the Disillusioned kid: In Other News...
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Monday, August 16, 2004

In Other News...

With the world's attention focused on Najaf (quite understandably) much has slipped under the radar. You may have missed reports, for instance, of swarms of locusts approaching the Darfur region of Sudan. The swarms have already devastated parts of neighbouring Chad and if they do reach the conflict ravaged region, they can only exacerbate the already grim humanitarian situation. It doesn't rain. It pours.

One major story which has received only limited coverage, at least in the UK, is the referendum which took place in Venezuela yesterday (Sunday). Before I go into the details a quick history lesson for those of you at the back who haven't been paying attention...

Venezuela is a Latin American country and the world's fifth largest oil exporter. While very rich much of its population lives in destitute poverty as is the case across so much of the world. In 1998 the population voted Hugo Chavez into power on a platform of land reform, rights for women and indigenous people and free healthcare and education. This has angered the rich elite in the country who were quite happy with the status quo. He also pissed-off the Americans by selling oil to Cuba and refused overflying rights to US planes supplying "Plan Colombia" (part of the US "War on Drugs"). Long story short: He had to go.

Efforts to remove Chavez began with a coup attempt in April 2002. This was briefly successful, but Chavez ultimately returned to power. Between 2002 and February 2003 the elite held a "National Strike" which closed down large parts of the country and reduced the flow of oil. Again their attempts failed, although the country did experience extensive difficulties as a result of the effect on the economy. More recently the elite organised a petition to collect enough votes to precipitate a recall referendum which would allow the population to vote on whether Chavez should continue as president or not. It was this referendum which took place yesterday.

In the run-up to the vote, both sides held huge rallies and insisted that they could and would win. It was widely accepted, however, that Chavez was likely to win, as indeed he did. The response of the opposition? Unsurprisingly, they dismissed the referendum as a "fraud", citing their own apparently somehow superior figures which miraculously showed that the opposition had won. The response of the "international community" to the referendum will be telling. Will they accept the claims of the elite without evidence or demand that the democratic wishes of the Venezuelan people be followed? That the US will use the "controversy"as the justification for some form of intervention is not inconceivable.

Reading a lot of the leftist rhetoric about Chavez, one might be forgiven for thinking that Chavez is some kind of revolutionary. Indeed, he often talks of the Bolivarian Revolution, seeing himself as a disciple of Simon Bolivar who fought the Spanish during the 19th Century. In fact, it appears to me that his politics are more akin to what in Europe is called "social democracy." That he is seen as a serious radical says a lot about how restricted the neo-liberal consensus has become. That aside, I still believe that a Chavez government would be better for the people of Venezuela, particularly the poor, than one subservient to the demands of the elite and the US.

Given the limited role of the UK in the country there seems little that those of us here can do. Nonetheless seeking to understand what is going on is a good start. My own history of the events leading up to the referendum is woefully inadequate. To find out more check out Z-Net's Venezuela Watch and some of the links contained within. For news on current developments I recommend Justin Podur's who is blogging from Caracas on the newly updated (and highly recommended) Z-Net Blog.

And now for your delictation, some pictures which you may not have seen. Firstly a "Si" campaign (that is anti-Chavez) billboard and below a "No" vote (pro-Chavez) rally.

Opposition Propaganda

Chavistas Demo

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