Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Chavez's destructive legacy

To the left he was a hero, a democratically elected socialist who used the oil wealth of his country to lift the very poor out of poverty and give millions a chance, up against criticism by "vested interests" who continued to tout capitalism as the answer.

To some on the right he was a communist dictator, who seized power and was running Venezuela like Zimbabwe.
Chavez ever a friend of a despot

Well both are right.

Despite a skewed electoral system, monstrous control of the media and bullying and intimidation of the opposition, it would be churlish to deny that Hugo Chavez had many supporters.  He did get elected, and it isn't hard to see why many people, granted handouts from the state, wouldn't be grateful.  When oil prices were at their peak, he used the money to pay for medical centres, welfare benefits, creating civil service "jobs" and infrastructure in poorer neighbourhoods.  While it is easy to pour scorn on all of this as being vote buying, it really is little different from what leftwing parties do in Western democracies, except Chavez did have money flowing in from the state oil companies.  He didn't need to tax the wealthy.  In that respect, it's understandable why some would think he was relatively benign, bearing in mind that other oil rich countries either keep the money largely within a tight ruling elite (Saudi Arabia, Equatorial Guinea) or put it away into a rainy day fund to pay for pensions (Norway).

Yes he did spend the oil wealth of the country on massive welfare programmes, but he also spent it on subsidising Cuba's faltering economy, he spent it on arms and he even gave it to London, in the form of subsidised diesel for London buses, as part of a deal with then Mayor Ken Livingstone.   The moral compass of both men gets tested when money that should have been for Venezuelans is transferred to one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

His economic legacy was characterised by the most fundamental error common to almost the entire left - complete neglect of the creation of wealth and an obsession with spending it.

His social legacy is that of an authoritarian state increasingly based on obedience and deference, with violence used against those who dared oppose it.  It includes one of the highest murder and kidnapping rates in Latin America, with over 21,000 a year (an average of 75 per 100,000 people, compared to 4.8 in the USA), including 300 in the first half year in prisons alone.  It was 4450 in 1998, the year before Chavez gained power.  

How that matches with claims by the left that poverty causes murder is unclear.   The regime banned private purchases of firearms a few months ago, which of course has had no effect, which given the number of illegal firearms is estimated at between 1.6 and 4.1 million, is unsurprising.   However, if you were Venezuelan would you trust the state to protect your rights?


You see his economic policy was predicated on record oil prices, which collapsed, causing his economic legacy to collapse as well.

His regime stole land from farmers and wondered why, like in Zimbabwe, those who were given the land with little knowledge of how to use it (or indeed with little ability to realise the value of the land in a market that was destroyed by a government that takes land on a whim) were not anywhere near as productive as the previous owners.

So Venezuela's domestic food production collapsed, and the country needed to import more and more basic food items.  Venezuela's currency collapsed, as foreign investors fled and the economy became more and more based on selling oil and buying everything in that people needed.  Chavez adopted the traditional policy of despots of printing more money, and inflation took off, reaching 25-30% per annum.

Like other socialists, he tried to ban the symptoms of his mismanagement, by instituting price freezes, with the result that supermarket shelves would be emptied, and people would face Soviet style queues for rationed goods.  

So the poor might get some healthcare, if any decent doctors haven't already left.  They might get some welfare, but find that a quarter of the value of that money is destroyed by inflation and they can't get anything at the shops.  Of course anyone aspiring with any savings in Venezuelan Bolivar effectively got a quarter of it robbed every year by the government printing away like any economically naive idiot.

He took Venezuelan down to 165th out of 176 countries in corruption, according to Transparency International.  It is 117th in press freedom and ranks 142nd in judicial independence.

He has supported Bashar Assad, sending him cheap oil since the rest of the Arab world has abandoned his despotic regime.  He has supported Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Muammar Gaddafi, granting all three the title "Order of the Liberator".  Venezuela opposed all resolutions at the UN General Assembly condemning human rights abuses in Syria, Iran, Burma and north Korea.  He openly called for the UK to surrender the Falkland Islands to Argentina.  You can tell a character by the company he keeps, and his friends have two common characteristics - either they are economically illiterate (as can be seen in Argentina) or have their hands dripping in the blood of those who dare oppose them.

He was not quite the dictator some make him out to be.  Unlike Zimbabwe, Cuba and Syria, opposition parties could function and there is private media, albeit not much (and most of it online).  Yet his intimidation of the opposition, the removal of broadcasting licences from private TV and radio stations that criticised his rule, and willingness to confiscate private property without compensation showed a man who was willing to go along with liberal democracy as long as it delivered the right answer.   Nobody can be sure of what he would have done had it looked like the next election was to be lost, but the ever shrinking sphere of opposition and freedom, and his fawning adulation of real dictators indicates that Venezuelan has been on a sliding slope.  A slope that hasn't yet levelled out.

None of this will stop the sycophantic idiots and peddlers of authoritarianism in the West (from Sean Penn, a man who benefited enormously from an open capitalist society who wants to deny the same for Venezuelans, to the long list of leftwing UK MPs from George Galloway to Diane Abbott, to Marxist activists the world over) from declaring what a great hero he was.

They choose to turn a blind eye to his egregious attacks on free speech, because they really don't believe in free speech by those who oppose what they think.


I'd suggest that any journalists or interviewers talking to those who loved Chavez confront his sycophants with some simple questions, and don't let them get away with the usual response "oh that happens in other countries too" - as if it would be ok to beat your wife if your neighbour does.

The list below should give pause to anyone ready to declare how great this despot was:

  • Eliminating the Supreme Court's role in testing the validity of Presidential decrees or any laws against the Constitution.
  • Complete disregard for the rule of law whenever it goes against the regime.
  • Chavez's ability to demand the arrest and imprisonment of anyone who he disapproves of, such as a judge ( MarĂ­a Lourdes Afiuni) .
  • New laws prohibiting broadcasts and websites that "offend" officials or "foment anxiety", such as declaring that there are food shortages, declaring the economy is shrinking.   
  • Closing all but one private TV channel, creating five new state ones.  The remaining private channel's owner has faced criminal sanctions as has a commentator on the channel for offending the regime.
  • Withdrawal from the American Convention on Human Rights, following refusals to allow monitors of the convention to visit the country.
  • Expulsion of any foreigners who criticise the regime, and exclusion of any foreigners who seek to do so or are suspected of wanting to do so.
  • Any Venezuelans or Venezuelan groups that exist to “defend political rights” or “monitor the performance of public bodies” are prohibited from getting funding from any foreign source, and face being tried for treason.
  • Prohibiting political satire against the regime.
You see Hugo Chavez attempted to evade reality, and he increasingly bullied, arrested and imprisoned Venezuelans pointing out the contradictions in what he did, pointing out the failures of the regime.  For he feared that the failures would cause him to lose support, and of course it would.  So he had to conceal them, had to arrest those who pointed out he had failed, and he had to use violence to shut those up who would criticise him.

So in the next few days, look at those who dare defend this bully, and you'll see the cancer that consumed him is nothing compared to the cancer of moral relativism, of those who wouldn't dare openly support his policies in their own countries - but who happily let Venezuelans live under a regime that offers a fraction of the freedoms they themselves enjoy.  They'll be apologists of the ilk who will say "but at least Mussolini got the trains to run on time", forgetting the price that has been paid.

Wait to see how many wonder if the new conspiracies about Chavez's death might be true - and ridicule them accordingly.  Not even north Korea claims its past two leaders died through conspiracies.

Oh and would some real journalists go to Venezuela and see if they can get behind the state approved mobs of mourners and get to see if the poor really do feel better off now?  Do they have more opportunities, or are they rather fed up with empty shop shelves?  Do they feel safer, or is a country that has seen its murder rate expand five-fold, particularly threaten them?

In other words, do people in Venezuela, when they don't fear getting arrested for "insulting officials", really prefer the doling out of favours by the President, to freedom and being safe from violence from their own fellow thieving, raping and murdering citizens?

Not PC also has a good piece on the bully.

Christopher Hitchens met the nut showing him to be quite unhinged, and showing the same to Sean Penn, who is too arrogant to admit he was wrong.

oh and apparently today is also the day Stalin died, 60 years ago.  Chavez was no Stalin, but he was no friend of democracy or freedom either.

The leftwing loon "Karol" at the Standard are mourning saying "His life is to be celebrated to the ways in which he stood up to US imperialism, and neoliberalism.  I will leave it to others to decide how successful he was in achieving his left wing aims."  Robert Mugabe, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Fidel Castro will all get the same "get out of judgment jail free" pass from him, never mind the people thrown in prison, the food shortages, the murder rate.  No, he kept the red flag flying and that's enough to warrant forgiveness from the gutter left.

Idiot Savant takes a contrary principled stance and deserves a hat tip for standing up for some principles of civil society and freedom.

UPDATE:

It seems the NZ Green Party, mostly through Keith Locke, was warm towards the fellow take the following:

- Complaining about the US hypocrisy about "organising against democratically elected leaders, like Venezuala's president Hugo Chavez", giving good reason to not be allied to the US, presumably because Chavez "isn't so bad".

- Support for Chavez the Film, about the failed coup against Hugo Chavez, of course since then Chavez has adopted similar techniques to resist opposition.

- May Day 2003 calling on people to "celebrate the popular revolution and mobilisation of the people in support of Bolivarisation and Hugo Chavez"

- A speech in 2008 on food security (unclear who by), quoting Hugo Chavez, a man who ruined his country's agricultural sector and created enormous shortages in flour, sugar and other basic food items through price controls and nationalisation, "Hugo Chavez puts it even more bluntly. "The problem is not the production of food ... it is the economic, social and political model of the world. The capitalist model is in crisis.""

Do the Greens still think that capitalism is the threat to food production in the world?  What do farmers think of such an embrace of Chavez's policies that nationalised land, Mugabe style?

1 comment:

thor42 said...

Excellent column!

Even some of my workmates have been (IMO foolishly) seduced by the guy, claiming that the negative stuff about him was just "propaganda". Bullshit.

You can indeed tell a person by the company they keep, and Chavez being chummy with Assad and Ahmedinejad says all that needs to be said. His socialist policies simply ram the point home.