Monday, February 28, 2005

The Carter Center and Venezuela: a history of intellectual and moral bankruptcy

Jennifer McCoy, the LatAm point woman of the Carter Center, came to Venezuela again. The stated objective was to close the Carter Center offices that were opened sometime in 2002 when the country seemed on the verge of civil war. Was closing the office a sign that their mission had been accomplished? Or an admission of failure and a classical case of "declare victory and leave"? From the press not subjected to the claws of chavismo it is easy to conclude that the Carter Center has completely failed in its role of mediator and peace harbinger, no matter what Dr. McCoy bravely declared in her report and farewell press conference. Let's look first at the chronological development of the visit.

Before the visit

It is noteworthy that the "last" visit of the Carter Center was not heralded long in advance. In fact it was announced to the press barely a couple of days before arrival of the mission. Visibly there was a desire of little exposure in Venezuela, an understandable strategy considering that a significant portion of the Venezuelan opinion saw the CC as discredited entity, worthy of a "cacerolazo" at best. The cloudy role of Carter in August 16 has damaged considerably its international image. Since Jimmy Cater is not eternal his people are forced to try to pick up some of the broken glass left in Venezuela if they want to have a job once Carter is gone. As expected the announced visit was not received well by the opposition, and the blogosphere was instantly condemnatory (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, just in English)

The visit

The stay was announced for two days and in fact lasted three. The first day of Jennifer McCoy did have a couple of semi surprises, and certainly some interesting moments.

Jennifer McCoy visits the C-osa N-ostra E-lectoral

Jorge Rodríguez is now officially the new capo di mafia of the Venezuelan Electoral Board, C.N.E., an organization that is not trusted by anyone in the opposition and the main roadblock to any recovery of our all but lost democracy. According to El Universal Dr. McCoy expressed that there was a need to restore the public's trust in the electoral system. I translate her words:

She mentioned that although the political climate in the country has improved "there is a need for a basic consensus because there are divisions between the citizens of what should be a common vision of the country"
Now this has to be one of the biggest understatements of the Venezuelan political situation where we have gone from near civil war to an authoritarian regime. No wonder the political situation has improved, what can the opposition do besides offering its chests to the guns of the army?

But she also said something more realistic:

"We have talked of impartiality and of the importance of having guarantees for transparency, to have controls and audits of the process, as well as modernizing the electoral registry"
It is of course easy to point out that this exactly where the Carter Center failed miserably through June and July of 2004. But at least one must be thankful for the final admission from the Carter Center that the electoral system of Venezuela is a sham. Better late than never, one may say as a consolation.

It is to be noted by the way that she did not accept any questions after reading her statements both at the CNE or at the National Assembly, her next stop.

Jennifer McCoy visits the National Assembly

The only results there is that an hysterical chairman, the most ineffable and intellectually limited Nicolas Maduro, showed his class by asking McCoy to go to the US and defend Chavez's life. Of course, Dr. McCoy, a well behaved person showed sympathy and seems to have assuaged some of Maduro's anguish at losing his job if his boss is shot to death by a CIA operation. Still, as was revealed on Saturday, Dr. McCoy seems to have asked the National Assembly to put some order in Venezuela by electing once and for all a really independent CNE and remove the repressive laws on freedom of expression that are being enacted and that have hit Tulio Alvarez and others already.

At any rate she was fast set right there as to any wishful thinking she might have had at the CNE about an improved political climate. The most visible leader of what is left from the opposition, Julio Borges of Primero Justicia (PJ) complained about the visit of McCoy. Maduro simply told Borges to go somewhere else with his show and that he was an "ultra rightist and fascist". Did Dr. McCoy wonder who was the real fascist there?

Jennifer McCoy meets Julio Borges

Possibly to the great disgust of ridiculous Maduro, Dr. McCoy had the courage to meet with Julio Borges. Until then it seemed that no one in the opposition was going to meet with her. Well, she would have probably being better off if no one had met with her.

The meeting with Borges did not go so well and gave the only surprise of the day. To begin with PJ had to debate for a while until finally deciding to meet McCoy. It decided to send Borges and it was worth it as he basically read the Carter Center the riot act. After pointing out that he told her that a large section of the Venezuelan population was dubious of the Carter Center as an independent observer of future elections and that she seemed to understand the positions put forward to her, he told the press:

"We made it clear that many, if not a majority of Venezuelans, as a matter of fact see that the Carter Center has lost the trust and the possibility of being a mediator, to facilitate and be a bridge in the country, because they had an attitude of hurrying up business and wash their hands of it"

"We told her that if they came to Venezuela it was to call things by their name, what has been done inside the CNE and that they must understand that this country after the referendum was left more divided, has lost faith in elections when people wanted to have more faith in the vote, that they feel the institutions are held hostage, that there is a desire to pass laws that are not good for the country, but politically to dominate institutions, [...] that our umpire belongs totally to Chavismo and that the Carter Center has a share of the blame"
Borges claims that McCoy seems to have understood.

Jennifer McCoy meets Milagros Socorro

Actually that meeting did not take place but Milagros Socorro Op Ed in El Nacional of Thursday certainly did not garner her an invitation. That probably could explain why the agenda of Dr, McCoy on Friday was not reported the way the one on Thursday was. But what did that editorial say?

The piece is titled "Jennifer comes back to the grey zone". In it Milagros Socorro explains how she took the time to read a lengthy assay of McCoy (with David J. Myers) published under the UCV editorial [Politeia] in Venezuela and where apparently it is quite clear that Dr. McCoy is a fine connoisseur of Venezuelan contemporary history. That article covers 1972 to 2002 and seems to indicate that McCoy (and the Carter Center, and Carter himself presumably) should have known in May 2003 where were things headed. Thus, the hard question: why did they accept to follow the rules imposed by the government and then the CNE as of that date, rules that eventually made it impossible for any serious observation to take place, making the European Union desist on monitoring the referendum? Why did they encourage the opposition to go ahead with those rule is added by this writer?

The implication of this Milagros Socorro article are quite clear: McCoy and Carter Center have a lot of explaining to do if they want some day to recover some moral and intellectual credibility.

The departure

Saturday Dr. McCoy made a press conference and left the country. It does not seem from what I can gather that she is ready to come back anytime soon. I must admit that her visit went actually better than what I expected: she made enough concessions to at least hint that she might have made some mistakes. Not enough, but a start.

Any positive spin would have been uphill as the Carter Center was even warned that trying to refloat the opposition to give Chavez more legitimacy would be a tactic easy to see through and would not help its standing, not to mention that as far as this blogger knows McCoy only met with Borges and that was not too good. She also seems to have met with some NGO with no better results, at least from the opposition side (1).

But still, McCoy managed not to look pitiful. Perhaps her big point was to state clearly that she did not think that the US is trying to kill Chavez, and that at any rate this one should take that matter directly to the US instead of doing a media show. She might be a US liberal but McCoy knows that the US has changed positively in this respect since her boss was president, credit where credit is due. On other points she made public her recommendations made to the National Assembly president who must feel right now quite inconsequential (but I trust he is used to it with his own boss). In short: a real independent CNE, guarantees for the freedom of speech, adaptation of Venezuelan laws to the international criteria to what constitutes slander, and even to consult with International Human Rights organizations when elaborating legislation. But a little too late, I am afraid. In an informal survey made by Globovision Friday 97% of respondents were critical of the Carter Center. Even by Globovision pro opposition standards, this number was very high.

She also released the final Carter Center Report on the Venezuelan effort but first reviews are not very good (and she seems to expect that). Still, the unscientific ethics used by the Carter Center in verifying the fraud claims made after August 15 cast yet an additional intellectual blotch on Dr. McCoy, who like other intellectual that tried to deal with chavismo found themselves quite burned (Amy Chua from Yale is one case that strangely comes to mind)

Conclusion (if possible)

The extended, and untimely visit hints to the Carter Center (and Jennifer McCoy) having obviously more problems than what they care to admit.

The Carter Center refuses to take any blame though it hints at things that could have been done differently. Too little, too late.

Thus, as expected, they came to declare victory and leave. They gave us, the natives, a list of things to do as they wash their hands of the mess to which they greatly contributed. On this aspect the Carter Center shows itself to be as clumsy about Venezuela as the Bush administration approach to Venezuela in its first term. At least this last one has recognized in recent hearings that it did not deal well with Venezuela.

The Carter Center, and Dr. McCoy, will need to do a lot more to recover their credibility and to demonstrate that they do have the intellectual mettle for this type of political conflict that the Chavez example is certain to seed further in Latin America. Their responsibility is heavy.

And of course, appeasement only postpones tragedy.

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Added one day later. Descifrado in its subscriber section reports that the media did not even want to meet with the Carter Center. Only one TV station bothered to send an observer. The irony of it all....

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