Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Venezuela in 1968 and Venezuela today

I was forwarded a few days ago an article written in the Times magazine in 1968, during the electoral campaign that ended in the election of Rafael Caldera (hat tip Pedro). I think it is worth posting it completely. Too many people that are only too willing to believe the Chavez propaganda think that Venezuela was a wasteland before Chavez. If it is true that the case can be made that the two decades that preceded Chavez could be called "lost decades", reading this Times piece from the past shows to us that democracy was a much more joyful process, much more democratic than what it is today "n'en deplaise a certains". In 1968 an opposition candidate was allowed to run a good campaign and was allowed to win with the narrowest margin, but win nevertheless. Today the CNE makes sure that all possible hurdles are on the way for any opposition candidate, even when running for local towns councils.

But before you read the article posted below, I wanted to bring your attention to today's piece of the Wall Street Journal on Chavez, interestingly titled "Hugo and Mahmoud". As usually the WSJ remains the most clear headed US paper on what Chavez is all about. I will allow myself to quote two portions:
A week ago, he announced he would nationalize the country's electricity and telephone companies; he already controls the oil business. His goal here is to redistribute income but especially to shrink the private economy in order to reduce the space in which any political opposition can operate.
So you can see that it is not only this blog who thinks that all of Chavez moves are designed by him to keep power for ever and ever. The second quote is about the enablers in the US who are doing unforeseen damage to the future of their country by trying to make silly and irresponsible excuses to justify Chavez misdeeds. The two main culprits are Senator Dood and congressman Delahunt who should read the story of Esau and Jacob when they sell their ascendancy for a few barrels of oil.
All the while, Mr. Chavez has had American enablers who excused his growing repression, or blamed it on a reaction to U.S. policy. Foremost among them has been Mr. Dodd, who has defended Mr. Chavez as "democratically elected" despite his clear trend toward authoritarianism. In 2004, the circumstances surrounding a recall referendum were so anti-democratic that the European Union refused to act as an observer. Jimmy Carter nonetheless blessed the outcome amid heavy irregularities, and the U.S. State Department endorsed the process. Other politicians, such as Mr. Delahunt, embraced and flattered Mr. Chavez for his PR stunt of offering cut-rate oil to poor Americans.

Perhaps it's time these Americans paid attention to the kind of "socialism" and "revolution" that their support is helping Mr. Chavez to build in Venezuela.
And now for that piece of historical reporting that should send a few of us on the road to nostalgia. Do not miss the economic comments in relation to the times, when Venezuela was the most propsperous country in LatAm something which not only has ceased to be but is not improving under Chavez as our neighbours are making real progress while Chavez just distributes money around creating the illusion of progress.

By the way, that 1968 campaign found Chavez as a 14 year old lad who should have learned then the true value of democracy. He did not. Not as old as chavez I was still young enough to remember the effervescence and the tense moment when president Leoni sent a minister to visit Caldera and recognize his victory and offer him protection. This was the first time that it happened in Venezuela. I cannot imagine, for the life of me, the Cuban goons that surround Chavez come to offer protection to an opposition candidate and tell him or her that Chavez is packing his belongings at Miraflores.

TIME Magazine

Friday, Nov. 29, 1968
Continuismo v. Change

By day, Caracas resembles a collage of advertising posters. At night its plazas glitter and bustle with popular rallies. Next Sunday is election day, and Venezuelans are enjoying the campaign with the enthusiasm of a people liberated from dictatorial rule only ten years ago. No fewer than 28 parties are competing for congressional seats, and have festooned the capital with tigers, roosters, flying saucers and other party symbols. In one square, the chief opposition presidential candidate, Rafael Caldera, head of the Social Christian Party, has a huge calendar ticking off the days until el cambio, "the change." In riposte, the governing Acción De-mocrática party is flying two calendars charting the days "until the fourth defeat"—a reference to Caldera's three unsuccessful tries for the presidency.

Outgoing President Raúl Leoni has cut so many ribbons inaugurating public works during the campaign that opponents claim he keeps a pair of scissors in his pocket. Leoni cannot constitutionally succeed himself, but his appearances aid Acción Democrática's candidate. He is Gonzalo Barrios, 65, an adroit and tough politician who, as Interior Minister, put down Venezuela's Castroite rebels.

Generation Gap

Barrios can use all the help he can get. During Acción Democrática's ten years in power, it has fissioned three times, in each instance losing some of its younger and more radical supporters and some momentum for reform. Hoping to charge through that generation gap is Caldera, 52, a talented lawyer who has been trying for the presidency since 1947, and now has assembled the country's smoothest-functioning political machine. Also in the running are four splinter candidates, most notably Acción Democrática Dissident Luis Beltran Prieto and Miguel Angel Burelli, who has the support of three minor opposition parties.

The election turns largely on Caldera's cry for change and for more activist government as against Acción Democrática's slogan of continuismo, or more of the same. Undeniably, Venezuelans have never had it so good. During ten years in power, Acción Democrática has poured the country's ample oil revenues into schools, highways and public works. The economy is growing at an annual rate of 5.1%, and the benefits have spread through much of the population. Venezuela's per capita income, $745 a year, is the highest in Latin America. Unemployment is down to less than 7%, and the bolivar is one of the world's strongest currencies.

Whoever wins is unlikely to tinker drastically with such success. No less encouraging is the fact that the election has not been marred by riots, as in 1958, or terrorism, as in 1963. On a continent where military dictatorships are more the rule than the exception, Venezuela's military leaders took the unusual step of publicly promising to "respect and enforce respect for the verdict that emerges from the election."

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