[Greg Wilpert, editor of Venezuelanalysis.com, comments on a recent article by Ivan Briscoe for www.opendemocracy.net which offers "a forensic assessment - both panoramic and ground-level - of a major political experiment."]
As Usual, Only Half The Story Is Told
By Greg Wilpert - Comment on Opendemocracy.net
Thursday, August 9, 2007
(To read Briscoe's article click here)
This article contains some very astute observations about the contradictions and problems of the Bolivarian-socialist process in Venezuela today. However, for a general overview of the situation it leaves out at least half of the story by focusing on only the negative aspects and thus becomes part of "the frenzied impasse" over what to make of Venezuela. It completely leaves out why Chavez is so popular and why he keeps winning elections: the increased recognition, participation, and material benefits that the country's formerly marginalized majority now enjoys.
Also, the negative that Briscoe dwells on is often exaggerated or perpetuates the usual myths about the Chavez government, such as claiming that the National Assembly has been "stripped of most of its powers," which is simply not true (see: www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1953 for a detailed discussion of the enabling law).
Ultimately, though, it is ironic - perhaps intentionally so by the author - that a president who is normally accused of being an authoritarian control freak is now being accused of losing control. It's as if chaos and Chavista authoritarianism are the only two options. A more accurate picture, though, might be that this is a messy process in which the give and take of political processes still plays an important role, just like in most governments around the world, except that a lot more players are now involved than used to be the case. That these players are not part of the country's old elite should be seen as positive. Even if this means that a new elite is in the process of being formed, the positive transformations of increasing participation and thus of control from below that have occurred in Venezuela in the past eight years is probably very well worth it and will serve to make this new elite far less powerful than the old one was.
As so many observers, Briscoe seems to misunderstand what it is the government wants to do when he implies that Chavez ought to insert "a free-thinking layer of authority between the president and his pueblo." He thus completely ignores that what is actually being worked towards is more direct democracy, with a minimal intermediate layer of authority. In other words, the supposed lack of checks and balances that Lopez-Maya bemoans actually comes from the people and not from competing vested interest groups as is usually the case in representative democracies. The whole concept of democracy is being re-thought in Venezuela today.
Despite these shortcomings in Briscoe's article, he does point to a key problem that Chavez and those around him are struggling with. A government that came to power from "a movement born from a high tide of public despair" and that does not have a blueprint for the future is bound to be messy and will generate its own opposition from within. But, as long as this challenge is democratic (and he is correct to point out that it might not be), this should be welcomed.