Alvaro Vargas Llosa is no stranger to those who know his writings and affilation with the conservative Center on Global Prosperity at the Independent Institute in Oakland, CA. Vargas Llosa is Director of the Center and in that role is a vocal champion of essentially the same predatory market-based policies, known not to work, that growing numbers of people around the world are resisting more than ever - especially in Peru-born Vargas Llosa's Latin America.
Vargas Llosa is clever enough to disguise his message to make his case in language sounding sensible but which, in fact, is the same old doctrine he disingenuously claims to be against: "failed domestic policies....dysfunctional national and international institutions....unjust terms of trade, and unfair capital flows." It sounds prudent until the mask comes off revealing his real agenda. He decries the notion of government-run efforts to end poverty and inequality and makes no pretense that the only solutions he thinks will work are the same kind of market-based ones that never do. He preaches the gospel of "the entrepreneurial spirit shown by millions of destitute people around the world (and the) success stories" of how they've risen from their impoverishment and prospered. If only he'd tell us where these millions are located and how can he explain the fact that poverty is increasing in most countries, and the dominant entrepreneurial class (the ones that fund his Center) are responsible for it.
In his September 25 article on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal (a venue where his views are always welcome), Vargas Llosa joins a growing chorus taking aim at Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. And does he ever in a piece of trash journalism titled Chavez's Inferno in which he begins by saying Hugo Chavez should have held up a copy of Dante's Divine Comedy (many of us read in college) at the UN instead of Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival. Vargas Llosa notes in the first part of Dante's work the Italian master takes his readers on a journey through the nine concentric circles of his Inferno representing various types of evil. Dante's description of the underworld, he says, "reads like a script of present-day Venezuela," and in one phrase Vargas Llosa destroys whatever credibility he claims to have. He then confirms it by taking his readers through each of Dante's nine circles consigning parts of Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution (and the Venezuelan President) to each of them without ever explaining the elements in it and how they've improved the lives of most Venezuelans. Vargas Llosa thus portrays a false picture of life in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez making him a likely candidate for a special place in one of the circles he takes us through.
He begins with the first circle for those who lack faith. This for Chavez, he falsely claims, is for the 80% of Venezuelans who lack food and can't afford a basic daily diet. He says it's because since Chavez took office in 1999, the poverty rate either rose (according to one report he cites) or held steady (in another) and in either case shows Chavez's policies don't work. Vargas Llosa conveniently twists the facts ignoring the humanitarian social programs under Chavez that provide low-cost food and cheap or free housing for the needy. He also says nothing about Venezuela's dismal history under the oligarchs he admires before Hugo Chavez became President and the vastly different performance record in the country afterward. If he did, he'd have had to have told readers that in the 28 years prior to Chavez's election under the corrupted corporatists, Venezuelan per capita income fell 35%. It was the worst decline in the region and one of the worst in the world.
The second level is for those unable to control their lust. For Chavez, says Vargas Llosa, it's for those "unable to control their homicidal instincts (because) His government has degraded social coexistence so much (there were) more homicides in Venezuela (during the Chavez years) than there have been deaths in any single armed conflict around the world in recent years." Is this man living on another planet? Readers need to pause for breathe to recover their senses after such an absurdity. Aside from the hundreds to thousands of monthly deaths in obvious places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, and the Congo where hot conflicts rage, just across the border in Colombia scores of people or more are being murdered or displaced monthly by President Alvaro Uribe's thuggish military enforcers (armed by the US) and paramilitary hired assassins in service to the corporate interests (getting similar help) plus the many other murders George Bush's favorite Latin American president is responsible for inside Venezuela which Vargas Llosa wants to blame on Hugo Chavez who's trying to stop them.
On to circle three which Dante has for gluttons who leave us with no food. Vargas Llosa says it's for Chavez's "corrupt authorities who leave Venezuelans with no wealth." Here he says nothing intelligible other than to mouth disconnected thoughts with no explanation and blame it on Plan Bolivar 2000 that was the first of the new Bolivarian social missions under which 40,000 Venezuelan soldiers were involved helping the country's poor unlike in the US where its military marauds to kill them around the world and does a good job of it. Under this Chavez plan, the Venezuelan military distributes food to the poor, assists in education and conducts mass-vaccinations. It also provides transportation for thousands of poor and sick people who can't afford the travel cost to get to where help is available. Vargas Llosa called this plan corrupt and also leveled a broadside against the state-owned oil company and all the social missions and their budgets he falsely claims are controlled "personally" by Hugo Chavez hidden from public view.
All that's true in this garbled paragraph is that corruption is systemic and a serious problem in Venezuela, but it's the result of rule by the oligarchs for decades who always stole from the people to enrich themselves. Vargas Llosa fails to explain Hugo Chavez has fought to change this system of privilege, has made important strides reducing it, but still has far to go to claim success. As for the social programs known as Misiones, the've been a huge success and the main reason Chavez is beloved by the great majority of his people. Since 1999, Hugo Chavez not only reduced poverty in Venezuela, he's greatly improved the living standards of his people from the non-cash benefits these programs provide. They include free quality health and dental care for all, free education to the highest level, housing assistance, subsidized food, land reform, job training, micro-credit and lots more. Vargas Llosa thinks these programs are a bad idea and ending them all would be good for the people. He prefers how things are done in the US under a system where people can have anything they want - as long as they can pay for it. Vargas Llosa is sinking lower into Dante's Inferno.
The fourth circle of the Inferno is for misers. "In Chavez's Inferno," that level is for "bureaucrats who claim to provide social services but use funds to pay people to attend rallies or bust up opposition gatherings." Vargas Llosa has a bad habit of inventing a single example from his strange imagination to make his claim while ignoring the vast amount of information that would refute it. He pays no attention to how the vital services Venezuelans now receive make all the difference in the world to them because they never had them before and wouldn't now if it weren't for Hugo Chavez. Vargas Llosa ignores this because if he explained it, his argument evaporates just like his credibility is doing.
Just one of many important improvements under Chavez is his education program. It's free to the highest level for all Venezuelans and virtually eliminated illiteracy in the country. Cuba under Fidel Castro, achieved the same success under his world-class educational system free for all Cubans. Compare that to the "free market" US economy Vargas Llosa champions where the US Department of Education reports about a 20% level of functional illiteracy and vast numbers more close to it. It's especially out of control in the inner cities where the rates are astronomically high according to reliable studies and important writings from authors and experts like Jonathan Kozol.
Look also at the state of health care delivery in the US where despite the huge expenditure of $2 trillion annually on it nearly 47 million people in the country have no health insurance and many millions more have too little. As a result, these people are denied the vital care they can't get when they need it most. In Hugo Chavez's Venezuela (and in Fidel Castro's Cuba) virtually everyone gets free high quality health care. Vargas Llosa is unimpressed by these kinds of government-run programs that work and undistubed by the "free market" ones that don't even exist or work poorly when they do.
Vargas Llosa also falsely claims there are political prisoners, including former officials, imprisoned because they spoke out against President Chavez. This is another outrageous lie as the opposition freely denounces Hugo Chavez daily including over the dominant corporate-run media where the criticism and vitriol are intense all the time. Try finding any of that in the US corporate media that love whatever George Bush does and suppress most all dissent against his policies and crimes. In contrast, there's a thriving free press in Venezuela because Hugo Chavez does nothing to curtail or suppress it other than to counter the oligarchs' lies and hostility with his own forceful responses and, above all else, by his extraordinary social programs and participatory democracy that speak loudly for themselves.
Dante places heretics in circle six. In Chavez's Venezuela, this level is for heretic journalists, says Vargas Llosa "who try to tell the truth." He doesn't explain these "heretics" work for the corporate-run media and are paid flacks for their failed policies most Venezuelans want no more of. He goes on to falsely claim Chavez tries to "gag" them, "withdraw radio and TV licenses (and) Government-controlled mobs called Bolivarian Circles, formed with the help of Cuban intelligence, harass journalists." With this kind of black propaganda, Vargas Llosa is heading for the depths of one of Dante's lowest circles (we've yet to get to) reserved for those the Italian master feels are the worst ones. The truth, as already stated and Vargas Llosa ignores, is that the dominant corporate-run media and journalists in their employ spew their vitriol daily against the Chavez government unobstructed.