My response to COHA report on Venezuela

February 11, 2009

Dear Larry and friends at COHA,

I am writing to express my disappointment with the two latest
articles on Venezuela, both of which were weighed down with
generalities and inaccuracies, which, I believe, led to misguided

Let me start with the first one (Venezuela’s New Constitutional
Reform 2009
), which was riddled with factual errors and poor reasoning.

1. The article gives the false impression that the amendment
referendum is just about eliminating the two-term limit on the
presidency. However, it eliminates this two-term limit on all elected
offices (this does get mentioned at the end of the article, but why not
from the start?).

2. Ezequiel Zamora was not an independence fighter as the article
claims, but fought against the oligarchy 40 years after Venezuelan

3. Where did the authors get the idea that Bolivarian ideology has
anything to do with the ideas of Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche? This is
the first time I have ever heard such a claim and I have studied the
movement quite a bit. Would be good if the article provided some
reference for that.

4. President Caldera was not a member of Copei when he pardoned
Chávez for the coup, even though he did found the party. Copei was in
the opposition at the time and Caldera had founded a new political
movement to bring him to the presidency.

5. Chávez won the presidency in the elections of 1998, not in 1999 (he took office then).

6. “Many Venezuelan academics would argue that the Chávez’s
Revolution is in constant change, with no specific route to guide it,
other than the pursuit of power and the implementation of a socialist
state and, theoretically, a high degree of participatory politics. In
the beginning, Chávez did not have the opportunity to adequately
express his vision. This rhetoric, combined with his view of a strong,
central core of beliefs somehow was to mystically reach the country’s
lower class, which always has been the cornerstone of Chavista
support.” – This is such a terrible mish-mash of claims, I don’t even
know where to start. For one thing, Chávez did not embrace socialism
until 2005. For another, he did expound on his ideas quite a bit before
running for office, publishing an important pamphlet that was
implemented in the first years of his presidency, known as the
“Bolivarian Alternative.” Where in the world do the authors get the
idea that the core to Chávez’s beliefs was to “mystically reach the
lower class”??

7. The authors get the sequence reversed when talking about Chávez’s
2005 win in the National Assembly (Venezuela has not had a Senate, as
the article falsely claims, since 2000). They write that due to the
opposition’s boycott in 2005 chavistas went on take “control of most
major positions in the cities.” I’m not sure what is being referred to,
but Chávez supporters won most mayor’s and governor’s positions in
October 2004, a full year before the December 2005 boycott. If the
reference is to national assembly positions, Chavistas won practically
all of them because of the boycott, not just in the cities.

8. The authors refer to the “middle class opposition leadership” –
again, not sure who they mean, but it would be safe to argue that most
of the opposition leadership belongs to the upper class.

9. The authors write: “At the time, Chávez stressed the need for a
single, united Bolivarian party, which would be named the PSUV.
However, outside of Venezuela, not much was known about some of the key
individuals who made up the highest levels of Chávez’s party, whether
it was known as the MBR-200, MVR or the PSUV.” How is that for a
non-sequitur? What does the need for a united party have to do with
people outside of Venezuela not knowing the leadership?

10. “many [military officers] did so [join] in order to obtain more
personal benefits from supporting the “National Cause.” The current
vice-president of the PSUV is a retired army officer, General Alberto
Müller.” this makes it sound like Müller Rojas is one of the officers
who is in it for personal gain. Actually, Rojas retired from the
military long before he joined Chávez. Not only that, until recently
Muller Rojas was a leader of the Causa R party and then of the PPT,
only joining the PSUV when it was formed last year (he never was a
member of the MVR). Also, he is one of Venezuela’s most highly regarded
politicians, which is probably why he was elected by the PSUV
membership to be the party’s vice-president.

11. the whole section headed, “the Rise of Chávez-style politics” –
it is never said what is meant by this. The implication, though, is
that the formation of the PSUV meant the entrenchment of Chavista
cronyism. Actually, the opposite is true, that establishing the PSUV
was a decisive step towards democratizing the Bolivarian movement,
since the MVR almost never had internal elections, but the PSUV does.

12. The authors write that the appointment of Maduro as Foreign
Minister meant “turning one’s back on any sustained effort to build a
respectable and professional practice of foreign-policy making,
represented by such major figures like Rómulo Betancourt, Manuel Pérez
Guerrero, Ramón Escovar Salom, among others.” Indeed, Chávez wanted to
turn his back on such a foreign service because this “professional”
foreign service is at the service of the country’s old elite. It takes
time to create new professionals and Venezuela is working on this now.
To imply that a subway union activist has no business in the foreign
ministry is nothing short of classism. If the authors believe that
Maduro is not up to the job, then they should refer to specific things
he has said or done, not to his union background.

13. Oddly, in the listing of Venezuela’s vice-presidents, the
authors leave out Chávez’s second vice-president, Adina Bastidas, the
country’s first ever female vice-president.

14. Mario Silva ran for governor of Carabobo state, not Tachira. The
authors say that he was rejected by both Chavistas and opposition
supporters – this is exaggeration. He would have won, if the
ex-Chavista Acosta Carlez hadn’t run for reelection, who split the
Chavista vote. Acosta Carlez got a mere 6.5% of the pro-Chavez vote to
Silva’s 44.5%.

15. The PSUV platform is still being discussed and a draft of that
platform is available to party members. Presumably during the next
party congress they will approve of it, at which point it should be

16. According to the article, the 2007 constitutional reform had
“existence hedgings of the right of private property. “ I’m not sure
what that means. In any case, the reform did not cast any doubt on the
legitimacy of private property.

17. Supposedly the reason the opposition made gains in the regional
elections was because “there are shortages of food staples, high
inflation and an elevated unemployment rate (up to 7.2% in June 2008,
6.1% in December 2008).” Actually, during that vote there were hardly
any shortages. Inflation, while high, was no where near as high as
during previous presidencies (an average of 50% in each of the two
prior presidencies, compared to 30% for Chavez). Third, unemployment is
at one of its lowest levels in Venezuelan history. I believe the main
reasons for the losses ought to be sought elsewhere, such as the high
crime rate.

18. To use anti-government talk shows such as La Entrevista and
programs on Globovision as indicators of anything is ludicrous. These
talk shows can always find poor people to voice their discontent about
Chavez and they always have (I have been watching these programs since

19. The authors buy the opposition argument that Simon Bolivar would
not have supported getting rid of the two-term limit. However, Bolivar
was writing in a time when there were no elections for President. In
the full quote Bolivar speaks about the importance of having “repeated
elections” and contrasts this with a presidency for life, not with the
lack of a limit on running for office again.

20. What is “The world gas crisis “? And what are Chávez’s “domestic oil politics”?

21. That Chávez says he needs until 2019 to complete the Bolivarian
Revolution and that he therefore “would have to remain in office
indefinitely in order to perpetuate his vision.” makes no sense at all.
Where is the logic?

22. Finally, the conclusion that if Chávez cannot run for president
again in 2012 his movement would fragment shows that the authors really
don’t know Venezuela. As long as Chávez is leader of his party, such a
scenario is exceedingly unlikely.

Given this truly enormous number of errors and poor reasoning, I
think it would be good for COHA’s reputation to remove the article from
its website and to thoroughly revise it before reposting it.

Greg Wilpert