February 2013        


Slanted media attack Caribbean socialism

Western media reporting has convinced most people outside Cuba and Venezuela that these countries are run by dictatorships that have ruined them. But Cubans and Venezuelans have access to more information about their own countries than foreigners who rely on viciously slanted media. So they keep re-electing the politicians who have improved their lives—much to the annoyance of the major capitalist media and their sponsors.
      The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, fighting for his life, has recently been the target of hate-filled journalism from some of the more influential publications on both sides of the Atlantic.
      An edition of El País, Spain’s main newspaper, influential also in Latin America, printed a grotesque front-page picture of a figure they claimed was Chávez, lying on his back in a hospital bed, with tubes hanging out of his mouth. The picture was of somebody else, taken in 2008. It had to withdraw this edition from the stands and apologise publicly—but not to Chávez or his family, as El País hates Chávez as much as it hates Cuban democracy. (Its Cuban reports come from the jaundiced pen of Yoanni Sánchez, a well-known dissident.)
      An article in the New York Times claimed that Venezuela had “dwindling productivity” and “an enormous foreign debt load.” In fact, under Chávez real GDP per capita, mostly driven by growth in productivity, expanded by 24 per cent from 2004. In the twenty previous years, before Chávez, real GDP per person fell.
      As for the “enormous foreign debt load,” Venezuela’s foreign public debt is about 28 per cent of GDP, and the interest on it is about 2 per cent of GDP. If this is “enormous,” have a look at the corresponding figures for Ireland!
      So you can say almost anything you want about Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia, so long as it is bad, and it usually goes unquestioned. Statistics and data count for nothing when the mass media are presenting their ugly picture. Irish commentators often parrot such misleading propaganda, which then becomes solid fact, as we know to our cost, in the mind of the general public.
      In the 28 January issue of the New Yorker (“Slumlord: What has Hugo Chávez wrought in Venezuela?”) we read that “the poorest Venezuelans are marginally better off these days.” Marginally? From 2004 to 2011 extreme poverty was slashed by about two-thirds. Poverty (measured by cash income) was reduced by about a half. This doesn’t count the access to health care that millions now have, or the doubling of university enrolment—with free tuition for many.
      Access to public pensions tripled. Unemployment is half of what it was when Chávez took office. Venezuela’s reduction in poverty, growth in real income and other basic data of the Chávez era are accepted by international statistics agencies, such as those of the World Bank and the United Nations. But let’s not allow universally agreed statistics get in the way of socialism-bashing!
      This article is illustrated by grim photographs of depressed-looking people in grim surroundings, though international surveys find Venezuelans to be among the happiest people in Latin America and in the world.
      The rant goes on: “After nearly a generation, Chávez leaves his countrymen with many unanswered questions, but only one certainty: the revolution that he tried to bring about never really took place. It began with Chávez, and with him, most likely it will end.”
      What universe does that malicious hack live in? Even Chávez’s opponent in the October presidential election, Henrique Capriles, was forced to promise voters that he would preserve and actually expand the Chávez-era social schemes that had increased people’s access to health care and education. And after Chávez beat him by a wide margin of 11 percentage points, Chávez’s party increased its share of governorships from fifteen to twenty of the twenty-three provinces, though Chávez himself was not even in the country.
      Venezuela will not regress, as the majority of Venezuelans have become used to sharing in the country’s oil wealth through government schemes and higher levels of employment and income in the private sector. Being savvy, they keep re-electing their president and his party.
      Why is a democratically elected president so viciously attacked, even when fighting for his own life? It is because, like Cuba, he has the temerity to show that socialism offers a viable and eco-friendly alternative to a neo-liberal capitalist regimen that impoverishes the masses as it ravages the planet.

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