Venezuela more stable than Chávez’s enemies claim

While millions of people around the world hold vigils and actions in support of the Venezuelan Bolivarian Revolution and the health of its leader, Hugo Chávez, the U.S.-supported right-wing opposition works around the clock disseminating lies through the international corporate media.

These lies are meant to bring doubts to Venezuelans in the hope that they will abandon their trust in the government and facilitate a “transition” toward the forces against Chávez.

As usual with the right wing everywhere, these forces resort to every available means, such as the despicable act of wishing and even announcing Chávez’s death, releasing articles by so-called “prestigious” academics — who themselves are often on the payroll of some U.S. agency established with the pretext of “promoting democracy.”

The rightist reports mostly try to spread vile lies about the Chávez government: that the leadership is divided, there is instability and uncertainty in the country, and most of all, the economy is about to collapse and the currency will be devalued. We’ll respond to these lies one by one.

Is the Venezuelan leadership divided?

It would be naive to think that in any given organization the leaders are interchangeable. Each leader has had different life experiences, even different political experiences, has different personalities, can approach problems from different angles, etc. The point is not their differences, but their goals for the country and the people.

Is the Venezuelan leadership, during the now temporary absence of President Chávez, moving the country and the revolution forward or not? That is the real issue. So far, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Exterior Minister Elias Jaua, Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas and Minister of Oil and Mines Rafael Ramirez seem to be playing an important, very public role and sending a consistent message. If there is any difference among them, they have apparently put it aside for the benefit of the people.

At a time of crisis like the one experienced in Venezuela now — with the unexpected, prolonged absence of the president — some difficulties at every level should be anticipated. This is a relatively young revolution. Socialist transformation of society is its goal, but this has not been accomplished yet. These processes are difficult and cannot be accelerated at will.

There is still much to be done and younger leadership to be fully developed. The government party, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV; United Socialist Party of Venzuela), is barely 6 years old! It has not yet developed a shared leadership of the revolution. That the revolution depends on a single person, Chávez, is obviously cause for concern.

Ultimately, it is the people who decide who their leaders will be. It is the people who have kept Chávez in power, not only through numerous elections since 1999, but by rescuing him from the 2002 coup by the U.S.-sanctioned Venezuelan oligarchy.

The people of Venezuela participate actively in forging their future, so whichever leadership continues or develops, it will only prevail if the people so decide.

Is there instability in Venezuela?

The capitalist press make it look like Venezuela is in shambles and at a standstill. But aside from sadness and serious concern about Chávez’s health, the country is moving forward. Social and political organizations aligned with Chávez’s program are holding events in support of the revolution and Chávez, and many are discussing the political implications of his absence and the course ahead.

The Misiones — those programs initiated by the government to improve the basic needs of the population like health, education, housing, etc. — are moving forward. International relations are thriving through the recent incorporation of Venezuela into Mercosur (an economic and political agreement among five Latin American countries) and the developments within the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) association, CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) organization and other regional groups.

A new development is the attempt to diversify energy sources to avoid complete reliance on oil. In February, the first wind farm will start up in La Guajira, built in collaboration with Argentina.

On Jan.18, the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan exterior ministers met in Caracas to discuss agreements in the areas of culture, production and commerce. Another agreement involved social security for Ecuadorian and Venezuelan immigrants, who will now enjoy these benefits in both countries as if it were one country.

A day earlier, Venezuela signed accords with Colombia for bilateral economic development of the border states, which lie along a 1,378-mile border. Vicious Colombian paramilitaries and right-wing landowners in the area have filled these border states with tremendous violence. Thousands of people, particularly the Indigenous, have had to flee and abandon their ancestral land.

A Venezuelan scholar now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Moisés Naím, wrote an op-ed for the Jan. 3 issue of the New York Times, entitled “An Economic Crisis of Historic Proportions.” Naím was the minister of industry who was instrumental in creating the neoliberal austerity measures of President Carlos Andrés Pérez (1974-79, 1989-93).

These austerity measures and the increase of oil prices led to the 1989 “Caracazo,” the uprising that Chávez frequently says was the origin of the current Bolivarian Revolution. The state then responded with enormous violence, shooting at the protesters, leaving 3,000 dead.

Naím wrote: “Last month, Jorge Botti, the head of Fedecámaras, Venezuela’s business federation, explained that unless the government supplies more dollars to pay for imports, shortages — from food to medicine — would be inevitable.”

This became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not much later, shortages of basic foodstuff were reported around the country. The privately owned anti-government media accompanied the shortages with a campaign of disinformation.

Reports from people in the communities and the government’s National Plan of Inspection and Auditing exposed the reason behind the shortages: private producers hoarded products, including 9,000 tons of refined sugar in storehouses in Aragua and 450 tons of precooked corn flour in Polar storehouses.

Hoarding is a common tactic of the opposition. According to Venezuelanalysis.com, “Last month the government, through its goods and services monitoring institute, carried out 1,542 inspections, which resulted in 212 fines and 47 closures of premises, for violating rules.” (Jan. 9)

Shortages of food have been common in the past due to reliance on exports. That is why the revolutionary Chávez administration initiated several programs of food production and distribution. According to the same article, “In 2012 the proportion of Venezuela’s food produced within the country reached 71 percent. Local production of red meat was 65 percent last year, and chicken was 100 percent.”

Is the economy collapsing?

Another opposition scare tactic is claiming that Venezuela’s economy is on the verge of collapse. Naím’s article mentions the same lies — a high level of debt and inflation, a 20 percent fiscal deficit, hard currency shortages, etc. Naím blames these alleged problems on the government’s “gross mismanagement.” But even “according to calculations by Bank of America, Venezuela’s fiscal deficit for 2012 is around 8.8 percent of [the gross domestic product], much lower than the 20 percent number that has been circulating among opposition sources and used to criticize government spending.” (Venezuelanalysis.com, Dec. 28)

It’s worth exploring the details of Venezuela’s economy, but that’s beyond the scope of this article. Here we’ll just quote a U.S. economist Mark Weisbrot, columnist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. His September 2012 article, “Venezuela’s Economic Recovery: Is It Sustainable?” co-authored with Jake Johnston, puts to rest Naím’s evaluation:

“The Venezuelan economy has had two recessions in the past thirteen years. The first was brought on by an oil strike, and the second — which could probably have been avoided with sufficient counter-cyclical policies — was during the world recession of 2009. The predictions of economic collapse, balance of payments or debt crises and other gloomy prognostications, as well as many economic forecasts along the way, have repeatedly proven wrong.

“The sharp fall in inflation over the past year indicates that the government has the ability to keep inflation under control while maintaining economic growth. As we have seen, Venezuela’s internal debt burden is very low, and its external debt burden is modest. Even if oil prices were to crash as they did in 2008-2009, the government would have plenty of capacity to borrow in order to counter a drop in private demand.

“With a sizeable trade surplus, Venezuela is unlikely to see any balance of payments crisis in the foreseeable future, and its currency does not have to be devalued.” (tinyurl.com/ark9nyh) n