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Marc Cooper
Marc Cooper has reported on international and domestic American politics for dozens of publications, and is Senior Fellow for Border Justice at USC Annenberg?s Institute for Justice and Journalism. He is the author of several books, including a memoir about his time as translator for Chile's...


The Big Blowup Over Venezuela

(Page 2)

The Making of a Radical

Born to a dirt-poor family of teachers in 1954, Chavez enlisted at 17 as a “lifer” in the Venezuelan army. Educating himself while in the military, he soon developed a nationalist and vaguely leftist doctrine of “Bolivarianism,” inspired by the 18th century liberator who cherished the ideals of the European Enlightenment and the French Revolution and who dreamed of, and fought for, a unified Latin America.

Chavez’s political views found some resonance in the ranks; not an oddity in numerous Latin American countries where, for better and usually for worse, the officer corps takes a strong interest in politics. In both Bolivia and Peru, for example, there had been earlier left-of-center movements resentful of American domination of the continent. 

The historic opening for Chavez came in the late 1980s and early ‘90s when the country, despite its vast oil reserves, was suffering from economic decline and disillusionment with rampant political corruption under the U.S.-backed regime of President Carlos Andres Perez was reaching a boiling point. Some two-thirds of Venezuelans were eking out an existence on less than $2 a day.  In 1989, a violent social explosion known as the Caracazo  shook the nation. A veritable poor people’s uprising, it was sparked by economic austerity measures imposed by President Perez. Though the rebellion was crushed, taking hundreds—some say thousands—of lives, many Venezuelan soldiers refused to open fire on their countrymen.

The Caracazo left an indelible mark on the nation, and on paratrooper and officer Hugo Chavez. None of the country’s yawning injustices were being resolved.

So it was on Feb. 4, 1992, that Col. Chavez led five military units into Caracas in an attempt to seize power. Though he had the support of about 50% of the military, the putsch failed and Chavez was imprisoned.  (President Perez would soon also wind up in the clink, impeached over one of his many corruption scandals.)

After he was released from prison in 1994, Chavez—now a civilian—dedicated himself full-time to building up his MVR or Fifth Republic Movement. Chavez’s meteoric success perfectly mirrored the decay of Venezuela’s traditional political system. Millions felt disenfranchised by a system completely locked up by two corrupt parties—both of them dominated by the country’s wealthy and fair-skinned elites. The billions generated by the country’s oil sales had no impact on the teeming slums of Caracas, some of the worst in the hemisphere.

With his unique oratorical style brimming with colorful attacks on his opponents and laced with graphic ribaldry, his vocabulary and speech patterns betraying the lower classes from which he had risen, Chavez quickly galvanized a growing “outside” movement that wanted to turn Venezuelan politics inside out. Raging against corruption and cronyism, and advocating an unabashedly populist program, Chavez smashed Venezuela’s two-party monopoly by winning 56% of the vote in the 1999 presidential elections (though not without raising allegations that he benefited from millions of dollars poured illegally into his campaign by two large bankers ).

An Opera Buffa Coup: Washington’s Dirty Hands

During the first two years of his administration, and after his reelection in 2000, Chavez held several plebiscites to rewrite the constitution and replace the discredited Congress with a unicameral chamber. For a period, he governed primarily by decree, and he stacked the Supreme Court with appointed allies. He angered some to his left by imposing state-monitored elections within the trade unions, for which he drew a rebuke from the International Labor Organization.

But mostly he generated white-hot anger and resistance from the wealthier elites and from the remnants of Venezuela’s crumbling political establishment. Venezuelan politics became bitterly polarized, and at the center of the political storm stood Chavez.

By 2002, Chavez’s agenda was clear: He wanted a break with Washington’s neo-liberal economic policies; he wanted to challenge elite domination of the economy; he wanted land reform, national healthcare and literacy programs. To finance this magnanimous populism, he was willing to spend the billions in profits from Venezuela’s oil sales.

To achieve this goal, Chavez moved to replace the board of the state oil company, which has traditionally been independent of government control. An initial protest strike among oil workers led to a general work stoppage. The business community then joined in the protest. On April 11, 2002, despite Chavez’s vow to crush all opposition, a half-million protesters marched on the presidential palace, where a smaller pro-Chavez rally was being held.

Chavez seized the airwaves several times during the day. His opponents on private TV stations defied him and made their own incendiary demands. Gunfire broke out between the two sides in the streets, with the Metropolitan police, sympathetic to the opposition, on one side and the Venezuelan National Guard, loyal to Chavez, on the other. At least 17 people died and more than 200 were wounded.

In the heat of the confusion, military commanders arrested Chavez and effectively seized power, naming industrialist Pedro Carmona as the interim president. What then ensued was a two-day tragic-comic opera buffa that was an on-again, off-again coup—a historic episode in which the U.S. played a less than honorable role and set the two countries on their collision course. 

Throughout the long day and night that Chavez was sequestered and as the military’s handpicked president, Carmona, dissolved all constitutional institutions—the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the attorney general’s office and the national electoral commission—the Bush administration remained approvingly silent while sending spokesman Ari Fleischer out to say, in effect, that the whole affair was Chavez’s own fault.

But whoever masterminded the ousting of Chavez badly miscalculated. The majority of Venezuelan combat unit commanders remained loyal to him and, backed by yet one more popular uprising in the streets, they brought Chavez back to power less than 48 hours after he was arrested. The political alliance that spearheaded the coup—the upper and middle classes, supported by the trade union movement—was also short-lived. After the military picked Carmona, a prominent business-class leader, to run the provisional government, labor withdrew its support literally overnight. Within hours of taking over, Carmona found himself isolated, and his house of cards collapsed.

But it was only after the elected president was rightfully restored to office that U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice took to the boards to scold Chavez, saying that he, not the coup-makers, should “respect constitutional processes.”

Although the coup was denounced by 19 Latin American heads of state as a violation of democratic principles, the Bush administration publicly countenanced the military takeover. Not only did Washington demonstrate a radically selective view of the rule of law; it left itself starkly isolated in a hemisphere that has been subject to endless U.S. lecturing on democracy. As Sen. Christopher Dodd has noted, “To stand silent while the illegal ouster of a government is occurring is deeply troubling and will have profound implications for hemispheric democracy.”

The leading U.S. papers of record so shamelessly parroted the White House in their initial editorials that The New York Times had to apologize. By midweek after the coup, with Chavez back in power, the Times recanted: “Forcibly unseating a democratically elected leader, no matter how bad he may be, is never something to cheer.”

That the Bush administration eagerly wanted to rid itself of Chavez is undeniable. Prior to the attempted coup, U.S. officials met with Carmona and other leaders of the coalition that ousted Chavez, and Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, the Pentagon official responsible for Latin America, met with Gen. Lucas Rincon Romero, chief of Venezuela’s military high command. Later, during Carmona’s brief reign, according to a U.S. State Department official quoted by the Times, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Otto Reich phoned Carmona—ostensibly to urge him not to dissolve the National Assembly.

Whether the U.S. directly intervened to overthrow Chavez or merely supported an opposition it hoped would accomplish the task remains a matter of dispute.

Some Chavez defenders see a direct U.S. hand in the coup, with the National Endowment for Democracy underwriting the main players. Other, less partisan analysts, like The Nation’s David Corn, concluded that while NED and the U.S. government may have not played a direct role in the coup, they certainly gave the coup plotters the impression that Washington would have no real objections to toppling Chavez.

Two years after the failed coup, however, documents surfaced (so-called CIA briefs) which clearly indicated that the CIA and the Bush White House knew of the coup attempt in advance and did nothing to stop it or to warn the Chavez government. “This is substantive evidence that the CIA knew in advance about the coup, and it is clear that this intelligence was distributed to dozens of members of the Bush administration, giving them knowledge of coup plotting,” said Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the nonprofit National Security Archive in Washington. 

The behavior of the Bush administration in regard to the 2002 coup was a flagrant violation of all the pro-democracy principles that the White House had been annunciating since 9/11 and that it has used to justify the war in Iraq. The posture that Washington took and continues to take toward Chavez is more consistent with earlier bouts of blatant American interventionism in Cuba, Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and other Latin American nations.

This renewed Cold War position of Washington, while deserving a sound condemnation, does not, however, tell us much about what Chavez’s policies look like inside Venezuela.

Chavez has been blessed with an inept and often outrageous political opposition. Though supported by some labor unions and some smaller leftist parties, the opposition has been led primarily by enraged sectors of the more comfortable classes whose tone has often been more than shrill.

Discontent with Chavez was deep enough so that his opposition could—on two occasions—gather millions of signatures calling for a plebiscite on his continued tenure. But when that referendum was eventually held on Aug. 15, 2004, Chavez’s rule was upheld by nearly 60% of the voters. His supporters say that this popularity reflects his many accomplishments. His detractors say it more accurately represents his centralization of power and the inability of his formal opposition to provide an attractive alternative other than a return to the past.

Continued: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Dig last updated on Dec. 14, 2005

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By Louis Proyect, January 2, 2006 at 9:56 am Link to this comment
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Cooper: So let’s very briefly review the facts. During the day in question, Chaves ordered all private and state television transmitters to join a “cadena nacional”—a mandatory national link-up controlled by his information office. He then appeared on those stations unfettered and unchecked.


This is a guy who teaches journalism?

Journalists are supposed to deal with: who, where, what, when and how.

Cooper alleges that Chavez appeared on “those stations unfettered and unchecked”. This is an astonishing claim in light of the utter refusal of the private Venezuelan press to convey Chavez’s point of view. Indeed, there is nothing in Cooper’s article that reveals the crusade against Chavez mounted by the bourgeois media.

For background on the grip that the private media had on Venezuela, go to:

This is the website of the film on the coup against Chavez that unfortunately is not available now.

Here’s a snippet from the above page, which should demonstrate how slanted Cooper’s article is:

Venezuela’s five largest television channels - Venevisión, Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), Globovisión and CMT - are privately owned and universally hostile to the Chavez government. Aligned with them, are nine of the ten major national newspapers.

The most important and widely-watched television network - Venevision - is part of a media empire owned by multimillionaire Gustavo Cisneros. The Organizacion Diego Cisneros has over 70 outlets in 39 countries. These include: Univision, which accounts for 80 percent of Spanish language broadcasts in the US; Canal 13, Chilevision, DirectTV Latin America, Galavision, Playboy TV Latin America, Playboy TV International, Uniseries, Vale TV, Via Digital, AOL Latin America
(see Maurice Lemoine, Le Monde Diplomatique, Sept 2002).

In addition to its joint ventures with Playboy and US media giant AOL, the Cisneros group also enjoy profitable partnerships with Coca Cola and Pizza Hut. Not surprisingly, Cisneros is a strong advocate of the neoliberal economic model tirelessly promoted by bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

Cisneros is also a friend of former US president - and father of the current incumbent - George Bush snr. They have reportedly enjoyed fishing and golfing trips together and Bush snr has spent holidays on Cisnero’s property in Venezuela. Cisneros was a keen supporter of the privatisation of the state oil company, PDVSA.

Against this formidable media muscle, the government could muster just one television channel - the state-owned Channel 8 - and a small section of the print media.

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By M Henri Day, January 2, 2006 at 9:13 am Link to this comment
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My intent in my previous posting was not to nitpick – although I must confess to certain tendencies in that direction – but to take up what I consider an important question in the context, viz, does Mr Boyd advocate the overthrowing of the present elected government of Venezuela by force and violence ? This is not to say that there have not existed and do not exist today governments against which such measures would not be justified, given the lack of peaceable alternatives, but then the duty to evince «a decent respect to the opinions of mankind» and demonstrate that this is indeed the case, as did the framers of the US Declaration of Independence, rests upon the shoulders of those working for the change….

As far as what I can see from the evidence available – including Mr Cooper’s articles and his responses to our comments on this thread – this has not been demonstrated to be the case in Venezuela. To my mind, this makes the elucidation of Mr Boyd’s position all the more vital. It is not simply a question of that he is as passionately opposed to Señor Chavez and his government as, say, Mr Delacour is in favour, but rather the lengths he is willing to go in order to attain his political goals. Does, for example, he use his writings on the situation in Venezuela to advocate the type of US intervention that we witnessed in 2002 ? While Mr Cooper is critical of Señor Chavez and his «Bolivarian Revolution» on many points, a criticism which in some instances he shares with Mr Boyd, Mr Cooper does not, he tells us, advocate a new US-sponsored coup d’état. This distinction is vital for me in attempting to judge, as perforce I must, the credibility of their writings, which circumstances prevent me from subjecting to a criticism based upon first-hand knowledge….

I found the article by Camila Piñeiro Harnecker to which Mr Melançon kindly provided a link, of great interest and relevance to our discussion of the centralisation of power. The question of whether, apart from so-called «economic rationality», such means can serve to prevent the concentration of political and economic power in a few hands is I think vital. Sitting here in Europe, I am reminded of the Jugoslavian experience with «self-management», which was not, it is I think fair to say, an unqualified success (but it must also be mentioned that the economic situation of the Republic of Jugoslavia worsened, rather than becoming better, when this path of development was replaced by a more traditional «Western» one). What will happen, for example, to SUNACOOP ? Will it develop into a bureaucracy controlled by a small group at the top echelons of government, or will it develop into a servant of the cooperatives, which themselves will provide an alternative source of power ? As Ms Piñeiro Harnecker herself states, «[ i]t’s still too early to assess the real impact of cooperatives in Venezuela» ; if I were to fault her analysis it is that she concentrates almost exclusively on their role in economic development and social justice, while saying nothing on the issue of the concentration of power, the subject of our discourse here. I sincerely hope that Mr Cooper and others with knowledge of and access to Venezuela will investigate and follow up the development of these cooperatives and present their results to those of us who, like myself, are deficient in both these respects….

One final matter. We are, as we have seen hitherto, going to disagree about a great many things concerning Venezuelan developments. Let us instead of characterising each others’ standpoints - «Time Magazine type distortions», «name-calling lather», etc, attempt to discuss them in concrete terms. The fact that an article is published in Time Magazine or, for that matter, in the Monthly Review, La Reppublica, Il Manifesto, or Le monde diplomatique, does not automatically qualify or disqualify it as a source – were it to do so, people like myself without first-hand knowledge of Venezuela would have a hard time indeed ! Rather, publication data are an aspect, sometimes more important, sometimes less, to be evaluated in judging an article’s over-all reliability. Those of us who do not reside in Venezuela are, willy-nilly, condemned to the tender mercies of the media in attempting to understand developments there. Of course, when I read a New York Times leader condemning Señor Chavez as a threat to the continent and the world, I know from my own experience of what that journal has had to say upon matters in which I claim a modicum of knowledge and experience where to file that leader. But that doesn’t mean that I ignore it completely ; sometimes a grain of truth about foreign parts may escape even the watchful eyes of the editorial board of the Times ! But in the case of Venezuela, I think we shall have to continue to look to the work of independent journalists like Mr Cooper and Ms Piñeiro Harnecker in order to grasp what is going on. Let us hope that they will continue to provide us with the requisite grist for our discussion mill !...

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By Benjamin Melançon, January 1, 2006 at 9:05 pm Link to this comment
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The Venezuelan government is consciously trying to decentralize power.  To the extent this effort is successful or not is certainly a rich field for reporting and research, but the attempt needs to be acknowledged in an article Cooper suggests is about big issues of centralization of power, development strategy, etc.

On Dec. 30, Camila Piñeiro Harnecker wrote about the extensive encouragement and support of co-operatives as an important part of the development strategy.  On the government side, “The aim is to create a decentralized ‘synergy’ of public institutions characterized by public accessibility and administrative transparency, allowing more citizen oversight.”

This very good article goes into the ways Venezuela is trying to democratize its economy through the already rapid expansion of co-operatives:

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By Marc Cooper, January 1, 2006 at 7:56 pm Link to this comment

Well, Mr. Proyect, apart from your name-calling it seems the only issue of substance you care to contest is my usage of the word “seizing.”

So let’s very briefly review the facts. During the day in question, Chaves ordered all private and state television transmitters to join a “cadena nacional”—a mandatory national link-up controlled by his information office. He then appeared on those stations unfettered and unchecked. If you don’t like the work seize then we can settle for “President Chavez ordered all broadcast outlets to carry his programming.” As I noted, some stations refused the order.

But I see you have nothing to say on the bigger issues of centralization of power, development strategy etc. No problem.

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By Louis Proyect, December 31, 2005 at 11:24 pm Link to this comment
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Marc Cooper asks for something substantive on Venezuela. The problem is that his article is so filled with Time Magazine type distortions that it would take weeks to debunk them. For example, he writes, “Chavez seized the airwaves several times during the day. His opponents on private TV stations defied him and made their own incendiary demands.”

This makes it sound that we are dealing with rival gangs on a level playing field, whereas the reality is that Venezuelean television enjoyed a virtual monopoly. If you’ve ever seen the excellent documentary “The Revolution Will not be Televised,” you will understand how this A.J. Liebling paradigm played out. Also, you’ll notice how Cooper uses a Time Magazine formulation like Chavez “seizing” the air waves, as if he burst in with a knife in his teeth and a bandolier on his chest. This is the sort of thing we’d expect from Michael Isikoff, not the patron saint of the Chilean revolution (in his own eyes, that is).

Any principled radical understands that the coup was managed by Venezuela’s Rupert Murdochs. To tell you the truth, these bastards made Murdoch look pure by comparison. One can only conclude that Cooper is neither principled nor a radical. It is sad that people such as Robert Scheer who got shafted by Los Angeles’s Murdochs would give a platform to Cooper.

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By Louis Proyect, December 31, 2005 at 9:36 pm Link to this comment
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Alexsander Boyd = snitch

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By Marc Cooper, December 31, 2005 at 5:54 pm Link to this comment

My Responses:
Benjamin… a judge seems like a fairly good source to be cited in judicial matters. No question, however, this is an issue that warrants deeper research.

Henri Day: I clearly called Boyd a “critic” of the Chavez government. That hardly tries to pass him off as non-partisan. Indeed, I specifically counter-pose Boyd to the more pro-Chavez Parenti in order to illuminate opposing views. By his own words in the piece I link to citing him, Boyd identifies neither with the government nor the organized opposition. What’s the rub? Someone can oppose Chavez and not feel part of the organized political opposition. I know I oppose Bush and don’t feel identified with the Democrats. If Delacour asserts that Boyd is even MORE critical of Chavez than his organized opponents—whether true or not—in no way contradicts my characterization of him. “Critic” means who criticizes, opposes, counters.

In the case of Boyd, however, let’s cut thru any pretenses. He is as pssionate and public critic of Chavez as Justin Delcour is a passionate advocate of the President. Little wonder that each one or the other would try to discredit his rival.

More substantially… Boyd is quoted in my article making one simple point i.e. alleging that Chavez dominates all branches of the Venezuelan government. It doesn’t really matter very much at all where we situate Biyd politically if his assertion is true. And it is.

I would say that assertion is prima fascia is the case. Chavez certainly dominates the executive branch. His control over the legislative branch is now absolute. In this month’s elections, as you know, candidates who support him won every single seat in the National Assembly. In the judicial sphere, there are definitely judges who are anti-Chavez (fortunately for the sake of some scant political pluralism). However, there are oodles of sources way beyond Alexsander Boyd who have convinced me, at least, that Chavez has stacked the Venezuelan Supreme Court with loyal appointees. That would give him veto power over the third branch of government and thereby effective control.

So if it will make anyone happy, I am happy to put my own assertion of Chavez’ control of all three branches in place of Boyd’s.

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By Benjamin Melançon, December 31, 2005 at 5:28 pm Link to this comment
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I’m heartened by Cooper’s willingness to respond to comments or questions.

I had a long post I must have lost somehow, because I can’t imagine that it was screened!  To take six paragraphs with links and quotations to one paragraph:

The allegation that Chavez received money from a Spanish bank in his 1998 campaign is in some right-wing blogs without being sourced, and in one single El Universal article in Spanish.  It sites the judge by name and it seems he would be accessible to a journalist who wants to determine the truth in this matter.

If that’s enough for Cooper or another journalist to go on, great.  If not I can try to recreate my post that traces the internet path of the claim cited in this Dig.  Please post here or reach me here:

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By M Henri Day, December 31, 2005 at 5:09 pm Link to this comment
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But Marc, Justin Delacour does make a statement of substance with regard to Mr Boyd with which you have not dealt - that «Boyd has publicly called for the violent overthrow of Venezuela’s democratically-elected government». Do you know if this is indeed the case ? And Mr Delacour, could you provide more details ? I am unfamiliar with Mr Boyd and his work (or what «qualifications» he may or may not have to analyse the situation in Venezuela - as a citizen of the country he’s certainly nearer the situation than I am !), but if the allegation is true, then I think it fair to say that that places Mr Boyd in a category other than that of a «neutral» and «objective» (whatever these terms mean) observer of the situation in that country. Not to say that he might not have things to teach us, but in any event I should find such a disclosure (with hopefully, a reference that can be checked) of no little importance….

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By Marc Cooper, December 31, 2005 at 4:38 pm Link to this comment

Mr. Delacour, an ardent and active supporter and advocate for the Chavez government, is welcome to interpret any individual’s level of opposition as he sees fit. After all, the President in which he finds absolutely no faults—Mr. Chavez—is prone to branding all of his opponents as “fascists” and “terrorists.”

Delcour has written several pieces of adulatory “analysis” of the Chavez administration on websites closely associated the government. And he has toured Venezuela on a delegation that some have accused of having been subsidized by the government. I have no means of verifying that charge. And if true, it is not necessarily significant. Certainly, one has the right to participate in such junkets without necessarily compromising one’s intergrity. But if Delacour has in any manner been underwritten by the Venezuelan government, he should do us the favor of disclosure.

That said… I find the ferocity of his remarks discouraging. The thrust of my piece is that U.S. policy toward Venezuela is both morally wrong and politically counter-productive. I know these are positions that Delacour shares. But as an advocate for Chavez, he also demands lock-step support for a government that—by any measure—is at least problematic. Such vehemence against those who share the most urgent of one’s policy proposals (in this case opposition to U.S. intervention) indicates, at least to me, an excessive dose of ideology.

The piece I wrote for this site is linked to three dozen sources—all public and up for view. They run the entire political span from those who love and those despise Chavez. Delacour may reject my conclusions; but to call the piece poorly researched is to be immediately contradicted by the list of sources provided.

I will now email Delacour and ask him about this.

As to Mr. Proyect: Poor guy runs a website called “Unrepentant Marxist.” Bully, bully. Should be called Unrepentant Internet Stalker as he spends an indordinate amount of time online attacking those he considers to be insufficiently pure leftists. I’m proud to be among those he picks on. As one says: “All The Right Enemies.”

Next time around it might be interesting to see if Mr. Proyect can come up wth some actual substantive dispute over what I wrote about Venezuela.

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By Justin Delacour, December 31, 2005 at 2:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

All one needs to do to ascertain that Marc Cooper is not a serious analyst of Venezuela is to read the following excerpt by Cooper:

“But Chavez’s critics, like Venezuelan Aleksander Boyd, who says he identifies neither with the government nor its formal opponents, argues that Chavez has perilously concentrated all state power in his hands and—although elected—is hardly a democrat…”

To describe Aleksander Boyd as a “critic” of Chávez who “says he identifies neither with the government nor its formal opponents” is to distort reality beyond recognition.  Boyd has publicly called for the violent overthrow of Venezuela’s democratically-elected government.  Boyd differs with the government’s “formal opponents” only insofar as he is more venemous in his opposition to Chávez. 

Moreover, Boyd is nothing more than an anti-Chávez blogger; he has no credentials whatsoever as an analyst of Venezuelan politics. 

Apparently Marc Cooper’s idea of “digging for truth” is to scour the blogosphere for quotes that he can plug into his poorly researched articles.

One wonders why publications that are otherwise politically progressive would continue allowing Cooper to publish such terrible pieces about Venezuela.  (see to review Cooper’s long reign of error on the country).

Justin Delacour
Doctoral Student
Department of Political Science
University of New Mexico

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By Louis Proyect, December 31, 2005 at 1:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Cooper uses his stint in Chile in the same way that Orwell used his experience in the Spanish Civil War. It gives him a certain credibility with which he can bash the left, just as Orwell would “name names” in the 1950s. The thing that strikes me about the current generation of “The God that Failed” (Hitchens, Cooper, David Horowitz, Norm Geras et al) is how mediocre they are. At least Orwell dodged bullets. All Cooper does is write for mainstream and “pwogwessive” publications. He is truly a legend in his own mind.

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By Benjamin Melançon, December 30, 2005 at 6:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As for community media in Venezuela, it is very significant, and the government seemed to recognize as much after the coup.  Probably not providing enough support in changing the structure of the media environment yet though.  Here’s a good introduction to a few of many independent community media groups in Venezuela.

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By Marc Cooper, December 29, 2005 at 11:38 pm Link to this comment

Thanks Henri. Very thoughtful. And right on the money.

To Ms. Barahona: Thanks for your pungent opinions on Venezuela upon which we simply diagree.

This space is about Chavez not about me. But you havepublicly questioned my credibility so I am obligated to respond:

I don’t “advertise” myself as Allende’s translator. It’s merely a job I did. And I was indeed a written word translator and NOT an interpreter (though I subbed now and then doing that). I smile with your insinuation that there would be some mystery in my being hired for the job as “such a young man from the Valley.” My, what could be the possible alternative explantion? That I was planted there and accepted by an unassuming President? Perhaps.

The truth is, however, more mundane. I had studied Latin since age 5, Spanish since the 6th grade, was a foreign language major at Fairfax High School and was by the time I arrived in Chile, very fluent in both Spanish and German.

Prior to working for the President, I worked as researcher/translator for the Chilean government publishing house; did a short stint as a bi-lingual press aide for the Chilean Commission to the United Nations; and translated the English language bulletin on the Chilean Foreign Ministry. I was youug, very young, but also qualified. Just so you know, upon return to the United States, I was certified as a simultaneous English/Spanish court interpreter after passing the written and oral simultaneous exams (It took meabout a month to study for those tests—not several years though I have heard that the bar has been riased much higher in the last 20 yrs).

This is way too much about me—but your insinuations really impugn my character and a response was in order.

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By Diana Barahona, December 29, 2005 at 7:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Cooper writes about community media, “The corrective, as I believe you suggest, would be a state-supported but community controlled media that would present a democratic diversity of views. I know of no steps in that direction.”

Perhaps The reason you are not aware of these efforts is because you have never gone to Venezuela. There is a government-supported grassroots radio movement with many new stations being started up.

Regarding the statement, “Those of us most sympathetic to his stated goals, then, have the greatest responsibility in hold him accountable,” Get over yourself; you aren’t that important.

Hugo Chavez is the elected president of a sovereign state who doesn’t have to answer to any armchair pundits. Jorge Ramos has the same delusions of grandeur—“Chavez me mintio,” he whined. The president of Venezuela won’t even grant him an interview now, after Ramos wrote a smear article which told the reader more about his great vanity than about Chavez. To readers who want to know what’s going on there, read articles and books by people who live in or have spent time in Venezuela. Eva Golinger is one author who has done a lot of research, as well as,, and

Why you still advertise that you were Allende’s translator is a mystery. A translator works with the written word, in which case you were sitting at a typewriter translating his statements into English. I find it hard to believe that in more than 30 years you haven’t figured out the difference between a translator and an interpreter, which is what I assume you mean. I also can’t understand how such a young man from the Valley was able to become so skilled that he would be able to interpret for a head of state, when all other interpreters have to train for years in the profession.

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By M Henri Day, December 29, 2005 at 3:49 pm Link to this comment
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Dear Mr Cooper,

Thank you for your speedy and detailed reply ! It was not at all my intention to lecture you ; as you will note I referred to you in the third person, as my previous message was addressed to all participants in the discussion. But, as I presume you will agree, the question of what constitutes the range of permissible discourse in the media is not one that can be ignored, certainly not in the United States, nor here in Europe, nor, I suspect, in Venezuela. At any rate, I am glad to be able to draw the conclusion that in your spectrum, views that are somewhat more to the left than those of La Republicca and Signor Rampoldi, neither of which I wish to malign or besmirch, can be also be entertained. In any event, I shall do my best to retain my civility, something which I find aided by the very structure of forums like the present one, which allow us to cool our enthusiasms and reflect over both the content and form of what we have to say before sending it off….

With regard to your assessment of Señor Chavez, I certainly agree that he has, by virtue of his success in mobilising a majority of the country, taken upon himself responsibilities which are quite literally «awesome». Nor are our own responsibilities less great, as we have the duty of seeing to it that the reaction of the political leaderships of our respective countries does not exceed the bounds of legality and humanity. Were I to ask Señor Chavez what he is doing to create institutions which will leave power in the hands of the people even when he is no longer there to supervise matters, I suspect he would reply by pointing to the mass organisations that he is attempting to create. But as experience shows, these can be subverted to other purposes, and therefore some sort of institutional checks and balances need to be be created to prevent the concentration of too much power in too few hands. Señor Chavez might then point to the coup of 2002 as evidence that his power is finite - if he had not been seen by an overwhelming majority of Venezuelans as representing their interests, interests for which they were willing to fight, he might say, then the coup would certainly have succeeded and his fate would have resembled that of Señor Allende. But these, we might reply, are not <u>institutional</u> safeguards, and Señor Chavez will not be there forever ; what if men less dedicated to the interests of a majority come to power by deceiving the people ? Señor Chavez might then point out, politely avoiding the use of an example which lies much nearer to hand, that despite the Weimar Constitution possessing such safeguards, Herr Hitler was able to come to power anyway. And so the dialogue between supporters of Good Institutions on the one hand, and those who support Good Men on the other might continue. In the event, perfect safeguards do not exist, but it would be interesting to know if there is any evidence that indicates that the Bolivarian Movement or Señor Chavez himself see the concentration of power as a problem, or is the concept of his own frailty, of the very possibility of there arising what in Maoist terms would be called a contradiction between him and the people entirely foreign to his nature ? Here I think the devil is in the details, and more digging is necessary. I hope that you will continue to wield your shovel !...

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By Marc Cooper, December 29, 2005 at 1:39 pm Link to this comment

Dear Mr. Day:

Thanks for your lengthy comment. Let me respond:

On Media: Yes. The bulk of mass media in Venezuela is owned by private interests hostile to Chavez and do, indeed, reflect a sharp class interest. The antidote, however, is not repressive regulation of the sort being offered by Chavez. Nor is it enough to create state media if, as Chavez has done, it becomes a carrier for his own adulation. The corrective, as I believe you suggest, would be a state-supported but community controlled media that would present a democratic diversity of views. I know of no steps in that direction.  Regarding U.S. media I would say it is a tad reductionism to claim a monolithic class-based control. The situation here is a good deal more nuanced. There is of course a corporate bias to be found. Alongside that there is also much vigorous, independent and aggressive reporting of the sort that threatens the very existence of incumbent administrations. One need look no further than the Washington Post’s recent reporting on secret gulags and the NYTimes reporting on the NSA scandal.

On Cuba: We agree completely.

On Venezuela’s chances: I’m agnostic. Yes, the atmosphere is less hostile than when Castro took power. That’s good. On the other hand, Chavez seems to seek confrontation and relishes the role as underdog as a facile means of galvanizing support. That may be a good formula to retain power. It does little, however, to enhance an atmosphere that could be conducive to some more hemispheric tolerance… especially from Uncle Sam.

On the Petro-dollar strategy: Indeed, we reach the same conclusions. What IS Chavez’s development strategy beyond state subsides? You tell me. I will dig and see what I come up with. So far, very little.

On La Reppublica: Your point is well-taken. I lived in Italy for an extended period a couple of decades ago and continue to read the Italian press and think I know it pretty well. My reference to Repubblica as leftist was, itself, a reductionism term I used as it is on the left in American terms. As is the Guardian. But your description of its place on the Italian spectrum is mostly accurate and coincides with my own judgements. So an apology for sloppy use of terms in order to make it more accessible to an American audience (for whom the Repubblica is leftist). That said, please be polite and don’t lecture on me on what my own “spectrum of acceptable discourse” may be. I read everything and let it stand on its own merits. Whatever the color of the Repubblica and certainly withstanding whatever the personal politics of the blog that carried the report, I thought and continue to think that Rampoldi’s piece is a solid critique of Chavez.  Pro-Chavez readers should live up to the challenge of rebutting Rampoldi’s arguments rather than besmirching either his home publication or a near-anonymous blog that reproduced his essay.

I also challenge your assertion that my view of Chavez’ efforts to “remake”
Venezuela are “highly negative.” His project is one I am wholly sympathetic to. I think I was very clear in explaining how the dysfunction of the Venezuelan establishment produced the popular anger that he has captured and distilled. That leaves him with an awesome responsibility. Those of us most sympathetic to his stated goals, then, have the greatest responsibility in hold him accountable, lest he squander the task he has assumed. My view of Chavez, the person, is indeed quite skeptical and, yes, somewhat negative. I think he has talked a good game, hit all the right notes, but to date has shown too much of a zeal for personal aggrandizement and power. He lacks a certain seriousness of the sort that would inspire broader confidence.

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By Martin Bluestein, December 29, 2005 at 8:33 am Link to this comment
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Richard Young’s brief response to Cooper’s lengthy article is as a diamond to a slab of granite.  I’d like to read more of Mr. Young’s work.

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By M Henri Day, December 29, 2005 at 7:42 am Link to this comment
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I find both Mr Cooper’s article and the ensuing discussion of great interest. My impression is that, unfortunately, Mr Cooper has failed to satisfactorily engage with the, to my mind, quite reasonable criticisms and comments offered by such commentators as Mr Buermann. More digging is needed with regard to such matters as 1) the media situation in Venezuela (and for that matter, in the United States, as well !). Who owns what ? As truthdig‘s motto would have it, «freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one» ; from what I understand to be the case, both the (private) printed press and the ether media in Venezuela reflect almost exclusively the class interests of their owners (is it still possible to write «class interests» without becoming hors de discours ?). Is it possible to see state-owned/controlled media as a corrective to this situation ? The question then becomes, what happens if state power is in the hands of representatives of this same class, as it is, say, here in Sweden (I choose this example in order to avoid tramping on the sore toes of certain people in the Western hemisphere) ? The problem, as I see it, with both the Cuban (with which I had a couple of months experience in 1968) and the Venezuelan revolutions are that their attempts to redress grievances and put more political and economic power into the hands of a majority of the people - something which seems to be desperately needed - are dependent upon the good will of a very small number of leaders. In both cases the revolutionary governments attempted to encourage the formation of base organisations among the people ; it seems to me too early to come to any judgement about the fate of the Venezuelan organisations, but nearly half a century on, it seems fair to say that the Cuban ones are better at transmitting views and policies from top to bottom than they other way ‘round and the question of how to make the top responsible to the bottom - and changeable at the latter’s will - remains unresolved (as it does in other countries which Mr Cooper would presumably regard as «democracies». That being said, I think that the Venezuelan experiment has the great good fortune to be carried out in a far less hostile environment than its Cuban predecessor of 40 years ; does this mean that there exists greater hope for its success ? I should very much like to see more digging with respect to this matter….

As regards the question of Mr Chavez’s largess as being due to the high price of oil, my reflection is that his generosity pales in comparison with the generosity exhibited by the governments of, say, the United States and the member states of the European Union in dealing out subsidies to the great corporations. To take one (not-so) minor example : the estimated cost of the US wars on Iraq and Afghanistan so far is some 300 thousand million USD, most of which is recycled into the coffers of the great US corporations, which, not so incidentally, have direct ownership ties to that country’s media corporations.  Moreover, it seems, again to me, that it is rather unlikely that the price of oil is going to come down any time soon - unless the imbalance in the world economy, due mainly to US policies concerning the balance of trade, tax cuts for the wealthy, and an entirely unnecessary, not to say illegal and criminal war leads to a global economic collapse. But oil is, as we all (should) know, a finite resource ; what is Señor Chavez doing to ensure that Venezuela possesses an economic base which ensures more than mere subsistence the day the wells run dry ? Here again, I should like to ask Mr Cooper to do more digging….

As to Mr Cooper’s reference to Guido Rampoldi’s article in La Repubblica, which I read from time to time, I can only say that I consider it misleading to refer to that journal as «Italy’s leading leftist daily newspaper». The blogger from whom Mr Cooper took the article (who does call it «left-wing») has it about right : «which is sort of like the Italian version of The Guardian». For US readers unfamiliar with the latter, it is sort of on a par with, say, the New York Times ; i e, it does publish a few left-wing columnists but news reporting is generally supportive of US-British interventions around the world, and the paper, while critical of how the occupation has been carried out, opposes a time-table for the withdrawal of occupation forces from Iraq. If journals of this type represent the left wing of Mr Cooper’s spectrum of acceptable discourse, it is little wonder that his view of Señor Chavez’s efforts to remake Venezuela is highly negative….

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By Benjamin Melançon, December 29, 2005 at 6:43 am Link to this comment
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And now the Chicago Transit Authority rejects help from Venezuela’s CITGO.

“As Chicago’s poorest face an increase to already-high public transit fees, the city is ignoring an offer of discounted diesel fuel to benefit low-income people.”

And so far—except for the non-profit newspaper that broke the story—the story’s being ignored.  Read it here:

And more discussion on this and more by people interested in fostering democracy everywhere at

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By JasonPappas, December 20, 2005 at 11:02 am Link to this comment
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It’s time to ignore Chavez. He’s Venezuela’s problem.

I just like to remind everyone that the economics of oil stays the same no matter who he sells it to. All other claims are rooted in economic ignorance.

Now that the Cold War is over, small socialist states mainly harm their own and provide us with constant reminders of such a folly. Besides, a modicum of involvement will be exploited by those who want to use us as a scapegoat for their own domestic failures. Expect more noise from Chavez as his economy runs into problems down the line; but ignore him. Benign neglect is the best policy.

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By Marc Cooper, December 19, 2005 at 5:45 pm Link to this comment

The election of Evo Morales in Bolivia certainly ups the ante in hemispheric politics. A wise administration would take his election as a serious signal for a need in policy re-adjustment. Unfortunately, the Bush administration is unlikely to see things tis way, to be understated about it. I suspect it will throw Bolivia on to the “threat” list even though it’s hard to see what the poorest country on the continent can do to damage the U.S. Again, I suppose the admin will wave the spectre of a coca influx. I expect nothing positive to come from US policy on this one.

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By John, December 19, 2005 at 2:00 pm Link to this comment
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I have a strong feeling that Latin America is going to get a great deal of attention from the Bush Administration in the next few months; probably covertly.

Why do I have this feeling? 

I just read a businessnews report that Exxon Mobil and Venezuela have a deep divide over the management of oil fields in Venezuela.  According to the article, Exxon Mobil is the only Big Oil firm who has not signed a revised contract with the Venezuelan corporation who has received government authority to manage Venezuela’s oilfields. 

Exxon Mobil probably sees the whole thing as a contract violation problem whereas the Venezuelan government may see it as a sovereignty issue.  We’ll see

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By Phistro, December 19, 2005 at 10:53 am Link to this comment
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Well since it was not done properly in Venezuela…
Could Bolivia be next?

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By John, December 19, 2005 at 6:54 am Link to this comment
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Marc Cooper,

Well, with the election of Evo Morales, it appears that Bolivia has decided to be an independent nation.  It will be fascinating to see if Bolivia becomes one of Mr. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” nations of Latin America.

Do you smell a U.S. covert action of some sort in Latin America? 

Will Al Qaeda morph into Los Malhechor?

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By DonHarv, December 18, 2005 at 12:54 pm Link to this comment
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I really see the future of the U.S. written all over the story. If the U.S. continues on the coarse it is on, the time will come when the people of the U.S. will have to do the same, with all the same pain.
It is time now to stop the Powers from putting us in that position.

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By dveej, December 18, 2005 at 12:40 am Link to this comment
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And now for a frivolously peripheral grammar dig:

Tbe principal parts of “bode” are bode, boded, boded.

(Only because you’re a translator and thus you probably care about this sort of thing. *I* would want to be told…)

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By Marc Cooper, December 17, 2005 at 3:25 pm Link to this comment

To Josh Buermann:

Sorry to see you have worked yourself up into a name-calling lather because I refuse to be uncritical of Hugo Chavez. Let’s hope that the quality of poltical dialogue Venezuela is more elevated than what you’re offering here. There isn’t much incentive to continue the discussion under these conditions, but I will respond to one question you leave hanging.

To both you and Johan I think you’re both being quite intellectually dishonest to pretend that a massive influx of Cuban doctors into Venezuela merits only a shrug of the shoulders and a slap on the back. I said very clearly but don’t mind saying again, that such a reality has mixed value. Certainly, poor people receiving medical attention should be and probably are quite grateful no matter from where and how the attention comes.

But to ignore the political dimensions of the Cuban presence is to really be deaf, dumb and blind. The coziness between Chavez and Castro raises LEGITIMATE questions in the minds of many, way beyond the hypocrisies of the U.S. State Department.

I don’t know about your experience, but my most recent visits to Cuba revealed a national health system that is breaking apart; medicine and supply shortages in Cuba are now absolutely routine and care has preciptiously declined compared to ten or fifteen years ago. How Cuba can spare so many doctors is a question Fidel can answer – when and if he feels like it (because you can make sure that no Cuban ‘reporter’ is going to ask!).

More to the point—In the view of many people, myself included, and for sure millions of Venezuelans – both rich and poor—Cuba is a dictatorship that should not be copied or emulated or celebrated. Venezuelans have the perfect right to cherish freedom and democracy as much as anyone else in the world and both commodities are currently in much greater supply in Caracas than in Havana. Let’s hope it stays that way. Meanwhile, Chavez’ importation of hundreds of Cuban doctors to become the backbone of his health initiative naturally raises eyebrows as well as totally understandable fears. If you don’t get that, then you don’t get it.

But don’t pretend to not understand why some people abhor a Cuban model and worry that Chavez is too friendly with the Cubans—and in this case dependent on them to provide health care. For a couple of guys living outside of Venezula or Cuba it mostly an ideological question for you. For people living in Venezuela, it’s a real life question if they are going to continue living in a country in which freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, a right to organize unions, a right to a free press, a right to publicly express dissent with their government is going to continue, or if instead some sort of Cuban solution is waiting in the wings.

With that, I’m afraid we’re going to have to agree to disagree. The sourcing for my article is all transparent and immediately accessible. Intelligent readers will apply their own level of scrutiny and reach their own conclusions.

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By buermann, December 17, 2005 at 5:34 am Link to this comment
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“But it is really too facile to then conclude that the opposition therefore lacks all legitimacy.”

And thusly I conclude no such thing, being why I ask whether the NED might not be weakening the opposition, as such.  I thought I’d made that pretty clear: nobody would accept it here if some foreign organization came in and tried to organize the Democrats.  Is there some reason to think they’d accept it in Venezuela?

“Do you surrender critical faculties and scrutiny merely because there is a political conflict involved?”

Did I suggest anything of the sort?

I asked for more scrutiny: if you’d care to take the slightest curiousity in whether Chavez has been supporting narco-terrorism, has been subverting union democracy, has been surviving off a spike in oil prices, what the NED actually does in countries like Venezuela where elections are free and fair, whether the boycott might have had an influence on voter turnout, whether the oppositions’ “human rights record has little if nothing in common with the tainted record of Cuba or, say, Pinochet’s Chile”.  Yadda yadda, repeat original post.

And so you raise Cuba’s involvement in a health program in contrast to US funding for the oppositions’ political organizing.  How are they comparable?  Surely the US has some doctors in Venzuela?  Is Cuba’s staff funnelling money to election campaigns?  Something? 

I did ask “how it’s useful to criticize Chavez without asking whether he’s any worse than the opposition the US has been uncritically supporting”, because the US is supporting one and not the other, so I ask again: does any criticism of Chavez justify “surrender[ing] critical faculties and scrutiny” to his opposition?  If you can’t see fit to respond to anything I said you can at least respond to some of your own bullshit.

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By Johan van Rooyen, December 17, 2005 at 3:05 am Link to this comment
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Marc Cooper: “I think both causes – the health program and the opposition funding—are marred by foreign involvement.”

How on earth is the health program marred by foreign involvement?

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By Marc Cooper, December 16, 2005 at 9:23 pm Link to this comment

I’m not sure what the point of Truthmachine’s post is other than to link to an essay which berates me from an extremely narrow and dogmatic point of view… OK… But as I said above, arguments are so much more persuasive when they are about the message rather than the messenger.

Josh Bruemann raises some questions I am happy to respond to. He asks if the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has any business meddling in Venezuela’s affairs. My answer: probably not. The NED might indeed have ulterior and even subversive motives. But it is really too facile to then conclude that the opposition therefore lacks all legitimacy. The same way it would be silly to conclude that the use of Cuban-provided doctors in Chavez’ health initiatives strip them of all legitimacy. Frankly, I think both causes – the health program and the opposition funding—are marred by foreign involvement. But they both exist and most also be measured in their own terms. The Cuban doctors are doing real medicine. The opposition can muster millions of Venezuelans and has some legitimate grievances.

Josh also asks “how it’s useful to criticize Chavez without asking whether he’s any worse than the opposition the US has been uncritically supporting?”  Why not? Do you surrender critical faculties and scrutiny merely because there is a political conflict involved? This is a very slippery slope on which Josh perches himself. During the Cold War, this was exactly the line of the Conservative Right i.e. how can you criticize the American government when the Soviet Union is so much worse? Gore Vidal had the perfect answer for this saying “So What?”

Chavez may be much worse, much better or just about the same as those who have come before. The U.S. may indeed be trying to overthrow him. Fair enough. Those are not reasons, however, to suppress one’s reasoned criticism of him or his government. The U.S. has been on Castro’s back for nearly a half-century. That does not mitigate the fact that Castro has imposed a virtual one man dictatorship for the last 46 years, depriving all Cubans of the most basic civil liberties and guarantees. You think the Patriot Act is bad? Try on the Cuban penal code for a week or two and see what that feels like.

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By josh buermann, December 16, 2005 at 6:25 pm Link to this comment
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“only some of which I can discern as challenges”

Well right, most of them were just honest questions.

I didn’t object to election monitoring. I asked whether the NED funded organizations have any business “party building” in places where election monitors routinely declare elections to be “free and fair”, and I asked about the role of the government in monitoring union elections.

“it sounds as if your major complaint is that I’m not just uncritical enough in support of Chavez”

In the eye of the beholder, sure.  I don’t doubt the accuracy of the human rights reports, I just don’t see is how it’s useful to criticize Chavez without asking whether he’s any worse than the opposition the US has been uncritically supporting, given that the discussion in the US is whether we ought to topple Chavez and put his opposition in charge.

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By truth machine, December 16, 2005 at 4:50 pm Link to this comment
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For balance, see

In the Nation (May 6, 2002), Marc Cooper-one of those Cold War liberals who nowadays regularly defends the U.S. empire-writes that the democratically-elected Chavez speaks “often as a thug,” who “flirts with megalomania.” Chavez’s behavior, Cooper rattles on, “borders on the paranoiac,” is “ham-fisted demagogy” acted out with an “increasingly autocratic style.” Like so many critics, Cooper downplays Chavez’s accomplishments and uses name-calling in place of informed analysis.
Other media mouthpieces have labeled Chavez “mercurial,” “besieged,” “heavy-handed,” “incompetent,” and “dictatorial,” a “barracks populist,” a “strongman,” a “firebrand,” and, above all, a “leftist.” It is never explained what “leftist” means.
A leftist is someone who advocates a more equitable distribution of social resources and human services and who supports the kinds of programs that the Chavez government is putting in place. (Likewise a rightist is someone who opposes such programs and seeks to advance the insatiable privileges of private capital and the wealthy few.) The term “leftist” is frequently bandied about in the U. N. media, but seldom defined. The power of the label is in its remaining undefined, allowing it to have an abstracted built-in demonizing impact, which precludes rational examination of its political content.

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By Marc Cooper, December 16, 2005 at 11:52 am Link to this comment

Some more responses:

Thanks to C. Young for your comments.

Doyle Salyor:  I’m trying to figure out the thrust of your laundry list. The most I surmise is that you wish a totally uncritical review of Mr Chavez—something I fear that is impossible in doing. Not only in his case, but in that of any other human being, especially a head of state.

Josh Buermann:  You like Saylor raised a barrage of small points, only some of which I can discern as challenges. I didn’t endorse John Kerry’s denouncing of Chavez and cannot speak for his reasoning in doing so.

I find nothing wrong in international monitoring of elections. Indeed, in the just concluded parliamentary voting, it was Chavez who asked for the foreign monitors. You risk being more Chavista than Chavez!

If you are suggesting that the opposition supported the coup and then three years later unjustifiably backed out of elections, I agree with you. I’m not sure what else to respond to here. Again, it sounds as if your major complaint is that I’m not just uncritical enough in support of Chavez.

Roger Gilman: If you don’t think we have succeeded in explaining the animosity of Bush toward the Chavez regime, you have here an opportunity to do so. We’re all ears.

Serial Caatownwer: So you want more verbiage, eh? That cal always be arranged! I understand your parallels between Bush and Chavez and they are funny if not quite the case. I’m no fan of George W. Bush but I would call his style more “tortured and tongue-twisted” than dynamic and mercurial.

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By serial caatowner, December 16, 2005 at 7:51 am Link to this comment
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Gee, this Chavez guy sounds like Bush:  mercurial attitude, emotionally rails against his opposition, and tells ‘jokes’.....wonder if Chavez also likes to address the troops…again..and again…and again…

Frankly, I thought the article could have been a little longer.  We are, after all, talking about the dynamics of development in a region volatile with the failure of long-standing U.S. policies and intervention.  That sells us a lot of oil.  Three days drive from Harlingen Texas.

I’m guessing Marc wouldn’t go far wrong in writing up a sequel.

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By Awoken Research Group, December 16, 2005 at 1:20 am Link to this comment
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Tapes reveal US involvement in Venezuela terror attack

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By C . Young, December 15, 2005 at 10:21 pm Link to this comment
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Mr. Cooper:

Thank you so much for your fair and balanced article…and by fair and balanced I am in no way comparing you to faux news.

Although I realize much work needs to be done to encourage a more visible democracy in Venezuela, Mr. Chavez’s dedication in helping his people rise from the ranks of poverty is commendable.  I think you’ve done an excellent job in outlining those accomplishments. 

Mr. Bush’s displeasure with Mr. Chavez is extremely amusing to me.  People in glass houses or “bubbles” should never throw stones.

Thanks again and look forward to more “digs”.

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By Roger Gilman, December 15, 2005 at 10:20 pm Link to this comment
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I find your (Cooper’s) analysis of the trajectory of Chavez’s regime rather more formally correct in civics class terms than explanatory, with its focus on who’s abiding and not abiding by the rules of “democracy” on the different sides.  The politics of democracy and dictatorship in Latin America (as elsewhere) have a lot to do with national and international economics and business, which pretty much only gets alluded to through the quotes of others.  You don’t explain why the Bush-supported coup failed.  For example, if Chavez is so bad from the standpoint of big business in Venezuela, why didn’t - and hasn’t - oil and other major money flown the coup, a la Allende’s Chile?  Why did a major section of the military support him in the 2002 coup - frat solidarity?  Why would the oil workers strike against a ‘people’s president’ and then turn around and abandon the coup?  To say that the Bush Administration sees the Red Dawn in Chavez isn’t saying much, since they see that in Congress and the Democratic Party almost everyday!  Yes, Chavez is clearly a nationalist with corporatist aspirations and a heavy dose of populism.  But if your goal, as your article’s title suggests, was to explain the animosity toward Chavez of the U.S. administration (and big business interests, as represented by the major media), and why the latter has been stymied so far in its attempts to oust him, I don’t think you’ve succeeded.

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By Marc Cooper, December 15, 2005 at 9:35 pm Link to this comment

Re-read what I wrote. I said the Dec 4 elections are injurious to Venezuelan democracy. I don’t think Hugo Chavez is much of a democrat and while he was elected in a reasonably democratic process, Venezuela is hardly a fully-developed democracy.

At no place in the article do I say that Venezuela is socialist. That’s Chavez’ claim, not mine.

That said, I dont think the Sparticists are a credible source on much anything. They are a tiny sect that adhere to a rigid dogma that rarely intersectts with reality. Thanks for ur comments.

To Scott: I think any minimal research on Chavez will reveal his outsized and quite mercurial attitude. I think that is an accurate way to describe a president who speaks bombastically for hours at a time on TV, emotionally rails against his opposition in ad hominem terms and sings and tells jokes as part of his offical shtick. Do you have some other preferred way of describing him?

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By josh buermann, December 15, 2005 at 8:43 pm Link to this comment
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Democratic candidate John Kerry briefly made the Venezuelan leader an issue, calling him a supporter of “narco-terrorists”

What was the evidence for this claim?  I recall it and never heard another word about it.  Did it stand up to scrutiny?

Chavez then escalated the rhetorical fire, branding the Bush White House “a terrorist administration” and calling the U.S. president no less than a “murderer.”

Concerning Iraq in particular: not exactly a baseless charge.  Regarding any “escalation” he said he wants to improve relations with the US.  Truly an unruly firebrand.

He angered some to his left by imposing state-monitored elections within the trade unions

“monitored” in the sense that Venezuelan elections are themselves monitored, assigned a grade on “free and fair”,
or in the sense that the state is controlling or otherwise directly influencing the elections?

Chavez seized the airwaves several times during the day.

Did he seize the private airwaves, or just use the state media?  Is using the state media as a mouthpiece unusual in Venezuela?  Did the opposition “sieze” the private media, or did they just happen to already have it?

What then ensued was a two-day tragic-comic opera buffa that was an on-again, off-again coup—a historic episode in which the U.S. played a less than honorable role and set the two countries on their collision course.

I think, given the evidence provided here, that the coup was rather the collision itself.  Was it the election of Bush or the election of Chavez that set them on a collision course?

And what is the connection between the coup and the opposition?  Did the opposition suppport the coup?  In what way?  Did they support Carmona’s dissolving all constitutional institutions?  If we’re to develop a fair assessment of Chavez’s record it would be fair, indeed necessary, to compare his record to the alternatives.  E.g., did the opposition help forment a coup before attempting a constitutional recall?

while NED and the U.S. government may have not played a direct role in the coup, they certainly gave the coup plotters the impression that Washington would have no real objections to toppling Chavez

Some further truth digs here would be appropriate, beyond the partisan link.  What do the NED organizations do in Venezuela, even if unassociated with the coup plotters?  Ought the NED continue working in countries like Venezuela where observers from the UN and OAS observer missions routinely grade elections “free and fair”?  Wouldn’t the US oppose, rightly, the influence of a foreign power that came in and tried to organize the Democratic Party into a coherent opposition?

Chavez has been blessed with an inept and often outrageous political opposition.

Some study of the previous questions might perhaps help lead to explanations for why this is the case.

Parenti and other pro-Chavez writers

You label the anti-Chavez commentator as a “Chavez critic” who “identifies neither with the government nor its formal opponents”.  Parenti quotes at length a Chavez critic in her piece, so labelling her as a partisan might not be particularly fair.  Maybe she’s just a sympathetic writer.

Chavez’s mercurial personality, and what seems like an incipient personality cult, also unsettles many. He is prone to making weekend and weeknight television appearances in which, literally for hours, he will ramble on from subject to subject, sing songs and make sexually explicit wisecracks involving anyone from his wife to Condoleezza Rice. ... the image of a leader fascinated with, if not drunk on, power.

I’m not sure if character politics should be a matter of concern for US readers.  “every single branch of power is ominously controlled” by George W. Bush’s GOP, so what?  If the matter is whether the elections were legitemate this matters not one iota.

While Venezuela’s recent human rights record has little if nothing in common with the tainted record of Cuba or, say, Pinochet’s Chile

The comparison shouldn’t be between Chavez’s presidency and Pinochet’s or Castro’s dictatorships, but between Chavez and the available alternative: his opposition.  The same reports express similar concerns regarding them.

critics suggest that Chavez’s success is a temporary bubble inflated by high oil prices

You let this charge go otherwise unanswered, though it would seem relevant to the discussion of US economic development policy in the region.  Marc Weisbrot’s response to this criticism seems coherent enough.

Citing fears that voting machines could register the identities and choices of individual balloters, the country’s major opposition parties all withdrew and boycotted the elections.

The EU preliminary report, at least, noted that the voting machines were unable to do so before the election: you note niether that no valid reason was then given to continue the boycott, nor in the discussion of low turnout - while airing the obvious “questions about the real level of Chavez’s popularity” - that the boycott might be an obvious explanation for the low turnout.

The era of armed Latin American insurgencies has come to an end. And the discontented and the disenfranchised have been using the ballot box and not bazookas to demand social change. The United States should support those efforts rather than short-circuit them.

I think you’ve made the case well enough that the US has thus far been willing to attack those efforts, whether it be Bush or Kerry (and Bill Clinton has made similar fulminations): perhaps the more moderate position of simply ceasing the attacks would be a more politically acceptable position for the divergent and divisive attitudes in the US towards such efforts.

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By Doyle Saylor, December 15, 2005 at 4:28 pm Link to this comment
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Marc Cooper writes,
for which he drew a rebuke from the International Labor Organization.

Isn’t that the CIA sponsored ILO?

Marc Cooper writes,
like Venezuelan Aleksander Boyd, who says he identifies neither with the government nor its formal opponents, argues that Chavez has perilously concentrated all state power in his hands and—although elected—is hardly a democrat:

What is being a fence sitter got to do offering an informed opinion on Chavez and the swing to the left in Venezuala?

Marc Cooper writes,
a leader fascinated with, if not drunk on, power.

Empty observation. What is a leader supposed to be anyway if not fascinated by power? Adding drunk in has no context but implies nearly there.

Marc Cooper,
old-fashioned populist buying constituencies with lavish handouts.

Populist what’s that, not I’m afraid a very communicative label to me? Buying constituencies with lavish handouts? This sort of wording doesn’t give much sense of the political process, and is boiler plate sort of U.S. talk.

Marc Cooper,
EU observers noted that Chavez used government radio and TV as an “excessive resource” during the election campaign,

Was this Berlusconi’s observers? Who, EU diplomats from London? Doesn’t help much to quote un-named sources.

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By john commins, December 15, 2005 at 3:29 pm Link to this comment
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Great discussions going back and forth here. There has been a lot of feedback about press restrictions in Venezuela. Those restrictions are worrisome, but they are not without context. I would encourage anyone interested in the issue to read John Dinges article in the July/August issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. (there is a direct link on the TruthDig website.) Mr. Dinges fairly raises concerns about press restrictions, but he also details the complicity of the Venezuelan news media in the aborted coup of 2002. As is so often the case with Mr. Chavez, he does not act in a vaccuum. He was responsing to an openly hostile press and television media that cheered on the coupsters, a media that often referred to him as a Sambo, or a monkey, and made jokes about killing him ON THE AIR. Imagine the outcry in the US, if President Bush was referred to as a monkey or if somebody on TV made vile threats on his life? I say this not to defend his press restrictions, but to put them in context.
Whether or not you agree with Mr Chavez, he has due cause to be highly suspicious of the US, which backed the coup against him, and of the opposition, many of whom supported the coup.
  For example, the opposition group SUMATE, which is funded in part by the US, continually makes bogus claims about election fraud, even after international observers like the EU and the OAS and The Carter Center note that Venezuelan elections are largely free and fair. That is simply irresponsible on the part of SUMATE. These baseless claims at one point had the potential to incite violence. (SUMATE has lost so much credibility of late that that is no long the case.) As a US citizen, Im outraged that our tax dollars are funding innacurate propaganda against a democratically elected government. By all means, criticize Mr. Chavez, but to suggest he rose to power by election fraud is laughable.
If you’re trying to understand Mr. Chavez’s popularity, consider this: Mr. Chavez appears to be the ONLY president in Venezuela’s near-half-century of democratic rule who actually cares about poor people, and there are A LOT of poor people here. He spends time with them. He talks directly to them. He visits them. He provides social services for them. He tells them they are important, and that their opinions matter. Most importantly, he listens to them. I know that is a radical concept, listening to poor people, caring about what happens to them, but it seems to work for him. In return, for the most part they love him, and they vote for him.
On the downside, a lot of his social programs are dependent on high oil prices. If oil prices drop significantly, he could be in trouble. I predict that his approval ratings will drop below 50 percent if Venezuela hits hard times. Also, Im always nervous about any politician who takes on the role of the father figure. Again, the most apt comparison for Mr. Chavez is Juan Peron, not Fidel Castro.
Also, while Mr. Chavez is doing good things for Venezuela’s neediest citizens, he isnt doing much about creating stable, nonpartisan democratic institutions that will survive his presidency.

JC, Valencia, Venezuela

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By GWEH, December 15, 2005 at 1:10 pm Link to this comment
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Mr Cooper, I have many comments on your article and would like to point them out one at a time if you allow me. The first one is in the first paragraph.  After the Dec. 4 Legislative elections, it becomes very difficult to say that Venezuela is a democracy or to justify that. On what basis can you say that today there is democracy in Venezuela? Furthermore, what justification to you have for saying that there is real socialism in Venezuela that goes beyond handouts?  Attached is a recent article on Venezuelan socialism where the socialits denounce Chavez:

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By Marc Cooper, December 15, 2005 at 10:13 am Link to this comment

Some more responses:

Richard, keep it up.

Malcolm, thanks very much.

Johan: I believe I’m pretty clear in saying the opposition had little justification for pulling out of the election. But it seems that you are demanding 100% compliance with Chavez’ every move. Have you no critical thoughts about his governance? Do you believe all criticism is illegitimate, that it “gives the game away?”

Ed Marhsall:  Actually, Ed you are wrong. First off, you sound a little ridiculous. The buck stops with the President of any country. If he can’t clean up his own police force to stop torturing – no matter who is its chief—then he doesn’t inspire much confidence. Second, I would refer you to this piece
written by a correspondent for Italy’s leading leftist daily newspaper. It rather starkly outlines how Chavez is complicit with killer cops. It’s not a pretty picture.

GM Roper: Thanks for joining us here, GM… and don’t scrape those knuckles. It seems to me US-Venezuela relations are a two-way street. But the US with its size and power holds more cards. A more efficient US policy would have been to smother Chavez with respect if not some faux love. Singling him out as the bogeyman only plays into his hands. I believe we’ve been watching this same show in Cuba for the last 50 years. It doesn’t work.

Jim Rockford: I don’t believe for one moment that Venezuela is credible threat to the United States. Now, if we continue to isolate Chavez, if we continue to build him as the David against our Goliath, if we engage in a self-fulfilling prophecy of hemispheric conflict, then –yes—we can probably count on him to make mischief. The sad part is that the US and Venezuela are economically interdependent on each other. We could have used the leverage to bring the guy inside the tent. Instead, we conform to some worn out scripts that bode poorly for the people of both countries.

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By jcummings, December 15, 2005 at 8:04 am Link to this comment
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“level headed state department.”  This says it all.

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By genie, December 15, 2005 at 5:38 am Link to this comment
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I am thankful for Truthdig and all other internet news outlets. The mainstream media has become increasingly toxic and I watch only to guage the speed of their fall from grace….Thanks also for the article on Chavez, I am very interested in him. I think that the bottom line is that he was put into power by the people of Venezuela which means that they had the courage to rise up and change the insufferable status quo. Until the American people do the same with Bush, we will have to bear the consequences. Not enough attention is being paid to the apathy that suffocates most dissent in this faux democracy of ours. The republicans are rewarding the rich while robbing the rest of us, and yet they are supported by the very victims they are preying upon! Is this not proof of national insanity? I think that the USA will have to suffer for a while before the time comes when the American people say “Enough!”. Becoming a “participatory” democracy is the only thing that will save us.

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By Scott Bigelow, December 15, 2005 at 5:28 am Link to this comment
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I’m trying to understand something…

“Chavez’s mercurial personality…”

I’m taking mercurial to mean:  liable to sudden unpredictable change.  Is this the definition of mercurial you are using?

In any case, could you quantitatively expand on why you chose this adjective to describe Chavez?  You write that he rambles “from subject to subject”.  Are there other,  more specific behaviors that you consider to be indicative of a mercurial personality?

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By liberal, December 15, 2005 at 1:36 am Link to this comment
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Malcolm wrote, This aspect of the FTAA gets little or no attention, but it is important to IP owners everywhere.

I think you meant “collectors of economic rents everywhere.”

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By Richard Young, December 15, 2005 at 12:34 am Link to this comment
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Unfortunately I have yet to set foot in Venezuela. I just last month retired from a “lifetime of shoveling smoke” (as Judge Learned Hand so memorably described his career in the law), and hope to expand my virtual travelling (via the internet) to the real thing. Meanwhile, I endeavor to inform myself on what nefarious activities our latest World Champion of Democracy (President of the moment) is up to, while reading Spanish literature and journalism for fun. And being who I am (a Depression child, a WW2 adolescent, a Korean War veteran, a CORE member, a self-appointed lawyer for Khaddafi’s bombed little children, etc.), I will no doubt continuing inflicting my radical views on more reasonable folks like you. In any event, I am honored that we “kind of agree.” Keep up the good work.

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By Johan van Rooyen, December 15, 2005 at 12:34 am Link to this comment
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Yes I have to agree with Louis Proyect and Richard Young. I feel that Marc Cooper gives the game away through numerous slanted uses of language. For example to say “In the heat of the confusion, military commanders arrested Chavez” makes it sound as if the coup happened almost by accident.

Though Cooper writes at length, he sometimes leaves out very important details. For example he says the opposition pulled out from the most recent elections because of their “fears that voting machines could register the identities and choices of individual balloters”. What he fails to mention is they pulled out after it was agreed not to use these fingerprinting machines in an attempt to bend over backwards to accommodate the opposition!

Most damaging to the bona fides of the article though is the fact that Cooper happily quotes Alexander Boyd as if he were a serious “critic” instead of the hysterical propagandist he is as even a quick visit to his website will make abundantly clear.

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By Marc Cooper, December 14, 2005 at 9:29 pm Link to this comment

Richard: We sort of agree. From what I could discern from where I sit in California, there seemed to be no real justification for the opposition boycott of last week’s elections. I think their withdrawal was a rather transparent—and unfortunate—manuever to wrest legitimacy from Chavez.

It was also a very dangerous maneuver, because it cedes the entire National Assembly to Chavez and his allies. That’s not healthy under any circumstances; it’s less salutory when we are dealing with a president who has shown, to use a Spanish term, “un cierto afan” for power.

Nor was I particularly heartened by Chavez’s post-election statements—a rather beligerant bluster against some very legit and mild criticism from the OAS/UN. He seems to be too ready to cast himself as a persecuted martyr; That’s Lesson One from the Handbook of Demagogues. 

So yes… democratic procedures roughly comparable or perhaps superior to previous Venezuelan governments are in place. One thing is for sure, Chavez is the bastard child of the two execrable parties that previosuly governed Venezuela—neither of which retain any significant moral capital.

Chavez—however—inspires little confidence, in me at least, that he is a zealous defender of democratic norms. I think he would be a much better president if he had to negotiate with and make peace with a rational and mature opposition as well as a level-headed U.S. State Department.

I think you understate the dimensions of his press laws. And I think you understate the levels of functional democracy in the United States.

Yes, one can make selective comparisons if one operates in bad faith. The willingness of the State Dept to condemn press laws in Venezuela but not things much worse in Egypt is prima facia hypocritical. That should not prevent me, or you, or anyone else for that matter, from criticizing what Chavez does. The argument of “well it’s worse in X place..” is a morally vapid as the State Dept’s blind eye. Wrong is wrong, wherever it happens to reside.

But I enjoy your observations and appreciate the civil dialogue.

Can you tell us what you do in Venezuela? If you wish not, I understand. But it would be interesting to know.

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By Ed Marshall, December 14, 2005 at 9:19 pm Link to this comment
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Balance doesn’t mean anything.  Well, it does mean something, it means that you are considering Golden Means fallacy to have some sort of value.  It also achieved “balance” by glossing over a few things. 

Human Rights Watch is cited as saying Venezuelan police are corrupt and brutal.  The thing is Chavez doesn’t control the police.  The chief of police in Caracas is an opposition crazy who thinks Chavez is Hitler.  Chavez tried to fire him and the same people bitching about the brutal police turned around and pointed at how this was more proof of his undemocratic intentions.  Why the Chief of Police was duly elected!

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By Malcolm, December 14, 2005 at 7:46 pm Link to this comment
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Thanks for an interesting and seemingly balanced article.  Since I automatically discount anything this administration says about Chavez, it’s nice to be able to read something that seems fact-based.

I would like to take the liberty of making two points in the area of my expertise, intellectual property law. 

First, Venezuela has the hemisphere’s worst Trademark Office.  It is an absolute disaster.  Whatever else President Chavez can do, he can’t run a Trademark Office efficiently.  Maybe he just doesn’t care; balanced against literacy, public healthcare, and the like, a Trademark Office doesn’t make it and shouldn’t make it.  Still, Croatia and Bosnia kept their Trademark Offices going full tilt right through the war, without even a burp, and run much more efficiently than ours.

Second, the FTAA is an intellectual property disaster area.  This aspect of the FTAA gets little or no attention, but it is important to IP owners everywhere.  The details are too technical to present here, but I’ll be happy to do so on request.  To the extent that President Chavez is anti-FTAA, he ought to be applauded by IP owners.  Oddly, I haven’t seen Disney, Microsoft, AOL Time Warner, and the pharmaceuticals stepping up to the plate.

Again, many thanks for a helpful post, and many more thanks for the site that made it possible.  Don’t have to go to http://www.latimes anymore.

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By GM Roper, December 14, 2005 at 7:35 pm Link to this comment
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Marc and I disagree about a lot of things, he is an unreconstructed “progressive” and I a knuckle dragging Neandertholic conservative.  Having said that, and knowing the contempt to which he holds Chavez, this has been a balanced and well thought out piece.  Obviously, Marc’s writing is filtered through the filter of progressive and anti-Bush rhetoric as mine is filtered through a conservative filter, but all and all, well done Marc. 

Now, if you could get past your obvious anti-Bush proclivities, perhaps you could write about the understandable antipathy of the Bush administration to a thug like Chavez.

xposted on Marc’s blog Marc Cooper

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By Jim Rockford, December 14, 2005 at 6:57 pm Link to this comment
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Leaving aside Chavez’s internal failures (he’s a “nicer” Charles Taylor, just another thuggish warlord and will doubtless rule as long as Eternal Presidente Castro, king-for-life going on 40 years now). Well, that’s mostly a problem for Venezuelans who have to live under his rule.

Marc makes that point very well.

But the problem with Chavez and Castro is not the “Washington Consensus” and their rejection of it but their continued embrace of armed insurrection inside other countries; alliances with the Iranians and Al Qaeda; and awful influence in Latin America to the detriment of everyone in the region and the US in particular.

The Washington Consensus I agree is a failure, it said that the problem was too much State Sector crowding out any private economy and a distorted, mercantilist system that was very fragile and inefficient compared to foreign competitors. This was arguably true but not the main problem, rather the symptom of too much Charles Taylorism (without the extreme violence) and general thuggery that led to a neo-feudal system. Dismantling the public sector without tackling the corruption and thuggery did nothing and so the Washington Consensus failed because only the symptom not the disease was addressed. Leaving the state sectors alone will fixing corruption is what Lula is trying and so far it’s showing results. By fixing the underlying issue.

Lula has NOT said that going back to neo-feudalism is a solution, and has advocated reform and anti-corruption measures as well as fiscal discipline to make Brazil a more wealthy country. We should promote Lula (who has generally good relations with Washington) and isolate Chavez and Castro, both of whom have aided the Marxist guerillas in Colombia and encouraged coups there.

Chavez and Castro argue that the solution is one giant Latin American country under their rule; with “Bolivarist” structures i.e. Peronist neo-feudalism, and alliances with Iran and Al Qaeda to “destroy” the US. They are our enemies (though not our chief ones) and there’s no getting round it.

“Iran has every right . . . to develop atomic energy and to continue its research in that area,” Chavez said at a joint appearance with Khatami. “All over the world, there is a clamor for equality . . . and profound rejection of the imperialist desires of the U.S. government. Faced with the threat of the U.S. government against our brother people in Iran, count on us for all our support.”

“A day after the September 11 terrorist attacks, President Chavez declared that “The United States brought the attacks upon itself, for their arrogant imperialist foreign policy.” Chavez also described the U.S. military response to bin Laden as “terrorism,” claiming that he saw no difference between the invasion of Afghanistan and the September 11 terrorist attacks.”

Yesterday in Colombia, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton gave a press conference where he unequivocally stated that the Chavez government will not refer to the FARC Colombian terrorists as “terrorists,” because the Chavez government wishes to remain “neutral.”
I don’t see how Chaves is NOT the enemy of the people of the United States. That’s not even considering the allegations of Chavez’s personal pilot that Hugo Chavez gave Al Qaeda ten million dollars after 9/11. Questionable perhaps but it would not be the first time a buffon acted like a buffoon.

Marc you were shamefully remiss in this area, in an otherwise excellent article. It took me four minutes of googling. The only conclusion we can make is that Chavez is indeed our enemy and the friend of Iran’s crazy President.

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By Richard Young, December 14, 2005 at 6:24 pm Link to this comment
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I share your opposition to laws (Venezuelan or otherwise)which restrict freedom of the press; but I do not subscribe to the selective focus by journalists/media/human rights organizations on such restrictive laws of certain disobedient foreign governments (Cuba, Venezuela), while much worse laws—and more importantly, practices—of certain obedient foreign governments (Saudi Arabia, Egypt) receive relatively less condemnation. As for the “unhealthy quota” of control which Mr. Cooper says that President Chavez presently has over the entirety of Venezuelan governmental institutions, I would ask two questions: (1) After the pre-election concessions which the CNE made at the request of the opposition parties (to address their claimed concerns about the fairness/transparency of the election process), was it President Chavez’s fault that the opposition parties nonetheless withdrew from the election—and thereby ensured that the pro-Chavez candidates would have an “unhealthy quota” of the legislature? (2) How does President Chavez’s “unhealthy quota” of governmental powers compare with President Bush’s quota?  My questions are not intended to quarrel with Mr. Cooper (whose article is in many respects admirable), but rather to make a basic point: President Chavez is a (several times now) democratically elected representative of a large majority of Venezuelan voters, who deserves to be evaluated on the basis of what he has undertaken to do—and done to date—for the majority of Venezuelan citizens. If that kind of evaluation is honestly and competently made, I believe that President Chavez compares very favorably with his predecessors over the past several decades. In any event, that judgment is for Venezuelan voters who (I trust you will concede) continue to enjoy democratic voting procedures which are at least as trustworthy as those employed in our recent national elections.

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By serial catowner, December 14, 2005 at 6:24 pm Link to this comment
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As a “revolution” this appears to be one of the less bloody ones.

It may be that, in these times, change will have to take place at a speed that appears revolutionary.

And, it may be that Chavez is not “in control” of all of those sectors of government, but that they are acting in unusual unanimity.

IOW, we may not need to subscribe to a “devil theory” to explain what we’re seeing.  I think this should be a welcome train of thought to all rational people….

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By Marc Cooper, December 14, 2005 at 4:53 pm Link to this comment

Allow me to answer some of the comments made so far.

To “Fish:”  I agree that the US pro-democracy rhetoric in one part opf the world makes no sense if it is contradicted somewhere else.  The U.S. has a great “democracy deficit” in Latin America and its current position on Venezuela does little to remedy that.

To Mr. Proyect: As an “unrepentant Marxist” as you descibe yourself on your blog, you’re going to have do better than this in defending Hugo Chavez. Attacking me does nothing to further your argument if you refuse to deal in any factual or substantive issues.

To: John Cummins:  Thanks for your praise. I have tried to be as fair as possible in writing this piece. It also sounds like, writing from Venezuela itself, you have quite a nuanced view of events. I don’t think Chavez’s rhetoric nor his encouragement of a personality cult does anyone much good.

To: Jeff Moskin: I don’t think the dollar issue is so crucial as you do. Thanks.

To: Richard Young; Having lived through the Chilean coup as Allende’s translator, I make no illusions about the historic sweep of U.S. policy in Latin America. I don’t contend that Chavez controls all aspects of the Venezuelan government, but he now controls the executive branch and the entirety of the legislative branch. He controls the military and has great influence on the Supreme Court. That seems like an unhealthy quota.

You and I both know that sectors of the private media have been quite independent and virulent in their opposition to Chavez. But it isn’t just I, but also human rights organizations and professional journalism associations, who are alarmed by some of his press laws that expose reporters to jail for “insulting” him. That seems the wrong way to go. Tell me how we are wrong about that.

To John: Many thanks.

To Julian: Limitations on space kept that note out of my piece. I think it’s great that the people of the Northeast benefit from Chavez’s cheaper oil. I don’t think, however, we should be blind to the PR aspect of this same story.

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By Srm3rdB, December 14, 2005 at 4:04 pm Link to this comment
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Hello all,

Cooper’s essay is ironic in that Hugo Chevez and Bush seem to be cut from the same mold; bullies, ego-maniacs and two to be wary of.

One wonders just how much care our president has for the people of his country when he antagonizes a majr oil resource.

It’s apparent that Chevez is afraid of Bush, as he’d best be.  Our cowboy prez shoots from the hip and his aim is dead-eye!

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By Julian DelGaudio, December 14, 2005 at 3:13 pm Link to this comment
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In his fine article, Mr. Cooper neglected to mention what must be a poke in the eye of the Bush administration.  This occurred when President Chavez arranged to subsidize oil exports to several northeastern states to meet the needs of the American disadvantaged.  Chavez turns out to have a more benevolent domestic policy toward the American people than the Bush administration or the Republicans who control congress.  If this be the new hemispheric populism, than let’s make the most of it.

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By John, December 14, 2005 at 2:32 pm Link to this comment
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The balanced piece that Mr. Cooper wrote helped to provide great insight into the relationship between the George W. Bush Administration and Hugo Chavez-led Venezuelan Government.  The common thread between Bush and Chavez seems to be that neither leader really wishes for democratic rule in Venezuela, albeit for different reasons.

Mr. Cooper, thanks for a fine article and I look forward to reading more learned essays by you.

Also, thanks to Truthdig for bringing this fine web site to us.

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By BushYouth, December 14, 2005 at 2:10 pm Link to this comment
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“blind hostility and confrontation toward Chavez is not only hypocritical but also counterproductive-damaging to Washington, to Venezuela, and ultimately to the Venezuelan people”

That is the best summary of how I’ve always felt since Chavez came into power. His movement is turning into a personality cult and it didn’t need to.

I wouldn’t classify Parenti as a pro-Chavez writer. His article for the Nation was very balanced and his observations were not inconsistant with Marc’s conclusions.

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By Richard Young, December 14, 2005 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment
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As a daily reader (in Spanish) of El Universal and other anti-Chavez Venezuelan newspapers for the past five years, my comment on the subject article is that Mr. Cooper errs on the side of our Government’s propaganda line on Chavez in particular, and Latin America in general. Cooper lends credence to the absurd line that Chavez has intimidated the opposition press (which any literate observer can readily disprove by reading El Universal on-line today and every day for the past five years). Cooper also lends credence to the absurd line that Chavez effectively controls all branches of the Venezuelan government (which any fair observer can easily disprove by noting the fact that the Venezuelan courts allowed virtually every leading member of the military/business/labor coup against Chavez to escape to their presently comfortable exiles in Columbia, Miami and elsewhere). As for our Government’s involvement in the coup, Cooper goes lightly over the well documented facts that our Ambassador (Shapiro) personally had an early (roughly 6AM) breakfast with coup-leader Cardona while the duly elected President of Venezuela was being held at gun-point by his military subordinates and American military advisers were physically present in the Presidential palace. Cooper also conveniently fails to note that since the Venezuelan coup, our Government also directly participated in the Haitian coup, wherein our Ambassador appeared in the middle of the night at the Presidential residence with armed American forces, asked the duly elected President of Haiti to give our Ambassador a signed resignation document, and then flew President Aristide off to an unknown destination (which turned out to be an African dictatorship friendly to our Government). Cooper also glosses over a “labor strike” which was in reality a management lock-out by the top officials of the Venezuelan government’s petroleum enterprise—the only purpose of which was to shut down the Venezuelan government’s primary source of income, and thereby to force President Chavez out of his elected office. To those of us who are old enough to recall our Government’s relentless series of open and covert armed interventions over the past half-century in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Granada, Panama and Haiti (several times), Mr. Cooper’s story sacrifices truth for “balance.” As a matter of fact, our Government (on an unfortunately bi-partisan basis) has consistently sought to control the internal political affairs of nations all over the world, including Latin America, and our Government shows no signs of changing that policy in the foreseeable future. In my opinion, Mr. Cooper could better employ his considerable talents by candidly acknowledging our Government’s imperial policies and practices regarding Venezuela (and particularly Venezuelan petroleum resources) for the past century, and then fairly evaluating President Chavez’s conduct in that historical context. If he did so, I suspect that President Chavez would emerge as the most effective representative of the Venezuelan people in modern history.

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By Jeffrey M Moskin, December 14, 2005 at 12:59 pm Link to this comment
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Chavez is not perfect, very likely a man drunk on power. But he is popular (60%) with his people, has withstood a BushCo coup attempt, and is using oil profits to benefit the poor. So he can’t be all bad.

For a nation sitting on so much oil wealth to have such a disparity between rich and poor is shameful. And it has been this way for a very long time. The old PeDeVesa oil establishment had to go, and Chavez was the man with the axe.

It is my belief that BushCo opposes him not so much for his left-wing policies as for his professed willingness to accept Euros instead of dollars for oil purchases.

BushCo cannot allow ANYONE to break the long-standing US dollar hegemony. Saddam was the first to try. Iran is soon to be the second. Chavez has been talking about it. Stay tuned.

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By John Commins, December 14, 2005 at 12:11 pm Link to this comment
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Mr. Cooper should be commended for one of the most balanced critiques of Mr. Chavez that I have ever read. That I am reading it in a US medium is even more cause for joy. Mr. Chavez is no angel, but he is the president of Venezuela, fair and square, sin duda. The US should respect that.
I support Mr. Chavez to a point. To this point, his greatest single triumph was the destruction of the two ruling parties, Accion Democracia and Copei, that had robbed this country blind for 40+ years. Yes, he has consolidated his power, as all politicians do, but it has been done legally, at the ballot box.
The opposition is in disarray, moreso even that the US Democrats. But Chavez’s superheated rhetoric leaves me nervous. He is constantly on TV, developing a personality cult, and I believe the comparison to Juan Peron is accurate. He called Mexico’s Fox a “puppy” or lapdog of the US, which was needlessly insulting. Was Mr. Fox a lapdog when he denounced the US-backed 2002 coup?
The extent of the Bush Administration’s role in the 2002 coup is still not fully known, but I cannot imagine how anyone in the opposition would have felt emboldened to topple Mr. Chavez without a wink from the U.S.
Can anyone explain to me why the MSM in the US have not more vigorously attempted to ascertain the Bush Administration’s role in the coup? It has played a huge role in discrediting the US in LatAm, almost as much as the invasion of Iraq.
JC, Valencia, Venezuela

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By Louis Proyect, December 14, 2005 at 11:40 am Link to this comment
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This article was an exercise in damning with faint praise. Cooper should write about topics he is more enthusiastic about, like poker, vintage muscle cars and fishing. This pastiche of attacks on Chavez culled together in the name of defending him is just another marker in Cooper’s headlong slide into Hitchens territory.

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By fish, December 14, 2005 at 10:18 am Link to this comment
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I am really glad that Marc pointed out the obvious hypocrisy between what the Bush administration claims is democracy building in Iraq to its anti-democracy position on the coup in Venezuela. This disconnect is never touched upon in the mainstream media, but to me seems fundamental in our discussions of why we are in Iraq. This hypocrisy is not lost on the other Latin American countries who are becoming more distant from the US all the time. Many like Venezuela and Chile are looking east to China as an alternative.

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Dig Director's Blog

Jan. 9, 2006

Since the original posting of the piece, in early December, events have moved very quickly in South America. Marc Cooper has provided an update.

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Dec. 14, 2005

Follow-up to your comments will be posted here.

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