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In Defense of Hugo Chávez

Howard Cox’s Perspective in The Nica Times (“Venezuela and Cuba: Blueprints for Failure,” NT, Aug.13) blasts President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. But his rant fails to identify any sources for his assertions.

Maybe Mr. Cox believes his statements. Or maybe he knows they are falsehoods from a $50 million campaign (financed by U.S. taxpayers) to flood the media with disinformation.

Or maybe Mr. Cox simply likes to express his opinions in print.

Either way, I will address a few of the issues he raises. My sources are listed below. 

Mr. Cox writes that Venezuela’s oil industry was nationalized under Chávez, when, in fact, it was nationalized in 1976. The Chávez government investigated the oil company PDVSA, discovered that it was losing millions of dollars, and replaced the president and board of directors.

Under previous administrations prior to the Chávez-led reforms, PDVSA had been run so poorly that it ranked 50th in efficiency of the world’s oil producing countries.

The entrenched PDVSA opposition reacted to the reforms with sabotage and a massive management-led lockout. Yet, two months after the lockout ended, PDVSA was operating at full-capacity and much more efficiently, with 40 percent fewer employees.

The 1990s were a period of great social unrest, censorship of the media, violent government repression, and three-fourths of Venezuelans living in poverty. Following the election of Hugo Chávez to the presidency in 1998, the poverty rate was slashed in half, and education and healthcare were rapidly extended to previously un-served areas.

Spending on social programs tripled, and personal incomes rose.

The Chávez presidency brought six years of economic growth until the world-wide recession of 2008.

In 1993, former Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez was impeached and convicted of the multimillion-dollar ransacking of the public treasury. He and others in his party, including former governors and mayors who were also indicted for taking public funds, are in exile in the United States.    President Chávez, who campaigned on the issue of anti-corruption, is seen by most voters as honest. 

Cox exaggerates the problem of power outages earlier this year in Venezuela, and then blames the president.

The El Niño cycle of 2009-10, which also reduced rainfall in Costa Rica, caused a severe drought in Venezuela. Like Costa Rica, much of Venezuela’s electricity comes from hydroelectric plants. The Venezuelan government managed the crisis and averted a catastrophe. 

One of the opposition’s favorite ways to demonize President Chávez is to repeat the false claim that Venezuela traffics drugs.

Although Venezuela does not produce drugs, Colombians try to ship them through the country to markets in the United States. The Chávez government has interrupted much of this traffic, and the attorney general has prosecuted 17,000 drug trafficking cases.  

Venezuela is a democracy. The voters, in free and fair elections, gave the government the power to use wealth from natural resources to fund social projects to improve the lives and productivity of the people, to nationalize some industries, develop programs for food security, and establish trade relations with other countries on mutually beneficial terms.

The blend of private and public enterprise is not unlike that of some countries in Western Europe, or even Costa Rica.

Some of Venezuela’s trading partners are not democracies, but that is also true of the United States and Costa Rica, which now trades extensively with communist China and other repressive regimes.       

I traveled to Venezuela this year and met and talked with many people. I felt safe walking around in Caracas and traveling in the countryside. The country appears clean and litter-free, except in the barrios where the steep mountainsides make refuse disposal difficult.

The people appeared to be healthy, relaxed, nicely-dressed and going about their business. They were friendly and courteous and reminded me of Costa Ricans. On the clean, modern, public metro rail system, men offered their seats to women. I saw no evidence of shortages of food or other consumer items.

People I met included a young man in his 20s, who told me about life when he was seven years old. Government forces under ex-president Pérez fired tear gas into his school about once a week, driving the children outside where they were hit with water cannon, causing injuries and a few deaths.

I met a woman who was able to complete her university education at age 50, thanks to the reforms brought by the Chávez government. She became a high school biology teacher and has started a seed bank to preserve her country’s agricultural heritage and independence.

I met a nun who works with poor families in a barrio and expressed her passion for her country’s right to self-determination. “Every country has the right to determine how they will live,” she told me. “The gift we receive from God is our freedom and the right to choose what kind of life we want and to respect and value one another.”

Don’t the people of Venezuela have the right to determine their own destiny and how to use their own resources without massively financed interference from the United States?

As one campesino I met put it, “You don’t have to help us, but let us have our own experiment. If this (Bolivarian) revolution fails, then all hope is lost for the world.”  

For more information on Venezuela, see Eva Golinger, The Chávez Code:  Cracking the U.S. Intervention in Venezuela; Charles Hardy, Cowboy in Caracas: A North American’s Memoir of Venezuela’s Democratic Revolution; and the online newspaper, The Guardian, and the websites, and

Dr. Marujo is a U.S. citizen who has lived in Costa Rica for seven years on her small farm in Puriscal. She is retired from a career in psychology and is a freelance writer.


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