Tag Archives: Venezuela

Election Day in Venezuela

 

A Venezuelan voter casts her ballot in Sunday's opposition primary. (Photo: Staff)

By 11am on Sunday, February 12, the sun was already beating down strongly on the many Venezuelan citizens waiting in line to vote. Despite the nearly unbearable heat, nobody was complaining. In fact, the exuberance of the people waiting for three, four, or five hours in line to vote for their candidate in the Democratic Unity Table presidential primary election was contagious. Nothing like this had happened any time recently in Venezuela history and the excitement in the air was palpable.

As an election observer invited by the party — here it’s referred to as the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) — I was lucky enough to experience what many hope will be an historic day for this country. The government of President Hugo Chávez had mounted a disinformation campaign that asked people not to vote in the opposition primary election organized by the MUD and forbade government workers and members of the Chavez political party PSUV from voting. The government told people that no more than 800,000 people would vote and the results would be insignificant. Even MUD supporters were fearful about low voter turnout given the risks many people might have to take in order to go to the polls. Government workers feared for their jobs, contractors thought they would lose their government contracts and business people worried that they would be persecuted by government authorities. Their most optimistic projections were that two million people would come out to the polls.

What happened that day was a remarkable exercise of the democratic process. People lost their fear and came out in droves. Young people mixed with octeganarians at polls I visited. Even some government workers decided that they preferred to honor their democratic rights rather than remain intimidated. The government here frowns on international electoral observers, but when we were introduced in the polling station both the staff and the voters broke out in applause. Even the military personnel who guarded the polls seem to get caught up in the optimism of the moment.

Other than the long lines the election process went very smoothly. In past elections, machines were used that did not provide paper receipts so verification of the results was impossible. New machines were present at this election that allowed each participant to check his or her vote before depositing it in the ballot box. Despite widespread fear that it would happen, no government intimidation happened at the polls I visited.

Last night at 9pm, the results were announced by the MUD — more than three million voters overcame their fears and voted. The winner with 1.8 million votes was Henrique Capriles Radonski, who has promised a government of unity for all Venezuelans. He invited all the candidates he ran against to join him on the stage to demonstrate the unity that exists within the MUD. It is expected that some of them will join his government should he win the election. Now, the challenging work for the MUD will begin: to build a winning campaign that might unseat Hugo Chavez, with his willingness to employ all the powers of the state to stay in office. But for this day, the Venezuelan people enjoyed a breath of fresh air and the promise of a new dialogue on where the country is headed.

So You Want to Be a Think Tank Superstar?

Alicia Sepúlveda, chief economist and project manager. (Photo: CEDICE)

“In life, everyone chooses the role they want to play, and I chose the role of an economist who believes in freedom…Freedom is a precious treasure, that some say is only valued when it’s lost. Nevertheless, happen what may happen, I want to remember that I fought with the Generation of Knowledge for a free society.” This is what motivates Alicia Sepúlveda to get out the door every day and head to her job as the chief economist and project manager at the Center for the Dissemination of Economic Knowledge (CEDICE), a CIPE partner which was recently ranked the 9th best think tank in Central and South America .

Last week, the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program released the 2011 Global Go-To Think Tank Rankings, in which experts rated more than 5,000 think tanks from around the world in 30 different categories. Venezuela-based CEDICE also came in at 17th in the world in terms of impact on public policy — the only Latin American think tank on that list. Another CIPE partner, the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC) in Argentina, was ranked the fifth best in Central and South America.

Passionate, dedicated staff like Sepúlveda are just one ingredient for top think tanks, which play an important, if often undervalued, role in democratic societies. Successful think tanks not only foster informed, democratic debate of public policies, but also serve to bridge gaps between lawmakers, civil society, and the general public.

These gaps include the  “Operational Gap,” referring to policymakers’ lack of access to tools or information necessary to respond to contemporary challenges and issues. In countries where policymakers don’t have access to reliable research or data, it is hard to make rational policies that are good for the country.

Effective think tanks also help to close the “Participatory Gap,” which arises from the self-perceived exclusion of individuals and private organizations from the policy-making process – that is, the situation where people choose not to participate in policy debates because they do not think they will be heard.

Successful think tanks coordinate policy discussions among civil society and provide a vital voice to economic constituencies. In fact, think tanks can be among the only sources of reliable economic information and data, especially in emerging market countries. Although think tanks represent just one aspect of a vibrant civil society, in many ways they have become the most influential voice of civil society in global policymaking, and can often act as a barometer of the state of a given country’s civil society.

Think tanks can play an important role even in countries where freedom of speech and political participation are limited. For example, the fact that a think tank like CEDICE can operate and impact public policy in a place that is ranked 96th out of 165 countries in democratic freedoms (according to the Economist’s Democracy Index 2010) shows remarkable hope for democracy in Venezuela.

CIPE and CEDICE have worked together since 1995 on projects that have varied in scope from training journalists on economic reporting to employing cost-benefit analysis to evaluate economic legislation and provide informed policy analysis for the public and legislators. Legislators frequently use CEDICE’s analysis in their presentations in the National Assembly, and CEDICE is the most-quoted NGO in the Venezuelan media. The Go-To Think Tank rankings show that CEDICE’s work, with CIPE support, is paying off.

The success CEDICE strives for does not happen overnight. In order to excel at advocacy, a think tank like CEDICE must conduct thorough, objective research, and be able to make their analysis easily consumable. It also requires constant effort from people like Alicia Sepúlveda who truly believe in the organization’s mission.

Even after a full day of economic analysis, phone calls and meetings with legislators, writing press releases, coordinating events, and more, Sepúlveda is not always ready to leave when the day is over. That’s what fighting for a cause you believe in – to promote liberty, entrepreneurship, and free enterprise – looks like. That is the precious treasure she, CEDICE, and CIPE, are working together to protect.

Defending private property in Venezuela

One of the recently award-winning CEDICE campaign advertisements on behalf of private property rights in Venezuela. (Translation: “The law of social property will take away what is yours. No to the Cuban law.” Image: CEDICE)

Living in the U.S., it is hard to grasp how important private property rights are. Whenever we buy, sell, or produce something we automatically assume that we own it. We don’t think about it because we live in a country where the government guarantees the right to private property. This is not, however,the case in other parts of the world. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has launched a mission to restrict and expropriate private property. Every day the headlines in the local newspapers in Venezuela talk about how government has “nationalized” a bank, a supermarket or a factory. One brave organization has gained international recognition for defending property rights in Venezuela as a basic human right.

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And the Inflation Winner is…..Venezuela

The Institute for International Finance is predicting that Venezuela will experience a 42 percent inflation rate this year, one of the highest in the world and the highest in the Latin America and Caribbean region. They report that this will have a heavy impact on the prospects for growth in the country for many years to come.

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Venezuela’s Institutional Matrix

Nobel Laureate Douglass North once said that, “if the institutional framework rewards piracy then piratical organizations will come into existence; and if the institutional framework rewards productive activities then organizations – firms – will come into existence to engage in productive activities.” Prof. North’s observation is proving to be awfully accurate in Venezuela.

The country’s recent bank scandals have exposed the internal workings of the so-called “boliburguesia” (boligarchs), a shady—piratical—network of businesses that thrives thanks to favors granted by the presidency. The boliburguesia’s plain and simple crony capitalism is even more regrettable in light of the government’s regular assaults on the market economy and its promotion of socialist practices.

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A Fear Mongering Media and Educational Reform in Venezuela

By now, most people have read or heard about the Venezuelan government’s constant attempts to shut down media outlet Globovisión, including back in May 2009 after Globovisión reported on an earthquake that had taken place in the towns of Miranda, Vargas, and Aragua. At the time, the government accused Globovisión of destabilizing the country by reporting on the earthquake and creating fear among the people. It should be no surprise then that in August the National Assembly passed a new Institutional Education Act (Ley Orgánica de Educación) that may have severe consequences for independent media in Venezuela. As noted in a recent article in the Economist, President Hugo Chavez sees the mass media as one of the three most important institutions in educating children, reason enough to include several articles affecting it in his education reform. Among other things, the new law gives the government the authority to “immediately suspend” the publication of content that “causes terror in children,” promotes “indiscipline,” or goes against “the mental and physical health of the people.” Anywhere these days it’s hard to imagine the news showing anything that wouldn’t fit into one of these categories based on Chavez’s judgment call.

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Not So Free Speech

The Economist reports that President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela is contemplating another move to curb what he sees as the “excesses” of the media. The latest target is Globovisión, a 24-hour news channel that for now faces increasing pressures but shortly may end up with a government-imposed closing.

    Globovisión is the last remaining national channel that is critical of the government. It was one of four such channels that during Venezuela’s political conflict of 2002-04, to varying degrees, egged on an opposition that was determined to oust Mr Chávez.

Yet some believe that this move could have the opposite effect:

    Some officials think that shutting down Globovisión would be a big mistake. It commands less than 10% of the audience (partly because it is free-to-air only in Caracas and Valencia). The damage to Mr Chávez’s “revolution”, these officials say in private, would outweigh the benefits.

Curiously, the official justification for the anti-Globovisión legal assault coming in a form of unexpected tax fines, investigations, and night-time raids is the one in which the government portrays itself as the victim of media:

    The president claims his popularity would reach 80% (rather than its current 50% or so) were it not for “media lies”. Globovisión must mend its ways, he insists. “Its time is running out”.