Mérida, May 29th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) -- Hundreds of right-wing political leaders and representatives of pro-capitalist think tanks from across the world gathered in Venezuela's luxurious Caracas Palace Hotel this week for an exclusive event titled "International Conference for Freedom and Democracy: The Latin American Challenge."
A major theme of the conference was how to put an end to the political changes been carried out by President Hugo Chávez and a wave of other progressive presidents who have been elected across the region over the past ten years.
Peruvian author and former Peruvian presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa, one of the high profile keynote speakers at the event, framed the Chávez government as the chief obstacle to the progress of capitalist free markets in the region.
"The path of progress is not the path of collectivism, it is not the path of state-ism, it is not the path of social property," said Vargas Llosa, referring to new forms of social property that the Chávez government has promoted to co-exist with private property, which remains protected by the Venezuelan Constitution. "Property is individual and private or it is not property," said the author.
Vargas proceeded to encourage the wealthy and powerful conference attendees to impede the Chávez administration's progressive policies, which have been approved by a decisive majority of Venezuelans in more than a dozen democratic elections. "If this path is not interrupted, Venezuela will be converted into the second Cuba of Latin America," said Vargas Llosa. "We should not permit it. That is why we are here."
In response to Vargas Llosa's accusations that Chávez shows a "growing fear of all forms of criticism," President Chávez invited the conference participants to hold a debate with international advocates of socialism on his weekly presidential talk show, Aló Presidente.
"I say this very seriously... since there is no freedom of expression here, we are inviting them to a debate," said Chávez on Thursday. "How great it would be to have a special Aló Presidente; invite the Right and the socialists, and I will sit among the public audience and leave you all to debate."
Vargas and the other participants in the conference accepted the invitation on the condition that President Chávez participate. Chavez said the debate should remain between intellectuals of the Right and Left, and said the debate could take place on Saturday morning at 11 o'clock in the Miraflores presidential building.
The conference was hosted by the Center for the Dissemination of Economic Knowledge for Freedom (CEDICE), a pro-capitalist think tank founded a quarter century ago in Venezuela that has received funding from the U.S. government's National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Right-wing think tanks from across the world, many of them funded by the U.S. government and large multinational corporations, also sent representatives to this week's gathering in Caracas. Some of those include Vargas's own International Foundation for Freedom, the German Konrad Adenaeur Foundation, Spain-based Foundation for Social Studies and Analysis, the Argentine Freedom Institute, and the U.S.-based Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the libertarian Cato Institute, and the International Republican Institute.
Regional political leaders who attended the conference included the former president of Bolivia, Jorge Quiroga, who lost to Bolivia's first ever indigenous president Evo Morales in the 2005 elections, El Salvador's ex-President Francisco Flores from the conservative ARENA party, former Mexican Foreign Relations Minister Jorge Castañeda, the president of the Bolivian Senate and supporter of the violent separatists in eastern Bolivia, Óscar Ortiz, and other right-wing politicians from across the region.
A company of Venezuelan opposition leaders, all of whom joined Venezuela's business elite to foment a two-day coup d'etat and general strike aimed at ousting the democratically elected President Chávez in 2002 and 2003, attended the conference. These included CEDICE President Rafael Alfonzo, the former mayor of the wealthy Chacao district of Caracas, Leopoldo López, Mayor of Metropolitan Caracas Antonio Ledezma, the founder of the U.S.-funded Venezuelan group Súmate, María Corina Machado, and the media mogul Marcel Granier.
At the conference, Mayor Ledezma said the Chávez government has become a dictatorship since 55% of Venezuelan voters approved a constitutional amendment to abolish term limits on elected offices in February. "After the February 15th re-election referendum, Venezuela went from being a semi-democracy or semi-dictatorship to being a dictatorship, pure and simple," said Ledezma.
Two street marches, one socialist and the other anti-Chávez, took place simultaneously with the CEDICE conference. On Wednesday, which was the two year anniversary of the expiration of the twenty-year public broadcasting license of a prominent opposition television station, RCTV, approximately 2,000 people marched in support of the renewal of RCTV's license. The license had not been renewed because RCTV supported the 2002 coup against Chávez and had repeatedly violated laws on social responsibility in the media.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Chávez supporters gathered outside the Caracas Palace Hotel to protest the CEDICE conference by performing impromptu theatre, clown acts, and parodies of the anti-Chávez nightly news shows that distort information and incite violence against the president.
The CEDICE conference also corresponded with this week's inauguration of a new youth political training center outside of Caracas created by CEDICE in partnership with the Cato Institute. The Cato-CEDICE school has received support from the Future Present Foundation, which was founded by Yon Goicoechea, the leader of violent anti-Chávez destabilization riots who received a $500,000 "freedom" award from the Cato Institute last year.
The Cato Institute, a fierce opponent of Chávez, espouses a libertarian free market philosophy, supports the privatization of social security, and is opposed to environmental regulations to halt global warming.