• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch needs you. piggybank-icon You need us. The cost of keeping the site alive and running is growing fast, as more and more readers visit. We want you to stick around, but it eats up bandwidth and costs us a bundle. Help us reach our modest goal (we are half way there!) so we can keep CounterPunch going. Donate today!
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Chavez and the New South America

Hugo Chávez was re-elected president of Venezuela on Sunday, by a margin of 11 percentage points.  For most people who have heard or read about Chávez in the international media, this might be puzzling.  Almost all of the news we hear about Venezuela is bad:  Chávez is cantankerous and picks fights with the United States and sides with “enemies” such as Iran; he is a “dictator” or “strongman” who has squandered the nation’s oil wealth; the economy is plagued by shortages and is usually on the brink of collapse.

Then there is the other side of the story:  since the Chávez government got control over the national oil industry, poverty has been cut by half and extreme poverty by 70 percent.  College enrollment has more than doubled, millions of people have access to health care for the first time, and the number of people eligible for public pensions has quadrupled.

So it is not surprising that most Venezuelans would re-elect a president who has improved their living standards. That’s what has happened with all of the left governments that now govern most of South America:  they have been re-elected. This is despite the fact that they, like Chávez, have most of their countries’ media against them, and their opposition also has most of the wealth and income of their respective countries.

The list includes Rafael Correa, re-elected President of Ecuador by a wide margin in 2009;  the enormously popular Lula da Silva of Brazil, re-elected in 2006, and successfully campaigned for his former Chief of Staff, now President Dilma Rousseff, in 2010;  Evo Morales, Bolvia’s first indigenous president in a majority indigenous country, re-elected in 2009;  José Mujica succeeded his predecessor from the same political alliance in Uruguay – the Frente Amplio — in 2009;  Cristina Fernández succeeded her husband, the late Néstor Kirchner, winning the 2011 Argentine presidential election by a solid margin – also with the largest media against her.

All of these left presidents and their political parties won re-election because, like Chávez, they brought significant, and in some cases huge, improvements in living standards.  They all originally campaigned against “neoliberalism,” a word used to describe the policies of the prior 20 years, when Latin America experienced its worst long term economic growth failure in more than a century.

Not surprisingly, the other left governments have seen Venezuela as part of a team that has brought more democracy, national sovereignty, and economic and social progress to the region.  Yes, democracy, too:  even the much-maligned Venezuela is recognized by most scholarly research as more democratic than it was in the pre-Chávez era.

And democracy was at issue when South America stood together against Washington on such issues as the 2009 military coup in Honduras. The differences were so pronounced that they led to the formation of a new hemispheric-wide organization including everyone but the U.S. and Canada, as an alternative to the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States.

Here is Lula last month: “A victory for Chávez (in the upcoming election) is not just a victory for the people of Venezuela but also a victory for all the people of Latin America . . . this victory will strike another blow against imperialism.”  The other left presidents have the same views of Chávez.

The Bush administration pursued a strategy of trying to isolate Venezuela from its neighbors, and ended up isolating itself.  President Obama promised in the 2009 Summit of the Americas to pursue a different course; but he didn’t, and at the 2012 Summit he was as isolated as his predecessor.

Although the media has been dominated by stories of Venezuela’s impending economic collapse for more than a decade, it hasn’t happened and is not likely to happen.  After recovering from a recession that began in 2009, during the world economic crisis, the Venezuelan economy has been growing for two-and-a-half years now and inflation has fallen sharply while growth has accelerated.  The country has a sizeable trade surplus.  Its public debt is relatively low and so is its debt service burden.  It has plenty of room to borrow foreign currency (it has borrowed $36 billion from China, mostly at very low interest rates), and can borrow domestically as well at low or negative real interest rates.  So even if oil prices were to crash temporarily (as in 2008-2009), there would be no need for austerity or recession. And hardly anyone is predicting a long-term collapse of oil prices.

The U.S. economic embargo against Cuba has persisted for more than half a century, despite its obvious stupidity and failure.  U.S. hostility toward Venezuela is only about 12 years old, but shows no sign of being reconsidered, despite that it is also alienating the rest of the hemisphere.

Venezuela has about 500 billion barrels of oil and is burning them currently at a rate of one billion barrels a year. Chávez or a successor from the same party will likely be governing the country for many years to come.  The only question is when – if ever – Washington will accept the results of democratic change in the region.

Mark Weisbrot is an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: the Phony Crisis.

This essay originally appeared in IHT.

 

Clearance Sale of Vintage

CounterPunch T-Shirts!

We’ve marked down some of CounterPunch’s most popular t-shirts to only $8.00,including the CP shirt featuring Alexander Cockburn’s own scrawl.

 

More articles by:

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
May 24, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Iran, Venezuela and the Throes of Empire
Melvin Goodman
The Dangerous Demise of Disarmament
Jeffrey St. Clair
“The Army Ain’t No Place for a Black Man:” How the Wolf Got Caged
Richard Moser
War is War on Mother Earth
Andrew Levine
The (Small-d) Democrat’s Dilemma
Russell Mokhiber
The Boeing Way: Blaming Dead Pilots
Rev. William Alberts
Gaslighters of God
Phyllis Bennis
The Amputation Crisis in Gaza: a US-Funded Atrocity
David Rosen
21st Century Conglomerate Trusts 
Jonathan Latham
As a GMO Stunt, Professor Tasted a Pesticide and Gave It to Students
Binoy Kampmark
The Espionage Act and Julian Assange
Kathy Deacon
Liberals Fall Into Line: a Recurring Phenomenon
Jill Richardson
The Disparity Behind Anti-Abortion Laws
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Chelsea Manning is Showing Us What Real Resistance Looks Like
Zhivko Illeieff
Russiagate and the Dry Rot in American Journalism
Norman Solomon
Will Biden’s Dog Whistles for Racism Catch Up with Him?
Yanis Varoufakis
The Left Refuses to Get Its Act Together in the Face of Neofascism
Lawrence Davidson
Senator Schumer’s Divine Mission
Thomas Knapp
War Crimes Pardons: A Terrible Memorial Day Idea
Renee Parsons
Dump Bolton before He Starts the Next War
Yves Engler
Canada’s Meddling in Venezuela
Katie Singer
Controlling 5G: A Course in Obstacles
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Beauty of Trees
Jesse Jackson
Extremist Laws, Like Alabama’s, Will Hit Poor Women the Hardest
Andrew Bacevich
The “Forever Wars” Enshrined
Ron Jacobs
Another One Moves On: Roz Payne, Presente!
Christopher Brauchli
The Offal Office
Daniel Falcone
Where the ‘Democratic Left’ Goes to Die: Staten Island NYC and the Forgotten Primaries   
Julia Paley
Life After Deportation
Sarah Anderson
America Needs a Long-Term Care Program for Seniors
Seiji Yamada – John Witeck
Stop U.S. Funding for Human Rights Abuses in the Philippines
Shane Doyle, A.J. Not Afraid and Adrian Bird, Jr.
The Crazy Mountains Deserve Preservation
Charlie Nash
Will Generation Z Introduce a Wizard Renaissance?
Ron Ridenour
Denmark Peace-Justice Conference Based on Activism in Many Countries
Douglas Bevington
Why California’s Costly (and Destructive) Logging Plan for Wildfires Will Fail
Gary Leupp
“Escalating Tensions” with Iran
Jonathan Power
Making the World More Equal
Cesar Chelala
The Social Burden of Depression in Japan
Stephen Cooper
Imbibe Culture and Consciousness with Cocoa Tea (The Interview)
Stacy Bannerman
End This Hidden Threat to Military Families
Kevin Basl
Time to Rethink That POW/MIA Flag
Nicky Reid
Pledging Allegiance to the Divided States of America
Louis Proyect
A Second Look at Neflix
Martin Billheimer
Closed Shave: T. O. Bobe, the Girl and Curl
David Yearsley
Hard Bop and Bezos’ Balls
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail