Wednesday, May 31, 2006

How Hugo Chavez Treats His People Compared to George Bush - Pick the Leader You'd Want

How Hugo Chavez Treats His People Compared to George Bush - Pick the Leader You'd Want

Compare how things are in the US now to the way they are today under Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. The stark difference between them almost seems like they're happening on two different planets. My country is the hostile planet earth of George Bush that's indifferent to essential human needs and believes imperial oppression is good for us. Venezuela is quite different because of Hugo Chavez's alternate vision. It's a people-friendly one dedicated to helping all Venezuelans (especially the most needy) by providing an array of essential social programs and services unimaginable in the US: free universal health and dental care for all, free education to the highest levels, food security and clean water, micro credit and support for small business, land and home ownership for the people, worker cooperatives and independent community radio free from the poison spread by the corporate-owned media and much more. And along with all that, Chavez instituted a participatory democracy under which ordinary people have a real say in how the country is governed. Can anyone imagine those things happening in the US? Impossible.

There's more, lots of it but here's just a sample. Hugo Chavez aids his neighbors and doesn't threaten to invade them or any others; the country has no secret prisons; no illegal political prisoners or illegal detentions; doesn't practice torture; doesn't ethnically cleanse its population from neighborhoods wanted for redevelopment or entire cities like the US did to its black population of New Orleans to turn that city into a giant theme park for the rich and tourist trade; has never suspended constitutional law even in the face of a coup d'etat, mass street riots and a crippling US-instigated oil lockout and shutdown; and is working to clean up and change a legacy and systemic climate of corruption and inefficient state bureaucracy.

Now compare that record to how the US operates. It devotes its immense resources to plunder, slaughter and destruction and treats ordinary people like production inputs or commodities - to be used as needed and dumped when they no longer are. The Bush administration, in its infinite arrogance, claims the right to forcibly oust any government it views as a threat to its security. It doesn't matter if it is, just that we say it is. It sees Chavez as such a threat and has tried and failed three times to remove him with a fourth attempt likely well underway. I've said before Hugo Chavez is the greatest of all threats to US hegemony everywhere - the threat of a good example that left in place may grow and spread to other countries in the region and beyond.

The Bush administration won't tolerate that and is either fomenting another coup to oust Chavez, likely with intent to kill him so he won't rise again from the deposed, or will go to war if that's what it takes to get the job done. Should it happen, as I'm convinced it will, it will be no different from how the US has treated its Latin American neighbors for over 150 years. Over that time, the US invaded Mexico and stole the half of the country it wanted. That began what became a tradition as from then until now it continued to remove the governments of a dozen Latin American countries it disapproved of (none of which posed a threat except to our hegemony) by coup or armed incursion and did it four dozen different times for whatever convenient reasons it concocted to justify its action. We even gave names to our hostile actions using benign language Orwell would have approved of. My favorite was Herbert Hoover's (and later Franklin Roosevelt's) Good Neighbor Policy. It was about as good as his economic policy at home that with lots of help from the Federal Reserve caused The Great Depression that ravaged the country for a decade and took the German and Japanese aggression and world war they started (with our nudging) to pull us out of it. War is good for business, and a big one is terrific.

Look at more examples of how different things are in Venezuela. Hugo Chavez wants no part of the destructive neoliberal policies imposed by the WTO, IMF and World Bank but preferred by Washington because they only favor us. Instead he's used the nation's resources for the public good and promoted the Bolivarian notion of Latin American integration through economic aid and joint ventures that benefit those countries participating in them equally. Some difference from the Washington Consensus that's a one-way street with a dead-end for developing countries sucked into it.

Now look at the differences between the two countries in some of their current economic data. In Venezuela, an economic boom lifting all boats is the result of Chavez's policies (helped by high oil prices, of course). The economy is soaring, inflation and unemployment are down, and Chavez has continued his policy since 2000 of raising the minimum wage each year by 20 - 30%. He just raised it again in the first quarter of 2006 by another 10%. Data from Venezuela's National Statistics Institute show the result. The poverty rate stood at 80% for many years before Chavez was elected. A year before he came into office in 1997 it was an official 61%. The latest figures available as of the end of 2005 show the rate now down to under 44%, a dramatic change in a short time.

It was all different before Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution that began in 1998. The country was a sham 40 year elite-controlled "democracy" (for the rich and powerful only) with 80% of the people in desperate poverty and 75% of the arable land owned by 5% of the population; its schools and hospitals were crumbling and two-thirds of the people had no access to basic medical care and most everything else; it was mostly an oil-based economy and political system controlled by and benefitting the rich and well-off middle class only and all under the giant shadow and dominance of the US that just cared about it's access to and control of the nation's oil and as much other wealth as it could suck out of the country. It took plenty. In all of Latin American from 1990 - 2002, US banks and transnational corporations earned about $1,000,000,000,000 ($1 trillion) in profits and were the main beneficiary of nearly $180 billion of state-owned enterprises privatized and thus expropriated from the people.

Now compare the Chavez achievements to the US under George Bush. We're by far the richest country in the world with nearly enough resources to be able to pave the streets with gold if they were used responsibly. The US's 2005 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was over 90 times greater than Venezuela's with a population about 12 times greater. Here's another comparison I cited in an earlier article on The largest US corporation in 2005, Exxon-Mobil, alone had gross sales about 2.8 times greater than Venezuela's total GDP.

So with all that wealth, what do the numbers show. Over 46 million Americans have no health insurance and millions more have too little; inner city schools are so deliberately degraded that millions of kids in them finish up unable to read, write or do math; the official US Department of Education illiteracy rate is about 20% compared to Venezuela where it's virtually zero; adjusted for inflation, the average working person in the US earns less than 30 years ago and the federal minimum wage (a paltry $5.15 an hour) hasn't been raised since 1997; the growing wealth gap between rich and poor has never been greater in modern times; the average CEO in 2004 earned 431 times the income of the average working person, a ten-fold increase in the spread since 1980; the official poverty rate is 12.7% or about 37 million people in 2005 and rising, but it's widely acknowledged the number is rigged and true figure is much higher; the prison population is the largest in the world and growing by 1000 new inmates a week; higher paid manufacturing and many high-tech jobs are being exported to low wage countries and replaced by low-paying service ones with few or no benefits; the ranks of organized labor have dropped from about one third of all workers in 1958 to under 13% today; and the level of racism is as great as before the landmark civil rights legislation in the 1960s that was passed to end it.

Had enough, or can I throw in one more for good measure for those who follow the monthly reports from the US Labor Department. The official unemployment rate it reports is dead wrong according to some economists willing and honest enough to speak out about it. They claim (and I agree with them) the true current figure would be about 12% instead of the reported 4.7% if the rate today was calculated the same way it was during The Great Depression when it rose to a peak of 25% and the Roosevelt administration was alarmed enough to think its consequences might cause a Russian-style revolution. That's why we got all the great New Deal social programs from a government that cared enough or was scared enough to give them to us. Now George Bush wants to end them all including our landmark Social Security along with Medicare, Medicaid and about everything else to transfer more wealth to the rich and fund his war machine. Bush's policies are the opposite of Franklin Roosevelt's. He's the greatest wrecker of social programs since the late 19th century and age of the "robber barons" when the country had few social gains to reverse and didn't think about adding any.

And in case any VHeadline readers need reminding: under the Bush Big Oil administration, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the US is just under $3 as a result of blatant market manipulation mostly at the refinery level to deliberately keep it high. That's perfectly acceptable to the Bush administration run by former oil men and one woman who had an oil tanker named after her. Compare that to Venezuela where gasoline costs 12 cents a gallon. Anyone detect a strange odor? It's coming from the smell of corruption from the Capitol and White House. Anyone thinking it's about time we stopped putting up with this outrage and began acting to take our government back. It's up to us to do it because no one there will give it to us.