Why did Chávez lose?


The _War on Democracy_ was made before the recent referendum in Venezuela. Had I had a later opportunity, I would have added a question to my interview with Hugo Chávez, asking him why he thought at least three million of his supporters abstained and caused him narrowly to lose the vote. I think his response might have been surprising that people may have wanted to punish him for not getting rid of corruption and crime and not redistributing wealth, as his vision of socialism promised. And I would agree with that.

Chávez has been able to use oil revenue to make some extraordinary changes among the majority of Venezuelans; but this also has allowed him to leave the rapacious privileges of the wealthy minority untouched. It’s ironic that he is attacked for threatening the freedoms of this minority when he has done no such thing and, I believe, has no interest in doing so.

The Venezuelan rich have got richer under during his time as president, and corruption, and crime have deepened. Crime is an endemic problem of poverty and inequality; corruption is an endemic problem of the same poverty and inequality, and many of Chávez's reforms have been designed to fight it by building a parallel administration that circumvents the old corrupt élites and their ways; but this is a long, hard struggle.

I think he would have won the referendum had the changes been better explained and had not made it all seem like a loyalty test. Of course, had he won, the private media in Venezuela – a 'wild west' of journalism bitterly opposed to the government – would have cried foul and continued in its abuse of perhaps the most democratically mandated leader on earth as a dictator. And the Western media would have echoed this. What they find so intolerable is that here is a government that has dared to go against an ideology that says there is no alternative. Venezuela has shown there is an alternative, however imperfect its progress.

The _War on Democracy_, by *John Pilger* and *Chris Martin*, is available from all good retailers.