October 26, 2009

Interview with Daniel Duquenal of Venezuela News and Views

Photo: Venezuelan News and Views

Daniel Duquenal has been writing the popular blog Venezuela News and Views since 2003. His award-winning blog began as private letters to friends overseas. Daniel wrote as an introduction, "Unknowingly, I have written the diary of Venezuela slow descent into authoritarianism, the slow erosion of our liberties, the takeover of the country by a military caste, the surrendering of our soul to our inner demons."

He lives in the Venezuelan countryside and thus has more a "ground zero" view of what Chávez has meant for Venezuela outside of the Caracas circles and the international scene where we are more used to hearing from Chávez.

Many believe that Hugo Chávez was behind the moves that eventually resulted in the ouster of Honduran President Mel Zelaya. I thought it might be interesting to readers to hear from someone who has lived through the changes in Venezuela. Daniel has graciously agreed to this interview:

Do you see similarities between the current situation in Honduras as compared to what has happened in Venezuela or Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua?

Yes and now. It is important to observe that what happened in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela was also based on a deep social crisis whereas Nicaragua and Honduras seem to have been more directly affected by the wish of a small clique to gain power for the long term using Chavez methods and the Venezuelan people money. When necessary, all of them like to paint the social crisis, inherent to every country of the region to a certain extent, as worse than what it really is. Thus "in the name of the people" all sorts of anti-democratic abuses can be perpetrated.

After 10 years of Chávez, has "21st Century Socialism" lived up to its promises?

Difficult question because it would require first to define what the heck is 21st Century socialism. The more we look at it, the more it looks like a warmed up leftover communism that tries to pretend to be something else. In a way, just like for Cuba, whatever good might have come from the foolish adventure happened early in the regime, all the subsequent years becoming just a single matter of survival for the new political caste that emerged with the regime. In Venezuela the only positive thing that I can give to Chávez is to make certain segments of the population that felt excluded to realize that they not only have a right to come forward and ask for their share, but the duty to do so. Unfortunately since this was done in order to create a clientèle system, the side result has a been social division of country, not necessarily along wealth lines (some of the richest men in Venezuela today are very close to Chávez) but along ideological and emotional terms (fed by an extraordinary corruption). Today we have an extremely polarized society with broken friendships and families, everywhere, at all levels of society. We will pay dearly for that.

As for the material results, the numbers today speak for themselves: Venezuela has the highest inflation and according to any serious international agency, it is one of the countries of the world that will emerge the last from the current world crisis. Non oil exports now represent barely 5% of the total export value.

A lot of North Americans have a misconception of exactly what a constitutional assembly is. Can you give us a brief explanation of how that functioned in Venezuela?

A constitutional assembly, in the good sense of the term, is an assembly elected in a country after either a major national disaster or a major change in the political system. For example after a lost war followed with invasion and occupation a society tends to rebuild itself from scratch. Or when a country decides to fire its king then it needs to figure out a new political system. Chavez subscribed and made his own the idea that political problems of a country can be cured through a new constitution, when in fact what is needed is political resolve and consensus. The ploy worked because too many people in fact, even if they did not like Chavez, thought that a constitution needs to be changed on occasion even if historical precedent in Venezuela indicate that the only "successful" constitution was the one of 1958 which lasted 40 years, the longest one of all.

Just like in Honduras, the 1958 constitution had a no reelection clause, though not as strict: a president could be reelected only AFTER two full terms of his first term. That is, ten years after s/he left office. What Chavez really wanted was immediate reelection and the only way to do that was through a new constitution since the old one would have been too difficult to amend on this matter. Along the way he pushed up the term from 5 to 6 years and thus gained for himself basically 14 years rule when you include the first two years under the old system.

While most Hondurans want to have elections next month and move on, the Honduran Resistance movement has threatened to boycott elections. Election boycotts also occurred in Venezuela. Did a significant portion of the voters boycott? Did the OAS or UN cast any doubts on the Venezuelan elections as a result of the boycott?

The opposition boycotted the 2005 legislative election because it was demonstrated that the privacy of the vote was not guaranteed. Since this happened a few days before the election there was no time (nor will from the government) to address the problem and the election was boycotted. International organizations recognized the result anyway: after all Chavez had won the year before the recall election and massively the regional election. All polls said anyway that chavismo was going to retain its majority in the new assembly. The opposition error was not to boycott, there was a political cost for Chavez there. The real error was to fail in offering a strategy for after the election. That is the real reason why that assembly, elected with less than 15% of the electorate could rule at ease.

What would happen to Honduras vote? Hard to tell. The OAS is obviously a president's club and as such cannot accept that one of their members is booted like that. In other words the OAS has NO CONCERN about the judicial or the legislative powers of its country members. Looking at Venezuela and observing how the OAS allowed Chavez to take over undemocratically the Judicial and Legislative power speaks volumes. On the other hand, once a new president is sworn in and that the vote included at least 60% of the electorate, it will be very difficult to maintain the Zelaya charade. I bet you that some countries will break rank within the OAS once credible elections happen. The challenge here is for the current government to make sure the elections are as free and fair as possible and that as many people as possible do go to vote. After, it is essential that all sides unite behind whomever is elected.

Based on your knowledge of what has happened in Venezuela, if you could advise Hondurans, what advice would you give to them?

It is not for me to give any advice to anyone. I cannot approve of the way Zelaya was ousted, no matter how deserving of it he was. Now you are paying for it. However the destructive attitude of Zelaya who is not afraid to expose Honduras's people blood for his glory establishes without any doubt that he is totally unfit to be a democratic ruler of any country.

I am very amused by the parallel made by the Micheletti "regime" and the one from Chavez. As far as I can tell from here, there seems to be more freedom, more respect for human rights in Honduras today than in Venezuela!!!!!

Maybe the method you chose to resist the Chavez take over of Honduras was not the right one, but most reasonable folks will agree that leaving Zelaya in office was extremely risky. For Chavez it is very cheap to buy an election in Honduras. After all, it would be no more than what he spends each time he campaigns in Zulia state. The anti Zelaya camp could never raise the funds to match what Chavez would give Zelaya for any referendum. Zelaya was not going to play fair and it is up to the Micheletti et al. camp to convince people of that. It is tough but that is the way it is. I truly wish you the best, that you avoid the moral misery that Venezuela has become.

Many thanks go to Daniel. Please visit his blog Venezuelan News and Views. This link will take you to his articles about Honduras.
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