Friday, June 6, 2008 - An Effort for Positive Reform in Venezuela

An Introduction to the Organization

Amidst all the noise that has followed from the political, economic, and social upheaval now underway in Venezuela owing to the corruption and mismanagement of the Hugo Chavez presidency, there have been few attempts to sit down and patiently rationalize a comprehensive plan to provide solutions to the complex set of problems Venezuelans will have to face if they are to overcome the disaster that now threatens their people and their future.  Naturally; the implementation of such an effort must come from the anti-Chavista elements within the country.  It goes without saying that they would need significant help from abroad to focus the concerned attention of the outside world upon Venezuela so as to create a political opening that would permit them to pursue a post-Chavez reform program through democratic means that are only partially available to them at present.  And if they are aggressive enough, they may decide to ask for help to assist them in the formulation of that program.

Thus the raison d'être for, a private organization of over 1900 members in at least 55 countries worldwide.  Its founder and director is Aleksander Boyd, well-known for his work at, which has publicized the plight of the country since at least August, 2003; a date I gather from my glance at the site's archive page.  The organization is working along several fronts to promote "a peaceful, democratic resolution" to the crisis in Venezuela and to raise international public awareness of the situation within the country.  In so far as they seek assistance from abroad, they are looking to those who can help to publicize current conditions in Venezuela and they also openly invite academics and other professionals with the necessary expertise to contribute to the development of solutions to the myriad set of complex problems that now confront their nation; they want a pragmatic program that will work, a good deal of which they now understand, but they recognize that much more work must be done before its final shape comes to fruition.

At present, their activities are mostly focused upon organizing public events outside of Venezuela and encouraging communication among members of the opposition within the country and helpful individuals outside of it to give substance to a post-Chavez program that can be achieved through democratic means.

A Political Program to Unify the Opposition

Most of all, wants the Venezuelan opposition to put aside the petty divisions of its past and unite in a common, concerted effort to turn the political situation around.  Allow me to quote in translation from a proposal that preceded their organization, a document composed in Venezuela in August, 2003 which they believe still sets the tone for today:

". . . It is our conviction that, only a NEW POLITICAL PARTY, totally disconnected from the past and present can face the future.  A grand party, broad-based, inclusive, Venezuelan, able to interpret and represent the aspirations of today's Venezuela. . . ."

One can find the theme of uniting the opposition to Chavez repeated in several places on the web site.  Beyond that political goal, the specifics of a program are more generalized as the group recognizes that an inclusive political movement or party must also present an inclusive agenda.  But that is not to suggest they lack a plan with specifics, because there is quite a bit about which they are soundly convinced.

I have posted a translation of a document to accompany this post that outlines fourteen major proposals puts forth as constituting the immediate basis upon which an anti-Chavez opposition should unite.  They pay special attention to problems of public security and the inefficiency and corruption in the exercise of police authority in Venezuela which they believe have produced a criminal environment that is a direct result of Chavez's policies.  Point number 5 -- "Implementation of a program of an ongoing military presence and patrols at the borders" -- is notable for its obvious relationship to Chavez's support of the FARC and other Colombian narcoguerrillas who benefit from protected enclaves within Venezuela, a debilitating factor for public order that the organization does not omit from its program and which it supports further in a call for the "Prosecution and imprisonment for the perpetrators of crimes against humanity," which no doubt also includes holding Chavez accountable for the events of April 11, 2002.

There are also calls for bureaucratic reform at several levels; in education, where the organization seeks to end the political indoctrination that Chavez is now implementing in direct violation of its overwhelming rejection by Venezuelan voters as a constitutional referendum measure last December. also urges a return of the state-owned national oil company PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela), to its former professional model, a proposal in which they seek to address what may be the most significant instance of corruption in the entire Chavez regime. 

The Broad Outlines of Economic and Social Reform's proposals for a post-Chavez economic reform program are perhaps less fixed in terms of the finer points, and for good reason, as unifying the opposition in Venezuela will require an inclusive development plan in which the various sectors and parties of the country are given an opportunity to contribute their ideas and see their interests represented in the final platform.  Still, the broad outlines are understood and presented in abstract form.  In two articles (Link 1 and Link 2) Francisco Toro -- of the Caracas Chronicles blog -- presents a broad outline for an economic reform plan that identifies the most essential parts.

Writ large, the plan Toro suggests would fall under the heading of "Neo-Liberalism," for those who study Latin American politics, since it would emphasize the strengthening of and a reliance upon the major political and economic institutions of the country.  But Toro makes clear that urging institutional reform in and of itself is not enough, it is important to consider the underlying economic factors that form the framework within which institutional reform operates, especially the need to manage the technological base for a modern economy, which he feels is particularly at risk under Chavez's mismanagement.  Yes; the bureaucratic reforms are important as an antidote to corruption, as one would see in any Neo-Liberal agenda.  But of at least equal significance is guiding Venezuela's institutions towards the implementation of a massive investment in the strengthening of the country's scientific and technological base at all levels; education, material infrastructure, and more.

The key element in the project is inclusiveness; an approach that mandates a broadening of "stakeholder interest," making certain that public-private partnerships encourage investment in the technological base, constantly moving the Venezuelan economy towards a more knowledge-intensive production model.  And finally; the relationship between fiscal and social reform is presented in light of a shrinking Venezuelan economy that is increasingly unable to meet its social commitments.  It is not a choice between growth or development in social policy.  A successful program for social development can only be achieved if the Venezuelan economy grows and creates new wealth that can be applied to social programs.  Economic growth must be a cornerstone of fiscal reform and the public sector's share of the economy can be enlarged as growth creates the opportunity to apply new resources to the solutions of social inequality in Venezuela.

Future Prospects for a Post-Chavez Era

No one said this would be easy.  Chavez's control of the Venezuelan courts, the national assembly, and the National Electoral Council have enabled him to rewrite old laws, reinterpret existing ones, and corrupt the electoral process; all to his advantage.  He has also continued a slow but steady campaign of repression -- it's the only word that fits -- of the news media, for which he has been roundly criticized by international press and human rights organizations.  And perhaps most dangerously for the future, Chavez is creating a state militia that answers directly to him and he is reorganizing the national police and intelligence services in ways that openly monitor and intimidate his opponents.  But in spite of all of these facts, the opposition to Chavez has been increasing steadily in recent months.

If I may offer my own observation, I believe that the current political trends in the region are against Chavez and Populism, which is important when considering the prospects for the future.  I think it is reasonable to suggest that the year 2006 was the high tide of Populism in Latin America; the point at which they achieved their greatest successes and began to experience their first setbacks.  In that year, three populist candidates won presidential elections; Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, and Hugo Chavez, who was re-elected in Venezuela.  But those victories were not everything they appeared to be at first glance.  Correa has perhaps done best politically since his election, seeing his party's strength grow in the Ecuadoran congress and getting a lot of mileage from national resentment of Colombia's cross-border incursion this past March, but even so the opposition remains quite active and the process of revealing Correa's contacts and sources of support outside the country has begun, and it will continue to his detriment.  Ortega's victory came by virtue of a unique constitutional formula that mathematically allowed him to win with only 40% of the vote against a very divided and irresponsible opposition.  His exercise of power within Nicaragua has been severely limited and his already very low popularity continues to fall each day.  And even Chavez found himself immersed in a real campaign in 2006, facing a powerful opposition for the first time since he assumed office.  That opposition has continued to grow.

It was also in 2006 that Mexican Populist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador lost in Mexico, perhaps signalling the beginning of the changing trend that has continued since then.  Last year Hugo Chavez lost on a series of constitutional referenda, including one that would have ended limits to the term of his presidency.  The margin of victory was apparently significant; and I use the word "apparently" because Venezuela's National Electoral Council has still not released the official vote counts, in clear contradiction of Venezuelan law, which shows Chavez's need to control damaging news.  This year in Bolivia -- another "Bolivarian Project" -- Evo Morales has overplayed his hand in attempting to ram his new constitution down the throats of his opposition in clear contravention of existing laws and the surging autonomy movement in the Media Luna departments of Bolivia's east has resulted.  And in Venezuela there are signs that the opposition may be taking some heart from the public disgrace Chavez has faced over the Interpol report of the contents of the laptops of Raul Reyes.  It is in the press daily and protests, especially among a newly-awakened and vibrant student population, are growing apace.  There are key local governmental offices and governorships at stake in this fall's elections and there are signs that Chavez may be in trouble.  One recent note posted at the Caracas El Universal site stated that Chavez's candidates were trailing in 200 out of 335 municipal elections and 15 out of 24 governorships up for grabs this year.  It is not impossible that Chavez could be in serious difficulty already and he may be threatening action against the opposition if the coming elections go against him, a result some, like Tal Cual editor Teodoro Petkoff, believe he has already recognized.

It is impossible to tell, but for the moment I will express my hope that Alek Boyd and everyone else at finds success in promoting the idea of a unified opposition and a more substantial discussion of what a post-Chavez agenda should look like.  Efforts to publicize the problems outside of Venezuela are only a very small part of the bigger picture, but each little piece has its own place and I think deserves our best wishes.

By the way, I signed up and joined.


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