The opposition Candidates III: Part 1. In search of a candidate by Paul Esqueda

January 23, 2006

Paul Esqueda is an old and very good friend, a true friend, whom I met too many years ago in my first job in Venezuela where we shared some very exciting times. Paul is an electronic engineer by training with a Ph.D.from the same university where he is today Head of a Department. He is a verty versatile and competent person, those that can do anything they set their minds to, who has been President of Venezuela’s premier engineering research institution, which we helped create. From there he became a Professor at Venezuela’s leading business school IESA, where he was later appointed Dean of the Graduate program. For family reasons he is now temporarily abroad, from where he follows with passion what is going on in Venezuelan politics. He has decided to take up the challenge I made and will write a four part series on the opposition candidacies. He will begin today with “In Search of a candidate”, will follow it with “The Job”, then “The ideal candidate vs.the real candidates” and he will close with “The best choice”. Thanks to Paul for his effort and enjoy.

In search of a candidate by

Searching for a candidate for any position, not just the Venezuelan opposition
presidential candidate, ideally requires that you put together a list of
responsibilities, goals to be accomplished and challenges to be assumed by the
selected individual. With that information then you can proceed to elaborate a
profile with the specific skills and background needed for the position, in
this case for the presidency of Venezuela.
Finally, you compare the profile of the ideal candidate with that of the
available candidates to find the best match. However, the challenges in the
case of the presidential race in Venezuela are so overwhelming that
they require a brief analysis of the current and historical political context
before one analyzes the pros and cons of the candidates that seem to have a
good opportunity. This is the first part of a series of four essays about the
search of a presidential candidate in Venezuela.

The main challenges

Something must have gone really wrong in the last 47 years of democracy
given the current mess that we find ourselves in Venezuela. Our educational system
failed to instill in our citizens the basic principles of democracy. How is it
possible that the incumbent president has been granted so much power? He has
absolute control of the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the National
Electoral Council, the General Attorney’s Office, and the Armed Forces just to
mention the most important key centers of power in the country. The leadership
of all those institutions has decided to blindly follow the current president’s
orders and wishes at the expense of democracy. In other words, basic
constitutional rights like dissidence and free speech are being sacrificed for
the sake of a single command to fight off the so called enemies of the state.
Every day one new enemy is created: US
imperialism, the church, the opposition, Mexico and so on. Conspiracy
theories are now abundant. Where were those guys that currently govern Venezuela
educated? In my opinion, there is a terrible crisis of integrity and ethical
values that has peaked in the last six years.

Things get worse when one includes corruption in the analysis. It seems
like Venezuelan public funds mostly from the oil industry are up for grabs but
only for those selected Chavistas that are “more equal than others.[1]
This brief analysis poses one of the main challenges for the opposition presidential
candidate if he is ever elected. In other words, whoever takes over the
presidency will have to change the whole mindset of most Venezuelans that seem
to find in corrupted populism the solutions to our economic development and
well being. Our candidate has to be a person of the utmost integrity, with a
proven historic record of high ethical standards and strong convictions about a
free democratic society. This requirement may seem evident but it should be
pointed out that when Chavez emerged as a potential candidate early in 1998 his
credentials were never thoroughly questioned. Almost 60% of Venezuelans with
voting rights thought he was the right choice according to the results of that
election. The charming yet hollow and shallow rhetoric of Chavez cultivated
everyone back in 1998 to the extent that rich and poor voted for him. He had
overwhelming support then. During the last six years, Chavez has been
consistently above 30% popularity according the polls carried out by
Datanalisis and others. This is very high by any standards. How can an
individual that has proven to be so undemocratic get so much popular support?

Perhaps, one explanation is that the majority of our citizens do not
understand the full meaning of democracy. On the other hand, the Government has
done a good job of giving the impression that eliminating poverty is their
first priority by moving to public policies of direct subsidies to the poor.
The Government becomes the main provider to most Venezuelans. Consequently, it
tends to take control of all economic activity leaving out the private sector. These
actions gain a lot of popular support for Government and they are more
appealing to the average citizen. However, we all know that historically these
types of policies have only short term effects and they generate high
dependency. Although direct subsidies may help, the foundations of any modern
sustainable society lie on a good mix of free market policies with social
programs that address the need of the poor by creating business and job
opportunities for all. This second approach to development produces results in
the long term and it relies on a strong private sector of the economy. It would
seem like the Government has a short term vision of development whereas the
opposition groups are thinking more long term. It is not difficult to guess
what policy the average citizen is going to favor: the short term approach.

This last consideration leads us to the second and most important
challenge. Our candidate has to be able to win the hearts and minds of most of
the Venezuelan voters in a relatively short period of time to defeat Chavez. A
favorable outcome will depend a lot on how our candidate frames a message
appealing to the average Venezuelan voter. It is not an easy job considering
that all the money is on the side of the incumbent and money alone wins a lot
of votes regardless of the message. Indeed, money (in the short term) is the
message of the Government and as the old adage says “money talks.” In a nut
shell, these are the key challenges of our candidate.

[1] George Orwell “Animal

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