Spinning Chávez

Hugh O'Shaughnessy argues the West's media and politicians will continue to try to undermine Hugo Ch

On Sunday 2 December 16 million Venezuelans vote in a referendum: all the signs are that they will approve constitutional reforms proposed by President Hugo Chávez.

Popular as ever for having put a big dent in the shocking gap between rich and poor in an oil-rich country, he wants a chance to bury 19th century Leninist shibboleths, strengthen already rumbustious local democracy and stand for election again.

It is very likely that the electors will give Chávez what he wants: it is certain that spinners in Washington, London and elsewhere will do their best to pull the process to pieces.

The spinners blench at the idea that US nationalism could be challenged by nationalism of some South American. Nor can they abide the feeling that Chávez’s star is waxing, despite his injudicious outbursts.

At the same time the feeling that the US star is waning - consequent on a floundering Wall Street and a foundering dollar, George Bush’s military defeats in the Third World, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and a global kidnapping scheme – cannot be contemplated.

Now those who have fawned on Saudi Arabian kings, indulged the Israelis’ atom bomb and their criminal mistreatment of Palestinians, and quietly backed every Latin American dictator from Somoza and Pinochet to the Argentine and Brazilian generals will attempt to portray the Venezuelan leader as anti-democratic.

They will also try to bury the European Commission’s high praise for last year’s presidential elections in Venezuela - "the high turnout, and peaceful atmosphere in which they were held, together with the acceptance of results by all those involved".

Chávez won that poll having in 2002 had to fight his way out of a brief coup by a dim but authoritarian businessman.

The stage is set for the undermining of Chávez. On 19 November BBC2’s This World screened 'The Trillion Dollar Revolutionary', programme which would never have been permitted about, say, Begin or Olmert.

Its combination of culpable ignorance and sneering superciliousness produced what must be the worst “documentary” of the decade.

With slightly more sophistication, Chatham House four days earlier had staged a conference on fighting social inequality in Latin America aided by the Foreign Office and DIFID and funded by the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank.

Toe-curlingly, it was inaugurated by Shaheed Malik, a junior minister at DIFID, who contented himself with sad little jokes about Lancashire and Yorkshire but, to the relief of all, soon rushed off.

Despite the fact that Chávez has distinguished himself in the fight for a fairer society the day included no speakers from Venezuela and attempted to avoid any reference to that country. It refused to accept the words last month of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America which commented: "Thanks to rapid GDP growth and the ongoing implementation of broad social programmes, in 2006 alone the poverty rate was lowered from 37.1% to 30.2% and the indigence [extreme poverty] rate from 15.9% to 9.9%." Venezuela was, the UN said, well on the way to reaching its first Millennium Development Goal.

Meanwhile at the top end The Economist, which has for long made money out of laughing at poor people, forms a plangent Greek chorus who forlornly hope that wicked Venezuela’s oil, the country’s prop, will run out or the price collapse. But with Venezuela’s growing reserves the magazine’s writers might as well dream Osama bin Laden will become the next editor of Vogue.

With Chávez gaining strength, a spinner’s life in Britain is not a happy one.