Yesterday, the people of Venezuela elected President Hugo Chávez Frías to a third presidential term. Chávez won 54% of the vote, while his challenger Henrique Capriles won 45% in presidential elections with an impressively high 81% voter turnout. In El Salvador, Chávez supporters gathered in Simon Bolivar Park to watch the results and celebrate the Venezuelan president’s victory.
Much of the world’s mainstream media has spread misinformation about the Venezuelan electoral process. In the lead-up to the elections, most news sources reported that the race was very close and that the opposition had a possibility of winning, despite the double-digit lead that most pollsters gave Chávez over his opponent. UK academics called out the media in an open letter, saying that “By misrepresenting the situation in the polls in this way the media risks inadvertently supporting a campaign from the more extreme sections of the Venezuelan opposition to try to claim that any defeat at next week’s elections is simply the result of fraud.”
Characterizations of Chávez in the mainstream media also tend to demonize him as a totalitarian dictator, despite the fact that the Venezuelan electoral process is, according to Jimmy Carter, “the best in the world.” You can read more about the misinformation surrounding Venezuelan democracy in Mark Weisbrot’s article “America Likes Democracy, Except for in Venezuela.”
House Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-R), a leading voice in anti-Chávez rhetoric, has already made the claim that the Venezuelan President manipulated election results even as Chávez’s challenger recognized the legitimacy of the results.
At the celebration in El Salvador, a member of the Salvadoran Network of Solidarity with Venezuela, Gustavo Acosta, called Chávez’s victory a victory for the people of El Salvador, listing off several cooperation projects organized between Chávez’s government and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party, including:
- AlbaAlimentos: a program that provides loans to small-scale and family farmers to be paid back with a percentage of their crop yield; the food products are then sold to the Salvadoran public at prices lower than the market average.
- Operación Milagro, or Miracle Operation: a program that has brought more than 5,000 low income Salvadorans with vision problems to Venezuela for free eye operations.
- AlbaPetroleos: an initiative of FMLN mayors that imports subsidized Venezuelan petroleum products to El Salvador and sells them to the public at prices lower than the market average. Profits are then invested in municipal projects; over $4 million have been invested in infrastructure projects through AlbaPetroleos.
In addition to the concrete benefits it has provided to the Salvadoran people, the Chávez government is also a leader in what Salavadoran Vice-President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has called “the creation of new paradigms in South America” that is challenging the neoliberal status quo and US hegemony in the region.
Threatened, the US government and mainstream media are quick to characterize the Chávez administration as authoritarian. But the Salvadorans celebrating on Sunday night knew that Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution is proving that socialist economic models and sovereign governance can provide better solutions to poverty and inequality than the neoliberal economic policies pushed by the US government.