Open Letter to The Economist – RE: “Hugo Chávez’s Rotten Legacy”

Source: Pulsa Merica

“Hugo Chávez’s Rotten Legacy” bequeathed by The Economist offers many sloppy factual errors regarding the memory of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. In its shamelessly ideologized bushwacking of the Venezuelan leader, Chávez is presented as an anti-democratic, autocratic, and anti-private business zealot, as he allegedly cynically buys votes for himself by extravagantly wasting oil revenues on “handouts” to the poor.

The Economist’s claim that Latin America had “embraced democracy” in the 1990s is highly tendentious, at least in the case of Venezuela.  In the decades before Chávez lifted his sword in the name of the poor, Venezuela operated under the Punto Fijo political pact under which the country’s two dominate parties, the right-wing Christian Democrats and left-leaning Social Democrats, agreed to alternate power, excluding all of the nation’s other parties. As Michael Coppedge notes in the journal Comparative Politics, Venezuela under Punto Fijo was “as authoritarian as a country could be and still claim to be democratic.”

Venezuela was also corrupt. So infamous was President Carlos Andrés Pérez (1974-1979 and 1989-1993) that, when Pérez secured his second term in office, many Venezuelans said that he was “coming back to steal what he missed the first time.” Pérez eventually was convicted in 1996 of “misusing” $17.2 million USD in government funds and spent time under house arrest and in jail.

However rabidly The Economist despises Chávez for his politics and his leftist prattling, his administrations were incontestably democratically selected, with the elections being overseen by international observers. These votes were also always held in a context of vigorous and open debate, with the five major over-the-air TV networks being either neutral or strongly anti-Chávez. State television, so denounced by Chávez’s critics, consistently was able to claim only a 5 percent share of television audiences. Likewise, nine of the ten major Venezuelan newspapers were anti-Chávez. Chávez’s opponents enjoyed broad-gauge opportunities to make their case, assailing viewers and readers alike with their rabidly anti-Chávez views and who openly challenged the constitutionally elected Chávez. The president’s opponents openly backed the April 2002 failed coup against the elected government that temporarily removed Chávez from power.

Venezuela today has a capitalist economy with important state involvement, a system not dissimilar to other mixed capitalist economies in Western Europe. Private U.S. corporations, including Halliburton and Chevron working on oil extraction, continue to operate and prosper in Venezuela in contrast to other Latin American nations, such as Mexico, that offer little or no role for foreign companies in the oil industry.

The “handouts” derided by The Economist include the Programa de Alimentación Escolar, which provides free breakfasts, snacks, and nutritious lunches to nearly half of Venezuela’s school children; the Misión Barrio Adentro public health program, which has helped lower infant mortality in Venezuela from 26.17 when Chávez took office in 1999 to 20.18 in 2012; and Misión Milagro, a program that has restored vision to over two million sightless individuals, since the program began operating in 2004. In fact, the social services Venezuela provides to its own citizenry have already been emulated in Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, and Perú.

With articles like “Hugo Chávez’s Rotten Legacy,” The Economist is cementing its growing reputation as a fact-challenged right-wing propaganda vehicle and a publication, which is still trying to properly define itself as passionately committed to its panjandrum class but hardly by a balanced appeal. Such a publication doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously by fair-minded people, because it is hard-put to offer impartial arguments in a democratic debate.

Dr. Ronn Pineo, Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, as well as Professor and Chair of the Department of History at Towson University

In response to The Economist: Hugo Chávez’s Rotten Legacy

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9 thoughts on “Open Letter to The Economist – RE: “Hugo Chávez’s Rotten Legacy”

  • April 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Pineo is obviously a shameless idolater of Chávez and cannot stand criticism from the Economist.

    Chávez 1992 coup attempt was against a democratically-elected government. The fact that the Venezuelan government in power in 1992 may have been very corrupt doesn't suggest that Chávez, in power since 1998, has chosen to do anything about Venezuelan corruption. The Corruption Perception Index 2012 shows Venezuela as the most corrupt state in Latin America, equal only to Haiti:

    Chávez has also done nothing to reduce the extreme degree of violence in Venezuela, such that Venezuela is now #5 in world murder rate ranking:

    Chávez came to power in spite of critical press, but while in power has relentlessly sought to corral press freedoms, such that the press freedoms have tanked in Chávez' "democratic" Venezuela:

    Chávez has not made Venezuela any more peaceable:

  • April 1, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    This response to a furious attack on Chavez reads like an equally furious defense of Chavez. It only joins the apparently endless chorus of angry antagonists that has characterized all references to Chavez since he assumed power. Is there any chance that some day there will be a rational assessment of his legacy, one not marked by passionate love or hatred? I doubt it.

  • April 1, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    I respect the thinking done by Hugo Chavez. For example, five branches of government opens the door to seeing that a modern democracy might well include seven. Many in the US can clearly see all three branches are a corrupt fake democracy, Hugo broke the ice for thinking about what a modern government might look like.

  • April 3, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    As a Venezuelan I see Mr. Pinneo falling into the same quicksand rhetoric that swallows any kind of discussion concerning Hugo Chavez. I read the article and although their angle is clearly against the Bolivarian Revolution their facts are entirely correct. The missions which you passionately defend had their roots with governments before Chavez and one reason they thrived was because of the historic oil revenues we received during the past decade.
    Plus, these "missions" or handouts began towards the year 2006 when new elections were looming with the intent of remaining in power. Previously, the changes had been minimal in Venezuela despite changing the constitution, surviving a coup, a general oil strike and having already served a term.
    But let me ask you two simple questions, looking back at Chavez public life what are his most famous quotes? I was looking for a positive one the other day and could not find any.
    The second question is, what was Hugo Chavez's written legacy? Did he leave any kind of manifesto of the revolution? The constitution was changed under his command, but it has been violated numerous times. I am just asking, is there any written manifesto of the Bolivarian Revolution and what it's all about?

    • April 3, 2013 at 10:29 pm

      Chavez said many positive things and there is a great wealth of documentation for this. For those interested in actually reading Hugo Chavez and discovering his profound study of humanist, Latin American independence, and socialist thought, a good start is La Unidad Latinoamericana, Ocean Press y Ocean Sur, 2006. This book covers some of his major speeches from 1999 to 2006. The history of the missions and what they are all about can be found in a series of communiques called "Las Misiones Bolivarianas" by the Ministry of Information and Communication. Also, a fifteen page booklet on the Missions was distributed for free throughout Venezuela at the start of the missions. Food subsidies were started under President Carlos Andres Perez but expanded by Chavez, not in 2006, but in 2004. Access to health care was difficult for the poor, and Barrio Adentro brought the clinics to the neighborhoods. Barrio Adentro was underway in 2003. Education missions were formed in 2003 also. So the 2006 date is a bit late.

  • April 3, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    Am I mistaken that Hugo Chavez became president after a long period when the middle class was squeezed like it has been for the last thirty years in the United States?

    Was Venezuela much different than the resource rich states in the US which are home to the poorest and least educated people? It is easy to condemn someone who is not perfect while ignoring the surrounding stink of those grabbing as much as they can for themselves as their country devolves into chaos and poverty.

    Was it not a corrupt elite that let Venezuela sink which made it both possible and mandatory for someone like Hugo Chavez to at least try another course? My impression is the US is in a similar position as Venezuela was just before Hugo rose to prominence. When there is no reason for anyone to expect a fair chance in a corrupt system then either the nation falls apart or someone rises up to try a new idea.

  • April 4, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Hahahaha come say dating q missions before Chavez,,,, totally false,,, most from the agreement with Cuba,,, did not exist,,,, even though they tried to remove anafabetismo, just what Chavez achievement. .. Pione a true critic of manipulation and media distortion,,, most Venezuelans and the media manipulate us not much less coming from the hand of invading empire and U.S. terror.
    On 14 show the world that we confirm our destination Venezuelans to our XXI century socialism Chavez's true legacy.

  • April 5, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    I am Venezuelan born and raised, and have got enough so far with the Pro/Anti Chavez relentless bias of every one discussing the subject, including university professors. This article offers little more than a state-run propaganda advertisement would have.

    While there is substantial evidence that the poverty levels have reduced during the Chavez era, it is also true that the government income multiplied by 10. Instead of a balance of long-term investments in infrastructure and welfare (the so-called Brazilian/Lula way) Venezuela has little left after Chavez. Public and private debt skyrocketed, and the government has been forced to devalue the currency from 4.3 bolivares per dolar to 14 (and this doesn't even include "black market" rate, on which many transactions are made).

    Has the per-capita income (the major way to define poverty) increased substantially during the last year as to compensate for such a devaluation in a country living on imported goods?

  • April 10, 2013 at 5:28 am

    This is one of the best publish, I have actually examine up to now. Hi you should help to make a great composition concerning your next post. I'm definitely happy if you will. Thanks.


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