Monday, October 31, 2005

El otro lado de Chávez

The New York Review of Books has a couple of interesting articles on Hugo Chávez; ones that focus on the aspects of his rule that I am definitely uncomfortable with. And I thought I'd link to them (here and here) as a counterpoint to the favourable interview/article from Mother Jones that I linked to below.

One of these days I’ll write more about this but for now I’ll restrict myself to three comments:

1. Chávez’s indirect media repression is definitely worrying; but in a country where almost all of the private media is controlled by his opponents (and when his opponents are by in large – but not entirely – the same ruling class who have plundered Venezuela’s wealth and kept the vast majority of the country in poverty; and when these same opponents have shown, via 2001’s coup, that their commitment to democracy is significantly less than Chávez’s) – it isn’t really fair to say that he is impeding the free press in Venezuela: the press was never free there anyhow. This, of course, begs the question: what is worse, media controlled by business elites who don’t give a toss about the poor, or media controlled by a strongman (albeit a democratically elected strongman) who does seem to care about the poor?

2. Chávez’s behaviour about ‘La Lista’ and his harassment of his opponents is (if true) very troubling . It’s undemocratic and it could be the start of a slide towards more totalitarian behaviour. Of course, as I mentioned above, his opponents have shown themselves to be a whole heap less democratic – but that doesn’t excuse Chávez his behaviour (although I’m sure it has contributed to it). So once again we have a devil’s choice for Venezuela: is it better to be ruled by an increasingly authoritarian (but democratically elected) strongman who is actively working to improve the lives of his country’s poor; or to be ruled by a not entirely democratic opposition who did very little for the poor?

3. For a book review, the reviewer pays scant attention to the books being reviewed. Richard Gott’s book (which we can assume is going to be favourable to Chávez) is mentioned once in the review and once in the footnotes. Twice in an almost 5000 word article. To be fair the review has a sub-heading “books mentioned in this article”; as opposed to “books reviewed”. Still it is the New York Review of Books, and they do list the books at the beginning of the article (like any other review) so it strikes me as strange that so little is said…

Hat tip Martha Bridegam via Harry’s Place.

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