You can set your watch by it. The minute some halfway decent government in Latin America begins to reverse the order of things and give the have-nots a break from the grind of poverty and wretchedness, the usual suspects in El Norte rouse themselves from the slumber of indifference and start barking furiously about democratic norms. It happened in 1973 in Chile; we saw it again in Nicaragua in the 1980s; and here’s the same show on summer rerun in Venezuela, pending the August 15 recall referendum of President Hugo Chávez.
Chávez is the best thing that has happened to Venezuela’s poor in a very long time. His government has actually delivered on some of its promises, with improved literacy rates and more students getting school meals. Public spending has quadrupled on education and tripled on healthcare, and infant mortality has declined. The government is promoting one of the most ambitious land-reform programs seen in Latin America in decades.
Most of this has been done under conditions of economic sabotage. Oil strikes, a coup attempt and capital flight have resulted in about a 4 percent decline in GDP for the five years that Chávez has been in office. But the economy is growing at close to 12 percent this year, and with world oil prices near $40 a barrel, the government has extra billions that it’s using for social programs. So naturally the United States wants him out, just as the rich in Venezuela do. Chávez was re-elected in 2000 for a six-year term. A US-backed coup against him was badly botched in 2002.
The imperial script calls for a human rights organization to start braying about irregularities by their intended victim. And yes, here’s José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch. We last met him in this column helping to ease a $1.7 billion US aid package for Colombia’s military apparatus. This time he’s holding a press conference in Caracas, hollering about the brazen way Chávez is trying to expand membership of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, the same way FDR did, and for the same reason: that the Venezuelan court has been effectively packed the other way for decades, with judicial flunkies of the rich. I don’t recall Vivanco holding too many press conferences to protest that perennial iniquity.
The “international observers” recruited to save the rich traditionally include the Organization of American States and the Carter Center; in the case of the Venezuelan recall they have mustered dead on schedule. On behalf of the opposition, they exerted enormous pressure on the country’s independent National Electoral Council during the signature-gathering and verification process. Eventually the head of the OAS mission had to be replaced by the OAS secretary general because of his unacceptable public statements. The Carter Center’s team is headed by Jennifer McCoy, whose forthcoming book, The Unraveling of Representative Democracy in Venezuela, leans heavily against the government. One of its contributors is José Antonio Gil of the Datanalysis Polling Firm, most often cited for US media analysis. The Los Angeles Times quoted Gil on what to do: “And he can see only one way out of the political crisis surrounding President Hugo Chávez. ‘He has to be killed,’ he said, using his finger to stab the table in his office far above this capital’s filthy streets. ‘He has to be killed.'”