placeholder
header

home | Archive | analysis | videos | data | weblog

placeholder
news in other languages:
placeholder
Editorials in English
fr
Editorials in Spanish
esp
Editorials in Italian
ita
Editorials in German
de

placeholder

Letter to Rachel van Dongen re Venezuela

By Daniel Duquenal

As I am writing my series of general evaluation (by part 5, 2 more to go!) I came across this article in the New Republic on Venezuela, courtesy of Caracas Chronicles.

I could not resist to start the day by a letter to the editor which I post below after the letter. I think, by the way, that Francisco Toro might be right in his assesment of the bad image that the Venezuelan opposition is getting abroad by keeping its fraud claims. Then again he forgets that international opinion was supporting Fujimori who actually had something to show for from his years in office. Certainly it is for the opposition to demonstrate the fraud, but we should not rush into judgement as the sloppy work of Ms. van Dongen shows.

The article and my letter next, for any good that it might be. And the editor e-mail if you care to drop your own note to congratulate or criticize the writer: online@tnr.com

--------------------

Denial

Caracas, Venezeula [sic]

Late Monday night, 19 hours after the results in this week's referendum on Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez were reported, opposition leader Carlos Hermoso was furiously spinning a conspiracy theory. Despite results endorsed by international observers that showed Chávez winning by a landslide 16 percentage points, Hermoso said that "massive fraud" had been committed by both the election observers and the electronic voting machines used here for the first time. In a complicated yarn, Hermoso claimed that touch-screen voting machines in which people could vote "Yes" to oust Chávez or "No" to keep him were expertly "manipulated" by the government. Though there had also been a paper trail recording each voter's choice, Hermoso said the papers had been kidnapped and are now under military custody in a building called the "White Rabbit." But Hermoso warned that hard evidence of such fraud will be "very difficult" to find. As for the stamp of approval offered by election observers like Jimmy Carter, Hermoso argued that such observers were "compromised" by oil companies and the U.S. State Department, which wanted to keep Chávez in power.

Never mind that the populist Venezuelan commander-in-chief spent much of the recall campaign bashing the U.S., or that Washington openly welcomed a short-lived coup against Chávez earlier in his term. Like many others in the Democratic Coordinator (CD), the loose grouping of 27 political parties and 40 civil society organizations that united against Chávez, Hermoso suddenly found himself on the defensive following Chávez's big victory on Sunday, and simply refused to believe he had lost. The New York Times reported that on Monday two opposition leaders became so angry that "their faces turned white." Indeed, many other opposition leaders demanded a manual recount. "We want to know the truth," said Julio Borges, another top Coordinator official. "We will keep fighting until all our hair falls out." Some called for more anti-Chávez protests like the ones that have disrupted Venezuelan life for more than two years. Seven people were wounded in a small protest on Monday.

Indeed, it seems that the opposition leaders simply believed their own hype, while not realizing how ineffective the anti-Chávez movement had been. Riven by internal divisions, the CD waged a weak campaign that failed to take into account the president's enormous popularity in the poor barrios that make up the majority of Venezuela. The CD started on a bad note. In December 2003, the group mounted a devastating two month strike in which almost all Venezuelan business came to a halt and the state oil company nearly ceased operations. The strike ended in February 2004, but the economic damage was severe and the public, say some analysts, largely blamed the CD. "The strike was a failure," said Gregory Wilpert, head of a website called Venezuela Analysis.

Already behind, the CD never created a coherent political agenda to gain the 3.75 million votes it needed to oust Chávez. Its leader, Enrique Mendoza, was an uninspired speaker who brought little to the campaign. Then, the agenda the CD did release at the end of July largely copied Chávez's programs to end poverty and unemployment, without his searing--and popular--populist rhetoric. "The problem with the opposition is that they live in their own world," said Michael Shifter, a senior fellow at Washington's Inter-American Dialogue, an organization focused on Latin America. "Having an anti-Chávez agenda wasn't enough." Indeed, on Election Day the opposition's internal exit polls showed it beating Chávez by 20 percentage points, though most mainstream polls, at the time, showed Chávez had a slight lead.

Meanwhile, Chávez, though known as a loose cannon, ran a strong and disciplined campaign. "We shouldn't be asking what the Coordinator lacked, but what Chávez had in abundance," said one opposition consultant who believes the Coordinator underestimated Chávez's charismatic leadership. "The truth is that the president is an excellent campaigner." Chávez's social programs, funded by oil money from the state-run oil monopoly--which has benefited from skyrocketing oil prices--were part of this campaign. Chávez invested up to $1.7 billion from Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, in building "missions" in poor barrios that offer free health care and teach people how to read. He also spent state money on primary education and new housing for the poor, all of which was advertised as being a direct result of Chávez policies. And after the oil strike, Chávez got the state oil company back up and running--partly by hiring Algerian experts to come in and train new Venezuelan workers--and kept the country's 3 million barrels of oil exports a day flowing. Venezuela is the world's number five oil exporter, and Chávez has vowed to expand oil production even further in the coming months.

In fact, the hard truth is that Venezuela is more stable today than it would have been if the opposition had won, at least in the short term. If the president was defeated or even if the vote had been close, mass chaos likely would have ensued with fanatics on both sides taking to the streets. A new election probably would have been held in 30 days, creating another opportunity for protest and even violence.

So despite Hermoso's cries of fraud, the long journey to remove Chávez through a recall is over. Opposition leaders should accept their loss if they are to have any chance of toppling him in the next presidential election in 2006. And they had better get cracking--Chávez's supporters are already talking about keeping him in office until 2021.

Rachel Van Dongen covers Latin America for The Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, and other publications.

--------

My letter to the editor:

Dear Ms. van Dongen

Your recent piece in the New Republic might have had an interesting point in attempting a critic of the Venezuelan opposition, but a few mistakes do detract considerably to its value. Thus, for a reader that does not follow closely the Venezuelan situation it might be informative, but for people that are a little bit more up to date it comes across as sloppy job and even perhaps supporting an agenda. To witness:

opposition leader Carlos Hermoso was furiously spinning a conspiracy theory

Two strikes in one piece of sentence: although I am knowledgeable enough to write one of the known blogs in English originating from Venezuela, from the opposition point of view, I do not know who this Carlos Hermoso is. I see him coming back through your script, almost as an emblematic figure of the opposition. Please, do tell me who is Carlos Hermoso and how come he deserves so much of your attention. As for the "conspiracy theory". Stating that right off the start is not very nice: you pretty much declare that there is no fraud in the Venezuelan electoral process when fraud has already been taking place way before August 15. People in Venezuela do know that our administration is capable of fraud and it is only natural that we can cry foul after August 15 even if for once there might not have been fraud.
The CD started on a bad note. In December 2003, the group mounted a devastating two month strike in which almost all Venezuelan business came to a halt and the state oil company nearly ceased operations. The strike ended in February 2004, but the economic damage was severe and the public, say some analysts, largely blamed the CD. "The strike was a failure," said Gregory Wilpert, head of a website called Venezuela Analysis.

I thought first that the 2003 might have been a typo, but when I saw the 2004 I realized that it was not. You actually completely misdated the strike which was held in December 2002 and January 2003. This is faulty journalism, I am sorry. Even non Venezuelan bloggers would not do such a mistake. And you cite Gregory Wilpert, well known as a pro Chavez supporter. A fact that you seem to have forgotten to mention while you stressed again and again that Hermoso (whoever he is) is from the CD. Should I deduct what side you are supporting or still assume that you are an objective but misinformed journalist?
Already behind, the CD never created a coherent political agenda to gain the 3.75 million votes it needed to oust Chávez.

Flash news, the CD did get more than 3.75 million votes. It is just that Chavez got more. Again, very sloppy job on giving dates and numbers.
In fact, the hard truth is that Venezuela is more stable today than it would have been if the opposition had won, at least in the short term. If the president was defeated or even if the vote had been close, mass chaos likely would have ensued with fanatics on both sides taking to the streets. A new election probably would have been held in 30 days, creating another opportunity for protest and even violence.

This is all what democracy is about. Why would a healthy presidential campaign be de-stabilizing? But after reading this, how can you expect people in Venezuela think otherwise that the US (and oil interests?) prefers Chavez in power so as to keep a "safe" supply of oil? Really... When I read this article of yours I can sense all of the condescending attitudes of the Anglos that do not trust brown people to keep order and are willing to trust any guy that comes along to make sure the natives do not become restless.

Sincerely

Daniel Duquenal
-------

PS: note added a few hours later. A reader kindly informed me that a quick internet search indicated that Carlos Hermoso is from Bandera Roja. I did verify and it seems true. I think that interviewing a second rank "leader" from an extreme wing of the CD tells volumes about the poor contacts between van Dongen and the CD. A sloppy job at best. I rest my case.(Thanks for the tip Maria!)




send this article to a friend >>
placeholder
Loading


Keep Vcrisis Online






top | printer friendly version | contact the webmaster J.B. | disclaimer
placeholder
placeholder