Venezuela has moved either closer to democracy or closer to authoritarianism, depending on whom you ask. Nearly all information about Venezuela depends on whom you ask.
What we know for sure is, this past Sunday, Venezuela held its long-awaited vote on a National Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Bolivarian Constitution which has been in effect since 1999.
Tibisay Lucena of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council says over eight million Venezuelans voted for the Constituent Assembly, claiming “peace” as last weekend’s big winner.
But the U.S. mainstream media views things differently.
“Venezuela’s Opposition, Battling Nicolás Maduro, Suffers a Crippling Blow,” read The New York Times‘s headline on Monday morning. Vox outright stated in its headline that “Venezuela just moved one step closer to authoritarianism.”
Even the relatively progressive Guardian called Sunday’s vote a “sham” in its headline, though it made sure to put the word sham in quotes.
As usual, there’s a debate over the actual numbers.
Based on the level of support chavismo and the move toward socialism continues to enjoy in Venezuela, most leftists see little reason to doubt the turnout was closer to the Caracas’s official number of 8,089,320, representing over 41 percent of eligible voters. Maybe the real turnout wasn’t over eight million but was closer to 7.5 million — I’m willing to concede as much.
The mainstream media, however, appear willing to accept the figure given by Torino Capital, whose drastically smaller turnout of 3.6 million voters Vox calls “an independent estimate” with seemingly no misgivings whatsoever.
Personally, I struggle to see how or why a Wall Street investment bank would provide an unbiased assessment of a socialist government — especially a vehemently anti-Wall Street one that’s being condemned by the U.S. government and its lackeys abroad — or why anyone, much less the explainers-in-chief at Vox, can believe it would.
Piling on the accusations against President Maduro and the chavistas, the mainstream media is decrying the arrests of Leopoldo López and another opposition leader this morning. Conveniently ignored is Lopéz’s connection to the 2002 failed coup which attempted to remove the late Hugo Chávez from power, or his incitement to confront government forces in the streets in 2014 which ended with 43 deaths.
López has been under house arrest only a few weeks after spending over three years in prison since his arrest in February 2014. He was sentenced to almost 14 years in prison in 2015 for his role in the violent anti-government uprising.
Antonio Ledezma, the former mayor of Caracas charged in 2015 in connection with a terrorist plot against the government, has been under house arrest since April of that year due to health concerns.
Both men violated the conditions of their reduced punishments by calling for anti-government action before and during Sunday’s vote. López even released a video in which he calls on the Venezuelan military to join the opposition, invoking the lie that the administration’s recent moves have been unconstitutional.
The 1999 Bolivarian Constitution doesn’t explicitly give the Maduro administration the power to call a vote for a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution, but it doesn’t explicitly deny it that right either — something the newly elected assembly should consider remedying.
As Joe Emersberger explains on Venezuelanalysis:
In 1999, Venezuelans voted in a referendum to elect a Constituent Assembly. The method for electing the Constituent Assembly was part of what voters approved. After the constitution was drafted, it was then approved by voters in a referendum and therefore entered into law. In 2000, Presidential and National Assembly elections were held under the new constitution. This extremely democratic process was constantly smeared in the international media over the years by saying ‘Hugo Chavez rewrote the constitution’. The constitution of 1999 was briefly annulled during the short-lived Carmona dictatorship which was backed by the opposition’s core leadership of today (Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez, Julio Borges, Henry Ramos, and many others). That dictatorship was also backed by the U.S government and major international media like the New York Times who gushed over Carmona.
Venezuela’s President Maduro has alienated some chavistas by not following the same process as in 1999 – specifically the initiating referendum where voters are asked to approve both the general idea of electing a Constituent Assembly and the general method for electing one. In fact, the constitution is very far from clear that an initiating referendum is required, or even a final referendum on the constitution that is drafted. However, Maduro has committed to holding a referendum on the constitution that is drafted by the Constituent Assembly. This is extremely important and routinely ignored in media coverage about the Constituent Assembly. [emphasis mine]
Thus, the Constituent Assembly doesn’t have “carte blanche to rewrite the country’s constitution and begin taking away the power the opposition-controlled parliament still holds,” as Vox would have us believe: Whatever constitution the Constituent Assembly drafts still has to be approved by Venezuelan voters.
Also, the assembly itself is comprised of delegates from a wide swath of Venezuelan society representing workers, farmers, students, pensioners, business leaders, people with disabilities, communes and communal councils. An additional eight seats are reserved exclusively for Venezuela’s indigenous citizens.
Such representation must be why a poll conducted in May by the anti-government firm Datanálisis showed 39 percent of Venezuelans believing the opposition should’ve participated in Sunday’s vote on the Constituent Assembly. The same poll showed the late Hugo Chávez’s approval rating at 55 percent, while his successor’s approval rating, at 20 percent, is still higher than the presidents’ of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.
As always, Maduro’s support his strongest amongst the poorest Venezuelans, who see the Bolivarian government’s work as unfinished and understand all of the obstacles being thrown in its way by the U.S.-backed opposition. They know their future cannot lie with López and the rest of the opposition who are using populist rhetoric in the meantime to gain power, topple the Bolivarian Revolution, undo all of the social programs which have made Venezuela a much less desperate place than it was before Chávez’s election in 1998, and institute IMF-like austerity measures — as is occurring in Brazil and Argentina, and has always occurred in Latin America.
In fact, Venezuelans know what will happen if the opposition comes to power — and what will happen to them if it does — because it’s happened to them before, in 1989.
Given all the lies, speculation and propaganda surrounding the crisis in Venezuela, you could be forgiven for not knowing who to believe. I myself read every report, whether from the government, major news outlets or the leftist media, with a great deal of skepticism.
Yet, to discern what exactly is happening in Venezuela, or what will happen, you need only know what has happened in the past.
When all else fails and you don’t know which side to defend, stand with the poor and disenfranchised masses — who are largely ignored in media discussions about Venezuela, but who are the ones still committed to carrying on the Bolivarian Revolution.
Featured image: Carlos Adampol Galindo/Flickr