Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on Hugo Chavez, and the TPP

March 7th, 2013

Hugo Chavez has been an example of how much a Third World nation can achieve when it takes control of its natural resources from the US and its corporate allies, and uses them to benefit its own people and the region. By the adroit use of Venezuela’s oil revenues, Chavez succeeded in exporting his revolution throughout South America and Central America in ways that had consistently eluded Fidel Castro. Some of those who benefitted from his leadership will be at his funeral.

The current leaders of Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Argentina have all been directly inspired by Chavez and by his refusal to bend to Washington. Not to mention his vision of a system of economic and trade alliances in opposition to the US-sponsored systems that have dominated the region for so long. Even his regional opponents – such as Colombia – finally had grudging reason to be grateful to Chavez, for his role in brokering peace initiatives with its FARC rebels. Peru’s leader Ollanta Humala won the presidency in 2011 on a Chavez-like platform, but has since tried to steer an uncertain alternative course. In recent years, Chavez has become the yardstick against which the entire region is now measured. That’s the kind of transformation South America hasn’t seen since the days of Chavez’ hero, the liberator Simon Bolivar.

Late last year, Lula, the equally charismatic ex-President of Brazil – and a former trade unionist whose successful period in power in Brazil was yet another indirect beneficiary of Chavismo – praised Chavez for his domestic and regional achievements. However, in this Caracas newspaper story, Lula had also urged Chavez to think seriously about the process of succession.

[Lula] judged that the fact that the Venezuelan Constitution allows unlimited reelections is detrimental for democracy. “That is why I did not want a third term in office, because I would have wanted a fourth term in office, and then a fifth term. And in democracy, the alternation in power is an achievement for humanity, and therefore, it should be maintained,” said Lula.

Lula added that Venezuela has made “great improvements,” since President Chávez took over and that “poor people have gained dignity” ever since. He also praised Chávez’s role in Latin America. “Before, even toilets were imported from the United States, now (Venezuela) imports from Argentina, Brazil, and other countries. Venezuela started looking at Latin America, that is why I advocated the entry of Venezuela into the Common Market of the South (Mercosur),” Lula highlighted.

Overall, the main beneficiaries of Chavez’ 14 years in power were the ordinary people of Venezuela. In the process of sweeping aside the old and corrupt politico-economic elites, Chavez understandably made enemies at home and abroad. Yet by directing Venezuela’s oil revenues to the benefit of the poor, he raised the country’s living standards and gained a fierce, devoted allegiance that enabled him to go back to the ballot box again and again, and win elections. To the Americans, this must have been particularly galling. Not only did the coup attempt against Chavez in 2002 (that the US had openly aided) backfire spectacularly on Washington. The historical reality is that their own puppet dictators in the region – the Somozas and Trujillos – could never have withstood the level of regular democratic scrutiny that Chavez invited. As recently as late last year, Chavez was still winning elections against the well-financed opposition from the latest representatives of the old elites.

The media reaction to his death has been instructive. We’ve seen a lot of coverage of the “loved by some, loathed by others” variety, which seeks to imply those two sides existed in balance. They didn’t. Yesterday’s CNN headline “Chavez Empowered The Poor, Divided a Nation” was a classic of this kind. Evidently, the prior chasm that existed between rich and poor in Venezuela didn’t really count with CNN as a country divided. Only by upsetting that particular applecart, had Chavez “divided” the country. Such coverage must be pretty insulting to the majority of Venezuelans. (Think of how Americans would have felt in November 1963 if they’d read: ‘Loved by some, loathed by his opponents, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a charismatic yet divisive figure at home and abroad. Some wept at the news of his death. Others openly celebrated the news, saying that with the exit of this controversial figure, Americans now have a fresh chance for liberty’ etc etc)

Under its Constitution, Venezuela has to begin a fresh round of elections 30 days after the death of its leader. Chavez – and his legacy – are likely to dominate those elections, to an extent probably sufficient to enable his chosen successor Nicolas Maduro to defeat Henrique Capriles, who was the opposition leader that Chavez beat last year. Then the hard part will begin, of managing Chavismo without Chavez.

TPP: loved by some, loathed by many

The latest round of the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations has been taking place this week in Singapore. In the shadow of these talks, Barack Obama has re-affirmed his commitment to the TPP, and stated his intention of seeking the Trade Promotion Authority that he will need to get any finished deal through Congress. None of which will be easy. US dairy lobbies have recently joined forces with other groups opposed to the TPP and sent a letter to Senator Max Baucus and seven other key members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. (Baucus, BTW, is a Democrat in a Red State up for re-election next year in a very tight race. He can’t afford to ignore the farm vote.)

New Zealanders should be interested in at least one key paragraph in the lobbying letter:

“New market access for New Zealand’s monopolistic dairy sector would be especially damaging to U.S. dairy farmers and those who produce and process nonfat dry milk, butterfat or cheese,” the letter states. To make sure the U.S. dairy industry won’t be decimated by the TPP, the letter urges Congress to adopt new trade policymaking procedures rather than reinstating so-called “fast-track” authority.

Fonterra is being widely seen, in other words, as a major stumbling block to New Zealand getting anything from the TPP by way of greater dairy access to the US market – which is the main rationale for the concessions that New Zealand has been gearing up to make on health and IP issues and on foreign investment protections. With that in mind, the finale of the letter – which calls for far, far greater transparency about the whole TPP process – is something New Zealanders would readily support. Rather than re-instate Trade Promotion Authority, the lobbyists called for policy making procedures that:

‘Require that, prior to continuing negotiations, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative publish all negotiating texts, consult with all committees of jurisdiction and interested stakeholders, and provide a thorough and public trade balance assessment, and other analyses of how a proposed [TPP] trade pact would impact the U.S. dairy industry;

Provide trade negotiators with mandatory negotiating objectives that guarantee that U.S. goals regarding food safety, food sovereignty, conservation, elimination of currency manipulation and worker right are met; and include a process by which a majority of the Congress must vote to certify that the pact is in the public interest and that the negotiating objectives have been met before the pact can be signed and negotiations formally concluded.

The TPP’s potential impact on the U.S. dairy sector, the letter concludes, is far too important to adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach towards the pact’s negotiation. Exactly. New Zealand should be asking for all of the above from its own negotiators, and from the Key government.


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    1. 15 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on Hugo Chavez, and the TPP”

    2. By Elyse on Mar 7, 2013 | Reply

      Re Chavez: well said Gordon. Thank you for pricking the hypocrisy balloon once again.

    3. By Mooloo magic on Mar 7, 2013 | Reply

      I note our Dear Leader has not offered the people of Venezuela our condolences, that’s a disgrace when clearly Chevaz is so admired and loved by the majority of its citizens. The fickleness of western n leaders who have in the main refused to acknowledge Chevaz in death is an insult to the people of Venezuela. As much as I admire Obama I thought his comments about Chevaz were thoughtless and callous but typical of a US president frustrated by Chevaz and his strength of character in not bow downing to US pressure over his 14 years of rule.

    4. By Fats on Mar 7, 2013 | Reply

      Gordon, what colour is the sky on your planet? Sorry, Gordon, but how anyone can have a kind word for a buffoon like Chavez is beyond me. He bullied the opposition, and his governance was terrible. Here’s a quote from The Guardian (hardly a right-wing rag): “Venezuela has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world after a nearly fourfold rise in murders since 1998. In 2011, this country of 30 million people suffered almost as many killings as the US and the EU combined.”
      The Guardian goes on to point out that after 14 yars of Chavez, “Venezuela has been left with a more equal society but a less balanced economy.” The economy is plagued by debt inflation and currency distortions.
      Chavez epitomises all that is worst about Latin American leaders (whether they’re right wing or left wing) – long on machismo, short on logic.
      And here’s a commentary from one of the most respected economic commentators in Asia:

    5. By Gordon Campbell on Mar 8, 2013 | Reply

      @ Fats
      Hmmm. You’re welcome to your planet, where – judging by what you cite – it is a sin to produce a more equal society, but a less balanced economy. I think Chavez, and not New Zealand, got that one the right way around. I could also play the game of selectively choosing my Guardian columnists, some of whom have pointed out that – despite the crime you mention – living standards for all Venezuelans and the poor in particular, markedly improved under Chavez. The Guardian’s Martin Kettle also pointed out something that bloggers in New Zealand who have slagged Chavez for his “authoritarian” ways might care to ponder – that Chavez refused to play the role of the virtuous victim. Surviving a coup attempt in 2002 taught him to give his enemies no quarter. Even so, democracy survived. Quote : “Allende won one election with 36% support and died from bullet wounds as his palace was stormed by the armed forces. Chávez won four more or less honest presidential elections with, successively, 56%, 60%, 63% and 54% of the vote and died in his bed.” Finally, he inspired an entire continent to shake off the economic colonialism of the Washington model. I guess that entitles a New Zealander – in this increasingly unequal country of ours with its adherence to a clapped out version of Friedmanism – to call him a ‘buffoon.’

    6. By fats on Mar 8, 2013 | Reply

      Thanks, Gordon, but you haven’t responded to my main points: there’s no point in “rescuing” the working classes if you destroy the economy in the process. Take off the blinkers. He was a buffoon and a thug.

    7. By jackp on Mar 9, 2013 | Reply

      fats, Chavez was a true leader. I had been following him for those 14 years and he had defeated the United States just by his shear popularity. You need a working class to stimulate the economy. You just only want to read the US propaganda machine, which is crap. You have a problem with someone who was elected by his people and succeeded. Your more in favour of hiring an assassin to kill Chavez like the almost successful coup in 2002. Do you know where that assassin is living?? The United States. I can remember while living in the states he gave away thousands of barrels of oil to keep those living in Harlem warm during that cold winter. The US government and the oil companies rejected them. That is guts. I am an American and I watched very closely the development of Venezuala. The only people that got burned were the 7 sisters. I suppose your gutted they were ushered out of Venezuela.

    8. By Fats on Mar 10, 2013 | Reply

      I stand by my comments. He ruled by confrontation and decree not consensus. In 2002 when thousands marched on the palace calling for him to quit, 19 people were shot by snipers. Chavez asked the army to open fire on the protestors. The army refused. Although Chavez managed to retain the leadership, this proves what he was. He was able to survive thanks to record oil prices and the support of Cuban experts. The Venezuelan economy is a mess. Hospitals are in decay despite his much-vaunted concern for the people’s health. Nationalisation of farms means agricultural output has collapsed. Inflation has soared, the currency suffers devaluations, and the people who will pay the price for all these problems are …the poor. Those are the people he professed to love. Good governance starts with good economic management. The poor in Venezuela will suffer for decades for Chavez’s incompetence. And his suppression of the independent media means that criticism and debate is extinguished. Take off the blinkers, comrades Campbell and jackp.

    9. By Bob J on Mar 11, 2013 | Reply

      Gordon Campbell – Thank you for your balanced account and reaction to Chavez’s death, I wholly agreed with your comments on the media reaction to his death, which to be honest has been a continuation of (western) news coverage of Venezuela, fuelling the ‘opposition’ and the companies and countries bankrolling them.
      Fats just goes on and on without recognising the success Chavez had – how do you explain the drop in rates of poverty? The passion and loyalty he inspired in everyday, working class Venezuelans (might I add, the majority in the country – he motivated them, inspired them, they voted for him and he repaid them as he’d promised)? I’m sure your quote about Chavez asking the army to fire on protesters comes from an entirely reliable source. Not that independent media which was suppressed (all the while calling, basically for his assassination or a(nother) coup – this supression is yet another fictional attempt to undermine him)…? In all honesty you should take off your blinkers. Chavez was a great Latin American leader, who (finally) put Venezuela’s natural resources to the benefit of Venezuelans instead of multinational companies, and who also tried to give Latin America back to Latin Americans, promoting regional integration, instead of the individual countries being mere puppets in the United States quest for hegemony. Chavez vive, la lucha sigue!

    10. By jackp on Mar 11, 2013 | Reply

      Well, what about the New York Times dissenting against having a “democratic leader” being kept under house arrest by the melitia. It was the majority of Venezuelans who changed the fate of the coup by demonstrating and scared the heck out of the elite.
      What you are saying is true, part of it is economics and chavez kept the profits in Venezuela not in foreign hands. You are saying it is good to take the profits and give them to a select few meanwhile keep the poor uneducated and to keep the elite in power. No, I am not a communist. I believe when a President is voted in, as Jimmy Carter witnessed, by his people he should have the right to administer to his people. What you are accusing me of is what you truly are. Nothing but a facist who wants a few to take over democratic governments by violence for the country’s natural resources and sit back and write “Carl Rove” like propaganda.

    11. By Monique Watson on Mar 12, 2013 | Reply

      Bob J and Campbell. You speak in unsubstantiated. general terms based on the premise that Chavez was a “popular elected leader”, who opposed the US (the main bastion of freedom and democracy) against try-hard dictators like Chavez.
      The only galling aspect of Chavez’s reign would be any importation of socialism into the US. Thankfully and due to the redoubtable Right leanings of U.S populace, this as unlikely to happen as finding Rudolf’s deer shit in your U.S. backyard,
      It’s easy to be a popular dictator when you direct all the profits from your state owned enterprises (oil) into your own election campaign coffers. NZ’s Clark had a similar effect with the thoroughly trounced Electoral Finance ACT which favoured union fudning of election campaigns at the expense of traditional corporate doners. Chavez presided over rising homicide rates (a similar trend to the child abuse rates under NZ’s Clark) In that situation, if you then employ the message that it would be worse under capitalism you have a winning cultist socialist ticket.
      BTW. Journalism Economics 101: The benefits of any government largesse is well outstripped by high inflation. Chavez’s legacy was a 22% inflation rate in Feb 2013.
      Again, shades of WFF under the highly inflationary Clark government.
      I don’t think you’ll be winning over any of us right wingers soon with your proxy argument that Chavez was a winner because he bought equality when homicide rates rose and economic outcomes sank under Chavez.
      Socialism always produces “heroes”, but never produces economic success.

    12. By Morrissey Breen on Mar 14, 2013 | Reply

      Gordon, I recall a few years ago, when you and Richard Griffin were the guests on Jim Mora’s dire “Panel” on National Radio. Griffin went off into one of his hail-fellow-well-met, guffawing fugues, during which he took the opportunity to make an ignorant and derogatory comment about Hugo Chávez.

      You immediately challenged challenged him, and asked him to explain why he had made the derogotary remark. There has rarely been a faster backdown in broadcasting history: “Oh no, sorry, I wasn’t suggesting that Hugo Chávez is a dictator,” he blustered. “No of course he is not. I never meant to suggest that.”

      It was a golden moment, one of the few on that show.

      So how come you’re never on it any more?

    13. By Gordon Campbell on Mar 15, 2013 | Reply

      @Monique Watson
      Oh, those inconvenient facts. The reason I persist in calling Chavez a ‘popular elected leader’ is that he was. He won reasonably honest elections four times, despite his opponents trying to topple him a US-applauded coup in 2002. And if a high crime rate, inflation and a weak economy supposedly negate the social advances made by Chavez in creating a more equal society, what then are we to make of South Africa ? That it should have kept apartheid and left Nelson Mandela in jail ? And instead of lambasting the Clark government for its ‘highly inflationary” WFF policy – which also reduced inequality – you should be thanking Clark & Cullen for paying off government debt,thereby protecting NZ from the worst impact of the GFC. You right wingers of course would have squandered that advantage in tax cuts if you’d won the 2005 election. Now the same economic idiocy is evident in the energy asset selldown, and yet you presume to lecture the likes of Venezuela…

    14. By keith symonds on Mar 15, 2013 | Reply

      Fats and Monique, for your information this article lists some of Hugo Chavez’ acheivements

      It is riduculous of you to suggest that reducing poverty, improving education and public health, and the many other improvements amount to “directing the oil profits into his election coffers” and totally ludicrous to suggest that these improvements somehow caused an increase in homicide rates.

      A very quick search on the internet reveals some of the causes behind the increase in homicides – the police and judiciary were corrupt, and as in certain other South American countries were used by the previous government to repress dissent – the people have little trust in them and so they are not very effective in deterring crime.

      Add to this cocaine trafficking coming over the border from Columbia and you have a recipe for trouble. I can’t help but wonder if your friends in the good ole CIA are helping to stir it up. Been done before.

    15. By GARY LASALLE on Apr 4, 2013 | Reply

      Awesome to see journalism of this calibre from NZ on BOTH topics.

      NZ is quite the flag waver for TPP abroad and sadly I’m left with the impression of an apparent national insouciance that must have the likes of the late David Lange turning in his grave.

      PS interesting the latest faux news (et al) spin on new bird flu in China – all of which just happen to fail to mention it’s not a strain tramsmittble between humans but issue precautions as if it was.

    16. By Fats on Apr 5, 2013 | Reply

      Thought you Chavez groupies might enjoy this:

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