Hugo Chavez's 21st Century Socialism: dictatorship by any other name

1 June 2009 | Is it a democracy or a dictatorship? Is it socialism or capitalism? What system of governance/economy better describes, according to facts, that which governs Venezuela? Hugo Chavez came with the novel idea of defining his so called Bolivarian revolution as 21st Century Socialism. However not even Chavez has been able to describe in detail what that concept means, what are its core principles. His administration is not characterised by giving power to workers, regardless of the amount of exproriations of "means of production" conducted up to this point. There are facts and actions however that could contribute to a better understanding of what Chavez's 21st Century Socialism is.

Workers rights

How have workers, in general, fared under Chavez? Here's what the International Labour Organization (ILO) has to say:

The Committee expresses deep concern, recalls the gravity of the allegations and emphasizes that a movement of trade unions or employers can only develop where fundamental human rights are respected and in a climate free of violence of any kind. The Committee recalls that the Conference Committee requested the Government to take measures to investigate this occurrence so that those responsible could be punished and similar events did not occur in future and it requests the Government to provide information in this respect.

And the following is what ILO stated regarding discrimination:

1. The Committee notes the Government’s report and the communication sent by the Confederation of Workers of Venezuela (CTV), which was forwarded to the Government on 19 June 2007, and the Government’s reply thereto received on 20 September 2007. The Committee notes that the Government has not replied specifically to the communications from the National Single Federation of Public Employees (FEDE-UNEP), affiliated to the CTV, which were forwarded to the Government on 23 November 2004 and 22 March 2006.

2. Discrimination on political grounds. Tascón list. The communications of the FEDE-UNEP refer to threats, harassment, transfers, the worsening of working conditions and the dismissal of employees of the Central and Decentralized National Public Administration in response to their participation in the collection of signatures to initiate a referendum to revoke the public offices assigned by popular election, in accordance with the Constitution. FEDE-UNEP provided 700 names of dismissed workers. The names of the workers who participated in initiating the referendum process were published prior to their dismissal on a list on the Internet which, according to FEDE-UNEP and CTV, was used as a source of information for reprisals. In its communication of 2007, the CTV refers to the fact that, on 15 December 2005, the President of the Republic recognized the discriminatory use made of the list and stated that the list “should be discarded”. Nevertheless, according to the union, the discrimination has continued and has worsened in the public sector.

3. Discrimination on political grounds in Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). On the matter of the 19,500 workers dismissed from the PDVSA, the Committee notes that the CTV cites statements allegedly made by the President of the PDVSA which illustrate that these dismissals were politically motivated. According to the CTV, the President of the PDVSA expressed his determination to continue to dismiss employees to ensure that the enterprise “is in line with and reflects the love our people have expressed towards our President”. In its reply to the CTV’s comments, the Government refers to the legislation providing protection against discrimination and provides information on the status of complaints filed by dismissed employees of the PDVSA. However, the Government does not comment on statements allegedly made by the President of the PDVSA. The Committee strongly urges the Government to take the necessary measures to investigate the allegations of management practices in the public sector, including the PDVSA, that discriminate against employees on the basis of their political opinion, and to end such practices where they are found to exist. Please keep the Committee informed in this regard. The Committee also refers in this regard to its comments under the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87).

4. The armed forces. The CTV indicates that, although there have not been changes in the provisions establishing the institutional and non-political nature of the armed forces, soldiers and officers are obliged to shout the slogan “Fatherland, socialism or death” and that the President of the Republic has stated that whoever is not prepared to give voice to this slogan must resign.

5. The Committee notes that, in its communication, the Government refers to section 7 of the Organic Labour Act which excludes the members of armed corps, meaning the armed corps of the national armed forces, the police services and other bodies involved in the defence and security of the nation and the maintenance of public order from the scope of the Act. The Committee stresses that, although the Organic Labour Act does not apply to members of armed corps, they, like other workers, enjoy the protection laid down by the Convention. The Committee reminds the Government that, according to paragraph 47 of its Special Survey of 1996 on this Convention, “the general obligation to conform to an established ideology or to sign an oath of political allegiance would be considered discriminatory”.

6. Pressure on public officials. The CTV adds that the President of the Republic has decided to establish a new political party and observes, indicating that a political organization is being established by the State, that action in support of this party is undertaken in state schools and that there have been many complaints of pressure exerted upon public officials to join that organization. The Government indicates in this connection that the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela provides for the freedom to join to any party. The Committee notes that the issues arising under the Convention do not relate in this case to the forming of a political party, but the pressure exerted on workers, whether from the public or the private sector, to join a given party.

7. The Committee stresses that threats, harassment, transfers, worsening of working conditions and dismissal of employees on the basis of their activities expressing opposition to the established political principles, as well as the requirement to conform to a specific ideology constitute discrimination on political grounds within the meaning of the Convention (see General Survey of 1988, paragraph 57, and the Special Survey of 1996, paragraph 47).

8. The Committee expresses deep concern at the facts referred to above and urges the Government to adopt all the necessary measures in law and practice to provide redress for the effects of the acts of discrimination referred to above, to prevent such situations recurring and to protect workers in both the public and private sectors from discrimination on the ground of political opinion, in accordance with the Convention. It requests the Government to provide detailed information on the specific measures taken in this regard.

Human Rights

The Inter American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) placed Venezuela in chapter IV, yet again, in its 2008 annual report. The situation is described thus:

In 2008, the Commission assessed the Venezuelan situation and found an environment hostile to political dissent. That hostility took the form of intimidating acts during the November 2008 election campaign, combined with accusations and harassments targeted at nongovernmental organizations and human rights defenders due to the critical work they perform in monitoring the running of government.  It also found that reported murders and extrajudicial executions went unsolved and unpunished.  All these combined to create a situation inimical to the full exercise and enjoyment of rights protected under the American Convention to which Venezuela has been party since 1977. 

The IACHR sued the Venezuelan government before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights for violating the fundamental rights of reporters and workers with Caracas-based private TV network RCTV, according to this article.

On the human rights front, non governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) produced a report in 2008, concluding that the government of President Hugo Chávez has weakened democratic institutions and human rights guarantees in Venezuela. The report denounces political discrimination, and exposes issues about the courts, the media, organized labor and civil society. When HRW's Americas Director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, travelled to Venezuela to made this report public on September 2008, he was summarily expelled from the country:

In the more than twenty years that Human Rights Watch has worked in Latin America, no government has ever expelled our representatives for our work, not even the right-wing dictatorships guilty of far more egregious abuses than those committed by Chávez.

Equally, Amnesty International (AI) denounced in its 2009 report:

Government officials attempted to undermine legitimate human rights work by making unfounded accusations against human rights organizations. Local human rights activists supporting the Yukpa Indigenous community who were involved in a dispute with local landowners over land rights in Machiques in the State of Zulia were harassed and detained in August. An official investigation was initiated following the death in July of the elderly father of Sabino Romero Izarra, one of the community leaders; he was allegedly beaten to death by armed men.

AI has also voiced deep concern about the judiciary in Venezuela. In January this year, AI stated:

By rejecting a ruling by the Inter American Court of Human Rights and calling on the government to reject the American Convention on Human Rights, the Venezuelan Supreme Court is sending a dangerous message that human rights are optional, said Amnesty International today. Amnesty International’s statement came after the publication of a ruling by the Venezuelan Supreme Court in which it rejects a decision handed down by the Inter American Court in August 2008, calling for the re-instatement and compensation of three judges sacked in 2003.

Political dicrimination and intimidation of human rights defenders are rampant in Venezuela, and is promoted by the Executive, as denounced by ILO, IACHR, HRW, AI and Venezuelan NGOs.

Democracy

Democracy is a concept gutted of meaning in Venezuela. Example of it is Antonio Ledezma, Mayor of Caracas. Ledezma was democratically elected in 23 November 2008 to Caracas' highest office. This fact notwithstanding, Hugo Chavez has made Ledezma an example of his intolerance to electoral results, when these do not conform to his diktacts. Ledezma was prevented from taking office, and has subsequently being stripped of all its powers and budget. Chavez has appointed authorities in areas where his candidates were not elected to office:

With the passage on April 30 by the National Assembly of the District Capital Law redefining the status of the capital, Ledezma was legally obliged to hand over state funds allotted to his office, along with control over city employees, buildings and other assets to a new, unelected city boss Jacqueline Farías.

Anti Semitism

In January this year, Caracas largest synanogue was vandalised. It is argued that in Venezuela, anti-Semitism is endorsed by the government. Hugo Chavez is on the record making antisemitic remarks, such as "some minorities, descendants of the same ones who crucified Christ... took all the world's wealth for themselves."

The Stephen Roth Institute of Tel Aviv University has been following and monitoring a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Venezuela since Hugo Chavez won the presidency in December 1998. Its yearly reports provide an invaluable window into the past, which confirms that anti-Semitism is on the rise.

In its 2003-4 report the institute concludes: “Since 1992 Chavez has had contacts with far right entities in Argentina, such as sociologist Norberto Ceresole and the Carapintadas movement, led by Aldo Rico and Mohamed Seineldin, who plotted a military coup after the recovery of democracy in the late 1980s–early 1990s .”

On November 29, 2004, a heavily armed group of police commandos wearing balaclavas raided, at dawn, the Jewish School in Caracas (Colegio Hebraica). Official sources informed that the raid was part of the investigation into the assassination of a prosecutor, Danilo Anderson, in which some members of the Jewish community were considered suspicious of plotting and hiding weapons in the school. The raid concluded after three hours. No weapons or evidence of any sort was found. No member of the Jewish community was found guilty of wrongdoing in relation to the case. In fact, the leading witness to Danilo Anderson’s murder investigation admitted that the Venezuelan government had paid him to implicate journalists and political opponents of President Chavez.

The Report on Global Anti-Semitism, released January 5, 2005 by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor of the US Department of State, contains the following remarks about Venezuela:

“Statements by senior government officials supporting Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Islamic extremist movements raised tensions and intimidated the country's Jewish community. There were several reports of anti-Semitic graffiti at synagogues in Caracas and two reported threatening phone calls made to Jewish community centers. In August, President Chavez cautioned citizens against following the lead of Jewish citizens in the effort to overturn his referendum victory. Anti-Semitic leaflets also were available to the public in an Interior and Justice Ministry office waiting room.

According to media reports, rumors of an Israeli connection to the assassination of a Venezuelan federal prosecutor prompted the search. (The federal judge who issued the search warrant was also leading the investigation into the prosecutor's death.)”

"In 2006, Venezuela witnessed the continuation of a number of worrying antisemitic trends, which intensified after the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War. Notably, the tone was set by government circles, with the support of President Hugo Chavez.” These remarks open Stephen Roth Institute 2006 report on Venezuela. The document contends:

The extremely anti-Israel/anti-Zionist stand of the government, backed by the official and semi-official media, has given rise to a trend in Venezuela of demonizing the State of Israel, relativizing the Holocaust and employing Arab antisemitic propaganda and traditional antisemitic motifs to legitimize the country's stand toward current political events, such as the 2006 war in Lebanon.

Venezuela tightened its ties with Iran in 2006. In February, the two countries signed an agreement stressing the threat posed by the manufacture, development and accumulation of nuclear arms to world peace, but justifying the right of every people to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro attended the "Third International Conference of Solidarity with the Palestinian People" in April in Iran, where he promised solidarity with all the Arab and Islamic world if the US attacked Iran, and support for Iran's nuclear development, and proposed "mass destruction of nuclear weapons beginning with the US, European countries and Israel."

Venezuela’s commitment to support nations that have a declared intention to obliterate the State of Israel goes beyond simple posturing. In September 2005, Venezuela was the only country to vote against a UN motion, tabled by Britain, France and Germany, to refer Iran’s nuclear plan to the UN Security Council. Furthermore, in February 2006, Venezuela, Cuba and Syria voted in lockstep against the Implementation of the Non Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

President Hugo Chavez has repeatedly referred to Israel in unquestionably anti-Semitic form. More recently, before the synagogue’s desecration, Chavez declared that what Israel was doing in Gaza amounted to a Holocaust, further stressing that Israel was like Hitler, that it had planned and executed the assassination of Yasser Arafat.

Terrorism

The country reports on terrorism of the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State, recently published its 2008 annual report, stating:

President Hugo Chávez's ideological sympathy for the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) limited Venezuelan cooperation with Colombia in combating terrorism. In January, he called for, and the Venezuelan National Assembly approved, a resolution calling for international recognition of the FARC and ELN as belligerent forces, not terrorist groups. In March, he called FARC second-in-command Raúl Reyes, "a good revolutionary" and held a national moment of silence following the Colombian cross-border raid into Ecuador that killed Reyes. In March, Venezuelan authorities apprehended two FARC fighters seeking medical treatment in Venezuela. They took the injured man to a military hospital for treatment and his companion to a regional penitentiary. By May however, Venezuelan authorities declined to provide information on the whereabouts of either man. In June, President, Chávez publicly changed course, calling upon the FARC to unconditionally release all hostages, declaring that armed struggle is "out of place" in modern Latin America. In July, the Venezuelan National Guard detained FARC chief of borders and finance Gabriel Culma Ortiz and the Venezuelan government handed him over to Colombian authorities.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez brokered the unilateral release of six hostages from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in January and February 2008.

In December, a Venezuelan court sentenced two self-proclaimed Islamic extremists to 10 years each for placing a pair of pipe bombs outside the U.S. Embassy in 2006. The court convicted José Miguel Rojas Espinoza of constructing and placing the devices and found Teodoro Rafael Darnott guilty of planning the attack and instigating Rojas to conduct it.

In June, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Venezuelan diplomat Ghazi Nasr al Din and travel impresario Fawzi Kan'an as Venezuelan Hizballah supporters. In September, OFAC designated two senior Venezuelan government officials, Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios and Henry de Jesús Rangel Silva, and the former Justice and Interior Minister, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, for materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities of the FARC. Limited amounts of weapons and ammunition, some from official Venezuelan stocks and facilities, have turned up in the hands of Colombian terrorist organizations. The Venezuelan government did not systematically police the 1,400-mile Venezuelan-Colombian border to prevent the movement of groups of armed terrorists or to interdict arms or the flow of narcotics. The FARC, ELN, and remnants of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) regularly crossed into Venezuelan territory to rest and regroup as well as to extort protection money and kidnap Venezuelans to finance their operations.

Iran and Venezuela continued weekly flights connecting Tehran and Damascus with Caracas. Passengers on these flights were reportedly subject to only cursory immigration and customs controls at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas. Venezuelan citizenship, identity, and travel documents remained easy to obtain, making Venezuela a potentially attractive way station for terrorists [such as FARC leader Rodrigo Granda]. International authorities remained suspicious of the integrity of Venezuelan documents and their issuance process.

In May 2008, Venezuela was re-certified as "not cooperating fully" with U.S. antiterrorism efforts under Section 40A of the Arms Export and Control Act, as amended (the "Act"). Pursuant to this certification, defense articles and services may not be sold or licensed for export to Venezuela from October 1, 2008, to September 30, 2009.

Links to rogue nations & genocides

During his political career, Hugo Chavez has made a point of reasserting his simpathies towards rogues, dictators and genocides. His affection for the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is legendary. Little less known is the fact that Hugo Chavez recently invited Omar Al Bashir to Venezuela. It is to be borne in mind that the International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for the arrest of al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Chavez has also befriended Colombian narcoterrorists, Robert Mugabe, Mammoud Ahmadinejad, Saddam Hussein, Alexander Lukashenko, Muammar Gaddafi, Daniel Ortega, Evo Morales and Vladimir Putin. If a man is to be judged by the company he keeps and by his actions, it is rather evident that Chavez is far from being a democrat.

Militarization of Venezuela's public administration

Up to 87 members of the army were/are part of the Hugo Chavez administration according to this report*. How can such militarism be reconciled with socialist notions?

*Some have been shuffled to other positions, however the militarization continues apace.

Arms race

Bloomberg reported on 21 July 2008:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez heads to Moscow today to shop for air defense systems, submarines and other weaponry as Latin America's arms race quickens amid signs that his regional influence is waning.

Chavez will order $2 billion worth of weapons, including Project 636 diesel subs, Mi-28 combat helicopters and airplanes made by Ilyushin Co., the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported May 12, without saying how it obtained the information. The Russian Interfax news service, citing an unnamed defense ministry official, said today Chavez may order $1 billion of weapons, including three Varshavyanka subs and up to 20 Tor-M1 air-defense systems.

Chavez has bought more than $4.4 billion of Russian arms since 2003. He says the hardware, including jets and submarines, is needed to counter a military threat from the U.S. and its main regional ally, Colombia.

Conclusion

Hugo Chavez's 21st Century Socialism is but an oppresive dictatorship, more resemblant to authoritarian communism than to democracy. As he repeats, his revolution is armed and ready to crush his foes, and however much he defines himself as a socialist he makes good use of market capitalism to fund his pet project.

Written by Alek Boyd