Venezuela: Former Guerrilla and Chavez Opponent Teodoro Petkoff Dies at 86

Petkoff was an “iconoclastic and anachronistic figure” who “shifted steadily to the right,” according to George Ciccariello-Maher.

By Ricardo Vaz
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Teodoro Petkoff (right) was appointed Minister of Planning and Coordination by Rafael Caldera (left) in 1996
Teodoro Petkoff (right) was appointed Minister of Planning and Coordination by Rafael Caldera (left) in 1996. (Carlos Hernandez)

Pays de Gex, France, November 2, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Teodoro Petkoff, a strident anti-Chavista figure in Venezuela, passed away on Wednesday after a long-term illness.

An economist and founder of the right-wing Tal Cual newspaper, Petkoff was known for his vociferous opposition to the Venezuelan government ever since Hugo Chavez’s election in 1998. Opposition figures have lamented the loss of one of their leading figures, while the Venezuelan government also sent condolences to his family.

Born in Zulia State in 1932, Petkoff joined the guerrilla resistance against the dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez in the 1950s, under the banner of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), and continued in the 1960s armed insurgency against the US-backed center-right government of Romulo Betancourt.

After spending time in prison, he was freed under an amnesty decreed by President Rafael Caldera in 1969. He would later break with the PCV and found the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS). Petkoff ran for president twice, unsuccessfully, in 1983 and 1988.

In 1993, he supported the victorious presidential candidacy of right-leaning Social Christian Caldera, and in 1996 was appointed Minister of Planning and Coordination. Petkoff’s office oversaw the implementation of the so-called Agenda Venezuela, an IMF-backed plan of privatization and neoliberal adjustment.

Petkoff broke off from the MAS in 1998 when the party decided to support Hugo Chavez’s run for president. After founding Tal Cual in 2000, Petkoff became one of the staunchest voices in the anti-Chavista camp.

His last major foray into politics was the 2006 presidential election, in which Petkoff abdicated in favor of Manuel Rosales. Chavez ended up winning reelection with 63 percent of the vote.

“Teodoro Petkoff was arguably the most iconoclastic and anachronistic figure of Venezuelan politics of the past half-century,” political theorist and Venezuela expert George Ciccariello-Maher told Venezuelanalysis.

“Known above all for his failures, Petkoff shifted steadily to the right: from armed communist guerrilla to political prisoner, to perennial losing presidential candidate, and finally to active participant in neoliberalism and opponent of the mass movements upholding Chavismo. Always reaching for the pulse of the Venezuelan people, Petkoff was never able to actually find it,” concluded Ciccariello-Maher, author of We Created Chavez and currently a visiting scholar at the Hemispheric Institute in New York and the Institute of Social Research at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).

Edited and with additional reporting by Lucas Koerner from Caracas.