Dr. Fraser- Point of View
August 20, 2004
Venezuela and Haiti

The people of Venezuela seemed to have given a solid vote of confidence to President Chavez.
Despite the nod of approval by the Carter Center and the Organisation of American States, the Opposition is crying foul and promises to produce evidence about massive fraud. This is left to be seen, for it might very well be that they believed their own propaganda. {{more}} It has to be remembered that those mostly behind the efforts to recall President Chavez were members of the Venezuelan elite and the middle class that have always been opposing policies directed at the upliftment of the poor in Venezuela. Seventy-seven per cent of the farmland in that country is owned by three per cent of the population so that land reform policies, for one, did not go down favourably with that sector of the population that had traditionally dominated politics in that South American country.
Our version of developments in Venezuela has largely come from the American mainstream media, and the Venezuelan media that have been behind the efforts to unseat Chavez. It is for this reason that many of us would have been shocked by the results, having been led to believe otherwise. Unless the Opposition could live up to its promise to produce evidence of massive fraud we are left to go along with the clean bill of slate given by the election observers. When Chavez claimed victory, 95 per cent of the ballots had already been counted and he had secured 58 per cent of the votes, about five million. The Opposition on the other hand had 42 per cent or 3.6 million, actually less than the 3.8 million signatures they claimed to have had in their efforts to recall Chavez. With those differences in numbers the government would have really had to commit a gigantic fraud to have won the referendum. As I write, the situation is still unfolding, for while the Opposition leaders were prepared to call their supporters on to the streets to protest the results, the verdict delivered by Carter and the OAS would have put some damper on it. The OAS General Secretary had stated clearly that, “We have not found an element of fraud in the process.” Former president of the United States of America and head of the Carter Center, Jimmy Carter, responded too by saying that, “Allegations of fraud are completely unwarranted.”
Chavez, of course, was elated and had some words for the United States of America. “The ball has landed in the centre of the White House,” he argued. “Let’s hope that the victory permits the government of the U.S. to respect the government and people of Venezuela.” Venezuela is the fifth largest exporter of oil and the third largest supplier of crude to the United States of America, after Canada and Mexico. It is not surprising that the policies of the Venezuelan government have drawn the ire of the Bush government and there is little doubt, in fact there is evidence to show the involvement of that government in the campaign to have the democratically elected government recalled. Chavez was first elected in 1998 and then in 2000 under a new constitution. The American government would impose a government as it did in Haiti and give it all the recognition it can but at the same time try to sabotage a duly elected government. What hypocrisy?
What stood out in last Sunday’s referendum was the number of poor people who turned out to give support to a president whom they claimed has been working on their behalf. One in three persons in Venezuela lives in poverty and there is no doubt that Chavez’s presidency had begun to impact positively on these people, hence the reason they turned out in large numbers to block efforts at recall. Among other things, free education is provided for children from the shanty towns and 13,000 Cuban doctors working in Venezuela are making a difference to the lives of the rural poor. Add to this the efforts at land reform and one can understand the dynamics operating in Venezuela. Journalists who had visited Venezuela to witness the referendum have reported stories of poor Venezuelans who described with enthusiasm how their life had been and is being changed. Of course additional sums of money brought in from the raising of oil royalties would have helped that effort.
As we move from Venezuela to Haiti we see the other side of the story. An interim government under Gerard Latortue was installed in power through American dictates on February 29, following the ouster of President Aristide. CARICOM at that time took a strong position on the situation in Haiti, not willing to recognize that government and calling for an investigation into the ouster of Aristide. We have recently been seeing a bit of backpedaling by some leaders, largely, I believe, because of American pressure. A delegation of foreign ministers that visited Haiti recently seemed to be suggesting a different approach, one of engagement in Haiti. CARICOM had in July in Grenada outlined conditions that had to be met by the interim government before it would consider doing business with them. CARICOM members had been given until August 16 to respond to the position that was formulated by the group that visited Haiti. The position that appears to have been taken by that group was that Gerard Latortue had responded positively to the CARICOM initiative and that it was time to move forward and work with the interim government.
This appears to be causing some uneasy moments for the Caribbean community, with St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Guyana opposed to any change in the position arrived at in July. Barbados stands behind the new position and is even prepared to go it alone. Let us not forget, if my memory serves me correctly, that the foreign minister of Barbados was the leader of that delegation. Disagreements within CARICOM are healthy signs, for that is the essence of democratic governance, but what can spell disaster is if the region backs away from its principled position. The question is, are there clear signs of the country putting in place mechanisms to meet CARICOM’s conditions? Because, to bring Haiti firmly back into the Caribbean family grouping without such evidence is to sanction a dangerous precedent, allowing, as many believe, the Americans to remove a President and then to install one of their liking. This also needs to be firmly established through an investigation of the circumstances of Aristide’s removal as CARICOM had been calling for. At stake is CARICOM’s credibility. At least, in Venezuela the referendum held last Sunday is as democratic as one can get. Do we believe in democracy or not? Let us be guided by this. Let us follow our own instincts and not be dictated too. In the real world that is a tall order but then we have to decide what manner of human kind we are.