Working to provoke discussion and provide up-to-date information and analysis on US-Venezuelan relations, politics, policies, and culture.

Petkoff kicks off his campaign

After months of speculation and rumors, Teodoro Petkoff has finally announced that he will challenge Hugo Chavez and others to be Venezuela's next president. Petkoff, the founder and chief editor of Tal Cual, an oppostion paper, calls the Chavez government corrupt, but says that he will continue Chavez's social programs for Venezuela's poor.

Chavez's Personal Militia May Have a Dual Mission

Excerpt from Chris Kraul's article in the LA Times on Venezuela's militia:

"The militia was created last fall by a law that placed it directly under Chavez's authority, bypassing the military command structure. The new force, combined with a general military buildup that has included purchases of arms, aircraft and naval vessels, is a source of increasing concern to the United States.

Chavez, whose oil revenues could exceed $50 billion this year, is trying to extend his influence in Latin America by giving away medical services and cut-rate fuel to neighbors. The United States is worried that given the fiery leftist's increasingly harsh anti-U.S. rhetoric, his outreach could take on a less benign character."

Marking their independence from the U.S.

I attended a discussion session in Washington with Justice Fernando Vegas of the Venezuelan Supreme Court. Justice Vegas was asked about the importance of Venezuela's relationship with Cuba. He responded that Venezuela’s relations grew with Cuba, at first, because they had to prove their independence from the U.S., and that a sure fire way to achieve that independence was to build stronger relations with Cuba.

That relationship grows stronger all the time. The BBC reported that Cuba and Venezuela have formed a joint venture to revamp a Cuban oil refinery. This move is not only good for Cuba’s economic relationship but will also further Venezuela’s strategy of making more crude and refined products available to the countries of the Caribbean.

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Diehl considers trials in Venezuela

In an op-ed column in the Washington Post April 10, Jackson Diehl has some harsh words for Chavez as two of his political rivals face trial in Venezuela.

Diplomatic relations on the rocks

Venezuelan Leader Threatens To Banish U.S. Ambassador
by Natalie Obiko Pearson, Associated Press
April 10, 2006

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the U.S. ambassador was "provoking the Venezuelan people" and threatened Sunday to expel him, two days after the diplomat's car was pelted with eggs and tomatoes and chased by protesters.

Chavez condemned the crowd of protesters for attacking U.S. Ambassador William A. Brownfield's car, saying the Venezuelan government "rejects any kind of aggression."

Go to article.

It’s all about the elections… in October 2007

This week in Washington, I attended a conference on Venezuela’s upcoming Presidential election hosted by Georgetown University. The discussion was mainly focused on whether the opposition will participate in the election, and why some opposition figures may choose to participate while others will not. The consensus was that opponents to Chavez, such as the Accion Democratica (AD), will decline to participate because that party would attract so few votes in a presidential election, that they would expose themselves as a party that only exists on paper, and enjoys little popular support. The opposite holds true for Julio Borges and Primero Justicia. Borges’s campaign is operating full steam ahead, most likely because he thinks he will win more votes in the presidential election than many experts are predicting.

However, Prof. Dan Hellinger of Webster University, a long-time Venezuela scholar and observer of its political scene, offered a distinctly different perspective. He said that the presidential elections in December of this year aren’t likely to tell us much about the state of democracy in Venezuela. He’s looking beyond that point to the local elections scheduled for October 2007. It is in these elections, says Hellinger, that the system Chavistas call “participatory democracy” will truly be tested. Many Venezuelans have been enfranchised during Chavez’s presidency; how will they use their vote? Will the local candidates be elected by acquiring the trust and respect of their constituents, or will they be elected because they were blessed by Chavez?

It’s an important, and long-term, point of view.

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Guest Commentary: Can political opposition exist in Venezuela?

In the media coverage of Venezuela, two competing pictures of Hugo Chavez emerge. In the sympathetic portrayal, he is shown reaching out to the poor population in Venezuela and using his nation’s oil resources to fund social programs aiming to reduce Venezuela’s staggering income inequality. In the malign portrayal, Chavez is hard at work undermining Venezuela’s democratic institutions to monopolize the election process.

Less visible, but equally clear are the problems facing his political opposition. These are the parties of the well-off in Venezuela with easy access to the partisan press. But they still can’t find their footing in Venezuelan politics after governing the country to the vast disadvantage of a majority of Venezuelans. They are unable to provide a plausible alternative to voters who have reservations about Chavez. The voter is left to choose between Chavez and an opposition that nurses an ever-growing resentment toward the current president. What will motivate that voter, those voters, to get to the ballot box?

In Eric Wingerter’s article, “As Elections Loom, Venezuela’s Opposition Won’t Commit to Participation,” for the VIO, he wrote, “Barring extreme unforeseen circumstances, President Hugo Chávez will be elected to a second term this December.” That’s probably right, if only because the role of the opposition in that election is now so unclear.

To its discredit, the opposition skipped the parliamentary elections last winter, leaving the people it represents largely voiceless in their nation’s legislature. It needs to make a better showing in the upcoming presidential polls. Granted, they do not appear to have much of a chance at winning this election, but they can begin to build up their position and support for the election in 2012.

That process can only start with the development of a governing program that addresses the major concerns of the lower-working class. Some have decided to boycott the election to demonstrate their disapproval of this “one party state” Chávez has created. However, boycotting only perpetuates the problem. A much better approach would be to follow Julio Borges’ example and take action in an effort to change the current system, if they can persuade the voters of Venezuela to do so.

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Oil Keeps Chavez Fighting

Wall Street Journal
April 6, 2006

Venezuelan oil minister Rafael Ramirez turned up this past weekend at two oil fields run by France's Total SA and Italy's ENI SpA to reclaim them on behalf of the government and Hugo Chavez, the country's fiery leftist president. Hoisting a Venezuelan flag over the fields, Mr. Ramirez said the move symbolized the return to state control after a decade of stewardship by private firms.

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Chávez, Seeking Foreign Allies, Spends Billions

Juan Ferero
New York Times
April 4, 2006

President Hugo Chávez is spending billions of dollars of his country's oil windfall on pet projects abroad, aimed at setting up his leftist government as a political counterpoint to the conservative Bush administration in the region.

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