Cubanálisis El Think-Tank
ARTÍCULO ESPECIAL EN EL THINK-TANK DE CUBANÁLISIS
Venezuela: Political Aspects
Dr. Antonio Morales Pita, DePaul University
Juan Munoz, Junior Student of Economics, DePaul University
Matthew Caminiti, Junior Student of Economics, DePaul University
Over the past decade, Venezuela has become integral to the left-wing politics of South America due to Hugo Chavez’s move towards extremism, his constant pestering of neighboring countries, and also his ability to unite South American countries under the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas - a trade agreement among several South American countries. Venezuela is also a key member of the Mercosur trade agreement. Venezuela plays an important role due to its energy sources, such as its large reserves of oil and natural gas. The country of Venezuela has a considerable amount of oil reserves and is therefore important to the international and regional oil market. Chavez uses this oil to leverage deals with his neighbors and also foreign countries. Chavez also pretends to be a menace to the United States. Chavez has increased the price of oil to the United States, while at the same time offering virtually free oil to the Communist state of Cuba. Therefore, the political aspect characterizing the Venezuelan government is a current and interesting topic for an article.
The first section of this paper covers the branches of power, and the governmental organization Chavez has created. The second section is the real use of power, where we discuss Chavez’s questionable use of power and creation of rules and regulations that give him the final word on everything. In the third section, Chavez’s approval rating is discussed and how it has been declining over the years. Yet, data obtained from Venezuela itself is questionable, because Chavez has the capability of manipulating everything, including his approval ratings. The fourth section covers the opposition groups; and how they struggle to take him down. In the fifth section, press control is covered. We will explain how Chavez controls the aired information his people receive, and how the boss himself manipulates it.
First Section: Branches of Power
Chavez’s target was the poor people of Venezuela, the ones he identified with and presumably wanted to represent. What he offered to the Venezuelan population during campaigns was a new republic, (“la república bolivariana”), the one that was meant to stop all the past bad governments and will be fair with the poor, bringing them stability and a stronger voice. After being elected, he then rapidly created the “Asamblea Nacional” and started the creation of the new constitution. The constitution was approved throughout elections, and introduced on December 30, 1999.
According to the new Venezuelan Constitution, Venezuelan government is organized in four branches. (1)
The Venezuelan president is elected by a vote with direct and universal suffrage, and is both head of state and head of government. The term of office is six years, and (as of 15 February 2009) a president may be re-elected an unlimited number of times. The president appoints the vice-president and decides the size and composition of the Cabinet and makes appointments to it with the involvement of the legislature. The president can ask the legislature to reconsider portions of laws he finds objectionable, but a simple parliamentary majority can override these objections.
The unicameral Venezuelan parliament is the Asamblea Nacional (National Assembly). Its 167 deputies, of which three are reserved for indigenous people, serve five-year terms and may be re-elected for a maximum of two additional terms. They are elected by popular vote through a combination of party lists and single member constituencies. The minimum voting age in Venezuela is 18. Voting is not compulsory.
The highest judicial body is the Supreme Tribunal of Justice or Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, whose magistrates are elected by parliament for a single twelve-year term. The National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral, or CNE) is in charge of electoral processes; it is formed by five main directors elected by the National Assembly. Supreme Court president Luisa Estela Morales said in December 2009 that Venezuela had moved away from "a rigid division of powers" toward a system characterized by "intense coordination" between the branches of government. Morales clarified that each power must be independent adding that “one thing is separation of powers and another one is division.”
The citizens branch consists of three components – the general prosecutor ("fiscal general"), the "defender of the people" or ombudsman, and the comptroller general. These officers, in addition to fulfilling their specific functions, also act collectively as the "Republican Moral Council" to submit to the Supreme Tribunal actions they believe are illegal, particularly those which violate the Constitution. The National Assembly selects the holders of the “citizen power” offices for seven-year terms (1).
Second Section: The Real Use of Power
Patria, Socialismo, o Libertad, which means Fatherland, Socialism, or Death is the motto Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez lives by. He reminds this motto to the Venezuelan people every time he makes a public appearance or when finishing a national TV broadcast. Mr. Chavez throughout his now eleven years in command of Venezuela has become one of the most controversial figures in the world. He has taken extreme governing actions, such as giving away oil to create “friendships” with the countries he wishes, or reducing the budget of the states where his party, PSUV, does not govern in order to oppress the opposition.
He is moving towards extremism, which is leading to his slowly losing the overall support he used to have. Chavez is not the all vote-winner he once was. Now he faces challenges from opposing parties, but nonetheless the opposition doesn’t have any clear contestant. They are diverse and fractured, which leads to the votes being dispersed. The opposition parties vary on views. There are many parties, which makes it difficult for a single candidate to oust Chavez. The opposition will have to overcome this in order to win.
Chavez’s obsession with power and control has been evolving ever since the coup d‘état against him in 2002. That event has made him take drastic measures of repression against the media. Today, he controls six of the twelve channels of the free national TV. In his controlled channels, he shows videos of the actions he has taken to improve the country and only positive analysis of his decisions. He continues to brainwash the poor people from Venezuela, which have little education to understand and judge the actions of their “hero.” His Bolivarian Revolution government style is on its third stage. He really wants absolute control.
Hugo Chavez has come to embody a new, post-cold-war model of authoritarian rule, which combines a democratic mandate, populist socialism and anti-Americanism, as well as resource nationalism and carefully calibrated repression. He has deployed oil revenues abroad to gain allies, and to sustain the Castro brothers’ power in Cuba. Chavez has also managed to be a source of regional conflict with his constant threats against his neighbors, especially Colombia. His efforts to build a bloc based on self-proclaimed “revolutions”, anti-Americanism, and managed trade in the heart of democratic Latin America have been hindered by his threats to his neighbors, which undermines the cause of regional integration that he claims to champion. His 21st-century socialism is a precarious construction. He sees his revolution as permanent and irreversible. He has been elected three times and won four referendums. He has hollowed out Venezuela’s democracy, subjugating the courts, bullying the media and intimidating opponents. But he has been unable to repress the opposition. In the upcoming presidential election in 2012, Venezuela will face a stark choice: Mr. Chavez or democracy.
Third Section: Chavez’s Popularity
On April 11th 2002 nearly one million people marched on the presidential palace in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, to demand the ousting of Hugo Chavez, the elected president whom they accused of undermining democracy and causing the creeping “Cubanisation” of the country. As they neared the palace, violence broke out, 19 people were killed and over 150 wounded. (2). Chavez used the failed coup to gain an unassailable grip on the armed forces and, in due course, the previously autonomous state oil company. A precipitate rise in the oil price allowed him to shower public money on social and make-work programs, which restored his popularity and helped finance his autocracy. (2).
In a past poll made in May 2008, Chavez had an approval rate of 68.8%. According to a poll made in mid December 2009 by the Venezuelan Institute of Data Analysis (IVAD), Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s approval has dropped slightly, to 60.5%, from 62.4% last October of the same year (3). The poll consisted of the question “How do you rate Hugo Chavez’s management as the president of Venezuela?” 38.7% said “bad” and 60.5% said “good.” The poll also confirmed that Chavez’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), continues to be the most popular party (3). In another poll result, The Economist’s “Switched off” article from August 2009, states that according to Datanalisis, the president’s popularity rating has fallen to 52% (from 61% in February) (4). We can conclude that his popularity has been declining over the past year and a half along with the increase of crime, inflation, and general economic problems. Opinion polls show that two Venezuelans out of five still support Mr. Chavez. Yet, given the media information control Venezuela faces, it is hard to find “the real” approval rating of the president, or any information for that matter, because of the press manipulation Chavez has. Consequently, most sources publish manipulated information that he would like to see.
One thing that maintains Chavez’s popularity is the lowering of the poverty rates. The rate has been declining ever since he obtained power. The president of Venezuela’s National Statistics Institute (INE), Elias Eljuri, stated “Poverty has been dropping in an important manner over the last ten years, from 49% in 1998 to 26.4% in 2009.” The INE’s national survey consisted of 40,000 homes (5). As we can see in the quote above, we realize that President Chavez’s promise of reducing poverty has been indeed effective. Yet, the president will have to work harder to maintain support from the poor. The reason for this is an alarming housing shortage, crime at record levels, the economy is in its second year of recession, food prices are raising at over 40% per year, and public services are near collapse in most areas.
Fourth Section: Chavez’s Fight Against Opposition
At the moment, the political parties are organized and divided in two major divisions, the reigning leftist side which includes the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, (PSUV), its allies Fatherland for All, Patria Para Todos, and the Communist Party of Venezuela. The opposite side is led by A New Era, united with its allied parties Project Venezuela, Justice First, Movement for Socialism, Democratic Action, and others.
One problem opposition groups and parties face in elections is that they have a hard time uniting as one party to get more votes against Chavez. They tend to be dispersed and the votes become dispersed too, so the consolidated leftist hand gets the majority of votes in an easier way.
Mr. Chavez has gone to extraordinary lengths to weaken the opposition’s chances. In the past few years, the government has disqualified the opposition’s most popular candidates for Caracas and Miranda. He spent vast amounts of public money on propaganda for the PSUV. Mr. Chavez made crude threats of retaliation, saying that he “might end up having to bring out the tanks” if the opposition won the state of Carabobo(6). After the recent elections on September 26, 2010, Chavez’s weaknesses were revealed. The opposition made considerable gains. They won 65 seats in the 165 seat single chamber National Assembly. The PSUV and its allies won 5.4 million votes, compared to the opposition’s 5.7 million votes (7). The only thing that kept Chavez in control of the assembly was his banning of proportional representation. For now Mr. Chavez still retains a firm grip on political power over the courts, the oil industry, and armed forces. He has no substantial challengers within his party, but he is no longer the invincible-vote winner he once was. (6).
The opposition still lacks a convincing program and a popular national leader. Though, recently they succeeded in creating a unified front, and expect to pick a single candidate against Chavez in the presidential elections in two years. Mr. Ocariz, the new Caracas mayor, Antonio Ledezma, or Miranda’s governor, Henrique Capriles, now have the chance to run for president. It will not be easy. Mr. Chavez has threatened to starve opposition governors of funds, and to undermine them by setting up parallel bodies appointed by him. If he fails to notice that urban Venezuelans (which have traditionally been a stronghold for Chavez) are calling for a change, his future looks bleak. (6).
The government is picking off its main opponents one by one. Manuel Rosales, the Mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second city, and the opposition’s defeated candidate in the 2006 presidential election, has gone into hiding to avoid arrest on corruption charges. The government claims he has left the country, although his family and lawyers deny this. (8). Military-intelligence agents arrested General Raul Baduel, a former defense minister, at gunpoint in front of his wife since he went into opposition 18 months ago. Several other opposition leaders, as well as former chavista politicians, face similar accusations. Others have been banned from standing for election on the same grounds.
Yet, Mr. Chavez shows no inclination to investigate the many claims of corruption concerning the government (8). Medina’s Governor, central-leftist Henrique Capriles stated in a conference held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, on May 27, 2010, that “I don’t want a divided Venezuela. I want the people to seek for a change. I don’t want to create a civil war with what I’m doing right now… If the poor people love Chavez, then I wouldn’t be governor of Medina. I have won four elections, and in all I have beaten Chavez’s party runner. Something worse than lying to the population, is to lie to yourself, and that’s what Chavez is doing.” Shortly after the conference ended, one of the authors of this paper – Juan - went to him to salute, congratulate, and thank him for his words. Mr. Capriles told Juan that, “I am not afraid of socialism. I myself am a central-leftist, but what Chavez is doing is not socialism. It is more of power obsession… We the opposing parties are grouping together little by little, with the mentality of creating a process, a process for change, a process to improve society and create more smart and educated voters throughout. Our main goal is to increase education in the country, because all the problems start with the lack of education that affects the majority of the population (9).”
According to the latest (2009) The Economist Economic Intelligence Unit “Democracy Index” which is measured by focusing on five different categories: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, functioning of government, political participation and political government, Venezuela scored a 5.34 which placed them in the Hybrid Regime category. There are four different categories in which a country could be placed with their results. They are Full Democracies (10-7.95), Flawed Democracies (7.95-6), Hybrid Regimes (6-3.95), and Authoritarian Regimes (3.95-0). If the number is lower, the country’s democracy and freedom is less.
Fifth Section: Press Control
According to the 2009 Human Rights Watch Venezuelan summary section of Freedom of Expression and the Media, the Venezuelan Congress, under the control of Hugo Chavez, has implemented several measures that have led to the control of the content produced by the mass media. The Congress has toughened penalties for speech offenses, implemented broadcasting laws, limited the public’s access to information, and punished broadcasting stations that have been overly critical of the PSUV and Chavez. (10)
In 2007, Radio Caracas lost its broadcasting rights when Chavez had refused to renew their concession. Chavez had claimed that Radio Caracas would not have its concession renewed due to the station’s support of the 2002 coup. The station never got the opportunity to repeal the decision, which would not have done any good anyway. Chavez had used the Desacato (disrespect) laws and the Broadcasting Law introduced in 2004, to silent Radio Caracas. The Desacato Laws “criminalize expression deemed to insult public officials or state institutions, and increased penalties for criminal defamation and libel.” The Broadcasting Law “encourages self-censorship by allowing arbitrary suspension of channels for the vaguely defined offense of incitement.” Judging by the Radio Caracas incident, the government has abused its control of broadcasting stations and often times punishes or silences the dissenting stations. The government has not been able to silent Globovision, which is the only remaining channel on public airwaves that continues to openly criticize Chavez. Yet, the government is currently attempting to penetrate the station and gain stakes in the organization. In July 2010, Chavez announced that the government will obtain a minority stake in Globovision. The Government gained 20% of the station, when it closed Banco Federal CA and seized more than 20 companies held by one of the principal owners of Globovision, Nelson Mezerhane. The Government also announced that it may receive another 20% of the station after an unidentified shareholder died. The law states that media ownership is not inheritable, and thus the stakes will be transferred to the government. The government may soon be able to silence Globovision as well. (11).
Along with his attempted silencing of Globovison, Chavez has used CONTATEL, the state telecommunications commission, to review licensing agreements with dozens of stations. In July, 2009, 32 stations were taken off the air after CONTATEL found that their licensing agreements were not valid. The stations were not given any opportunity to dispute CONTATEL’s claims nor present any evidence. Chavez has and will continue to silence any station that even minimally criticizes him, his agenda, or his supporters.
While the government has worked to silence anti-Chavez stations, the government has been quick to grant frequencies to pro-government channels. Most of these stations are owned or financed by the government. The Chavez administration has built itself a huge media empire out of dozens of national television channels. Of these, the government owns six, as well as hundreds of radio stations and dozens of newspapers and magazines. This media empire pumps out pro-Chavez propaganda and opposition criticism. Chavez reserves the right to interrupt any radio or television airings unannounced. His broadcasts amount to almost 3,000 hours, which is equivalent to an hour a day, six days a week, for ten years. In these broadcasts, Chavez presents his rhetoric and anti-opposition diatribes. Chavez loves to talk and he utilizes these broadcasts and makes this fact evident. Chavez has taken considerable control over the media since the failed coup attempt in 2002. This even enabled him to convince the population and himself that control of the media is necessary to maintain order in Venezuela. In the last several years, he has succeeded in his plan to control the media and he is on his way to silencing the last of the opposition media outlets.
How much longer is Chavismo going to last? The elections are scheduled for 2012 and due to the country’s situation today, it will be very difficult for Chavez to remain in power much longer. How much longer can a country last under repression from a power obsessed president that has very little knowledge of how to run a country. The people are beginning to lose support for a leader that has destroyed their economy, stability, and well being and democratic principles. Chavez has degraded the country’s constitution and has shown that he has no respect for the rights of his people or the law. He continually tries to solve economic problems through increased government spending without getting to their solutions. Crime is at all time highs, the housing shortage has been increasing for several years, and food prices have been increasing as well. The populace is beginning to lose patience with a president that has promised them a utopia. They have been expecting this utopist dream since he became president eleven years ago. Instead, they have been left with a country that has increasingly become an unsafe and uncomfortable place to live in. The opposition gained a considerable win in the 2010 elections and it finally seems as if the oppositional parties are willing to work together to oust Chavez in the upcoming 2012 presidential elections. Judging by recent polls and the 2010 elections, the opposition has a fighting chance to oust Mr. Chavez. The people have become frustrated with the president and have grown to expect broken promises from Chavez. If the situation in Venezuela remains the same and the opposition maintains their current strength, then perhaps in the next coming years, we will witness the end of the Revolución Chavista.
1. CIA World Fact Book. "Venezuela." CIA World Fact Book. 19 October. 2010
2. The Economist. "Venezuela's Curious Coup Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery." Economist.com. 11 June 2009. Web. 29 May 2010. <http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13813460>.
3. Pearson, Tamara. "Venezuelan President Chavez’s Popularity Steady at 60% | Venezuelanalysis.com." Venezuelanalysis.com Venezuela News, Views, and Analysis. 3 Jan. 2010. Web. 25 May 2010. <http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/5049>.
4. The Economist. "Venezuela's Media Crackdown: Switched off." Economist.com. 6 Aug. 2009. Web. 29 May 2010.
5. Suggett, James. "Poverty in Venezuela Decreased by 22.6% over Past Decade | Venezuelanalysis.com." Venezuelanalysis.com | Venezuela News, Views, and Analysis. 7 Aug. 2009. Web. 01 June 2010.
6. The Economist. "Venezuela's Regional Elections: Checked, but Not Halted." Economist.com. 27 Nov. 2008. Web. 01 June 2010. <http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=E1_TNGJRJPN>.
7. The Economist. “The Revolution Checked.” | The Economist." Economist.com. September 30, 2010
8. The Economist. "Venezuela's Endangered Democracy Revolutionary Justice." Economist.com. 8 Apr. 2009. Web. 29 May 2010. <http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=E1_TPQQGJDN>.
9. Muñoz, Juan – Personal notes taken from a conversation with Mr. Capriles.
10. Human Rights Watch. Country Summary Venezuela 2008. Rep. Human Rights Watch, 1 Jan. 2009. Web. 25 May 2010
11. Bloomberg. “Chavez says Government will own stake in Globovision, Name Board Member.” Bloomberg.com. July 20, 2010.