At 58, Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, is dead. How am I supposed to feel about this man? As a citizen of the USA, I’m expected to hate him because of his extreme socialism, reforms that nationalized many industries including foreign-owned businesses and railings against, what he called, US imperialism.
When Chavez became Venezuela’s president in 1998, close to 60% of his nation’s people lived in poverty and 25% of them lived in extreme poverty. Now, 15 years later, only a little over a quarter of the country’s people are below the poverty line with less than 7% falling into the extreme range. In addition, he established free public education for citizens of all social status, providing grade school through doctorial level studies. To further improve quality of life, Chavez created a national health care system free to everyone. Increasing the standard of living for so many, in such a short period of time, is an amazing achievement.
Venezuela is blessed with having a valuable natural resource, oil. However, the vast majority of its people never benefited from this treasured commodity. The riches went to foreigners from other countries. To heal his impoverished nation, Chavez seized the oil industry within Venezuela’s borders and used the wealth for the good of the people. His nationalization of industry angered the US because we lost control of oil in this region.
In the US, we are taught to believe people like Hugo Chavez are bad because their political and economic agenda differs from ours. However, I’m finding it difficult to hate or think badly of a man – a politician – that fought so hard for the good of his people. I hope to someday witness a US politician that fights this hard for his constituency.
Unbridled capitalism has turned the abundance of choice into a lack of variety. When Henry Ford held the monopoly on ‘horseless buggies’ and as he adopted the assembly line in its infancy, he was quoted famously as saying that “Any customer can have any car painted any colour they want, as long as that colour is black!” Thus began the way of life we know today.
Despite this beginning of mass production taking shape, we were still a country of independence and unique subcultures. When I was a kid, my family would drive across the country to Wisconsin and back to California in our black Ford Galaxy 500. To my parents, three younger sisters and me, every gas station, food joint and motel was unique. Each state was different from the next. Soda pops were regional, as were toppings on national classics like burgers and hot dogs. Service stations reflected their locations with souvenirs, such as the Jackalope – native to Wyoming. We knew when we crossed a state line simply by looking around us.
“As a child, we frequently drove from the Bay Area north to GrassValleyalong Hwy 49. Auburn was a treat to stop in because of the rich gold-mining history displayed all throughout the town. My grandparents took us to a local café and candy shop. I was in my early twenties when I took my first solo trip along that drive. In just a few short years, the local SPD grocery chain had grown and now resembled every other chain store in the strip malls that now populated the once desolate highway. Ruby’s Gifts had moved and was no longer the charming store it once had been. The same fast-foods were now as readily available on every corner here as back home in suburbia. The lusciously quiet tree-lined drive was overrun with the very places I longed to escape from.” *
Thanks to the likes of Sam Walton and James Cash Penney, big box businesses have taken over the same routes, highways and countrysides that are laid out before my wife and I as we make the long trek on a cross-country roadtrip back home to Wisconsin. Where I once saw sloppy diners, roadside motels that had us peeking out the windows for Norman Bates, and “last chance stops” – now on our drive we see the bright, familiar lights of Walmart, Best Buy, fast food chains, Shells and Chevrons. In the entire state of Nebraska the only pizza we could find was the cardboard served at Pizza Hut.
We hear it all the time from Libertarians and Republicans: “No control or restrictions for the rich and big businesses! The free market gives us abundance and choice!” The problem with this is it gives advantages to people and entities that already have the edge. Big money wipes out unique products with cookie-cutter economies on an epic scale. Everything is a tired blur of a handful of logos from coast to coast. Few sights to see – even the truck stops have all been taken over by McDonald’s and Subway – gone are the all-night greasy spoons with grizzled old haulers hunched over their bowl of chili with a cracked, worn coffee cup glued to their dirty hands.
“If half the employed population spent $50 at local, independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion dollars nationwide. For every $100 spent in locally owned stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. If you spend that same amount at a national chain, only $43 stays local. Spend it online and none of it stays at home.” – The 3/50 Project.
While Americans have fought against socialism, we have in fact, through our capitalist greed, ended up with nothing more than the variety of a communist government store.
My previous two posts about a Chinese revolution quickly focused in on human rights infringements. As the world’s biggest country watched events unfold in the Middle East, journalists, activists, and other human rights defenders braced themselves for the inevitable crackdown. Radio Free Asia claims that a greater presence of security and surveillance are being observed as China approaches the approach of the 22nd anniversary. Increasing numbers of plain-clothes policemen (how plain-clothed are they if they are so easily identifiable?) not only around the square but in the suburbs surrounding Beijing.
Many people have been detained in recent months facing charges of “inciting subversion. One of the first activists who is clearly connected to trying to raise a “Jasmine Revolution” is Liang Haiyi. Inspired by the regime changes in Egypt and Tunisia, Liang has reposted information from dissident websites hosted outside China regarding plans to protest in China, and has been arrested for her efforts.
One of the people trying to help Liang is Wang Dan, the exiled leader of the 1989 Tiananmen student protests who along with Amnesty International is trying to help free her.
Wang Dan making his famous speech in 1989
China is one of the greatest nations in the history of civilization. I am not personally convinced that China must embrace democracy. There are many aspects of a one-party system that might be advantageous over our political system. But if China really believes in the principles it stands for, then it shouldn’t be afraid of a minority dissenting.
Throwing someone in jail is the action of a frightened oligarchy clinging to power. China deserves better leadership.