Why Venezuelans are not Mitt Romney’s 47 percent

Happy (Venezuelan) Election Day!

Quick Election Update

Venezuelans across the country have been lining up to vote today, although turnout is reportedly not as high as it has been in the past few elections.

The past three elections in Venezuela were rated as free and open, with no more irregularities or issues than found in the U.S., according to the Carter Center for Democracy. The organization is also on hand for today’s election.

However, despite this positive record, there is ample room for criticism of today’s election. The key ones are that the state oil company in Venezuela has helped finance Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s vice president and chosen successor, that military and ministry leaders have appeared in public wearing Maduro campaign materials, and that Maduro has had greater access to the media. So we’ll have to see how this election stacks up against previous ones in terms of fairness and respectability.

US Coverage and Critiques

Chavez’s death made headlines in the U.S., but in the weeks since the media coverage here has died down somewhat. However, is has remained, as always, disappointingly one-dimensional in its discussion of Venezuelan politics.

Of course, there is a long history of animosity between Chavez and U.S. leaders, regardless of the administration. That is often portrayed as entirely or mostly because of Chavez, who was characterized as full of bluster, employing anti-American rhetoric to increase his popularity with his key constituency, the poorer and less-educated segments of Venezuelan society.

This overlooks a couple of important points. One is that the U.S. has consistently worked to undermine the Venezuelan government, from tacitly supporting a coup attempt in 2002 to more recent USAID attempts to weaken the Chavista movement.

The other, closely related point, is that this very U.S. meddling in Venezuelan internal affairs are most likely the reason that Chavez’s anti-American rhetoric played so well. Well enough to elect him to three consecutive terms as Venezuela’s president. And well enough for his rise to power to inspire similar shifts to the left in other Latin American countries, such as Bolivia and Brazil.

This is not to say that all of Chavez’s policies were constructive for his country or the region. It is simply to provide some nuance in discussion about him, in order to also think more critically about U.S. policy towards Venezuela specifically, and Latin America in general.

Yet instead of recognizing these legitimate grievances, U.S. policy makers, and, unfortunately, the U.S. media (which should be acting as a check on lawmakers, rather than an echo chamber for them,) have instead tended to paint Chavez supporters as uneducated, ignorant, and victims, whose loyalty is a result of “gifts” from their leader.

Does that sound familiar? Particularly the point about “gifts?”

That is exactly the same kind of reasoning that cost Mitt Romney his presidential campaign. And it’s costing America its prestige and leadership in the world.

Latin American leftists are not a class of “taker” parasites preventing their region from developing, just as 47% of Americans are not a class of takers sinking the U.S. economy. Rather, working class citizens of the Americas and around the world are the ones producing the actual goods and providing the services that allow the rest of the world to maintain a higher standard of living. And for their efforts, they are undermined when they attempt to organize, ridiculed when they present their grievances, and disenfranchised from the world they help to build.

Even Venezuela’s opposition does not embrace the economic models the U.S. has always sought to encourage in Latin America. Henrique Capriles, the leader of the Venezuelan opposition and their candidate for president, has criticized Maduro and the Chavista administration of being “skin-deep socialists,” who are secretly more committed to a “savage” capitalist agenda.

So while Capriles may present a more moderate alternative to the Chavez legacy, he is still not the capitalist some might assume simply from his opposition status. Instead, he points to Brazil’s Lula as his political inspiration. And although Capriles opposes further nationalization of private businesses, he has stated that he will not necessarily return properties that Chavez expropriated.

In some areas, such as poverty reduction, education, and public health, he argues for continuing Chavez’s policies. He’s also pledged to raise Venezuela’s minimum wage by 40%.

And the reason for that is simple: the American model that argues that the free market is the basic building block for all other freedoms has been rejected. Education, healthcare, and a living wage have been recognized as fundamental rights in Venezuela. Even by the opposition.

And they might be on to something. From Occupy Wall Street to Strike Debt to U.S. Uncut, Americans across the country are organizing to speak out about the ways our system has failed our people. This is not to argue that the state should run the economy, but rather that it should protect people over profits in several key areas. Areas like: education, healthcare, and providing a living wage.

The U.S. needs to reexamine its attitude towards Latin America. And while we’re at it, we should also reexamine the effects our policy have on our own people.

 

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