Venezuela: The Truth About Chávez

Source: Jacobin Magazine

Bernie Sanders is wrong — Hugo Chávez was no dictator.

Dear Bernie,

Like millions of Americans, I’ve been watching your campaign with growing excitement. You’re spot on about the pernicious effects of rising inequality and absolutely correct that the United States now resembles an oligarchy more than a democracy. I applaud your willingness to directly and repeatedly denounce the billionaire class that runs this country. And I wholeheartedly support your call for universal health care.

It’s been a joy to watch you make Hillary Clinton squirm as your poll numbers rise. I smile every time I imagine the possibility of a self-described socialist calling for a political revolution winning the Democratic nomination. I’m encouraged that you have made fighting racism a priority in your campaign, alongside the rest of your progressive agenda.

So I was surprised and dismayed to see you label the late Hugo Chávez a “dead communist dictator” last week. I would expect this from candidates like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, or Hillary Clinton — not from someone who supported the Sandinistas in the 1980s and accepted discounted heating oil from Chávez for low-income Vermont residents.

I know you’re busy these days, Bernie, so I’ve compiled a list of ten reasons why you might want to think twice before calling Chávez a dictator.

1. Hugo Chávez was democratically elected. Not once. Not twice. But five times over the course of fourteen years.

2. Chávez won these elections by massive margins. He prevailed in the 1998 presidential election with 56% of the vote. He was reelected in 2000, netting 60% of votes cast. In 2004, Chávez won a recall referendum with 59%. In 2006 he was again victorious, receiving a whopping 63% of the vote. And in the 2012, while dying of cancer, he still triumphed, this time garnering 55%.

3. On the rare occasions when Chávez suffered a political defeat (e.g., the December 2007 referendum on constitutional changes), he accepted the loss immediately. It’s true that Chávez engaged in certain practices that are open to criticism, such as gerrymandering and using executive decrees to get around congressional opposition. But these practices are common in many actually-existing democracies, including the US, and hardly constitute evidence that Chávez was a dictator.

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