What's Brewing in Venezuela
Posted: Tuesday, March 30, 2004
What Kind of Democracy to Expect If the Opposition Takes Control
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By Rai O'Brien
Many are wondering why there is no unified opposition party in Venezuela ... this is perplexing, especially since there is a large section of society which actively seeks the replacement of the elected government.
I began my recent discussions, over a period of the last several months, with opposition supporters ... people interested in the Venezuelan political situation and with supporters of Chavez and the "Bolivarian Revolution."
I put forward the idea of the need for true democracy to flourish in the country ... for a "loyal opposition" along the lines of that which has historically been present in the classic "democracies" of Europe and North America.
It has also been a cause for bewilderment why there have been no alternative proposals by those against the rule of Hugo Chavez, other than his departure from the political scene.
What I have found has truly amazed me.
I have concluded from my discussions that the Venezuelan opposition envisions no organized and unified party, no de facto group of potential candidates to run against Chavez (conceivably in 2006), and no assembled program.
Why has democracy in Venezuela been a process which has alienated such a large segment of the population, resulting in widespread civil disobedience?
My discussions with opposition supporters have yielded frustratingly little which could be used in encouraging productive debate in the present political situation ... the sheer level of anger is startling to a non-Venezuelan, such as myself.
The level of total polarization of the two sides is seemingly insurmountable. In general, any attempt, on my part, to inject the idea of opposition-leaning citizens and Chavistas debating the future of the country in a civil manner has been thoroughly and categorically denied as a possibility.
It is apparent that no discussion at all can proceed on the issue of governing the country with Hugo Chavez Frias as the country's President.
I have had to re-examine what democracy is ... at least, as it may apply to the two major constituencies in Venezuela (chavista and opposition).
I do not believe that many would argue with my conclusion that opposition-types strongly admire the political system in the United States and, since discussions with the opposition have been so fruitless in discovering what they truly look forward to instituting in the country, we must look to what the US system actually is. We must also look at what is recent history in Venezuela.
Opposition proponents of the eradication of Hugo Chavez from the political arena have a recent factual track record from which we can construe basic expectations of what they would impose on Venezuela economically and politically, if they indeed succeeded in ending the Bolivarian Revolution of Hugo Chavez (this accomplished most effectively by forcing Chavez from power in Venezuela, of course).
The facts themselves, in many discussions with opposition-types, are in some dispute. However, to proceed with this discussion we must attempt to establish some facts from which we can produce at least some tendencies, if not an outright model of a new, non-MVR-dominated, but pro-business national government.
First of all, there was a coup d'etat which took place in April 2002. The aim of this action was to force Hugo Chavez from power. It succeeded for some 48 hours. Among the first actions of the Carmona government was the institution of an oligarchic dictatorship ... this being concluded by their dissolution of the National Assembly, the Constitution and the Supreme Tribunal of Justice.
It has been widely disputed by opposition supporters, but what also occurred during the coup period was essentially state terrorism against Chavistas. The opposition, I know, will virulently argue this, and also laterally accuse Chavistas of human rights violations against them ... but the one seemingly indisputable fact is that, in the aftermath of the coup, "democracy" did not seem to be a primary concern of the opposition.
A second fact is that, after the coup was overturned, their next organized step was the "national strike" (as it is portrayed by opposition) or the "employer lockout" (as defined by Chavistas) from December 2002 to February 2003.
The overriding fact of the matter ... no matter how it is labeled ... is that the opposition clearly intended to destroy (at least in the short term) the Venezuelan economy, with the intended result being the goal of creating a situation where Venezuela would be "ungovernable," resulting in the forced resignation of Hugo Chavez.
We can argue the means used to quell this assault on the economy, but not that it occurred, and what the desired result was of the strike/lockout.
Third, we must look at the recall referendum signatures process, which is the third attempt organized by the opposition to remove Chavez from power.
Here I will attempt to distill this entire situation into the basic reality: the opposition did utilize, to some extent, blatant fraud in the process (as well as masses of legitimate signatures), from the undeniable submittal of hundreds of thousands of indisputably fraudulent signatures; to the more marginally disputable "challenged" signatures as have been held in limbo until the "repair process" (endorsed by the CNE and approved by the TSJ) can either reaffirm them as genuine, or to throw them out all together.
An important fact, as well, is to say that the CNE has given the opposition and opportunity to verify the signatures by having the disputed votes reaffirmed by the signers if in fact they did vote for the removal of Chavez.
To this point in time, the opposition has restricted it's cooperation in the process to their lawsuit challenging CNE to implement the "repair" process. This legal attempt has proven to be unsuccessful. The process is still there to institute a civilian-mandated referendum on Chavez' rule. It is still possible for the opposition to prevail, if their disputed signers simply come forward and verify their signatures. Over two thousand sites have been authorized for owners of the disputed signatures to perform this reaffirmation.
So no rational argument can be made that the opposition is being denied the right to constitutionally utilize the constitutionally-mandated recall referendum, if they can prove they indeed have the votes for it to proceed.
I add this: the opposition has pointed out, with some justification, that some government retaliation has been imposed on signers ... and ... that the government has accused employers of coercing voters to sign for the recall referendum, as well.
Judging from the three organized efforts of the opposition, we can see that there was little hesitancy to utilize 1) violent anti-Constitutional means to destroy Chavez' government by violent means; 2) a willingness to destroy the economy of the nation in the "strike" or "lockout" (whichever terminology you prefer) in order to topple the state; and, 3) when presented with a Constitutionally-endorsed tool to remove Chavez from office, they chose to utilize fraudulent (as well as non-fraudulent) means.
In dispute also are the use of computers at polling places, holding signatures for weeks after the vote and the presence of the same handwriting on entire multi-voter ballots.
In conclusion, it must be assumed that the opposition clearly believes that any effort to topple Chavez is legitimate. Also, any form of government they would organize, if they succeeded to power, would not include the MVR.
Last ... although only implied by the lockout ... PDVSA would again be under control of the opposition, subject to their own unsupervised accounting methods in rewarding the state as owner.
At no point in any of the three phases did the opposition cooperate under strict democratic guidelines. When in power they indisputably instituted an oligarchic dictatorship. Whether this would be permanent or temporary is disputable, however.
All we have to go by is what they actually have attempted since April 2002 since they do not state a detailed program post-Chavez.
Let's move onto the concept of democracy, itself.
"Democracy" can be best defined, at this point in history, as understood and practiced in the USA, my country. Let's factually state that this is now the reality in a world of one "superpower" ... the United States of America. Let's examine, in general terms, just what "democracy" has become in the US; and how "democracy" is being imposed in our two newest "democracies": Afghanistan and Iraq.
The reason is that these are the two latest examples of plans to set up democratic systems.
Lets look at the US example: The US political system is indisputably and totally controlled by two political parties. These two parties are undeniably controlled by money. The political system relies on corporate and personal financial campaign-fund contributions to political candidates. It is indisputable that large campaign money decides the winners in nearly all national elections. The only question is whether the cash controls votes, as it certainly does influence them, at the very least. The two presidential candidates for 2004 have little to differentiate themselves. Both are sons of large and wealthy families, both support what some would categorize as economic imperialism and national self-interest, and some would call free-market globalization (this is a separate debate).
The media in the US can "make or break" candidates, most recently Howard Dean. In the last election Al Gore was demonized as a liar, among other things, by the press, who were indisputably "soft" on their criticism of Mr. Bush. This indisputably influenced the outcome in an election decided by 500 or so Florida votes, which itself is being still debated in our society regarding it's legitimacy. Indisputably, money rules in the US political system. Therefore, it is logical to surmise that the interests of the moneyed classes in the US are dominant in the process. For one to believe in a "real" democracy, self-delusion is indeed necessary. We could extend these ideas to mean that the present US "democratic" system simply ensures that the minority rules.
The US has instituted two "democracies" post-9/11: They are Afghanistan, headed by a US hand-picked president, with a "democratic system" which involves warlords, not citizens, and exists only because the US bodily protects the president from assassination. The average citizen in Afghanistan is not projected to be involved in the system. Some would say that this is unfair, because the system is just establishing itself. I would reply that the aim here is to allow the US to withdraw from the country, but to perpetually control US military bases; and, that once the US withdraws day-to-day control on the ground in civil society that things will regress back to warlord control, "at best", or Taliban-control, "at worst."
The CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) in Iraq first attempted to institute a democratic system by a hand-picked panel of puppets (Governing Council) which has thus far had two options: to approve the dictates of Paul Bremer, or to not co-operate and be powerless in the new system. The first attempt to form a "democratic" government was the institution a system of "caucuses," whereby the US would, in essence, control the candidates in the electoral process (much like the two property parties in US politics control the candidates the hapless American voter gets to choose from).
When this system was exposed as a cynical attempt to establish a permanent de facto US-controlled government (amenable to US interest desire to control Iraqi oil wealth, and maintenance of US military bases in the country perpetually), the civilian leadership of the head cleric of the majority demographic of the country, the Shi'ites, refused to go along with it, and it had to be abandoned.
The most recent attempt forced the Governing Council to agree to a new Constitutional amendment which would force legislative gridlock, thereby maintaining all the decrees of the CPA perpetually, since 75% of the population would need top agree to any change (this is actually worse than it sounds, because the Kurdish minority could effectively block any changes, and since they are the closest to the US they would be open to manipulation, or in the least, could block anything unfavorable to them, therefore making an "Islamic" government impossible, although it is indisputably preferred by a majority of the Iraqi population).
Therefore, we can see by the three models (US, Afghanistan, Iraq) that true democracy is not a subjective central aim.
The US is thoroughly dominated by moneyed interests, and US-endorsed democracies (as well as totalitarian states aligned with US interests) survive merely because they support US aims.
In conclusion, it is not disputable that the opposition in Venezuela admire the US system. The US has been discovered to have been indisputably in at least covert support of the opposition coup attempt in April 2002. It has been proven, as well, that opposition leaders did openly meet with Bush administration officials in Washington prior to the "national strike" or "lockout." And it is indisputable the US government non-governmental organization, financially supported by the US government, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), did provide financial support to the recent recall referendum drive by the opposition.
With these facts in hand, I must believe that "democracy" ... in the sense it is mostly widely accepted by average person everywhere ... is not the goal of the opposition.
What is being contemplated is the new "globalized version" of democracy.
This is most concisely defined as a system which portrays itself as a democracy, but in reality is a system which supports the goals of the elite in the global economy.
Our modern media, too, is shown in all its glory in Venezuela, which is almost entirely dominated by corporate interests, as it blatantly is in today's US. These interests coincide with those of the wealthy classes. Our political parties effectively exclude average persons from the governing class. Our choices, as citizens, essentially restrict themselves to the selecting between two hand-picked candidates of the elite classes.
This is the "democracy" which can be expected in Venezuela if the opposition takes control of the country.
And, this is why the opposition does not present a unified party, with a group of established potential viable candidates to run against Chavez if there is a 2006 election ... and why there is no stated opposition program.
It is simply not in the opposition's interests to present any of the three (all prerequisites under a truly democratic system in Venezuela).
The only way for the opposition to disprove these conclusions would be to take the steps necessary to effectively participate in the Venezuelan political system: present a unified opposition party, begin to formulate a leadership, openly publish a alternative program of national governing; and, to work with all people and alternative political groups towards national prosperity.
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