Hugo Chavez’s activities usually elicit a knee-jerk response from most of the British media. The title of the latest Independent’s leading article summarizes it well: “A perilous new twist in the Venezuelan revolution“. Now consider, Venezuela conducts an open and fair referendum on the term limits on the president, and this is termed “perilous” and “… hope that, for the sake of the Venezuelan people, it does not end up dragging the country back into the mire of authoritarianism.” Why should a referendum be construed as a peril? If anything a referendum is a bona fide democratic procedure and thus it should enhance the democratic nature of Venezuelan society.
The Independent’s editorial writers state: “The scrapping of term limits will do nothing to help build confidence in the rule of law. All free nations need firm checks on executive power. Developing nations like Venezuela need these checks just as much as richer countries.” Why do they criticise a Venezuelan referendum meant to expand term limits while in the UK there are no term limits at all for Prime Ministers, and most other political offices? Technically, in the UK, the same Prime Minister could cling on to power for decades, but, for some unspecified reason, it is only when Chavez seeks an extension of his term that there is a problem with it. And is the extension of president’s term really detrimental in Venezuela’s observance of “the rule of law”? And when was the last time these same editorial writers pontificated about Hosni Mubarak’s investiture-for-life as Egypt’s decades-long president? The simple answer is: they haven’t done so. In the case of corrupt and dictatorial “presidents” who cling on to power for decades, e.g., Hosni Mubarak, or the autocratic monarchs of the Gulf States, the editorial writers are mostly silent. It is clear that a double standard seems to apply.
The Independent’s editorial writers state: “With all this in mind, it is hard to interpret the weekend’s referendum result as a positive step for Venezuelan democracy.” It is not up to some fatuous editors sitting in London to make this assessment. Ultimately, the ones who determine the outcome of this referendum are the Venezuelan people. If in their view they didn’t care for the Chavez or what he represents, then they could have rejected him in the referendum. The editorial writers seem to hold the Venezuelan electors in contempt because they don’t vote according to “western” expectations.
The Independent’s editorial writers admit that Chavez is “is certainly better than what came before him”, and list a few of his achievements. At the same time there is no mention of the opposition’s authoritarian tendencies or the threat to Venezuela’s democracy when the right-wing and the military launched a coup in 2002. It certainly is odd to regard Chavez “authoritarian”, i.e., someone who has been elected several times and has
put up with the opposition’s electoral charades, while the mean-spirited nature of the opposition is neglected.
Finally, the editorial pontificators state:
“Now, more than ever, Venezuela’s future depends on a personality. Will Mr Chavez be able to suppress the authoritarian instincts that revealed themselves in his character periodically over the past decade? There are new pressures now. Mr Chavez will find it increasingly difficult to finance his social revolution now oil prices have collapsed. Recession is one battle that the former tank commander has never had to fight before.”
What “authoritarian instincts” are they writing about? Simply put: the editorial writers are uttering nonsense. And about the “new pressures” and the difficulty in funding the social revolution or whatever economic project: this is a challenge faced by every country in the current world-wide depression; it is not only Venezuela that confronts a unique problem.
Here is Dave Brown’s cartoon that accompanied the lead article.
It exhibits the same nonsensical interpretation of the referendum as the piece written by the editorial writers. Chavez tends to elicit in The Independent’s editors a knee-jerk reaction, with an emphasis on the latter.