Monday, February 1, 2010

Venezuela and Wishful Thinking

Here's an interesting little tidbit: The Venezuelan parliamentary elections of 2005 had an abstention rate of about 75%, whereas the presidential election of 2006 had an abstention rate of only 25%. I don't know what this means exactly, but it certainly does not bode well for parliamentary democracy in Venezuela, since it seems to indicate a general cynicism among the population with the Parliament and a great deal of trust in the executive.

In related news, the recent 2009 Venezuelan referendum that abolished term limits for elected officials passed with 54% of the vote and 70% of eligible voters responding. In other words, a small minority was able to ratify the abolition of a key democratic safeguard against tyranny (it's also worth noting that the current constitution was originally ratified under the auspices of Chavez as well). This is all part of what is called in official propaganda as the "Bolivarian Revolution."

Meanwhile, as the living standards of the average Venezuelans fail to rise significantly, new revelations of staggering levels of corruption within the Chavez government arise every day, and government workers are threatened into voting for Chavez, things are going swimmingly for Venezuela on one front: what some Venezuelan leftists refer to as (if I remember correctly) "celebrity tourism." I was extremely disappointed to see Noam Chomsky appear in Venezuela a few months ago at the behest of Hugo Chavez, and appear on national television in that country to essentially act as Chavez's spokesman (Noam Chomsky is a celebrity, albeit outside of the United States). Many other leftist celebrities have made the trip to pose for photo-ops with Mr. Chavez.

Leftists talking up Chavez's Venezuela is the equivalent of progressives during the 30s openly praising Huey Long's Louisiana. It should be seen as an apotheosis of corruption. Like China in the 1960s, Venezuela serves as a stand-in for the hopes and dreams of leftists in the real world. And this fatally undermines leftism. If Leftists are willing to support a corrupt government that has made millionaires out of a select few of Chavez's cronies, then they should be even more supportive of the nepotistic two-party system we have here in the United States.

Ironically, one of the main camps on the Left to escape this disease are the Trotskyists (ironic because Trotskyists idealize tyrants of their own). A recent article on the World Socialist Website, a Trotskyist publication, reports:

"Meanwhile, a wave of banking scandals has exposed the vast enrichment of a layer of businessmen close to the government, the so-called bolibuguesía, referring to the new layer of capitalists created by Chávez’s so-called Bolivarian Revolution. It has also called attention to the accumulation of wealth by a number of prominent political figures, who have become millionaires while promoting '21st century socialism.'”

Of course, the reason for this hostility is probably that Chavez has called for the convening of a fifth International, which would compete with the Trotskyist Fourth International.

The irony about all this is that there actually are much better vessels out there for leftists to put their hopes and dreams into. The socialist Ecuadorian government, for example, is far from perfect, but to my knowledge (which is admittedly scant), they have largely escaped the corruption and nepotism of the Venezuelan government. There is also the myriad of socialist and social-democratic governments in Europe. Then there's Bolivia, where the local "Movement Towards Socialism" is far more genuine than Venezuela's. The president, Evo Morales, is a former union organizer who rode a wave of grassroots organization into the presidential palace. The old Aristide government in Haiti, before he was kidnapped by US Marines and forced to resign, was also a real reason for hope. They built more schools in Haiti than all previous Haitian administrations combined, doubled the minimum wage, and slowly began to improve Haiti's crumbling, virtually non-existent infrastructure.

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