The birthing of a child is as good a time as any to reflect upon one’s life, actions, views, etc. so I may do just that. For the most part of the last 28 months I have been relentlessly attacking the neofascist regime of Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela. The act that prompted me to embark in such an unexpected adventure was the decision by some visiting professor of Oxford University to have Chavez as a guest speaker in a human rights seminar. I said to myself “this I can’t tolerate. Mind you one thing is to pontificate the ignorant Venezuelan populace in Caracas about the marvellous Bolivarian revolution and an entirely different issue is to have a failed pustchist and criminal lecturing a human rights audience from an Oxford University’s pulpit”. Time and actions have proved me right; Venezuela’s president is but the perfect example of how to turn a semi-democratic country into the perfect case book of how to use democracy and the ‘will of the people’ successfully to advance authoritarian agendas, eliminating in the interim all vestiges of accountability. I won’t dwell anymore on it. However I do take issue with the ever constant attacks of international salaried advocates of the Venezuelan president in their orchestrated campaign to discredit Venezuela’s opposition.
Misconceptions regarding the composition of the opposition
Any functioning democracy has a governing party and its opposition. Often times the bi-party system is the rule, other less powerful political minorities sort of hovering around to take the left overs. Venezuela is no different. The duopoly AD – COPEI governed the country for nearly 50 years after a pact known as “Pacto de Puntofijo” was sealed by the chief masters of the two parties. Both AD and COPEI alternated in power roughly in every presidential election thusly preventing bitter political confrontation that would have hindered the normal functioning of the State. Adecos and Copeyanos –as party members of AD and COPEI are known- had this confidence that whatever happened and however wrongfully the country seemed to be managed at any given time by the ruling party it was only circumstantial for their chance to set things according to their views would materialise in the following election. This very system of alternation in power is thought to have been the key element which caused the chaotic deterioration that characterised Venezuela prior to Chavez ascent to power. In fact, banking on it, Hugo Chavez won hearts and minds precisely by attempting to overthrown one of the most prodigal offsprings of the pact; i.e. Carlos Andres Perez (CAP).
CAP was elected for his second term in 1988; the popular belief at the time was “with CAP Saudi-Venezuela will come back”. For let us not forget that it was in CAP’s first presidential term that the oil industry was nationalised and Venezuela started to exert full control of its vast natural resources. The remembrance of the abundance of those years ran deep in Venezuelan minds –still does- to the point where everyone has one or two stories about the wasteful nature that all members of society exhibited back in the days. This line of reasoning worked in CAP’s favour and he got re-elected with a record number of votes, as a matter of fact he got more votes in 1988 than Hugo Chavez in 1998 (3.868.843 and 3.673.685 respectively).
The implementation by CAP of a series of economic measures led to the increase of transport fares which in turn triggered nationwide popular revolts that were brutally suppressed by the army. The infamous Caracazo marked Venezuela’s theretofore peaceful democratic transit and is thought to have provoked the 1992 coup led by Hugo Chavez.
Hugo Chavez, a mediocre military man, did not succeed in ousting CAP through violent means however his rather brief comments to the Venezuelan media after his capture catapulted him to fame. Being the leader of the failed putsch Chavez was thrown into jail immediately after where he spent 2 years.
One of the characteristics of the Pacto de Puntofijo was that the Attorney General’s office was more often than not in the hands of the opposition to the governing party. As such CAP was impeached and removed from the presidency owing to misuse of funds. A dull and short period followed after the appointment of historian Ramon J. Velasquez as interim president of Venezuela. A very envious and disturbed Rafael Caldera, ever trying to not let his arch rival CAP outdo him politically, run for re-election in 1993 and got the job. His decision to oversee the rebellion charges against Hugo Chavez and subsequent pardon brought us to this. I have tried to imagine what led Caldera, an allegedly very well educated man, to have liberated Chavez and the only conclusion I can come up with is that it was a mere act of trying to settle a score with CAP for how can a man caught red handed in the commission of a coup d’etat be given a presidential pardon?
Thus AD and COPEI and CAP and Rafael Caldera have been the shapers to a large extent of what the country is today. International observers seem to be in oblivion of the aforesaid account for one often reads that the opposition to Hugo Chavez is composed by coupsters, fascists, assassins, corrupt and amoral individuals who were only too keen on ransacking Venezuela for 50 years. So were does that leaves me, or better still how can that argument be reconciled with the fact that very many of those who oppose Hugo Chavez also opposed AD and COPEI and CAP and Caldera in previous years? The compartmentalisation of the opposition by chavismo is a success story. I remember having being asked by Times reporter Andrew Billen in Oxford “well if not Chavez who, CAP?”
A different breed of opponents
Venezuela, although with many imperfections, was a habitable enough place when the crooks of the Pacto de Puntofijo were ‘governing’ it. I remember vividly the rage that the sight of a powerful adeco (Carmelo Lauria) driving a spanking brand new Toyota and sporting a gold Rolex caused in me whilst I was crossing a street near Parque Central in Caracas many years ago. So upset I was that I started insulting him, for no other reason than his obscene display of ill-acquired wealth in a place where most people had to go hungry to bed every night. Now try and tell me that I would be able to pull that one today on a powerful chavista like Barreto or Jorge Rodriguez or even on messenger boy Andres Izarra and you will come to the realisation of my rabid stance against chavismo.
We were able to criticise, insult, impeach, remove, mistreat and most importantly held politicians somewhat accountable either through the courts or via the media. No more. The two biggest media critics of all time, Jose Vicente Rangel and Alfredo Peña, were quickly invited to Miraflores by Chavez to make part of the government with two purposes; the first to neutralise the status quo with critical information and second to silence, by way of official appointments that curtailed any criticism coming from the two, the very source of the information; all in all a masterstroke by Chavez. The seizure of power from AD and COPEI was achieved with equal success and utilising the same method; that of inviting them to join the ranks of the revolution. So long as easy money, appointments, jobs, perks, saucy deals and chance to misappropriate public funds come politicos from AD and COPEI were/are only too keen to change hats and praise the revolution. Notorious figures from the opposition such as Alberto Quiros Corradi have profited from the revolution, thus how can they even pretend to be taken seriously? The slogan “NO VOLVERAN” is indeed another brilliant tactic of chavista strategy for Chavez jump to power took place from a platform of utter discontent towards the past establishment.
That leaves me and the folk on the street, totally devoid of possibilities. On the one hand we are not ‘allowed’ to enter the political fray for we do not belong to any party, on the other we are worse off than before for nobody seems to be willing to contradict, question or call into accountability any of the actions of Hugo Chavez and his regime. 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? Now I won’t deny that I am also opposed to the reestablishment of the old ruling parties that brought to life the Chavez phenomenon however the aforementioned motto of “NO VOLVERAN” is entirely inappropriate in my view for they have never left in the first place; they are still there, the old problems of the past have only been augmented by the new monolithic party that has choked the system.
Opposing Chavez does not mean support or a blank check to the opposition political parties; opposing Chavez does not mean allegiance to AD or COPEI. One of the remarkable achievements of Chavez is the political awakening of very many Venezuelans. Hence I am not prepared to render my intellect and reasoning useless and become a pusillanimous supporter of Chavez just because he’s crushing old time rulers; I am not ready to cede my sovereign and natural rights to criticise, condemn and expose his abuse of power for I am not prepared to trade my dignity for a pack of subsidised food and a hollow promise; I will not give away my dream of taking active part in the construction of a better Venezuela and most certainly I will never kneel and bow before a failed coupster however popular among my countrymen.
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. Ergo as one of the 25 million shareholders of that venture I have every right to seek his removal which I intend to advocate towards for as long as I breathe.