elected President, Manuel Zelaya, to join the Bolivarian Alliance was one of the reasons for his being removed from office in 2009 in a coup tacitly supported by the U.S. The U.S. was quick to voice its support of the right-wing replacement government that promptly withdrew Honduras from the Alliance. And Venezuela’s huge oil reserves are not irrelevant to the attitude of the U.S. government toward Chávez, any more than Iraq’s oil reserves were irrelevant to the U.S. invasion of that country.
Gabriel Hetland did his Ph.D. thesis on and has an article with that title in the January 30 issue of The Nation. He reports on the implementation there of “participatory budgeting,” in which local citizens, not local or national government officials, determine the use of available financial resources. While Hetland notes that Chávez’s revolution “is hardly free of contradiction,” he concludes that “claims about Hugo Chávez’s dictatorial ways are overblown” and that “democratic deepening–in which ordinary citizens of all political persuasions are able to participate in decision-making in ways that go far beyond voting in elections–is happening in Venezuela today.”
The closest analogy to “participatory budgeting” in the U.S. would be the now mostly gone town meetings of New England. Merely having elections does not make the U.S. a democracy.