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