Chavez recent antics at the UN and especially his predilection for consorting with dictators, probably under the adage that the enemy of his enemies are his friends, have the danger to blind us to the interest of the continuous social experimentation in Venezuela. We have mentioned on these pages the emergence of an economy based on cooperatives.
In this context a recent issue of the newsletter of the Post-Autistic Economics group, with several articles on Latin America, gives some necessary counterbalance to what we may led to believe by the mainstream media. See paecon.net
Here’s a citation from Mark Weisbrot (Center for Economic and Policy Research, www.cepr.net, USA), focusing on the internal situation in the country: is it evolving in an authoritarian way?
“And it is ChÃ¡vez that has become Washingtonâ€™s main enemy, even eclipsing Cuba as the demon to be overcome. Although it is recognized that the Bush administration has mishandled Venezuela, the ChÃ¡vez government is still portrayed across most of the political spectrum, and especially in the press, as â€œanti-democratic,â€? â€œauthoritarian,â€? and a threat to the region. Part of this is a result of our peculiar electoral system, which gives 900,000 Cuban-Americans in the pivotal state of Florida disproportionate influence on our presidential race and hemispheric foreign policy. But much is simply based on ignorance and some of the worst U.S. foreign policy journalism in decades.
In fact anyone who has been to Venezuela in recent years can verify that it remains, despite the extreme political polarization and the turmoil that wracked the country until recently, one of the more open and democratic societies in the Americas. The vast majority of the media, including the largest television stations, are controlled by the opposition. It is the most anti-government media in the hemisphere, and carries on political campaigns that would not be allowed in most western democracies. Indeed, even the United States would surely bring back the Fairness Doctrine if any of our major media outlets were to become the partisan political actors that they are in Venezuela, not to mention the Venezuelan mediaâ€™s active participation in a military coup and other attempts to overthrow the government. The Venezuelan state is anything but authoritarian â€“ in fact it is more of an anarchistic state, a weak state that suffers from all the problems that plague the rest of Latin America, in terms of enforcing the rule of law. That is why the main victims of political repression in Venezuela are not opposition partisans, even those who have tried to overthrow the government, but rather the pro-government activists organizing for land reform in the countryside, who have been murdered by the landownersâ€™ hired guns. The state cannot enforce the law even against murderers, even to protect its own supporters.
No reputable human rights organization would claim that Venezuela has deteriorated in terms of democracy, human rights, or civil liberties under the ChÃ¡vez government; nor that it compares unfavorably with the rest of the region in these areas. But the Bush administration has created an image of undemocratic government in Venezuela and has managed to frame it that way for the media.”
The same author gives this general assessment of developments in the region:
“The changes that have taken place in Latin America in recent years are part of an epoch-making transformation. To borrow from the Cold War framework that still prevails in U.S. foreign policy circles: we have witnessed the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the formation of newly independent states. A region that has been dominated by the United States for more than a century has now, for the most part, broken away. Of course there are still strong commercial, political, cultural and even military ties; but as in the states of the former Soviet Union after 1990, these do not have the same economic or political implications that they had a decade or even a few years ago.
These changes seem to have been largely misunderstood â€“ and vastly underestimated â€“ across the political spectrum. They are certainly noticed. Hardly a day goes by without prominent warnings that the region â€“ or at least a good part of it â€“ is on the road to â€œpopulistâ€? ruin, or worse. On the right â€“ including the Bush administration â€“ this process is viewed through a Cold War prism, a Castro-ChÃ¡vez-Evo Morales axis that poses a strategic threat to the United States. Imagined or implied links to terrorism and the drug trade (little or no evidence is provided) are sometimes added for effect, as when the State Department cut off arms sales to Venezuela on May 15 for â€œlack of cooperationâ€? in fighting terrorism.
The liberal/center views are less bellicose, but similarly pessimistic about what is happening in the region. Foreign Affairs has run three articles since the beginning of the year warning of the dangers of Latin Americaâ€™s left-populist drift, as well as sorry state of U.S.-Latin American relations. The news reports, editorials, and op-ed pages of Americaâ€™s major newspapers mostly carry the same themes.
But from the point of view of the vast majority of the hemisphere, including people in the United States, there is actually much to be optimistic about. As French President Jacques Chirac noted during a recent visit to South America, “there is a strong movement in favor of democracy in Latin America, a movement that is growing.â€? He added that the newly elected leftist presidents cannot be cause for concern because they were elected in free democratic elections. Furthermore, there is every reason to believe that the changes of the last few years will not be reversed, and that the region will continue in the direction of further economic and political independence, diversification of trade and finance, some regional integration, and more successful macroeconomic policies. Not all of these economic policies and experiments will succeed, but most importantly it appears very possible that Latin Americaâ€™s long quarter-century of economic failure will be reversed in the foreseeable future, and that its hundreds of millions of poor people will be among the main beneficiaries.”
In the same issue, #39, we also recommend reading the general introduction:
The Future of Economic Policy Making
by Left-of-Center Governments in Latin America
Juan Carlos Moreno-Brid and Igor Paunovic