Why I’d Rather Cast a Ballot in Venezuela than Canada or the USA

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With Canada’s 19th-century first past the post electoral system and the USA’s rampant electoral fraud and conflicts of interest, voting in Venezuela seems like a tonic.

And in Venezuela’s recent referendum on political change that failed by roughly the same infinitesimal vote as Quebec’s referendum failed a decade or so ago, the North American media cabal is decrying it a triumphant victory for freedom fighters.

Despite that hyperbole, Venezuela’s democracy receives most of my envy. Why?

Here’s why:

Venezuela is Not Florida

By Mark Weisbrot

December 5, 2007, McClatchy Tribune Information Services

Last Monday, with less than 90 percent of the vote counted and the opposition leading by just 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent, President Chavez congratulated his opponents on their victory. They had defeated his proposed constitutional reforms, including the abolition of term limits for the presidency.

No one should have been surprised by Chavez’s immediate concession: Venezuela is a constitutional democracy, and its government has stuck to the democratic rules of the game since he was first elected in 1998. Despite the non-renewal of the broadcast license for a major TV station in May – one that wouldn’t have gotten a license in any democratic country – Venezuela still has the most oppositional media in the hemisphere. But the U.S. media has managed to convey the impression to most Americans that Venezuela is some sort of dictatorship or near-dictatorship.

Some of this disinformation takes place through mere repetition and association (e.g. “communist Cuba” appearing in thousands of news reports) — just as 70 percent of Americans were convinced, prior to the Iraq war, that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the massacres of September 11. In that case, the major media didn’t even believe the message, but somehow it got across and provided justification for the war.

In the case of Venezuela, the media is more pro-active, with lots of grossly exaggerated editorials and op-eds, news articles that sometimes read like editorials, and a general lack of balance in sources and subject matter.

But Venezuela is not Pakistan. In fact, it’s not Florida or Ohio either. One reason that Chavez could be confident of the vote count is that Venezuela has a very secure voting system. This is very different from the United States, where millions of citizens cast electronic votes with no paper record. Venezuelan voters mark their choice on a touch-screen machine, which then records the vote and prints out a paper receipt for the voter. The voter then deposits the vote in a ballot box. An extremely large random sample – about 54 percent – of the paper ballots are counted and compared with the electronic tally.

If the two counts match, then that is a pretty solid guarantee against electronic fraud. Any such fraud would have to rig the machines and stuff the ballot boxes to match them – a trick that strains the imagination.

In 2007, Venezuelans once again came in second for all of Latin America in the percentage of citizens who are satisfied or very satisfied with their democracy, according to the prestigious Chilean polling firm Latinobarometro – 59 percent, far above the Latin American average of 37 percent.

It is not only the secure elections that are responsible for this result – it is also that the government has delivered on its promises to share the nation’s oil wealth with the poor and the majority. For most people – unlike the pundits here – voting for something and actually getting what you voted for are also an important part of democracy.

The Bush Administration has consistently sought regime change in Venezuela, even before Chavez began regularly denouncing “the Empire.” According to the U.S. State Department, Washington funded leaders and organizations involved in the coup which briefly overthrew Chavez’s democratically elected government in April 2002. The Washington Post reported this week that the Bush Administration has been funding unnamed student groups, presumably opposition, up to and including this year.

Venezuela must be seen as undemocratic, and Chavez as the aggressor against the United States, in order to justify the Bush Administration’s objective of regime change. As in the run-up to the Iraq war, most of the major media are advancing the Administration’s goals, regardless of the intentions of individual journalists.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago Press, 2000), and has written numerous research papers on economic policy. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.

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Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website, dgiVista.org.

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7 thoughts on “Why I’d Rather Cast a Ballot in Venezuela than Canada or the USA”

  1. And think how slimming it would be, what with severe food shortages in one of the richest countries in south america!

    But I’m afraid Human Rights Watch doesn’t share your enthusiasm.

    Neither does
    The Guardian
    . They rank Venezuela as the 18’th worst human rights offender in the world.

    Think I’ll stay home, thanks.

  2. you’re welcome.

    sure. point made. i was commenting largely on the electoral system. i know there are a myriad of problems in Venezuela. i also know they present some of the most effective response to American imperialism. for this, i share their zeal.

    and while Venezuela may be rich in South American standards, their GDP is $186 billion, somewhat lower than Canada’s $1.1 trillion with 80% of our population. i have greater expectations of Canada when it comes to food shortages. and i won’t even go into the still ongoing state of Venezuelan land reform.

  3. and the other thing hanging around in my head, but disappearing before i wrote this piece came back to me when i read it here:


    Chavez seeking an end to term limits is embracing the parliamentary tradition where a Canadian prime minister or premier can govern as long as the people please. and we don’t call that tyranny.

    though maybe we should. 🙂

  4. I appreciate the research that has been done about Venezuela over this article, but unfortunately, it is nowhere close to reality. As a Venezuelan citizen myself, I’ve seen countless scenes of injustice over the so called “Socialism of the 21st century” (a more sophisticated term Chavez uses to justify his dictatorial/Cuban communist form of government). Needless to say, this South American nation has never been managed so poorly since the beginnings of contemporary Venezuelan history – even with the outrageous amounts of petrodollars it has received from one of the biggest oil bonanzas this world has ever seen! – Sadly, all of this money has been WASTED in funding tyranny, corruption, terrorism, and promoting false ideas about “socialism.” (This, again, is more like Castro-communism… an absolute failure!)
    Once more, I appreciate the time that has been taken to write this article (and I really mean it because I do respect people that mind about global issues other than America’s alone) but no one who’s ever been or lived in Venezuela would ever agree with this… unless who’ve been bribed by the government (sadly, the root of sustainability for Chavez’ mediocre administration). Venezuela does not have a trustworthy electoral system (and I can give you over 100 reasons why) and I am confident to say that President Hugo Chavez is running the worst administration Venezuela’s ever had since democracy was implanted in this country…no doubt about it!

  5. well you lost me at “false ideas about ‘socialism'”.

    does that mean his ideas aren’t really socialism or that socialism is a false idea. 🙂

    i spent almost no time writing the article actually. weisbrot did most of it.

    and being a canadian i care about non-american things too.

    “no one…would ever agree with this” seems a little hard to prove.

    please do tell me 3 or 100 reasons why their electoral system can’t’ be trusted. i’d like to hear that kind of thing, not just a reference to the existence of that kind of thing.

  6. Hugo Chavez doesn’t know what Socialism is…he uses the word “socialism” because he doesn’t have the guts to call himself a dictator. He’s a communist (just think about it, he’s very open about his close relationship with Fidel Castro – enough said!) Otherwise he would have been overthrown a long time ago! I’m not opposed to socialism; I just think that Chavez is trying to impose an obsolete system. The one reason why gets so much attention from the media is because he’s got all control over the government’s money…not because of his “brilliant” ideas…

    3 out of the “100” reasons why Venezuela DOES NOT have a trustworthy electoral system:

    1) Check out the most recent news – he (Chavez) is working with the Congress to throw another referendum so he can be re-elected again for who knows how many more years…now you may say: “that sure is democracy, everyone gets to decide on a referendum again…and again, and again, and again…what a great system!” NO! Why are we voting then if the next month we’re going to have another referendum on the same issue?? Think about it…

    2) Because of technology, we can watch how elections carry over in a very pacific and “democratic” way – but what you don’t get to see is the thousands of people that are threaten EVERY YEAR to lose their jobs if they don’t vote for Chavez’ policies, people that are physically hurt and abused during election day by his so called “Circulos Bolivarianos”, and the abuse and threats go on and on….I KNOW this because unfortunately my family has been victim of this type of abuse. Seriously, you have no idea how enjoyable is to cast a ballot in Venezuela!

    3) You’re right, Chavez congratulated voters after he lost his last referendum…what you didn’t mention is that a week later he said that the same elections were “Unas elecciones de mierda” which in English means (and sorry about the word): “Shit elections”…yes, these words came out of Chavez’ mouth on national TV…and this is the same guy who claims to have a great electoral system…please! And if you meet the people that are in charge of creating this electoral system, they breathe and live whatever Chavez says…trust me; have you ever been to Venezuela? People would even sell their morals and values for a bribe…sad, but truth.
    Last but not least – You’re right about my statement of “no one…would ever agree with this.” There are some that still agree with this current government (or your article), but do you really want me to tell you who agrees with this? These are the people that don’t care about their country but for their personal wealth – they now have their best life ever…most are undertrained but overpaid by the government. Seriously, they are living the dream, they have zero education/experience and they get to run the country…woo hoo! I’m not lying, check out most of Chavez politicians resumes before Chavez was in power…they were nobodies…

    The other half that would agree with your statement are those that have nothing to lose – they can care less whether the economy is good or bad…they will always be poorer and poorer regardless…so why not vote Chavez? He will make the rich and middle class poor too and we will all be the same!!

    Man, I sure do love voting in Venezuela…

  7. If you have anything to counter what Weisbrot wrote about the stability of the voting machines compared to how the Americans “run” their elections, I’d like to hear that. By trustworthy electoral system, I was talking about the system of actually voting, not the socio-political context.

    I’d also like to hear whether you think Venezuelans responding to the Latinobarometro were under duress.

    I’d also like to hear whether you can credibly counter Weisbrot’s accusations about the nature of reporting in the corporate media in Venezuela.

    I’d also like to hear if you have any objections to the US role in the 2002 coup.

    And I’d like to hear whether you see no gains to Venezuelans from a new constitution, and improved land reform, education, health care and more equitable distribution of oil revenues to fund these things.

    And I’d like to know what you think of ALBA and Chavez’s crippling of the IMF by buying other nations’ debt from that neoliberal scoundrel.

    Beyond all those things, I have nothing to counter intimidation or corruption stories, etc. I do know that though lots of what I read about those things comes from a rabidly anti-Chavez corporate media, I won’t go so far as to argue that it doesn’t exist.

    One thing I get from Venezuela in the last decade has been its progressive trade and monetary policies and social reforms.

    And finally how many referenda have been held since last December, anyway? It sounds from your comment like they’re a monthly occurrence.

    Quite honestly, in the world’s parliamentary systems, a prime minister can rule for decades by continuing to have their party win sufficient seats in the House of Commons in elections. In fact, in BC, we had a premier rule straight from 1952 to 1972, uninterrupted, in one of the most economically and socially stable times of our history, despite the fact that I don’t agree with all his policies.

    We also had a prime minister rule for 15 years of 16 years from 1968 to 1984. No one is accusing parlimentary systems of dictatorships [for that reason anyway]. So I think lots of people fear no leader term limit as necessarily dictatorial. The dozens of parliamentary systems oppose that fear.

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