When I was just in college, I worked for a conservative small business owner. He knew I was liberal, even if I didn’t talk about it. So one day he told me that he understood that our standard of living depended upon the exploitation of people in poorer nations but that he was fine with it. I simply acknowledged what he had said while thinking, “What a dick!” For one thing, it isn’t really true. The standard of living of the super rich is depended upon such exploitation, but I believe that fair and open markets would be best for almost everyone. What’s more, that kind of wise-sounding cynical talk is just a way of not engaging with an issue.
Still, I wish that this kind of candor were more evident in our country. All my life, I’ve heard governmental representative and the media denounce different governments around the world for their undemocratic and authoritarian ways. I used to believe them. But it doesn’t take long to understand what’s really going on. The first thing I noticed was that we had a hell of a lot of friends who were authoritarians. And then I noticed that a lot of our enemies weren’t all that bad. And then I noticed that a lot of our enemies really were democracies. When our government complains that Venezuela isn’t free, what they mean is that Venezuelan oil resources are not free to the oil companies.
Over the years, I’ve found myself in the uncomfortable position of defending Hugo Chavez. What you need to understand is that I would probably have blasted him if I had lived in Venezuela—at least the same way I blast Obama when he’s wrong. But in the United States, there was almost nothing but negative coverage of Chavez. And he was far from a pernicious actor in Venezuela. On balance, I’d have to say that he was quite good for the country. People who complain about him cherry pick information. And although there are plenty of pickings—Chavez was no angel—such attacks are grounded in the fact that American corporate interests were not best served by this democratically elected leader.
On Friday, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Mark Weisbrot reported on a new International Crisis Group (ICG) report, Venezuela: A House Divided. In general, the ICG is not a bad group. But it is mostly funded by the United States and there are just some issues on which it is not objective. As Weisbrot pointed out, most of the report “reads like a statement from the Venezuelan political opposition, rather than a neutral third-party observer.”
The 14 April 2013 election put Chavez’s former vice president, Nicolas Maduro in power. Pretty much everyone outside of the United States thinks it was a free and fair election. On the day of election, an audit was run on 53% of all voting machines. The machines were compared to the paper ballots they provide. And it was found that Maduro won the election to within a doubt of one in 25 quadrillion. Since that time, the opposition has been demanding that another audit be done. They agreed with the government to audit an additional 30% of the ballots. But then they changed their minds and demanded that all 47% be audited. These are clearly the actions of a group that knows it didn’t win the election and just wants to cause problems.
But the ICG report just mimics the complaints of the opposition. Weisbrot noted, “But the most ugly and pernicious thing is the report’s insistence that ‘the validity of the election result [in Venezuela] needs to be clarified’ and that a ‘full and transparent audit result’ is necessary, or else the government’s ‘rule will increasingly come to be seen by many as an imposition, with unpredictable, possibly violent consequences.” He rightly notes that this is an apologia for future violence. Remember, this is in a country where the military and business leaders staged a coup d’etat in 2002 against Chavez. A prominent businessman was put in power. But hundreds of thousands of protesters surrounded the presidential palace and eventually Chavez was returned to power. So the ICG report claiming that displeasure by the opposition could lead to violent consequences is very bad indeed.
Of course, there has been next to no coverage of the ICG report. But that isn’t how these things work. Instead, after a coup attempt, US papers will be flooded with reports about how “according to the International Crisis Group” this was bound to happen because of Venezuela’s “questionable” election. No mention will be made of an election audit that is far better than anything we ever do in the United States. Nor will there be mention that Venezuela’s elections are more free and fair than our own. Because none of that matters to the power elite in this country. All that matters is that Shell and BP (who contribute to the ICG) are not getting their drilling rights like they want.