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Venezuelans choose Chavez over the corporations

Hugo Chavez’s fourth election victory in a row was achieved on a turnout of 81% of the 19 million Venezuelans registered to vote, which is in stark contrast to falling turnouts in Britain and the upcoming US presidential election in which 50% may stay at home.

Chavez is a real hate figure not only for the right everywhere, but also for the liberal press in Britain. The Guardian has been predicting his imminent demise at every election since the first and published dire predictions of violence if there was a close result – all proved 100% wrong!

The Independent reports claims that Chavez bribed people to vote for him by “spending heavily on public housing and bankrolling expanded social programmes”. Apparently, during the first quarter of 2012, the construction sector expanded by nearly 30% compared with the same three months of 2011.

Sitting here in the UK where Osborne is about to announce another £12bn of cuts, you have to say: “Why can’t we have such bribes – we have oil and gas reserves too.”

Well, now I’ll do a bit of Independent/Guardian style speculative reporting. Whilst Henrique Capriles, a right-wing businessman, presented himself as left of centre and insisted he would not privatise oil and halt the social programmes, I say he would have!

He would have stopped the oil-for-loans programmes, abandoned existing contracts and brought in the big corporations like BP and Shell. He would have turned the 100,000 state oil corporation workforce over to them to deal with as they saw fit. He would have given them access to unlimited profits, in return for small percentage payments to his government and big bribes to his friends. Just as well he didn’t win and have the chance to prove me right.

Venezuela has the world’s largest oil and gas reserves, and the corporations have been greedily eyeing this prize for years and hate Chavez for keeping it from them. Because of limited access to expertise, it has proved hard for the Venezuelan state oil corporation to improve oil facilities and infrastructure. The explosion at the Amuay refinery in August in which 42 people were killed underlined this.

It has not even begun exploiting its gas reserves, and with refining capacity limited, this energy-rich country struggles to ensure power supplies and affordable energy. Petrol prices are extremely low but only because of a state subsidy.

To afford extensive social programmes and universal health and welfare benefits, the MVR government has been pushed to all sorts of fixes and deals. It has had $42bn in loans from China over the last five years. Of the 640,000 barrels of oil a day that Venezuela exports to China, 200,000 of them service this debt.  

Chavez’s manoeuvring has, however, made him an apologist for reactionaries like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Vladimir Putin of Russia, party because those countries will make oil deals with Venezuela without demanding entry into the unregulated global market.

Venezuela is not immune to the problems of bureaucracy that afflict all attempts to build socialism centred not on popular ownership but on state control. Inflation is high and rising, and many state-owned industries are inefficient and corrupt.

But Venezuela is not some Stalinist state whatever liberal critics claim. The constitution has been reformed and there are popular committees with a real say. A recent poll showed that half the population of Venezuela agrees with the idea of building a socialist country, against 29% who opposed it.

Since Chavez became president in 1999, income inequality in Venezuela has been declining, and it has the fairest income distribution in Latin America. Government expenditure has risen 30% in real terms in the last year, whilst GDP increased by 5.4%.

Chavez has tried to follow a path that avoids putting the global corporations in control of his country’s assets, and to use them, however imperfectly, to improve life for the people.

That makes him a thorn in the side not only of the right, but of so-called liberal media who hate trade unions, mock socialism, despise universal benefits and continually tell us such things are hopelessly out of date and unattainable.

Penny Cole
8 October 2012

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