Toronto Star Editorial Whitewashes Chavez Opponents

This editorial calls Chavez “a democratically elected autocrat” in presumed contrast to Stephen Harper. The editors claim that Chavez “caused Venezuela’s democratic institutions to wither on his watch” and that he “mismanaged the economy”.

The Star editors make absolutely no mention of Chavez opponents’ efforts to overthrow him through brazenly undemocratic means throughout his early years in office. A US backed coup in April of 2002 briefly deposed him for two days. The coup very nearly succeeded thanks to the complicity of Venezuela’s far right private media. Among other things, the media imposed a blackout on any news of the uprisings that brought Chavez back to power.  

Chavez imposed regulations and expanded public and community media so that the media playing field was leveled in the following years. That helped prevent future coup attempts. It is worth repeating. That helped prevent future coup attempts – a huge contribution to Venezuelan democracy.

Capriles’ 44% showing in an election with 81% turnout illustrates that Chavez opponents were clearly not deprived a voice over the past several years. The Venezuelan electorate obviously believed their votes would be counted fairly – an assessment emphatically endorsed by Jimmy Carter, who called Venezuela’s electoral process the “best in the world”. Chavez did not inherit this electoral system. It resulted from a huge investment that was made to refute bogus claims of electoral fraud.

The Star’s inability to take any of this into account in assessing Chavez’s impact on Venezuelan democracy – indeed the Star’s inability to write a word of criticism for the way powerful Chavez opponents behaved while he was in office – illustrates how faithfully the international press still regurgitates the views of the Venezuelan elite who tried to abolish democracy completely.

Similar remarks apply to the Star’s claim that Chavez “mismanaged the economy”. The Chavez government (which began governing in 1999) did not get control of the state oil company until 2003. Until that time, the state oil company was, along with the private media, a major weapon in the hands of his opponents. Management led strikes (especially a very devastating oil strike) caused a massive downturn in the Venezuelan economy. After the Chavez government took control of the oil company away from entrenched opponents, Venezuela had one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America.

In 1999, when Chávez took office, unemployment was 14.5 percent; for 2011 it was 7.8 percent. Poverty dropped by nearly 50 percent since the oil strike, with extreme poverty dropping by over 70 percent. These are impressive achievements that were made despite the best efforts of very dangerous and destructive enemies to prevent them. Anyone who assesses economic performance under Chavez without taking to account the 2002 coup and the oil strike is either not honest or not minimally informed.

The way the Star editors whitewash what powerful Chavez opponents did while he was in office proves something Linda McQuaig recently wrote: “Had Hugo Chavez followed the pattern of many Third World leaders and concentrated on siphoning off his nation's wealth for personal gain, he would have attracted little attention or animosity in the West.”

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