So Hugo Chavez, the left-wing president of Venezuela, has died, and the usual suspects are lining up to raise him and bury him. One of the arguments used against Chavez is that Venezuela under his presidency has been criticized by Amnesty International, and it is that which I would like to look at.
I would quite simply like to point readers in the direction of the Amnesty page on Venezuela and look through it for yourselves. Remember that Chavez came into power after the 1998 elections, gaining 56% of the vote, and after taking on the presidency on February 2nd 1999 had continued to win elections deemed ‘fair and free’ with a rising percentage of the vote.
Putting aside his government’s achievements in literacy, health and against poverty, if you compare the reports from Amnesty before and after the start of his presidency, there is a huge gap. Before Chavez, Amnesty reported on torture, ‘gross human rights violations’, ‘massacres’, in other words, violence on a massive scale with the consent of the then right-wing state. After Chavez, the reports are of individual police units – hangovers from the previous regime – engaging in violations of human rights. In other words, Chavez failed in the superhuman task of completely overturning a structural problem in the Venezuelan security apparatus overnight, which he had inherited from the years of right-wing dictatorship. What his policies did do was massively improve on Venezuela’s human rights record compared to the status quo that his right-wing critics launched a coup to restore.
So the idea that his record should be condemned on that score is nonsense. He was no perfect, immaculately conceived socialist messiah, but for the people of Venezuela, the working class and the peasantry, his government was a step in the right direction, if not a fully realized leap to socialism.