Unemployment Down, Illiteracy Erased: Why Hugo Chavez Won Venezuela's Presidential Election
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Photo Credit: Victor Soares/ABr
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Buenos Aires, Argentina - He's done it. Again. In the 14th election in 13 years, Hugo Chavez Frias - the head of state Atlanticist right-wingers love to hate - was reelected president fair and square, in absolutely transparent conditions, monitored by anyone from the UN and the EU to the Organisation of Americans States (OAS).
Two elections were at play here. One pitted Chavez against neoliberal right-winger reconverted democrat Henrique Capriles Radonski - a lawyer representing the Venezuelan, Washington consensus-aligned comprador class. The other was progressive South American integration versus Big Brother's desire for a pliable client state.
Chavez won first of all because the Bolivarian project has the numbers. The Chavismo years - for all its faults and unbridled cult of personality - essentially recovered Venezuelan national sovereignty, redistributing wealth to the benefit of public services and the excluded, via social missions and a decent minimum wage. One may call it, like Chavez, "socialism for the 21st century". In Latin American terms, it is certainly a path towards a more equal society.
In the run-up to the election, Chavez made a point to position the figure of Guacaipuro - an indigenous leader who commanded Teque and Caracas tribes against Spanish colonisation - as a key Venezuelan symbol of resistance. "We are all Guacaipuro" was a resonant call - with its emphasis on the country's roots in "aboriginal, indigenous and black resistance pushing the struggle of the oppressed".
No illiteracy for oil
The facts are stark. Venezuela holds what is now recognised as the largest oil reserves on the planet - even larger than Saudi Arabia's. But until recently this was an energy Holy Grail run by the usual tiny, arrogant, rapacious elite, and where the masses had no possibility of decent education, decent housing or a decent salary.
The record of Chavismo is a story of how to progressively horizontalise a vertical society. Chavismo channels no less than 43 per cent of the state budget to an array of social policies.
Unemployment went down from over 20 per cent to less than 7 per cent. No less than 22 public universities were built in the past 10 years. The number of teachers went from 65,000 to 350,000. Illiteracy has been eradicated. There is an ongoing agrarian reform - still a dream in most South American latitudes.
The ruling class obviously was not amused - as it has not been amused in Brazil, Argentina or Bolivia for that matter (in Paraguay it even managed to organise a "constitutional coup" to depose a legitimate democratic government). In Venezuela, ten years ago it also managed to concoct a coup - with support from corporate media - that lasted a pitiful three days. The masses said " No Pasaran".
Defeated presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, by the way, is something like a born again democrat; he was directly involved in the April 2002 coup and even had to spend some time in jail for it.
Venezuela has the best Gini coefficient - meaning it's the least unequal country - in the whole of Latin America. In its January 2012 report, the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (known by its Spanish acronym, Cepal) states that Venezuela and Ecuador, between 1996 and 2010, were the champions in reducing poverty across the Americas.
Meanwhile, Americans in the US might be amused to know that Gallup has rated Venezuela as the 5th "happiest nation in the world". Salsa, anyone?
No wonder while corporate media in the US, Western Europe and South America kept peddling stories of Venezuelans dreaming of exile and sipping martinis in Miami, the fact is scores of young Spaniards with no European future are coming to Venezuela to find a job [SP].