Two days prior to the Venezuelan presidential election, Francisco Toro, a Venezuelan journalist and blogger, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times stating that Chavez and his movement have become irrelevant.
As Chavez’s socialism is becoming increasingly authoritarian and has failed to reduce poverty, Toro claims that it is no longer an exemplary to other Latin American states; in his opinion, it is Brazil’s template—combining free enterprise and democracy with social programs aimed at reducing poverty—that is what everyone in the region hopes to follow.
To illustrate his point, Toro uses the examples of Ollanta Humala in Peru and Venezuelan presidential opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski. (To this list, we could also add Fernando Lugo in Paraguay). All of them ran on a “Brazilian” platform based on the social democratic principles established by former Brazilian president Lula Da Silva.
Toro also points out that, in public, the authoritarian and the social-democratic Left are united but, behind closed doors, they are divided to the point of being “viciously dismissive of each other.”
Yet, as we have observed, both the authoritarian and the democratic Left displayed public enthusiasm for the victory of Hugo Chavez. I would argue that this was not necessarily a public display of hypocrisy but rather an event that has serious implications for the region.
Indeed, shortly after Chavez’s victory was announced, various Latin American leaders congratulated Chavez. Of course, the followers of the Bolivarian alliance enthusiastically praised Chavez’s victory. Non-Bolivarian allies such as Argentina broadcasted live the announcement of the president of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council declaring Chavez the victor. Argentina’s president, Cristina Kirchner, tied Chavez’s victory to the future of her own government and political philosophy. Paraphrasing Venezuelan national hero, Simon Bolivar, Ms. Kirchner sent a written note to Mr. Chavez stating, “Hugo… you have cultivated the land and planted seeds in it; you have watered it and now you have harvested it…. Your victory is our victory.”
However, the reaction of the Government of Brazil is the most confounding, precisely because it is the Brazilian model that has been most often contrasted with Chavez’s.
Brazil’s president, Dilma Roussef pointed out that the “Venezuelan election is a model of an exemplary democratic process.”
Marco Aurelio Garcia, a senior advisor to President Roussef, and a former senior advisor to President Lula—and considered one of the most influential organic intellectuals and foreign policy architects of both governments—praised the democratic character of the Venezuelan elections. He also pointed out, “Venezuela is not a model Brazil should follow, but Chavez, with his own style, implemented a program of social inclusion. In this way, he sought to find equilibrium between political and social democracy. Such equilibrium is something the whole region aspires to achieve.” (My own translation).
Interestingly enough, the first part of Garcia’s statement seems to point to a distance between Brazil and Venezuela (as Toro rightly pointed out) but the second part of the statement seems to recognize, as acceptable, the Venezuelan model.
Then, Garcia proceeded to complain about the “international support for the Capriles’ candidacy and for the attempt to delegitimize the democratic process in Venezuela”. In an even more perplexing statement, Garcia suggested that Chavez’s victory reinforced democracy, particularly after the region suffered “a democratic interruption with the impeachment of (President) Fernando Lugo in Paraguay.”
This argument surprised everyone that has followed or experienced the deterioration of democracy, human rights, and the increasing political restrictions and political violence promoted by the Venezuelan government for more than a decade now.
But this makes sense if we continue to listen to what they say.
Echoing Chavez’s repeated statements, Garcia said, “right and center-right opposition forces in Latin America supported Capriles.” Thus, he implied that the Venezuelan elections were a point of contention between the right and left wing forces in the region. Therefore, had Chavez lost the elections it would have been a defeat for the left in general—whether the authoritarian or the democratic wing.
This last point is particularly astonishing since Capriles ran on the platform of the social-democratic Brazilian model. However, the left could not see Capriles as one of them; he confronted Chavez, an authentic symbol of the left. The Bolivarian model for the Brazilin leaders may not be the model to follow, but Chavez remains a symbol of the left’s strength throughout the continent.
In other words, the Brazilin leaders felt that if Chavez lost the election, it may have made the entire left vulnerable.
Garcia acknowledged that in the region there are different types of leftist regimes but what they all have in common is that “all of them are marching in the direction of translating political democracy into a social factor.” Here, Brazil is passionately defending the idea that no political democracy can co-exist with inequality or the lack of social inclusion.
The fact that political democracy, human rights, and judicial independence are sacrificed in the name of social justice is of no concern to the Brazilian leaders.
Brazil’s position suggests that its government cares more for regional integration than for democracy.
Chavez is seen as a good partner for regional integration—and this is what matters to the Brazilian leaders. Both Brazil and Venezuela have championed the idea of regional integration and economic independence. This would not only be good for the region but also for Brazil as it aspires to be a regional leader and ultimately a world power.
The Brazilian government seems to obsessively believe that such integration can only work with left wing governments.
This is why Roussef pointed out that “Brazil wants to cooperate with Venezuela in the construction of a more equal and just South America by reinforcing bilateral relations and regional integration.”
The idea that regional integration can only come to being through the left and not through the right has pushed conservative governments, also eager to be part of this regional integration, to adopt positions aimed at gaining the acceptance of its leftist neighbors.
As an example, the foreign minister of the Conservative Government of Sebastian Pinera in Chile, Alfredo Moreno, not only congratulated Chavez on his victory but also pointed out that “most countries of Latin America are experiencing a democratic reality that has been in existence for a long time and this is different than what occurred in our continent a few decades ago.” The reference of course was to the right-wing military dictatorships of South America but does he really think that Venezuela is a true democracy?
Chile’s desire to be part of this regional integration not only contradicts the idea that integration can take place only through the left but also shows the overwhelming pressure left wing countries can exercise over conservative governments.
By the same token, the conservative government of Manuel Santos in Colombia has initiated talks with the guerilla group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). I dare to assume that a Colombia-FARC reconciliation is somehow tied to Colombia’s willingness to gain acceptability among the dominant left.
If at one point I thought, like Toro, that the solution to the problem of Bolivarianism and the radical left could be found in the counter-balancing power of the moderate social-democratic left, I no longer hold this view.
For the moderate left, political or liberal constitutional democracy is only understood in the context of social justice. Without social justice, democracy has no meaning. But the problem has been that the drive towards regional integration became the excuse to disregard political democracy and legality.
I foresee that very soon the Organization of American States (OAS) and its democratic charter will cease to be relevant.
Perhaps, at this point, the best hope to weaken the power of Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution is if the moderate left loses elections in the countries where it holds power.
Furthermore, what we have witnessed during the different Latin American summits (including the Latin American and Caribbean Summit, the Summit of the Americas, and the OAS General Assembly) is that the leftist tsunami returned the intractable authoritarian Cuban regime to the status of acceptable government while the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and the Inter-American Court were ferociously attacked by the authoritarian left and by moderate Brazil.
In the short term, we will see the OAS coming under pressure to dissolve itself as governments in the region view it as an obsolete organization aimed at serving U.S. hegemony. This is a major challenge for the United States, which should try to use its influence to discourage such a situation.
This context may have affected Capriles Radonski’s decision to immediately accept the results of the election.
Indeed, those allowed to “observe” the election included Marco Aurelio Garcia himself; Carlos “Chacho” Alvarez, an Argentinean former vice-president who is the head of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI) and a Kirchner loyalist; and ; other individuals friendly to Chavez including a Spanish Communist professor and a fervent pro-Chavez Chilean writer, among others). The Chavez-controlled Electoral National Council did not allow the OAS or any other neutral body to observe the election.
This was a deterring factor on Capriles.
Had Capriles waited a few hours and gotten the right advice, he could have requested a careful review of the electoral process. Had he done so, he would have, at minimum, brought the Venezuelan abuses to public debate or even mass protests and attracted some international attention. By accepting the results he contributed to the myth propagated by Chavez and his regional supporters that Venezuela is, without doubt, a true democracy.
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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