[Colin Burgon MP, chair of the Labour Friends of Venezuela, responds to last week's New Statesman story by Alice O'Keeffe on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Click here to see a statement released by the Venezuela Information Centre in relation to O'Keeffe's article. Click here to see a statement released by Hands Off Venezuela in relation to O'Keeffe's article.--Ed]
Chávez: The Defence
By Colin Burgon MP - The New Statesman
Friday, July 19th, 2007
Last week's cover story by Alice O'Keeffe [in the New Statesman, the ed.], claiming Hugo Chávez had polarised Venezuela, was a distorted snapshot, devoid of present or historical context. The inference that prior to Chávez, Venezuela was a largely stable generally united society is risible. Venezuela is a nation in flux and one of great importance to the UK. On this premise, O'Keeffe's imbalance must be challenged.
She presented a country in "cold civil war" mode, one that is led by a "power-crazed" Chávez could easily turn "hot". Labelling Chávez as such implies a denial of democratic expression by the Venezuelan population.
In fact, Chávez has won three elections - all free, fair and overseen by international observers - doubling his vote between the first election in 1998 and his last one in December 2006. There is a "Chavista" majority in the National Assembly because the opposition boycotted the 2005 congressional elections following strategic advice from Washington; so the result was a foregone conclusion.
The writer then highlighted the increase in the number of Venezuelans fleeing the country for the US and the serious levels of violent crime across Venezuela. On the former point, O'Keeffe makes no reference to the fact that this state of affairs is being encouraged by the US through forthcoming changes to immigration law that will allow Venezuelans privileged entry into the country over people from conflict-prone states such as Haiti, Somalia and Iraq.
On the latter point, Venezuela clearly has a problem with crime, but it is not new. In the past 15 years it has been a serious, structural issue that has escalated and owes much to the illicit flow of weapons and drugs from neighbouring Colombia - a nation that receives US and UK military aid, despite an appalling human rights record.
O'Keeffe depicts Chávez as polarising any on the "third side". But the Bush administration has been fully complicit in the elimination of any neutral voices, financing the main opposition parties and, via its National Endowment for Democracy, openly and secretly funding civil society, so undermining organisations that should be respected as neutral actors.
When predominantly private university students demonstrate over RCTV, no mention whatsoever is made of pro-government rallies from public-sector students. There are also strong indications that the anti-government student rebellion is being externally orchestrated. When students were offered the opportunity to speak in the National Assembly by the Venezuelan government, an event televised nationally, they left behind their notes; it transpired they had been provided by a well-known PR agency.
(click here to view entire article)