Monday, June 06, 2005

This is what all the huff was about? 

For the past week or so the Venezuelan media has been full of news on the Organization of American States meeting that is currently taking place in Florida. The big to do was that the United States was going to push for changes to the OAS charter so that the status of each member states “democracy” could be monitored. The U.S. wants this because, according to the Bush administration, some governments which are elected democratically do not govern in a democratic fashion. In saying this they are in particular referring to Venezuela where they accuse President Chavez of being an “elected autocrat”.

Besides just being a thinly vailed attempt to attack a government that they don’t like it has never been explained what “governing democratically” means. Today, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to a stab at it. Lets look at what she said and how it applies to Venezuela:

“The question here is, what does it mean to govern democratically after a democratic election. In my opinion, and I think the majority of people would agree with me it means that the opposition has the opportunity to organize, to appear on television, to appear on radio, and to appear in the newspapers offering their platform.

It also means that there exist groups in civil society that can meet freely and can present ideas to the people. That there are independent unions”

I will say up front – I think this definition of “governing democratically” is fine. I would certainly agree with what she has said here. So the question is, how does this apply to Venezuela? Lets take one item at a time.

First, does the Venezuelan opposition have the right to organize? Absolutely. In addition to the old-line political parties every few weeks they are coming up with new organizations. No sooner than one organization becomes discredited they come up with a new one. Sumate, Gente de Petroleo, and the Coordinadora Democratico are but a few of many examples. So Venezuela meets this condition.

Second, does the Venezuelan opposition have access to television? Not only do they have access to television they control the vast majority of it. All major networks in Venezuela are owned by the opposition and broadcast almost exclusively pro-opposition news. All opposition meetings, opinion programs, press conferences, demonstrations, etc. get shown for hours on end. And if not for the state TV channel it is the government that would not have access to TV. It should also be mentioned that the only TV station to be shut down by the government was a pro-Chavez TV station, TVCatia, that was closed by an opposition mayor. Venezuela passes this with flying colors.

Third, does the Venezuelan opposition have access to radio? See the above answer on TV – it is the same for Radio.

Fourth, does the Venezuelan opposition have access to print media, i.e. newspapers? Absolutely. While the opposition has less of a monopoly on print media than it does with TV and radio to still controls the majority of it. The main reason for its decline in the print media is that as people have tired of opposition propaganda they have started buying more independent or pro-Chavez papers and the opposition papers have seen their circulation decline. Nevertheless, they still predominate even in this media segment and by no means have difficulty making themselves heard.

Fifth, does the Venezuelan opposition have the right to offer its platform? Here there is a glitch. As can be seen from the above the opposition has no problem making itself heard as it dominates the mass media. But it can’t get its platform across. Why? Because it doesn’t have one. The opposition doesn’t do anything beyond opposing Chavez and has never bothered to come up with an alternative program. But I don’t think the Venezuelan government should be held accountable for that. The ineptitude of the opposition isn’t the government’s fault.

Sixth, are there free unions in Venezuela? Again an unqualified yes. There are competing unions and labor confederations some of which support the government and some of which oppose it. One of the leading players in both the coup attempt against Chavez and the “strike” of 02/03 was the anti-Chavez labor federation the CTV. So here again Venezuela passes with flying colors.

Now that we have gone through this exercise we can see that Venezuela has a government that is elected democratically (numerous times at this point) but also one that governs democratically even by Ms. Rice’s standards.

So I guess that resolves that. Next topic please.


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