International Crisis Group Report On Venezuela: Short On Facts, High On Bias

International Crisis Group (ICG), issued a report on
Venezuela entitled, “Venezuela: Political Reform or Regime Demise?” 
Considering that the ICG is recognized today as one of the leading
sources for the prevention and resolution of violent conflict in the
world, the report is underwhelming in the amount of factual information
and objective sources it utilizes.

By Venezuela Information Office
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On July 23, 2008 the International Crisis Group (ICG), based in Brussels, issued a report on Venezuela entitled, “Venezuela: Political Reform or Regime Demise?”  Considering that the ICG is recognized today as one of the leading sources for the prevention and resolution of violent conflict in the world, the report is underwhelming in the amount of factual information and objective sources it utilizes.  It is evident that it was constructed with little attention to detail and should ring alarm bells to anyone who is up to date on Venezuelan affairs.

Moreover, being that the ICG is tasked with alerting governments and the general public to potential conflicts and increasing violence around the world, the issuing of a report on Venezuela at this moment - with regional elections approaching in November - and with no signal of instability whatsoever in the country, is irresponsible and premature at best.  
 
Below are the most glaring inaccuracies found in the International Crisis Group’s report on Venezuela.
 
Myth: “Only by ending attempts to drastically alter the 1999 constitution is Chávez likely to return Venezuela to democratic stability.”
 
Fact:  Venezuela is currently a stable democracy.  Since a new Constitution was drafted by an elected Constitutional Assembly and approved by the National Assembly, which included all major opposition parties, the Chavez Administration has instituted national policies and empowered local communities to foster reconciliation between opposition and pro-government sectors of society.  This has largely been done through poverty alleviation programs as well as executive orders pardoning citizens who actively supported the 2002 coup d’état against President Chavez.  It can also be seen by the opposition’s willingness, since 2006, to participate in democratic elections and pursue their political agenda within the framework of the Constitution and democracy.  A report of this nature, issued in the lead up to the violent April coup or in the months following it, would have merited attention.  Now, however, when there is no evidence of political or economic instability, the report appears to be politically motivated rather than factually based.
 
Myth: “November municipal and regional elections could produce a dramatic new setback for his [Chavez] increasingly autocratic ‘Bolivarian revolution.’”

Fact: Terms like “autocratic” do not reflect the actual state of Venezuela’s government nor the “Bolivarian revolution.”  One only need look at recent levels of voter participation and the numerous national and local elections that have taken place over the last ten years since Chavez has been in office to understand this.  In 1998, 2000, 2004, 2005, and 2006 international observers, including the Organization of American States
(OAS), the U.S.-based Carter Center, and a delegation from the European Union characterized elections in Venezuela as “free and fair.”i  The NAACP, the oldest vote-monitoring organization in the United States, noted in their electoral mission report that, “the Venezuelan government has gone to great lengths to ensure the legitimacy of the electoral process”.ii  Voter participation reached its highest levels during the last presidential election with more than 75% of the electorate turning up at the polls and 63% re-electing Hugo Chavez as president.  This participation rate hasn’t been matched in the US since the early nineteen hundreds.   

Myth: “The government-controlled National Assembly (NA) passed an ‘Enabling Law’ (Ley Habilitante), which grants him [Chavez] full legislative powers until the end of July 2008,…”

Fact: To begin with, the National Assembly is mostly made up of pro-government coalition members due to the opposition’s last minute boycott of parliamentary elections in 2005.  OAS General Secretary, Jose Miguel Insulza explains, “We had a problem with the Venezuelan opposition, which assured us that they would not withdraw from the [electoral] process if certain conditions were met [by the government]. These were met and despite this, they withdrew. This had an impact on the high abstention.”iii  It appears that the opposition never expected the government to take their requests seriously and when they did, they chose to renege on their agreement with the international community.  The ICG’s full explanation, however, is way off and borders on reckless reporting.  In their interactive timeline accompanying the report they state, “In the run-up to the legislative elections, the opposition withdraws after an OAS audit of the machines to verify voter identity showed that ballot secrecy could not be guaranteed.”iv  Nothing, as the OAS noted above, could be further from the truth.

Secondly, the Enabling Law has never granted the Executive “full legislative powers” as the ICG’s Executive Summary contends.  Rather, for 18 months the powers of the President was extended to allow the passage of laws by decree in 11 key areas.  Hugo Chavez is not the only Venezuelan president to be granted this power, which both the 1961 and 1999 constitutions have permitted.  Nor is Venezuela the only country to include it in its constitution (article 203).  The Spanish, German, and Italian constitutions also have clauses that permit the executive branch to legislate by decree.v  

Myth: The Venezuelan government has not been productive in regional relations, especially with Colombia, and should “Pursue a foreign policy conducive to peace and security in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Fact: There is no evidence to support this claim.  Many development initiatives geared towards increasing Latin American cooperation and stability have been spearheaded by Venezuela such as PetroCaribe, the Bank of the South and ALBA.  In regards to Colombia, ever since President Chávez was approached by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in August 2007 and asked to serve as the chief negotiator in a hostage-for-prisoner swap between the government and the rebel group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) Venezuela has advocated for peace and an end to armed struggle.  Despite this, the ICG links Venezuela to terrorist groups, an allegation that has never been proven and is categorically rejected by the Organization of American States.  "There is no evidence, and no member country, including this one (United States) has offered the OAS such proof,"vi said OAS head Insulza earlier this year.   
 
Myth: The ICG argues that “social spending funded by the oil windfall appears to have yielded only modest and, in the long term, unsustainable gains for the poorest part of the population.”   

Fact: The report fails to cite or acknowledge independent studies that have shown a clear decline in poverty in Venezuela during the Chavez Administration.  Instead, it discredits official government figures and uses perception polls to back up its unfounded claims.  The United Nation’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has documented otherwise, as well as the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington DC.  Since 2003, when the first social mission programs were implemented in Venezuela, independent sources have found that the household poverty rate has decreased by 31 percent.vii

In ECLAC’s 2006 Social Panorama report on Latin America, it found that from 2002 to 2005 extreme poverty had dropped by 10 percent from 48.6 percent to 37.1 percent and between 2002 and 2006 Venezuela’s overall poverty rate had decreased by 18.4 percentage points.viii  
 
Myth: Venezuela needs to take active steps to forge a “public security strategy to fight crime.”
 
Fact: The Venezuelan government initiated this in 2006 through the creation of the National Police Reform Council (CONAREPOL).  The council’s main goal was to assess how to improve the police force in terms of accountability and productivity and to better serve the citizenry.  Between August and October of 2006,700,000 Venezuelans participated in the CONAREPOL's police reform conferences, which took place in every state.  Out of that came the proposal for the new National Police Law, approved by Chavez earlier this year.  The law creates a legal framework for a single, integrated, national police force that would monitor the country's transportation systems, customs, anti-drug enforcement, delinquency, anti-corruption efforts, criminal investigations, communal order, and the security of political leaders. It will also create a police rights defense commission, and a separate commission that focuses on human rights violations.
 
Myth: A recent ruling by Venezuela’s Supreme Court, upholding a decision to bar political participation by officials who are under investigation for corruption, and thus barring well-known opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez from participating in November regional elections, is political.
 
Fact: The Organic Law of the General Accountability Office (LOCGR) was approved by the National Assembly in 2001 by a majority of Assembly members including the opposition. In fact, Mayor Leopoldo Lopez’s former party, Primero Justicia, supported the law.ix  Of the 286 government employees under investigation for corruption and embezzlement, and sanctioned and disqualified from holding public office since the ban began, more than half (52%), belong to political parties within the Government’s own coalition. Moreover, those disqualified who were already in active posts were allowed to finish serving their terms before sanctions were imposed.

Conclusion

Only factual discrepancies and key distortions in the International Crisis Group’s “Venezuela: Political Reform or Regime Demise?” were addressed here.  The report includes so many that it would require a much lengthier rebuttal to address all of the inaccuracies and glaring omissions found in it.   

Unfortunately, it is likely that many of the accusations and generalizations made by the ICG will be taken seriously given the standing of the organization in the international community.  With little regard for the truth, media outlets in the past have been known to use statements and findings from “credible” sources as fact, and policy makers will probably follow suit.

But, this is nothing new for Venezuela.  If one looks back at previous elections since President Chavez was first elected in 1998, the threat of an imminent crisis just before a major electorate undertaking, almost appears to be standard operating procedure.  Sadly, in a stable and democratic country such as Venezuela, the only results that can come of the ICG’s report are the very things they aim to circumvent: increased internal conflict and heightened tensions.

The Venezuela Information Office is dedicated to informing the American public about contemporary Venezuela, and receives its funding from the government of Venezuela.  Further information is available from the FARA office of the Department of Justice in Washington, DC.   

Notes:
i  “Venezuelan Ballot Gets Confidence Vote.” David Luhnow and Jose de Cordoba. The Wall Street Journal. August 20, 2004.

ii  “An Observational Briefing on the 2006 Venezuelan Presidential Election” NAACP, February 2007.
http://www.rethinkvenezuela.com/downloads/NAACPFINALreport.pdf

iii  El Mercurio (Chile), December 25, 2006. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news.php?newsno=1855

iv  “Venezuela: Political Reform or Regime Demise?” International Crisis Group, Latin America Report No.27, July 23, 2008.    http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5583&l=1

v  Article 82 of the Spanish Constitution, Article 77 of the Italian Constitution, and Article 80 of the Issues of Ordinances in the German Constitution.

vi  “OAS Chief to US Congress: No Venezuela-terrorist link” AFP, April 10, 2008. http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5ipNXwHOq34tlujMqpPj9OZVXwznw

vii  "The Venezuelan Economy in the Chavez Years," Center for Economic Policy and Research, July 2007,  
http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/venezuela_2007_07.pdf

viii “Social Panorama of Latin America 2007”, Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean,
http://www.eclac.org/cgi-bin/getProd.asp?xml=/publicaciones/xml/9/30309/...
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ix  Gaceta Oficial 37.347. http://www.tsj.gov.ve/gaceta/gacetaoficial.asp