Venezuelan Opposition Intellectuals Reject Chávez’s Invitation to Debate

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez invited participants from a right wing conference taking place in Caracas, four times, to a live debate on the show. After initially accepting, the right wing intellectuals refused to participate.
Fernando Buen Abad speaking to press while waiting for the debate on Saturday (VTV).

Mérida, June 1st 2009 ( – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, while celebrating 10 years of his weekly TV show, ‘Hello President’, invited participants from a right wing conference taking place in Caracas, four times, to a live debate on the show. After initially accepting, the right wing intellectuals then proposed different conditions for the debate and finally refused to participate.

Chavez made the proposal on Thursday, the first day of what was to be a four day marathon of his national issues discussion show following its 10 year anniversary.

He proposed a debate about the crisis of capitalism and “any other issues” between pro-capitalist intellectuals and pro-socialist intellectuals, specifically between those invited by the Ministry of Culture to attend a conference on the crisis of capitalism, and those attending the “International Conference for Freedom and Democracy: The Latin American Challenge” organised by the Centre for the Dissemination of Economic Knowledge for Freedom (CEDICE).

Chavez had proposed the debate for Saturday, but it did not happen, and on Sunday ‘Hello President’ was cancelled. The Ministry of Communications and Information press release said it had been cancelled “for technical reasons”.

The BBC News headline called the series of events a ‘Curious End for Chavez TV Special’ and said “his four-day TV anniversary extravaganza was reduced to a handful of transmissions over just two days.” ‘Hello President’ ran for almost 8 hours in total on Thursday and about 5 hours on Friday.

The Argentine daily, Clarin, titled its article ‘[Peruvian writer, Mario] Vargas Llosa accepted debate with Chavez but the President refuses’ whilst Spanish paper ‘El Pais’ said Chavez hadn’t shown up at the last minute, and Chilean paper El Mercurio said Chavez went back on his word.

The series of debate acceptances, conditions, and refusals

On Friday morning, following Chavez’s proposal, three of the right wing intellectuals from the CEDICE conference, Mexican writer Enrique Krauze, Mario Vargas and Mexican intellectual Jorge Castaneda publicly announced that they were available to attend the debate. However they asked to debate the president.

That day at 5pm Chavez formally called for the debate for 11pm on Saturday in the presidential palace, to be broadcast live on Hello President. He said, “Even though I said I’d step aside and let [the intellectuals] debate, I accept, with those who want to accompany me…Without avoiding any topic, any topic is valid.”

At 6.40 pm the president of CEDICE, Rafael Alfonzo responded in a press conference saying they accepted the debate but they proposed, “that for greater efficiency and clarity that it be carried out between two people, the president Hugo Chavez Frias and the writer Mario Vargas Llosa.”

And 7.40 pm, Chavez commented on his show that it was “regrettable…they don’t want to discuss, what they want is a show,” said they were still invited. He confirmed he could help moderate but that the conditions stayed the same.

“What they want is to personalise it and they ask for fairness, if it’s as an intellectual, I’m a soldier. [Vargas] is a laureate intellectual,” he said.

Vargas responded on CNN accusing Chavez of being dishonest, confused, and uncertain of his ideas, and said “[Chavez’s] proposal to debate wasn’t serious, it was just a gesture or an ambush.”

At 10 that night, Chavez repeated the invitation to debate on his show but emphasised again that it should be between intellectuals. “I’ll be sitting down and enjoying [the debate]. Now, if they ask me to participate, I won’t have a problem with that even though I’m no intellectual,” he said.

On Saturday morning, Vargas publicly refused to debate the leftwing intellectuals.  Chavez proposed Venezuelan writer Luis Britto Garcia for a one on one debate with Vargas as a compromise. From 11am the left wing intellectuals were waiting in the presidential palace to begin the debate, but none of the right wing intellectuals turned up.

Fernando Buen Abad, one of the left wing intellectuals, said that debate between those who support capitalism and those who support socialism was an “extraordinary opportunity” and said that “the invitation remains open for any place and any time.”

“It’s not something personal, nor is it about bullying as [the right wing] has tried to make out, it’s a problem that is important to humanity because humanity is living a profound and complex crisis, a costly product of the disaster of capitalism,” Buen Abad said.

Finally, yesterday, the mayor of metropolitan Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, proposed a debate with Chavez to discuss themes of insecurity, housing, public service and employment.