Hugo Chavez Can Teach Us A Lot About America

09 October 2010

By Jacob G. Hornberger

Even though U.S. officials rail against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Americans can learn a lot about the U.S. government and, indeed, about America's political, economic, and education system by studying what is happening in Venezuela.

Recently, the Venezuelan people delivered a stunning electoral blow against Chavez by electing opponents of his administration to Parliament, thereby denying Chavez the 2/3 majority he had hoped for.

In other words, in Venezuela there is democracy. The Venezuelan people decide by popular vote who their elected representatives are going to be, including the president of their country.

Don't forget that democracy is a shibboleth that guides U.S. foreign policy. That's now the primary justification for the U.S. Empire's having invaded Iraq and killed and maimed untold number of Iraqis, not to mention the destruction of the country.

So, does that mean that Venezuela is a free country? After all, that's what U.S. officials never cease telling us about Iraq and Afghanistan — that Iraqis and Afghans are now free because the U.S. invasion and occupation of those countries has brought democracy to them.

Last week, the New York Times published a news story about how the Iraqi government recently banned a music festival because it conflicted with Islamic law, which is the supreme law of the land in Iraq. The Times article stated, "The festival fell afoul of the religious and political schisms — and the chaos — that democracy has wrought."

Does that mean that the ban on that music festival by the democratic government of Iraq shows how free Iraqis now are?

But back to Chavez. As most everyone knows, Chavez is a self-described socialist. He believes in socialism very deeply, and has taken great strides to convert Venezuela into a socialist country.

But wait a minute? How can Chavez be a socialist when Venezuela is a democracy? Doesn't democracy mean freedom? And how can freedom and socialism exist simultaneously?

The answer lies in the fact that democracy relates to a county's political system. Socialism relates to a country's economic system. Therefore, a country can have a democratically elected government and a socialist economic system, one that is administered by the democratically elected officials.

Chavez's socialism entails free government-provided health care for every Venezuelan. His socialism also includes free government-provided education for all the children of the nation. He says that health care and education are fundamental human rights and, therefore, that government must ensure that they are provided to everyone.

Consider what Chavez said on health care: "The care and medicine here in the health centres is free, and specialists serve the people without distinction. We stand for free medical attention, and not, as under capitalism, for private clinics and private medicine."

Recently, Chavez threatened to close down all private schools in Venezuela that refused to submit to the supervision of the federal government. As a Venezuelan official explained: "We must train socially minded people to help the community, and that's why the revolution's socialist program is being implemented." Chavez's brother said the goal is to help educate "the new citizen." Chavez himself pointed out that a state role in regulated education is accepted in the United States.

Indeed it is. That's what free public (i.e., government) schooling is all about, along with government-approved private schools and government-monitored homeschooling. Just this week, the Los Angeles Times published an editorial extolling public schooling, stating the following:" Like libraries and parks, public education has a special place in civic life as a democratizing institution that offers free and equal access to all."

Needless to say, Venezuela has a Social Security program; it's one of Chavez's most important socialist programs.

And let's not forget creating jobs, an important role for the state in Chavez's government-managed economy.

Integrating principles of democracy and socialism, Chavez stated in an interview in The Progressive: "We are building a true democracy, with human rights for everyone, social rights, education, health care, pensions, social security, and jobs."

What self-respecting American statist, liberal or conservative, wouldn't wholeheartedly embrace Chavez's statement?

U.S. conservatives accuse Chavez of being a dictator. But how can that be? How can a democratically elected president be a dictator? Aren't dictatorship and democracy opposites? Isn't that what U.S. officials tell us about Iraq and Afghanistan—that the U.S. invasions and occupations of those two countries ended dictatorship by bringing democracy to the two countries?

The truth is that democracy and dictatorship are not necessarily opposites. Democracy is simply a political means by which people select their public officials. Dictatorship relates to the powers that a ruler wields, whether he is elected or appointed.

The next time that American statists, either liberal or conservative, tell Americans how free they are because they live in a democracy in which the government is providing (and requiring) free health care to people, free education to people's children, and free retirement benefits to seniors, and creating jobs for the unemployed, while their democratically elected ruler wields the power to send the entire nation into war without the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war, the power to assassinate his own people and others, the power to torture and rendition suspected criminals, and the power to deny trials to criminal suspects and jail them forever, Americans should simply study the principles of democracy, socialism, and dictatorship in Venezuela to see through the statist charade.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.


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