Monday, August 06, 2007

Venezuela's Brand of Socialism

This is one of the better - better, because fairer - articles I've seen on Venezuela in the US press. It's not that it's terribly profound, and it's missing some key information. One bit is the fact that foreign oil companies have not been "driven out" of the country, but have been obliged to agree to new contracts or leave - the key here is that earlier contracts, the ones yielding huge revenues, were arguably unfair (for a similar example in Honduras, see here).

This is common in developing countries - national resources being sold off in lopsided terms favorable to foreign companies and a small, domestic elite. In terms of foreign investment, the old favorable and unfair conditions no longer exist. From the perspective of an investor, however, Venezuela is better viewed as a hedge-fund country.

But the big US media tends to take up the Venezuelan opposition's line (and Bush administration's) on nearly all matters Venezuelan up to the ridiculous claim that Chávez harbors terrorists (without any reality to their claim that Chávez is a threat to others, a condition of justifying any aggression they may wish to make in the future, the administration has invented the terrorism claim). The common theme is simply that Chávez is a dictator. The small left media tends to portray Chávez as a victim of US imperialism (paying entirely too much attention to Chávez's ridiculously antiquated Marxist claims).

Much of this difference is due to the media's tendency to divide the world into black and white, good and evil, in order to tell a simple, dramatic story with a clear plot-line to people who receive all their information from the media. There's a kernel of truth in the stories of both political sides, but both stories are woefully inadequate at getting at what is in fact a fascinating and complex country going through a very interesting period in its history with deep ramifications for the relationship between developed and developing countries in general. Those ramifications are are coming to the fore in the Venezuelan case and the press on both the left and the right misses this story. The chávistas call it "21st-century socialism." But it has yet to be adequately defined. Herein lies both the risk and the opportunity.

The big question -- still not spelled out in detail by government officials -- is what exactly is 21st-century socialism?

"Chávez is, of course, radicalizing his model, but not in the Cuban way," said Luis Vicente León, a pollster and political analyst. "This is not communist. This is not capitalist. What is it? It's a mix."...

"We're distancing ourselves from the errors committed in the socialism of the past century," El Troudi said. Though El Troudi asserts that capitalism has failed, he said private capital is needed here -- as long as it is employed in "a new kind of company that dignifies the human condition."

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