January 8, 2008


Why did Venezuela surrender to Chávez? (CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER, 2/08/08, www.firmaspress.com)

Beginning in 1958, and for the following four decades, a miracle occurred. Venezuelans managed to peacefully change their leaders every five years, resorting to reasonably honest elections in which two parties -- the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats -- took turns in power.

In addition, in that period, the population -- half rural, half urban at the start of the democratic stage -- grew from seven million to 23 million people, of whom 86 percent in later years lived in cities generally supplied with electricity, telephone service, drinking water, sewage, paved streets, schools, sports arenas and medical assistance.

In 1999, when President Hugo Chávez began to govern, 87 of every 100 homes had color television, and the number of telephones per capita was greater than in Brazil or Mexico. At the same time, illiteracy affected only 9 percent of the population, public and private universities proliferated, millions of children attended school, and life expectancy was 73 years.

At that moment, ample middle-class sectors existed in the country, and Caracas, full of impressive buildings, had the finest contemporary art museum in all of Latin America. The institution, founded by Sofía Imber, hosted remarkable exhibits by fine artists of international rank.

There were major problems, naturally, but one indicator demonstrated Venezuela's relative success: Very few Venezuelans emigrated. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Colombians, Spaniards, Portuguese and Italians moved to that land in search of the opportunities they could not find in their respective countries, or -- as happened with the Cubans, Chileans and Argentines -- in search of the freedom that did not exist in their tyrannized countries.

Today, unhappily, the sign of the exodus has turned around.

One of the things President Bush has to answer to History for is not forcing the coup through to a finish in 2002.

Chávez's U-turn on socialism: Economic advisor to the Venezuelan vice-presidency, Stephanie Blankenburg, on what could be Chávez's fight for survival (Stephanie Blankenburg 08 January 2008, New Statesman)

He had decided to abandon his socialist agenda “for now” in order to form stronger alliances with the country’s middle classes, its private sector and the national bourgeoisie instead.

To dispel any doubts about his seriousness in adopting this new political course, he replaced vice-president, Dr Jorge Rodríguez – the public face of his campaign for “21st century socialism” in Venezuela – with Ramón Carrizales, a military officer and technocrat, known for his good relationships with the country’s business sector.

Perhaps more significantly still, Chávez had already signed an end-of-the year amnesty for imprisoned perpetrators of a right-wing coup attempt against him in 2002.

Two days later, on his Sunday TV show “Aló Presidente” (Hallo, President), Chávez presented his fully reshuffled new cabinet and set out to explain the rationale for his action. His socialist project had been defeated, because the country had not been ready for such a radical approach.

The only democratic response was to acknowledge defeat and to adopt a more gradual and inclusive way forward. Apart from broadening alliances to bring private business and the middle classes back into the fold, this would also mean a more careful focus on mass education and communal self-organisation. Socialism had not been abandoned, but postponed, although, by the sound of things, for quite some time to come.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 8, 2008 12:24 PM
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