Key’s Venezuelan snub

John Key’s decision to not attend Hugo Chavez’s funeral is a snub of a major trade partner at a crucial time. Remember, this junket’s justification is that, for some reason, Key’s presence in these countries will improve trade. But, in snubbing Venezuela, he is insulting our largest export destination in South America – our second largest export destination for milk powder. Venezuela matters more than all the countries Key is visiting combined.

And it is a snub that will be noticed. It’s not like Key is in Wellington doing his job. While the funeral is on, Key will be kicking his heels in a hotel somewhere while the people he is there to meet are at the funeral. Isn’t that weird?

Key will arrive to visit the Chilean President but he’s off to Venezuela that day and says to Key ‘why don’t you come to – they’re a much more import trade partner for you and, as a more centralised economy, staying the good books of their government matters?’ and Key’s like ‘nah, I’ll just wait in your country until you get back’.

The only reason Key wouldn’t go is because Chavez was a successful Left leader and Key can’t see beyond their ideological differences.

And, as for the claims that Chavez was some kind of dictator. He’s more a democratic than Key – who’s imposed dictatorship in Canterbury. The Independent notes:

Over the coming days, you will be repeatedly told that Hugo Chavez was a dictator. A funny sort of dictator: there have been 17 elections and referenda since 1998. Perhaps you think they were rigged. When he won by a huge margin in 2006, former US President Jimmy Carter was among those declaring he had won “fairly and squarely”.

At the last election in October 2012, Carter declared that, “of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.” I was there: perhaps you think I was like those hopelessly naïve Western leftists who visited Potemkin villages in Stalinist Russia.

I was with a genuinely independent election commission, staffed with both pro-Chavez and anti-Chavez sympathisers, who had previously been invited by the opposition to run their own internal elections. We met with senior opposition figures who railed against Chavez, but acknowledged that they lived in a democracy. When they lost the election, they accepted it.

Indeed, Chavez himself has had to accept defeat before: back in 2007, he lost a referendum campaign, and did not quibble with the results. Until he came to power, millions of poor Venezuelans were not even registered to vote: but dramatic registration drives have nearly doubled the electorate. There are 6,000 more polling stations than there were in the pre-Chavez era.

On the other hand, the democratic credentials of many of his opponents can certainly be questioned. In 2002, a Pinochet-style coup was launched against Chavez, and was only reversed by a popular uprising. Much of the privately owned media openly incited and supported the coup: imagine Cameron was kicked out of No 10 by British generals, with the support and incitement of rolling 24-hour news stations. But Venezuela’s media is dominated by private broadcasters, some of whom make Fox News look like cuddly lefties. State television could rightly be accused of bias towards the government, which is perhaps why it has a measly 5.4 per cent audience share. Of seven major national newspapers, five support the opposition, and only one is sympathetic to the government.

The truth is that Chavez won democratic election after democratic election, despite the often vicious hostility of the media

Or maybe Key just doesn’t want to be reminded what a real leader can do:

his policies transformed the lives of millions of previously ignored Venezuelans. Poverty has fallen from nearly half to 27.8 per cent, while absolute poverty has been more than halved. Six million children receive free meals a day; near-universal free health care has been established; and education spending has doubled as a proportion of GDP. A housing programme launched in 2011 built over 350,000 homes, bringing hundreds of thousands of families out of sub-standard housing in thebarrios. Some of his smug foreign critics suggest Chavez effectively bought the votes of the poor – as though winning elections by delivering social justice is somehow bribery.

Speaking of smug critics, you would think this next passage was satire, but it actually shows the mindset of the elite:

Chavez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.

Here’s the response to that nonsense from Jim Naureckus of fair.org:

That’s right: Chavez squandered his nation’s oil money on healthcare, education and nutrition when he could have been building the world’s tallest building or his own branch of the Louvre. What kind of monster has priorities like that?

In case you’re curious about what kind of results this kooky agenda had, here’s a chart (NACLA, 10/8/12) based on World Bank poverty stats–showing the proportion of Venezuelans living on less than $2 a day falling from 35 percent to 13 percent over three years. (For comparison purposes, there’s a similar stat for Brazil, which made substantial but less dramatic progress against poverty over the same time period.)

Of course, during this time, the number of Venezuelans living in the world’s tallest building went from 0 percent to 0 percent, while the number of copies of the Mona Lisa remained flat, at none. So you have to say that Chavez’s presidency was overall pretty disappointing–at least by AP‘s standards.

 

Make no mistake, Chavez wasn’t perfect. In a country like Venezuela, where the monied elite are willing to resort to armed coups to get rid of anyone who stands up for the poor, you can’t be angel if you’re going to survive (remember Allende). But he did more good for more people in a month than Key will do in a lifetime.

Maybe its ideological opposition or maybe its shame that’s keeping Key away. Maybe he doesn’t want to be forced to see that a leader can be more than a clown in a silly hat, much, much more.