Venezuela Ends Term Limits
By PATRICK IRELAN *
Venezuelan voters have approved a referendum that ends
term limits for the president and all other elected
officials. Fifty-four percent of those who took part
voted in favor of the measure Sunday.
The Washington Post, in its colorful fashion, stated
the matter like this: "President Hugo Chavez persuaded
Venezuelans today to end term limits through a
referendum that allows him to rule far into the 21st
century to complete his socialist transformation of
this oil-rich country."
Chavez is already 54 years old. If he rules for another
20 or 30 years, "far into the 21st century," he'll be
older than John McCain and won't remember how many
houses he owns.
The Post went on to say that "Chavez took office in
1999 and has since amassed overwhelming control over
virtually every government institution." This statement
is a gross exaggeration, but reporter Juan Forero
probably had to skip lightly over the truth to meet a
deadline. He also failed to state that the referendum
ended term limits for all elected officials and is
likely to turn the National Assembly into a geriatric
With only one exception, the major newspapers in
Caracas always go well beyond the timid Post when
expressing their contempt for President Chavez. El
Universal stated that 54.36 percent of the voters
"endorsed President Hugo Chavez's proposal to amend the
Constitution in order to establish endless reelection
of all elected officials."
In other words, from now on it's automatic. According
to the Constitution, once you're in, you're in forever.
That's how it works in the U.S. Senate. Why not do the
same in Venezuela?
At El Universal, the Cold War never ended and never
will. Consider the first sentence from an editorial
called "Communism," dated September 09, 2008:
"Venezuela is sliding down the steady slope toward the
dictatorial communist life of Cuba."
Moreover, "The authorities insist that its iron-fisted
rule reflects the will of the people. True, millions of
Venezuelans appear to be going along with whatever the
government demands out of fear, complacency or
At this point, I feel the need to suggest that millions
of Venezuelans may not really be fearful, complacent,
or neglectful. I think that millions of people favor
the policies of Hugo Chavez and the United Socialist
Party of Venezuela (PSUV) because socialism has
improved their lives.
In February of this year, the Center for Economic and
Policy Research (CEPR) released a study of the first 10
years of the Chavez administration. Mark Weisbrot,
Rebecca Ray, and Luis Sandoval wrote this report, which
is called "The Chavez Administration at 10 Years: The
Economy and Social Indicators." I'll list only a few of
the details from this study.
"During the current economic expansion, the poverty
rate has been cut by more than half, from 54 percent of
households in the first half of 2003 to 26 percent at
the end of 2008. Extreme poverty has fallen even more,
by 72 percent."
"From 1998-2006, infant mortality has fallen by more
than one-third. The number of primary care physicians
in the public sector increased 12-fold from 1999-2007,
providing health care to millions of Venezuelans who
previously did not have access."
"There have been substantial gains in education,
especially higher education, where gross enrollment
rates more than doubled from 1999-2000 to 2007-2008."
"The labor market also improved substantially over the
last decade, with unemployment dropping from 11.3
percent to 7.8 percent. During the current expansion it
has fallen by more than half. Other labor market
indicators also show substantial gains."
I'll stop there. I realize that many readers have an
aversion to statistics. But the point of these and many
other statistics is that the Bolivarian Revolution in
Venezuela is working. It has decreased poverty while
improving health care, education, employment, and other
opportunities for the common people. That's why 54
percent of the population voted in favor of abolishing
The evidence in this report is not part of a conspiracy
launched by Hugo Chavez and the PSUV. The CEPR is a
nonpartisan think tank located in Washington, D.C. Its
advisory board includes Nobel Laureate economists
Robert Solow and Joseph Stiglitz; plus Janet Gornick,
Professor at the CUNY Graduate School and Director of
the Luxembourg Income Study; Richard Freeman, Professor
of Economics at Harvard University; and Eileen
Appelbaum, Professor and Director of the Center for
Women and Work at Rutgers University.
Venezuela is blessed with large reserves of oil, and
Chavez has increased the country's revenues by raising
the amount foreign oil companies must pay to extract
that oil. Critics of Chavez and the PSUV say that the
current recession in North America and elsewhere has
caused a decline in the price of oil and will put an
end to the successes of the last 10 years.
But Venezuela has $82 billion in reserves and can
survive an occasional decline in the price of oil. Oil
prices have gone up and down in the past and will
continue to do so in the future. In addition, the
Venezuelan economy is not entirely dependent on oil.
Mining, manufacturing, agriculture, and other
enterprises also contribute to economic growth.
Critics also blame the country's inflation on Chavez.
Inflation presently hovers at around 30 percent per
year. But the CEPR study points out that this figure is
about the same as it was 10 years ago when Chavez was
Like any other country, Venezuela has many problems.
The present government is doing more than any other in
recent memory to improve the lives of the poor majority
while defending the rights of the wealthy minority. It
helps no one to pretend that the Bolivarian Revolution
will follow the same path as the Cuban Revolution.
History is far more complicated than that.
And it verges on criminality when the Washington Post
claims that Hugo Chavez is an authoritarian leader.
Where was the Post when the Bush-Cheney autocrats
attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, kidnapped and tortured
both soldiers and civilians, denied American citizens
their constitutional rights, and applauded loudly when
Pedro Carmona and a squad of Venezuelan generals
launched a coup against Hugo Chavez, the democratically
elected president of the Bolivarian Republic of
Fortunately, other Venezuelan military officers did not
approve of treason. And patriotic citizens of Venezuela
came down from the barrios and demanded to have their
president returned to office. Those heroes saved their
democracy from the kind of fascism that devastated
Chile, and Pedro Carmona--who held the office of
president for only 48 hours--will be forever remembered
as "Pedro the Brief."
Patrick Irelan is a retired high-school teacher. He is
the author of A Firefly in the Night (Ice Cube Press)
and Central Standard: A Time, a Place, a Family
(University of Iowa Press). You can contact him at
Source: Portside-Newsletter, February 17, 2009; email@example.com
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