Gloating Postmortems -
The Corporate Media v. Hugo Chavez
December 3, 2007 - the corporate media is euphoric after Venezuelans
narrowly defeated Hugo Chavez's constitutional reform referendum the
previous day. The outcome defied pre-election independent poll predictions
and was a cliffhanger to the end. Near-final results weren't announced
until 1:15AM December 3 with about 100,000 votes separating the two
sides and a surprising 44% of eligible voters abstaining. On December
7, Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) released the final outcome
based on 94% of ballots counted. A total of 69 amendment reforms were
voted on in two blocks:
A: No - 50.65%; Si (Yes) - 49.34%;
B: No - 51.01%; Si (yes) - 48.99%.
a sampling of corporate media gloating. They deserve a bit of slack
as they've waited nine years for this moment, and they may not get another
for some time. Venezuelans lost, they won, but Chavez may be right saying
reform lost "por ahora (for now)." In a post-election comment
on Venezuelan state TV channel VTV he added: Reform is slowed but alive,
and "the Venezuelan people have the power and the right to present
a request for constitutional reform before (my) term (in office) finishes,
of which there is still five years."
law, the National Assembly (NA) can pass new socially beneficial or
other legislation any time provided it doesn't conflict with constitutional
law. The Constitution can only be changed by national referenda in one
of three ways - if the President, NA or 15% of registered voters (by
petition) request it. The Constitution, however, prevents the President
from seeking the same amendments twice in the same term, but they can
become law through popular initiatives or a constituent assembly.
Chavez can use his constitutionally allowed Enabling Law authority until
next summer when it expires. Under it, he can pass laws by decree in
11 key areas that include the structure of state organs, election of
local officials, the economy, finance and taxes, banking, transportation,
the military and national defense, public safety, and policies related
this authority two previous times and used it in 2001 to pass 49 legal
changes to make them conform to the Constitution in areas of land and
banking reform and for more equitable revenue-sharing arrangements with
foreign oil companies in joint-state ventures. He wanted it this time
to accelerate democratic change at the grassroots and be able to transfer
power to the people through communal councils. He may also use it to
advance his social and economic model based on equitably distributing
more of the national wealth through investments in health care, education
and social security. If these type reform measures are proposed, he'll
get strong public support for them provided he keeps them simple and
explains them properly and often.
In his post-election
comments, Chavez stressed another reform proposal is coming "next
year or in three years. It doesn't have to be exactly the same. It can
be in the same direction, but in a different form, improved and simplified,
because I have to accept that the reform that we presented was very
debate and propaganda assault made it more complex, and the opposition
out-muscled reform supporters. With proper planning and implementation,
that problem is correctable, and in the meantime, the NA can enact some
reforms legislatively and Chavez can do it on his own by decree. Expect
that to happen and for most Venezuelans to support it enthusiastically.
members of Venezuela's National Indigenous Movement (MNIV) want constitutional
reform reinitiated, intend to mobilize, and may begin collecting signatures
for a petition drive for it. They met to strategize on December 7 after
which MNIV coordinator Facundo Guanipa announced that Venezuela's small
indigenous population near-unanimously supports Chavez's reforms according
to referendum data results.
however, the gloaters have center stage and aren't quoting OAS Secretary
General Jose Miguel Insulza's comment that "Quite a few myths on
the Venezuelan democracy are falling down. It works like all democracies....I
hope the US government can acknowledge, as all of us, that it was a
fair, clean process."
on it or from the dominant media, and start off with this writer's favorite
press adversary - the Wall Street Journal's Mary Anastasia O'Grady,
this time on a Journal-produced three minute video available online.
She warms up fast with comments like the referendum, if passed, would
have given Chavez "dictatorial power to rule for life," and
Venezuela has a "rigged electoral system." Outrageous and
false on both counts, of course, but this is typical O'Grady ranting.
she claimed near-final tallies were available around 8:15PM, but the
National Electoral Council (CNE) waited until 1:15AM to report them.
In fact, reporting was delayed because the election was too close to
call, and it was agreed in advance not to do it until 90% of the votes
were counted. At that point, the result was announced. One other O'Grady
gem was Chavez came to power in 1999 by "removing" the "old
elite" implying that defeating them decisively and democratically
was improper - vintage O'Grady with more from her ahead assured.
wasn't through. An online op-ed read: "Venezuelans Rain on Hugo
(and it's) more than a setback for Venezuela's messianic strongman.
It is a victory for the ideal of liberty across Latin America....kudos....to
the people of Venezuela (by preventing Chavez from) impos(ing) what
amounted to a personal coup against that nation's democracy. He tried
to bully Venezuelans into voting for one-man rule and a hard model of
socialism. They said no (and CNE waited until 1:15AM) when it became
clear that there was no way to fudge the results."
to the Journal, Chavez's package "would have eviscerated Venezuela's
civil liberties (and) end guarantees of private property." A final
jab was in the form of a warning that Chavez still controls the country's
political institutions and "remains a threat to (the) region. He's
in a race against time (to advance his) expansionist agenda (that) has
the potential to undermine Colombia's democracy, and has already destabilized
Bolivia and Ecuador." Phew, and Rupert Murdoch hasn't yet taken
over the paper he bought last summer when he finalized a deal for Dow
Jones & Company.
New York Times and its man in Caracas, Simon Romero, whose style outclasses
Journal writers but not his substance. His byline on December 3 read
"Venezuela Hands Narrow Defeat to Chavez Plan" that would
have granted him "sweeping new powers. Opposition leaders were
ecstatic," and Zulia State governor and Chavez 2006 presidential
opponent, Manuel Rosales, said "Tonight, Venezuela has won."
His next day report trumpeted the setback saying the "vote sets
roadblocks (and) has given new energy to (the) long-suffering opposition."
It's "an expression of....government mismanagement (and) a warning
to Mr. Chavez that he had finally overreached (in wanting to end presidential)
term limits and greatly (centralize) his power." It's a "sharp
rebuke (from voters to) let Mr. Chavez know (they're reluctant) to follow
him much farther up the path to a socialist future."
from Romero, along with Times op-ed writers, that "Reflection and
Anger (came) After Defeat," and Chavistas are "being consumed
by recrimination and soul-searching" following voter rejection.
"Chavez lash(ed) out at his opponents (and) dismissed (their victory)
with an (unmentioned) obsenity," and "Chavismo" needs
"to embrace a more pluralistic path."
a warm-up for op-ed writer Roger Cohen. He chimed in with a backhanded
salute for "the humiliation of a 51 to 49 percent rejection to
end term limits and undermine private property rights." He stopped
short of mentioning most West European and other parliamentary systems
allow unlimited reelections, and the latter accusation if false. Then
Cohen attacks calling Chavez a "strongman....a caudillo....a menace
(and) his 'socialismo' equals 'Hugoismo.' " He aimed to "accumulat(e)
power through threats, slandering opponents as 'traitors,' (and) buying
support with $150 million a day in oil money."
It gets worse:
"his crony bankers (are) pocketing millions by arbitraging the
disparity between the official and black-market (bolivar) rates. Crime
and drug-trafficking are thriving." His socialism is "the
Russian (equivalent of) 'Soviets,' (and) I salute the Venezuelan people"
for imposing "The Limits of (a) 21st-Century Revolution."
On December 3, Cohen listed them in eight Venezuelan marketplace and
political rules to show by his logic Chavez "can('t) turn back
the clock far enough to change" them.
wasn't done, and on December 4 it lashed out editorially with "A
Tale of Two Strongmen." The other was Vladimir Putin after his
December 2 parliamentary election victory. According to The Times, it
was a "referendum on himself (in which he) cynically manipulated
a huge victory...." Chavez wasn't as lucky in his "latest
and most outrageous power grab (so there's) hope (Venezuelan) political
competition....will now flourish." The Times concedes he's "still
very powerful," so "The international community will....have
to keep up the pressure on (him because he) hasn't suddenly become a
Post had it's post-election say with a similar slanderous agitprop editorial
torrent - that "Mr. Chavez had proposed to make himself a de facto
president for life....Polls before the vote showed only about a third
of Venezuelans favored the amendments (and) Urban slum dwellers who
have supported Mr. Chavez in the past had good reason for second thoughts:
Thanks to his crackpot economic policies....the outcome will not restore
full democracy (because Chavez) still controls the legislature, courts,
national television and the state oil company, and he retains the authority
to rule by decree." False on all counts except that most democratically
elected legislators and Chavez-appointed judges support Bolivarianism
as embedded in the country's Constitution they're sworn to uphold.
The AP was
also hostile calling Chavez "conflict-prone (with a) larger-than-life
personality leav(ing) little room for compromise (that) ensur(es) more
friction (in a) deeply polarized (country)." But "Sunday's
victory has energized the opposition (that can petition) for a recall
referendum once Chavez reaches the midpoint of his six-year term in
In the West
as well, the Los Angeles Times was celebratory in calling Sunday's defeat
"a remarkable indictment of (Chavez's) agenda." But it headlined:
"Chavez isn't finished." Even in defeat, he'll be "able
to pass many of his desired reforms legislatively" since he controls
the NA and Supreme Court. The Times cited "images of huge (opposition)
student marches," but the "biggest factor (on) Sunday (was)
Chavez's own nonsensical economic policies, which have caused many of
his impoverished supporters to wonder if he really knows what he's doing."
They're "like Soviet Russia or modern Cuba (and) Chavez's socialist
ideals are leading Venezuela to a precipice, and it's the poor who will
suffer most if it goes over the edge."
wondered "How Will Chavez Handle Defeat? (and) Why Venezuelans
Turned on Chavez." It reported "panic set in around 7PM Sunday
evening," but it wasn't until 1:00AM that "el comandante"
conceded defeat. In the view of Time writer, Jens Erik Gould, they worried
more about a Chavez power grab and ability to seize private property
than the proposed social benefits for the poor and popular grassroots
power they'd get. But while "defeat may....slow the President down....he
and his allies still have wide-reaching powers (so the) battle is far
from over" with no doubt left which side Time backs.
Week magazine was vocal about what was "Behind Chavez's Defeat
in Venezuela" in an article full of the usual kinds of errors,
misstatements and pro-business slant. It said "rejection....may
mean more stability for business and the economy" without ever
mentioning business is booming, and the economy is one of the fastest
growing ones in the world under Chavez's "socialist vision."
quoted the opposition saying if the referendum passed "We would
have woken up in a dictatorship....a possible victory....undermined
business confidence....defeat calls into question whether Chavez will
be able to deepen his socialist revolution....the majority in Venezuela
doesn't share Chavez's socialist vision....There is growing discontent
with Chavez's leadership." Victory would have let Chavez "seize
private property....curb private ownership....undermine Venezuela's
democratic and capitalist foundations, and allow Chavez to create a
state styled on communist Cuba if passed."
post-election rants could fill volumes. A few more follow below:
-- the San
Francisco Chronicle lamented that "Chavez (still) holds all the
cards (and) The opposition has yet to find a leader that can match Chavez's
magnetic personality and charisma."
was also dismayed that one defeat won't "likely....stop (Chavez's)
drive to socialize Venezuela's economy....he may nationalize industries,
seize property and weaken central bank independence."
-- the state-run
Voice of America (VOA) trumpeted George Bush's post-election comment
that Chavez's defeat is a "vote for democracy;" it never mentioned
his pre-election rant about Venezuela being undemocratic;
-- CBS News
headlined "Chavez's Democratic Authoritarianism (so) Despite (electoral
defeat), Venezuela's President will continue toward absolute rule;"
-- the Christian
Science Monitor said "Venezuela's Chavez Defiant, Despite Defeat....few
believe the results will cause (him) to alter his course,"
-- the Financial
Times in a "Chronicle of a defeat foretold" sees Chavez's
support among the poor eroding as "Venezuelans are seeing things
with greater realism;"
-- the Economist
sees his "aura of invincibility....forever damaged, the battle
for succession seems bound to begin soon (and) Survival strategies no
longer....involve unquestioning loyalty to the 'commandante.' The fighting
back is just beginning;"
-- CNN was
also at the forefront of what Chavez at a post-election press conference
called its manipulation campaign. He said Defense Minister Rangel Briceno
was "very angry by (CNN's) manipulating campaign....all over the
world," he's preparing to sue the cable network, and "behind
(it) is the evil face of the United States;"
-- the BBC
is notorious as a "guardian of power;" it headlined "White
House....welcomes the defeat of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's controversial
reform....referendum....(and said) the people spoke their minds....that
bodes well for the country's future and freedom and liberty....(Venezuelans
didn't) want any further erosion in their democracy and their democratic
institutions;" pro-Chavez voices or a clear explanation of the
issues were nowhere in sight pre or post-election;
-- the Chicago
Tribune headlined "Chavez chastened, hardly capitulating (as) political
leaders and analysts said it is too early to say whether the slim defeat....represents
just a bump in the road....or the awakening of a durable and vibrant
-- the London
Guardian's Seumas Milne headlined Chavez was "Down but not out
in Caracas" in writing for a paper with a long history of pro-state
support and too little of it for its people. Milne, on the other hand,
struck another note saying Bolivarianism suffered a setback (but) "it's
far from finished (and) Sunday wasn't a crushing defeat." It also
"discredit(ed) the canard that the country is somehow slipping
into authoritarian or even dictatorial rule....The referendum was a
convincing display of democracy in action....The revolutionary process
underway in Venezuela has delivered remarkable social achievements."
Halting or reversing them "would be a loss whose significance would
go far beyond Venezuela's borders (but) Chavez's comments and commitments
(show) there is no mood for turning back."
resilient and will rebound from one electoral setback. Don't ever count
him out or underestimate his influence over what co-director of the
Center for Economic and Policy Research, Mark Weisbrot, says is "A
historic transformation....underway in Latin America (following) more
than a quarter century of neoliberal" rule. Long-time Latin American
expert, James Petras, puts it this way: "The referendum and its
outcome (while important today) is merely an episode in the struggle
between authoritarian imperial centered capitalism (Chavez opposes)
and democratic workers centered socialism (it's hoped Bolivarianism
will deliver)." The spirit of democracy thrives in Venezuela, and
one electoral setback won't derail it.
Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen
to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com
Mondays at noon US central time.
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