What is Phil Gunson smoking?

Whatever it is, he needs to put it down. It’s messing with his head, and the result ain’t pretty:

Tariq Ali thinks the “Bolivarian” regime of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela is “reminiscent of Roosevelt’s New Deal and the policies of the 1945 Labour government”. This is a bit of a stretch. Let’s do some compare-and-contrast.


Unlike FDR or Clement Attlee, Chávez is an unrepentant (albeit a failed) coup leader who holds representative democracy in contempt, despite having used it, tactically, to obtain power. A former lieutenant-colonel, he treats elections like wars: one of his slogans in the current campaign is “vencer o morir” (“win or die”).

Roosevelt was, it is true, elected to a record four consecutive terms (dying in office at the beginning of the fourth). But he governed within the framework of a liberal democracy. Even so, this triggered the passing of the 22nd amendment to the US Constitution, setting a limit of two terms.

In its wisdom, Congress considered that indefinite re-election threatened to end in dictatorship and the subordination of all branches of government to the executive.

Chávez, who has been in office for nearly eight years, and is seeking a further six-year term next month, has promised a referendum to abolish term limits altogether, and says he intends to rule until 2030.

In Venezuela, all branches of government are already, in practice, subordinated to the executive. It is unthinkable that the legislature could act independently to curb executive power.

Ugh…and that’s only the first lump of ca-ca he lays on us. Nevertheless, let us fact-check his false “contrast” view of Tariq Ali’s apt comparison.

First, about that coup: Nice job of ignoring what prompted it, Phil. When a government turns a country’s army against its own people, what the hell kind of response do you think it’s going to reap in the end? And what do you think is the appropriate thing for that army to do–go on obediently massacring people at the will of an oligarch, or turn its guns on the oligarch, to oust him and usher in a more democratic alternative? In the sense that it brought about radical change, leading to a more open democracy in Venezuela (under Chavez the coup leader, no less!), this coup was not a failure but the inauspicious beginning of a resounding success. Most interestingly, by the time Chavez was in power, the case was tried by an international human-rights tribunal–and Chavez, on behalf of the Venezuelan government, did not contest the court’s verdict. So tell me, Phil, what does Chavez have to “repent” of, if this is the outcome of his actions? The fact that he turned his gun on a rotten, undemocratic “leader” who murdered over a thousand of his own countrymen–and then, in his presidential capacity, held the government accountable?

As for Chavez’s “holding representative democracy in contempt”, well–if you knew Venezuelan “democracy” like most Venezuelans did, Phil, you’d hold the “representative” form of it in contempt, too. The people were NOT being represented; they were being dictated to. The Punto Fijo pact was no democracy; it was a farce, a duopoly. The same shit came out of two sets of assholes with very little to distinguish between them. Who wants to be “represented” by one of two assholes, both of whom are full of identical shit?

As for the military connection, much ado has been made of the fact that Chavez used to be an army officer, and not a peep out of the Phil Gunsons of this world about what Chavez has done with the Armed Forces of Venezuela since becoming their civilian commander in chief. Plan Bolivar, Phil–look into it! A president commanding the army to help the poor instead of massacring them? Heresy–everyone knows a “representative democrat” type of Latin American leader only ever calls out the troops in order to crack down on those uppity peasants. Were Chavez a Pinochet-style far-right military dictator, the US would support him, and Phil Gunson would be tripping over himself to find ways to praise his “freedom-loving” regime. But Chavez is no tame dictator; he’s a wild democrat, so Gunson doesn’t think he’s to be trusted. Goes to show you where the Miami Herald’s pet shills’ sympathies lie. Let’s face it–if former military men are not fit to be elected presidents, where does that leave Ike Eisenhower–another sane ex-army leader, duly elected as a civilian, who warned about the dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex and spoke out for socially responsible government?

I suppose Phil Gunson would say it’s a good thing that Ike was limited to two terms, unlike that evil, evil FDR who preceded him. I say people should thank their lucky stars that he had a good man like John F. Kennedy to succeed him. Kennedy, incidentally, is the one who said that those who made peaceful revolution impossible, made violent revolution inevitable. (Yo Phil, you might want to study up on Carlos Andres Perez, and find out what kind of man he really is, so you know why Chavez tried to depose him in the way he did.)

There is no proof, incidentally, to Gunson’s contention that “indefinite re-election threatened to end in dictatorship and the subordination of all branches of government to the executive” in the case of the United States, nor that it would also do so in Venezuela. And his contention that “[i]n Venezuela, all branches of government are already, in practice, subordinated to the executive”, is a bald-faced lie. To be fair, though, he’s not the only US journalist to fall into that trap. All the mainstream media ones repeat the same drivel, ignoring the reality. I guess the Venezuelan National Assembly is not as sexy as Chavecito–certainly it’s not as out-there. Or maybe they haven’t been to Venezuela, or at least, not outside of the richer parts of Eastern Caracas. No wonder they miss out on what it’s up to. (Maybe someone should point them to Aporrea, and tell them to learn Spanish!)

Now, about that referendum thing. Something is certainly funny about Phil Gunson finding it funny that a president pondering removal of term limits would put it to a popular vote, rather than just decreeing it? I mean, how dictatorial is that? Uh, wait a second…not very, actually! In fact, it’s downright…wait for it folks…D-word incoming…DEMOCRATIC! The people get to say if he stays or goes, and how long he stays before they want him to go. And no one BUT the people decides it–certainly not he, and not some cadre, or junta, or…man. That democracy shit is DANGEROUS!

And, speaking of shit: onward, onward with the ca-ca…

As Britain struggled to recover from the devastation of the second world war, the Attlee government built a million houses in five years. Despite the biggest oil boom in his country’s history, Chávez hasn’t managed a fifth of that in eight years – and Venezuela’s massive housing deficit has grown every year he has been in office.

Aneurin Bevan created a national health service, in 1940s Britain, that was the envy of the world, and free to all – regardless of political affiliation – at the point of delivery. Public hospitals in Venezuela are falling apart, starved of resources while the government sets up a parallel health system as part of its clientilistic “missions” programme.

Whilst they have undoubtedly led to a transfer of cash and welfare benefits to
large numbers of poor Venezuelans, the “missions” raise major issues of cost, sustainability and political bias which have yet to be addressed.

The New Deal was notable, among other things, for massive public works projects to combat unemployment. Chávez is only now, in many cases, after years of delay, completing projects planned under previous administrations.

Several of these, such as the commuter train from the capital to the nearby Valles del Tuy, have been inaugurated before they were fully operational, despite the risk to users, in order to boost the president’s re-election prospects.

Much of the country’s infrastructure, including the main highway connecting Caracas with its air and seaports, is in a lamentable condition due to poor planning and maintenance.

Meanwhile, unemployment stands officially at just under 10%, while almost half the workforce subsists in the “informal economy”. Over half the country’s manufacturing companies have closed down, and despite a dozen or more emergency employment plans, few real jobs have been created.

Roosevelt’s public works programme didn’t solve the unemployment problem either. Perhaps that is the comparison Tariq Ali is trying to make.

Or perhaps not.

Actually, the “massive housing deficit” is due to the fact that Chavez is building for quality, not quantity. That takes longer than just slapping together a bigger, better shantytown, like his predecessors (hola again, CAP) did. Plus, there is a land reform program at work that Gunson won’t mention, but I will. The housing shortage, like the disintegration of the public hospitals in Venezuela, began long before Chavez even entered the political scene; it’s what happens when the kleptocrats who toady to the IMF are busier enriching themselves than they are in providing the necessities. So much for “projects planned under previous administrations”, eh Phil? “Planning” is cheap; DOING costs, and those past presidents were too busy stuffing their own pockets. (Notice, gentlefolks, how Gunson offers no proof that previous presidents made good on their many promises, nor does he mention that Carlos Andres Perez was impeached for misuse of public funds.)

There is likewise no proof that Barrio Adentro is “clientilistic”, whatever that’s supposed to mean; no one checks your party affiliation at the clinic door. They’re all too busy practising medicine! The Cuban doctors are there to help everyone who was out in the cold before, thanks to prior administrations’ neglect of those crumbling public hospitals. (BTW, Phil, you might want to see what Chavecito’s been building lately besides good quality housing. Your myopic eyes might just pop.)

And how about that slap at the New Deal as just a make-work project? FDR must love being damned with such faint praise. Actually, it was responsible for a huge leap forward in infrastructure, including highways and electricity. Had that been left to capitalists, people might still be waiting. Rural areas were wired for the first time since electric power had been harnessed decades earlier, interstate highways were built, and great hydroelectric dams which still generate electricity today all had their origin under FDR. That project not only generated jobs, it modernized an America in danger of being left behind.

Likewise, Chavecito has some impressive projects to his credit. New airports and railway stations are growing like weeds. So are big bridges. The Valles del Tuy railway line which Gunson maligns, incidentally, is not in fact known to be anything less than sound; does anyone seriously suppose that such a project would be inaugurated before it passed inspection? It isn’t the old Venezuela anymore, Phil. The tyranny of the US automakers is over. No bojote--“don’t mess around”–is another of Chavez’s slogans, borrowed from Che Guevara, but you won’t hear Gunson quoting it. Too businesslike; it would undermine his thesis that Chavez is (a) incompetent, (b) totalitarian, and (c) dangerous. The Caracas/La Guaira highway, too, has since been replaced with a fully functional bypass while the new viaduct is being constructed. (Yes, it’s already well under way!) So while it takes a bit longer to get from one city to the other, it’s not so dire as Gunson makes it out to be.

As for the neglect and unemployment Gunson cites, chalk those up to legacies of Punto Fijo. More than 40 years of that can’t be cured in just 8 years. (Why do I get a strange feeling that if another puntofijista arrived on the scene and did nothing but abuse the people as the old ones did, the Phil Gunsons of the world would look the other way, or, if that were impossible, strive to minimize the trouble, praise the perps to high heaven for their obedience to the IMF, and then pretend surprise when it all went kerplooey?)

But wait, the worst is yet to come. Hold your noses, folks, Mr. Gunson is about to let a real stinker go:

A more precise comparison, however, in the case of the United States, might be with the McCarthyite era in the 1950s, when dissenters were blacklisted, labelled agents of a foreign power, and denied employment.

The Venezuelan government runs a blacklist, known as the Lista Maisanta, which would make Joe McCarthy green with envy. At the last count it had over 12 million names on it, classified (at the click of a computer mouse) according to their political affiliation.

If your name does not come up red (for chavista) then you may be denied not only employment but government services, grants, loans and contracts. Even Venezuela’s national library checks your political affiliation before issuing passes.

Until recently, this type of political discrimination (which violates the law, the constitution and any number of treaties to which Venezuela is a signatory) was denied by the government. Now it is official policy.

In a recent speech (clandestinely filmed) energy minister Rafael Ramírez – who is also head of the state oil company PDVSA – told company managers that any employee who was not fully behind Chávez should “give up his position to a Bolivarian”.

“We removed from this company 19,500 enemies of this country,” Ramírez said, “and we’re ready to go on doing that, to ensure that this company is aligned with, and corresponds to, the love that our people has expressed towards our president.”

A couple of days later, the president praised him for the speech, inviting him to repeat it “100 times a day”. As to the uproar over the incident, Chávez wondered, “what they would say if they could hear what I tell the military”. In the same speech, he reiterated his threat not to renew the concessions of opposition TV companies.

Tariq Ali seems to want to extend this system of blacklisting beyond the borders of Venezuela. He accuses those of us who dissent from the government line of a “massive disinformation campaign”, the proof of which is our dissent itself. Sound familiar? Senator Joe would be proud.< /blockquote>

Peeeeee-EW!

That McCarthyesque “blacklist” is nothing of the sort. In fact, Chavez has worked explicitly against such a blacklist, as has Luis Tascon. The Tascon List was actually compiled so that people could verify whethor not their names had been fraudulently added to an opposition petition to have Chavez removed in 2004. Yes, folks, the Chavez-haters are well known for their dirty trickery in that signature drive, including signing whole sheets of names in identical handwriting, coercing employees to sign on (or lose their jobs–there’s a blacklist for you!), and adding the names of the dead. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few thousand people’s pet dogs also ended up on the list.

BTW, who would want to give a government job to anyone known to be a supporter of coups, sabotage and treason? I sure wouldn’t. Why then expect it of Chavez? He would have to be an extraordinary masochist. He is within his rights to deny jobs to those who would only abuse their power anyway. McCarthy went after people merely on suspicion of communism, remember. There was no proof that any of them ever used their affiliation to do harm. Chavez’s opponents, however, are often on record as being not only rabidly anticommunist (like McCarthy!), but very much interested in sabotaging Chavez at every step of the way.

And nowhere was that sabotage more apparent than at PDVSA, the state oil company. PDVSA was a big target, due to its crucial status as a source of funding for the Bolivarian revolution. After the first coup attempt of 2002, PDVSA’s bloated managerial corps tried to drive Chavez out of office by waging a lockout and hacking and stealing PDVSA computers. The campaign did billions of dollars in damage to the entire Venezuelan economy; people in all but the wealthiest sectors suffered. That’s inexcusable. That’s why Rafael Ramirez, who presided over PDVSA’s most profitable period to date, demanded loyalty and Chavez supported him for doing so. It’s not too much to ask of a public servant. Treason, like dereliction of duty, is grounds for a legitimate firing.

Likewise, the news media have a duty to the public to provide accurate, truthful information, not propaganda and lies as the major commercial media in Venezuela are notorious for doing. And if they refuse to do their duty, why not revoke their broadcast licences? Any civilized country–Canada, say, or most of Europe–has similar laws on its books. Good in Canada, bad in Venezuela?

BTW, Phil, way to put words in Tariq Ali’s mouth. “Seems to want” is sheer projection on your part; you seem to want it to be so, when in fact it ain’t.

Now, for the final flatulent salvo:

The only media campaign I am aware of is the one run by solidarity groups, which treats all critical reporting on Venezuela as evidence of a sinister plot to bring down the government.

As for “disinformation”, the writings of the solidarity press are marred by serious errors of fact and interpretation, and Tariq Ali’s article is, unfortunately, no exception.

There have not, for instance, been “three attempts …to topple Hugo Chávez”, unless you consider that fulfilling the constitutional requirements for a midterm recall referendum amounts to a coup attempt.

A genuine debate as to whether authoritarian petro-populism is a “beacon” for the world’s poor would be welcome. But that would require, on both sides, respect for the facts, intellectual honesty and tolerance of a variety of opinions.

None of these conditions looks likely to be met any time soon by the Chávez regime’s foreign supporters, who seem to prefer hurling abuse. But, as the Venezuelans often say, hope is the last thing to die.

Wow, look at that projection! And that spin!

Ladies and gentlemen, once more I call your attention to the fact that Mr. Gunson works for a well-known Miami propaganda outlet with a well-established bias against Chavez. So anything he says on “critical reporting on Venezuela” has to be taken with a truckload of salt. (Preferably road salt, seeing as this is a major snowjob.) Would he report critically on, say, Maria Corina Machado, the bee-queen of Sumate, who was welcome in Bush’s Washington even as Chavecito remains persona non grata? Or Patricia Poleo, demagogue and murder-plotter extraordinaire? Or joint-ventures magnate Gustavo Cisneros, who hates Chavez so much that he has no compunction about dumping milk into rivers in order to starve out the Chavistas–or at least, their children?

Didn’t think so.

No, critical reporting on Venezuela consists solely of criticism of the Chavez government and what it’s doing wrong–and if it’s not doing wrong, you get to make shit up, or at least uncritically cite shit some fat-cat oppositionists made up. But the oppostion itself? Untouchable. Everything they do is A-0K. Even when they plot coups and 15 post-coup years of dictatorship.

Phil may be right about there not having been three attempts to topple Hugo Chavez; I’m sure there have actually been many more, if failed plots are counted. One of them was recently scotched in Zulia, home state of Chavez’s most touted current foe. But you won’t hear much about that from this Miami stenographer, I’ll bet…he’s too busy whitewashing the anti-Chavistas.

If Phil Gunson wants to pontificate about “hurling abuse”, he should take a harder look at those people–and the bearded visage in his own mirror.

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