Tag Archives: Venezuela

Inauguration Day in Venezuela

chavez-photo

The presidential inauguration in Venezuela has come and gone and President Chavez was a no-show, still presumably recuperating from a post-operative respiratory infection after his fourth surgery to “remove malignant cells” from his pelvic area. In reality, little is officially known about his actual medical condition and whether he will ever be able to return and reclaim the presidency. He has not been seen in public since December 11.

Until Wednesday’s decision by the Venezuelan Supreme Court, the lack of information about what would happen on inauguration day left Venezuelans unsettled. Police and military were in the streets of Caracas to fend off any disturbances that might occur.

Unsurprisingly, the court ruled in favor of viewing the inauguration as a formality and saw no legal obstacle to Chavez continuing as head of state for an unspecified period of time. The decision provoked an outcry from opposition forces that claimed a rupture in constitutional democracy in the country. However, former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles accepted the decision calmly, claiming that the opposition “can’t be seen as trying to gain via a technicality what we have yet to achieve via the vote.”

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Venezuelan Elections: Role of the Private Sector


The private sector has a long history of involvement in Venezuelan politics, some of it quite controversial. For this reason, the peak organization representing the private sector, Fedecámaras, was very careful about maintaining an appropriate profile during this year’s presidential election process.

The president of the organization held a press conference before the election calling upon the Venezuelan people to vote in this very important election. After the election, in which Hugo Chávez was re-elected for a fourth term despite a record showing by the opposition, the Fedecámaras president hailed the peacefulness of the process and asked for the country to seek a path in which private initiative and the state could cooperate in stimulating the economy and creating jobs.

Looking well beyond the election outcome, in August, Fedecámaras introduced “Progress and Well-Being,” a program that they had planned to implement regardless of the election outcome. The program’s goal is to develop a path through which Venezuela can depart from a state-oriented approach to development and replace it with a shared vision for a future that will generate a million jobs in three years and triple private investment in the country.

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Venezuela Elections: On the Front Lines

Last week I was invited by the opposition Democratic Unity Coalition (MUD) in Venezuela to serve as an election observer in the presidential elections where Hugo Chavez was seeking reelection after 14 years in office against the opposition candidate, the young, marathon-running  Henrique Capriles Radonski. By the time Sunday dawned, there were high hopes that the Capriles candidacy could make great strides in obtaining votes, and perhaps win the election.

On Sunday morning, October 7, my international group of observers was ready to set out. We had received our credentials from the MUD office, but the government electoral authority (CNE) did not recognize our electoral observer status. Only observers from friendly countries of the UNASUR pact were allowed: no Carter Center, no European Union, and no Organization of American States delegations were permitted full observer status. My group was hoping that the local polling stations would be open and friendly enough to allow us in, despite our compromised status.

That was a big assumption, given that we were headed to one of the biggest Chavez supporting areas of Caracas, La Vega, which also is very poor and sometimes violent. My group of Spaniards, Argentines and me, the lone American, were ready to take on our assignment. But we did not know what to expect.

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Making Progress on Democracy

Find out more about the film at www.awhispertoaroar.com

In the crush of international reporting on terrorism, civil war, and revolution, it’s easy to lose sight of the more incremental progress in the world.  A few decades ago, few would have dreamed that a majority of states in the world would be democracies, or that democracy would be the only broadly legitimate form of government in the world.  Neither would many have imagined that the United Nations General Assembly, which had made a habit of excusing if not celebrating tyrannies, would establish in 2007 an annual International Day of Democracy to intensify global resolve to promote and consolidate democracy.  Even the date (just four days after September 11) is a not-so-subtle rebuke to those who see violence and extremism as the path to a more just world.

While democracy has made dramatic gains over the last four decades, it has also confronted a growing pace of challenges and setbacks, even in the face of the new hope generated by the Arab Spring.  In each of the past six years, many more countries have declined in freedom than have gained, and the number of democracies in this period has also receded.  There has been a rising tide of democratic breakdowns in the past twelve years, and autocrats have been emboldened by the growing power and self-confidence of China and the economic and political troubles of the advanced industrial democracies.

Yet, as we have seen in the Arab Spring, and before that the Color Revolutions of the post-communist states, authoritarian regimes are also facing acute challenges to their stability, and without the floor of intrinsic legitimacy that most democracies enjoy.   A rising generation in Singapore expects more freedom and openness, and has helped to drive unprecedented opposition gains in recent elections.  The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in Malaysia has seen its political dominance erode and could lose power altogether in the next elections there.  In Burma, the military has launched a transitional process that could lead to a transition to democracy in the next scheduled national elections, in 2015.

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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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