Promises and Failures: The Economist and the Venezuelan Election

Josh Watts, 3 October 2012

Categories: Venezuela | The Economist | Latin America |

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In an interview with the New Left Project, Dr. Lee Salter, following research into BBC reporting on Venezuela stated that 'the coverage of Venezuela has particular importance mainly because it is a case in which a democratically mandated government faces a plethora of reactionary forces seeking to destabilise and overthrow it'.1 A recent leader in The Economist (29 September to 5 October) 2 provides an interesting example of the coverage received by Venezuela. Considering Chavez – ‘the incumbent’ - to be 'an autocrat [who] has hollowed out Venezuela's democracy', it opens thus:

Imagine an election in which the incumbent routinely commandeers the nation’s airwaves for endless campaign broadcasts while his opponent gets just three minutes a day. The incumbent uses all the resources of the state-money, vehicles, buildings-for his campaign, and he has branded state social-welfare programmes as his own personal gift. He controls the courts and the electoral authority. His opponent’s supporters fear that the ballot is not secret, and that for those of them who work in the public sector, voting against the incumbent could cost them their jobs. That is Venezuela’s presidential ballot on October 7th.

Chávez, The Economist maintains, has many ‘unfair advantages’. ‘Mr [Henrique] Capriles’, meanwhile, ‘deserves to win’. It is not mentioned that private media in Venezuela is overly hostile to Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution. (Indeed, ‘the news media has become the greatest weapon of the opposition in a war against the Chávez administration’). 3 Regardless, ‘Win or lose, Latin America’s most controversial autocrat is a diminished figure’. But why is he controversial? Is it because, as the article suggests, he has ‘shunned’ ‘foreign investment’? The investment of tens of billions of dollars by Chevron and Chinese firms into oil projects in Venezuela indicates otherwise. 4 Perhaps it is because ‘by any objective standard he has squandered his extraordinary oil windfall’. That is, Chávez has ‘shower[ed] tens of millions of dollars on social programmes’ – which he was able to do because ‘his rule coincided with the unprecedented rise in the price of oil’. Indeed, ‘Had it not been for the oil boom, Mr Chavez would surely have long since become a footnote in Venezuelan history’.

The reason for Chavez’s social programmes, according to the leader, is to allow him ‘to pose as the champion of the downtrodden throughout Latin America’. But why is this a crime? Do the downtrodden not deserve social programmes worth ‘tens of billions of dollars’? An extensive history of foreign domination and exploitation within Venezuela, and the installation and maintenance of repressive domestic oligarchies, has certainly created many such people.

‘If Capriles does win’, it is explained, ‘it will be up to the army and the rest of Latin America to ensure that the result is respected’. Is it therefore assumed that the ‘many poorer Venezuelans’ - the beneficiaries of the social programmes - will not tolerate ‘The unpicking of Mr Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution’? Is this why ‘the army’ will necessarily have to ‘ensure’ that the ‘unpicking’ of the Revolution is respected? And will this be achieved by the violent methods traditionally employed by the army, at the behest of elite circles (domestic and foreign)? This ‘unpicking’, it should be noted, will occur in spite of Capriles’ promises ‘to maintain and improve most of Chavez’s social programmes’. In this paradox however, the Economist recognises no contradiction.

We may reasonably expect reports and opinions to sour further as the election draws ever closer. The Economist appears to ‘shun’ any and every achievement of the Chávez administration (and consequently, ‘many poorer Venezuelans’ in support of Chávez) – viewing any accomplishment in a detrimental light – which has the effect of implicitly lauding Capriles (though this is also done explicitly). Meanwhile, contradictions in Capriles’ own policies - as described by the Economist - pass unnoticed. The premise is simple: ‘Mr Capriles deserves to win’; and every word – either side of this assertion – seeks to demonstrate precisely why. How honest the words are in pursuit of this objective is for the reader to decide.


1. Alex Doherty [interviewer] and Lee Salter [interviewee], ‘Venezuela and the BBC’ (2 parts), New Left Project, 2010, ;
In an opinion piece of 31 August 1999 – less than a year after Chávez was elected - by Venezuelan assembly member Jorge Olavarria, on the BBC website, under the title ‘Venezuela’s “dictatorship”’, we read the following: ‘President Chavez was elected by the people, but that doesn't prevent him from establishing a dictatorship. In 1933, Adolf Hitler was elected by the people of Germany. And as soon as had the chancellorship he dismantled completely the constitutional structure of the Weimar Republic [sic]. The process here is the same. The will of the people is one thing and the rule of the law is another. The two do not always go together. At the moment, the will of the people is confused. . . .’ (‘World: Americas Opinion: Venezuela's “dictatorship”’, BBC, 1999, In the BBC’s report announcing ‘The populist former coup leader[’s (Chávez) . . .] landslide election victory’ we are told that his ‘popularity has surged on a wave of widespread discontent with traditional politicians, who are accused of corruption and mismanagement of the country's vast oilwells’, and that ‘His populist rhetoric and authoritarian background have the business establishment and foreign investors worried’ (Raymond Colitt, ‘World: Americas[:] Venezuela landslide result’, BBC, 1998,

2. Leader, ‘Henrique and Hugoliath’, Economist, September 29th-October 5th 2012.

3. Caitlin McNulty and Liz Migliorelli, ‘Media in Venezuela: Facts and Fiction’, Upside Down World, 2009,
See also: Maurice Lemoine (trans. Julie Stoker), ‘How Hate Media Incited the Coup Against the President’, c.2002, in Gregory Wilpert (ed.) Coup Against Chavez in Venezuela: The Best International Reports of What Really Happened in April 2002 (Fundación Venezolana para la Justicia Global, 2003);
Richard Gott, ‘Venezuela’s Murdoch’, New Left Review, 2006,

4. See Michael T. Klare, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2012), pp. 110-13.

Categories in which this article appears: Venezuela | The Economist | Latin America |

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