The Spirit of Democracy in Venezuela
by Stephen Lendman
www.zmag.org, December 9, 2006
"Today we gave another lesson in
dignity to the imperialists, it is another defeat for the empire
of Mr. Danger....another defeat for the devil. We will never
be a colony of the US again....Long live the socialist revolution....Destiny
has been written....Socialism is human. Socialism is love."
This is how Hugo Chavez Frias characterized his smashing electoral
victory on December 3 when he appeared on the balcony of the Palacio
de Miraflores (the official presidential palace residence) and
addressed a huge gathering of his followers below that evening
telling them of his victory for the people and that he now has
an even stronger mandate to pursue his Bolivarian Project to do
more for them ahead than he's already accomplished so far which
He told his loyal, cheering supporters his impressive landslide
electoral victory is one more blow to George Bush, and it follows
on the others won by populist candidates in the region in the
past six weeks by Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil on October 29,
Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua on November 7, and Rafael Correa in
Equador on November 26. Chavez will serve for another six year
term that will run until December, 2012.
Earlier in the day, Hugo Chavez showed he's indeed a man of the
people by casting his own vote the same way ordinary people do.
Unlike George Bush who goes everywhere in an entourage of limousine,
helicopter, or Air Force One luxury accompanied by a phalanx of
security needed to protect him from the people he was elected
to serve, Chavez drove himself in his aging red-colored Volkswagon
to his assigned polling station accompanied by his young grandson
in the back seat, voted, and then left the same unaccompanied
way he came. That's how a man of the people does it - no bells,
whistles or extravagant trappings of power that's a hallmark of
how things are done to excess in the US calling itself a model
democracy but one only for the few with wealth and power and that
behaves like a rogue state that's only a model for despots and
In Venezuela under Hugo Chavez there's real participatory democracy
for all the people. After it played out in a fair and open electoral
process, Chavez greeted his supporters in an atmosphere of jubilant
celebration once National Electoral Council (CNE) president Lucena
Tibisay announced at 10:30 PM election night that with about 78%
of the vote tallied, Chavez received 61.4% (5,936,000 votes) to
right wing opposition candidate Manuel Rosales 38% (3,715,000
The early figures were then updated showing Chavez increased his
advantage to 62.89% (7,161,637 votes), handily defeating Rosales
by about 26 points (at 36.85%) - an impressive nearly two to one
thrashing. It was also announced that voter turnout was about
75% or the highest percentage in Venezuela's history making this
election an historic event and a clear mandate for Hugo Chavez.
Once the first results were announced on election night, it was
clear to Mr. Rosales he'd lost and he was forced to concede defeat.
He added, however, he would continue opposing the policies of
the Chavez government "struggling for the people of Venezuela
(and announcing) we are beginning the struggle for the construction
of a new time for Venezuela....and I won't stop there, from today
on I will be in the streets (staying) in the struggle, in the
fight." He didn't say what he has in mind is returning the
country to its ugly past serving the interests of wealth and power
and ignoring the needs of ordinary people, all his pious rhetoric
aside. He's sure to get lots of encouragement and help from Washington
as its unbending agenda going forward is to do precisely that.
Short of an armed invasion, however, it may be harder than ever
to do that as Hugo Chavez came out ahead in all 23 of Venezuela's
states including in Rosales' home state of Zulia that went for
Chavez with a 50.57% majority, an embarrassment he also neglected
to mention in his concession statement cum bravado. A dozen other
candidates participated in the election as well, but had nothing
to brag about, getting in total less than half of one percent
of the vote total.
From the US capitol, State Department spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus
added her government's response without a touch of irony from
an administration that's already tried and failed three times
to oust Hugo Chavez: The US government recognizes the right of
the Venezuelan people "to elect the government of their choice
and the path they want for their country." US Undersecretary
of State for Latin America Thomas Shannon added: "We do not
want a relationship of confrontation (with Venezuela). We've
always looked for ways to deepen the dialogue with....President
Chavez (and we hope) he will show a greater interest."
Neither US official tried explaining that their post-election
good faith rhetoric is belied by their government's actions since
the Bush administration came to power in 2001 trying every underhanded
trick it could cook up to undermine and oust Hugo Chavez and is
still engaging in subversion. It would be quite a change in the
Bush White House if it ever practiced what it always disingenuously
preaches fooling no one, especially Hugo Chavez and his government.
The same kind of post-election forked tongue comments came from
US Ambassador William Brownfield who congratulated Venezuelans
on a smooth and peaceful election and indicated Washington's willingness
to have a less confrontational relationship with Chavez saying:
"We recognize that and we're ready, willing and eager to
explore and see if we can make progress on bilateral issues."
Hugo Chavez understands full well the kind of relationship the
ambassador means and responded to the overture: "They want
dialogue but on the condition that you accept their positions.
If the government of the United States wants dialogue, Venezuela
will always have its door open. But I doubt the US government
is sincere....we are a free country. We were once a North American
colony, and we will not be one ever again."
Chavez was being polite but firm as he knows the US is never sincere
in its dealings with other countries and is determined to remove
him from office. Also, its relations with all Global South countries
are uncompromisingly ones on an "our way or the highway"
basis. For Hugo Chavez, that's no way, and it's hard to imagine
relations between the two countries will change going forward,
at least under a Bush administration. Chavez explained further
saying: "How are we going to have good relations with a government
that has financed conspiratorial activities here?"
It's also a government establishing closer ties with the military
in Latin American countries (circumventing ruling governments
if necessary) to counter the influence and spread of populist
leftist governments like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Former US
Southern Command General Bantz Craddock explained the real sentiment
of the Bush administration toward the region when he said: "The
challenges facing Latin America and the Caribbean today are significant
to our national security. We ignore them at our peril."
He wasn't referring to the need to be more conciliatory to populist
leftist leaders like those in Venezuela, Bolivia or Ecuador (in
January) or Fidel Castro in Cuba (the US has tried and failed
many dozens or even hundreds of times to kill) who have notions
of governance much different than those in Washington.
For the moment at least, the cheering crowd outside the Miraflores
on election night had other thoughts on their mind, but like their
president demand nothing less than a relationship based on equality
and respect with their dominant northern neighbor. They gathered
in the late evening pouring rain dressed in their signature red
T-shirts and caps, waving Venezuela flags and shouting "Uh,
ah, Chavez no se va" - "Uh, ah, Chavez will not go."
It continued all night in the celebratory streets of Caracas echoing
Chavez's words repeating "Libertad (liberty) and telling
the crowd this was a victory for them, for socialism and for the
Bolivarian Revolution he now wants to advance to the next stage.
Venezuela Under Chavez - How Real Democratic Elections Are Run
The polls opened at 7AM on Sunday, December 3, but hours earlier
people were already queueing up in their eagerness to participate
in Venezuela's democratic electoral process. Most of them, as
we know, were there to support Hugo Chavez Frias as their president
and won't allow anyone else to have the job as long as he wants
it. The lines were long at many of the stations, but observers
noted voting across the country ran smoothly with only minor problems
that were no obstacle to the electoral process. About 1400 observers
were on hand to witness the day's events including 10 representatives
from the Carter Center in the US, 130 from the European Union
(EU), 60 from the Organization of American States (OAS) and 10
from the Mercosur Common Market of the South countries.
At day's end, OAS team leader Juan Enrique Fisher congratulated
Venezuelan officials for a "transparent and well-run election....We
congratulate the Venezuelan people for their spirit of citizenship,
President Chavez for his popular mandate and candidate Rosales
for his civic spirit and for fortifying democracy." He described
the voting as "massive and peaceful" and added scattered
reports of voting equipment malfunctions were minor and more attributable
to voter unfamiliarity with the machines than to irregularities.
Spanish parliamentarian Willy Meyer, one of seven members from
the European Parliament, noted the process was smooth-running
and turnout was "massive, well-arranged and happy..."
European Union leader Antonio Garcia Velasquez said Venezuelan
electoral officials gave them "complete liberty and with
all requirements so that the job (of observing) can be fulfilled
in conformity with our stipulations." The NGO Electoral Eye
noted in an afternoon statement that 99% of the voting centers
were operating "completely normally."
Voting took place using 33,000 ballot tables at 11,118 polling
stations throughout the country, and each candidate in the election
was allowed to have observers present at all of them if they wished.
All registered Venezuelans, of course, could vote including the
57,667 eligible ones located in other countries. Voting took
place on Sunday to make it as easy as possible for people to participate,
and while polling stations were scheduled to close at 4PM Caracas
time, most stayed open as long as there were people in line who
hadn't yet voted.
Venezuela's Electoral Process Prior to the Election of Hugo Chavez
Before Hugo Chavez was first elected the country's president in
December, 1998, less than half of all eligible Venezuelans were
registered to vote and thus were unable to participate in choosing
their elected officials who might help them raise their standard
of living including the great majority of impoverished people
in the country most in need of positive change. For decades previously,
two parties in the country, Democratic Action (AD) and Social
Christian Party (COPEI), dominated the political process through
a power-sharing arrangement that served the interests of Venezuela's
wealthy elite and its "sifrino" middle class ignoring
the needs and rights of the great majority of poor and effectively
disenfranchised. It finally boiled over in the streets in the
late 1980s and 1990s that led to the governing coalition bringing
Hugo Chavez to power in 1998 that changed everything - just the
way Chavez promised he's do it if elected.
Along with his political and social revolution, Chavez promised
to address the problem of electoral fraud and exclusion that had
to be overcome for any true democracy to exist. At the outset
of his first term in office, the National Assembly strengthened
earlier reforms and initiated new ones focusing on voter access
and rights, security and eliminating the kinds of fraudulent practices
that characterized Venezuelan elections in the past.
A major and successful initiative was later established in 2003
known as Mision Itentidad (Mission Identity) that aimed to implement
Article 56 of the Bolivarian Constitution stating: "All persons
have the right to be registered free of charge with the Civil
Registry Office after birth, and to obtain public documents constituting
evidence of the biological identity, in accordance with law."
The Mission constituted a combined mass citizenship and voter
registration drive that's given millions of ordinary Venezuelans
national ID cards granting them the full rights of citizenship
they never before had. It also resulted in over five million
Venezuelans being able to register and vote in elections for the
first time ever up to the middle of 2006 - including qualified
immigrants and indigenous people who never before had any rights.
In 2000, before this initiative was begun, 11 million Venezuelans
were registered to vote. By September, 2006, the number had grown
to over 16 million in a country of 27 million people.
How the Electoral Process Is Administered
The electoral process is administered by the National Electoral
Council (CNE). It's an independent body, separate from the Executive,
Legislative and Judicial branches of government or any private
corporate interests. It's comprised of 11 members of the National
Assembly and 10 representatives of civil society, none of whom
are appointed by the President.
Elections are now conducted in Venezuela using Smartmatic touchscreen
electronic voting machines with verifiable paper ballot receipts
that voters can check to assure they confirm the vote they cast
and then are saved by the CNE to have as a permanent record of
vote totals that can be used in case a recount is needed. They
also require voters to leave an electronic thumbprint to assure
no one votes more than once.
The machines work as intended leading the Carter Center to comment,
based on their observations of their use: "The automated
machines worked well and the voting results do reflect the will
of the people." Further independent studies verified the
same thing including ones carried out by vote-process experts
at the University of California Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Stanford
and elsewhere. Great care was taken in their design to eliminate
any possibility of tampering. It involves using a special technology
splitting the security codes into four parts that has been endorsed
in numerous voting security reports because it makes the machines
used in Venezuela the most advanced system in the world according
to the European Union Election Observation Mission in the country.
How Elections Are Now Run in the US
Contrast this exercise of real participatory democracy with the
way things are done in the US, especially since the fraud-laden
election bringing the Bush administration to power. A growing
number of investigations have since revealed how corrupted the
electoral process has become, especially in national elections,
where a systematic effort has been made to disenfranchise portions
of those segments of eligible voters likely to oppose Republican
candidates or selected Democrats representing elitist interests.
Many techniques are used to do it starting with the privatization
of the electoral process that gives large electronic voting machine
companies total unregulated control over it.
In the 2004 national election, more than 80% of the US vote was
cast and counted on these machines owned, programmed and operated
by three large corporations, most of which have no verifiable
paper ballot receipts making it impossible to have a recount as
any done, if needed, will only verify the first result being challenged.
The process now is secretive and unreliable run by private corporate
interests with everything to gain if candidates they support win,
and based on what's now known, that's exactly what's happened.
As long as this system prevails, the US electoral process is
fraudulent on its face making a sham of the notion of the kind
of free, fair and open elections that are a hallmark of the way
things are run under Hugo Chavez.
It's what one observer, commenting on US elections, calls the
"ultimate crime" as the very bedrock of democracy depends
on the right of the electorate to exercise its will at the polls
without it being subverted by private or other interests. Its
importance is what Tom Paine said about it at the nation's founding:
"The right of voting for representatives is the primary right
by which all other rights are protected. To take away this right
(as has happened in the US) is to reduce a man to slavery."
Subversion with electronic voting machine manipulation is only
part of the problem as investigations have also uncovered much
more revealing a systematic perversion of the democratic process.
In the 2000 and 2004 national elections in the US, millions of
votes cast were never counted that included "spoiled ballots,"
rejected absentee ballots and others lost or deliberately ignored
in the count. In addition, there's been massive voter roll purging,
for a variety of reasons, that added up to one common denominator
- eligible voters disenfranchised were likely to vote for the
"wrong" candidates so they were denied the right to
vote at all. In Venezuela under Hugo Chavez today, every eligible
voter can register and is encouraged to vote without fear their
vote cast will disappear, go to another candidate or they will
be purged from the voter roles. That's how a true democracy is
supposed to work, and in Venezuela today it does. In the US it
doesn't, and it shows in the results. It also shows in that half
or more of eligible voters here never bother showing up on election
day believing, with justification, their votes don't count.
Another major difference between the two countries is in Venezuela
the people are informed well enough to understand what the candidates
stand for, how their government serves them, and they're willing
to actively engage to keep their hard-won democratic rights and
social benefits they won't give up without a fight. In contrast,
in the US, the public is lulled into believing in an illusion
of democracy and the rights of the people guaranteed under one
that don't exist anymore, if they ever did. Because of their
apathy, they're not in the streets like the people of Venezuela,
their comrades in Mexico, who aren't as fortunate, or the anti-Bush/Olmert
masses comprising up to half the population of Lebanon in the
streets of Beirut demanding real democracy, justice and an end
to Western domination. Instead, they're home or out shopping
because they fail to understand unless they go there in large
enough numbers for the rights they don't, in fact, have, they'll
never get them.
Chavez's Goal to Build A Socialist Society in the 21st Century
Chavez first announced to the world his hope to build a socialist
society in the 21st century in Venezuela at the January 30, 2005
Fifth World Social Forum. He wants a humanistic one based on
solidarity, not the bureaucratic kind that doomed the Soviet Union
and Eastern European states where governments were top - down
with no participation of the people who ended up ill-served.
Later on, Chavez elaborated saying "We have assumed the commitment
to direct the Bolivarian Revolution towards socialism....a new
socialism....a socialism of the 21st century....based in solidarity,
fraternity, love, justice, liberty and equality" beyond the
free-market model based on exploitation of working people for
the interests of capital.
The Chavez government has pursued these goals incrementally since
it came to power in February, 1999 following Hugo Chavez's election
in December, 1998. He promised Venezuelans his vision of a Bolivarian
Revolution to free them from what 19th century liberator Simon
Bolivar called the imperial curse that always "plague(d)
Latin America with misery in the name of liberty." His Movement
for the Fifth Republic Party (MVR) got a peoples' mandate for
change at its outset to draft a new constitution that transformed
Venezuela from an oligarchy serving wealth and power alone to
a model humanist democratic state serving everyone based on solidarity
and the principles of political, economic and social justice.
He delivered in ways unimaginable in the US where essential government-delivered
services for the people are denounced as radical and denied in
a nation now dominated by a reactionary ideology and the notion
that only neoliberal market-based solutions are acceptable - even
though it's proved they don't work. Under this flawed model,
government only works for the privileged few that benefit under
its law-of-the-jungle rules that come at the expense of the great
majority losing out the way it always happens in a top-down society
run by and for them. This is the state of things today in the
US, a nation where its founding principles have been turned upside
down and is now run by and for plutocrats with values corrupted
by false notions of fairness, equity and justice.
That was how Venezuela was governed before the age of Hugo Chavez.
In the 28 years before he was first elected, the people suffered
from deprivation, neglect and indifference. Venezuelan inflation-adjusted
per capita income fell 35% in those years, the worst decline in
the region and one of the worst in the world. Chavez halted the
decline and turned it around as high oil prices and a favorable
economic climate lifted the nation's growth to the highest level
in the region following the crippling 2002-03 oil strike and destabilizing
effects of the short-lived coup deposing Hugo Chavez for two days
in April, 2002. Since that time, unemployment declined and the
crushing poverty level in the country fell from a high of around
62% in 2003 to a level near 40% today and falling.
Chavez, however, went much further by enshrining the principles
of a participatory democracy and its social revolution in the
new 1999 Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
It mandates revolutionary structural changes for political, economic
and social justice that include quality health care for all as
a "fundamental social right and....responsibility....of the
state." It bans discrimination, guarantees free expression
Chavez's fiercest critics enjoy and use to the fullest against
him without recrimination, provides for housing assistance, an
improved social security pension system for seniors, assures support
for the rights of indigenous people, and requires quality education
be made available for all to the highest level that virtually
eliminated illiteracy - compared to the stated 20% level here
in the US according to the Department of Education figures but
which, in fact, is much higher and increasing based on the best
evidence of functional illiteracy among the secondary student
populations of the nation's inner cities.
That would now be unacceptable in Venezuela where Chavez post-election
wants to take his Revolution to the next level doing more than
ever for his people. Along with all of the above, the government
additionally already provides subsidized food for those in need,
land reform, job training and micro-credit. It's a country in
which most of the productive capacity is state or privately owned,
but a great emphasis has been made to be innovative and go in
new directions, experimenting with the idea of co-management with
state-owned enterprises allowed to be jointly managed by the workers
in them. A major effort has also been made to expand the number
of cooperatives outside of state or private control, and since
Chavez was first elected the total number of them has grown from
800 to 100,000 employing 1.5 million people or 10% of the adult
population and rising.
Another of Chavez's top priorities since first taking office in
1999 has been land reform. The country has long been run by rich
oligarchs including large land-owning ones that allowed 5% of
the largest landowners to control 75% of the land and 75% of the
smallest ones to have only 6% of it. Chavez is trying to implement
land reform legislation allowing underused land owned by the latifundistas
(the large rich landowners) to be redistributed to landless campesinos
who'll put it to productive use and improve their lives in the
Chavez also wants to continue enhancing all the above-listed programs
that have improved the lives of his people including the many
innovative social Missions using the country's oil wealth to do
it. His impressive electoral victory gives him a greater mandate
than ever to advance his Bolivarian Project to the next level
and his vision of socialism or social democracy in the 21st century.
It won't be a simple task as the power of the oligarchs supported
by the Bush administration, and what may succeed it, are powerful
obstacles in the way of social advance. So far he's achieved
wonders for the past eight years in the face of great odds, but
much more needs to be done. With the power of the Venezuelan
people standing with him, not willing to give up the great gains
already gotten, Chavez is now looking ahead to advance the country's
social democracy well into the new century.
Hugo Chavez is now an empowered symbol and leader of a growing
social revolutionary populist movement slowly spreading in the
region that needs to be turned into an unstoppable juggernaut.
It represents a hopeful and promising alternative to generations
of entrenched elitism backed by military power along with oppressive
US dominance and the poisonous effects of the neoliberal Washington
Consensus model savagely exploiting the Global South for the interests
of capital in the North. It's a way to be free from the US-controlled
IMF and World Bank debt-bondage demanding in return punishing
fiscal austerity, state-owned industry privatizations, social
neglect, the loss of organized labor rights in a system of market
deregulation benefitting the privileged alone at the expense of
staggering levels of poverty, deprivation and inequality for the
majority. It's a way to build a free society of, for and by the
people unbeholden to wealth and power. It's a way to reduce poverty
and inequality and improve the lives of ordinary people in ways
never thought possible in the developing world until Hugo Chavez
had a vision and was able to implement it and begin its spread.
Chavez now has allies in Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina,
Cuba, Nicaragua, Uruguay and even Chile that still exists under
the shadow of Augusto Pinochet and his 17 year dictatorship that
crushed the strongest democracy in the region and from whose rule
the country has yet to fully recover, but hopefully has a chance
under its new more enlightened leader. They represent what author
Tariq Ali refers to in the region as an "Axis of Hope,"
and Chavez has now earned enough political capital to bring it
closer to fruition.
The momentum in Latin America is with Hugo Chavez and his allies
if they can seize it and take it to the next level. The chance
for success has never been better with the US more vulnerable
than ever and staggering from its loss of dominance in the Middle
East and the forces arrayed against it there showing they can
stand up to the most powerful nation on earth and prevail. It's
a sign America is not all-powerful, is in decline politically
and economically and choosing an independent course is an alternative
that can work if enough nations unite and do it together.
The region's most dominant nations have already shown they can
oppose Washington and prevail. Following Argentina's IMF-imposed
structurally adjusted economic meltdown at the end of the 1990s,
President Nestor Kirchner got the financial markets in 2005 to
accept his take-it-or-leave-it offer of 30 cents on the dollar
payment on the country's unrepayable sovereign debt of around
$130 billion and have to accept it in the form of long-term, low-interest
Then, events at the November, 2005 Summit of the Americas in Mar
del Playa, Argentina sounded the death knell for the US-proposed
Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) expansion of the disastrous
NAFTA model because the dominant Southern Common Market Mercosur
countries in the region of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay
and Venezuela want no part of it signaling for scholar Immanuel
Wallerstein that "The Monroe Doctrine is dead. And there
are few mourners."
And yet another blow to US-promoted globalization came with the
collapse of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha (so-called
"Development") Round talks in July, 2006 because more
developing countries now realize the US/Western-one-way trade
deals have been disastrous despite disingenuous rosy promises
of economic growth and prosperity that only delivered increased
poverty, deprivation and environmental destruction instead.
Before these agreements from hell were ever agreed to, average
per capital income growth in Latin America was 82% from 1960 to
1980 (4% per person, per year). Once the notion of globalization
took hold after 1980 based on the Washington Consensus neoliberal
model, the rate of income growth in the region through 2000 fell
to 9% (less than half of 1% per person, per year), and since 2000
it dropped to 5% - a stunning indictment of how so-called "free-trade"
US-style (that isn't "fair trade") is a formula for
economic ruin for those countries adopting it, and significant
ones like Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia and others in
Latin America want no more of it.
It remains to be seen going forward if this kind of momentum can
continue, gain strength with new allies working together for the
common self-interest of all to break free from the dominant US
chokehold by asserting their independence as Venezuela under Hugo
Chavez has shown can be done and be able to get away with it and
benefit as a result.
Further success in Venezuela and elsewhere depends on breaking
free from what South African born and now activist and distinguished
Bolivarian Venezuelan Professor of philosophy and political science
Franz Lee says must be accomplished ahead: "(Getting) rid
of all the five tentacles of capitalist imperialism: exploitation,
domination, discrimination, militarization and alienation....in
a class struggle against global fascism." In Venezuela, the
process has only just begun. Hugo Chavez has taken up the challenge
to move it ahead, but he'll need the support of other enlightened
leaders to boldly go with him where he's already gone and then
take it a lot further to achieve a peoples' victory over the forces
that have long held them down and denied them the equity and justice
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can
be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog
site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.