John Pilger's website announces:
The War on Democracy, John Pilger's first feature documentary, will go to air on ITV1 on Monday, August 20 at 11pm. In recognition of the film's significance, ITV will screen the film its entirety with only one commercial break.
Unfortunately it doesn't tell you when the commercial break is scheduled. You might use the time, though, to read a good letter in today's Guardian from Alan Angell, a lecturer in Latin American politics at St Antony's College, Oxford:
John Pilger's comparison between Chile under Allende and Venezuela under Chávez (The old Iran-Contra death squad, August 17) is absurd. To start with, Allende never had control over the military. Chávez commands the complete support of the military and increasingly relies on it to administer his government. The opposition to Allende was ruthless, organised and effective - none of which applies to the opposition to Chávez. US support for the opposition is modest compared with its efforts to bring down Allende. Hardly surprising considering that Venezuela now exports more oil to the US than Saudi Arabia.
Pilger should look at data as well as talk to people in the barrios. Poverty - despite high oil prices - is still over 30%. Inflation is in double figures, effectively a tax on the poor, and income inequality has worsened significantly under Chávez. Pilger may applaud his opposition to Bush, and who is to disagree? But why not also condemn Chávez's relations with dictatorships as brutal as those of Syria and Belarus?
The system before Chávez was corrupt, elitist and inept. But surely we need to judge Chávez not only by how much he is handing out to the poor but by how far he is constructing democratic institutions. The regime has a poor record in establishing institutions which curb the abuse of executive power - such as an independent judiciary, a congress with real power, an independent central bank, an opposition able to act without fear of intimidation and a welfare system based on entitlement not discretion. It is a caricature to imply that all those who criticise Chávez are supporters of the old Iran-Contra death squads.
On Chávez's visit to London a little over a year ago, I wrote this short piece for The Times:
A MONTH after likening the massacre at Tiananmen Square to the poll tax riot, Ken Livingstone has ventured another judgment on international politics: Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela, is “a beacon of democracy and social progress in the Latin America”.
You might have explained Mr Livingstone’s comments in China as misplaced ingratiation of politicians of commercial importance to London. But the mayor genuinely enthuses for Señor Chávez, who was guest of honour at a lunch at City Hall yesterday. Yet Mr Livingstone clearly had scant grasp of whom he was dealing with, or the difference between a democratic politician and a thuggish bigmouth.
In a risible “note to editors”, City Hall lists Señor Chávez’s election victories since 1998, while contriving not to mention his attempted military coup in 1992. “Chávez’s visit has been met with absurd claims from right-wing activists that he is some kind of dictator,” Livingstone fulminates. Chávez is not a dictator, but he is an authoritarian populist who has arrogated power to the office of president, hamstrung the judiciary, bypassed parliamentary government, curbed political rights and lauded Robert Mugabe.
Among the nefarious right-wingers whom Livingstone castigates are, presumably, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. “By broadening laws that punish disrespect for government authorities, the Venezuelan Government has flouted international human rights principles that protect free expression,” says HRW. In alleging that human rights campaigners are inciting turmoil, Señor Chávez has, says Amnesty, “exposed human rights defenders to serious dangers”.
More surprising is Mr Livingstone’s veneration for a supposedly radical president who speedily adopted orthodox austerity measures on coming to power. These contributed to steep recession despite a windfall of a rise in oil prices from mid-1999.
The adversary culture that recoils from its own society and transfers its yearnings to far-away continents is always with us, and rarely learns from its disappointments. President Chávez’s regional significance is likely to be ephemeral. But as a symbiosis of blustering demagogue and credulous venerator, the performance of President and Mayor is depressingly familiar.