The US establishment loves to hate on Hugo Chavez for his economic policies that favor the poor. Don’t get me wrong, Chavez was not perfect. But he overcame huge obstacles to reduce poverty in Venezuela. That’s no easy feat in Latin America as Naomi Klein demonstrates in the first half of “The Shock Doctrine”.

Following news of Chavez’s death this afternoon, the mainstream media wasted no time trashing him. I’ve already lost track of the number of times he’s been called a dictator, conspiracy theorist, tyrant and anti-American, among other things. In light of this slanderous coverage, here are aspects of Chavez’s leadership that you likely won’t hear in the mainstream press:

Venezuelan Elections were Fairer and Freer than the US

Though US elites often label Chavez a dictator, there is no question that he was democratically elected in elections monitored by Jimmy Carter. The same can’t be said in America, where voter suppression and waiting hours in line to cast a ballot are the norm.

United States Linked to 2002 Coup Attempt

The mainstream media loves to paint Chavez as a conspiracy nut because of his repeated accusations that the US has tried to overthrow him. But is he wrong? Aside from the CIA’s sordid history of assassinating left-leaning Latin American leaders (again, check out “The Shock Doctrine”), Chavez had good reason to fear the United States, especially after finding out that the 2002 coup’d’etat attempt against him was backed by members of the Bush administration who happen to be some of the same people behind the overthrows and assassinations of the 1980s.

Media Outlet that Chavez ‘Censored’ was Instrumental in Coup Attempt

If  CNN conspired to overthrow the democratically elected President of the United States, there’s no doubt in my mind that they would be shut down and jailed for treason with little objection. Yet, when Chavez denied a license to Venezuela’s privately owned RCTV for their role in the 2002 coup, the US media framed it as Chavez censoring a media outlet that was merely critical of his politics, a talking point that is still employed today. (For more on this, read Fairness in Accuracy and Reporting’s coverage).

Redistributionist Policies Worked

As for his social policies, the media often lambasts Chavez for manipulating the poor with his charisma and handouts. They’re just pissed because he successfully reduced poverty ending corporate domination of the economy, particularly the oil industry. Here are some of the most important highlights laid out by nonpartisan and highly respected Center for Economic and Policy Research:

Among the highlights:

  • The current economic expansion began when the government got control over the national oil company in the first quarter of 2003. Since then, real (inflation-adjusted) GDP has nearly doubled, growing by 94.7 percent in 5.25 years, or 13.5 percent annually.
  • Most of this growth has been in the non-oil sector of the economy, and the private sector has grown faster than the public sector.
  • During the current economic expansion, the poverty rate has been cut by more than half, from 54 percent of households in the first half of 2003 to 26 percent at the end of 2008. Extreme poverty has fallen even more, by 72 percent. These poverty rates measure only cash income, and do not take into account increased access to health care or education.
  • Over the entire decade, the percentage of households in poverty has been reduced by 39 percent, and extreme poverty by more than half.
  • Inequality, as measured by the Gini index, has also fallen substantially. The index has fallen to 41 in 2008, from 48.1 in 2003 and 47 in 1999. This represents a large reduction in inequality.
  • Real (inflation-adjusted) social spending per person more than tripled from 1998-2006.
  • From 1998-2006, infant mortality has fallen by more than one-third. The number of primary care physicians in the public sector increased 12-fold from 1999-2007, providing health care to millions of Venezuelans who previously did not have access.
  • There have been substantial gains in education, especially higher education, where gross enrollment rates more than doubled from 1999-2000 to 2007-2008.
  • The labor market also improved substantially over the last decade, with unemployment dropping from 11.3 percent to 7.8 percent. During the current expansion it has fallen by more than half. Other labor market indicators also show substantial gains.
  • Over the past decade, the number of social security beneficiaries has more than doubled.
  • Over the decade, the government’s total public debt has fallen from 30.7 to 14.3 percent of GDP. The foreign public debt has fallen even more, from 25.6 to 9.8 percent of GDP.
  • Inflation is about where it was 10 years ago, ending the year at 31.4 percent. However it has been falling over the last half year (as measured by three-month averages) and is likely to continue declining this year in the face of strong deflationary pressures worldwide.

Update: I initially linked to a piece at the Boston Review showing Chavez was anti-semitic to demonstrate that he was flawed. It turns out that the piece was based on a Chavez quote edited by the right-wing media in 2006 to paint him as anti-semitic and the mainstream media eventually picked it up. Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting explains the timeline of events that led to the charge in a piece titled “Editing Chavez to Manufacture a Slur“.

I’m no expert on whether Chavez was anti-semitic or not but I’m hesitant to accuse him of bigotry if the only evidence is an edited quote and criticism of Israel and Zionism.