December 15, 2002
Venezuela II

The BBC has some decent coverage of the situation in Venezuela. The story actually deals with background information and the history of the current protests and economic situation. Amazingly, this kind of coverage is largely unheard of.

I find that a good way to understand the current situation in Venezuela is to imagine that a president and senate majority were elected on a basic left-wing platform of wealth redistribution, a living wage, stopping the "war on drugs'" exclusive focus on the poor, cutting back some of the really brutal exploitation and repression in foreign policy (IMF, WB), etc.

What would the reaction look like? First, corporations and rich people would effectively go on strike, pulling out of investments everywhere, and even shutting down key services (all of which are now mostly privatized). The media and armies of pundits would go completely nuts, dismissing the government as illegitimate (no matter how many voted for it) and using any possible excuse to create a huge scandal.

As a result, the economy would go down the tubes, and in the chaos that ensues, all kinds of bureaucrats would make off with taxpayers cash. Hundreds of millions of dollars are already unaccounted for in the Pentagon's budget, and this is when things are operating smoothly.

The immense power controlled by the media, wall street, and the rich is a very straightforward reason why a left wing party will probably never be elected in the US, no matter how much of the population is poor.

But it did happen in Venezuela. Chavez, the left-wing president who was elected with 60% of the vote (many of those being poor people) bears the blame for the economic chaos that is happening.

I, for one, think that we are a little too quick to say that economic policy that benefits someone other than the existing elite "causes" the economy to melt down. What really causes it is the fact that the corporations and uber-rich will not tolerate anyone denying or even questioning their privilege to get first dibs on economic spoils. Who hasn't noticed that Wall Street responds to even the slightest talk of, say, an increase in the minimum wage by falling 10%?

We've gotten to the point where, due to this collosal concentration of power, "the market" is seen as both inevitable and supremely beneficial, even democratic (see Thomas Frank's One Market Under God for examples). But this cultural kow-towing to economic systems is what allows the wealth and power to concentrate further.

Sane governance, it seems to me, is only possible on the basis of an honest assessment of why things are the way they are. If global capitalism really is the way to go (I have my doubts), then its supremacy should only be based on an argument that despite the fact that it concentrates money and power in the hands of very few, it is still the best system. Of course, once one concedes this utterly obvious point, it's hard to justify the current system, except by arguing that anything else will lead to disaster.

But if such an honest (and really quite obvious) assessment were commonly acknowledged and widely held, then the concentration of power would have alread lost its hold on public discourse, and the rest of its power (economic, political) would be perpetually checked. Things would already be a bit better.

posted by dru in activism