Reuters' five "facts" about Chavez.
by Gustavo Coronel and Pedro M. Burelli
The news agency Reuters has just published a curious description of Hugo Chavez under what turns out to be a deceitful heading: FACTBOX : Five facts about Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. It is unsigned, comes just before the Sunday Venezuelan referendum and seems obviously designed to promote sympathy for the uncouth and authoritarian president, who is trying to push a constitutional reform that would convert the country into a socialist, dictatorial state. The five "facts" about Chavez, are the following with our requisite commentary:
"Chavez spent much of his later military career conspiring with other leftist officials to overthrow the country's corrupt political order. Chavez led a 1992 coup that failed but made him famous and propelled him toward the presidency".
This "fact" falls short of the truth. The government he tried to overthrow in the bloody and inept military rebellions of 1992 was as democratically elected as his and in hindsight has proven to have been much less corrupt and divisive. It was the benign nature of Venezuela's prior political order that saw Lt. Colonel Chávez released from jail with full political rights despite his direct responsibility in the death of scores of Venezuelans.
"Opposition politicians and dissident military officers led a coup against Chavez in 2002, but supporters and loyal soldiers swept him back into power in less than two days".
This "fact" falls even shorter from the truth. In April 2002 the largest popular demonstration ever seen in Venezuela, some 700,000 strong marched in the direction of the Venezuelan Presidential Palace, only to be shot at by Chavez's snipers. Earlier in the day Chavez ordered the armed force to repress the marchers the military refused and, instead, asked him for his resignation. Chávez opted to step down and asked for forgiveness from his senior officers and accepted that he had erred in the handling of the demonstration and was therefore responsible for the consequences – more dead people under his belt. Three high ranking Catholic bishops witnessed all of this and guaranteed his well being, that alone might explain the continuing attacks on the church hierarchy. The army General Lucas Rincon, who announced to the country on National TV that Chavez had resigned, was later named Minister of the Interior and Justice, and is now Chavez's ambassador in Lisbon. Chavez was put back in power, not by a popular reaction but thanks to the eventual intervention of General Raul Baduel, who had been relegated by a transition government that then failed to uphold the Constitution. That same General, until recently the Minister of Defense, has now turned against Chavez, claiming that his proposed constitutional reform is in effect a coup d'etat.
"Chavez has won the backing of the poor majority with massive social spending that has expanded health and education programs. He has also cultivated support by openly confronting the United States…"
This is a dangerous "truth". Chavez has not engaged in structural health and education programs. He has spent billions of dollars in massive handouts, not to be confused with plans to attack the structural roots of poverty, illness and ignorance. He distributes fish but does not teach the people to fish. As a result poor Venezuelans are more dependent than ever on the paternalistic, populist and vindictive leader. The entire health, educational and commerce infrastructure has been decimated due to incompetence and corruption. The state of the most major hospitals is deplorable and thousands of patients are flown every year to be operated in Venezuelan funded hospitals in Cuba. Chavez' support domestically has not been increased by his attacks on the U.S. In fact, most Venezuelans reject those attacks, as shown by all credible polls.
"Born to a poor family in Venezuela's plains Chavez once aspired to be a painter and later dreamed of being a professional baseball player…"
This is true but is not the whole truth. Today the Chavez family is among the richest in Venezuela. All of Chavez brothers, as well as his father hold important government positions and manage, with little transparency, significant public monies. They now have very large landholdings in Venezuela and are said to own important food distribution companies through middlemen that do flourishing business with the government. The Chavez family rules over the insatiably wealthy and paradoxical new elite commonly referred to as the "Boliburgesia".
"Chavez has a folksy Caribbean style and is famous for his long-winded speeches…"
To define Chavez's rhetoric as "folksy Caribbean" is a distortion and an insult to many. Chavez is a loutish and belligerent speaker who bases his arguments on personal and indefensible insults against his adversaries (he calls them enemies and traitors). This is not folksy but indecent. He flavors his speeches with abundant racist and machista comments, all of which has been abundantly documented.
It is unfortunate that Reuters has tried to present the Venezuelan dictator in a favorable light, defining him and his bad habits as "famous". He is not famous like Mother Theresa or Albert Einstein, just notorious like Paris Hilton or O.J. Simpson.
Original publication follows:
FACTBOX: Five facts about Venezuela's Hugo Chavez
Wed Nov 28, 2007 12:27pm EST
(Reuters) - Venezuela holds a referendum on Sunday on President Hugo Chavez's controversial proposal for constitutional reforms that would allow him to stay in office for as long as he keeps winning elections.
Here are five facts about Chavez:
* A former lieutenant colonel, Chavez spent much of his later military career conspiring with other leftist officials to overthrow the country's corrupt political order. He led a 1992 coup that failed but made him famous and propelled him toward the presidency.
* Chavez won power at a presidential election in 1998 and took office the following year. Opposition politicians and dissident military officers led a coup against Chavez in 2002, but supporters and loyal soldiers swept him back into power in less than two days. Chavez accuses Washington of supporting the putsch.
* Chavez has won the backing of the poor majority with massive social spending that has expanded health and education programs. He has also cultivated support by openly confronting the United States, which he describes as a decadent empire.
* Born to a poor family in Venezuela's plains, Chavez once aspired to be a painter and later dreamed of being a professional baseball player. To this day he explains politics through baseball metaphors, frequently referencing his "pig's tail" curveball.
* Chavez has a folksy Caribbean style and is famous for his long-winded speeches that often drag on into the early morning. His weekly Sunday talk show has gone on as long as eight hours.
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