I don’t know why I was so shocked listening to Keith Olbermann’s insulting, degrading and uninformed remarks about President Hugo Chavez yesterday. Perhaps because Olbermann is the only man on commercial television who has so far had the guts to make a frontal attack on Bush and his coterie of war criminals. I suppose I thought his articulate and courageous stand against the Republicans, his criticism of their comrades, the spineless Democrats and other collaborators with the Bush regime, indicated a superior knowledge, analysis and understanding of politics in general. I hoped that his bold commentary indicated a suspicion of a system glued together by massive lies. Sadly, it appears that I was wrong.
On his November 20th program Keith Olbermann referred to a “news” story in which Chavez, trying to make his way to the bathroom past a reporter, reportedly said, “I have to go. Do you want me to pee on you?”
First of all, it’s a tragic commentary on the state of “news” and journalism that bodily functions become major news stories, be they sexual or excretory, especially when people like Chávez have so many more interesting features worthy of discussion, most notably, ideas. That Olbermann would stoop to the news cycle at its most base level is, itself, a disappointment. But his comment after the reference to “peeing on” someone was more so: “Maybe you should have asked that before you started doing that to your own country’s laws and citizens.”
To what is Mr. Olbermann referring when he states that Chávez is “peeing on” the laws and citizens of Venezuela? Is he referring to Chávez’s dozen or so electoral victories, all declared clean and fair by international observers (including ex-President Carter)? Is it Chávez’s stand for the dignity and independence of Latin America? Is it Chávez’s internationalism which has not only taken him to Cuba and Iran but also caused him to discount heating oil for the poor in the U.S.? Could it be the clinics Chávez has set up around the country, Barrio Adentro, guaranteeing Venezuelans free health care? Or the Bolivarian Universities he’s funding to enable three million people, without means, resources, hope or future, to study and win degrees and new possibilities? Was Chávez “pissing on the laws” when he allowed a referendum on his presidency to go through and which he won handily in 2004?
Mr. Olbermann needs to get his facts straight and he could start off by reading Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval’s study published in July of this year by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, entitled, “The Venezuelan Economy in the Chávez Years” (http://www.cepr.net/content/view/1248/8/ ) wherein they show that “Real (inflation-adjusted) GDP has grown by 76 percent since the bottom of the recession in 2003.” Indeed, once the pressures of a U.S. inspired coup, U.S.-backed oil strike and Referendum (all funded by Olbermann’s and our local nemesis, Bush) were soundly defeated by Chávez and his supporters, Weisbrot and Sandoval agree that “it appears that the Venezuelan economy was hit hard by political instability prior to 2003, but has grown steadily and quite rapidly since political stability began improving in that year.”
The economy has grown, but that new wealth has not merely trickled, or gushed, upwards into the pockets of the rich, as it always seems to do in the U.S. In Venezuela the poverty rate has dropped 31% under Chávez, (extreme poverty from 53% to 9.1 percent) but the authors acknowledge that this current poverty rate “does not take into account the increased access to health care or education that poor people have experienced. The situation of the poor has therefore improved significantly beyond even the substantial poverty reduction that is visible in the official poverty rate, which measures only cash income.” This is not to mention, as the authors also point out, the “increased health care benefits to the poor, since in the absence of these benefits, most poor people would simply have gone without health care, and therefore suffer from worse health, lower income, and lower life expectancy.” And those health benefits are substantial: “In 1998 there were 1,628 primary care physicians for a population of 23.4 million. Today, there are 19,571 for a population of 27 million.
Given these facts, and your absence of them, Mr. Olbermann, could you explain exactly on whom Chávez has been pissing? If not, perhaps in the future you could drop the subject or deal with something a bit more substantial when talking about Chávez than urine.
In other words, put up or piss off.
CLIFTON ROSS represented the U.S. in Venezuela’s World Poetry Festival in 2005. From 2005-2006 he reported from Mérida, Venezuela. His movie, “Venezuela: Revolution from the Inside Out” is now available from www.freedomvoices.org and www.progressivefilms.org. He is the co-editor of Voice of Fire: Communiques and Interviews of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (1994, New Earth Publications) and his book, Fables for an Open Field (1994, Trombone Press, New Earth Publications), has just been released in Spanish by La Casa Tomada of Venezuela. His forthcoming book of poems in translation, Traducir el Silencio, will be published later this year by Venezuela´s Ministry of Culture editorial, Perro y Rana. Ross teaches English at Berkeley City College, Berkeley, California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org