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The New Yorker’s Latest Journalistic Fail on Venezuela


William Finnegan’s New Yorker article about Venezuela states

 “He [Hugo Chavez] soon rewrote the constitution, concentrating power in the executive.”

A constituent assembly was elected by the public. The constituent assembly – not Hugo Chavez – drafted a constitution that was then approved in a referendum. Finnegan’s gross distortion of the process that created Venezuela’s constitution is very common in the corporate media.

“During an oil-price boom that began in 2004, the distribution of state largesse to key constituencies went into overdrive”

The “oil-price boom” began several years earlier, in 1999. Venezuelans were not allowed to benefit from it thanks to the 2002 coup and the opposition led shutdown (including sabotage) of the state oil company.  Real GDP per capita contracted by about 20% by 2003 and – unlike Venezuela’s current recession – deliberate sabotage of the economy by government opponents was undeniably the primary, in fact the only, culprit.

“Ramos Allup was calm, worldly, almost professorial… Not a soldier, not a raving messiah in a red beret, but a mensch in a baggy business suit who knew how to run a government. In truth, Ramos Allup can be fierce, and he has a long history to live down—his political enemies might not all agree that he’s a mensch—but the crowd that night adored him.”

Henry Ramos is a bigot who complained – during a nationally delivered address that was broadcast on all TV networks – that portraits of Bolivar were removed from the National Assembly because they made Bolivar look like he was of mixed race. In August, during a rally, he openly lamented the failure of the 2002 coup which, he said, had “pulled down Chavez’s pants and showed he was castrated”.

Last year, the assassination of a the local secretary general of Ramos’s political party generated a great deal of outrage in the international  media until evidence mounted that the victim was deeply linked to organized crime and that his murder had nothing to do with politics.

How fitting that a U.S. journalist in the impending Trump era failed to notice, or perhaps care, about any of this.

“He [Hugo Chavez] even took to TV to order the jailing of a judge who had released a hated enemy”

Chavez remarked on her case after she had been arrested.

During Chavez’s years in office, hundreds of his supporters in rural areas were gunned down by paid assassins in crimes that strongly implicated wealthy landowners who were vehemently opposed to the government’s land reform initiatives. A tactic used to evade justice is to use connections with local police and judges to drag the investigative and judicial processes out for years.  In other words, a look beyond a high profile case the corporate media considered emblematic reveals that the judiciary was far from being under Chavez’s thumb.

“Impunity, he said, made it difficult to fight crime even on the local level. In the first seven months of the year, he said, his municipal police had arrested a hundred and eleven suspects. Eighty-eight of them had been released without charges by corrupt judges. ‘The government knows it’s probably going to need those gangs to maintain power.’”

A judge going to jail proves the government tramples judicial independence. Impunity for corrupt judges proves the government wants to keep violent criminals on the street.

“Venezuela has, by various measures, the world’s highest violent-crime rate….Today, researchers estimate that the annual number of homicides is as high as ninety per hundred thousand people. The government says it is only fifty-eight per hundred thousand.”

Anti-government researchers cited at the Caracas Chronicles blog estimate a homicide rate of between 62-75 per hundred thousand for 2015. The most recent UN statistics available place Venezuela third behind El Salvador and Honduras. Insecurity worsened drastically in Honduras after a military coup in 2009 that was enabled by the Obama administration .

“It’s a mass emigration: perhaps two million already gone, many of them young. They go to Spain, Colombia, Panama, the United States, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Chile, Mexico—wherever their passports will take them.”

Finnegan provides no clear time period in which this “mass emigration” supposedly took place, but 2 million corresponds closely to what Tomas Paez, a Venezuelan academic who publicly welcomed the Carmona dictatorship, has estimated in recent years as the number of people who have left the country to live abroad since 1999.

As I explained here, if you look at data from the UNCHR, the US government and overseas voting statistics for Venezuelans, it is obvious the figure of 2 million is extremely far-fetched. For example, when Ecuador, which has half Venezuela’s population, went through major economic meltdown in the late 1990s, it soon became one of the top ten countries of origin for undocumented immigrants in the United States, something that has never happened with Venezuela.

A reasonable estimate of the number of Venezuelans who have left the country to live abroad since 1999 would be about 400,000. Overall, net migration has usually been positive since 1999 (more people coming to live in Venezuela than leaving) mainly because of the widely ignored human rights disaster in Colombia, a close U.S. ally.

“Public health in Venezuela is, in fact, getting rapidly worse…. In January, the National Assembly declared a humanitarian emergency, and in May it passed a law allowing Venezuela to accept international aid…It’s true that the Maduro government’s cruel and obtuse denial of its people’s suffering is often ascribed to chavista pride, but it’s more than that.”

UNICEF’s latest statistics for child mortality, updated for 2015, place Venezuela fifth in Latin America, which is where it has been since 1980 when its GDP per capita was the highest of any independent country in Latin America. A fifth place ranking, though above average compared to its neighbors, is nothing to celebrate. It means that health care has long been at level that would shock people in rich countries as would the situation in almost the entire region. There is no doubt that the brutal recession has taken a toll on patients. That doesn’t make Venezuela a “humanitarian disaster” unless you are willing to apply that label to most of Latin America and the Caribbean. Presumably, “humanitarian disasters” should not be declared based on the geopolitical priorities of the U.S. government -not unless you are willing to engage in “cruel and obtuse denial” of the region’s realities.

Finnengan, who relied heavily on doctors in his article, doesn’t mention that Venezuela’s medical establishment became deeply hostile towards Hugo Chavez very soon after he first took office in 1999. One of most popular social programs of the “chavista” era was explicitly designed to bypass the hostile medical establishment through the use of Cuban doctors to treat poor people who, in previous years, would never have had access to a hospital at all. Speaking of “cruel and obtuse”, Venezuela’s medical establishment tried to use the courts to get the Cuban doctors thrown out.

The crisis has a small but crucial constituency, starting with the generals and other high government officials who are thriving financially, mainly through smuggling, graft, and import fraud. Then there are the boliburgueses, a new-money business élite riding high on government contracts, cronyism, and money laundering. A stampede of foreign do-gooders and international financial auditors into Venezuela would probably mean trouble for them.

Massive deliberate sabotage of economy was perpetrated by government opponents in 2002/3, something Finnegan did not mention. The huge fall in oil prices since late 2014, and the governments own blunders, have made it much more difficult to establish how big a factor it is in the current recession, but government opponents have clearly derived the kind political benefit they sought through sabotage in the past. Venezuela’s dysfunctional exchange rate system would not only allow government supporters to profit financially given the massive wealth  of the traditional and very anti-government elite in Venezuela.

Finnegan’s remark that a “stampede of foreign do-gooders and international financial auditors into Venezuela would probably mean trouble for them” is tacit admission that what the “humanitarian aid” advocates have in mind is applying political pressure on the government. The U.S. perpetrated coup in Haiti in 2004 was encouraged by various foreign aid groups. Humanitarian aid to any country should not be used a tool to help perpetrate coups.

 

1 comment

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