Friday, September 14, 2012

Conflicting Narratives on Venezuela: Which One Do You Believe?

Chavez at a rally earlier this year.

Capriles, the main opposition candidate to Chavez
The article under focus "Chavez's health looms over Venezuelan election campaign" is by Connie Watson of the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC). The CBC is funded by Canadian tax payers via the federal government, and funds generated from commercial advertisement. The FDA believes that the article is biased in favor of the Venezuelan opposition. The FDA consulted Dr. Maria Paez Victor, a sociologist and specialist on Venezuela, to get her perspective on the article.

Main points of bias in the article:

1. Chavez's health is an election issue.

FDA: Chavez is actively campaigning, and he claims he is completely cured.

2. Capriles is a formidable opponent, and the opposition is stonger.

Dr. Victor: "Capriles' coalition is in shambles: -It must be that Watson does not read Spanish, because she is not up to date on the string of fights (including physical), disagreements, and outright resignations that have plagued the supposed "united" opposition. The kiss of death was the fraud committed by Capriles' people against the other opposition parties in order to assure that HE was the candidate instead of other, more experienced politicians. Imagine: they asked the country's independent Electoral Authority to help them with their election, and then DESTROYED the paper trail of the voting machines. This set up a very bad atmosphere among the opposition groups."
-Read the latest on the opposition squabbles as 4 parties leave the coalition:

Caprilles' policies and vision border on incoherent

According to Jean-Guy Allard of Argenpress, "Capriles who, amidst the coup d’etat against President Hugo Chávez in April 2002, led the assault on the Cuban Embassy in Caracas along with Cuban-Venezuelan terrorists, and who was unmasked by Wikileaks as a collaborator of the USA Embassy in Caracas.... In 2000, Capriles formed the political party Primero Justicia,along with Leopoldo López. The policies were developed with financing and assessment of USAID through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), that have provided experts of the Republican Party of the USA who design its political platform and communication strategy. In 2012 USAID has given a donation of five million dollars to right wing Venezuelan groups under the pretext of “supporting democracy”. This measure which was announced in Miami by Mark Feierstein, head of the US organism for Latin America, violates the Venezuelan Law of Political Sovereignty and National Self-determination, which since 2010 forbids foreign financing of Venezuelan political parties."

3. Chavez has mismanaged the oil industry.

Dr. Victor: "As to Watson's data on how much oil Venezuela produces, a journalist should at least do some homework and understand the issue; her crude numbers do not show the whole picture:

Between 1992-99 Venezuela obtained from oil: US$ 23,000 million Between 1999-2012 Venezuela obtained from oil: US$ 283,000,233 million

Key issue: before President Chavez petroleum companies paid 1% (yes, 1%) royalties and now they pay 33%

While the exports have dipped slightly from 2009 to 2012, (that is 1.75 to 1.59 million barrels daily) it is the price of oil that is most important.

In the past 5 years oil production has increased by 33%. Oil production in the vast Orinoco area has increased 140% in 13 years and produces from 500,000 barrels daily in 1999 to 1,200,000 barrels daily in 2012.

The expert estimates is that by 2014 Venezuela will be producing 4 million barrels daily and in 2012 it will be 6 million.

All this is to show that there are no major problems in the production of oil, that Venezuela is still has the second largest oil reserves in the world, the largest in the West, and is the 11th largest exporter in the world.

So why bring up oil? Because what really rankles the right wing is that the oil revenues are being used to DEVELOP THE COUNTRY: roads, health, schools, infrastructure, social investments. Read this article about the use of oil:"

4. Chavez is afraid to debate Capriles.

Dr. Victor: "It is blatantly false that Chavez does not want to debate. In fact it is a running joke in the country how Capriles is afraid, or his U.S. handlers have told him not to do it since he does not have the mental capacity to debate against Chavez. Chavez has said on TV how he wished he had a Betancourt, a Caldera or a Perez to debate with. (former presidents). Capriles is a dolt; he embarrasses himself at every rally or public meeting."

5. Chavez's government is to blame for the Amuay refinery fire.

Dr. Victor: "The fire in the Amuay oil refinery was hailed by the opposition; they thought it would tun people against the government. In fact it was a disaster for the opposition who went on TV rejoicing at this tragedy. An opposition mayor (of Maracaibo) said "I have good news: a second tank caught fire". Meanwhile the government did not make crazy accusations and point blame; it went ahead to contain and extinguish the fire; PDVSA (state oil company) showed itself to be an efficient, effective, technologically sound operation as it professionally handled this fire, and the government moved in to quickly compensate and help the community and people affected. It turned out to be a boon for the government in showing that it is responsible and effective.

Watson has joined the campaign to prepare the ground to deny the legitimacy of the next elections. When President Chavez wins, the international media will say it is fraud or that he forced people to vote. THAT IS THE GAME THEY ARE PLAYING."

Amuay Explosion

6. There is no clear evidence of who is winning the election.

Dr. Victor: "All polls show Chavez leading.-Since May, 2012 all the polls have given Chavez a lead of around 30 point give or take a few. And this includes polling companies that are NOT with the government such as Hinterlaces and International Consulting services. Polls carried out by the major companies indicate a clear win for Hugo Chávez, with leads of between 15-27% in each of the 8 major polls carried out in July. August's polls give similar results. See:" 

Polling Data from Seven Pollsters

7. Venezuelan campaign rules are loose.

FDA: In 2011, the FDA completed an audit on Venezuelan election law, and found it to be outstanding, and far more advanced than election law in Canada or the United States. Although there are areas of the Venezuelan election process that could be improved, the same can be said for any election process. The irony regarding Watson's criticism of Venezuela campaign rules, is that the rules put significant emphasis on freedom, and similar to many northern European democracies like Norway put emphasis on good faith in doing what is right; rather than legislating everything.

FDA Report on the Venezuelan Election Process

Chavez's health looms over Venezuelan election campaign
By Connie Watson, CBC News, Latin American Correspondent

When it comes to telling a good story, no politician does it better than Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

I’ve often heard Chavez – an avid reader of history – recount the tale of El Cid, a battle-hardened Spanish knight known for his military prowess.

Legend has it that after El Cid died in combat, the old warrior’s corpse was fitted with his armour, strapped onto his beloved horse and sent thundering into enemy troops, inspiring his men to victory that day.

Though Chavez is looking better than he did back in June, his cancer, combined with a stronger opposition, has turned this campaign into a tense and bizarre political drama.

Chavez, who’s had his own brush with mortality in the past year, is hoping to lead his socialist troops to victory (again) in the presidential election on Oct. 7.

His determination to stay on the political battlefield is inspiring and alarming his supporters in equal measure, turning this into a must-watch campaign.

The true state of his health is the subject of constant rumours. Venezuelans, who love to talk, are talking about where the country – and the revolution – would be without Chavez.

The president’s been through three surgeries and numerous rounds of chemotherapy — all in top-secret Cuba — for a recurring tumour in his abdominal area. In June, when he registered himself as a presidential candidate, the speculation was whether he’d even live to see voting day.

The president has never publicly divulged what kind of cancer he has, but by July, he claimed he was “completely cured.” A Venezuelan doctor who dared to question this self-diagnosis was forced to flee the country.

Though Chavez is looking better than he did back in June, his cancer, combined with a stronger opposition, has turned this campaign into a tense and bizarre political drama that even has touches of Hollywood. For the first time since the charismatic soldier came to power in 1999, his political rivals are feeling a little hopeful.

For one thing, the president is campaigning less actively. The 58-year-old Chavez, who’s used to speaking to huge rallies for hours at a time — maybe even doing a little singing and dancing — has been forced to change his style. No more non-stop campaigning. Not as many mega-events. He says he’s following doctor’s orders to work less, get plenty of rest and let his body recuperate.

Meanwhile, the opposition is fielding a candidate who’s making a point of walking – sometimes even running – to many of his events. After years of infighting, disorganization and questionable political tactics, the various opposition parties got together and backed a single candidate, Henrique Capriles, under the Democratic Unity coalition. Capriles is a young, energetic, left-leaning state governor.

With the incumbent attending fewer public rallies and opting for more TV and radio appearances, the 40-year-old Capriles is wading into traditional Chavez territory, from poor city slums to far-flung rural communities.

Henrique Capriles, governor of the Venezuelan state of Miranda, has become a formidable opponent for President Hugo Chavez in the current election campaign.

Capriles is promising to keep Chavez’s beloved social programs, create jobs, build schools, double oil production, tackle crime and inflation. He accuses the Chavez government of corruption, inefficiency and cronyism. In the hopes of attracting foreign investors back to Venezuela, Capriles says he would govern more like former Brazilian president and popular socialist Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva.

Chavez, who once said that he’d like to stay in office until 2031, wants to leave an indelible mark on Venezuela. His 39-page platform is aimed at deepening his Bolivarian revolution, turning the country into a more centralized state and “making socialism irreversible.” If re-elected, he’s also promising to build two million homes to tackle the country's chronic housing shortage.

During his 13 years in office, Chavez has used Venezuela’s vast oil wealth to fund free schools, subsidize food programs, build houses, set up medical clinics and offer loans to poor people he says have been left out of the country’s petroleum-fueled prosperity. As a result, he can count on the solid support of at least a third of the population.

But Chavez has been equally maligned for politicizing the state-controlled oil company and using it as a piggy bank for his social programs, rather than re-investing the profits to maintain the country’s most important industry.

According to OPEC, Venezuela’s producing a lot less oil than it did when Chavez took over, dropping its output from three million barrels a day in 1999 to 2.4 million today.

The Aug. 25 explosion and fire at Venezuela’s biggest refinery, which killed 48 people, has given the opposition more ammunition. The local union boss said his workers had complained that repairs weren’t being done to damaged and leaking equipment.

The president has refused all offers to debate the opposition; there are no election laws that force him to do so. And thanks to Venezuela’s rather loose campaign rules, neither side has to divulge where they’re getting their money, or how much they’re spending. The opposition accuses Chavez of using oil money to fund his campaign, while Chavez accuses them of raising funds from foreign “Yankee lovers.”

At least one high-profile American has come to the president’s aid. Last month, Hollywood rebel-turned-international-humanitarian Sean Penn got on stage with Chavez. Penn fist-bumped and hugged his friend, then rode through a huge rally with him — but didn’t say a word.

However, another group of rebels may end up playing a larger role in Chavez’s favour. At around the same time that voters go to the polls, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) will be starting historic peace talks with the Colombian government.

Chavez has long been accused of giving sanctuary to Latin America’s biggest rebel group, but now he’s being applauded for his role in bringing them to the negotiating table.

Helping to end nearly 50 years of violence in neighbouring Colombia would enhance Chavez’s reputation on the international stage. Whether that will translate into votes at home is hard to say.

Unlike past elections, a lot of Venezuelans say they don’t know who to vote for — according to many polling companies, between 25 and 30 per cent of the country’s 19 million registered voters are undecided.

However, the pollsters’ numbers vary so wildly that their statistics do little to clarify the political mood. In fact, they’re accused of contributing to a partisan atmosphere. Some give Chavez a “mathematically irreversible” lead (as Chavez calls it), while others give the opposition a three-point advantage. The most oft-quoted pollsters are giving Chavez a double-digit lead, but say it’s getting smaller.

The same pollsters say voters are worried about jobs, education and inflation, but more than all of them put together they’re worried about violent crime, especially in the capital of Caracas.

Like nearly everything in Venezuela, no one can agree on the truth. Some call it the most violent city in the region; others say it’s on par with many other Latin American cities.

Getting the real numbers is nearly impossible. The Interior Ministry has blocked direct access to its files, and ordered the police to do the same.

Chavez almost never talks about crime, but during a campaign event this past weekend, he told the “peace-loving rich” in Venezuela that they risk a “civil war” if he doesn’t win.

“Chavez guarantees peace, stability and economic growth,” he told a rally.

But can the president guarantee he’ll be around to continue his beloved revolution? Whether he likes it or not, his health has become top of mind for embattled Venezuelan voters.

Question to Readers:

Which narrative on the Venezuelan election do you believe: Watson's or Dr. Victor's and other perspectives?

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