Greg Wilpert Responds to Chávez Analysis

We are placing the full text of Greg Wilpert’s letter on Venezuela on our website before we closely examine the textual reservations he has regarding our article “Venezuela’s New Constitutional Reform 2009: If Not Chávez, then Whom?” by Research Fellows Alex Sánchez and Raylsiyaly Rivero, as well as the piece on Chávez that I co-authored with COHA Research Associate David Felson (“Venezuelan Synagogue Vandalizing Takes New Turn.”) At that point, we will decide whether to take down our pieces and correct any errors, distortions or faulty interpretations, or whether we will operate on them while they remain on site. We have great respect for brother Wilpert’s acumen in all things Venezuela, which is why we are proceeding in this manner.

As for some of the large number of other readers who took exception or expressed disappointment or dismay with our pieces on some of President Chávez’s shortcomings, they might want to reflect upon the fact that our articles were very difficult for us to write because at no time did we intend to question Chávez’s political or economic vision, which we have strongly supported for a long time, but only intended to point out that for the Venezuelan leader to be victorious, he has to personally fully evolve into being the “21st Century socialist” man that he talks so often about. What we tried to emphasize here was how costly his errors have been and how much damage he is needlessly causing to everything dear to him by his self-destructive lack of discipline. His vision is too important to be shot down by the derelictions of his well armed critics, whose list genuinely doesn’t include any of ourselves here at COHA. This, of course, doesn’t mean we will ever be silent on such matters.
– L.B.

February 11, 2009

Dear Larry and friends at COHA,

I am writing to express my disappointment with the two latest articles on Venezuela, both of which were weighed down with generalities and inaccuracies, which, I believe, led to misguided conclusions.

Let me start with the first one (Venezuela’s New Constitutional Reform 2009), which was riddled with factual errors and poor reasoning.

1. The article gives the false impression that the amendment referendum is just about eliminating the two-term limit on the presidency. However, it eliminates this two-term limit on all elected offices (this does get mentioned at the end of the article, but why not from the start?).

2. Ezequiel Zamora was not an independence fighter as the article claims, but fought against the oligarchy 40 years after Venezuelan independence.

3. Where did the authors get the idea that Bolivarian ideology has anything to do with the ideas of Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche? This is the first time I have ever heard such a claim and I have studied the movement quite a bit. Would be good if the article provided some reference for that.

4. President Caldera was not a member of Copei when he pardoned Chávez for the coup, even though he did found the party. Copei was in the opposition at the time and Caldera had founded a new political movement to bring him to the presidency.

5. Chávez won the presidency in the elections of 1998, not in 1999 (he took office then).

6. “Many Venezuelan academics would argue that the Chávez’s Revolution is in constant change, with no specific route to guide it, other than the pursuit of power and the implementation of a socialist state and, theoretically, a high degree of participatory politics. In the beginning, Chávez did not have the opportunity to adequately express his vision. This rhetoric, combined with his view of a strong, central core of beliefs somehow was to mystically reach the country’s lower class, which always has been the cornerstone of Chavista support.” – This is such a terrible mish-mash of claims, I don’t even know where to start. For one thing, Chávez did not embrace socialism until 2005. For another, he did expound on his ideas quite a bit before running for office, publishing an important pamphlet that was implemented in the first years of his presidency, known as the “Bolivarian Alternative.” Where in the world do the authors get the idea that the core to Chávez’s beliefs was to “mystically reach the lower class”??

7. The authors get the sequence reversed when talking about Chávez’s 2005 win in the National Assembly (Venezuela has not had a Senate, as the article falsely claims, since 2000). They write that due to the opposition’s boycott in 2005 chavistas went on take “control of most major positions in the cities.” I’m not sure what is being referred to, but Chávez supporters won most mayor’s and governor’s positions in October 2004, a full year before the December 2005 boycott. If the reference is to national assembly positions, Chavistas won practically all of them because of the boycott, not just in the cities.

8. The authors refer to the “middle class opposition leadership” – again, not sure who they mean, but it would be safe to argue that most of the opposition leadership belongs to the upper class.

9. The authors write: “At the time, Chávez stressed the need for a single, united Bolivarian party, which would be named the PSUV. However, outside of Venezuela, not much was known about some of the key individuals who made up the highest levels of Chávez’s party, whether it was known as the MBR-200, MVR or the PSUV.” How is that for a non-sequitur? What does the need for a united party have to do with people outside of Venezuela not knowing the leadership?

10. “many [military officers] did so [join] in order to obtain more personal benefits from supporting the “National Cause.” The current vice-president of the PSUV is a retired army officer, General Alberto Müller.” this makes it sound like Müller Rojas is one of the officers who is in it for personal gain. Actually, Rojas retired from the military long before he joined Chávez. Not only that, until recently Muller Rojas was a leader of the Causa R party and then of the PPT, only joining the PSUV when it was formed last year (he never was a member of the MVR). Also, he is one of Venezuela’s most highly regarded politicians, which is probably why he was elected by the PSUV membership to be the party’s vice-president.

11. the whole section headed, “the Rise of Chávez-style politics” – it is never said what is meant by this. The implication, though, is that the formation of the PSUV meant the entrenchment of Chavista cronyism. Actually, the opposite is true, that establishing the PSUV was a decisive step towards democratizing the Bolivarian movement, since the MVR almost never had internal elections, but the PSUV does.

12. The authors write that the appointment of Maduro as Foreign Minister meant “turning one’s back on any sustained effort to build a respectable and professional practice of foreign-policy making, represented by such major figures like Rómulo Betancourt, Manuel Pérez Guerrero, Ramón Escovar Salom, among others.” Indeed, Chávez wanted to turn his back on such a foreign service because this “professional” foreign service is at the service of the country’s old elite. It takes time to create new professionals and Venezuela is working on this now. To imply that a subway union activist has no business in the foreign ministry is nothing short of classism. If the authors believe that Maduro is not up to the job, then they should refer to specific things he has said or done, not to his union background.

13. Oddly, in the listing of Venezuela’s vice-presidents, the authors leave out Chávez’s second vice-president, Adina Bastidas, the country’s first ever female vice-president.

14. Mario Silva ran for governor of Carabobo state, not Tachira. The authors say that he was rejected by both Chavistas and opposition supporters – this is exaggeration. He would have won, if the ex-Chavista Acosta Carlez hadn’t run for reelection, who split the Chavista vote. Acosta Carlez got a mere 6.5% of the pro-Chavez vote to Silva’s 44.5%.

15. The PSUV platform is still being discussed and a draft of that platform is available to party members. Presumably during the next party congress they will approve of it, at which point it should be posted.

16. According to the article, the 2007 constitutional reform had “existence hedgings of the right of private property. “ I’m not sure what that means. In any case, the reform did not cast any doubt on the legitimacy of private property.

17. Supposedly the reason the opposition made gains in the regional elections was because “there are shortages of food staples, high inflation and an elevated unemployment rate (up to 7.2% in June 2008, 6.1% in December 2008).” Actually, during that vote there were hardly any shortages. Inflation, while high, was no where near as high as during previous presidencies (an average of 50% in each of the two prior presidencies, compared to 30% for Chavez). Third, unemployment is at one of its lowest levels in Venezuelan history. I believe the main reasons for the losses ought to be sought elsewhere, such as the high crime rate.

18. To use anti-government talk shows such as La Entrevista and programs on Globovision as indicators of anything is ludicrous. These talk shows can always find poor people to voice their discontent about Chavez and they always have (I have been watching these programs since 2000).

19. The authors buy the opposition argument that Simon Bolivar would not have supported getting rid of the two-term limit. However, Bolivar was writing in a time when there were no elections for President. In the full quote Bolivar speaks about the importance of having “repeated elections” and contrasts this with a presidency for life, not with the lack of a limit on running for office again.

20. What is “The world gas crisis “? And what are Chávez’s “domestic oil politics”?

21. That Chávez says he needs until 2019 to complete the Bolivarian Revolution and that he therefore “would have to remain in office indefinitely in order to perpetuate his vision.” makes no sense at all. Where is the logic?

22. Finally, the conclusion that if Chávez cannot run for president again in 2012 his movement would fragment shows that the authors really don’t know Venezuela. As long as Chávez is leader of his party, such a scenario is exceedingly unlikely.

Given this truly enormous number of errors and poor reasoning, I think it would be good for COHA’s reputation to remove the article from its website and to thoroughly revise it before reposting it.

Greg Wilpert