Pirates, Spies, Manny and Hugo Chavez. Oh My!

I finally finished my Human Rights paper I’ve been stressing about finishing for the past week. If people want, I’d be more than happy to put a PDF online for people to read (not to act like, “Oh I’m so smart, don’t you want to read my paper?” but because, as I’ll explain below it might shed some light on recent current events).

Following a bizzare dream I had Wednesday night where a giant spider tried marrying a friend of mine, I woke up to see this at the top of my Google News feed,


I wasn’t sure what had happened while I was sleeping, but I was sure it had something to do with a wild-eyed professor and some scrappy kid in a Delorian screwing up the space-time continuum. News about pirates and spies in one day? Russian spies no less.

I’m not done with the 80’s references just yet. I later went to my Human Rights course when the seige of Manny Noriega’s palace came up for discussion. For those who aren’t familiar, when the US seiged the palace of the military dictator, the army fameously employed “psyops” (psychological operations) to force him out. The tactic used involved aiming giant speakers at the palace and blaring loud rock music. Missing the point of the discussion, I asked “What music did they play?” Nobody knew, so I Googled it:

The first song played was G ‘n’ R: “Welcome to the Jungle.” Other selections included U2, Sonic Youth and the B52s. When somebody responded “well that doesn’t sound so bad.” I mentioned everybody has a “Rock Lobster Threshold” (the RLT index is a normative basis for the ability to withstand nasaly vox.)

About 4 hours ago I finished my paper evaluating democracy in Venezuela. When I woke up this morning to do some extra research and continue from where I left off in my writing the night before, I found an article from The Economist called “Venezuela’s endangered democracy.” How relevant!

The Economist article runs over a laundry list of corruption claims regarding Venezuela’s treatment of the opposition movement, without a mention of the behavior of the opposition.  The opposition launched a violent military coup in April 2002, locked workers out of the all important Venezuelan oil-industry that devastated the economy and caused extreme poverty and unemployment to skyrocket and among other things, established a Middle Age style battle plan to protect upper-crust gated communities in case the “delinquent” poor decide to storm their neighborhood someday (amid classist rumors that such plans were in forming).  The plans called for the gathering of arms and (I kid you not) preparing hot oil and water to pour on top of any pissed off poor people who come to your windows for looting. They also suggested that residents keep a close watch on their domestic servents because they might be after you.

One might ask how the US government may respond if it were found out that a Mayor of a major metropolitan city was an outspoken member of movement that had recently overthrown the government and advocates civil violence? Our government barely even stands to keep congressmen that like to have sex with dudes (of course some ludicrous elements in our society may think those are comparable). And yet, in the face of the violent behavior of the opposition, the opposition is still allowed to march, demonstrate, compete in elections and even blockade major intersections (with much more lenient police treatment than similar protesters receive here).

The thesis of the paper I was writing at the time basically argues that the standards people like politicians, media pundits and most mainstream political academics use to evaluate democracy are narrow, limited and exclude considerations of “substantive democracy.” Substantive democracy meaning social equality, human development, things relating to the real moral foundation of democratic thought (Rousseau argued in “The Social Contract” that for democracy it is essential that “no citizen shall ever be wealthy enough to buy another, and none poor enough to be forced to sel himself,” and further that laws “are always of use to those who ossess and harmful to those who have nothing: from which it follows that the social state is advantageous to men only when all have something and none too much.”

The standards most of these mainstream folks use are narrowly concerned with how close a government comes to meeting what we in the west refer to as “liberal democracy”. In other words, using a standard that will exclude everything that doesn’t basically look like a traditional Western democracy from being “democratic.” Presumably, the reason liberal democracy is dogmatically latched onto as the standard, is because these folks feel there shouldn’t be one. Hence when a country emerges like Venezuela, that advocates a “participatory democracy” that aims for substantively democratic progress, the pundits go crazy over every banal cry of government corruption or abuse of power that would otherwise be considered benign in a country like Mexico (or Canada).

So, according to the writers at the Economist, it follows that checking the authority of a Mayor who sympathizes with military coup-makers devalues the entire basis of Venezuelan democracy. Not surprisingly there’s no mention of the real growth in substantive democracy in the country. The author Gregory Wilpert who wrote a phenomenal book on the Chávez government called “Changing Venezuela by Taking Power” sent me a Powerpoint that outlines many of these impressive developments.

Extreme poverty’s plummeted from 20% to 9% in just ten years since Chávez was elected, literacy and life expectancy is on the rise, the GDP has matched traditional growth rates and (here’s a big one) university enrollment has increased from 660,000 in 1998 to over 2.1 million in 2008 (and I’m sure they’re students don’t need to be put into 35 years of debt to attend!)

So here’s what I’m asking the reader that made it this far into my post: Go beneath the headlines. I’ll never expect the media to get it right on a matter this complex.

I’ll even help. Good resources on Venezuela:

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