Venezuelan Presidential Candidate Henri Falcon: Committed Democrat or Crass Opportunist?

Whilst probably opportunistic, the oppositions frontrunner’s decision to stand undermines Washington's regime change agenda and reinforces Venezuelan democracy, argues Paul Dobson.

Falcon will run May 20

Venezuela’s upcoming presidential elections are shaping up to be quite the battle.

Yet this battle is not just amongst the five candidates who have been accepted to run by the National Electoral Council (CNE), but also between those who believe in the Venezuelan democratic model and those that don’t, those that will work towards the successful holding of elections and those who will sabotage them, and those who will recognise the victor and those who refuse.

In a remarkable feat of crystal ball gazing, the US government and its closest regional allies have already claimed that the elections are illegitimate even before they are held, announcing that they won’t recognize the results of the May 20.

A recent agreement to push the elections back from April 22 to May 20, whilst taking the wind from the sails from some of their apparent arguments (they claimed the bringing forward of the elections to April was fraudulent), does not seem to have resulted in a shift in Trump’s position.

Venezuela’s extreme right wing sectors, as usual, are proudly following Trump’s line and boycotting the elections, with First Justice (PJ) and Popular Will (Voluntad Popular) leading calls to “not legitimise the dictatorship” as they refer to the constitutionally elected government of Nicolas Maduro.

Their more moderate, social-democratic allies, Democratic Action (AD) who have previously enjoyed significant success at the electoral game including winning four state governorships this past October, have also opted to join them in their boycott.

But one opposition leader who professes support for the Venezuelan democratic system, who seems to believe that power should be won at the ballot box and not through street violence, seems to be Henri Falcon.

Mr Falcon was a leading member of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) alliance until they booted him out for the horrendous crime of assuming the responsibility of putting himself forward when others looked the other way and guaranteeing that the significant amount of Venezuelans who wish to vote against Maduro will have a candidate on the ballot.

Nonetheless, Falcon has earned the support of all of the right wing parties who want to contend these elections, with the Christian-democratic COPEI party, the moderate right wing MAS party, and his own regional Progressive Advance party backing him for president.

Letter to the New York Times

Falcon recently published his exposition of motives for running for the presidency, in none other than the US empire’s paper of record, The New York Times.

He published it not in Venezuela’s local press, nor in Lara state where he served as governor for eight years, but in the New York Times for his North-American fans. Or North American (Venezuelan) voters? Or North American financial backers? Or North American masters?

Entitled “Why I Am Running For President”, Mr Falcon explains the following:

“Last week, I registered as a candidate for the presidency of Venezuela. I am running for president because I think Venezuelans should have a choice of whether to continue with the disastrous rule of President Nicolas Maduro, or to support a route of inclusion, progress and justice,”he begins.

Mr Falcon is correct. Venezuelans do indeed have a choice of whether to continue with Mr Maduro or not, and as international electoral accompaniment missions have repeated time after time, the transparency and technological level of Venezuela’s voting system not only puts the electoral systems of the so called “west” or “first world” to shame, but more importantly perfectly transmits the votes of the people into conclusive results.

Such international electoral accompaniment reports are widely and publically available, such as these examples from December 2003, November 2008, February 2009, June 2013, July 2017, October 2017, or the most recently in December 2017.

This year Mr Falcon himself is lobbying international organisms like the UN to send observers and validate the race he is running in.

Previous international observer reports consistently indicate that this May 20, should Venezuelans choose by majority to back Javier Bertucci, the Pentecostal preacher, then Javier Bertucci shall be president. Should they choose to back Reinaldo Quijada from the ultra-left UPP89 movement, then Reinaldo Quijada shall be president. Should they vote for Falcon, Ratti, or Maduro, then Falcon, Ratti, or Maduro shall be proclaimed president.

The Alleged “Banning” of Political Parties and Candidates

“Some of my fellow members in the opposition coalition have called for boycotting the election, claiming that misconduct by the regime makes a free and fair vote impossible. They are right in denouncing the abuses of the government: Mr. Maduro has persecuted opposition leaders, banned political parties, filled electoral institutions with his loyalists and blatantly used government resources in his campaign. Venezuela’s presidential election will be played on an uneven playing field,” claims Falcon.

Those opposition leaders to whom Falcon refers are presumably Henrique Capriles, disqualified for embezzlement of public funds and corruption whilst he was Miranda state governor, a crime which according to Venezuelan law is punishable with barring from office. They may also refer to Leopoldo Lopez or Antonio Ledezma, one serving out his sentence for public disorder and hate crimes in the 2014 terrorist actions against the country and the other fleeing his indictment in Europe.

The “banning” of political parties probably refers to the Capriles’ extreme right wing party First Justice, who despite trying their hardest were unable to collect enough signatures to renew their status as a political party in Venezuela. Or maybe he refers to Leopoldo Lopez’s Popular Will party, which didn’t even try.

According to Venezuela’s Law of Political Parties, when parties repeatedly fail to participate electoral processes, they must renew their status as a political party by collecting the signatures of 0.5% of the total amount of people signed up to the electoral register in at least twelve of Venezuelans 24 regional “entities” (23 states and 1 federal district).

First Justice was amongst numerous parties which underwent this renewal in January/February 2018, with some opposition groupings like Democratic Action achieving the legal requirement. However others, like First Justice, failed to collect this minimum amount of necessary signatures, failing to re-register their legal status as a party and therefore not being able to participate in elections. These same parties participated in exactly the same process in 2017, passing with flying colours.

Or Mr Falcon may refer to the ruling which prevented the MUD alliance from running as an alliance. This decision by Venezuela’s electoral authority was motivated by the fact that some of the individual members of the grand alliance such as COPEI had already requested to run on a separate, individual ticket in recent elections. By allowing the MUD to run on a combined ticket AND some its individual constituent members to run on their own tickets, the CNE would be violating Venezuelan law prohibiting the double membership of political parties.

“Those who want to sit out the election argue that participating lends legitimacy to a rigged process. They also worry that the international support that the opposition has been able to muster could wane as a result of our decision.

These concerns are legitimate. But we can’t give up and let Mr. Maduro get away with six more years in power. Choosing to fight under unfair rules does not legitimize the rules: it affirms our willingness to defend our rights.”

From this we can understand that Mr Falcon is willing to stand up for what he believes in, a commendable quality. Yet it is regrettable that sectors of Venezuela’s right-wing have decided to “sit out the election” as he puts it. If Venezuela’s opposition is as popular as it frequently claims then, why are they afraid of a popular election?

We have seen such anti-politics from them in the past (their boycotts of the 2005 parliamentary elections, July’s Constituent Assembly vote, and December’s Municipal elections are just some examples), and on all occasions the opposition have come to regret their decisions, gifting sweeping powers to Chavista forces without any sort of counterweight or accountability.

This policy of boycotting the democratic processes, alongside their January withdrawal from the Dominican Republic talks, reflects a recoiling from the national political scene and an abandonment of all democratic mechanisms which are freely available to them. Such a withdrawal is worrying given recent militaristic comments from the US, effectively calling for a coup d’etat against Maduro’s government.

The Possibility of Street Violence Should Falcon Not Like The Results

“And if the government decides to steal this election, it can count on finding me in the streets, by the sides of the brave Venezuelan people, fighting for our right to be respected,” Falcon continues.

Maybe here we start to see the true Mr Falcon.

His reference to standing and fighting “in the streets” presumably refers to the 2014 and 2017 street violence (guarimbas), in which, especially in Lara state where he was still governor, opposition leaders incited mostly middle class micro-protests that looked to hold the country to ransom through horrendous displays of violence, such as attacking nurseries or maternity hospitals, burning dark-skinned men alive for looking like they were government supporters, bombing public squares, hijacking a military helicopter and attacking public institutions, amongst other criminal acts.

Are we to understand then, that if Mr Falcon loses these elections, he will use violence to achieve what he failed to achieve through democratic methods?

If this is indeed his real intention, then Mr Falcon’s democratic wind, which has caused him such rifts with his allies, cannot be considered a principled commitment to democracy, but rather an opportunistic position, a passing breeze.

Firstly, Mr Falcon’s comments on using street violence as a viable means of achieving political goals must be strongly denounced and rejected.

Secondly, in the current conjecture, it is worth noting that his apparently opportunistic position to support the democratic processes (for now) is extremely useful in countering Washington and it’s local proxies efforts to undermine Venezuelan democratic procedures and bury such diversity of candidatures for May 20.

Whatsmore, given the recent withdrawal of the MUD from political life, presumably in favour of extra-democratic measures, Mr Falcon’s decision to play by legal and moral rules (for now) should be applauded, as it completely undermines the position of the MUD also.

The reality is that despite continually denouncing Venezuela as a “dictatorship” Mr Falcon, like numerous other opposition spokespeople, has held public office almost uninterruptedly for most of his political career . The reality is that Mr Falcon and so many others were elected and re-elected in electoral processes supervised by the same institution, the CNE, which they love to cast doubt on – but only when they lose.

In the last elections, opposition members were elected mayors, in October 2017 they were elected governors, in 2015 many of them were elected parliamentarians, some with minute majorities.

Mr Falcon has been popularly elected to public positions no less than four times (Mayor of Iribarren municipality 2000, 2004 and Governor of Lara state 2008, 2012) by the very same electoral process, the very same electronic voting machines, the very same CNE he now claims is open to having results “stolen” from them.

So, when former opposition governors, such as Mr Capriles or Mr Falcon, claim that someone can “steal” this election, one must ask, what exactly are they talking about and if true, why were their public offices not stolen from them in the past elections when they were declared victorious?

The country, the CNE, and the people have tired of waiting for any credible evidence to be presented to justify these claims, be they from Henrique Capriles (popularly elected Governor of Miranda State twice), Antonio Ledezma (popularly elected Mayor of Greater Caracas), or, in this case, Henri Falcon.

Repeated reports from international observer missions, including from the well-respected CEELA group of international electoral technicians, reaffirms the Venezuelan electoral system’s reliability.

Yet Mr Falcon continues to lay the groundwork for potentially crying fraud (if he closes) with such claims that the elections may be “stolen” from him. Democracy means admitting defeat when you lose, as Mr Falcon did admirably after failing to secure re-election in October. Will Mr Falcon repeat this performance or will he play the Venezuelan opposition’s 18-year-and-running game of only recognizing elections they win? It all just smells a bit too much of “when I win, the system is fair, when I lose, it must be have been stolen from me” to me.

To Boycott or Participate?

“My difference is one of strategy. Electoral boycotts almost never work. In country after country, opposition forces that abandoned the field of electoral competition have lost ground and allowed rulers to consolidate power. A comprehensive Brookings study of 171 cases of boycotting around the world found that 96 percent of the time, the movements promoting the boycotts did not see positive results.

When resistance movements decided instead to confront authoritarian regimes at the polls — authoritarians from Pinochet to Milosevic — they had a much greater chance of producing regime change. Governments do not win elections during periods of hyperinflation — except when, as in Zimbabwe in 2008, the opposition makes the fatal mistake of boycotting the vote”.

Mr Falcon, those who “confronted” Pinochet were shot, ask the thousands of Chileans who have lost family members in his concentration camps. A real “authoritarian” (as opposed to that which only exists in the heads of many of Venezuela’s opposition leaders) would have you arrested and tortured just for publishing such an op-ed in a foreign newspaper. Your freedom to run in the elections proves that the current (democratically elected) government is anything but authoritarian.

“Opinion surveys consistently show that Venezuelans want to vote in the coming elections. In a recent study sponsored by the Washington-based Atlantic Council, 69 percent of Venezuelans — and 58 percent of opposition supporters — said they were willing to vote, even with the regime’s abuses. And 56 percent of opposition supporters said that they would vote even if the opposition coalition alliance called for a boycott.

I agree that divisions in the opposition are harmful to our cause. Still, since the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans want to vote, my responsibility is to stand by our people, even if it means breaking with the minority that wants to sit out the election. I will continue to devote my efforts to convincing others to join our cause and help it grow into the avalanche of votes that will sweep Mr. Maduro out of power”.

Mr Falcon’s commitment to the democratic model is commendable (if unreliable), especially considering what must be intense pressure to join the boycotting groups.

He is however correct in asserting that Venezuelans have a deeply rooted democratic passion (this will be Venezuela’s 24th popular consultation in 19 years), and that only by convincing the country of one’s policies in an electoral contest can one be elected president.

Opening Venezuela up to the IMF?

“I will seek international assistance — including from bilateral and multilateral agencies — to replenish stocks of food and medicines. I will create a program of conditional cash transfers with the objective of eradicating hunger”.

Are we to presume here that Mr Falcon proposes opening up Venezuela (and its vast natural resources) to the IMF and World Bank? This would seem to support the policies his chief economic advisor, Torino Capital’s Francisco Rodriguez.

Maybe Mr Falcon should ask the Greeks how the introduction of the IMF has worked for them?

Furthermore, Mr Falcons recent pledge to provide monthly dollar transfers of $25 to every adult and $15 to every child points towards the dollarization of the Venezuelan economy. The US multinational must be crossing their fingers and preparing their cheques.

Political Prisoners

“I will also immediately free all the country’s political prisoners, thrown in the government’s dungeons for the sole crime of thinking differently. These decisions are not unrelated”.

Apart from what has already been written about the so-called “political prisoners, thrown in the government’s dungeons for the sole crime of thinking differently”, it is worth noting that many of these lower level “political prisoners” were arrested with Molotov cocktails in their hands, grenades in their bags, sniper rifles in their apartments, burning buses, blocking roads, or vandalising public property. These citizens were not arrested by any alleged “thought-police” but were arrested for their actions which violated Venezuelan laws.

In conclusion, beyond these slight glimpses into Mr Falcon’s policy booklet, little is really known about what Mr Falcon would do should he win May’s election, with the opposition leader confining himself to purely regional policies up until now.

However, regardless of his proposals and what one may think of them, the truth of the matter is that he is free to run. He may convoke a deity to win the elections, as his competitor Mr Bertucci is doing, or he may mobilise the shantytowns, as Mr Maduro will undoubtedly attempt to do, but that is democracy.

His typically Venezuelan rebellion against his so-called opposition “allies” both at home and abroad, who tried to convince him not to run, clearly hurt the Trump administration deeply, to the extent that Trump even allegedly threatened to lump sanctions on him for merely registering his candidacy.

However, the plurality of the candidates for this upcoming tectonic battle, in which Mr Falcon will indeed play an important part as either a winner or a loser, undoubtedly represents a blow to those seeking to delegitimize the upcoming elections and with them, Venezuela’s democracy.

The reality of the situation is that there are two left wing candidates and three right wing candidates. This is the real choice for Venezuelans come May.

Only Mr Falcons acceptance of defeat should he fail to win in May will prove his true democratic credentials. Rather, if he “takes to the streets” or cries fraud, the democratic principles he tries to portray in this letter will be shown up as entirely fake double talk, media manipulation, and opportunistic anti truths.

Yet alongside his lackeys and in the face of all concrete realities and expert reports, Mr Trump, who himself stands on dubious moral ground due to having been elected with less votes than his rival, continues to claim that the elections are the “illegitimate justification” of a supposed “dictatorship”.

In short, it would seem that for Washington, it’s only a free election if US-backed candidates are triumphant, which, it seems, does not seem to even include Mr Falcon now. Be he a committed democrat or crass opportunist, the oppositions man, Mr Falcon, does us a magnificent service in putting this imperialist hypocrisy on display.