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August 3, 2010

How is Socialism for the 21st Century (S21c) faring as we plunge further into the 21st century? Recent media coverage has, to an extent more than usual, played up the bad news coming out of Venezuela. There is indeed a long list of seemingly negative indicators: the economy is contracting, inflation persists around a 30 percent annual rate, the currency has been devalued (yet the black market persists), electricity was rationed this year due to underproduction, staple foods are subject to price controls and scarcity…

In a piece on the HuffPo, Thor Halvorssen took aim at the issue of food production and distribution, highlighting the recent scandal in which: “2,340 shipping containers with more than 120,000 tons of rotting food (estimated to feed 17 million people for one month) laying idle at Puerto Cabello.” This, he claims, is evidence of complete systemic failure:

The port where the debacle took place recently became nationalized. The new incompetent management, combined with electricity rationing, led to the food putrefying as it sat in refrigerated containers. Such bungling shows that the national food supply network PDVAL, despite its status as a flagship revolutionary program and the logistical support of Venezuela’s state oil company and military, is a disgraceful failure that lays bare the results of the disastrous government food policy.

Of course, Halvorssen is neither a specialist nor a disinterested observer. (How does the HuffPo determine who gets to post?) Talk of food scarcity was common when I was in Venezuela last year and, while sugar was especially cited as sometimes hard to come by, I saw no evidence that food shortages were significantly harming the well-being of the population. I’ll try to note my observations during the upcoming trip.

NPR, meanwhile, recently aired a piece on deadly clashes within the Venezuelan labor movement. The report amplifies claims that the government is pushing “renegade” unions to topple the “established” unions by deadly force, if necessary. It also implies that the government’s interest in unions is for the kickbacks that union control can generate. I imagine that there have been some reprehensible choices on both sides of these struggles, but the NPR piece neglects to mention some highly relevant history: a) established labor – principally the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV) – participated in attempts to topple the Chavez administration in 2002 and 2003 b) the government has been receptive to increased worker control as part of Venezuelan socialism. These facts should also be reported to the public. (A related story on the WSJ, of all places, does a better job at journalistic objectivity.)

Also tarnishing the Venezuelan reputation in the mainstream North American media (MNAM), and hitting closer to my immediate area of concern, is the state’s continued battle with Globovision. I have a hard time buying that the charges against Zuloaga would have been filed if he only owned car dealerships. And I don’t think government representatives on Globovision’s board of directors will contribute constructively to the situation. I’d rather Chavez just leave the opposition press alone at this point. Nonetheless, the context of these press battles is not made clear in the MNAM, who continue to falsely insinuate that Globovision is the last non-government television station in Venezuela. Venevisión and Televen are both privately held, commercially operated stations with news programming, and there is a long list of regional commercial networks.

As usual, it is very hard to get a good feel for things from media reports. Steve Ellner has just written another very helpful and balanced update. As he notes, much hangs in the balance of the September elections. Hopefully I’ll be down there in time to experience them and otherwise assess the current state of S21c.

UPDATE: Daniel Kovalik at Counterpunch has responded at length to the NPR piece I mentioned above (which apparently originated at the Washington Post).

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