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100 Good Reasons Not to Believe Venezuela's Chavez

By Francisco Toro

One of the most difficult points to put across to foreign readers, especially those who may be inclined to sympathize with a leftwing regime in a poor country, is the consistently, systematically, unabashedly deceptive nature of the Chavez regime. It's not that regime leaders lie now and then about this or that, it's that lying is their default mode, standard operating procedure, on most issues most of the time. This list contains just 100 particularly public and blatant lies - but comes very far from exhausting the possibilities. In a proper democracy, any one of these lies would have set off a major scandal, and any two or three of them together might set off a constitutional crisis. In Venezuela, they're so common, they barely make the headlines anymore.

Since 1998, the regime has:

1. Lied about illegal funding during the 1998 election campaign: President Chavez took $1.5 million in illegal campaign contributions from Spain's Banco Bilbao Viscaya and lied about it. The contributions were only discovered due to a judicial investigation by judge Baltazar Garzon in Spain. No investigation was carried out in Venezuela before, during, or after the Spanish inquiry.

2. Lied about Bolivar's teachings: President Chavez has consistently portrayed Bolivar - Venezuela's 19th century national - as a proto-Marxist. Scholars agree that Bolivar was no such thing - he was a 19th century style liberal.

3. Lied about the legality of the June 1999 referendum: President Chavez claimed to have the legal authority to convene a referendum on whether to call a constituent assembly to write a new constitution. The legal framework in force at the time contained no such provision.

4. Lied about the missing payments to FIEM: The government has lied systematically over a period of years over the funding of the Macroeconomic Stabilization Fund - FIEM - designed to even out oil revenues between high oil price years and low oil price years. In 2001, payments worth $2 billion dollars earmarked for the fund simply disappeared.

5. Lied about the corruption in Plan Bolivar: The regime has consistently dismissed allegations of corruption at the military social-cooperation plan, despite bank security camera photos that show soldiers depositing Plan Bolivar checks into personal accounts. Such evidence incriminates, among many others, General Jorge Garcia Carneiro, who instead of being charged and tried was promoted to "three-sun General" (equivalent to 5-stars in the US) and appointed Defense Minister.

6. Lied about the effectiveness and sustainability of the exchange rate bands: The regime said repeatedly the 1996-2002 exchange bands would stamp out inflation. Every independent economist in town knew it would merely store it up for later, and said so. The regime accused its critics of being unpatriotic. In 2002, the exchange bands collapsed and inflation shot up to the highest mark in Latin America today, precisely as critics had said.

7. Lied about the reasons behind capital flight: Ministers have questioned the patriotism of those shielding their savings in dollars instead of accepting the economic rationality that drove them (correctly) to do so. In 1998, a dollar was worth 500 bolivars. By the end of 2003, it was closer to 3000.

8. Lied about reducing official perks: President Chavez initially made a major populist show, selling off PDVSA's corporate jet fleet in its entirety. Soon, though, he turned around and bought an $85 million luxury Airbus A319 for presidential use, among many other examples.

9. Lied about Oil-to-Cuba: President Chavez approved an oil supply deal for Fidel Castro's regime on concessionary terms. Despite the advantageous terms, the Cubans have fallen behind on their payments, but the government has refused to cut off supplies, as it would do to any other customer who didn't pay up. The government also denied it needed congressional approval for the treaty, which contravenes the Venezuelan constitution.

10. Lied about the sustainability of the domestic debt: The government presented its strategy to borrow money only in local currency as a coup for economic nationalism. Critics who called the strategy unsustainable were derided or ignored. This year, drowning in red ink, the government unveiled a plan to switch its bolivar debts for dollar-denominated bonds - without ever accepting responsibility for the original, catastrophically costly policy.

11. Lied about the Orinoco-Apure Axis: Chavez pledged repeatedly to revitalize the south of the country and move millions of northern urban dwellers to the savannahs. The messianic plan was highly impracticable and was never implemented.

12. Lied about the CTV election results: The president refused to accept the results of the CNE-supervised elections in 2000 that left CTV in the hands of the opposition.

13. Lied about Montesinos: Insisting that the ex-Fujimori Spy Chief was not in Venezuela in 2001 only for him to be eventually found in Caracas in very strange circumstances,

14. Lied about Ballestas: Denying they had helped this Colombian guerrilla airliner hijacker only to have him turn up in Venezuela as well, and under odd circumstances.

15. Lied about Decree 1011: Denying the extreme discretionary authority granted to Itinerant school inspectors by the infamous education ministry decree that launched the civilian opposition movement.

16. Lied about the 49 decree-laws: The government claimed to have carried out consultations that never occurred before redrawing the entire juridical map of Venezuela singlehandedly with a package of 49 decrees handed down unilaterally on November 13th, 2001.

17. Lied about the size of the opposition: Government spokesmen systematically dismiss the opposition as "four cats" even when hundreds of thousands took to the streets.

18. Lied about Plan Avila: Denying the repressive nature of the military contingency plan Chavez attempted to implement on April 11, 2002, which was later revealed by a number of dissident army officers including the General in charge of applying the plan.

19. Lied about the violence on April 11th, 2002: Pinning 100% of the blame on the opposition despite overwhelming, repeatedly confirmed evidence that government activists handed out arms to civilian supporters on the day and many of those civilians used the guns.

20. Lied about Lucas Rincon's request for a presidential resignation "la cual acepto:" At around 1:00 am on April 12th, the highest ranking member of the armed forces went on every TV channel and radio station in the country to announce to the nation that President Chavez had resigned. The government would later claim, incongruously, that the opposition simply made up the story of a resignation.

21. Lied about the US role on April 12th: The government fabricated ties between the CIA and the short-lived Carmona regime. They ignored evidence that US Ambassador Charles Shapiro leaned on Carmona to recompose the national assembly late on the 12th.

22. Lied about the numbers on the street on April 13th: Talking to foreign reporters, President Chavez once claimed that SEVEN MILLION of his supporters took to the streets demanding his return to power on April 13th, when eye-witnesses (including yours truly) saw only a few thousand protesters outside Fuerte Tiuna that day, and a BBC documentary reported seeing no more than three or four blocks full of Chavez supporters outside Miraflores on his return.

23. Lied about governing inclusevely on April 14th: Promised to "rectify" and listen to all points of view, but quickly reverted to authoritarian mode.

24. Lied about the poverty rate: Redefining "poverty" in official statistics to exclude any measure of income, thereby giving the false impression of a dramatic fall in poverty,

25. Lied about Fe y Alegria: Attacking the Jesuit school charity that has educated hundreds of thousands of poor Venezuelans as an elitist anachronism.

26. Lied about educating 20,000 University students at the Helicoide: As part of an illusory bolivarian university, lied in saying the DISIP headquarters could imaginably accomodate that many students.

27. Lied about using military facilities and equipment for political purposes: Denying the well known use of military barracks to house, overnight, chavista supporters bussed in from the interior to attend pro-government rallies, among a number of other abuses.

28. Lied about paying people to turn up at pro-government rallies: Continues to deny stories of "viaticos" for marchers despite mountains of corroboration.

29. Lied about solving the housing crisis: Continues to tout the 30-40,000 houses per year it is building as the solution to the housing crisis despite the demographic need for new housing standing at over 100,000 new units per year.

30. Lied about arming and training civilian militias: Denies the existence of paramilitary training camps for civilian supporters despite evidence to the contrary.

31. Lied about police death squads: The government continues to do nothing about the proliferation of police death squads in the country and still accepts "shootout with the police" as a normal cause for death on police reports. This despite growing evidence that this tag is used by death squads after murdering "undesirables."

32. Lied about helping street children: Pledged to put the needs of homeless children at the top of the agenda and proceeded to ignore them for five years. "I will give up my name if within one year there are still street children in Venezuela," said Chavez way back in 1999.

33. Lied about prison conditions: The government cynically takes credit about the fall in prison crowding, despite the fact that this fall was due to the adoption of COPP, the new criminal procedure law, approved in 1998 by the previous administration. Also, the government continues to dismiss serious human rights abuses pointed out by independent NGOs like the Observatorio de Prisiones.

34. Lied about distributing the situado constitutional to the states equitably: Denied partisanship in handing out the constitutionally mandated financial transfers to state governments, despite evident bias that has caused major financial distress in most opposition-led states and led to late payments to state government employed teachers, nurses, etc.

35. Lied about the viability of urban farming: Sold "urban hydroponic farming" as a viable solution to urban hunger.

36. Lied about plots to kill the president: Presented crudely fabricated "evidence" of a series of plots to kill Chavez, including an incongruous plot to shoot down a flying airplane using an anti-tank rocket.

37. Lied about the Autopista Regional del Centro shootings: Failed to take action against people shooting on opposition protesters traveling to a march in Caracas on October 10th, 2002, despite having a National Guard Post less than a kilometer down the road. Failed to prosecute the perpetrators.

38. Lied about the Charallave shootings: Failed to punish the culprits of the shooting into an opposition march that left one dead and 21 injured in Charallave on January 21, 2003. No one was convicted despite the existence of video evidence of the crime.

39. Lied about carrying out fair police investigations on these and other crimes. Took reprisals against CICPC investigators who showed excessive zeal in investigating the misdeeds of Chavez-sympathizers, redeploying offending investigators to hardship posts in the hinterlands of Apure and Amazonas. Systematically worked to ensure the impunity of the guilty.

40. Lied about the Paro Nacional: Blamed the opposition for the strike despite, by Chavez's own admission, having worked consciously through a so-called Plan Colina to push the opposition into a paro.

41. Lied about what happened in the old PDVSA: Claiming inefficiencies not borne out by the facts and based on systematic misrepresentation of the evidence.

42. Lied about what happens in the new PDVSA: Glossing over the fragmentation, technical discombobulation and rising per-barrel costs at the corporation.

43. Lied about its oil production figures: Consistently claiming more exports than it was shipping.

44. Lied about Venezuela's impact on world oil prices: Overstating OPEC's influence over prices and ignoring dynamic effects of cartel pricing on market shares.

45. Lied about the sources of pollution in Lake Maracaibo: Blaming it all on the old-PDVSA instead of doing something to improve Maracaibo's ecocidal sewage system.

46. Lied about Intesa: Claiming PDVSA's IT subsidiary had CIA ties but offering no evidence.

47. Lied about Intevep: Idiotically denying PDVSA's R&D department added to the corporation's profitability.

48. Lied about Citgo: Misrepresenting PDVSA's US subsidiary's role in distributing Venezuelan oil abroad.

49. Lied about selling Ruhr Oel/Alpha Group: Working to sell PDVSA's German subsidiary in secret, without parliamentary debate, to a Russian company with well-known roots in organized crime.

50. Lied about the Plataforma Deltana Gas Fields: Claiming they would raise $1 billion dollars by tendering its offshore Natural Gas fields, only raising some $30 million, then calling the entire exercise a smashing revolutionary success.

51. Lied about Yucal-Placer Gas Field: Attempting to auction off 11 exploration blocks for land-based natural gas, but attracting bids for only six and seeing only one - Yucal Placer - briefly go into production only to be shut down by PPT-led labor disruptions, and then calling the entire exercise a smashing revolutionary success.

52. Lied about the Free Market Petroleum deal: Attempting to sell oil in contravention of the Hydrocarbons' Law to a shady, unheard of US oil company with rumored ties to the Russian mafia and documented ties to right wing US politician Jack Kemp.

53. Lied about the Las Cristinas gold mine: Promising local people hundreds of jobs that never materialized after illegally expropriating one Canadian mining company to favor another Canadian mining company in the complex saga of Venezuela's largest gold mine, in Bolivar State.

54. Lied about school-enrollment figures: Claiming a million new students enrolled when the Education Ministry's own figures show just shy of 300,000 entrants per year - somewhat, but not much, above the rate of growth of the school-age population.

55. Lied about enrolling in 500,000 additional students in the Universidad Bolivariana in one year through "Mision Sucre": Incongruously pledging to raise total enrollment by about 75% in one year by using in office space that was once used for just 20,000 employees, and having no staff, organizational ability or capacity to implement the policy.

56. Lied about imitating Vicente Emparan: Chavez pledged to emulate Venezuela's Colonial-era governor recognized by stepping down from power when asked to do so by the people. Instead, he has hung to power through arbitrary and illegal means.

57. Lied systematically in promising "employment plans": About once a year, the president promises, with great fanfare, to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs within months through a new "employment plan." No such jobs have ever materialized. The experience of past employment plans never seems to figure into the design of new ones.

58. Lied about the future of "El Camastron:" Pledging his old 70s era Boeing 707 (known as "El Camastron") to a variety of noble causes from a people's tourism company to a Caribbean integration airline.

59. Lied about La Casona: Pledging to turn the presidential residence into an abandoned children's home but never delivering.

60. Lied about Miraflores: Pledging to turn the presidential palace into a new university but, again, doing nothing.

61. Lied about La Carlota: Promising to turn the East Side Caracas military air base into an urban park designed by Fruto Vivas, never doing it.

62. Lied about La Guzmania: Pledging to turn over the presidential retreat into a project for disadvantage children, but - you guessed it - doing nothing.

63. Lied to the judges of the recent Romulo Gallegos Literary Prize at the Celarg: When Fernando Vallejo won last year, several of the judges, including Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Mata, made public statements complaining about not being paid the amount of money they were supposed to receive. The chavistas delayed and reduced the payments to the judges for this prize.

64. Lied about who owns VTV, the state TV broadcaster: Calling it "The Channel of All Venezuelans" while they block out altogether opposition views and transmit knowing propaganda for the bulk of the day, a situation made alarming because military cadets and recruits are banned from watching any other media.

65. Lied about who drinks the expensive whiskey in Venezuela: This is a fun one. The government constantly slammed the opposition for kicking back with expensive whiskey in fancy restaurants despite the unprecedented hike in sales of 18-year-old, super-expensive Johnny Walker Blue Label in Venezuela, mostly - according to distributors - for consumption by Chavez's military cronies.

66. Lied to the OAS, the Carter Center, the US, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Portugal, and Spain: In signing an agreement pledging to find a legal, constitutional and electoral solution to the crisis, then working singlemindedly to block that agreement.

67. Lied about the firmazo: Claiming a massive fraud without offering any proof.

68. Lied about the reafirmazo: Again claiming a massive fraud without offering any proof.

69. Lied about Sumate: Accusing them of orchestrating a massive fraud without offering any proof.

70. Lied about the integrity of Cesar Gaviria: Chavez questioned the honor of the head of OAS, Cesar Gaviria - one of the best respected diplomats in the hemisphere - because "he's been spending a lot of time with opposition activists."

71. Lied about the reconstruction of Vargas State: Pledging a huge reconstruction effort in this region devastated by mudslides in 1999, a pledge that is now years behind schedule.

72. Lied about the links with FARC/ELN: Continually denying links that have been documented by any number of journalists.

73. Lied about the "millardito": Saying the Central Bank refuses to hand over $1 billion worth of International Reserves to the government because they're evil, nasty, insensitive capitalists while knowing full well that the request is illegal.

74. Lied about the role of Cubans in the country: Failing to acknowledge that nearly all of the 10,000 Cubans sent to Venezuela over the last few years are communist party members and mocking the concerns of those who see an indoctrination plan behind the mass influx.

75. Lied about the Episcopal Conference: Accusing Venezuela's catholic bishops of only rejecting the government for selfish reasons and ignoring the Church's carefully worded, substantive criticisms of the government's autocratic tendencies.

76. Lied about corruption at Fondur, FUS, MEM and others: Failing to investigate numerous and well-documented allegations of corruption at the Urban Development Fund, the Unified Social Fund and the Ministry of Energy and Mines (among others.)

77. Lied about the number of Bolivarian schools it built: Claiming to have "created" over 3,000 Bolivarian schools when the vast majority are not newly built, but are simply existing schools turned "bolivarian by decree."

78. Lied about the sexual orientation of opposition leaders: Exploiting Venezuelans' homophobia to slur heterosexual opposition leaders who I won't name for obvious reasons. Also attacked the one openly gay National Assembly opposition member for his sexual orientation.

79. Lied about the the killings of Jovany Sosa, Evangelina Carrizo, Jorge Tortoza and countless others: Sticking by highly dubious police versions of events despite mountains of evidence pointing to a different story and failing to investigate credibly.

80. Lied about Venezuela's involvement in the coup against Sanchez de Lozada in Bolivia: Despite harshly accusing the US for meddling in Venezuelan events, turned right around and financed the Bolivian uprising that overthrew president Sanchez de Lozada.

81. Lied about the Policia Metropolitana's role in violence in Caracas: Systematically accused the opposition-led PM of starting incidents of urban violence in Caracas without ever offering specific evidence.

82. Lied about disarming pro-government urban guerrillas like the Tupamaros and the Carapaicas: Signed an agreement with the opposition, the OAS and the Carter Center pledging to disarm the civilian population, but made no attempt to implement it with regards to the most dangerous urban guerrilla groups in the country.

83. Lied about racism: Slurred its opponents as racist and sought to mobilize its supporters around racial categories despite the celebrated fluidity of race relations in Venezuela.

84. Lied about the impact of the "missions": Invented numbers about the effectiveness of its Cuban-led literacy drive.

85. Lied about the reliability of professional journalists: Mocked the reliability of reports written by professional journalists working for the private media reporting as eye-witnesses from the scene. Assured them that they had not seen what they had just seen. Specific examples of this brand of lie could fill up a book.

86. Lied about Carrasquero's impartiality: Congratulated CNE-head Francisco Carrasquero's decisions as admirable even as CNE openly violated article 72 of the constitution.

87. Lied about the planillas planas: Called signature-gathering forms with similar handwriting a "material error" of the administration, even though the bulk of both government and opposition witnesses at the reafirmazo had been left under the impression assisted signing was perfectly ok.

88. Lied about stopping reprisals against those who sign: Pledged not to allow reprisals against state employees who signed the reafirmazo. Proceeded to take reprisals against state employees who signed the reafirmazo.

89. Lied about the independence of the Fiscal: Appointed an "independent, non-partisan prosecutor general" who was just stepping down as Vicepresident of the Republic (as Chavez's number 2 man, in effect) and is unquestionably, openly, notoriously a hard-core chavista partisan. Lied systematically, in fact routinely, about the Fiscal's willingness to conduct investigations that may prove awkward for the government.

90. Lied about the integrity of the Ombudsman: Continued to praise by a Human Rights Ombudsman who has never, once, produced a serious investigation a single accusation of human rights abuses by the government.

91. Lied about the honesty of the Comptroller General: Stood-by a Comptroller General who has never, ever uncovered a single serious case of government corruption despite literally hundreds of well-documented cases.

92. Lied about the autonomy of the courts: Continued to pretend the courts are independent even as independent judges were fired summarily by the head of the chavista head of the Supreme Tribunal for making decisions the government doesn't like. Lied about the reasons for their dismissals.

93. Lied about Robert Mugabe's record: Singled out the Butcher of Zimbabwe for praise, calling him a "freedom fighter" and presenting him with the most symbolically charged gift possible in Venezuela, a replica of Bolivar's sword.

94. Lied about being committed to human rights: Loudly protested its commitment to human rights even as it fails catastrophically to investigate human rights abuses.

95. Lied about Pompeyo Marquez's character: Called Pompeyo a "tonto util" (useful fool) and charged him for standing by the killers of Alberto Lovera, both shameful slurs against one of the most universally respected leftwing leaders of the last 50 years.

96. Lied about Emiliano Chavez's existence: Claiming the signature under the name of "Emiliano Chavez" was fake and no such person existed. Emiliano Chavez stepped forward the following day and showed his cedula to reporters, which coincided with the cedula number President Chavez had announced.

97. Lied about the reasons for recusing independent supreme court justices on the Supreme Tribunal's Electoral Chamber: Attempted to meddle with the composition of the Electoral Chamber just before a key vote, showing once again its willingness to interfere with any state institution they can't control.

98. Lied about Chavez's ultimate political goals: Continued to proclaim themselves democratic even as they clearly moved towards autocracy.

99. Lied about the values, ideology, principles and intentions of all who question the supremo: Slurring them as escualidos, fascists, carmoniacos, oligarchs, reactionaries, puntofijistas, "stupidists", and a long list of accepting them as the legitimate representatives of the political views of millions and millions of Venezuelans.

100. Lied even about sovereignty resting on the people: Launching a political movement based on a radical, people-power ideology, but then illegally thwarting the people's sovereign right to convoke a recall referendum by collecting the signatures of 20% of the voters.

The government has lied, in fact, at just about every turn on just about every significant aspect of policy and politics for over five years. Like his idols Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe, Hugo Chavez seems to have realized that once you have enough control of the various branches of the state, truth-telling becomes superfluous, unnecessary. So please, don't believe the hype: if the Chavez government said it, it's almost certainly not true.

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