Hugo Chavez: on rails in Venezuela, not a threat!

By Anna Varfolomeeva

hugo chavez

BEIJING — (September 27— M4Relay) —Venezuela’s September 26 national parliamentary elections were a major opportunity for strongman Hugo Chavez to cement his grip on power and therefore could be a last chance for change before Chavez completes his takeover, John R. Bolton wrote in an article titled, “The Chavez threat.”

The article published in the Los Angeles Times on September 16 noted that although the opposition surpassed the crucial one-third of 165 seats in the unicameral congress, it did not manage to gain the majority of votes. Hence, one can conclude that the President of the country did cement his position.

According to Bolton, Chavez has “advanced his agenda since taking office in 1999 by fragmenting his domestic opposition, manipulating election rules, closing down opposition news sources and expropriating the considerable assets of businesses and entrepreneurs. He has materially impaired Venezuela’s prosperous petroleum economy by failing to make prudent investments and improvements, while using substantial oil revenues to consolidate his hold on power.”

These accusations which point to mismanagement, autocracy, and corruption against Chavez’s government have been discarded by Bernardo Alvarez, Ambassador of Venezuela to the United States. Alvarez said that under the U.S. sponsored Washington consensus or neoliberal model, poverty rose in Venezuela from 28 percent in the early 1980s to 85 percent when Chavez took office.

In his article Bolton also argues that Chavez’s behavior is increasingly ominous. As Fidel Castro has aged and Cuba’s relations with Russia have faded, Chavez has stepped forward. He has engaged in extensive military cooperation with Moscow, including major acquisitions of conventional weapons, from infantry rifles to sophisticated, high-end weapons well beyond any conceivably legitimate requirements of Venezuela’s military… Beyond enhancing his own swaggering reputation, Chavez’s growing closeness with Russia and Iran on nuclear matters should be our greatest concern.”

Bolton apparently is sending the wrong signals to the rest of the world. Chavez’s cooperation with Iran and Russia should not always be seen as an alliance against the United States or the West.

“We are not building an alliance against the United States. We don’t care what Washington thinks,” Chavez said in one of public speeches.

Increased cooperation on energy issues is vital to ensure a “multi-polar” world. A multi-polar world does not definitely mean an alliance against the United States and its friends.

The government headed by Chavez got control over the national oil company in the first quarter of 2003. According to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, as of February 2009, real (inflation-adjusted) GDP has nearly doubled, growing by 13.5 percent annually. The report further said that most of the growth has been in the non-oil sector of the economy, and the private sector has grown faster than the public sector, thus suggesting that the government of Hugo Chavez is not efficient in managing the oil sector in Venezuela.

Apparently contradicting itself, the same research showed that during the current economic expansion, the poverty rate has been cut by more than half, from 54 percent of households in the first half of 2003 to 26 percent at the end of 2008. There has been an increased access to health care and education. Real (inflation-adjusted) social spending per person more than tripled from 1998-2006. From 1998-2006, infant mortality has fallen by more than one-third. The number of primary care physicians in the public sector increased 12-fold from 1999-2007, providing health care to millions of Venezuelans who previously did not have access. There have been substantial gains in education, especially higher education, where gross enrollment rates more than doubled from 1999-2000 to 2007-2008.”

Hugo Chavez has the destiny of Venezuela in his hands. He should be given time and space to pilot that destiny. As the Washington report even showed, Chavez has achieved much for the country. Suspicion and counter accusations will only work to destabilize Venezuela. The West should take care of their people and allow other countries to secure a convenient future for their populations.

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