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Marc Cooper
Marc Cooper has reported on international and domestic American politics for dozens of publications, and is Senior Fellow for Border Justice at USC Annenberg?s Institute for Justice and Journalism. He is the author of several books, including a memoir about his time as translator for Chile's...








 
 

The Big Blowup Over Venezuela

(Page 3)

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The case for Chavez is passionately made, for example, by journalist Christian Parenti, writing in The Nation that the Venezuelan president’s claim to building a new society is being borne out:

What the government has done is spend billions on new social programs, $3.7 billion in the past year alone. As a result, 1.3 million people have learned to read, millions have received medical care and an estimated 35-40 percent of the population now shops at subsidized, government-owned supermarkets. Elementary school enrollment has increased by more than a million, as schools have started offering free food to students. The government has created several banks aimed at small businesses and cooperatives, redeployed part of the military to do public works and is building several new subway systems around the country. To boost agricultural production in a country that imports 80 percent of what it consumes, Chavez has created a land-reform program that rewards private farmers who increase productivity and punishes those who do not with the threat of confiscation. . . . 

Parenti and other pro-Chavez writers say they are most impressed by what they see as his push to have Venezuelans organize themselves from the bottom up. Again, Parenti:

The government has also structured many of its social programs in ways that force communities to organize. To gain title to barrio homes built on squatted land, people must band together as neighbors and form land committees. Likewise, many public works jobs require that people form cooperatives and then apply for a group contract. Cynics see these expanding networks of community organizations as nothing more than a clientelist electoral machine. Rank-and-file Chavistas call their movement “participatory democracy,” and the revolution’s intellectuals describe it as a long-term struggle against the cultural pathologies bred by all resource-rich economies—the famous “Dutch disease,” in which the oil-rich state is expected to dole out services to a disorganized and unproductive population.

But Chavez’s critics, like Venezuelan Aleksander Boyd, who says he identifies neither with the government nor its formal opponents, argues that Chavez has perilously concentrated all state power in his hands and—although elected—is hardly a democrat:

The courts, the National Assembly, the army, the police forces, the budget, the electoral council, mind you every single branch of power is ominously controlled by Chavez; who, where or how can we expect some sort of retribution or justice for misuse of power? In what sort of bargaining position are we in?

. . . My idea of politics is that every public servant has to be accountable regardless of hierarchy. Hugo Chavez is but an employee of Venezuela; he’s not the owner of the shop. 

Chavez’s mercurial personality, and what seems like an incipient personality cult, also unsettles many. He is prone to making weekend and weeknight television appearances in which, literally for hours, he will ramble on from subject to subject, sing songs and make sexually explicit wisecracks involving anyone from his wife to Condoleezza Rice. The up-close-and-personal profile of Chavez by veteran journalist Alma Guillermoprieto in recent editions of The New York Review of Books does little to dissipate the image of a leader fascinated with, if not drunk on, power.

The domestic political atmosphere created by Chavez (and often stoked by his opponents) certainly has a “revolutionary” feel to it, with all of the best and worst connotations. It’s not only about the poor being organized into “Bolivarian” institutions, but also about Chavez branding the entire opposition as “los escualidos”—the squalid, the weak. It’s a direct derivative of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro calling his universe of critics “gusanos” “escoria”—worms and scum.

While Venezuela’s recent human rights record has little if nothing in common with the tainted record of Cuba or, say, Pinochet’s Chile, there are, nevertheless, legitimate concerns by nonpartisan international observers. Amnesty International points to incidents of torture as well as “continuing reports of unlawful killings of criminal suspects by members of the police. Relatives and witnesses who reported such abuses were frequently threatened or attacked. No effective protection was granted to them despite calls by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for the authorities to do so.” The Amnesty report also accuses Chavez of deliberately exposing human rights workers to dangerous reprisals.

Likewise, Human Rights Watch has criticized Chavez for repressive press laws, including a measure that would impose jail upon those who publicly “disrespect” the president. 

The problem with Chavez, says liberal policy analyst Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, is that unlike the new breed of Latin American leftist leaders—such as Presidents Ricardo Lagos of Chile, Lula of Brazil, Kirchner of Argentina and Vasquez of Uruguay, who have long histories of fighting against authoritarian military rule and for democracy—the Venezuelan leader is a creature of the military. While these other leftist presidents “eschew any rhetoric or actions that elevate the armed forces beyond their legitimate role,” says Shifter, Chavez extends them excessive power:

Mr. Chavez presides over an evolving political system that concentrates power and is devoid of checks and balances. He relies chiefly on the armed forces to rule Venezuela. The Fifth Republic Movement, his own party, is a subordinate actor. An unprecedented number of active and retired officers occupy key positions throughout the Chavez administration. More than one-third of the country’s regional governments are in the hands of soldiers linked to Mr. Chavez. The armed forces have increasingly taken on development roles that most of Latin America’s democratic leaders insist be carried out by civilians. 

Other critics suggest that Chavez’s success is a temporary bubble inflated by high oil prices and that underneath his revolutionary rhetoric he is more of an old-fashioned populist buying constituencies with lavish handouts. Instead of spending gushes of petro-dollars for quick-hit benefit, they say, Chavez ought to be investing oil profits in long-term development projects. Otherwise, when and if oil prices fall, Chavez’s projects could collapse.

Latin American historian Kenneth Maxwell, a firm critic of American interventionism, warns that Chavez looks less like a Robin Hood and more like a strongman on the model of Argentina’s Juan Peron.  Like Chavez, Peron built broad popular support by standing up to foreign economic and political interests and positioning himself as a nationalist and populist. And though the poor, the unions and eventually much of the organized left rallied to his side, Peron saddled Argentina with a heavy legacy of failed promises and authoritarian rule.

Elections for Venezuela’s National Assembly, held on Dec. 4, consolidated Chavez’s domination of the government and opened the door to his extended rule. Citing fears that voting machines could register the identities and choices of individual balloters, the country’s major opposition parties all withdrew and boycotted the elections.

International observers from the Organization of American States and the European Union, however, called the elections broadly fair while noting some irregularities in the process and a lack of confidence in election officials. The EU observers noted that Chavez used government radio and TV as an “excessive resource” during the election campaign, while the OAS delegation noted unfair “political propaganda from high level public officials, including federal, state and municipal officials.” 

The results of the election bode poorly for Venezuelan democracy. Candidates allied to Chavez won all 167 seats in the Assembly, shutting out any opposition voice. Instead of the usual 55-60% turnout, only 25% of voters turned out, raising questions about the real level of Chavez’s popularity. The new legislative super-majority in the National Assembly, however, is now expected to put an end to a two-term limit on the six-year presidential term, allowing Chavez to run again in 2012 and hold power until least 2018.

Though the election marked the implosion of his opposition, Chavez was hardly gracious in his victory. He railed that the mild criticism of the electoral process from the OAS and the EU was nothing less than an “ambush,” part of an international plan to “destabilize” Venezuela. “These delegates, both from the OAS and the European Union, connived against the interests of the Venezuelan people and against Venezuelan democracy,” Chavez said in an address broadcast on state television.

Continued: Whither U.S. Policy?
Dig last updated on Dec. 14, 2005


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M Henri Day's avatar

By M Henri Day, May 17, 2010 at 7:56 am Link to this comment

Thanks, signature «call me Roy», for those fresh and never-before-told stories purporting to have something to do with Venezuela. Which one of those «two intellectuals» are you - or did someone else type your missives ?...

Henri

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By call me roy, May 16, 2010 at 3:14 pm Link to this comment

The seven miracles of Hugo’s Communist Authority:

1.There is no unemployment, yet nobody works.
2.Nobody works, yet the Grand Scheme is carried out.
3.The Grand Scheme is carried out, yet there is nothing to buy.
4.There is nothing to buy, yet there are lineups everywhere.
5.There are lineups everywhere, yet everyone has everything.
6.Everyone has everything yet everyone is dissatisfied.
7.Everyone is dissatisfied, yet everyone votes ‘Yes’.

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By call me roy, May 16, 2010 at 3:12 pm Link to this comment

A man saves up his Bolivar’s (Venezuelan currency) and is finally able to buy a car in Venezuela . After he pays his money the he is told he will have his car in three years. “Three years!” he asks “What month?” “August” “August? What day in August?” He asks “The Second of August” is the reply “Morning or Afternoon?” “Afternoon. Why do you need to know?” “The plumber is coming in the morning.”

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By call me roy, May 16, 2010 at 3:10 pm Link to this comment

Hugo decides to go out one day and see what it’s really like for the workers, so he puts on a disguise and sneaks out of the gold domed Capital building in Caracas. After a while he wanders into a cinema. When the film has finished, the Anthem plays and a huge picture of Hugo appears on the screen. Everyone stands up and begins singing, except Hugo, who smugly remains seated. A minute later a man behind him leans forwards and whispers in his ear: “Listen Comrade, we all feel exactly the same way you do, but trust me, it’s a lot safer if you just stand up.”

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By call me roy, May 16, 2010 at 3:09 pm Link to this comment

Why does the Venezuelan police operate in groups of three?” A. “One can read, one can write and one to keep an eye on the two intellectuals.”

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By call me roy, May 16, 2010 at 3:07 pm Link to this comment

A Venezuelan KGB officer is walking in the park and he sees and old Jewish man reading a book. The officer says “What are you reading old man?” The old man says “I am trying to teach myself Hebrew.” The officer says “Why are you trying to learn Hebrew? It takes years to get a visa for Israel. You would die before the paperwork got done.” “I am learning Hebrew so that when I die and go to Heaven I will be able to speak to Abraham and Moses. Hebrew is the language they speak in Heaven.” the old man replies, “But what if when you die you go to Hell?” asks the officer. And the old man replies, “Venezuelan Spanish, I already know.”

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By call me roy, May 16, 2010 at 3:05 pm Link to this comment

El Nacional, Últimas Noticias and El Universal (the major newspapers in Venezuela) announced that it is welcoming letters to the editor. All correspondents were required to include their full name, address and next of kin.

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By LTJ, March 10, 2009 at 11:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

When Chavez was briefly overthrown in 2002, and kidnapped for 48 hours, he must have at some point been justified in fearing for his life.  Then, it later turns out that the U.S. government had advance knowledge of the coup, and that the CIA may have even helped out those plotting against Chavez. Is this how the USA treats a democratically elected neighbor and one of America’s most important strategic trading partners?  His election was at least as legit as Ohio in 2004 (with new and very solid incriminating evidence against Rove & Repubs), probably more so.  All this would be enough to turn most leaders very paranoid, even toward a Stalinist direction in the most extreme cases.  Chavez has remained relatively decent in this respect.  Yes, he has cracked-down in a few instances (Bush’s entire period following 9/11 was one big, prolonged crack-down).  In the case of Chavez, at least the paranoia may be partly justified.

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By Spinoza750, December 24, 2008 at 1:44 pm Link to this comment

This is merely a comment, a vote if you will in favor of Mr. Chavez.  What is most charming about Chavez is his calling Bush the Devil.

Petras and others have complained about his basically conservative policy making and that may be true.  When I read more I will comment.  Basically I can’t understand how one can create a revolution with a good part of the country under the influence of the right.  To my thinking only violent revolution can work to abolish capitalism in all of it’s evil. I wish Chavez good luck.

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By Wayne, February 20, 2007 at 4:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I will add my comment in support of those who advocate that George W. Bush is a false pretender to Republican values as expressed so eloquently by Abraham Lincoln. As a fake American, Bush is hardly qualified to condemn a man like Chavez, who was apparently elected in a democratically legitimate fashion, and who seems to express much more concern for the lower classes than the supposedly, but not really, compassionate George Bush. Who is the better man for his country? If we believe the polls, 60% of Venezuelans think Chavez is OK, while as many as 72% of Americans think Bush has smelled like fish for quite some time.

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By M Henri Day, February 12, 2007 at 2:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Isn’t it about time for a new analysis of the situation in Venezuela - an analysis a cut above that which Mr Bailey permitted himself to publish on these pages four weeks ago ? A great deal seems to have happened since Mark Cooper led the original dig….

Henri

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By Boggs, February 11, 2007 at 8:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The people of our own country are the last to recognize that we are gradually falling under the rule of corporate fascism, which will make for a much worse political agenda for the people then socialism or nationalism. In fact we will be screaming for some of that socialism when we come out of our slumber and realize that the nightmare is for real. Delivered by GWB, right hand of the devil.

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By Skruff, January 18, 2007 at 7:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Comment #48382 by Bill Bailey on 1/17 at 10:29 pm says:


“Hugo Chavez is a big jerk.”

Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.

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By Bill Bailey, January 17, 2007 at 11:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hugo Chavez is a big jerk.

He is not very smart, lacks integrity and intelligence…. and loves looking at pictures of himself.

He is nothing but a coward, who is jealous of the U.S.A. and what it stands for.

He talks smack of the U.S.A. yet owns Citgo gas stations, making it seem like he really cares about America’s poor and oppressed. pA-LEEZE..
If you believe that he cares… you need to see s shrink.

He wants to make money in the land of the free.
He’s nothing but a loser, deep down inside he knows it… but pretends to be a leader to cover his own self esteem issues.

Hugo Chavez…. do us all favor… jump off a cliff!

And next time stay out of America, you’re good enough to step foot in this God Loving country.

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By M Henri Day, December 6, 2006 at 4:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

With certain obvious exceptions, participants in this dig may find Pepe Escobar’s article (http://tinyurl.com/ydhq8n) placing Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela in a global context of interest….

Henri

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By Ken Schreier, November 30, 2006 at 4:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hi Skruff:

Now we are in agreement !


God Bless America & you.

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By Skruff, November 30, 2006 at 8:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ken asked me to say something good about these United States.

Happy to oblige Ken:

I’ve lived in Corvallis Oregon, Wyandott Oklahoma, Lawrence Massachusetts, Gallop New Mexico, White Plains New York, Franconia New Hampshire, Whiting Maine, Newark New Jersey, New York City, Yellow Pine Idaho, Rapid City South Dakota, Carson City Nevada, Washington D.C. (Georgetown)
 
So far, I have never found a place in the US (or Canada) where I could not live out the rest of my life happily!

How’s that?

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By Ken, November 29, 2006 at 6:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Scruff:

Sick of your type also !
Another person who enjoys the freedoms & wealth of an American Democracy and at the same time spit on it !
The Indians lived here for thousands of years and stayed pagans and head hunters.
It was the English, French & Spanish who came here with their Judeo-Christian values that changed this land, that we call the United States of America, into the advanced democratic & economic society it is today.
So realize my friend and appreciate being able to live free in this great country !
Oh, and your issue with cutting back on heating oil subsides, tell the democrats in power now to give it back !
They will, and raise working peoples taxes to pay for it !
Also, try to say something good about the United States, which is the last hope for the world and its masses to live free and pray as they wish !

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By Skruff, November 26, 2006 at 6:05 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear Ken:

You tell ROSA SANTAGADA she should return to where ever she came from… Aside from using very poor English, you ignore the facts:

The Spanish were here way before the English (maybe she was born here?)

Hugo Chavez is the duely elected (by the people) President of his country, no more a “dictator” than George Bush (who stole his election)

The third fact may be a bit harder to accept…Maine recieved its heating assistance from Hugo Chavez’ government and the Bush administration DID cut heating funds to New England last winter leaving some people very cold…

Your vitrol is not becomming, and with your over-riding anger, it is tough to see your point.  accept anyone who disagrees with you should (in your words) return to their country of origion…

I do agree with you about immigrants, my ancestors should have put up a fence to stop you white folks.

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By Ken, November 26, 2006 at 2:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To ROSA SANTAGADA - YOUR COMMENT -
There is no “Heating Fund” set up by the dictator Chavez, it is propaganda !
If you don’t like it here, in the greatest democracy the world has ever known, move to Venezuela and see how it is to be really poor and cold!
I am sick of immigrants coming to this great country and say nothing but bad things about life in the USA !
Why the hell did you come to the United States ANYWAY ?
Go back to where you came from if you think its better there !
I was born and raised in the USA and I know its the greatest country in the world, why, because everybody in this rotten world wants to come here !
So be glad you live here and stop talking about President Bush cutting down on programs ” in secret” , if they were secrets, how did you find out about it ?
You are just another one of those individuals who believe anything you are told when it comes to trashing the United States!
Again, No one asked you to come here or is keeping you here, if you don’t like it you should go back to where you came from!

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By Skruff, November 26, 2006 at 2:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Below the totals from the election of 2000 in Venezuela cut and past from wikipedia.

As you can see President Chávez
was elected by the people with 59% of the vote. 

Summary of the 30 July 2000 Venezuela presidential election results Candidates - Nominating parties Votes %
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías - Movement for the Fifth Republic (Movimiento V República) 3,757,773 59.76
Francisco Arias Cárdenas - The R Cause (La Causa R) 2,359,459 37.52
Claudio Fermín 171,346 2.72
Total 6,288,578 100.0
Registered Voters 11,720,660
Votes Cast (% of registered voters) 6,637,276 56.63
Valid Votes (% of votes cast) 6,288,578 94.75
Invalid Votes (% of votes cast) 348,698 5.25
No-Votes (% of votes cast) 37,080 0.56
Abstention (% of registered voters) 5,120,464 43.69

The former presidents have shunted oil money to their friends, and their own pockets leaving poor children to pick through the dumps outside Caracus for food… President Chávez has spent (at least) some of the oil wealth to change the social ills that have beset his Nation for at least the past 80 years.

As to the defense of South America being covered by the USA…. Who defends Venezuela from them???

I’m no fan of ANY government, but in Venezuela, Chávez is better than most.

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By Ken Schreier, November 26, 2006 at 12:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

People, Chavez is just another dictator who claims he is for the masses and uses the United States as a scapegoat for the failed economy of his country and South & Latin America in general.
A country with so much oil should not have such a bad economy unless the money from that oil is being pocketed by Chavez and the upper class in Venezuela !
The United States has always served as a large market for South & Latin American goods and because of the Monroe Doctrine, never had to be worried about spending a large amount of their GNP for defense !
So, lets get real about the DICTATOR, Chavez !
Lets see an open election with candidates who are free to debate Chavez in public without fear of being put in prison or losing their lives !
Then we will see if he is still the “President” of Venezuela !

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By Harry H. Snyder III, November 19, 2006 at 5:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Our (THE USA) history in Latin America is a shamefull tale of greed, exploitation and vengance.  From the Monroe Doctorine (penned by James Madison) to the assination of Salvator Allende, it is a wonder we have any influence left down there.

We should support Hugo Chevez and his attempt to make his country more equal.  For years our oin companies paid dictators for resources while children combed dumps outside Caracas for food.

No updates on this subject since 2005… says a bunch on our respect and concern for our neighbors to the south…. BUT the landscape is changing… Withthe changes in Bolivia and Chile come changes in Nicaragua….maybe the old order is indeed passing….

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By M Henri Day, November 11, 2006 at 12:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This dig was last updated on 14 December 2005, and a great deal of water has flowed under the bridge since then, both in Venezuela, in the United States, and in the rest of the world. Would it be possible to update the dig, perhaps with another author than Marc Cooper ? Those of us whose areas of expertise (if any) lie outside Latin America, but who recognise the importance of that continent in what seems to be a newly emerging world order, would be greatly served by such an endeavour….

Henri

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By jack trent, November 11, 2006 at 9:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Chavez is anti Israel. End of discussion. It’s the only reason he is news.

Every time you see his name in the American media - its because those who favor Israel over America want us to hate him.

If AIPAC and Rahm Emmanuel have their way, we will be bombing Caracas.

We are an occupied nation. Braveheart tried to tell us, but they hauled him off to a public square, for all his would be followers to see.

Anyone see a pattern here? YET?

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By Rosa Santagada, November 2, 2006 at 2:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How do I access Hugo Chavez’ winter heating fund? When I saw this on TV it gave me hope of a miracle.  Bush has cut all heating benefits to the elderly poor, and cut off housing vouchers by at least 50%.  There are no weatherization programs either thanks to Bush, which would help lower our propane heating bills as well.  He’s cut many other programs, in secret, which he denies. It doesn’t say much for him when a foreign nation has to give help to the American poor, because Bush has a deaf ear and is blind!

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By Spinoza, August 14, 2006 at 1:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Marc Cooper is one of the x left wingers who continue to work at the Nation.  I would call his politics cruse missile liberal or as C Wright Mills called it crackpot realism.  Nine times out of ten he supports the established order or even to the right.

I stopped subscribing to the Nation sometime about 1998 and stopped contributing to it’s Nation Institute at the same time.  They started to move right when its publisher took a course at Harvard Business school.

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By John Morgan, February 4, 2006 at 6:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

M Henri Day,

I’ve enjoyed reading your elegant logic.

John M

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By M Henri Day, February 4, 2006 at 5:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To my mind, Jonas South in his recent postings on the «MVR machine» comes closest to the kind of discourse for which we should strive on this forum. When he writes that «[t]his is the reason why people drift away from el proceso, for they sense that the choices are being made in smoky back rooms, and that their voices count for nothing», he is both being very concrete about the situation (as he understands it) in Venezuela today and at the same time touching upon one of the major problems with what we call «representative democracy» all over the world. Democracy means that the demos has to work hard to keep the kratia in its own hands, and to prevent it from accruing to a professional class who usually evolve to become the servants of those who control the economy. But the members of the demos have a lot of other matters on their minds, and generally speaking don’t give this struggle much priority, which leads not only to «smoky back rooms» in Venezuela, but also to such examples as the K Street dance in Washington.  Anyone who believes that we’ve got the solution to this problem down pat lives in a very ivory tower indeed ! I should very much like to hear (read) more input on this matter, from people like Professor Scruggs and Mr Delacour, and also from Mr Boyd, even though he resides in England (so does my elder daughter, but I listen to what she has to say on the situation in Denmark - distressing ! - anyway). Would it be too naive to hope that we then shall find ourselves able to hold the argumenta ad hominem under reasonable control ?....

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By aleksander boyd, February 3, 2006 at 12:17 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

So if I read the latest comments correctly, it’s fitting to question the view of a Venezuelan citizen, who happens to travel to his country -at least- once a year, yet the views carried by some visiting professor and that of a PhD candidate that, need be stressed, are not Venezuelan, do not speak the language properly, do not know the culture -aside from what they’ve gathered after reading a few papers, have never lived in the country permanently, are to be respected as the ultimate source of Venezuelan knowledge. Your logic defies me…

M Henri Day, my opinion about the referendum is a logic one: a candidate that wins an election with a 20% spread has nothing to hide, yet Fidelito didn’t allow his electoral yesmen to help dissipate the many doubts that the other 41% -as you call it- had at the time. Furthermore the Carter Center produced a series of recommendations after the recall (Sep 31), that were endorsed by the OAS, alas none of the said recommendations, to do away with the sheer lack of confidence vis-a-vis the CNE, have been implemented by a CNE, that again need be stressed, trusted and celebrated the electoral reports published by international electoral observation missions last year, yet, last time round, read the plebiscite of Dec. 4, these very same entities that observed the charade have become “pawns of the Empire…”

Whatever you chose to believe is entirely your prerrogative, however I think is a bit rich to be demanding facts for these are everywhere to be found.

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By T.M. Scruggs, January 30, 2006 at 7:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m writing from Caracas, where I mentioned Mr. Boyd’s putting my name in quotations to someone who then pointed out that Mr. Boyd hasn’t lived here in Venezuela for some time.  Mr. Boyd you just posted:
“...arguments put forth by those who, from afar, think they can figure out and compartmentalise the crisis in my country.”
But another person here claims that you have actually been running your website on Venezuela out of London, England, where you relocated some time ago.  Aleksander, is this true?

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By W. White, January 29, 2006 at 3:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Post #133, BOYD: “...those who, from afar, think they can figure out and compartmentalise the crisis in my country.”

Your country maybe, but aren’t you thousands of miles in England, and many years away from home yourself? Come and visit some time.

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By Jonas South, January 29, 2006 at 10:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A huge voter turnout is being engineered for the election-cum-acclamation of Chavez in December 2006. The effort has the feel of desperation, a need to affirm Chavez’s mandate following the low voter turnout last December.

Recently, Walter, a friend of mine who lives in Caracas, told me that he thinks the 25% turn-out for the AN elections last December (with almost all of the votes going to MVR and its affiliates) means that the anti-Chavez people have a chance to influence the other 75%.

I think he is following the pipe dream of the opposition parties. Seventy-five percent of the electorate stayed home not because most of them are anti-Chavez, or that it was rainy, or dangerous, and certainly not because the leaders of the opposition parties, which together cannot influence more than 25% of the voters, called for an ill-considered boycott.

Fifty percent of Chavez supporters stayed away from the polls in December (75% overall support minus the 25% Chavez supporters who voted) did so for one reason: They were bored. For them, the revolution is becoming boring. The food is on the family table (Mercal), the Cuban doctors are there when needed (Barrio Adentro I), and education is now freely available. For this large group, the fight had been won. There is no longer any point in being personally involved. Without saying that their support was bought and paid for (it is not), nevertheless, their participation is no longer a fervent, do or die thing.

Anyone who witnessed the rally and marches in Caracas in the last few months can sense this, if they looked around the edges. Or if they simply talked to the common people in the barrios. (Sociological, scientific, statistically valid opinion studies would be better.) People are bored with machine politics.

Ah the well-oiled machine. This is the part of the Bolivarian revolution the outside world does not often see. This is the seamy part. This is the part where MVR party bosses engineered a legislative coup of sorts, by putting up twice as many candidates for office as the constitution intended to allow. (A detail the Constitutional Court decided to overlook.) This is the part where MVR candidates out of favor with the party bosses were sidelined, because a fair primary election system is not in place.

This is the reason why people stayed home, why this promising experiment in participatory democracy is endangered in its infancy. This is the reason why people drift away from el proceso, for they sense that the choices are being made in smoky back rooms, and that their voices count for nothing.

As diligently as Chavez works to improve the lives of a majority of his people, as courageous as he is in dealing with geopolitical issues, his crowning achievement must be that, more than anyone in modern history, he brought the levers of government closer to the sovereign people. For this part of his legacy to survive, he must turn his attention to machine politics, and soon.

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By M Henri Day, January 29, 2006 at 10:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Come, come, Mr Boyd ! In a serious discussion, surely it serves no useful purpose to distort the names of those participants with whom you happen to disagree - T M Scruggs remains Professor Scruggs and I, alas, am M Henri Day. Nor is it meaningful to refer to the purported «ignorance» of your interlocutors on the subject of Venezuela ; while that does adequately describe my own situation (which I hope to correct to some little degree by participating in this forum), you risk descending into total irrelevance when you ascribe this quality to people like Professor Scruggs and Mr Delacour. Please remember that our task here is not to create «sound bites» in order to sway an ignorant electorate, but rather to attempt to understand developments in Venezuela. To this end I have looked at the Sobranía web site you recommended, and in particular at the article «Deslegitimación del poder constituido», but found there nothing new - the argument that the low turnout (according to the election authorities approximately 25 % of the electorate) in the parliamentary election of 4 December 2005 («4D» for aficionados) after the opposition declared a boycott at the last moment delegitimises the whole system is one you have maintained in several previous posts. This is a difficult question - surely refusal to participate in an election can, in certain cases be used by the electorate as a means to demonstrate that they do not regard the election as legitimate, which is why, in some countries, voting has been obligatory, with fines, etc levied upon those who do not perform their «civic duty». But is this always the case ? Cannot this tactic be used, as Mr Delacour notes in a posting above, by an opposition that realises that it is unpopular and has no chance in a fair poll, to manipulate perception of an election round ? Should the fact that in the referendum of 15 August 2004, which had a voter turn-out of over 60 % and was held under a provision of the Venezuelan Constitution established under the Chavez government, Señor Chavez won 59 % of the vote as against the 41 % who wished to remove him from office be interpreted to mean that, on the contrary, he is indeed the legitimate president of Venezuela ? These questions are of great interest, but somehow I doubt that further discussion of them will lead to greater unity of view among participants in this forum - indeed, greater unity of view is perhaps not even desirable. What I personally should like to see is more information on the questions that I proposed some time ago, viz, do there exist Constitutional safeguards against excessive centralisation of power (a «unitary Executive», if you will) and does the present Venezuelan administration seem disposed to follow them (relevant, not least, against the background of recent events in the USA). To my mind, the existence of a provision for a recall referendum midway through a president’s term (thus the election of 15 August 2004) is such a limitation, but are there also other, more structural ones, dealing with, e g, the relation between the president and the parliament ? Justin Delacour has promised me an analysis (Justin, having written one myself, I fully understand how much time and energy a PhD thesis can devour, but I should very much like to hear from you in this regard) ; perhaps you, too, Mr Boyd, could weigh in on this matter with the type of documentary research you exhibited in your postings nos 117 and 118, supra ? And just maybe our dig leader Marc Cooper could also be induced to comment on the structural limitations found (or not, as the case may be) in Venezuela’s current constitution on the power of the holder of the office of president ?...

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By aleksander boyd, January 28, 2006 at 3:16 pm Link to this comment
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M Henry Day, I do not know whether you are able to read Spanish, if so I would strongly advice you to visit [url=http://www.soberania.org]http://www.soberania.org[/url] to gain a glimpse of what Venezuelan leftists are thinking. Pay especial attention to the article “Deslegitimación del poder constituido.” You could also visit the pages of Tal Cual, run by erstwhile guerrilla and Fidel friend Teodoro Petkoff.

I will tell you Qui bono: the bunch of chavistas at the top, who, just as Delacour, purportedly feel revulsion towards petit burgeois customs insofar as being unable to enjoy and bask in it. Once in power, they forget all principles and behave as the most decadent sibarite.

I won’t even bother in replying to Mr. Schruggs, his ignorance on all things Venezuela almost equals that of ‘Venezuela pundit’ Delacour, hence the comparison.

You may also wish to check a post of mine detailing jobs given in civil admnistration to 87 military officers, something that the aforementioned pundit -even though brave enough to claim “It would be interesting to see if you could point folks to one measly factual error in anything I’ve ever written about Venezuela” has failed to recognise, report or write about.

As I have said elsewhere, there’s enough evidence to disarm each and every one of the arguments put forth by those who, from afar, think they can figure out and compartmentalise the crisis in my country.

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By M Henri Day, January 27, 2006 at 2:58 pm Link to this comment
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Mr Boyd, you are certainly «entitled» to hold any opinions you please - moreover, you are equally entitled to express them. But neither your holding them nor your expressing them is in itself sufficient to make them convincing to others. If you wish to use your superior knowledge of things Venezuelan to enlighten participants in this discussion with regard to what you call the «illegitimate» nature of Señor Chavez’s presidency, you will have to be more explicit and produce evidence for your conclusions. As to whether Señor Chavez’s government is good for «us», I suspect that depends very strongly upon one’s position in Venezuelan society - although you have provided no information on your own status, given the vehemence with which you express your position, I am willing to accept your view that his government is not good for <u>you</u>. Here we touch upon the fundamental problems of democracy - when can a government be said to be «good» for a country ? (Cui bono ?, the Romans asked.) Is a government «illegitimate» if, in a country with a population of over 25 millions, there exists at least one individual who is unhappy with it ? Or does it suffice that a (simple) majority support it, or should that majority be qualified in some way ? Or does «legitimacy» have more to do with the process by which the government came to power, and less with its popularity ? It seems to me that the Venezuelan experience offers a new window on these questions ; thus my frequent visits to this thread and the questions I pose, despite the unlikelyhood of my ever having the opportunity to visit the country. I am not convinced that Professor Fukiyama was correct in postulating the end of history ; nor do I think that we, in what you refer to as «so called [why so-called ?] industrialised societies», have yet created the ultimate model for social and political interaction. Perhaps the Venezuelan experience has something to teach us all ; it is, I suggest, too early to say whether the lesson will prove positive or negative or, as is usually the case, an admixture of both. I find it unfortunate that some, who by their efforts might be able to push it in a positive direction, seem rather disposed to do the opposite….

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By Justin Delacour, January 27, 2006 at 1:50 pm Link to this comment
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“why did you put my last name, Scruggs, in quotation marks?”

Because he thinks you are me.  He’s a conspiracy nutter.

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By T.M. Scruggs, January 26, 2006 at 8:50 pm Link to this comment
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Yes, the post on PDVSA speaks for itself.  Remember that the plan developed within PDVSA and the then-government in the 1990s was for an “apertura”, and opening to de-nationalize Venezuela’s oil resources and privatize them primarily in foreign hands.

Anyone who’s gotten this far on this blog already knows the responses that can be made to Mr. Boyd’s last post. I think this blog has pretty much run its course.
But I do have a question for Mr. Boyd, I’m at a loss to guess the reason for this: why did you put my last name, Scruggs, in quotation marks?

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By John Commins, January 25, 2006 at 7:58 am Link to this comment
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Bear with me here, this is a little dry, but I recently found this credit watch report on PDVSA, filed this week by Fitch’s bond rating services. Draw your own conclusions.

Fitch Upgrades PDVSA Corporate to ‘BB-’; PDVSA Finance to ‘BB+’
CHICAGO—(BUSINESS WIRE)—Jan. 23, 2006—Fitch Ratings has upgraded the local and foreign currency ratings of Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) to ‘BB-’ from ‘B+’. The rating of PDVSA’s export receivable future flow securitization, PDVSA Finance Ltd, has also been upgraded to ‘BB+’ from ‘BB’. In addition, Fitch has assigned PDVSA a ‘AAA(ven)’ national scale rating. The Rating Outlook is Stable. Both rating actions follow Fitch’s November 2005 upgrade of Venezuela’s sovereign rating.


PDVSA’s assigned corporate rating is constrained by Fitch’s ‘BB-’ foreign currency rating of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and is strongly linked with the sovereign’s credit profile. The linkage is based on the company’s nature as a state-owned entity, the shareholder’s ultimate ability to restrict PDVSA’s financial flexibility, and its increasing utilization of PDVSA’s financial resources for quasi-sovereign and fiscal, rather than commercial, uses. Currently, the oil minister and the PDVSA president are one and the same, further illustrating the government’s tight control over the strategy and resources of PDVSA. PDVSA’s Rating Outlook is influenced by three fundamental factors: political interference risk; vulnerability to cash flow redirection to the sovereign; and the company’s ability to attract private investment, all of which support the linking of PDVSA’s rating to that of the sovereign.

PDVSA has not yet filed its 2004 20-F and only filed its 2003 20-F in October 2005, illustrating in some degree the administrative difficulties still affecting the company after the PDVSA strike in 2002-2003. Positively from a credit prospective, PDVSA is estimated to have less than US$4 billion of debt today compared with its 2003 equity balance of US$37 billion of equity and 2003 EBITDA of US$8 billion. Results for 2004 and 2005 are estimated to be strong given the increase in oil prices since 2003. Fitch estimates that despite generating significant cash flow, PDVSA has underachieved its capital expenditure plan and significant financial resources are being directed toward government social spending.

In its 2003 20-F, PDVSA reported crude production totaled 2.5 MMbpd, down from 2.7 MMbpd in 2002 and 3.1 MMbpd in 2001, illustrating the impact of the PDVSA strike in 2002-2003. PDVSA management has stated that production has increased to 2.8 MMbpd level. However, estimates presented by various independent analysts and agencies, including the U.S. Energy Information Administration and OPEC’s Monthly Oil Market Report, suggest PDVSA production levels of 2.5-2.6 MMbpd, which seems more reasonable. It is important to mention that about 0.4 MMbpd of PDVSA’s production come from fields managed by private companies under operating agreements, and the Venezuelan Heavy Oil Strategic Associations located in the Orinoco Belt contributes with about 0.6 MMbpd to the national oil production.

While upstream crude output has recovered since early 2003, concerns regarding the sustainability of Venezuela’s production profile remains. Fitch had previously estimated PDVSA must invest approximately US$2-2.5 billion annually to offset pre-crisis decline rates of 22%. Fitch now estimates these rates may be somewhat greater, requiring increased investment just to maintain production.

In August 2005, PDVSA announced that it would increase national oil production to 5.84 MMbpd and refining capacity to about 4 MMbpd by 2012 as part of its US$76 billion investment program, of which US$20 billion is expected to be invested by third parties. PDVSA is expected to invest approximately US$5-6 billion during 2006, primarily focused on improving production and refineries; investment during 2005 appeared to be somewhat lagging the budget. Given the many uses of PDVSA cash and low leverage of the company, it is possible that PDVSA may seek to raise additional debt to finance its expenditures.

As noted, PDVSA’s capital-investment program calls for significant third-party investments over the ensuing seven years. The near-term appetite from potential sponsors and/or investors for Venezuelan risk is uncertain in the current environment. The Venezuelan government modified in 2004 the royalty rate initially given to the Venezuelan Heavy Oil Strategic Associations. In addition, the operating agreements have been converted to joint ventures as of Jan. 1, 2006, with PDVSA assuming majority ownership. In exchange for its new ownership in these projects, PDVSA could provide additional development opportunities for the projects, limiting PDVSA direct financial contributions. However, many of the details still need to be finalized over the next six months. Despite the many changes in the rules of the game in the Venezuelan energy sector, given high prices, the scarcity of world oil reserves and Venezuela’s proximity to major markets, PDVSA is ultimately expected to attract partners.

The upgrade to PDVSA’s export receivable future flow securitization, PDVSA Finance Ltd., is also primarily a result of the recent sovereign upgrade. Current outstanding debt on the program is approximately $380 million. Cash flow coverage for the securitization remains very strong with an upwardly trend up over the last year. Coverage levels over the last 12 months have averaged over 220 times (x) debt service obligations. Similar to the corporate rating, the rating of the structure is also influenced, although not directly constrained, by linkage to the sovereign. Structural protections, including the legal sale of future receivables and offshore payment mechanisms, help to reduce the risks of sovereign or corporate interference and therefore allow the structure a two notch differentiation over these ratings.

PDVSA, Venezuela’s national oil company, is engaged in the exploration and production of crude oil and natural gas; the refining, marketing and transportation of crude and refined products; and the production of petrochemicals, as well as various other hydrocarbon-related activities in Venezuela and abroad. The Venezuelan government is the company’s sole shareholder.

Fitch’s rating definitions and the terms of use of such ratings are available on the agency’s public site, http://www.fitchratings.com. Published ratings, criteria and methodologies are available from this site, at all times. Fitch’s code of conduct, confidentiality, conflicts of interest, affiliate firewall, compliance and other relevant policies and procedures are also available from the ‘Code of Conduct’ section of this site.

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By galloglass, January 23, 2006 at 7:57 pm Link to this comment
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Justin: Could you please respond to the question posted earlier?
Is he (Chavez) excessively centralizing power and leading Venezuela toward the construction of an authoritarian model (Peron, Castro etc), and do you consider the Cuban model something Venezuela should emulate? Secondly, what is your position on the following people; Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Oscar Biscet, and Natan Scharansky?

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By Justin Delacour, January 23, 2006 at 3:08 pm Link to this comment
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Perhaps it’s worthwhile to use a hypothetical comparison to cross-examine Boyd’s strange claim that low turnout in the December 4 legislative elections signifies low popular support for the Venezuelan government. 

Suppose, for example, that Walter Mondale in 1984 were to pull out of the U.S. presidential race claiming that the electoral process couldn’t be trusted.  Following Mondale’s cue, most of his supporters would stay away from the polls to call into question the legitimacy of the electoral process.  Under such a scenario, what would be the incentive of Reagan supporters to show up at the polls?  Why would the average voter want to go through the hassle of going to the polls if he or she knew that his her candidate would win anyway? 

I can assure you that, under such a scenario, turnout would also be very low in the United States (it’s already quote low, especially in non-presidential elections).  It would be ridiculous, however, to equate the level of turnout—under such conditions—to the level of popular approval of the winner of the election.

Now, as for Boyd’s assertion that nobody can trust the National Electoral Council’s turnout figures, I would invite Boyd to put on his thinking cap just this once.  If the National Electoral Council were in the business of just fabricating turnout figures to make the government look good, why wouldn’t it fabricate a much higher turnout figure than 25%?  I mean, when taken out of context, the 25% figure looks low.  Opponents of Chavez love to disingenuously point to the 25% figure—without providing the relevant context—as some sort of evidence that Venezuela’s electoral process is broken.  So if the purpose of the National Electoral Council were to just fabricate turnout figures to make the government look good, they certainly would have fabricated a much higher turnout figure than that.

In other words, Aleksandr, your arguments just don’t make any sense.

My apologies, Henri Day, that I haven’t gotten around to answering your final question yet.  Unfortunately, my time is limited, but I will get around to answering your question soon.

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By aleksander boyd, January 23, 2006 at 5:23 am Link to this comment
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Jonas, demonstrably, it is false to argue that the chavista constitution established health care and education as civil rights for the first time. For those rights were enshrined in the 1961 constitution:

Art. 55. La educación es obligatoria en el grado y condiciones que fije la ley. Los padres y representantes son responsables del cumplimiento de este deber, y el Estado proveerá los medios para que todos puedan cumplirlo.

Art. 57. Las obligaciones que corresponden al Estado en cuanto a la asistencia, educación y bienestar del pueblo no excluyen las que, en virtud de la solidaridad social, incumben a los particulares según su capacidad. La ley podrá imponer el cumplimiento de estas obligaciones en los casos en que fuere necesario. También podrá imponer, a quienes aspiren a ejercer determinadas profesiones, el deber de prestar servicio durante cierto tiempo en los lugares y condiciones que se señalen.

Further, Bolivarians is too vague a term that appears all encompasing of the pseudo revolution spearheaded by Chavez. It also gives the impression that many people are involved in the process, which is, I am afraid to say, completely inaccurate. As you know, the only person taking decisions of any relevance is Hugo Chavez. Best example the candidates proposed to the Assembly, hand-picked by the man.

Ergo Venezuela is no more democratic today than what it was say 10 years ago. Lots of elections does not mean lots of democracy, I can only hope you’ll agree. Replacing a bypartisan power-sharing model for an unaccountable power-hoarding militaristic mono-party regime can hardly make the case for increase in democracy, wouldn’t you agree?

M Henry Day, I think I am as entitled to my opinion of Chavez being illegitimate as you are of believing that whatever is taking place in Venezuela is good for us. Talking about the observation process, it is very telling that so late in the game, in light of the huge amount of evidence, statistics and facts available in the public domain, people in so called industrialised societies still think that Chavez is, first representative of left/socialist values -ignoring the militaristic nature of his regime- and second that his adventure is worth supporting.

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By Jonas South, January 22, 2006 at 9:15 pm Link to this comment
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RE: T.M. Scruggs 22-1-06 post.

The irony of what you described as the history of U.S. inteference in Latin elections is that the very word democracy has taken on more meaning in the South, in part because the citizens were forced to deal with the pseudo democracies installed by the U.S.

A quick reading of the Venezuelan constitution reveals that it has fortified representative democracy by introducing more citizen participation. The president and legislators can be recalled, the constitution amendment process is made easier, civil rights now include health care and education, etc. In short, contemporary electors are given more power to define the rules of the game, to modify their relationships to the state.

I am by no means starry-eyed about the actual practice of electoral politics here, (see my post about the MVR nomination process) but I hope that the Bolivarians are left alone to continue their noble experiment. To answer Cooper’s question, ‘what should the U.S. do?’, I say, do nothing, nothing at all.

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By aleksander boyd, January 22, 2006 at 6:05 pm Link to this comment
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Non Sequitur Mr. “Scruggs.” First of all the 25% comes from the institution everyone and its sister distrust in Venezuela, I am only one of them Venezuelans who don’t take whatever Jorge-Matic says at face value… Second when talking about boycott, since you claim you’re in the country, please do tell the reasons, the real ones, of the boycott. Third, Hugo Chavez, and infatuated apologists, like yourself, used to claim that the Bolivarian pseudo ‘revolution’ enjoyed a healthy 80% of support. Where were these people on December 4 2005?

Since you have an issue with Marc Cooper citing me as an independent, please provide evidence that I belong to any political parties of my country, not yours, or that I am in any way associated with the opposition.

Talking about Nicaragua and other places just demonstrates that, in the face of evidence, you’ve ran out of arguments vis-a-vis Venezuela.

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By M Henri Day, January 22, 2006 at 11:25 am Link to this comment
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Thank you, Mr Boyd, for the civility with which you inform those of us who don’t happen to live in the country of the basic principles on which you believe observation of events in Venezuela should rest ! While the present thread is not dedicated to talk of thee and me, I hope you will not object if I point out that your principles seem to entail drawing certain conclusions («illegitimate president», «rosy-tinted revolutionary glass») <u>before</u> the process of observation itself has been carried out. Fewer adjectives and ad hominem arguments might make it easier for those of us who don’t know you personally to view your postings with the degree of seriousness which they no doubt deserve. Otherwise, they risk evoking the response given by Queen Gertrude to Polonius : «More matter with lesse Art !»...

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By T.M. Scruggs, January 22, 2006 at 8:31 am Link to this comment
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As whoever is still following this blog will note, both foreign Dec. 4 election commissions had criticisms and suggestions for future Venezuelan elections, and both validated the elecitons.  At no point do they declare that the winning candidates for the National Assembly are illegimate.  This is the same final conclusion of all foreign electoral observer delegations for previous national elections in Venezuela.

Mr. Boyd wrote: “Hugo Chavez’s hand-picked candidates managed to get less than 10% of the electorate’s support. Ergo Venezuela’s assembly is, as its president, illegitimate.”
As readers can see the vote total was credited at approx. 25% by the observer teams; pro-Bloque de Cambio (Bloc for Change, pro-Chavez) received over 90% of that vote, thus the candidates received over 22% of the vote at the least.  That Marc Cooper quoted Mr. Boyd as an independent, credible voice is one of the many places in his article that reveals a loss of seriousness of investigation and reporting.  All national governments recognize the current Venezuelan government and the validity of the many national elections in the past eight years, as much as the the current U.S. administration would love to successfully negate that mandate as they did in the southern cone in the mid 1970s with their own hand-picked leaders that could never get elected on their own.  Despite the fact that the result the U.S. government (and major multi-nationals) was not favored by a majority of Venezuelan voters, the presidential elections, the presidential recall referendum and now the national legislative elections are all considered legitimate by every government and world body.

It is important to put the last round of national polling here in broader geographical and historical perspective.  Pulling out pro-U.S. govt. candidates before they about to be trounced in national elections is a tactic that the U.S. has used before.  They did this in Nicaragua’s first free 20th cen. elections in 1984, though one candidate refused to go along and publically denounced all the meetings from the U.S. ambassador on down telling him what to do (Virgilio Godoy, PLI=Independent Liberal Party).  The U.S. government has no qualms, and a long track record of directly interfereing in national elections in other countries, however illegal (and immoral) their actions.  When Kirchner, Evo Morales, et al. approach reelection and the opposition looks like it is headed for a resounding defeat, as here in Venezuela last year, no observer informed with this history should be overly surprised if the same tactic is invoked.  Look up the statements repeated many time by George Bush the Elder leading up the 2nd free elections in Nicaragua in 1990 declaring that the elections would be illegitimate.  He and the U.S. State Dept. kept drumming in this position because the two Latin Am. polling companies had reported the Sandinistas would win the elections.  Pro-U.S. politicians and pundits in Nicaragua faithfully repeated this position.  However, these pollsters have a truly miserable track record in Latin America, and again they were off by about 25% and the pro-U.S. candidate won. Suddenly—magically—the line changed 180 degrees from Washington, and by the same Nicaraguans would had declared the coming elections illigimate: now the election WAS legitimate after all. 

This tactic of U.S. foreign policy (dis)information can be translated: “legitimate” means “we got what we wanted”; “illegitimate” means “the candidate less favorable to our interests won.”  Venezuela is only one in a series of instances where this tactice has been invoked, and with the successful mobilization of the majority population that has long been on the losing end of U.S. govt. and corporate domination, we can be assured that this tactic will be employed in the near future again in Latin America. Probably the next opportunity will again be Venezuela, as an anti-neo-liberal presidential candidate is more popular than any pro-U.S. corporate interest candidate on the horizon.

It would be VERY intersting to invite the same UE and OAS to send a proportionate number of observers to the national elections in the United States—there’s a report that’d be worth reading!  Imagine hundreds, thousands of observers fanned out into ghettos in major cities, just in Ohio and Florida for starters.  It would worth taping the ensuing “news reports” on FoxNews, the same network that has been and can be counted on in the future to continue to question national elections in the Third World that don’t ratify U.S. corporate allies, railing about other nations (imagine, the FRENCH!) daring to judge how we run our democracy.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

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By aleksander boyd, January 20, 2006 at 2:38 pm Link to this comment
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This would, of course, mean accepting the basic principle that vituperation is not an adequate substitute for reasoned argument and discussion…

M Henri Day, sensible proposition. Pls pass it along to the illegitimate president of my country, his ministers and those, who from afar and deprived of background knowledge, feel that they can insult, aggravate and disrespect people, just like that. Problems tend to have sources, look for the sources of the current deep hatred amongst Venezuelans. Revise our contemporary history, refrain from seeing things through the rosy-tinted revolutionary glass and contemplate criticising, based on facts and evidence, those on your side of the divide as you would the ones on the other.

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By M Henri Day, January 18, 2006 at 4:20 am Link to this comment
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Mr Boyd is to be thanked for posting the statements by the EU and the OAS observation missions, respectively. The conclusions I draw after reading them were that the elections were carried out in such a manner that the results reflected the will of those who chose to participate in the voting procedure. The election campaign itself reflected - and was marred by - the polarisation of Venezuelan society itself (easily confirmed by a visit to Mr Boyd’s website), but for this very reason, and despite such grave problems as the opposition’s decision,  - instigated/supported or not, as the case may be, by the US government - to boycott the elections, a decision announced only four days prior to election day, despite the fact that its major complaints regarding balloting procedures had been successfully addressed, it strikes me that the elections themselves were a success, not least in that in most countries as sharply divided as Venezuela seems to be, political disputes tend to be decided by coups, rather than by electoral processes open to all parties….

The statements of the two observation missions end with recommendations regarding future election campaigns and procedures, as follows :

1) EU mission :

The legal framework that governs the electoral process must be harmonized with the constitutional provisions on the elections.

The National Assembly should appoint a CNE Steering Board composed of independent professionals of various extractions that enjoy the trust of all the sectors of society.

The prohibition of public funding to parties for the electoral campaign should be reconsidered. The electronic voting system should be audited by an independent institution.

The REP should be audited in conjunction with the ID register by an independent institution.

The CNE should launch as soon as possible training and civic education programs aimed at familiarizing electoral officials and the electorate with the electronic voting procedures.

OAS mission :

In the view of the Mission, democratic political coexistence will be possible only through a restoration of confidence. This requires building respect and mutual recognition through a frank, inclusive and good-faith dialogue.

This Mission considers that it would be highly beneficial for Venezuelan democracy if, through such a dialogue, government authorities, political parties and citizens could, in the near future, reach a new democratic consensus. The agenda for this dialogue could include such items as: the election of the CNE, the automated voting system, the electoral law, the Permanent Electoral Registry and the process of issuing identification cards, the development of a political party system with transparent financing formulas, the parliamentary election system to ensure proportional representation of minorities, and the strengthening of the principle of separation, independence and balance of powers—a basic principle of all presidential democracies. The Mission believes that the primary political responsibility to promote such a dialogue rests with the governmental authorities.

(It pleases me to note in particular the OAS stand with regard to «the development of a political party system with transparent financing formulas, the parliamentary election system to ensure proportional representation of minorities, and the strengthening of the principle of separation, independence and balance of powers—a basic principle of all presidential democracies». Perhaps the organisation could be convinced to serve as observer in the elections in the United States this year and in 2008 ?)

Perhaps those thread participants who reside in Venezuela or who otherwise have the opportunity to closely follow events there (Mr Boyd ?) could do themselves and us all the service of monitoring whether and to what degree attempts are made by the governing parties and the opposition to institute the recommendations and eliminate the problems mentioned by the observation missions ? This would, of course, mean accepting the basic principle that vituperation is not an adequate substitute for reasoned argument and discussion, even on personal websites - but that shouldn’t prove beyond the bounds of human ingenuity, should it ?...

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By aleksander boyd, January 17, 2006 at 1:02 pm Link to this comment
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I guess readers of this site are intelligent enough to see whether or not the claims made by me have any substance, based on the reports of the EU and the OAS. The interesting aspect is that Mr. Schruggs, who sounds a lot like Delacour, seeks to undermine my opinions by stating that I am rightwinger. If that’s the best argument he can put forth, well I guess I can be at ease.

Equally interesting is that the OAS and the Carter Center made a series of recommendations to the CNE on Sep 31 last year, yet none of them were implemented.

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By aleksander boyd, January 17, 2006 at 12:57 pm Link to this comment
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Now then, let us continue with the report of the OAS.

PRELIMINARY OAS OBSERVATIONS ON THE LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS IN VENEZUELA
Press Release

December 6, 2005 | The Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) witnessed, over the course of one month, the process to elect representatives to Venezuela’s National Assembly, which culminated in the voting on Sunday, December 4. On election day, the Mission deployed its 45 observers in 22 states of the country to observe the elections through a random sampling of polling centers.

As a result of Sunday’s observation, the Mission would like to underscore the climate of calm that was evident during the elections, as well as the adequate level of preparation and organization at the polling centers. It was verified that, as the National Electoral Council (CNE) had stated, the digital fingerprint machines and the electronic voting notebooks were not in use and the machines were disconnected during the voting. The certification of results was printed out before transmitting, and audits were done after the polls closed. The day ended with a participation level of approximately 25% of all potential voters.

Nevertheless, based on its direct observation on election day, the Mission would like to point out that in several polling centers it was noted that a significant number of voters showed they did not understand or had difficulties with the voting process. A good number of voters asked the poll workers or political party observers present to accompany them and help them cast their votes with the electronic ballot. Such practices could damage the secrecy of the vote.

In the majority of polling centers observed by the OAS, the polls closed between 5 and 7 p.m., even in several cases when no voters were in line, which was not in compliance with the schedule established by law. The decision was taken by the CNE leadership for weather-related reasons in five states, and in the rest of the country on the grounds that the polling centers should remain open for 10 hours. In practice, poll workers and members of Plan República were the ones who decided the time the polls would close. These circumstances helped to create uncertainty and suspicion. It is worth noting that the extension of the voting hours coincided with an intensification of the governing party’s campaign to increase participation in the final hours.

The Mission laments the public statements made by a high-level leader of the governing party that sought to coerce the participation of government employees. This statement was denounced by all sectors of the country.

In terms of the electoral process, throughout its work the Mission confirmed that mutual distrust constituted a central element of the electoral contest. This distrust was particularly evident between an important sector of the citizenry and governmental, electoral and party authorities; between the government and the opposition; between the government and the privately owned news media; and within the opposition parties themselves. A climate of polarization and political tension was also perceived.

In particular, the Mission has observed that there remains a distrust of the CNE on the part of a significant segment of the opposition. This was expressed in terms of criticisms about its origin and composition, the perception that the opposition has of partiality and lack of transparency in the CNE’s actions, as well as in relation to the controversial application of some aspects of election laws. Additionally, certain inconsistencies and gaps in the electoral law were observed, which reduced legal assurances and which suggest the need for a rigorous reflection on these laws.

Despite the important guarantees granted by the CNE, at the request of this significant segment of the opposition, this segment decided in the end not to participate in the elections. It is worth noting that the guarantees that were offered included the elimination of the digital fingerprint machines and of the great majority of the electronic voting notebooks, an increase in audits after the polls closed, the granting of additional space in the news media for electoral advertising, and the presence of witnesses and international observers in all phases of the electoral process.

Similarly, the efforts undertaken by the CNE in fulfillment of its mandate to automate the vote are worth mentioning. Nonetheless, given its complexity, the system requires permanent audits as well as technical and human safeguards, with the effective participation of all political parties, in order to generate the necessary confidence.

Electoral participation is what contributes to the strengthening of democracy and the legitimacy of representative institutions. It is up to the electoral authorities to generate the necessary conditions for the full participation of all sectors. Although the right not to participate is recognized, it is of concern that due to the withdrawal of the opposition, an important portion of the citizenry is left without representation in the National Assembly. Every democracy requires an institutional opposition committed to the electoral process, so that it can loyally participate in the democratic system.

During the election campaign, the Mission observed proselytizing activities on the part of high-level public officials, at the national as well as the state and municipal levesl, and an absence of strict mechanisms to control the use of public and private resources for political and electoral ends.

There was observed, among political actors, an aggressive and discourteous public discourse about the electoral system, which hampered the creation of a favorable climate in which to debate political proposals and to carry out constructive electoral campaigns.

In the view of the Mission, democratic political coexistence will be possible only through a restoration of confidence. This requires building respect and mutual recognition through a frank, inclusive and good-faith dialogue.

This Mission considers that it would be highly beneficial for Venezuelan democracy if, through such a dialogue, government authorities, political parties and citizens could, in the near future, reach a new democratic consensus. The agenda for this dialogue could include such items as: the election of the CNE, the automated voting system, the electoral law, the Permanent Electoral Registry and the process of issuing identification cards, the development of a political party system with transparent financing formulas, the parliamentary election system to ensure proportional representation of minorities, and the strengthening of the principle of separation, independence and balance of powers—a basic principle of all presidential democracies. The Mission believes that the primary political responsibility to promote such a dialogue rests with the governmental authorities.

The Mission thanks the governmental, electoral and political party authorities, as well as civil society, for the warm welcome it received during its stay in Venezuela.

Press contact in Venezuela: Javier Montes, Tel: 58 414 249 9554

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By aleksander boyd, January 17, 2006 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Let the reports speak for themselves, shall we?

EU Election Observation Mission to Venezuela Parliamentary Elections 2005
Preliminary Statement

Caracas, 6 December 2005 | Following an invitation of the National Electoral Council (CNE) to observe the Parliamentary Elections (National Assembly, Latin-American Parliament and Andean Parliament) of 4 December, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) was deployed in Venezuela on 07 November 2005. The Mission is led by Chief Observer Mr. José Albino Silva Peneda, Member of the European Parliament. In total, the EU EOM deployed 160 observers in 20 of the 24 states to follow and report on the electoral process in line with established EU methodology and the “Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation” adopted under the auspices of the United Nations in October 2005.

A Delegation of the European Parliament, led by Mr. Arunas Degutis, and including six MEPs, joined in the EU EOM on 1 December. This statement is issued before the process is completed; the EU EOM will remain in country until 21 December to observe the post-election period, including electoral complaints.

A Final Report will be issued in February 2006. The EU EOM wishes to thank the CNE, the Venezuelan authorities and all the other actors for the excellent cooperation and availability demonstrated throughout its stay in Venezuela.

Preliminary Conclusions

Wide sectors of the Venezuelan society do not have trust in the electoral process and in the independence of the electoral authority.

The legal framework contains several inconsistencies that leave room for differing and contradictory interpretations.

The disclosure of a computerized list of citizens indicating their political preference in the signature recollection process for the Presidential Recall Referendum (so-called “Maisanta Program”) generates fear that the secrecy of the vote could be violated.

The CNE, in a positive attempt to restore confidence in the electoral process, took significant steps to open the automated voting system to external scrutiny and to modify various aspects that were questioned by the opposition. The CNE decision to eliminate the fingerprint capturing devices from the voting process was timely, effective and constructive.

The electoral campaign focused almost exclusively on the issue of distrust in the electoral process and lack of independence of the CNE. The debate on political party platforms was absent.

Both State and private media monitored showed bias towards either of the two main political blocks. The EU EOM took note with surprise of the withdrawal of the majority of the opposition parties only four days before the electoral event.

Election Day passed peacefully with a low turnout. While the observers noted several irregularities in the voting procedures, the manual audit of the voting receipts revealed a high reliability of the voting machines.

These elections did not contribute to the reduction of the fracture in the Venezuelan society. In this sense, they represented a lost opportunity.

Preliminary Findings

Pre-Election Environment

The EUEOM takes note of the fact that wide sectors of the Venezuelan society do not have confidence in the electoral process and in the electoral administration. This standpoint, which has its roots in the high polarization that divides the Venezuelan society, became especially apparent during the Recall Referendum in 2004 as well as in the run up to these elections.

The disclosure of a database containing more than 12 million citizens’ personal data and their political preference (the so called “Maisanta” Program) expressed during the signature collection for the Recall Referendum generated widespread fears that this information could be used for intimidation purposes and undue influence on voters. This fact played a significant role in favor of the abstention.

The opposition parties focused their campaign on the perceived lack of neutrality of the CNE and alleged dangers posed to the secrecy of the vote by an automated voting system which was meant to include the fingerprint capturing devices.

Central electoral campaign themes such as economics and tax policies, the importance of social programs, the role of the private sector in the economy or environmental policies were missing from the political parties’ public interventions. The prohibition of state funds for electoral campaign purposes was often mentioned by parties as a factor, which impeded a more public and transparent campaign.

The use of state resources by pro-government parties to mobilize supporters was observed in Trujillo, Monagas, Anzoátegui, Carabobo and Guarico. Violations of the provision for public officials to take part in the campaign was observed in nearly all States and committed by almost all main political parties. The parties included quotes from local officials in their captions as well as pictures of officials in their campaign posters including in some cases, of the President. The violations observed in the last phase of the campaign were mainly carried out by pro-government parties.

Civil society organizations like Sumate and Ojo Electoral played, in different ways, a very important role in the elections. However, only Ojo Electoral sought and obtained accreditation to observe the elections.

In a context of mistrust and extreme polarization, the EU EOM acknowledges the efforts made by the CNE to increase the political parties´ confidence in the process. These measures included reviews of various elements of the automated voting process such as the software of the electronic voting machines, the fingerprint capturing machines and of the results aggregation system, as well as the extension of the audit paper trail to encompass the manual recount of the voting receipts in 45 % of the polling stations.

The discovery of a design flaw in the software of the voting machines, with the consequent remote possibility to violate the secrecy of the vote was dealt with by the CNE in a timely and adequate manner. The possibility of endangerment of the secrecy of the vote was evaluated by EU EOM experts as remote.

The breach of the secrecy of the vote could only be possible if the sequence of both the identification of the voters and the votes cast was reconstructed. This reconstruction would require access to three different dispersed sources of information by a qualified user. These sources are the memory of the voting machines, the memory of the fingerprint capturing devices and the entire code of the encryption key (that was divided among the political parties and the CNE) used in the system to protect the voting data.

The elimination of the fingerprint capturing devices from the voting process was a significant move aimed at restoring the confidence of the parties. It was therefore with surprise that the EU EOM took note at this stage of the withdrawal of the main opposition political parties from the electoral contest without any new additional motivation.

Legal Framework

The legal framework for the elections is composed of the Basic Law of Suffrage and Political Participation of 1998, the Constitution of 1999, the Electoral Statute of Public Power of 2000, the Basic Law of the Electoral Power of 2002. Due to the National Assembly’s inability to find a qualified majority on the adoption of a new Basic Law, crucial aspects of the electoral process have not been harmonized with the provisions of the new Constitution 1999.

These inconsistencies opened room for differing and contradictory interpretations of various aspects of the process (e.g. voter registration, CNE competences), and exemplified the already existing divide between opposing sectors of the society. The current composition of the CNE Steering Board is a contentious issue. Following the inability of the National Assembly to reach the required majority to elect the CNE Steering Board, the Supreme Court, availing itself of the extraordinary powers granted by the Constitution in case where the National Assembly is unable to take a decision, designated the Members of the Steering Board before the Recall Referendum. More recently, one of the members of the Steering Board was nominated by the Supreme Court under a procedure contradictory to the one used for the first extraordinary nomination of the Steering Board.

The system of representation in force in Venezuela is described as one of “personalized proportionality” by the Basic Law of Suffrage and Political Participation of 1998. This ambiguous definition is used to designate a mixed member proportional system. The use of the electoral technique known as Morochas, which allows the duplication of parties in order to avoid the subtraction of the seats gained in the plurality-majority list from the proportional list, certainly defies the spirit of the Constitution, but it is technically allowed by the mixed system of representation laid out in the Basic Law of Suffrage and Political Participation.

The principle of the automated voting system is enshrined in Art. 154 of the Basic Law of Suffrage and Political Participation 1998 and in Art 33, Item 42 of the Basic Law of the Electoral Power of 2002. The current development and applications of the automated voting process have however surpassed in various aspects the legal framework.

Election Administration

The National Electoral Council (CNE) is an institution with significant human and technical resources. The CNE technically administered the process well, and its logistical preparations for the electoral event were adequate. Its performance was however tainted by the accusations of bias and partisanship that have accompanied its work since the past Recall Referendum process. In the election preparations the CNE demonstrated a clear willingness to meet the demands of the opposition parties to increase confidence on the process. Among the main steps taken to reduce the opposition concerns over the automated voting process, the CNE increased the number of polling stations to be audited from an initial 33% to 45% and reduced the use of the electronic voter lists to 2%. However, this was perceived by the opposition parties as insufficient.

The security and transparency measures introduced in the automated voting process are in line with the most advanced international practice. The various types of system reviews put in place by the CNE represented and important opportunity to explain and review various aspects of the automated voting system to experts of political parties and observers. Apart from the paper trail audit on election day, there were four types of reviews that the EU EOM observed including of voting machines software and hardware, results aggregation software, voting machines assemblage and production, and election day simulation. Despite the fact that no proper audit procedures were agreed in advance, a significant disclosure of information was achieved. However, access to information for party experts could be further improved. The political parties were selective in presenting to the media the activities and the findings of the audit sessions.

The voter register ( Registro Electoral Permanente, hereinafter REP), has been the source of continuous debate and several allegations of illegitimate entries. This is not a novelty in the Venezuelan elections; however, the sharp increase of registered voters before the Presidential Recall Referendum cast serious doubts on the composition and entries of the most recent REP. These suspicions were heightened in the pre-electoral period by the refusal of the CNE to make available the address of the voters to political parties due to an unclear constitutional data protection provision. However, political parties were given sufficient access to the voter register. Structural and long standing problems in the REP are likely to exist, and can only be solved in conjunction with the revision of the Identity Card program which is the basis for the voter registration system.

Media Coverage

The Venezuelan media display a great diversity of political opinions However, considered individually, the main media outlets only exceptionally referred to the various political actors in a manner which could be considered both fair and balanced. Most of the private media tended to offer more space to the views of the political forces critical of the Government, and when expressing their political preferences, they often disregarded basic journalistic principles.

On the other hand, state-owned media should provide fair recognition to the views of all Venezuelans and therefore has strong obligations in terms of objectivity, fairness and impartiality. However, it did not fulfill these obligations. The tone of the coverage of opposition parties in the publicly owned media was significantly more negative than the one reserved to the parties in government. Furthermore, the intense promotion of government policies on the state media during the campaign worked as an indirect publicity of the parties in power. The excessive resort to cadenas (addresses to the nation simultaneously broadcast through all the nation’s electronic media) which proliferated in the days prior to the elections could represent a breach of the campaign silence.

The EU EOM notes that the frequent presence of the President on State TV and radio is an unusual practice and did not contribute to the improvement of the political climate. The Mission believes that the excessively inflammatory opinions encountered in much of the Venezuelan media, especially after the withdrawal of most of the opposition parties’ candidates, did not contribute to an informed and calm political atmosphere, but rather agitated further an already tense public opinion which seems to grow increasingly tired and cynical about politics.

The use of images featuring public officials for campaign purposes was widespread and must be condemned as a generalized, flagrant violation of CNE regulations on that matter. Furthemore, the excessive focus on parties and personalities given by the media in its coverage of the campaign has resulted in a striking scarcity of information about the platforms of the contesting parties.

Election Day

Polling stations opened on average between 7,00 and 8,00 am. The delays were mainly due to the late arrival of the staff and a general slowness in the opening procedures. In 70% of the polling stations observed there were missing polling officials replaced by political party agents, reserves or ordinary voters.

The presence of the armed forces of Plan República inside the polling stations was noted in 25% of the polling stations observed. This was contrary to the provision that allowed the security forces to be inside the voting centres but not inside the polling stations. The political party agents were observed in 70% of the polling stations visited. In 68 % of these cases there were only agents from pro-government parties. Domestic observers were present in 6% of the polling stations observed. Their presence was observed in 18% of the polling stations where the EU EOM observed the audit of the count.

The majority of the voters in the polling stations observed experienced problems with understanding the functioning of the voting machines and required assistance. In 41% of the cases observed there were voters unable to complete the process in the prescribed three minutes. This indicates both a lack of adequate voter information and training for election officials on the automated voting system. The assistance to the voters was often provided by the polling station staff, security forces and the political party agents, raising concerns about the secrecy of the vote. Campaign activities in favor of pro-Government parties were noted in the vicinity of a large number of the polling stations observed. The type of campaign activities observed included food distribution, cars with megaphones and posters, information stands and provision of transport for voters. Few cases of intimidation were observed, with party members asking voters to sign and thumbprint on a piece of paper that they had voted and who they had voted for.

The polling hours were extended by the CNE throughout the country. The motivation for this decision was the delays in the opening and the bad weather conditions. This led to confusion and allegations of attempts from pro-government parties to boost the turnout. The paper trail audit (manual recount) of the electronic count was observed in 75 different polling centers. Despite a lenghty implementation of the audit procedure, the results indicated a clear reliability of the results, with few cases of discrepancy observed between the number of voters marked in the voter register and those counted by the machine and between the paper receipts and the votes recorded in the voting machines. The general conclusion of the observers was that the voting machines seemed very reliable. The aggregation of results proceeded with high speed. The announced preliminary results cover almost 90% of the results. The preliminary turnout announced by the CNE is of 25%. However, there is no clarity on the level of invalid votes that oscillate between 5 and 10%.

Preliminary Recommendations

The legal framework that governs the electoral process must be harmonized with the constitutional provisions on the elections.

The National Assembly should appoint a CNE Steering Board composed of independent professionals of various extractions that enjoy the trust of all the sectors of society.

The prohibition of public funding to parties for the electoral campaign should be reconsidered. The electronic voting system should be audited by an independent institution.

The REP should be audited in conjunction with the ID register by an independent institution.

The CNE should launch as soon as possible training and civic education programs aimed at familiarizing electoral officials and the electorate with the electronic voting procedures.

For further information please contact:
Press Officer, Ms. Cathy Giorgetti, Tel. (+58) 0414 6857046
European Union Election Observation Mission to Venezuela 2005
Eurobuilding, Final Calle La Guairita, Chuao - Caracas
Office Telefhone: 212 993 8222
e-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
website: http://www.eueomvenezuela.org

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By T.M. Scruggs, January 16, 2006 at 4:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The post on 1/11 by aleksander boyd offers another set of statements that are too typical of what passes for reasoned discourse by the right wing and politically conservative forces in Venezuela: assertions that fly in the face of easily verifiable facts, even when buttressed by a host of outside observers like the large election monitoring teams last Dec. 4.  Mr. Boyd’s opinions here and on his website tend to be so far from what has and is actually happening here that at least it can serve as an example to other readers just how removed from reality is the Venezuela that the opposition portrays on TV and in print daily here.  I doubt many folks reading this, or any other blog, have the time or inclination to wade through the rather long statements by the election observation teams of the Organization of American States and the European Union.  The EU team, especially, was composed of members from politically conservative governments, but even so the facts were so clear that they came to conclusions that are almost the opposite of the opinions stated by Mr. Boyd.
Mr. Boyd’s post reads, with my comments following:

“For the easily duped: the last election in Venezuela was on December 4 2005. Assemblymen/women were to be elected. In spite of the very aggressive official campaign;..”
—hardly.  if anything the campaign was a “sleeper.” It would have be much more lively, and more useful, if some of the opposition candidates had taken up the challenges for debates by many candidates on the reform (Chavez) slate.

“the misuse of funds and media by the Chavez regime;...”
—In fact, no significant violations by “the regime” were noted by either commission. 

“the violation to electoral legislation;...”
—In fact, no claims to that effect were made by either commission.

“irrefutable evidence that the secrecy of the vote was compromised;...”
—In fact, both commissions directly addressed this issue and stated exactly the opposite, that the secrecy of the balloting was secured as anticipated.  The only criticism by the commissions, especially by the OAS, was against the opportunism and plain dishonesty of the opposition.  The main conservative parties insisted in the elimination of the “capta huellas” [“catch the footprints”] part of the machines programming to eliminate duplicate voting by individuals. Although at the time neither commission saw this as a serious threat to secret balloting, nevertheless the National Electoral Commission agreed to eliminate this program.  The next day the 3 major opposition parties announced in national press conferences that all conditions were met for free and fair balloting.
Mysteriously, and just how many phone calls and visits from U.S. Embassy personnel later we may never know, exactly the same three national opposition leaders announced in national press conferences 48 hours following the previous ones that conditions suddenly were impossible for what they had described two days before as positive environment.  No details of exactly how things could have changed 180 degrees in 48 hours were, or have been forthcoming, besides the kind of non-factual broadsides on the par of this one of Mr. Boyd.

“intimidation and public threats to civil servants;..”
—The same commissions’ reports dismissed this charge. 
Those of us glued to the TV screen here had the chance to see one quite vocal MVR (pro-Chavez) politician rave on for 5 minutes, repeated many times on (right wing owned) TV, about how public servants need to go the polls if they’re serious about serving the public.  The MVR leadership immediately reprimanded her.  She was obviously overheated, even somewhat comical sounding, to the point that even hard-right Globovision reporting here portrayed the outburst more as a screwball exception than part of any broader campaign, which it wasn’t, as the monitoring commissions both stated. 

“illegal involvement of the army in the voting process;...”
—Again, not supported by the EU and OAS electoral reports.

“abnormal involvement of chavistas in the voting process…”
—In fact, not substantiated by either electoral commission.

” -all of the above properly documented and duly reported by electoral observation mission of both the Organization of American States and the European Union-, “
—Simply not verifiable by either report. 
Both reports contained various allegations of irregularities, and both concluded that these were very minor and in no way compromised the validity of the Dec. 4 national legislative elections.

“Hugo Chavez’s hand-picked candidates managed to get less than 10% of the electorate’s support. Ergo Venezuela’s assembly is, as its president, illegitimate.”
—This is getting a bit ridiculous: both monitoring commissions agreed with the official statistics that total turnout of registered voters was just over 25%.

An interesting comparison is with the most recent national legislative elections in the U.S.:
U.S.:
35% total turnout,
multiply by 51% total voting Republican congressional candidates,
equals over 17% vote total for current U.S. Congresspeople supporting current national government.
Venezuela:
25% total turnout,
multiply by about 90% voting pro-Chavez candidates of various parties,
equals over 27% vote total for current Venezuelan National Assembly.

Mr. Boyd’s conclusion repeats the main goal by the right wing both here in Venezuela and in the United States:  the nonsensical pull-out by the opposition’s candidates, many of who were poised to win, was to delegitimize an election that was otherwise strongly verified by all impartial observers.  One can appreciate the right wing’s dilemma:  how can any opposition parties seriously hope to mount a believable program that speaks against the various social programs of the last eight years, when what is now the opposition had been in power and had the chance to produce similar initiatives since the oil boom prices of the early 1970s?

There were several attempts at creating disorder and a semblance of “ungovernability” here around the Dec. 4 elections: two oil pipelines were blown the night before, but quickly fixed, and other plans were discovered and derailed by the government.  We can expect more the same and other activities to do whatever it takes to not allow the Venezuelan electorate to freely choose it’s presidential candidate in the upcoming Dec. 2006 national elections, for the right wing faces the same lack of moral authority and dismal track record that it did before the last elections.  I feel the Chavista-led reform process here would be well served by a strong opposition candidate and a series of debates later this year: the more rational discourse there is, the more untenable will be the hyperbole and baseless assertions that currently typify opposition to the reform movement.

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By aleksander boyd, January 16, 2006 at 2:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I made a comment yesterday with some commentary on articles of the constitution. May I ask why hasn’t it been posted?

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By Chris B, January 15, 2006 at 10:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As Henri Day describes, the principle of “Gleichschaltung” (“equalization”) that the Nazis implemeted and that is so characteristic for a dictatorship, be it the Nazis or the Taliban, was implemented from above, not by grassroots efforts. Also, the efforts to take over existing media as well as nationalist & conservative or even youth organizations (boy scouts, athletic or hiking clubs, all were integrated into the Hitlerjugend, and no more independent or newly formed organizations were allowed), are examples of Gleichschaltung.
I have yet to hear of any evidence that such a process is under way in Venezuela. Chavez has enough opportunity and popular support for a “Nacht der Langen Messer” against the opposition, but no grenades go flying into opposition news rooms (like they have in central American countries ruled by allies of the U.S.)
And furthermore, there is no Venezuelan equivalent of the S.A.
So what is the basis for accusing Chavez of dictatorial tendencies? Has it anything to do with his angry denouncements of U.S. policies and the former oligarchy’s capitalist excesses, and support of their official enemies? Having personally been singled out by the aforementioned as a target for being a popular socialist politician AND his understanding and confirmation by experience of Chomski’s writings explains his anger pretty damn well. Yet, no S.A. goons roam the streets, the rich oligarchy is alive and well, and community radio stations aren’t being “equalized”. Please anyone feel free to prove otherwise if they can!

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By M Henri Day, January 15, 2006 at 1:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Justin, I wonder if I can cash that rain-cheque you gave me and ask you to deal as promised with my <u>other</u> question, viz, do there exist institutional safeguards against the accumulation of too much power in one person’s hands (i e, those of the president) in Venezuela ? If I understand Jonas South’s latest posting aright, Señor Chavez himself recognises the need to engage in dialogue with the opposition, which indicates a degree of political wareness that one wishes were shared by other national leaders, but this is not quite the same thing as «institutional safeguards»....

Sonia Belle states in a comment to Chris B that «SA [Sturmabteilung] and the NSDAP [Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei] were very ‘grassroots’ efforts as well». While it is certainly the case that these two organisations did a great deal of work in organising and recruting from all levels of society (one of the reasons for the «Nacht der langen Messer» in 1934, when the SA leadership was eliminated at a stroke), this was always done in accordance with the Führerprinzip, in which orders and initiatives flowed in only one direction - from the top down. Does Ms Belle mean this to be the case with the grass-roots organisations in Venezuela ? If so - and this is not the impression I have received from my (certainly inadequate) attempts to study the matter - perhaps she would be so kind as to present the evidence on which she bases her conclusions ?...

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By Jonas South, January 14, 2006 at 1:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

RE: Comment 108 “...Venezuela’s assembly is… illegitimate.”

Readers will have to decide for themselves which, if any, of Mr. Boyd’s reasons for his assertion that the National Assembly is illegitimate, is itself legitimate. But whatever you decide, two facts about the AN election bears mentioning:

(1) No one who loves Venezuelan democracy can be happy with the lopsided representation of the MVR party in the AN, including Chavez himself, who lamented the fact that he no longer would be able to meet and dialog in person with opposition members of the AN. But, more lamentably, history teaches that prolonged control by a dominant party inevitably leads to corruption and ossification.

(2) Mr. Boyd omitted the most potent, and legitimate, criticism of the fairness of the AN election. In Venezuela, candidates for office can be listed either under a party, or as an independent. But by law, the party list is limited in number to its proportional standing in the prior election. So MVR made a clever maneuver. It packed its candidate list with lesser known MVR candidates, because, as the ‘party of Chavez’, they would be shoo-ins. Those MVR candidates with better name recognition were shifted into a group nominally running as ‘independents’. Just in case the voters do not recognize some of these faux ‘independents’, MVR identified them with a de novo group name, and passed the word around that they are really MVR. This device neatly circumvented the intent of the law, which was to provide more democratic space to smaller parties and real independents. Unfortunately, the Supreme Tribunal allowed this ploy.

This scheme was put in place, but it dove-tailed into the ill-conceived opposition boycott, such that the extent of the scheme’s negative effect could not be assessed in this AN election. But loyal Venezuelans will continue to hope that Chavez follows through on his pledge to ‘deepen the revolution’, and provides fair and ample political space for a loyal opposition to emerge. The Venezuela people deserve no less.

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By David Ayers, January 14, 2006 at 12:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I notice Castro receiving “Offerings” from the new leaders of South America, and I notice that Bush has to get what he desires by grabbing it.

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By Sonia Belle, January 13, 2006 at 2:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Chris B, 

‘If Chavez had dictatorial ambitions would he support any grassroots efforts?’

The SA and the NSDAP were very ‘grassroots’ efforts as well…

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By Chris B, January 13, 2006 at 12:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Simon Wiesenthal Center recently accused Chavez of making and anti-semitic remark in a public speech. There’s a great article (http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news.php?newsno=1864) that clears up this misunderstading, if it is one, once and for all.
I’m sure, however, that the clarification by the Venezuelan Jewish community and others will be ignored, and Chavez’s speech will be added to the list of his “crimes”. And not just by right-wing propaganda outlets. I agree with Henri Day that when the time for goose-stepping comes the liberal news will join the march of the Hawks like they have so often before, at least in the U.S.
As a consequence, it is more important than ever to debunk such propaganda with hard facts and spread the message in every way possible, like Justin Delacour and others have been doing so well.
This case is also another reminder that the survival of democracy very depends very much on the health of a country’s independent and grassroots media. I think Chavez’s Venezuela is doing well in this regard. If Chavez had dictatorial ambitions would he support any grassroots efforts? In my opinion, despite any mistakes that may have been made so far, his efforts are consistent with the building of a participatory social democracy that will continue to survive when its founders are no longer in office.

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By aleksander boyd, January 11, 2006 at 7:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

For the easily duped: the last election in Venezuela was on December 4 2005. Assemblymen/women were to be elected. In spite of the very aggressive official campaign; the misuse of funds and media by the Chavez regime; the violation to electoral legislation; irrefutable evidence that the secrecy of the vote was compromised; intimidation and public threats to civil servants; illegal involvement of the army in the voting process; abnormal involvement of chavistas in the voting process -all of the above properly documented and duly reported by electoral observation mission of both the Organization of American States and the European Union-, Hugo Chavez’s hand-picked candidates managed to get less than 10% of the electorate’s support. Ergo Venezuela’s assembly is, as its president, illegitimate.

Further information:

http://vcrisis.com/index.php?content=letters/200512051126

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By Justin Delacour, January 11, 2006 at 7:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Aleksandr:

Not even fellow members of the Venezuelan opposition take you seriously (see http://opinionduel.blogspot.com/).  I mean, come on, dude, when your own side’s pollsters have been telling you for at least a year now that Chavez has high public approval ratings, you eventually need to wake up to the fact.

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By Sonia Belle, January 11, 2006 at 4:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Did you read this article about Chavez? Some people claim that he was misquoted, but even they admit that he mentioned “crucifiers of the Christ” and “minority that appropriated the wealth of the world”. Who could he be talking about? Pygmies of Central Africa perhaps?

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By aleksander boyd, January 10, 2006 at 7:20 am Link to this comment
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Who says participation was 25%? Is it not the very same institution that according to both OAS and EU electoral observers reports is distrusted by most people in Venezuela? Isn’t that the very same institution that, following orders from Hugo Chavez, gave MVR deputy Luis Tascon confidential roll information so that the Maisanta software could be developed? Who are you trying to kid here? For every one of your ludicrous allegations there are many counterarguments substantiated with evidence, so please Mr. Gus Teschke spare us the humbug. Should you wish to speak about the ‘boycott’ please start by narrating what took place in Fila de Mariches on November 23 2005.

To conclude, how many of the pundits opining here are Venezuelan? How many have lived in the country? For how long? Get a grip, some little indians have had enough pontification from clueless musius.

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By Stephen Revere, January 10, 2006 at 12:41 am Link to this comment
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Mr. Cooper,

  I am amazed at the diligence with which you have responded to nearly every comment posted on this board. You elevate the level of conversation by not responding to insults with insults and I want to commend you for your hard work and incredibly thick skin.

Stephen Revere

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By M Henri Day, January 9, 2006 at 12:04 pm Link to this comment
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Thanks are due Gus Teschke, both for taking up some important questions related to the dig itself, and for presenting some substantial information regarding the background to (the turnout in) the recent Venezuelan elections. Whatever the deficiencies in Marc Cooper’s original article, he - presuming that it is indeed he who has monitored the responses - has permitted the following discussion to remedy most of them. I find this approach to information, which to my mind has more to do with Darwin than with Sokrates, extremely appealing….

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By Charles Martel, January 9, 2006 at 11:40 am Link to this comment
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The article is very evenhanded, but it fails to denounce Chavez on the most important issue - that he is literally driving the Venezuelan economy into the ground. Once the oil bubble bursts, Venezuela will find itself in a catastrophic economic situation with its private sector decimated, the public sector mismanaged and the entire economy in ruins. You can read more about my take on Chavez on my blog.

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By M Henri Day, January 8, 2006 at 8:35 am Link to this comment
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«... and even John Kerry piled on Chavez». Hardly any surprises there - wasn’t Mr Kerry’s solution to the «problem» of Iraq to send more troops ? I don’t think the US State Department «missed the boat with the Latin American revolution[s]» - even if, at times, its officials may have underestimated its/their strengths - rather, they have consistently and correctly identified these movements as being inimical to the interests of their principals. That, I submit, is why, having the same principals, the New York Times and the Washington Post write about Señor Chavez in the manner they do….

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By Gus Teschke, January 7, 2006 at 8:59 pm Link to this comment
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Thanks to all of the reader who pointed out flaws in Cooper’s article. Here’s one more, which may have been inadvertent, but a serious error nonetheless:

Cooper writes of the most recent December 4 Venezuelan Congressional elections: “Instead of the usual 55-60% turnout, only 25% of voters turned out, raising questions about the real level of Chavez’s popularity.”  This repeats a mistake in some of the media, and of course it parrots the opposition and State Department propaganda in support of the opposition’s boycott. The “55-60% turnout” refers to elections such as the 2000 election, with a 56 percent turnout, that Reuters and some other reports used for comparison. But the 2000 election included the President, governors, and municipal elections. This latest election was only for the General Assembly. So this is a ridiculous comparison, as anyone who follows elections in the United States will know. How much was turnout depressed on December 4? It’s hard to tell, because this is the first election where only the General Assembly was on the ballot. The closest comparison is local or municipal elections which seem to be in the range of 24-31 percent turnout.

So turnout was depressed, yes, but not anywhere near as indicated by comparison to the Presidential and “mega-election” of 2000. The 25 percent turnout in the latest election really doesn’t say much at all about “the real level of Chavez’ popularity.” Most of the opposition boycotted, and even Chavistas knew that their vote would not make any difference in the outcome—so why should they waste their Sunday standing in line at the polls ? Just to prove their loyalty to the government? This is yet another example of holding Chavez and his supporters to a standard that would not be met anywhere else in the world. Also if you are one of the millions of poor Venezuelans working for an anti-Chavez employer (including maids and servants), do you really want to show up for work on Monday with indelible ink on your finger showing that you violated their boycott? Under these conditions, a 25 percent turnout is not all that bad.

I think Truthdig’s editors and/or publisher should respond to the serious questions raised about Cooper’s article. I agree with the objections raised that it was poor judgement on their part to assign someone who has such a blinding, prior-demonstrated hatred of Chavez and his supporters to write something like this.

Furthermore, Cooper dismisses too easily the fact that he has not been to Venezuela. It is not a question of “legitimacy” or “moral license;” he is writing about the reality of Venezuelan society under Chavez, and visiting the place can serve as a reality check. That is why it is a standard journalistic practice for articles like this. If Cooper had seen Venezuela, he might not have included so many misleading quotes and assertions in his article, some from questionable sources, many of which distort the reality there.

Even given these limitations, the least that Truthdig could have done was have someone who really knows something about Venezuela read the article before publishing it. Better yet, how about an expert from both sides? This clearly was not done, and I would like to know why, because this is not a daily newspaper and this article clearly was not written on a 24-hour deadline.

Finally, I think Cooper’s attempts to smear his critics by making up allegations about them somehow being “bought” by the Venezuelan government is really demeaning to Truthdig, as is his trashing of others on the basis of who their parents are. Since Cooper is listed as “Dig Director”, the publication ought to weigh in on this too, unless the editors/publisher find this to be acceptable behavior by someone representing them.

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By T.M. Scruggs, January 7, 2006 at 7:08 pm Link to this comment
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Jonas South’s description is very much on the mark: there has been a shift away from total demonization of the reform movement and Chavez in particular after the electoral burying of the recall effort—a real mandate—towards what you correctly call “stilted” but now “more subtle” characterizations in U.S. media.  This “subtle stitled” style and content characterizes the article, and not so subtle blog posts, by Mr. Cooper.  I’ve only heard good things about his book on Chile, so I was taken aback at how unfair and just plain inaccurate his article on Venezuela is.

My reference to a place to weigh in, and to a great extent my post in general, was directed to the other Directors of TrughDig.  Mr. Cooper’s style reveals a clear political bias against a positive pro-majority social movement, but more fundamentally the piece is not worthy just in terms of basic accuracy for a new website hoping to serve to dispel the mainstream (read: corporate) media’s deliberate distortions of social reality, including here in Venezuela. I suppose some Directors must cruise these blogs once inawhile, perhaps these posts are a way to reach them.

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By Southern Latitudes, January 7, 2006 at 11:57 am Link to this comment
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RE: Delacour Comment # 82. ‘Venezuela is a genuinely democratic society, as demonstrated by the contensiousness of its elections (even between parties in the governing coalition).’

RESPONSE: Without a doubt, for the moment, we can rest assured that participitory democracy is alive and well in Venezuela. Also, we can stipulate that the blame for the complete domination of MVR and its allies in the AN rests mainly with the opposition. But can we not also agree that, looking into the future, unless a loyal, true, and substantial opposition emerges, Venezuela’s experience, and its impact on the larger, global struggle, will suffer?

I love this once-in-a-lifetime Bolivarian experiment as much as you do. And in practical terms, I have more dollars (or Bolivars) and blood and sweat, invested in this society. Therefore, I cannot concede all of the solutions to passion more than gravitas, to pontifications at a distance, nor can I unreservedly accept youthful exuberance over experience.

In short, my personal welfare depends on Chavez acknowledging that he should deepen his revolution, or else fail.

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By Jonas South, January 7, 2006 at 9:47 am Link to this comment
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RE: Professor T.M. Scruggs’ comment #91. To answer your question: ‘Is there a place on TruthDig’s site for this type of political discussion to take place?  I think it is time for the rest of TruthDig to weigh in on a political direction so different from the rest of the site.’

Yes, Truthdig serves a function because, even though the interest is obviously there, coverage of the country is still stilted. A forum like this can help dispel the lies.

As you may have noticed, reporting on the Bolivarian experience underwent a subtle shift after Chavez’s victory in the recall election of August 2004.

Prior to that, the media was monopolized by writers whose only expertise, as you suggested, seemed to be that they speak Spanish. For example, the NY Times, with its tens of thousands of newsroom staff, relies mainly on a single individual to report on the entire South American continent. Similarly, for ‘impartial analysis’, reporters turned to a predictable coterie of ‘Latin America experts’, at least one of whom had known associations with a coup conspirator. Truth was in such short supply, and even John Kerry piled on Chavez. Little wonder the State Department missed the boat with the Latin revolution.

After the recall election, the neocons were deflated, while a little of the air went out of the neoliberal balloon, and the untruths became more subtle. But they are more lethal precisely because of their subtlety. You are right to be skeptical of every ‘liberal’ representation of Venezuela. From our vantage points on the ground, how can we not do our part to scrutinize and point out erroneous or misleading reporting?

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By Justin Delacour, January 6, 2006 at 8:56 pm Link to this comment
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“Justin Delacour provides evidence in his answer to one of the questions I put to him that the situation in Venezuela differs greatly from that which obtained in the former DDR ; i e, that the relationship among the parties in the governing coalition is not one of domination on the part of the larger party and submission on the part of other coalition members.”

Well, certainly the MVR has more power within the governing coalition than the other parties because it’s a much larger party and it controls far more seats, but there are differences between the parties, and the PPT in particular has significant influence.  Now, before I continue, allow me to say that the intricacies of Venezuela’s governing coalition is not my area of expertise, but these are my impressions. The PPT is a more ideologically coherent party than the MVR, with less historical linkages to the military.  The government’s foreign minister, minister of education and ambassador to the United States are all members of the PPT, and each is known for being more diplomatically skillful than most prominent figures in the governing coalition (including the president himself). 

I have to eat now, Henri, but I’ll reply to your other question either later tonight or tomorrow.

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By M Henri Day, January 6, 2006 at 4:29 pm Link to this comment
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Justin Delacour provides evidence in his answer to one of the questions I put to him that the situation in Venezuela differs greatly from that which obtained in the former DDR ; i e, that the relationship among the parties in the governing coalition is <u>not</u> one of domination on the part of the larger party and submission on the part of other coalition members. This doesn’t particularly surprise me, as the historical background to the political struggle in Venezuela is, of course, vastly different than was the case in the DDR, but I still found it -and indeed, dare to hope that Mr Delacour agrees - necessary to pose the question, given the unlimited capacity for manipulation that political parties are know to exhibit. (Thus, it is not for nothing that Mr Bush lards his speeches on Iraq with words like «victory» and «freedom», the one more elusive than the other and both in combination a contradictio in adjectivo.) I wonder now if I could ask him to address my other question - do there exist institutional safeguards against the accumulation of too much power in one person’s hands (i e, those of the president) in Venezuela ? Given that the threat to Venezuela is real and not merely a matter of self-serving propaganda a là das Dritte Reich (Chris B, the person I cited was not Hitler, but Herman Göring, in a conversation in his prison cell with psychologist Gustave Gilbert on 18 April 1946), justifications could easily be found. But experience demonstrates - and is, it would seem, demonstrating once again in the United States, as if further proof were necessary - that the collection of state power in a single institution is the road to tyranny. Are the leader of Venezuela and his closest co-workers aware of this fact, or do they believe that their own case represents an exception ? I should very much like to hear what you, with your experience of the attempt to transform Venezuela, have to say on this matter….

Chris B, from my own professional experience I can inform you that «sanity» is often a rather vague and relative concept. Thus, while I should certainly agree that «that no sane person would consider Venezuela (or Cuba for that matter) a military threat to the U.S.», it should be remembered that an earlier US president, Ronald Reagan, was able to allege that the Sandinists in Nicaragua represented a grave threat to the United States without any calls being raised for him to be involuntarily committed to a mental institution for treatment. (Ms Reagan, who is known to have exerted great influence upon her husband, consulted astrologers ; this, however, did not disqualify her from intervening in US policy matters during Mr Reagan’s presidency.) Thus if Mr Bush, in an attempt to demonstrate his prowess as a «war president», were to claim that Señor Chavez’s Venezuela represented a clear and present danger to the United States and that if Señor Chaves did not resign (he might be given 72 hours instead of 48), the US would invade, my best guess is that instead of being judged unfit for his office and committed for treatment, he would be supported by the media, not least by such «liberal» journals as the New York Times and the Washington Post. Let us hope that my hypothesis is not put to the test !...

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By Justin Delacour, January 6, 2006 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment
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Regarding M Henri Day’s comments, there is nothing comparable to East Germany’s party system in Venezuela.  I spent last summer in Venezuela, and I witnessed local elections.  There were a bunch of different parties allied with Chavez that ran for office.  A conflict arose when a new sytem of apportioning seats granted MVR a number of seats that was somewhat disproportionate to their actual electoral performance (a similar thing apparently happens in Germany, where parties that win less than five percent don’t get any representation in the Bundestag and larger parties are slightly overrepresented).  Anyway, some smaller pro-Chavez groupings, like the urban militia the Tupamaros, were totally up in arms about this.  They even set up road blockades in protest.  A lot of people who support the government criticized the new system of apporting seats for being unfairly favorable to the MVR.

There have also been open battles between the PPT and MVR about which party should be represent the governing coalition in regional elections.  These battles have gotten very heated, in fact.

The point, once again, is that there’s nothing comparable to East Germany in Venezuela.  Venezuela is a genuinely democratic society, as demonstrated by the contensiousness of its elections (even between parties in the governing coalition).

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By Southern Latitudes, January 6, 2006 at 1:11 pm Link to this comment
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ERRATA:

Re: Justin Delacour : ‘First off, there are multiple parties in the governing coalition, with MVR being the largest.  The governing coaltion includes MVR, Patria Para Todos, Podemos (a break-off from Movement toward Socialism - MAS), the Communist Party, the Tupamaros, and others.  Patria Para Todos and Podemos have a significant presence in the National Assembly.’

Each time I listen to Chavez, I renew my faith in the sincerity of the man, nor do I deny that his MVR is performing admirably. My concern is for his legacy, after he relinquishes the helm years from now. An overwhelmingly powerful political block such as MVR and its allies, tend to diminish the give and take of public discourse. Over time, the vibrancy of the revolution can suffer.

One early hint of this came during the municipal elections, when the voter turnout was as low as the later, rained out, boycotted AN election. Even among Chavistas, there was a sense that events have overtaken them and their participation is less critical now.

I bring this up because I worry that historical precedents for single party domination, such as the era of the PRI in Mexico, of Congress in India, and of the CCP in China, might repeat here. And that would be a great shame.

One potential solution, ironically, appears in the land of the Ossified Democracy, the U.S. Over the strenuous objections of the Republicrats, an election in San Francisco took place based on multiple choice, instant runoff principles. The idea is that the winning candidate always walks away with a pluralty of votes cast, and party affiliation is of lesser import.

Cassandra-like this may sound, but over the long term, unless the revolution is deepened, it may well fizzle.

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By Chris B, January 6, 2006 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment
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I assume Henri D’s quote in German is by Hitler.
Yes- the method really does seem to work in every country - we see the trend confirmed not just in Iran and North Korea but also the U.S.
(With the slight difference that the U.S. has actually recently launched two wars on the basis of such state propaganda).
Keeping this in mind, and the fact that no sane person would consider Venezuela (or Cuba for that matter) a military threat to the U.S., what shall we make of the alleged U.S. “Operation Balboa”?
(see quote by Chavez in an article by John Pilger http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1600)
Does this operation plan exist? Is it the reason why the U.S. has tried to block Venezuela’s maintenance of warplanes and aquisition of arms from Spain?
I just wanted to add this to the list of issues between Venezuela and the U.S. considering how serious a threat of invasion is, and considering that the U.S. has demonstrated (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and indirectly in many other countries such as Nicaragua)in the past that it will make war as it pleases, regardless of international law or moral questionability.

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By T.M. Scruggs, January 6, 2006 at 12:36 pm Link to this comment
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A few weeks ago I received notice of TruthDig’s launch from an email and looked forward to another progressive web site.  Imagine my surprise, similar to other progressive readers’ no doubt, when I read an article in the first “issue” of TruthDig on Venezuela, written by a Director of TruthDig.  The bias of Mr. Cooper is obvious to anyone basically familiar with recent events in Venezuela.  The untruthfulness of so much of the article’s depiction of the reform movement here is especially obvious for anyone with the combination of 1. progressive politics, and 2. access to current Venezuelan reality on the ground (and I guess, 3. fluent Spanish to really communicate with non-U.S. educated elites).  The many distortions and incorrect statements throughout TruthDig’s first article on the important topic of social movements in Venezuela have been admirably tackled in several previous blogs, as well as in articles on Venezuela from a variety of genuinely progressive and more responsible and factual sources.  Mr. Cooper’s responses are generally evasive, perhaps because it is also quite telling that he only has a superficial grasp of contemporary Venezuela.

Mr. Cooper’s inaccurate article is a disservice to the readers of this new web site.  How little grounding informs his analysis from research done here also does a disservice to a web site with the words of “Truth” and “Dig” in its title.  It will be a loss for all of us working for social justice if both the poor level of serious research and conservative political direction of Mr. Cooper’s initial contribution is left on the site without some kind of response from the rest of the Directors of TruthDig.  The position of TruthDig on the reform movement in Venezuela led by Hugo Chávez, which also has taken the leading role in a regional realignment against U.S. exercise of imperial control in the hemisphere, presently rests on this one article.  Do the rest of the those, you all, working to build TruthDig support this position?  Is there a place on TruthDig’s site for this type of political discussion to take place?  I think it is time for the rest of TruthDig to weigh in on a political direction so different from the rest of the site.

T.M. Scruggs
Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor 2005-2006
Universidad de los Andes
Mérida, Venezuela

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By Southern Latitudes, January 6, 2006 at 9:30 am Link to this comment
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Re: Justin Delacour : ‘First off, there are multiple parties in the governing coalition, with MVR being the largest.  The governing coaltion includes MVR, Patria Para Todos, Podemos (a break-off from Movement toward Socialism - MAS), the Communist Party, the Tupamaros, and others.  Patria Para Todos and Podemos have a significant presence in the National Assembly.’

Each time I listen to Chavez, I renew my faith in the sincerity of the man, nor do I deny that his MVR is performing admirably. My concern is for his legacy, after he relinquishes the helm years from now. An overwhelmingly powerful political block such as MVR and its allies, tend to diminish the give and take of public discourse. Over time, the vibrancy of the revolution can suffer.

One early hint of this came during the municipal elections, when the voter turnout was as low as the later, rained out, boycotted AN election. Even among Chavistas, there was a sense that events have overtaken them and their participation is less critical now.

I bring this up because I worry that historical precedents for single party domination, such as the era of the PRI in Mexico, of Congress in India, and of the CCP in China, might repeat here. And that would be a great shame.

One potential solution, ironically, appears in the land of the Republicrats, in the U.S. Over the strenuous objections of the Republicrats, an election in San Francisco took place based on multiple choice, intant runoff principles. The idea is that the winning candidate always walk away with a plurality of votes cast, and party affiliation is of lesser import.

Cassandra-like this may sound, but over the long term, unless the revolution is deepened, it may well fizzle.

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By M Henri Day, January 6, 2006 at 8:50 am Link to this comment
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I share both John Commins’ appreciation for the analyses presented by Messrs Cooper and Delacour and his wish that «they would omit the personal stuff».  Exchanging pejoratives can be exhilarating for the participants - and at times even entertaining for third parties, depending upon the levels of skill exhibited - but most of the time it simply wastes the latter’s time. I have observed this on many threads - the Nation‘s blogs are an instructive example - sometimes, I suspect, deliberately instigated to distract participants from the theme at hand….

I found Mr Delacour’s analysis of the multi-party nature of the coalition governing Venezuela of great interest ; this is not something of which the casual - or even not-so-casual - reader of the so-called mainstream media is likely to be aware. But it is important to remember that, e g, the government of the former DDR was formally run by a multi-parti coalition including four other parties besides the SED, but the former were, in fact, completely controlled by the latter and its state apparatus. My question to Mr Delacour is thus : What is the status of the other parties he lists above - are they truly independent , i e, can they freely determine their own policies and present them to the electorate, or are they under the thumb of the MVR ? I do not mean to imply that this is the case ; I simply don’t know, and would greatly appreciate hearing Mr Delacour’s analysis….

Further, do there exist constitutional limits to the power exerted by Señor Chavez and if so, are these limits observed in practice ? John Commins writes that «[t]hey support a brand of socialism that spreads some of the oil wealth around to the poor in the form of health clinics and subsidized food, but I cannot imagine that the people of this country would stand for a Communist dictatorship», but I am not convinced that we can rely upon the agency of DNA to prevent dictatorships (whether of the right or of the left ; it is the former which to my mind represent by far the greatest danger in the world today) from seizing power in formal democracies by less obvious methods than those used, e g, in Chile on 11 September 1973 or in Guatemala 29 years earlier (or for that matter, in Venezuela on 11 April 2002). I am unaware that any DNA analysis has been performed on the residents of the United States (excepting that done on the genome of J Craig Venter), but it seems to me unlikely that the distribution of various alleles in the population will determine the outcome of the present drive toward unlimited presidential power (as good a definition of dictatorship as any I have seen) being waged by certain persons within (and without) that country’s executive branch. (For an excellent summary, cf e g, Tom Engelhardt’s «A cult of presidential power», available at http://www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?emx=x&pid=46791.) As one accomplished practitioner of the art reminds us, the techniques for establishing a dictatorship in a formal democracy are very simple and widely known :

Natürlich, das einfache Volk will keinen Krieg [...] Aber schließlich sind es die Führer eines Landes, die die Politik bestimmen, und es ist immer leicht, das Volk zum Mitmachen zu bringen, ob es sich nun um eine Demokratie, eine faschistische Diktatur, um ein Parlament oder eine kommunistische Diktatur handelt. [...] das Volk kann mit oder ohne Stimmrecht immer dazu gebracht werden, den Befehlen der Führer zu folgen. Das ist ganz einfach. Man braucht nichts zu tun, als dem Volk zu sagen, es würde angegriffen, und den Pazifisten ihren Mangel an Patriotismus vorzuwerfen und zu behaupten, sie brächten das Land in Gefahr. Diese Methode funktioniert in jedem Land.

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By A E Reid, January 5, 2006 at 2:44 pm Link to this comment
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A good piece Mr Cooper

Venezuelan union elections are not monitored by the government.

The venezuelan constitution requires that union elections be conducted by the government´s nacional electoral council (CNE).

Also note the CNE, like the other branches of the government, is biased in favour of the executive branch.

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By Justin Delacour, January 5, 2006 at 2:06 pm Link to this comment
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Thanks for your comments, John.  I agree with you that it’s generally not fruitful to get personal in such interchanges.  But when you’re dealing with a self-proclaimed progressive who sinks so low as to red-bait people and to suggest that others’ writings are bought and paid for, it’s hard not to get annoyed.  Unfortunately, Cooper has a long record of descending into the gutter.

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By Marc Cooper, January 5, 2006 at 11:02 am Link to this comment

Thank you John. Sounds great. I have been in Venezuela a couple of times. But not for many years. Put the brewskis on ice.

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By john commins, January 5, 2006 at 10:05 am Link to this comment
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Ive read a few references to the Venezuelan military on some of these threads. Im no expert but if I may observe, the wealthy and middle classes generally do not serve in the Venezuelan military. They consider it a low and brutal trade. Like the US armed forces, the Venezuelan military is comprised on lower and working class and outright indigent young men with few other options. Many are conscripts who dont have the money to bribe their way out. They get dragged from the public busses and from outside shopping malls. For many of them the experience is probably a good one. they get fed, clothed, housed, educated to a degree and are given a certain measure of pride.
As far as I know, there is no history of military atrocities committed by the Vz. armed forces during the 47 years of democracy. Certainly nothing like the crimes committed by Columbian, Chilean and Argentine militaries. During the Caracas riots of the late 1980s, it is my understanding that the military refused to take violent repressive action against poor civillians looting the stores. that is not surprising when you consider the composition of the venezuelan military.
In short, I dont believe the Venezuelan military is ideologically driven, other than that they are patriots who tend to defend the constitution. Remember, the armed forces largely remained loyal to a very corrupt, but constitutionally elected government during the two coup attempts by Chavez and his fellows.
  Of course, that doesnt make the military the standard bearer for democracy, but they are not, nor have they ever been in this country s democratic history, a source of oppression.

As for any concern that Venezuela might go the way of Cuba, I believe that is far fetched. I dont have any proof of it, but it seems to me the Venezuelan people are too moderate to swing from one political extreme or another. There is nothing in their democratic history to suggest otherwise. They support a brand of socialism that spreads some of the oil wealth around to the poor in the form of health clinics and subsidized food, but I cannot imagine that the people of this country would stand for a Communist dictatorship. It just isnt in their DNA.
One other note. You can criticize Mr. Chavez for not building the democratic institutions that will survive his presidency. But you must also note that the rabid opposition had 47 years to build those institutions, and they failed.
One thing I hear more than anything down here, even from people who despise Chavez, is that at least he got rid of Accion Democratica and Copei, the two/party cartel that ran this country into the ground.
  Mr Cooper and Mr Delacour have offered a great back and forth, but I sure wish they would omit the personal stuff. It serves no purpose other than to needlessly polarize and I suspect that both of you gentlemen are above that. If I want name calling, I can go to Bill OReilly.
Mr. Cooper, Im still not quite sure how much time youve spent in Vz., if any. That shouldnt exclude you from commentary. As I said earlier, I found many of your concerns to be justified and your story balanced. But you really should come down and take a look around. In fact, youre welcome to stay with me in Valencia, Vz. We will drink a couple of Polars, maybe watch a baseball game. 
JC Valencia, VZ

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By aleksander boyd, January 5, 2006 at 8:32 am Link to this comment
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What an interesting thread. As someome deeply worried about the castroite path its country has taken, I have a few observations. To your set of questions Marc:

1) Is Chavez building some worthy model of development which is a viable alternative to the Washington Consensus?

NO.

2) Is his project compatible with and respectful of democracy? And democracy with no clever qualifiers, I might add.

SURE, ESPECIALLY CONSIDERING THAT HE WANTS TO REMAIN IN POWER UNTIL THE YEAR 2030

3) Is he excessively centralizing power and leading Venezuela toward the construction of an authoritarian model (Peron, Castro etc).

DEFINITELY (Please compare Venezuela’s LOFAN with Cuba’s LAR and whilst at it check out the number of army officers loyal to him in charge of public offices…)

Not that it matters a lot, but just for clarification purposes; until Chavez’s lackeys get round to amend their own constitution:

Article 350: The people of Venezuela, true to their republican tradition and their struggle for independence, peace and freedom, shall disown any regime, legislation or authority that violates democratic values, principles and guarantees or encroaches upon human rights.

Do I support foreign intervention? NO, rather I would like to see Hugo Chavez and his mates impeached, arrested, tried and locked in an ADMAX-type of facility for the rest of their existence a la John Gotti. What are the chances of that happening under the actual circumstances? NONE.

And to conclude if readers of this site are truly interested in finding a factual account on the state of democracy in Venezuela, please visit http://infovenezuela.org

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By Shag, January 4, 2006 at 7:56 pm Link to this comment
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He may be democraticly elected, but he’s got oil man, that’s all they care about.

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By Justin Delacour, January 4, 2006 at 3:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Finally, I agree with the author that a single party democracy is an oxiumoronic concept. Unless a loyal opposition emerges, the MVR’s success is its own enemy.”

First off, there are multiple parties in the governing coalition, with MVR being the largest.  The governing coaltion includes MVR, Patria Para Todos, Podemos (a break-off from Movement toward Socialism - MAS), the Communist Party, the Tupamaros, and others.  Patria Para Todos and Podemos have a significant presence in the National Assembly.

In my estimation, the old MAS—which has long been a party of the opposition—was moving in the direction of a loyal opposition (i.e. a party of opposition that respects the right of Chavez and his political partners to govern on the basis of the democratic mandate that they have received at the ballot box).  Unfortunately, the other opposition parties—with what appears to be encouragement from the U.S. government—have sabotaged the development of a loyal opposition by attempting to delegitimize the electoral process. (The boycott of the legislative elections was only the latest manifestation of a campaign of delegitimization of Venezuela’s electoral process).

If the opposition hadn’t boycotted the legislative elections, they most likely would have won between 25 to 30 percent of legislative seats.  This is the most important point when discussing the governing coalition’s current domination of the National Assembly.  Insofar as the National Assembly is now entirely controlled by the governing coalition, it is the opposition parties that are at fault for this outcome, not Chavez or the MVR.

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By Southern Latitudes, January 4, 2006 at 9:00 am Link to this comment
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I find the article largely balanced, and informative in a general way. A few specifics deserve comment: (1) The article quotes ‘liberal policy analyst’ Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue. Mr. Shifter, in his resume published on the Georgetown Univ. site (now revised) lists him as a VP of Globovision during the time of the plotting of the coup. (2) The article strongly implies that the Venezuelan military was a prime mover in the coup. Other thoughtful observers ‘credits’ the coup more to the oweners of the private media. Some even consider this the first ‘incipient media coup’ of the modern era. (3) The article follows the main stream media convention in using the terms ‘labor union’ and ‘middle class’. The casual U.S. reader, using his preconceived notions for terms like these, is quickly led stray. The reality of Venezuela is so different, that these terms, without digging deeper into the background, obfuscate perfectly.

Finally, I agree with the author that a single party democracy is an oxiumoronic concept. Unless a loyal opposition emerges, the MVR’s success is its own enemy.

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By Levi Budd, January 3, 2006 at 11:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have also been silently following this thread without comment, however I am thinking that now might be the time to make a short statement.  After reading the background articles posted by Justin Delacour it’s quite clear that Marc Cooper is grinding some kind of a right-wingish idealogical axe against Hugo Chavez.  Why this is so we can only speculate because from my reading and understanding of Chavez it is quite difficult to view him as some kind of villain.  That said, I believe it is very dangerous for anybody, but especially some guy who maintains he’s some kind of progressive, to unfairly label Chavez a huckster, strongman or loudmouth which clearly imply that Chavez is a dictator or wannabe dictator of some kind.  As we know, when push comes to shove in our very delicate and combustible world those kinds of images can be readily used as a justification for the United States to take aggressive postures, if not actions, against its perceived enemies.  That a progressive should write them without quality substantiation is particularly dangerous.  Also, although I am no Marxist and have never belonged to any organization that could be described as radical, I resent the casual way that Cooper attempts to red bait and dismiss some who question his portrayal of Chavez.  Those are cheap shots that take advantage of our difficult political history in the United States and have always been used to dismiss progressives and their concepts.  Cooper should no better as I am sure that during his life his thoughts and ideas have also been similarly discarded.  Thank You, Cheers, Levi Budd

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By Sam Nordum, January 3, 2006 at 5:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’ve been silently reading this thread and now feel compelled to say a few words. I was impressed by Mr. Cooper’s fine reporting. He seemed to go out of his way to present a fair picture of what’s happening in Venezuela. I learned a lot. I followed the links he offered and learned even more. As a reader I was able to make my own judgements on the cited sources, and their respective biases were easy to sort out.

I have been surprised by the virulence of some of the responses posted here, in particular those of Justin Delacour. I have Googled him on the web and have reached a similar conclusion as Cooper did. Delcour looks like he’s on a mission to discredit anyone who criticizes Chavez. It’s too bad because he seems an intelligent man who has a burning passion for the cause of Venezuela. I find myself pretty sympathetic to Chavez myself. But I can also see a certain danger in his approach. Delacour should understand that in his virulent and aggressive style he is undermining his cause, and in that sense, our cause. He should be more open to discussion and stop acting like he’s some sort of enforcer.

Thanks to Bob Scheer for a great web site. I read it eveyday and now will start commenting more. Thanks also to Marc Cooper for his Venezuela story and his willingness to respond to all. Marc should also take it down a notch or two in some of his responses—but I appreciate his openness to answer all.

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By Marc Cooper, January 3, 2006 at 10:47 am Link to this comment

Thanks Henri for bringing us back on track. I will readily accept a quota of responsibility for letting us veer into more personal areas. But it seems this is a deliberate tactic of my antagonist, Mr. Delacour who has a clear track record of following any and all critics of Chavez and blasting them.

To Delacour, I am glad to see your answewrs, albeit framed in an unnecessarily profane manner. But OK.
The questions you were asked were totally legit as they stem from the very criteria that you use in evaluating other’s view of Venezuela.

So to not bore the readers (or myself for that matter), why don’t you answer the second set of questions I posed i.e. what if any a4re your critiques of the Venezuelan government?

Or as Henri recast my orginal query:

1) Is Chavez building some worthy model of development which is a viable alternative to the Washington Consensus?

2) Is his project compatible with and respectful of democracy? And democracy with no clever qualifiers, I might add.

3) Is he excessively centralizing power and leading Venezuela toward the construction of an authoritarian model (Peron, Castro etc).

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By M Henri Day, January 3, 2006 at 10:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It seems to me that most of the digging on this thread is now being done not with regard to Venezuela, but with regard to each other’s credentials. Not surprisingly, this has lead to a polarisation of the discussion which, while it may interest the participants, has less to offer those of us who want more substantive news concerning the country - most of us are presumably capable of arranging attitudes and ideologies ourselves, without any help. I thank Mr Delacour for his links to Alexander Boyd’s website ; in my reading they suffice to show that any repasts cooked with Mr Boyd’s recipes require the inclusion of that condiment recommended by Gaius Plinius Secondus. And admittedly, Marc’s style - «Venezuela’s huckster President Hugo Chavez» - does tend to lead one to question whether his objective is to understand Venezuela or rather to use it as a backdrop for another agenda. But that being said,  I stand by my earlier view that Marc’s original article, warts and all, was of substantial value to persons like myself who, in the absence of any personal experience of the region, feel a need to understand what is going on. I should therefore very much like to see that this dig retains its usefulness, and avoids being transmogrified into a pit for the exchange of personal recriminations….

What’s to be done ? If I may be so bold as to offer a suggestion, I should like us to concentrate on the first three of Marc’s questions in his penultimate posting above (the fourth question - what Washington’s policies should be - I leave aside ; somehow I doubt that either Foggy Bottom or the Pentagon are interested in any hints from me/us) :

1) Is Chavez building some worthy model of development which is a viable alternative to the Washington Consensus?

2) Is his project compatible with and respectful of democracy? And democracy with no clever qualifiers, I might add.

3) Is he excessively centralizing power and leading Venezuela toward the construction of an authoritarian model (Peron, Castro etc).

In discussing these questions, I think we should be open to the possibility that they may be answered both in the affirmative and the negative - and, indeed, in that wishy-washy «liberal», manner, with something in between. I think it also reasonable to take a look at the competition ; as Mr Bush (and/or his speechwriters) seems to feel a compulsion to frequent use of the word in his speeches, we need to analyse just what sort of «democracy» it is that he is peddling - to Iraq, to Latin America, to the USA. And for those of use ignorant of such matters, what do Señor Chavez’s neighbours in Latin America have to say about democracy - are any of them attempting to translate it into that type of social order its etymology would suggest - as opposed, say, to the «corpocracy» (excuse my mixing languages !) that runs most of the world today ? I think both Mr Cooper and Mr Delacour have a lot to contribute to such a discussion, as do Mr Proyect and Mr Melançon and others who have posted to the thread. And let us not forget Naty’s insight : «It is about time politicians do something for the people and not the corporations for a change.»

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By Justin Delacour, January 3, 2006 at 4:08 am Link to this comment
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MARC COOPER: “Delacour has written several pieces of adulatory ‘analysis’ of the Chavez administration on websites closely associated the government.”

MY REPLY: It would be interesting to see if you could point folks to one measly factual error in anything I’ve ever written about Venezuela.  I and others have clearly demonstrated that your articles are littered with factual errors, yet you’ve yet to point out one such error in my “several pieces” of supposedly “adulatory ‘analysis’.”

Who gives a flying fuck if a website on which I’ve published a few commentaries is “closely associated with the Venezuelan government”?  If your purpose is to imply that I’ve somehow received compensation for such commentaries from the Venezuelan government, perhaps you and Aleksandr Boyd have something in common after all.  Since when does a supposedly “progressive” columnist take his conspiratorial cues from a loony right-wing blogger who advocates the violent overthrow of a democratically-elected Latin American government?

For the record, the only publications from which I’ve ever received compensation are Extra! (the magazine of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) and the University of New Mexico’s Latin America Data Base.  Just to reassure the conspiratorially minded, these publications aren’t subsidized by the Venezuelan government. 

Every other article I’ve ever published (in ZNet, Narco News, Venezuelanalysis, Counterpunch, CommonDreams, and VHeadline) was written free of charge.   

MARC COOPER: “And he has toured Venezuela on a delegation that some have accused of having been subsidized by the government.”

MY REPLY: How curious it is, Marc, that you once again dredge up a charge proffered by none other than Aleksandr Boyd and the rabidly right-wing Venezuelan daily El Universal.  El Universal’s editors were so embarrassed by their own journalists’ lack of evidence in insinuating that the Venezuelan government had paid for my trip during the referendum that they published my 1200-word reply (see: http://buscador.eluniversal.com/2005/04/01/opi_art_01491E.shtml ).  Even the Venezuelan government’s Minister of Communication and Information—who doesn’t know me from Adam—was struck by how badly El Universal had fucked up; he suggested in the press that I should consider suing El Universal for libel (see: http://www.eluniversal.com/2005/03/23/pol_art_23104A.shtml ).  They’re lucky I didn’t sue them.

Now, for those who have read El Universal, it is a well-known fact that it virtually never publishes commentaries by sympathizers of the government; its editorial page is monolithically anti-Chavez.  However, because they fucked up royally in publishing some libelous claims, they were shamed into running the following reply by me, which I’m now forced to repeat because a jack-ass named Marc Cooper can’t help but fuck up some more.

Here goes: 

“As a doctoral student of political science at the University of New Mexico, I am employed by the university’s department of political science as a graduate assistant and not by the Venezuelan government as a supposed mercenary analyst.  To the contrary of what El Universal claims, the expenses of my visit to Venezuela during the referendum were not paid by the Venezuelan government.  The members of our delegation covered all of our expenses, including the costs of airfare, hotel, transport during my stay in Venezuela, and food, among others.” 

MARC COOPER: “I have no means of verifying that charge.”

MY REPLY: Well, Marc, if you have no means of verifying the charge, why in the fuck is a so-called “progressive” columnist like yourself repeating false rumors peddled by sources that are as phony as:

1) a loony right-wing blogger who publicly advocates the violent overthrow of Venezuela’s government; and

2) a right-wing daily that caters to wealthy Venezuelan audiences who generally aren’t any more sensible than Boyd?

Since you now spread unverifiable rumors about people and attempt to discredit them on account of their mother’s writings (a la Camila Pineiro Harnecker), would you mind if I just spread a few unverifiable rumors about your mother and asked you some rhetorical questions about those rumors on a public forum?  I’m sure you’d find that very pleasant. 

Oh, and by the way, Marc, no serious analyst of Venezuela would ever describe Tal Cual or its editor Teodoro Petkoff as “critically supportive of Chavez.”  Petkoff has considered challenging Chavez for the presidency; Tal Cual advocated Chavez’s recall. 

My suggestion would be that you spend a little time in Venezuela and maybe learn a thing or two about a thing or two before you continue making such an utter fool of yourself.

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By Marc Cooper, January 3, 2006 at 12:59 am Link to this comment

I’m going to start by having a bit of belly laugh, Justin. The patronizing tone of your note really should be framed and put on display somewhere. Yup, poor Truthdig and poor Marc Cooper; we just fumble on about Venezuela as best we can within our boundless ignorance and without your enlightened guidance.

I’ve re-read your above comment twice and, frankly, I find that the basic differences are one of interpetation and tone. I’m not going to rehash this a third time. We will let readers make up their own minds.

That said: I find it curious that you, in fact, do admit the central role being played by the military in Chavez’ government. You also say that he is building something less than the sort of democracy we might desire, but you can’t work up the courage to level a single specific critcism.

You make an issue of my not having spent time in Venezuela as you have. Fair enough. So two questions for you:

1) I have been to Iraq and you have not. Does that mean that what I would write on Iraq would automatically have more legitimacy than what you might? Do you believe that only those who went to Vietnam had moral license to write about it?
Frankly, Justin you sound much more like a passionate solidarity activist than someone open to debate and discussion on the issue of Venezuela.

2) Because you have made physically going to Venezuela an issue, then I think you are now obligated to respond to the query I put to you which remains unanswered. So here it goes again:
Was your tour of Venezuela subsidized in any way, directly or indirectly by the Venezuelan government, or any other Venevuela or U.S.-based solidarity organization? Or did you rather pay all expenses of lodging, food and transport on your own?

As I said in my previous query to you on this matter, you have the perfect right to have accepted any such subsidy. Your freedom of political association is absolute and is strictly your business. But if you’re going to purport to be a public authority on the issue and one who spends a lot of time upbraiding other reporters on the matter and writing off some of us others as hobbled dopes, then you are rather obligated to publicly disclose any sort of subsidy or in-kind donation. That’s standard MO.

3) More importantly, I think. Now that you position yourself as an authority to whom the rest of us helpless fools should submit, why not share some of your sage wisdom with us? Are there any two or three areas or aspects of Chavez’ administration that you think good-thinking people should legitmately keep their eyes on? Are there any trends, programs, policies that you believe might shortchange the Venezuelan people and their democratic future? Do you think Chavez has ANY shortcomings as a leader? Do you think he has any inclination toward excessively centralized rule? Do you think that there is any chance that Chavez will impose a Cuban-style political model on Venezuela? And if he did, do you think that would be something that would be beneficial to the people of Venezuela?

I ask this because in your writings you seem to brook NO criticism whatsoever of Chavez. Anyone who levels any criticism is tagged and bagged by you as some sort of ignorant apologist for Imperialism.

So if we critics are too harsh, or too ignorant,or to morally feckless, or too politically unreliable, then why don’t you set us straight, amigo. Take a moment out of your grad studies and lay down the parameters of the debate for us as you see fit. Please, draw upon your personal experience and your vast academic knowledge to tell us what should be legitimately open to debate. Because until now it sure seems that you believe NOTHING should be debated when it comes to Hugo Chavez. Prove me wrong. And remember to let us know if anyone paid for any part of your Venezuelan tours.

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By Justin Delacour, January 2, 2006 at 11:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Marc Cooper has done the best he could do in writing this article on Venezuela, given his weaknesses. First, his knowledge of the subject matter is limited. Second, he has a deep and bitter hatred of Chavez, his supporters, and even those who have defended democracy in Venezuela since the April 2002 coup. He has described Hugo Chavez as a “thug” and a “third world tin-pot dictator,” and “a cartoonish imitation of Fidel Castro with absolutely not a trace of any of the redeeming qualities one can find in the Cuban lider maximo.”

So, although Cooper’s Truthdig article assumes the form of a standard news analysis piece, and Cooper makes an effort to tell “both sides,” in that Time Magazine way, he cannot escape his deep prejudices and lack of knowledge. Reading it, I was reminded of the comedian Lenny Bruce’s imitations of Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s trying to learn how to say the word “Negro.” He kept saying “Nigro.” Cooper cannot keep his prejudices from bubbling to the surface. The editors of Truthdig have to share some of the blame for this. Would they ask Ann Coulter to write an article about the Clinton years, and then leave it to random comments from readers to clean up the mess? I would expect better from a web publication that intends to be a notch above the mainstream media.

One of the funniest parts of Cooper’s essay is his quote from Aleksandr Boyd, whom he allows to describe himself as someone who “identifies neither with the government nor its formal opponents.” This is like introducing Bill O’Reilly as a man who “says he is neither Republican nor Democrat, and that he broadcasts from the ‘no-spin’ zone.” Literally. Just go to Boyd’s blog (http://www.vcrisis.com/index.php?content=home ) and see for yourself. It will take you about 10 minutes of browsing to see that this guy is from the conspiratorial lunatic fringe of an opposition where the average person lives in a bubble and actually believes that, despite the certification of the August 2004 referendum by the Carter Center and the OAS, that the opposition really won and the 59-41 pro-Chavez vote was the result of a huge electronic fraud.  Boyd says this, too, and more: he calls for the violent overthrow of the Venezuelan government (http://www.vcrisis.com/?content=letters/200412071531). Of course the O’Reilly analogy isn’t exactly right: O’Reilly is much more rational and has a large following. Boyd is just a lone nutball with a blog, living in self-imposed exile in London. What was Cooper thinking when he chose Boyd as a source? Was it just ignorance or does he really see Boyd as someone to turn to for a description of Venezuelan reality? Not flattering to Cooper either way.

In this regard it is worth noting that Cooper was almost alone (with the exception of the Wall Street Journal editorial board) in suggesting that the August 2004 recall referendum was actually stolen (see his “Chavez Again – Did Uncle Jimmy Get Duped”—http://marccooper.com/chavez-again-did-uncle-jimmy-get-duped/ ) , where Cooper quotes approvingly from a grossly flawed study alleging a massive electronic fraud in the referendum. The Carter Center later appointed an independent panel of statisticians, who found that the study was flawed and concluded that there was no evidence of electronic fraud (see references at http://www.tpmcafe.com/story/2005/12/2/17334/7970 ). So maybe Cooper really does feel at home with the conspiracy nutters.

Cooper makes other weird mistakes with regard to sources. He says that “[t]he case for Chavez is passionately made, for example, by journalist Christian Parenti, writing in The Nation,” but anyone who reads that article will see that it is actually quite critical of the Chavez government; Cooper doesn’t get that because he is more used to “balanced” discourse from wackos like Aleksandr Boyd.  Also, at least Parenti, who had little prior knowledge of Venezuela, went there and talked to people in order to write his article in the Nation.  Has Cooper been to Venezuela since Chavez has been in office? Did Truthdig even ask him if or when or how many times he has seen the reality that he is describing, when he invites his readers to “dig a little deeper” and take a look at “what is happening inside Venezuela?”  This is important because while it would be perfectly okay for Cooper to pontificate about U.S. foreign policy without ever getting off his ass in Los Angeles, it is another matter to write about what is happening in Venezuela under Chavez without going there. And given this and other writings by Cooper about Venezuela (e.g. his error-ridden op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on September 5, 2003 ), it really looks like he has not been there. Truthdig should inform its readers if this is in fact the case.

Also, Cooper erroneously describes the opposition-led oil strike of 2002-2003 as a “general work stoppage.” Less than one percent of the country’s labor force actually participated in this strike, not even the majority of blue collar workers in the oil industry.

Cooper also quotes someone he describes as “liberal policy analyst Michael Shifter” arguing that Chavez is anti-democratic, without telling us that Shifter – a former National Endowment for Democracy director for Latin America – also has quite a passionate hatred of Chavez, referring to Chavez in the media as a “strongman” and an “autocrat” rather than an elected President. A nexis search of the word “strongman” reveals hundreds of uses of the word to describe Afghan warlords, dictators such as Pinochet and Saddam Hussein, but no elected presidents. Interestingly, Cooper has a long quote from one of Shifter’s absolutely worst op-eds ever (Financial Times, April 8, 2005), which was thoroughly debunked by Julia Buxton, an academic who – unlike these pundits – is actually an expert on Venezuela. From her response:

“It is most extraordinary that Shifter thinks it possible to draw parallels between [the Chávez government and] the bloody and ruthless juntas that controlled countries like Argentina and Chile until democratisation in the 1980s . . .

So why does the Venezuelan military play such a central role in the administration and political system of the country? To understand this it is necessary to look beyond the immediate question of Chávez’s background and examine (briefly) Venezuela’s recent political history. This highlights one of the key weaknesses of Shifter’s analysis. As all the recent academic literature of Venezuela shows, the actual quality of the democratic system that was in place from 1958 until 1998 was questionable. The two leading parties of the period, AD and COPEI operated in a clientelist manner. They politicised and degraded state institutions and they restricted the autonomy of civil society to such an extent that the Venezuelan electorate opted for a radical alternative that promised to sweep away the old system. The first issue then is that it is mistaken to argue [as Shifter argues] that Chávez does not come from a tradition of fighting for democracy. On the contrary, the Chavista movement is a product of the lack of democracy in Venezuela between 1958 and 1998, a product of the social, economic and political exclusion that prevailed throughout that time and a product of massive disaffection with corrupt and politicised state institutions. We may not be enthralled by the type of democracy Chávez is seeking to build, or the manner in which he has chosen to do this, but it is important to note that the Chávez government has brought marginalised and excluded people into the political process and democratised power.

The second big lesson from Venezuelan history is that there is no administration or functional mechanism for delivering policy initiatives in the country. The Chávez government has sought to overcome institutional sclerosis and decay, in addition to the direct blocking of government initiatives by opposition placements, by bypassing the state administration. In the absence of any other body or organisation capable of delivering social policy and infrastructure repairs, the government has employed the armed forces. The military has consequently become a significant actor by default, (the absence of a neutral, meritocratic and functioning civil service due to the legacy of state politicisation by AD and COPEI) and by design.” (http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1428 )

Cooper’s description of the U.S. role in the coup is also flawed. Cooper notes that the CIA had advance knowledge of the coup (see documents at http://www.venezuelafoia.info/ciac4.html ), and quotes Peter Kornbluh correctly stating that “this intelligence was distributed to dozens of members of the Bush administration, giving them knowledge of coup plotting.” Now the important part: When the coup actually took place, both the White House and the State Department publicly maintained the coup leaders’ version of events, maintaining that it was not a coup at all, but rather:

“We know that the action encouraged by the Chavez government provoked this crisis.  According to the best information available, the Chavez government suppressed peaceful demonstrations… The results of these events are now that President Chavez has resigned the presidency.  Before resigning, he dismissed the vice president and the cabinet, and a transitional civilian government has been installed…”

That was Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman, the day after the coup.

Perhaps an analogy will make this clear. Imagine that Ken Lay tells Marc Cooper that he is going to commit a major accounting fraud, and then he does so. Lay then announces that there was no fraud, but just an honest mistake. Imagine that Cooper, with full knowledge that the fraud was planned, writes a news report stating that no fraud took place, but rather there were some accounting mistakes. Cooper would then be complicit in the crime, regardless of the legal ramifications. Similarly, the White House lying about the coup when it occurred, and trying to convince the world of the coup leaders’ version of events, is a form of actual involvement in the coup.

Thus the Bush Administration’s involvement in the coup has been demonstrated by its own documents, and is not, as Cooper describes it, a matter for speculation.  Furthermore the State Department’s own internal investigation, which was mostly a whitewash that did not interview a single Venezuelan, acknowledged that “it is clear that NED [the National Endowment for Democracy], Department of Defense (DOD), and other U.S. assistance programs provided training, institution building, and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster of the Chavez government.” 

Also, the New York Times reported that both Mexican and Spanish government officials, including the Mexican foreign minister at the time of the coup, Jorge Casteneda, stated that the Bush Administration tried to get other countries to support the coup. 

So we have not only hard documentary evidence demonstrating U.S. involvement in the coup, but additional circumstantial evidence as well. All this is important because it helps explain why not only Chavez but many other Venezuelans are so angry at the Bush Administration. These people actively helped the effort to overthrow Venezuela’s democratically elected government and install a dictatorship. 

But Cooper concludes that we just don’t know, that only “Chavez defenders” see a direct hand in the coup, and that “less partisan analysts” see something more ambiguous.

Cooper has little to say about what the Chavez government has actually done for the poor: 40 percent getting subsidized food, millions with free health care for the first time, 1.5 million taught to read, etc. He gets the economy wrong too: unnamed “critics suggest that Chavez’s success is a temporary bubble inflated by high oil prices and that underneath his revolutionary rhetoric he is more of an old-fashioned populist buying constituencies with lavish handouts. . . [W]hen and if oil prices fall, Chavez’s projects could collapse.”  Actually, the government is running a budget surplus, an enormous trade surplus, has a whopping $29 billion in reserves, and has budgeted for oil prices (in 2005) at about half their realized price. So the idea that it could all come crashing down with a drop in oil prices is a more of an opposition fantasy. Also just turning the economy to positive growth for its 6 years in office is a major accomplishment for the Chavez government, in a country that saw a 35 percent fall in per capita income from 1970-1998, one of the worst in the world, and despite oil prices in the seventies that were even higher than they are now.

There’s more but that’s probably more than this article is worth. As noted above, it’s probably the best that Cooper could do, given his limitations. Next time, Truthdig should dig around for someone with a better shovel, and one that is not so prone to spread horseshit around.


Sources

White House press briefing, April 12, 2002. Available online at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/04/20020412-1.html

“A review of U.S. Policy Toward Venezuela: November 2001 – April 2002,” Report 02-OIG-003, July 2002, http://www.oig.state.gov/documents/organization/13682.pdf

“Documents Show C.I.A. Knew of Coup Plot in Venezuela,” by Juan Forero, New York Times, December 3, 2004

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By Naty, January 2, 2006 at 3:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Marc thank you for your insights on Hugo Chavez. I found your article to be balanced when discussing the pros and cons of Chavez’s influence on Venezuela and South America. However, I am interested in hearing more views from the Venezueleans themselves. Particularly, traditionally underrespresented Venezueleans. Can anybody refer me to some websites that would allow me to read these views.

I think that no one can deny assisting those in poverty is the moral and ethically correct thing to do. However, whether Hugo Chavez will remain genuine to the cause is the issue. I do not think that presidents who give “handouts” to the poor in hopes for the vote is such a negative thing. It is about time politicians do something for the people and not the corporations for a change.

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By Louis Proyect, January 2, 2006 at 3:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Cooper: “Did and does the private media crusade against him? Absolutely. I’ve stated so clearly in my piece. If it wasn’t clear enough then it should be now.”

This is really so disingenous. This is not a question of a crusade. A crusade would be something like Marc Cooper denouncing the antiwar movement or Paul Berman cheering on the Marines in Iraq.

But that’s not what happened in Venezuela. Instead, a coup was launched with the television stations acting as a kind of ideological shock troop and in league with the rightwing officers. When newspapers or television stations urge the violent overthrow of a democratically elected government, Cooper blames the government for taking action against them. If there has been any doubt about where this character is going, there shouldn’t be any now.

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By M Henri Day, January 2, 2006 at 2:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Agree with you on all three questions. Can you help us to find out ?...

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By Marc Cooper, January 2, 2006 at 1:50 pm Link to this comment

Henri:

There’s a difference between caring about an intervention—which I oppose—and not caring that a relatively obscure blogger might or might not have that point of view. That’s all I meant. I already know there is a current of Venezuelan society that wants a violent overthrow of Chavez—if Boyd is actually in their ranks or not matters very little to me.

Nor did I spend any significant time researching Ms. Pineiro-Harnecker. Having known her mother quite well I immediately recognized the name. I did a quick Google search…about 30 seconds—to make sure Camila was Marta’s daughter. I opened the link on the Tal Cual piece as it caught my attention; and I spent two minutes reading it in its entirety. And that’s it. I leave Internet stalking to the Mr. Proyects of the world!

I appreciate your take on sourcing. Couldn’t agree more. It seems to me that on Venezuela there are 3 or 4 key questions that need to be looked at.. beyond who does or does not sound like Time magazine:

1) Is Chavez building some worthy model of development which is a viable alternative to the Washington Consensus?

2) Is his project compatible with and respectful of democracy? And democracy with no clever qualifiers, I might add.

3) Is he excessively centralizing power and leading Venezuela toward the construction of an authoritarian model (Peron, Castro etc).

4) What should be the proper policies from Washington?

Beyond that, I dont care who Boyd or Pineiro-Harnecker have lunch with.

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By M Henri Day, January 2, 2006 at 1:36 pm Link to this comment
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No, Marc, you have not attempted - at least as far as I know - to suppress opposing views in response to your article, something I indeed find commendable and a practice which I hope you will continue, no matter what the provocations ! I also find commendable your willingness - not to say eagerness - to engage in debate and not merely debate, but also discussion, as I get the impression that you are willing to entertain viewpoints which don’t correspond precisely with your own. So much for the complements - now for the criticism ! I find your claim that «I dont know and I dont much care» about a possible advocacy on Mr Boyd’s part of armed intervention of Venezuela a tad disingenuous ; I think you should care, given that such an intervention would inevitably lead to a great deal of harm, and could only be justified if it were done to prevent the certainty of much greater harm. I don’t think it is enough to say of anyone that «he is entitled to his point of view». What are we doing here if not examining and criticising each other’s points of view ?...

Besides, this nonchalance concerning points of view does not seem to extend to the case of Ms Piñeiro Harnecker. You seem to have taken a great deal more care to investigate her background than that of Mr Boyd - why ? Is not his at least as interesting to participants in this discussion as hers ? Whatever her parentage might be, after reading Ms Piñeiro Harnecker’s article (which was first, if I understand the matter aright, published in the Monthly Review, I did not get the impression that she was just a hack writing adulatory articles about el máximo jefe. On the contrary, I found her article to contain valuable information - information perhaps not easily obtained elsewhere - although I did fault her for not considering the problem of the concentration of power. Do you disagree ?...

In any event, my hopes are that you and others will continue to provide us with information concerning what is happening in Venezuela, as I get the impression that the attempt occurring there to prove that Dame Thatcher’s TINA philosophy is wrong is germane to us all, not merely to Venezuelans or even Latin Americans. The events of the last five years show, at least to my satisfaction, that we are in desperate need of an alternative to «business as usual»....

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By Marc Cooper, January 2, 2006 at 12:49 pm Link to this comment

I will quickly dispense with Pr; Proyetc’s remarks; as I stated above, I consider a type of Internet stalker. If his zealous intent is to PROVE that I am not a reliable Marxist—let me quickly concede the point and save him some more froth.

When I said the Chavez, after indeed electronically seizing the airwaves, then proceeded unchecked in his transmsissions, I was hardly implying this was because of the goodwill of the media owners! It’s because, precisely, he took over the stations for himself. Did and does the private media crusade against him? Absolutely. I’ve stated so clearly in my piece. If it wasn’t clear enough then it should be now.

Im amy case, with appologies to the readers, this is the last round I will go with Proyect as I know him to be a sputtering ideologue—and while my time is readily available, I hold it too dear to squander in useless circular discussions.

Henri Day: As usual I find your comments intelligent and authentically challenging. My responses:
1) Yes, some governments warrant overthrow by any means necessary. Let us remember that this was indeed the conclusion of none other than Col. CHavez himself who attemtped his own violent and failed military coup of 1992.

2) I do not believe that the Chavez government has blocked all democratic channels and I think it would be wrong to advocate a violent opposition to him.

3) Mr. Boyd—who I quoted as an example of an anti-chavez Partisan—might very well advocate such armed intervention. I dont know and I dont much care—he is entitled to his view. Whatever his view, it should not necessarily invalidate other judgements he makes i.e. that Chavez has indeed centralized power.

4) In a similar vein, I want to address the findings of Ms. Pineiro Harnecker. I dont know her. Dont know her work. What I can gather she is about 25 and did her university work in the U.S. I am not about to hold someone guilty for the sins of their fathers, or parents. But Camila’s father is the late Manuel Pineiro, the rather ruthless head of Cuban state security. Her mother is Martha Harnecker, a Stalinist ideologue whose most famous book argues that Cuba is a model of decentralized democracy, no less! Reading Camila’s piece in Z I find her to be intelligent and analytical, but I am worried that she might have absorbed a world view that interferes with her gact finding.
Also.. her mother now lives in Venezuela and is considered a very close friend and advisor of CHavez as well as one of the current key links between Cuba and Venezuela. I make NO pretense of knowing about the inner family dynamics== but any piece critical of Chavez by Camila could generate some real problems giving the relationhsip between her mother and Chavez. This is the first I have heard of Camila. A Google search turns up a number of other pieces written by her in defense of Chavez policies. That does not discredit her—only places her. Here’s a link from Tal Cual, the left of center news magazine in Caracas that is critically supportive of Chavez on Camila’s family. http://www.talcualdigital.com/Especiales/Protagonistas_marta.asp

Please also note, before people start throwing tomatoes at me, that the FIRST supplementary link I provided to my Chavez piece was the interview conducted with him by Marta Harnecker. You can find it on the left hand column on the front page of this posting. So while I disagree with Harnecker’s mode of ideological hagiography, it is a not a view I have tried to suppress. On the contrary.

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Dig Director's Blog

Jan. 9, 2006

Since the original posting of the piece, in early December, events have moved very quickly in South America. Marc Cooper has provided an update.

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Dec. 14, 2005

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