Despatch from Caracas: Observing the Venezuelan elections


 

Hugo Chávez’s electoral victory should be a great source of hope to everyone seeking to turn back the tide of the neo-liberalism sweeping Europe, writes Grahame Morris MP (Labour, Easington)

In Venezuela, as an international election observer, the inspiring scenes I witnessed of millions of people – of all ages, men and women, and all races – queuing to cast their vote for Hugo Chávez was in sharp contrast to two recent articles on these pages.

Barack-Obama-Hugo-ChavezJust as much of the UK media inaccurately presented the race as tight – Hugo Chavez won by 11% which would be a landslide in British or US elections – these pieces made disputable claims about Venezuelan democracy and largely made no mention of the tremendous social achievements that laid the foundations for the election results.

The truth is Venezuela is one of the most democratic countries in the world; as Nobel Prize winner Jimmy Carter said last month:

“Of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

He added that Hugo Chavez won:

“…fairly and squarely.”

The Presidential election was the 15th electoral contest since Hugo Chávez came to office in 1999. That’s more sets of elections than were held in the previous 40 years in Venezuela.

Turnout has soared: Sunday’s election saw 81% voting and the numbers participating in Venezuela presidential elections have risen from 6.5 million to 15 million under Chávez. Voter registration has doubled to 19 million. The modern fingerprint verification and automated voting system allows people of all social classes including those who can’t read and write to vote.

However, one of the articles on Left Foot Forward claimed the voting system had put people off and allowed Chávez to win. The record turnout alone should be enough to refute this.

As should the Carter Centre election report that the right-wing coalition:

“…have participated in the (16) pre-audits and said they are confident in the security mechanisms and the secrecy of the vote… [and] have therefore categorically concluded there is no evidence whatsoever that it is possible to connect or reconstruct the link between fingerprint/ID number and the vote.”

But if that’s not enough then the public statements from the head of the right wing coalition’s campaign that in Venezuela “the vote is secret” should put an end to such unfounded comments.

The real reason Hugo Chávez won has absolutely nothing to do with electoral abuses. It’s down to his progressive social policies which address the needs of Venezuela’s poor majority. For example in the past year alone 250,000 new social houses have been built and state pensions made available for all.

More widely, free healthcare and education have become a reality. Illiteracy has been eradicated to UNESCO standards; infant mortality has reduced dramatically from 20 to 13 per 1,000; unemployment has fallen from 14.5% to 7.6%, and the number of Venezuelans in extreme poverty has dropped from 24.7% to 8.5%.

It is for these reasons Chávez’s vote has continually risen and that he won 8.1 million votes last week – a record in Venezuelan history. That’s almost the same number of votes Labour won at the 2010 general election even though our electorate is two-and-a-half times bigger.

Critics of Chávez – including some on the left – who emphasise his alliances with states with dubious records on human rights should look to the long list of despotic regimes Britain and other western democracies continue to support and sell arms to; moreover, Venezuela’s international alliances are mainly with Latin America where they are especially positive.

That is why the words of former Brazilian President Lula are perhaps the best rebuttal to those misrepresenting Venezuela:

“Progressive governments are changing the face of Latin America. Today, we are an international reference point for a successful alternative to neoliberalism…

“Under Chavez’s leadership, the Venezuelan people has made extraordinary gains. The popular classes have never ever been treated with such respect and dignity. Those conquests must be preserved and strengthened. Your victory will be ours.”

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has accepted the result. Governments across the world including Latin America and Europe recognise Chavez’s mandate. His success in attracting 55% of the votes in a democratic process his opponents accept is free and fair is an incredible feat. Hugo Chavez is the democratically elected President of Venezuela. Anyone who protests to the contrary does so, not because they are a democrat, but because they do not like the result.

À la carte democracy is alive and strong in the dark recesses of neo-liberal thinking; but then, we knew that already.

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  • Nick Davies

    Mr Morris really should be ashamed of himself. Blinded by the social democratic rhetoric he finds himself defending actions that he’d quickly condemn if they were carried out by the right of centre government. Perhaps he’d like to explain why the respected Freedom House says “Venezuela is not an electoral democracy.” http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2012/venezuela-0
    Venezuala is given a shocking score of 5 (out of 7) for both civil liberties and political rights. By comparison the UK is given 1, 1 and Afghanistan is given 6, 6.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Cottrell-Boyce/223201221 Joe Cottrell-Boyce

    Freedom House is a US government funded organization with a clear neoliberal agenda. Far from supporting democracy, Freedom House supported the 2002 military coup in Venezuela. That they don’t like Chavez doesn’t really need explaining.
    The millions of Venezuelans who have benefited from Bolivarianism do like him however, and elected him in a free and fair election.

  • Nick Davies

    You’re quite right. It’s clearly a neoliberal conspiracy. That must be why those famously neoliberal groups Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have both been extremely critical of the Chavez regime.

    Amnesty says – “Politically motivated charges were brought against those who opposed government policies. Human rights defenders were attacked and intimidated. Human rights violations by the security forces were reported. Progress in combating violence against women was slow.” http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/venezuela/report-2011

    HRW says – “The 133-page report, “Tightening the Grip: Concentration and Abuse of Power in Chávez’s Venezuela”, documents how the accumulation of power in the executive and the erosion of human rights protections have allowed the Chávez government to intimidate, censor, and prosecute critics and perceived opponents in a wide range of cases involving the judiciary, the media, and civil society.” http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/07/17/venezuela-concentration-and-abuse-power-under-ch-vez

  • Redshift1

    If you read Amnesty’s criticism it is actually one that would apply to the vast majority of countries across the world – especially in Latin America. They would apply even more so to previous Venezuelan governments than they do to Chavez’s.

  • Nick Davies

    I’m not saying that Venezuala is unique. Only that certain Labour politicians are far too willing to whitewash Chavez’s questionable human rights record. To suggest that “Venezuela is one of the most democratic countries in the world” is laughable and demonstrably false.

  • Newsbot9

    Absolutely. The whole thing smacks of farce.

    It speaks, frankly, of how far Labour have moved away from the workers. Time for a new, actually left wing party.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Cottrell-Boyce/223201221 Joe Cottrell-Boyce

    You’d be hard pushed to find many (new)Labour politicians who like Chavez. Because Bolivarianism is ‘actually left wing’.

  • Newsbot9

    Ah, No True Scotsman.

    No, left-wing involves the workers doing well, not the politicians.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Cottrell-Boyce/223201221 Joe Cottrell-Boyce

    Yes. And Bolivarianism has halved the number of people living in poverty by 50%, made Venezuela the most equal nation in the region and invested in jobs to bring about the largest reduction in unemployment on the continent!

    The only reason people vote for Chavez is he represents the interest of the people as opposed to the elites.

  • Newsbot9

    Ah yes, the old relative vs absolute figures trick.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Cottrell-Boyce/223201221 Joe Cottrell-Boyce

    Errr OK Bolivarianism has reduced absolute poverty by 70% through the social protection it has introduced.
    Sorry what would your brand of left wing polices be then?
    If they don’t involve reducing inequality and poverty, investing in employment and vastly
    expanded access to health, education, and housing?

  • Newsbot9

    Funny, I don’t think I need a cult of personality to do that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Cottrell-Boyce/223201221 Joe Cottrell-Boyce

    Right so you don’t like Chavez, but you do agree with everything he’s done for the people of Venezuela…
    And if Bolivarian reforms are no big deal, show me another country on the planet with a comparable record of progressive progress.

  • Newsbot9

    Didn’t say that. Not fond of political suppression, and I’m not a socialist, I’m a mutualist and don’t go for control-freak states.

    And easy, the Nordics.