Tag Archives: leopoldo lopez

The comparison between Sanders and Venezuela is misguided and facile

'Socialism' may be at the heart of chavismo and the Sanders campaign, but they come from two very different political traditions.
‘Socialism’ may be at the heart of chavismo and the Sanders campaign, but they come from two very different political traditions.

One of the more popular comparisons of critics of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders is between the brand of ‘democratic socialism’ that Sanders has espoused in his Democratic presidential campaign and Venezuelan-style socialism.Venezuela Flag IconUSflag

But for reasons I’ll describe below, it’s a facile and wrong-headed comparison, and it’s an insult both to Sanders and to the Venezuelan opposition that’s struggling so hard against something much more insidious than just ‘democratic socialism.’

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RELATED: Eight things Americans should know about the Danish (and Nordic) welfare state

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Sanders has looked to countries like Sweden and Denmark, arguing that the US social welfare net should look more like the Nordic social welfare net. Those are countries that, by and large, conduct free and fair elections with a firm dividing line between government and party, squeaky-clean transparency, a tradition both of consensus-building  and more recently, a reformist nudge that’s tried to retool creaking social welfare system toward more competition and liberalism.

No one disputes Venezuela’s problems, which faces today probably the globe’s most painful economic crisis. They are immense.

But it didn’t get there through Scandinavian-style socialism. Or social democracy. Or democratic socialism.  Continue reading The comparison between Sanders and Venezuela is misguided and facile

Venezuela’s disappointing new legislative leader is only slightly better than chavismo

Henry Ramos Allup is set to become the next president of Venezuela’s National Assembly today.

Without a doubt, the victory of the anti-chavista opposition in the December 6 elections was one of the most improbable and most impressive wins in world politics in 2015.Venezuela Flag Icon

With a two-thirds majority that the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD, Democratic Unity Roundtable) is still trying to defend from attacks from the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, United Socialist Party of Venezuela), the opposition today took control of the Asamblea Nacional (National Assembly), the legislative branch of Venezuela’s government. That will continue to be true, no matter if the PSUV tries to invalidate a handful of MUD deputies or if president Nicolas Maduro tries to create an alternative chavista-dominated popular assembly.

For the first time since 1999, the chavistas haven’t controlled the National Assembly. Naturally, it was a momentous occasion. For now, the Venezuelan people seem firmly behind the opposition, in the hopes that they can push Maduro toward reforms to provide economic relief after years of socialist policies and, perhaps more damningly, widespread corruption, handouts to socialist allies like Cuba and Nicaragua and mismanagement of PdVSA, the state petroleum company, which has only accelerated losses stemming from the global decline in oil prices.

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RELATED: Venezuela’s opposition supermajority must prioritize recalling Maduro

RELATED: No matter who wins, the December 6 elections will not be chavismo‘s last stand

RELATED: A primer on the MUD, Venezuela’s broad opposition coalition

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But that’s also why it’s so disappointing that the MUD coalition chose as the president of the National Assembly the 72-year-old Henry Ramos Allup, a longtime fixture on the Venezuelan opposition and a throwback to the ancien régime that proved so corrupt and incapable that it opened the path to Hugo Chávez’s perfectly democratic election to the Venezuelan presidency in 1998.

Let’s start with the good news. Ramos Allup, it’s true, was chosen through a democratic process, an internal vote among the 112 MUD deputies. He easily defeated Julio Borges, another opposition figure close to former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, by a vote of 63 to 49 over the weekend. He’s one of the few figures within the opposition to have some experience of Venezuelan governance before chavismo and, truth be told, he’s a tough and wily character who will not easily be rolled. (Though, almost immediately after the new majority took power in the National Assembly, the chavista deputies, including the former Assembly president Diosdado Cabello, promptly walked out).

Then again, for an opposition that hopes to present itself as a fresh movement of good government and reform capable to bringing change to Venezuela, it’s a curious choice. Continue reading Venezuela’s disappointing new legislative leader is only slightly better than chavismo

No matter who wins, Sunday’s elections will not be chavismo’s last stand

Despite a late surge in the election campaign, socialist president Nicolás Maduro still faces a major defeat in this weekend’s elections for Venezuela’s National Assembly.

In a set of free and fair elections, it would not be difficult to predict that Venezuela’s long-suffering opposition would win a wide majority in December 6’s legislative elections; for many Venezuelans, despite marked disadvantages, the question is not whether the opposition will win, but by how much.Venezuela Flag Icon

That doesn’t mean the anti-chavista coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD, Democratic Unity Roundtable) is anywhere near taking real power in Venezuela. No matter what happens, on December 7, Venezuelans will still wake up to president Nicolás Maduro, the oft-ridiculed successor to the late Hugo Chávez. Maduro only narrowly won the presidency in April 2013, following Chávez’s death, and Venezuela’s economy, already in dire trouble two years ago, has failed dramatically ever since.

What’s more, short of a massive supermajority, Venezuela will be gridlocked for the next three years when the next presidential election will held, at a time when its economy has reached crisis-level proportions of failure.

Dependence on oil revenues meant that even before global oil prices plummeted, Venezuelans were facing shortages of basic products, from food to medical supplies to toilet paper, and inevitable scenes of government-mandated rationing. Massive inflation, in tandem with an unofficially depreciating currency, has inflicted even greater economic pain for a country dependent on foreign imports, at least for those without access to US dollars. The economy is expected to contract by as much as 10% in a single year, making Venezuela’s the worst-performing in the world in 2015. Earlier this spring, conditions were so bad that chavista supporters took to throwing mangoes at Maduro at political events in desperate search of basic necessities. Maduro, meanwhile, has campaigned hard on Chávez’s memory and fear tactics that the opposition will reverse the government’s many social welfare programs.

Voters will be choosing all 167 members of the Asamblea Nacional (National Assembly), where the chavistas currently hold 99 seats, while the opposition coalition holds just 64.  Yet few observers believe that the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, United Socialist Party of Venezuela), the chavista party that for 16 years has governed the country in a way that’s blurred the line between political and governance activity, can win a majority in the elections. Datanálisis, one of Venezuela’s most respected polls, pitted the opposition coalition’s support at over 63%, with just 28% support for the chavistas in an October poll. Over at Caracas Chronicles, Francisco Toro argues that, for the first time in years, the December 6 elections represent the re-introduction of ‘politics’ to Venezuelan life.

But for a country where chavismo has now become so entrenched in its government and commerce, no one knows for sure exactly what the MUD’s margin of victory might be and how many seats it will ultimately procure. Under the dual voting system, most members are elected in single-seat districts, while 30% are elected by closed-list proportional representation. Rural areas, where the poorest voters support Maduro and chavismo more strongly for the generous social welfare programs introduced since 1999, are over-represented, as compared to urban areas, where the opposition’s support is strongest. A simply majority will give the opposition less power than a three-fifths majority or a two-thirds majority, with which the MUD could even forced a recall referendum against Maduro.  Continue reading No matter who wins, Sunday’s elections will not be chavismo’s last stand

Politics turns violent in Venezuela


Though critics can dump a lot of problems on the doorstep of Hugo Chávez’s 14-year reign as president of Venezuela, the one thing that you can’t say about Chávez is that he used state violence (as opposed to expropriation, media censorship or other tactics) to undermine Venezuela’s rule of law, excepting perhaps the aborted April 2002 coup, a complex incident in Venezuelan politics in which neither the Venezuelan military, the Chávez administration nor the Venezuelan opposition was entirely blameless.Venezuela Flag Icon

It’s hard to extend the same credit to Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, in light of the violence against protestors in Caracas, Valencia and elsewhere across Venezuela last night.

A 22-year-old beauty queen, Génesis Carmona, was shot in the head in central Valencia Tuesday night, the fifth fatality in a series of escalating student protests against the Maduro government — the photo above shows Altamira, a relatively wealthy neighborhood in Caracas that’s seen some of the most tense confrontations of the past 48 hours.

Venezuela’s oil production allowed Chávez to circumvent violent repression by using money to buy and consolidate his support among his natural base — Venezuela’s poorest citizens who hadn’t benefitted from the petrostate’s largesse (and, increasingly, a corrupt ‘boligarchy’ whose continued prosperity depends on the continuity of the chavista regime).

Though the February 2014 protests aren’t as widespread as the ones that led to the 2002 coup against Chávez, economic conditions are much poorer today in Venezuela than they were 12 years ago, when Chávez was just three years into his presidency and the country exported more oil — and other products — than it does today.  The fact that five people are dead, with many more injured, is a serious escalation in a country where, though political polarization has been common for the past decade and a half, political killing has not.  Maduro’s government is censoring the media even more than usual, putting much of Caracas on lockdown and arresting protestors by the truckload.  Most fundamentally, governments in truly liberal democracies do not respond to political protest with lethal violence.  Chávez could point to legitimate majoritarian support throughout the entirety of his presidency, even if it obscured the deterioration of the rule of law and public institutions.  By contrast, Maduro’s increasingly violent response to protest underlines the fragility (or, perhaps, the illegitimacy) of his political support.  Continue reading Politics turns violent in Venezuela

A primer on the MUD, Venezuela’s broad opposition coalition


Venezuela remains in somewhat of a twilight zone following Sunday’s election — CNE (the National Election Commission) has declared Nicolás Maduro the winner by a narrow margin, but opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has refused to concede until a full audit of all of Sunday’s votes has been conducted.Venezuela Flag Icon

The following days will put a brighter spotlight on Venezuela’s opposition than at any time since the early 2000s. The last broad opposition coalition, Coordinadora Democrática, disbanded in 2004 when it lost a referendum in August 2004 to recall Hugo Chávez from office by a lopsided margin of 59.1% to 40.6%.

Capriles (pictured above with Lara governor Henri Falcón)is the standard-bearer of a new, broader coalition — the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD, the Democratic Unity Roundtable). The MUD formed in January 2008, and Capriles was selected overwhelmingly to lead it into the October 2012 presidential election against Chávez. His loss to Chávez was by a margin of nearly 11%, but it was a better performance than any presidential challenger to Chávez in 14 years.

Capriles and the MUD have a lot of hard decisions ahead.

The first involves whether they have hard information that Maduro and the chavistas falsified the vote. As Maduro had the state media, the state oil company, the public bureaucracy and then some behind him, Sunday’s election was far from fair, though Maduro may have nonetheless won an essentially free vote, despite reports of all sorts of dirty tricks. But in the poker game that’s taking place today in Venezuela, we don’t know whether the MUD is holding a straight flush or a pair of 7s.

That defines the broader second decision facing the MUD — regardless of whether it thinks it can prove electoral fraud, will it do so? Capriles has two options here.

There’s the Al Gore / Richard Nixon model, whereby he can concede defeat for the unity of the nation, notwithstanding difficult questions about the election that may well never be answered, as was the case in the 1960 and 2000 U.S. presidential elections.

There’s also the Andrés Manuel López Obrador / Mikheil Saakashvili model. This is a high-risk / high-reward model. If Capriles presses his case on all courts, the result could be like what followed Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution, where Saakashvili mobilized popular opinion to dispute Eduard Shevardnadze’s fraudulent victory in the 2003 presidential election. But it could also be like the 2006 Mexican presidential election, when López Obrador fought an increasingly noisome battle against what most Mexicans concluded was a narrow but legitimate victory by Felipe Calderón.

But what is the MUD? So far, it’s been relatively united in the goal of bringing Venezuela’s chavismo chapter to an end, and it seems likely that the taste of victory in Sunday’s presidential election will fuel more unity. But it’s a far from homogenous coalition.

Here’s a look at its main components: Continue reading A primer on the MUD, Venezuela’s broad opposition coalition

LIVE BLOG from Caracas: Election night in Venezuela



CARACAS, Venezuela — Polls closed at 6 p.m. (6:30 p.m. EST) and we have no results yet. Venezuela Flag Icon

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles within the past hour tweeted that he was alerting the world that the chavista government is trying to subvert the will of the people.

Opposition leader Leopoldo López followed up with his own tweet warning the government that ‘we know what you know.’

That’s pretty aggressive.

Results weren’t announced in the October 2012 election until around 10 p.m., but an opposition campaign source noted a couple of days ago that the later the result is announced, the better for the opposition.

9:01 pm: Francisco Toro at Caracas Chronicles is reporting that a Capriles campaign quick count shows a very narrow lead for Capriles. That’s certainly more promising than an exit poll.

Meanwhile, at Capriles headquarters, the chairman of the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD, the Democratic Unity Roundtable), Ramón Guillermo Aveledo is very bullish. He says the opposition will wait for CNE (the National Electoral Council) to announce results, but threatens that the opposition will start announcing results if the CNE doesn’t. This is in contrast to a relative angrier and defensive appearance by Jorge Rodríguez, the campaign leader of the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, or United Socialist Party of Venezuela), who spoke earlier to note that turnout was high, and called for calm.

9:16 pm: We’re sort of in new territory now.   If Capriles has indeed won, and every indications from Capriles headquarters are that he has, there’s no precedent for a peaceful transfer of power.  But after 14 years of chavismo, it’s hard to know what come next.  Even if Capriles has lost by a narrow margin, we’re in for a long (and perhaps tense) night.  Stay tuned.

9:30 pm: The Capriles campaign has the same votes as the CNE, but winning more votes doesn’t mean that CNE will just stand down, announce Capriles the winner, and thereupon peacefully transfer power.  The key arbiter in this scenario would the armed forces, and many of their leaders have a vested interest in a win by chavista candidate Nicolás Maduro.  So though the army’s leaders emerged relatively early in the evening to assert their role in protecting the vote, if Capriles has won, don’t expect an announcement, but a lot of behind-the-scenes negotiations between Capriles HQ and Maduro HQ.  After 14 years in power, and 14 years spent disrespecting much of the tenets of a liberal democracy, it’s going to be a lot more difficult.

9:35 pm: When I talked to Capriles advisers on Friday morning, they warned that if Capriles does win more votes than Maduro, the most aggressive chavista supporters, gangs of armed partisans, may well incite violence.  This is why Capriles has regularly appealed to the military to keep the peace.

When I talked to López, he struck a cautious note as well:

‘We hope that the people will be a buffer to that, the people not only voting, but the people in the streets, people defining their commitment with a new face for Venezuela,’ he said. ‘[The chavistas of course will have the intention of using what they’ve always used — violence, intimidation, abuse of power. But it’s in the hands of the people in the streets to hinder that.’

9:52 pm: We’re approaching the time when October 2012 election results were announced, and there’s not yet any indication that the CNE is about to announce a result in this election. In that election, Chávez defeated Capriles by 10.76%.

9:55 pm: As I wrote on Friday, the difference between Chávez and Capriles six months ago was 1.6 million votes — Capriles won 6.59 million votes and Chávez 8.19 million votes. Assuming the same base in today’s election for Capriles (6.59 million votes), Capriles needed to get either 19.5% of the chavista base to abstain, 9.75% of the chavista base to switch to Capriles from Maduro this time around, or some combination of the two — say, by having 9.75% abstention and a Maduro-to-Capriles swing of 5%. That’s never been incredibly outside the realm of possibility, especially given the late-breaking momentum of Capriles and the defensive campaign that Maduro’s run.

10:05 p: We’re now awaiting the first bulletin from the CNE.

10:10 pm: My source in the Capriles campaign says they won. So all eyes are now on the CNE.

10:17 pm: Pots are banging in the Sabana Grande neighborhood in Caracas. That’s the cacerolazo traditional form of protest from the esquálidos, the opposition supporters — so named because Chávez called them the ‘little squalid ones’ once upon a time. It’s a far cry from the toque de Diana that I heard earlier this morning, the horns blaring a reveille for 13 minutes starting at 3:30 a.m., long a chavista tradition. The change, in 19 hours, from the chavista horns to the caprilista pots banging, is a metaphor for the change in the air today as the opposition has become increasingly optimistic.

10:22 pm: Gunshots are ringing out — a clear sign that the chavistas want to make some noise too.

10:32 pm: It’s worth noting for non-Venezuelan readers that Hugo Chávez didn’t go undefeated in elections over his 14-year rule. He lost a referendum in December 2007 when he pushed to amend the constitution to abolish presidential term limits, curb central bank independence, and allow the president to assert more control over the selection of state governors and mayors. That overreach — and the failure of the chavista electoral machine — showed that Chávez and the PSUV wasn’t invincible.

10:40 pm: While we wait for some further news about what’s happening at the highest levels of Venezuela’s power struggle, it’s worth noting that the MUD is a very diverse group of political parties that have banded together for electoral purposes. If Capriles wins, he’ll not only face a National Assembly that’s still dominated by chavistas and an entire state infrastructure, from the bureaucracy of the government to the courts to Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) dominated by chavistas, but a very wide coalition that includes many parties. The MUD has been more successful than a previous coalition attempt, the Coordinadora Democrática, which disbanded in frustration after Chávez won a referendum to recall him from the presidency by a lopsided 59.1% to 40.6% margin in August 2004.

10:49 pm: One of the issues that Aveledo mentioned earlier tonight was the importance of every vote being counted, especially the votes of Venezuelans abroad. There’s a lot of doubt that those votes will ever fully reach Caracas, and the Miami consulate actively stood in the way of largely anti-Chávez Venezuelan expats, who traveled to New Orleans to vote in both October and again in this election. Reports from the Caracas airport earlier today suggest that only one passport agent was available to allow expats back into the country, obviously back in the country for the purpose of voting.

11:00 pm: It’s been exactly five hours since polls closed across Venezuela, and so far, radio silence from the CNE.

11:14 pm: Here come the rectors at the CNE. Maybe we’ll have an official announcement shortly. At the podium.

11:18 pm: The official announcement from the CNE, with 99.12% of votes counted is 78.71% participation, is 50.66% for Maduro to 49.07% for Capriles. Hard to believe the Capriles campaign is going to accept this, so the long night is about to get even longer.

11:23 pm: Gunshots and music blaring here in Sabana Grande. The official count is 7,503,338 for Maduro and 7,270,403 for Capriles. But no one believes that right now. First question is whether the government is making this announcement with the full support of the armed forces. Second question is whether the opposition MUD will now announce their own set of results — they have access to the same numbers as the government, so it will be interesting to see how long it takes to call their bluff.

11:24 pm: Maduro is now addressing the crowd (yes, in a tri-color jumpsuit!)


11:26 pm: Capriles will also address the Venezuelan people shortly.

11:35 pm: Maduro is saying that Capriles called and offered a formal pact, but he said no. Caracas is ablaze with the sounds of music and fireworks from Maduro supporters. So it will be interesting to see what Capriles has to say, presumably after Maduro is done with his speech at Miraflores. If this is the actual result, or if it’s fake, it certainly makes Maduro seem like he stole the election. As Francisco Toro writes at Caracas Chronicles tonight, it really is the worst-case scenario.

11:43 pm: The CNE and Maduro will support a full recount and audit of the votes.

11:46 pm: Does anyone know how many times he’s mentioned Chávez tonight? I’ve lost track, but at least a dozen.

11:52 pm: Maduro hasn’t even finished his speech (which I suspect has run so long to prevent Capriles from speaking anytime before midnight), but Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has already congratulated him on his victory.

11:55 pm: Maduro is done speaking, so now the focus will shift to Capriles, who has a difficult task ahead of him. The 64,000-bolívar question is whether he accepts the CNE’s results (even with the audit) or declares his own victory on the basis of his campaign’s own information.

12:02 am: Actually, no, Maduro wasn’t done speaking. Here’s Fidel Castro’s response — simply, ‘Maduro’s won, the revlution continues.’ Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

12:11 am: OK, now he’s done, with a couple of ‘viva Chávez’ and a ‘hasta la victoria siempre.’

12:13 am: For the record, even if the CNE numbers ultimately turn out to be 100% correct, it would represent a drop-off of 680,000 votes from Chávez’s victory six months ago and a gain of 680,000 votes for Capriles. Turnout dropped by just 2%, so that’s around 296,000 votes, if we assume that that dropoff came mostly from the chavista camp. That means that 192,000 chavistas switched to Capriles, or Capriles picked up 384,000 new voters. Either way, it’s a huge victory for the opposition, given where he started a few weeks ago.

12:16 am: Here’s Capriles about to give his speech.

12:19 am: Holding up a stack of voting irregularities, Capriles denies Maduro’s story about a pact, calling him a liar.


12:23 am: Capriles will not concede or accept the result until a full recount has been held of each and every vote.

12:26 am: Says that the MUD has a different result than the one announced, but doesn’t provide the actual result.

12:27 am: ‘My pact is with God and Venezuela.’

12:30 am: Capriles is taking an aggressive tone as ever with Maduro, saying that if he was illegitimate before, he’s still illegitimate and that the results do not reflect the truth in the country. Nonetheless, Capriles is not declaring victory outright — he’s holding back from that step, at least por ahora.

12:39 am: Major general Wilmer Barrientos: “Quiero felicitar al Presidente Electo Nicolás Maduro, usted es el jefe de la Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana.” So that’s where the armed forces stand.

Photo credit to Kevin Lees — Caracas, Venezuela, April 2013.

Capriles campaign optimistic with 48 hours to go — but can it win?


CARACAS, Venezuela — The national headquarters of Henrique Capriles on Friday morning buzzed with optimism, with less than 48 hours to go before polls open in a race that many have judged hopeless for the opposition.Venezuela Flag Icon

In the wake of a rally in downtown Caracas last Sunday that brought hundreds of thousands of supporters to rally behind Capriles (without having to bus in massive numbers of supporters from across the country, as the chavista candidate Nicolás Maduro did in a similar rally on Thursday), and in the wake of a widely ridiculed comment by Maduro that a little bird told him that the spirit of Hugo Chávez blessed his campaign, Capriles campaign advisers are optimistic that their candidate has the momentum going into Sunday’s election, especially as voters realize the extent of Venezuela’s rapidly tumbling economy in recent months.

But Maduro, who is hoping to win a full term in his own right after the 14-year rule of his predecessor, Chávez, has everything else — the implicit support of the structure of the entire government, the armed forces, the state-owned oil company, plenty of resources, and significantly stronger media presence.

Though election law prohibits the publication of polls in the week prior to the election, polls are rumored to show Capriles closing a gap with Maduro — one such poll allegedly shows Maduro with a narrowing 55% to 45% lead, and Capriles’s internal polls show a massive swing as well. But whittling down Maduro’s lead and winning the election are two different things.

Leopoldo López, the former mayor of Chacao (one of five municipalities, and generally the ritziest, within Caracas) from 2000 to 2008, is one of the rising stars of the opposition. Chávez’s government barred López from running for office until 2014, a move that brought the censure of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In 2009, he founded Voluntad Popular, a centrist party that’s a member of the broad opposition coalition, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD, Democratic Unity Roundtable).

‘I’m excited about change, I’m excited about the real possibility of winning, I’m excited about Venezuela opening a new cycle,’ Lopez said on Friday morning at Capriles headquarters. ‘The worries? What the government could do to put a stain on what will happen. This is not a regular election. This is not Bush-Clinton, this is not Candidate A versus Candidate B. This is a race against a state. I doubt there are other democracies where there are [such] clear differences in terms of the abuse of power. In this case, this is PDVSA, the state oil company, and the other powers of the state, against the people. But we have great faith the people will make the difference.’

The executive director of the MUD, Ramón Guillermo Aveledo (pictured above, with Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma and other top MUD officials at his right, rejected outlandish charges made in recent days at a press conference earlier today at Capriles headquarters as well.

Here’s the arithmetic. Continue reading Capriles campaign optimistic with 48 hours to go — but can it win?