Contextual Content

The media and the Venezuelan elections

Allies of President Hugo Chavez’s won a strong majority in Venezuela’s local elections on Sunday, winning 17 of 22 state governorships and 265 of 327 mayoral races. The opposition made important gains, capturing the Caracas mayor’s office and two of the most populous states.

Meanwhile Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Caracas on Monday to meet with Hugo Chavez, just one day after a Russian fleet docked in the Venezuelan port of La Guaira. The Russian navy will be conducting joint naval maneuvers with Venezuela in the Carribean. The maneuvers are scheduled to begin on December first. In Caracas, Russian and Venezuelan officials signed a series of accords, including one pledging cooperation in nuclear energy for peaceful uses.

The Real News Network spoke to Latin American Studies Professor Miguel Tinker Salas who says, the fact that the opposition was able to make modest gains means it’s a victory for Venezuelan democracy, and the Venezuelan political process, and the maturity of the Venezuelan population who participated—over 65 percent in this regional election process.

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Venezuela elections proof of democracy

Producer: Carlo Basilone

CARLO BASILONE, TRNN: Allies of President Hugo Chávez won a strong majority in Venezuela’s local elections on Sunday, winning 17 of 22 state governorships and 265 of 327 mayoral races. The opposition made important gains, capturing the Caracas mayor’s office and two of the most populous states.

HUGO CHÁVEZ, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I want to congratulate the opponents who have won.

BASILONE: Turnout topped 65 percent among the 16.8 million registered voters—a new high for local elections in Venezuela. Despite the clear victory, many in the US media painted it as a setback for Chávez.

MIGUEL TINKER SALAS, LATIN AMERICAN STUDIES, POMONA UNIVERSITY: If you look at the results on Sunday night and on Monday, when the reporting was that Chávez’s supporters and Chávez’s party, the PSUV, had won 17 of 22 governorships, which was really what was at stake here, all of a sudden it was a resounding Chávez victory. The next day, when the reporting is redone again and all of a sudden it’s knowledge that the opposition has won five states, all of a sudden the news media has shifted gear and begins reporting that it was a defeat for Chávez. I think the problem is in how the reporting is taking place. The reality is that a great majority of Venezuelans voted for Chavista governors, that is, governors of the PSUV Party, 17 out of 22. Undoubtedly, the opposition made some inroads. They’ve retained two governorships that they’d previously already had, which were in the oil-rich state of Zulia, western Venezuela, and on Nueva Esparta, the island off the coast of eastern Venezuela. In addition, they gained three additional states, which were the state of Miranda, the state of Carabobo, and the state of Táchira. So, then, in that sense the opposition did make inroads. But the most important inroad, I think, was the fact that they won the mayorship of Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. So that means that about 45 percent of Venezuela is now governed by the opposition, but 55 percent is governed by the PSUV and the Chávez party. And so in that sense I think it’s a victory for Venezuelan democracy, and the Venezuelan political process, and the maturity of the Venezuelan population who participated—almost 65 percent—in this regional election process. It should put an end to the continuous depictions, stereotypical depiction of Venezuela as a one-party state, as a dictatorship. This is a political process in which Venezuelans have gone to the poll 11 times since the election of Hugo Chávez. The elections have been certified by international observers, which include the Carter Center, the OAS, the European Union. It’s probably the most watched-over electoral process in the world. And it’s an automated electoral process unlike the one in the US, where you vote on an electronic machine and you actually get a ticket receipt that proves how you voted. So it’s a very transparent process, unlike that in the US, where you vote on many machines and get nothing in the end, so that the process itself should put an end to the lie that Venezuela is either a one-party state, either a dictatorship, or that there is no freedom of speech and no freedom of assembly.

BASILONE: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Caracas on Monday to meet with Hugo Chávez, just one day after a Russian fleet docked in the Venezulan port of La Guaira. The Russian Navy will be conducting joint naval maneuvers with Venezuela in the Caribbean. The maneuvers are scheduled to begin on December 1. Medvedev arrived from Brazil, where he had announced an upcoming summit with China, India, and Brazil to create new rules for the global economy. In Caracas, Russian and Venezuelan officials signed a series of accords, including one pledging cooperation in nuclear energy for peaceful uses.

TINKER SALAS: I think this reflects the perception of Venezuela’s policy, international policy, of a multipolar world. They reject the notion of a unipolar world in which the US is the supreme superpower. They have reached out and made economic relations with China, with Russia, with Europe, with India, with Iran. Medvedev is not only traveling to Venezuela; he’s also traveling to Brazil. But when he’s in Venezuela, all of a sudden the media casts this as the reunion of the two US enemies. But I’m sure it’s not going to cast it that way when he’s in Brazil. When he’s in Brazil, it will be the same policy of Lula in reaching out and developing multi-/bilateral trade partners. And, again, I think it’s part of that reflection, part of that depiction, of looking at the world in terms of Axis of Evil or in terms of binaries—either you’re with us our you’re against us. The reality is that Venezuela needs to and should look for multiple trading partners, multiple political and economic partners. And I think that’s a very positive—. I mean, that in many ways mitigates the effects of the current economic crisis on Venezuela and on other Latin American countries that have diversified in trade with China, with Russia, with India, and with Europe, and not just the US.

CHÁVEZ: This socialist victory is a strong sign for me as a leader. As a president, as a leader of the Venezuelan socialist project, the people are telling me, "Chávez, continue down the same road."

BASILONE: With Sunday’s victory, Chávez may once again call for a referendum on constitutional reforms, which include eliminating presidential term limits, recognizing community projects that provide health and education in poor areas as part of the state, reduction of the work week from 44 hours to 36 hours, measures to make it easier for the government to nationalize companies, and giving all workers the right to social security.

TINKER SALAS: I think this was a test. I think the elections we saw, the regional elections we just saw, was a test of strength between the opposition and Chávez. The opposition could next year go for a revocatorio, a referendum to recall Chávez. He could actually usurp that process and propose a constitutional reform. He’s already spoken of a kind of a brinksmanship in which he will challenge the opposition, and they can have on the ballot something like a recall, or at the same time a permission to revise the Constitution and allow him to be reelected. So I suspect something like that will happen in 2009.

BASILONE: And what about future relationships between Hugo Chávez and Barack Obama?

TINKER SALAS: I think there’s an opportunity. I don’t have too much hope, but I think there is an opportunity for a new dialog, for a new dialog based on equality, a new dialog that would put aside the kind of bellicose attitudes we’ve seen in the past, and they could at least begin to rebuild the relationship between both countries.

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.