With the return of Carlos Andres Perez remains to Venezuela as I type this note, and the uttering of yet more intemperate words from Chavez today I was struck by an idea, or rather a perspective on Venezuelan history that the indulgent reader may forgive me.
Accion Democratica, AD, came to power through a military coup. True, in 1945 the regime overthrown was barely taking baby steps towards more democracy but it had at least reached a certain level of institutionality if we place ourselves in the context of the time. And it is also true that the military regained their barracks for 3 years until back out in 1948 they created our one before last dictatorship that lasted until 1958.
But the original sin existed for AD. It came through that initial coup even if the popular fervor was with it for decades afterwards. It did not matter what Romulo Betancourt and Raul Leoni did to atone, it did not matter that COPEI was able to replace AD at Miraflores for two terms, there was always that 1945 sin hovering over the whole system.
That sin was finally redeemed by Carlos Andres Perez, CAP, in his second term, 1988 to 1993 when he stared down two coup attempts against him, and then was removed from office through legal ways even though they were politically unwise and for the wrong motivations. The charges that brought down CAP have been amply surpassed by the current regime and if Venezuela had any coherence today the jails will be filled with people like Chavez, Ramirez or Cabello.
No matter what we may throw at CAP, his legacy to us will be a democratic one, the one that comes from facing down coupsters, from sharing more power by letting governors be elected instead of appointed, by accepting the rule of law even though he was clearly a victim (many were able to see it at the time even if they did not support CAP). Note that the one that writes these lines would not have voted for CAP in 1988 so resentful he was from his first term in office 10 years before. For all of his faults CAP never ceased to be a democrat and it is a paradox of history that his downfall would mark the beginning of the end for democracy in Venezuela even though his courageous stand washed away the original sins of AD in 1945.
Chavez has been the great enemy of CAP even though in stature he does not reach CAP's ankle. Like AD Chavez has come to power with his own original sin of 1992 when he tried a bloody coup against CAP who left scores of people killed. But unlike AD Chavez had never any intention to wash out his original sin, instead spending significant amounts of time and money to transform vice into virtue. In fact we even have many instances to confirm that Chavez has a non democratic character, besides his arrogance and freely dispensing of insults. Chavez more than once has confessed his early conspiratorial nature, his desire to create an unchanging regime and what not. Heck, today he even said that the goal was to establish a political and economical hegemony.
That is why contrary to what happened to AD in 1992, the 2002 April events did not wash Chavez of his original sin, a confirmation coming from himself when he claimed that he had provoked the April events so as to get rid of his opposition. At no point in his career was Chavez a democrat and most of his followers today know that and seem to care little, which speaks very ill of the nature of the Venezuelan and its relationship with a democratic future.
And that is why perhaps Venezuela has never really entered the path to a democratic Eden as we have consistently sabotaged any attempt through our hisotry, starting with the first coup on record, the one against Vargas in 1835. It is a fitting tribute to CAP as he comes back to be buried in Venezuela that his presidency might have been paradoxically the most and the last democratic term of our history, even if at the time most were blinded by his faults. Including yours truly. I do not mean to excuse CAP at all, but time is the best prism to look at history and clear up the dirt around the rock.
UPDATE: I highly recommend the view from an insider of the CAP second government, Moises Naim who was one of his minsters. In Spanish unfortunately for those who cannot read it.