The Relevance of Venezuela to Fiji

I'm breaking tradition in publishing a major article not on Fiji, but I think at least three elements in this story —Chavez's different style of leadership, his support from other South American countries despite the efforts of the U.S.A.(think MSG and Australian NZ efforts) ,  and the attempts by outsiders to smear the successes of his government— have a bearing on the Fiji situation.  We should also reflect on the role of the so-called independent media that so shapes our opinions on world events by selective reporting (and no reporting) and by lampooning leaders  of governments with whom they do not agree.  --- Croz

Published on The Nation (http://www.thenation.com)

On the Legacy of Hugo Chávez

Greg Grandin | March 5, 2013
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A supporter of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez holds up a picture of him during the inauguration of the National Assembly in Caracas January 5, 2013. Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

I first met Hugo Chávez in New York City in September 2006, just after his infamous appearance on the floor of the UN General Assembly, where he called George W. Bush the devil. “Yesterday, the devil came here,” he said, “Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.” He then made the sign of the cross, kissed his hand, winked at his audience and looked to the sky. It was vintage Chávez, an outrageous remark leavened with just the right touch of detail (the lingering sulfur!) to make it something more than bombast, cutting through soporific nostrums of diplomatese and drawing fire away from Iran, which was in the cross hairs at that meeting.

The press of course went into high dudgeon, and not just for the obvious reason that it’s one thing for opponents in the Middle East to call the United States the Great Satan and another thing for the president of a Latin American country to personally single out its president as Beelzebub, on US soil no less.
I think what really rankled was that Chávez was claiming a privilege that had long belonged to the United States, that is, the right to paint its adversaries not as rational actors but as existential evil. Latin American populists, from Argentina’s Juan Perón to, most recently, Chávez, have long served as characters in a story the US tells about itself, reaffirming the maturity of its electorate and the moderation of its political culture. There are at most eleven political prisoners in Venezuela, and that’s taking the opposition’s broad definition of the term, which includes individuals who worked to overthrow the government in 2002, and yet it is not just the right in this country who regularly compared Chávez to the worst mass murderers and dictators in history. New Yorker critic Alex Ross, in an essay published a few years back celebrating the wunderkind Venezuelan conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, fretted about enjoying the fruits of Venezuela’s much-lauded government-funded system of music training: “Stalin, too, was a great believer in music for the people.”
* * *
Hugo Chávez was the second of seven children, born in 1954 in the rural village of Sabaneta, in the grassland state of Barinas, to a family of mixed European, Indian and Afro-Venezuelan race. Bart Jones’s excellent biography, Hugo! nicely captures the improbability of Chávez’s rise from dirt-floor poverty—he was sent to live with his grandmother since his parents couldn’t feed their children—through the military, where he became involved with left-wing politics, which in Venezuela meant a mix of international socialism and Latin America’s long history of revolutionary nationalism. It drew inspiration from well-known figures such as Simón Bolívar, as well as lesser-known insurgents, such as nineteenth-century peasant leader Ezequiel Zamora, in whose army Chávez’s great-great-grandfather had served. Born just a few days after the CIA drove reformist Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz from office, he was a young military cadet of 19 in September 1973 when he heard Fidel Castro on the radio announce yet another CIA-backed coup, this one toppling Salvador Allende in Chile.
Awash in oil wealth, Venezuela throughout the twentieth century enjoyed its own kind of exceptionalism, avoiding the extremes of left-wing radicalism and homicidal right-wing anticommunism that overtook many of its neighbors. In a way, the country became the anti-Cuba. In 1958, political elites negotiated a pact that maintained the trappings of democratic rule for four decades, as two ideological indistinguishable parties traded the presidency back and forth (sound familiar?). Where the State Department and its allied policy intellectuals isolated and condemned Havana, they celebrated Caracas as the end point of development. Samuel Huntington praised Venezuela as an example of “successful democratization,” while another political scientist, writing in the early 1980s, said it represented the “only trail to a democratic future for developing societies…a textbook case of step-by-step progress.”
We know now that its institutions were rotting from the inside out. Every sin that Chávez was accused of committing—governing without accountability, marginalizing the opposition, appointing partisan supporters to the judiciary, dominating labor unions, professional organizations and civil society, corruption and using oil revenue to dispense patronage—flourished in a system the United States held up as exemplary.
Petroleum prices began to fall in the mid-1980s. By this point, Venezuela had grown lopsidedly urban, with 16 million of its 19 million citizens living in cities, well over half of them below the poverty line, many in extreme poverty. In Caracas, combustible concentrations of poor people lived cut off from municipal services—such as sanitation and safe drinking water—and hence party and patronage control. The spark came in February 1989, when a recently inaugurated president who had run against the IMF said that he no choice but to submit to its dictates. He announced a plan to abolish food and fuel subsidies, increase gas prices, privatize state industries and cut spending on health care and education.
Three days of rioting and looting spread through the capital, an event that both marked the end of Venezuelan exceptionalism and the beginning of the hemisphere’s increasingly focused opposition to neoliberalism. Established parties, unions and government institutions proved entirely incapable of restoring legitimacy in austere times, committed as they were to upholding a profoundly unequal class structure.
Chávez emerged from the ruin, first with a failed putsch in 1992, which landed him in jail but turned him into a folk hero. Then in 1998, when he won 56 percent of the vote as a presidential candidate. Inaugurated in 1999, he took office committed to a broad yet vague anti-austerity program, a mild John Kenneth Galbraith–quoting reformer who at first had no power to reform anything. The esteem in which Chávez was held by the majority of Venezuelans, many of them dark-skinned, was matched by the rage he provoked among the country’s mostly white political and economic elites. But their maximalist program of opposition—a US-endorsed coup, an oil strike that destroyed the country’s economy, a recall election and an oligarch-media propaganda campaign that made Fox News seem like PBS—backfired. By 2005, Chávez had weathered the storm and was in control of the nation’s oil, allowing him to embark on an ambitious program of domestic and international transformation: massive social spending at home and “poly-polar equilibrium” abroad, a riff on what Bolívar once called “universal equilibrium,” an effort to break up the US’s historical monopoly of power in Latin America and force Washington to compete for influence.
* * *
Over the last fourteen years, Chávez has submitted himself and his agenda to fourteen national votes, winning thirteen of them by large margins, in polling deemed by Jimmy Carter to be “best in the world” out of the ninety-two elections that he has monitored. (It turns out it isn’t that difficult to have transparent elections: voters in Venezuela cast their ballot on an touch pad, which spits out a receipt they can check and then deposit in a box. At the end of the day, random polling stations are picked for ‘hot audits,’ to make sure the electronic and paper tallies add up). A case is made that this ballot-box proceduralism isn’t democratic, that Chávez dispenses patronage and dominates the media giving him an unfair advantage. But after the last presidential ballot—which Chávez won with the same percentage he did his first election yet with a greatly expanded electorate—even his opponents have admitted, despairingly, that a majority of Venezuelans liked, if not adored, the man.
I’m what they call a useful idiot when it comes to Hugo Chávez, if only because rank-and-file social organizations that to me seem worthy of support in Venezuela continued to support him until the end. My impressionistic sense is that this support breaks down roughly in half, between voters who think their lives and their families’ lives are better off because of Chávez’s massive expansion of state services, including healthcare and education, despite real problems of crime, corruption, shortages and inflation.
The other half of Chávez’s electoral majority is made up of organized citizens involved in one or the other of the country’s many grassroots organizations. Chávez’s social base was diverse and heterodox, what social scientists in the 1990s began to celebrate as “new social movements,” distinct from established trade unions and peasant organizations vertically linked to—and subordinated to—political parties or populist leaders: neighborhood councils; urban and rural homesteaders, feminists, gay and lesbian rights organizations, economic justice activists, environmental coalitions; breakaway unions and the like. It’s these organizations, in Venezuela and elsewhere throughout the region, that have over the last few decades done heroic work in democratizing society, in giving citizens venues to survive the extremes of neoliberalism and to fight against further depredations, turning Latin America into one of the last global bastion of the Enlightenment left.
Chávez’s detractors see this mobilized sector of the population much the way Mitt Romney saw 47 percent of the US electorate not as citizens but parasites, moochers sucking on the oil-rent teat. Those who accept that Chávez enjoyed majority support disparaged that support as emotional enthrallment. Voters, wrote one critic, see their own vulnerability in their leader and are entranced. Another talked about Chávez’s “magical realist” hold over his followers.
One anecdote alone should be enough to give the lie to the idea that poor Venezuelans voted for Chávez because they were fascinated by the baubles they dangled in front of them. During the 2006 presidential campaign, the signature pledge of Chávez’s opponent was to give 3,000,000 poor Venezuelans a black credit card (black as in the color of oil) from which they could withdraw up to $450 in cash a month, which would have drained over $16 billion dollars a year from the national treasury (call it neoliberal populism: give to the poor just enough to bankrupt the government and force the defunding of services). Over the years, there’s been a lot of heavy theoretically breathing by US academics about the miasma oil wealth creates in countries like Venezuela, lulling citizens into a dreamlike state that renders them into passive spectators. But in this election at least, Venezuelans managed to see through the mist. Chávez won with over 62 percent of the vote.
Let’s set aside for a moment the question of whether Chavismo’s social-welfare programs will endure now that Chávez is gone and shelve the left-wing hope that out of rank-and-file activism a new, sustainable way of organizing society will emerge. The participatory democracy that took place in barrios, in workplaces and in the countryside over the last fourteen years was a value in itself, even if it doesn’t lead to a better world.
There’s been great work done on the ground by scholars such as Alejandro Velasco, Sujatha Fernandes, Naomi Schiller and George Ciccariello-Maher on these social movements that, taken together, lead to the conclusion that Venezuela might be the most democratic country in the Western Hemisphere. One study found that organized Chavistas held to “liberal conceptions of democracy and held pluralistic norms,” believed in peaceful methods of conflict resolution and worked to ensure that their organizations functioned with high levels of “horizontal or non-hierarchical” democracy. What political scientists would criticize as a hyper dependency on a strongman, Venezuelan activists understand as mutual reliance, as well as an acute awareness of the limits and shortcomings of this reliance.
Over the years, this or that leftist has pronounced themselves “disillusioned” with Chávez, setting out some standard drawn, from theory or history, and then pronouncing the Venezuelan leader as falling short. He’s a Bonapartist, wrote one. He’s no Allende, sighs another. To paraphrase the radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln, nothing surprises these critics and therefore they are never surprising. But there are indeed many surprising things about Chavismo in relationship to Latin American history.
First, the military in Latin America is best known for its homicidal right-wing sadists, many of them trained by the United States, in places like the School of the Americas. But the region’s armed forces have occasionally thrown up anti-imperialists and economic nationalists. In this sense, Chávez is similar to Argentina’s Perón, as well as Guatemala’s Colonel Arbenz, Panama’s Omar Torrijos and Peru’s General Juan Francisco Velasco, who as president between 1968 and 1975 allied Lima with Moscow. But when they weren’t being either driven from office (Arbenz) or killed (Torrijos?), these military populists inevitably veered quickly to the right. Within a few years of his 1946 election, Perón was cracking down on unions, going as far as endorsing the overthrow of Arbenz in 1954. In Peru, the radical phase of Peru’s military government lasted seven years. Chávez, in contrast, was in office fourteen years, and he never turned nor repressed his base.
Second and related, for decades now social scientists have been telling us that the kind of mobilized regime Venezuela represents is pump-primed for violence, that such governments can only maintain energy through internal repression or external war. But after years of calling the oligarchy squalid traitors, Venezuela has seen remarkably little political repression—certainly less than Nicaragua in the 1980s under the Sandinistas and Cuba today, not to mention the United States.
Oil wealth has much to do with this exceptionalism, as it also did in the elite, top-down democracy that existed prior to Chávez. But so what? Chávez has done what rational actors in the neoliberal interstate order are supposed to do: he’s leveraged Venezuela’s comparative advantage not just to fund social organizations but give them unprecedented freedom and power.
* * *
Chávez was a strongman. He packed the courts, hounded the corporate media, legislated by decree and pretty much did away with any effective system of institutional checks or balances. But I’ll be perverse and argue that the biggest problem Venezuela faced during his rule was not that Chávez was authoritarian but that he wasn’t authoritarian enough. It wasn’t too much control that was the problem but too little.
Chavismo came to power through the ballot following the near total collapse of Venezuela’s existing establishment. It enjoyed overwhelming rhetorical and electoral hegemony, but not administrative hegemony. As such, it had to make significant compromises with existing power blocs in the military, the civil and educational bureaucracy and even the outgoing political elite, all of whom were loath to give up their illicit privileges and pleasures. It took near five years before Chávez’s government gained control of oil revenues, and then only after a protracted fight that nearly ruined the country.
Once it had access to the money, it opted not to confront these pockets of corruption and power but simply fund parallel institutions, including the social missions that provided healthcare, education and other welfare services being the most famous. This was both a blessing and a curse, the source of Chavismo’s strength and weakness.
Prior to Chávez, competition for government power and resources took place largely within the very narrow boundaries of two elite political parties. After Chávez’s election, political jockeying took place within “Chavismo.” Rather than forming a single-party dictatorship with an interventionist state bureaucracy controlling people’s lives, Chavismo has been pretty wide open and chaotic. But it significantly more inclusive than the old duopoly, comprised of at least five different currents: a new Bolivarian political class, older leftist parties, economic elites, military interests and the social movements mentioned above. Oil money gave Chávez the luxury of acting as a broker between these competing tendencies, allowing each to pursue their interests (sometimes, no doubt, their illicit interests) and deferring confrontations. 
* * *
The high point of Chávez’s international agenda was his relationship with Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the Latin American leader whom US foreign policy and opinion makers tried to set as Chávez’s opposite. Where Chávez was reckless, Lula was moderate. Where Chávez was confrontational, Lula was pragmatic. Lula himself never bought this nonsense, consistently rising to Chávez’s defense and endorsing his election.
For a good eight years they worked something like a Laurel and Hardy routine, with Chávez acting the buffoon and Lula the straight man. But each was dependent on the other and each was aware of this dependency. Chávez often stressed the importance of Lula’s election in late 2002, just a few months after April’s failed coup attempt, which gave him his first real ally of consequence in a region then still dominated by neoliberals. Likewise, the confrontational Chávez made Lula’s reformism that much more palatable. Wikileak documents reveal the skill in which Lula’s diplomats gently but firmly rebuffed the Bush administration’s pressure to isolate Venezuela.
Their inside-outside rope-a-dope was on full display at the November 2005 Summit of the Americas in Argentina, where the United States hoped to lock in its deeply unfair economic advantage with a hemisphere-wide Free Trade Agreement. In the meeting hall, Lula lectured Bush on the hypocrisy of protecting corporate agriculture with subsidies and tariffs even as it pushed Latin America to open its markets. Meanwhile, on the street Chávez led 40,000 protesters promising to “bury” the free trade agreement. The treaty was indeed derailed, and in the years that followed, Venezuela and Brazil, along with other Latin American nations, have presided over a remarkable transformation in hemispheric relations, coming as close as ever to achieving Bolívar’s “universal equilibrium.”
* * *
When I met Chávez in 2006 after his controversial appearance in the UN, it was at a small lunch at the Venezuelan consulate. Danny Glover was there, and he and Chávez talked the possibility of producing a movie on the life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the former slave who led the Haitian Revolution.
Also present was a friend and activist who works on the issue of debt relief for poor countries. At the time, a proposal to relieve the debt owed to the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) by the poorest countries in the Americas had stalled, largely because mid-level bureaucrats from Argentina, Mexico and Brazil opposed the initiative. My friend lobbied Chávez to speak to Lula and Argentina’s president Néstor Kirchner, another of the region’s leftist leaders, and get them to jump-start the deal.
Chávez asked a number of thoughtful questions, at odds with the provocateur on display on the floor of the General Assembly. Why, he wanted to know, was the Bush administration in favor of the plan? My friend explained that some Treasury officials were libertarians who, if not in favor of debt relief, wouldn’t block the deal. “Besides,” he said, “they don’t give a shit about the IADB.” Chávez then asked why Brazil and Argentina were holding things up. Because, my friend said, their representatives to the IADB were functionaries deeply invested in the viability of the bank, and they thought debt abolition a dangerous precedent.
We later got word that Chávez had successfully lobbied Lula and Kirchner to support the deal. In November 2006, the IADB announced it would write off billions of dollars in debt to Nicaragua, Guyana, Honduras and Bolivia (Haiti would later be added to the list).
And so it was that the man routinely compared in the United States to Stalin quietly joined forces with the administration of the man he had just called Satan, helping to make the lives of some of the poorest people in America just a bit more bearable.
Read this obituary in Spanish. [2]
You can find a selection of The Nation's opinion and reporting on Chávez and Venezuela here [3].

Source URL: http://www.thenation.com/article/173212/legacy-hugo-chavez

Comments

Of self-actualised and sagacious men....... said…
Muchas, muchisimas gracias a Croz: a most discerning and highly interesting article about the role of 'Chavismo' in Venezuela and the Man Himself: El Comandante, Presidente Hugo Chavez RIP. There is little doubt that Chavez wrought change for better in the lives of most, 'la mayoria de Venezolanos'. The majority - but many were unhappy about this and how he came by it through the use of the country's oil wealth which the established elites believed should be welded to their exclusive interests. The word which comes to mind most immediately about him is: sagacity. He was sagacious, quick of scent (Websters). In a Hardtalk Interview with BBC's Stephen Sackur from 2010 (recently replayed at the time of President Chavez's death in February), his acute intelligence and charisma came through. Even Sackur himself was obviously disarmed by him. This led to an uncharacteristic display of compromised objectivity. His close relationship with Lula da Silva and his acknowledged mentor in Havana, Cuba, Fidel Castro tells much of his ability to cede leverage to those most able to further political interests in favour of the most disadvantaged in society. The "We are a Team" concept which may work wonders against the likes of the Bush Brigade.....and did when the debt alleviation measures were finally won against received and sceptical opinion. This article is worth its weight in gold at this particular time in Fiji. De nuevo, muchisimas gracias and also for the Obituary. Here was a "Self-actualised man par excellence". Not too many abound in this world, more's the pity!
Revolution in the making said…
Croz, Leaders are suppose to lead not fill their pockets... excellent article of what this PM is doing..http://www.grubsheet.com.au/?p=3953... the poor are being looked after... the PM is on the ground for the common citizen of this nation... see if I care if a democratic system is needed! The priveldged elitists can go and get screwed because this nation no longer needs the likes of them. We are moving forward...God Bless Fiji! Chavez used to say " let the Americans Squeal"... I say the same to Fiji Government's opposition too.
John Locke (1632-1704) beards The Piper said…
@ Revolution in the making...

"Leaders are supposed to lead not fill their pockets". Quite right. And doubtless this is why the new Pope Francis The First has stated: "This is not a Carnival" when he recently was seen and heard to forego the furlined Papal red cape. A whole new approach to the Bishopric of Rome and to the Papacy? Not before time! President Chavez was full of memorable lines. He knew what went down well with the populace who voted for him. He came into a society reminiscent of that of Thomas Hobbes' England mid-17th century: 'The condition of man is a condition of war of everyone against everyone". But it was John Locke who around the same time reminded us all that there should be no taxation without representation. Locke who insisted that our consent, "whether given directly or through representatives, is prerequisite to any transfer of my property, whether in the public purse or anywhere else".

So 'calling the tune' has a spin off for pipers. The subtext is more than plain. And it became so at least four hundred years ago.
sanjivla said…
You tell everything by the friends a man/ a country keeps, you only have to look at the bedfellows of this creature - Zimbabwe, Iran, Cuba etc... it speaks volumes. Fiji is going down this path due to desperation and largley, petulance. They will now hitch their wagon to any 'sugar-daddy' who lets them do whatever they want , then when it all comes craching down - they will have their hand out again to the evil imperialists.
%$#@! said…
isn't it the fijian regime that is squeeling and moaning all the time about recognition and sanctions?? If they don't matter, why complain? you have new trading partners now and new friends so take it. Instead these new friends are no where to be seen when it matter but get them a contract to build you a road, they LOAN you the money, collect da money later, and then bring their own people to build it for you ??!! And where does Fiji turn whn it all turns to sh*t, gives NZ a road contract to fix it!! back to daddy.
This is what we are aiming for ??! LOL said…
Apparently corruption if fine if it a regime appointee and not reported, cronyism is fine if it in the regime and not reportedbyt th evil media , torture is fine (coz we always done it here)if you have good reason and they are your own goons, accountability is really for others and not the regime, progress is what the regime decides it is and reported verbatim,elites - we mean old ones not the new crew who took their roles rhater than eraned them, and have unfettered power as they just make up decree to suit themselves and the judiciary is free coz we say so (Most have spoken with their feet already and want nothing to do with the regime) the ICHJ have a very clear view on Fiji and just dam inconvenent for Croz (more ignorant international judges who just don't understand Fiji 'unique situation!?' blah blah blah) But find me a judge from our new mates from China and we will quote him on how things are supposed to work!!
Anonymous said…
Chavez's most memorable line was 'I think i have a head cold'. lol.. There is nothing in Fiji whicn can't be solved with an IED or a letter laced with plutonium.
Anonymous said…
i notice how these pacific backwaters never aprire to be Norway, Holland or Canada. They always aim sooooo loooowwww.
Scraping the barrel said…
Croz
You have lost me on this one?

Are you saying Fiji should aim for the standard of Venezuala under Hugo Whatshisname?? Although Fiji is scraping the barrel under the moronic military thug, you actually want it to go even further backwards? Chavez is like Gaddafi - gone and forgotten. Just another deadshyte dictator.

You really are an idiot of mammoth proportions.
Revolution said…
Chavez... Che Guevara.. Fidel Castro.. are revolutionaries...The natives need to understand that they have all the power in the world - but it must be for the good of all people ...not just for the elitists (chiefs and the like). Gaddafi got raped for telling the west that he no longer had any nukes. Same with Saddam... but I doubt anyone has the guts to invade North Korea because they have nukes and most likely they will use it! Fiji is a simple land... where a simple democratic system would have worked but it seems that the chiefs tried to play king maker by the use of western toys (entitlement, guns, democratic principles,..). Now they have been made redundant...it will take a long time before they will see power again. Bad luck but we can only move forward..
Anonymous said…
Ah that catch is they might be quick learners and rise up and dump the illegal regime as well.
Gutter Press said…
There is always another side to any story. It struck me whilst reading this ode to Hugo in Takimag
http://takimag.com/article/remembering_hugo_takimag/print#ixzz2O8ocpMbH
that just a few names and places could be changed to give the following article far more local interest. I’ve deleted some passages to fit this website’s HTML character limit

You will be missed, Hugo Chavez. The world has lost a man who was larger than life, and we don’t only mean your Body Mass Index. We will always love and admire you, even though you are now technically dead.

Because we absorb most of our political insight from people who’ve done nothing more in their lives than pretend to be somebody else while reciting lines that other people have written we offer yet another warm and rosy encomium to your passing.

You are a hero for improving the lives of Venezuela’s poor. Even though most of your fawning admirers have never felt poverty and don’t know any poor people personally and are generally repulsed by them, pretending to relate to those far beneath them allows them to feel a little less guilty for being wealthy and privileged.

Even if debt has mushroomed under your reign and inflation is soaring and you’ve effectively sold off your country’s future to China—and even if this means that any uptick in the poor’s living standards is temporary—it’s the thought that counts, Hugo.

You bravely stood up to corporations and oligarchs, and let us ignore the fact that you swept away one group of oligarchs only to replace them with a new breed of government-enabled oligarchs. These neo-oligarchs suck blood from the public treasury and according to various estimates have siphoned anywhere from 20 to 400 billion petrodollars and tucked them away in offshore banks where the humble slum-dwellers of Caracas won’t ever notice it’s missing. But it’s symbolism rather than reality that is important to us.

We don’t care that your country’s homicide rate nearly quadrupled during your reign. We don’t care that it’s become a hub for cocaine trafficking, human trafficking, and diamond smuggling. We don’t mind that you provided money and weapons for Colombia’s FARC rebels that enabled them to kidnap and kill people. It’s for a good cause, so it’s not really murder.

We don’t care that in 2012, the World Economic Forum rated your country near the bottom when it comes to economic competitiveness. Neither do we care that in 2013, the Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation rated Venezuela 174th out of 177 countries on their Index of Economic Freedom. We don’t care that of 130 national economies studied in the 2012 International Property Rights Index, Venezuela scored 115th.

Leftist wisdom teaches us that it is only the marginally powerful who stand in the way of the extremely powerful and the extremely impoverished forging a new friendship and becoming Best Friends Forever. It doesn’t matter whether you uplifted your country’s poor at the expense of those wretched entrepreneurs and middle-class creeps who are neither extremely rich nor extremely poor.

We don’t care that you shut down dozens of media outlets for criticizing you, nor that you’ve imprisoned journalists who’ve spoken ill of you on the pretense that they were inciting “hatred” against the government. None of this confirms our long-held suspicion that all this endless railing against “hate speech” was a clever ruse to ultimately criminalize all criticism of the almighty and incorruptible centralized state. Even though we never shut the hell up about “human rights,” we don’t care that in 2008, you forcibly detained and expelled members of Human Rights Watch for daring to criticize your record on human rights.

We don’t care that in 2010 and 2011 Transparency International deemed Venezuela the Western Hemisphere’s most corrupt nation, because in 2012 you conceded the bottom spot to Haiti.

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