Archive for December 20th, 2006

A picture is worth 10,000 words #12: The Manufacturing Sector II

December 20, 2006

Number of jobs in the manufacturing sector for medium and small size companies

The unchanging face of Venezuela’s undemocratic political parties

December 20, 2006

These are bad days for democracy in Venezuela. The continued avoidance of democratic methods is creating crisis and problems in both Chavez’ coalition and in opposition party Primero Justicia. The two cases are actually quite related and in some sense rather curious: They originate in the continued use of a Stalinist structure by Venezuelan political parties, where a few self-chosen ones decide, appoint and control or at least attempt to control events.

Thus, eight years after Chavez was elected under his now almost forgotten slogan of participatory democracy, our political parties, or the remains of them, continue to be run in the same manner they were run since 1958 and likely before. What is more remarkable about this is that the 2000 Bolivarian Constitution mandates exactly the opposite (Art. 67), specifically saying that the authorities of political organizations will have to be elected via elections by its members. Despite this mandate, not a single party has actually followed up on this, refusing to hold elections In fact, the Constitution also mandates that all candidates for office have to be selected by election among its members, but to date, except in a handful of cases in regional elections, no party has done so for all of its candidates, using the infamous “private poll”, which is agreed on in smoke-filled rooms and conducted by unknown pollsters.

In Venezuela, the more things change the more they stay the same and this issue is not new. In the 48 years of Venezuelan democratic history, parties have mostly used delegates, handpicked by the leaders in each state, to select and elect both the authorities of the parties as well as the candidates for election.

There have been some exceptions, none of which ended well. In the 1960’s Accion Democratica (AD) held elections at the base to elect its presidential candidate. The election was held and the members of the party voted for educator Luis Beltran Prieto Figueroa. The de facto leader of that party Romulo Betancourt voided the selection, handpicking close ally and friend Gonzalo Barrios. This led to one of the many divisions of that party and to Barrios’ defeat to Rafael Caldera by a mere 30,000 votes.

Many years later Caldera himself abandoned the party he had founded, COPEI, when the delegates chose his heir apparent Eduardo Fernandez to be the party’s candidate. Everyone thought Caldera was dead politically, but no such luck.

Fernandez lost the election and tried to be a candidate again n 1993. In a democratic gesture, which I thought was clever politically, Fernandez decided that any Venezuelan citizen could vote at COPEI’s primary. The citizens thought otherwise, and voted Zulia Governor Oswaldo Alvarez Paz as COPEI’s candidate, stunning Fernandez. Alvarez Paz was at teh time so confident that he first disappeared from public view, to rest, and later decided that he disagreed with Carlos Andres Perez’ impeachment, so he disappeared again as CAP was impeached, never to recover.

Since then, not a single Presidential candidate or party authority has been elected democratically, despite the many claims of participatory democracy and the like.

The last week has seen a lot of news and tension surrounding Chavez proposal to unify his party and now with Primero Justicia’s demand for more democracy. In both cases, it reflects the traditional attempt by leaders to control, as well as growing pains in both cases, even if they are at different stages.

In the case of Chavez’ proposal, the whole idea stems from his tendency to exercise control as well as the fact that he prefers to have as little dissent as possible within his ranks. Thus, the presence of both PODEMOS and PPT (Patria Para Todos), represent for Chavez an unnecessary nuisance that he now is trying to simply wipe out. The threat is simple, either you accept to merge your party into his or else. Of course, there are no promises of whether those that agree will have even a relevant position in the new structure (Whose name has now been changed to Partico Unico Venezolano Socialista (PUVS), after Petkoff’s Editorial translated here)

The problem is that political parties and their leaders in Venezuela have historically tended to fade into oblivion after merging with other parties. Even worse, both PODEMOS and PPT had never obtained any significant fraction of the votes in any national election until, you guessed it, last Dec. 3d, when they got 6.5% and 5.1% of the Presidential votes respectively. Thus their leaders are reluctant to give up their constituency, when they know the party leaders will be chosen singlehandedly by Chavez and they are likely to be mostly former military.

Priemro Justicia’s problems are similar. The failure to use democratic means in its origins, is now hurting the party as it got its first significant results (11%) nationally. From a group of friends in Caracas, the party expanded nationally in the last two years, except that the party’s electoral structure is weak and largely controlled by those that were there at the beginning, but are the least favored leaders by the party’s members.

For PJ, the discussion is really making it look bad. After the relative success of the party on Dec. 3d., it is now embroiled in a daily and sometimes violent discussion about how to choose their leaders. The discussion is in the end somewhat sterile, but threatens to divide the party just when it seemed to be one of the few surviving political organizations in the country.

Primero Justicia can at least argue that its fight is about its internal democracy, which is not the case in Chavez’ case, where his emblematic institution, Movimiento Quinta Republica (MVR), was dissolved without much noise and without the input of the members of the party.

In both cases, Venezuela and its citizens lose. The caudillos are the eternal and unquestionable leaders of this dysfunctional democracy. After decades of asking for more democracy, Venezuelans seem to be getting the shaft in all fronts and the leaders don’t seem to be paying much attention. As I said at the beginning: the more things change in my country, the more they stay the same.

Weil’s depiction of Venezuelan Justice

December 20, 2006

Weil strikes again with his depiction of the Venezuelan Courts

This Court still has insufficient proof to determine who is devouring you