Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Jan 16/07 | A flashback in search for context: Venezuela as it was

PMBComment: A seasoned US journalist sent me the story below with the following note: "Pedro: almost everyday I read something in the press that leads me to conclude that my younger colleagues care little, or nothing, for history. Anyone who lived or studied Venezuela's emergence as a democratic juggernaut would think twice about giving credit to Mr. Chavez for anything other than the destruction of a country that, with all its troubles, was miles ahead of most in terms of civic fervor and economic progress. Without any doubt, the reelections of CAP and Caldera signalled that the system had gone into negative recycle mode, but then the election of Chavez, a failed coupster with blood in his hands, proved that the system was a forgiving and open one. What has followed is at times hard to read, watch or listen. I just wish it would be put into a proper context. Mr. Chavez is a destroyer and not a redeemer, and as such, history should judge him severely.

Digging in Time's archives I found the following which was written in November of '68 by a colleague who went to Caracas to cover what many said was one of the most democratic elections ever held in the world (BTW, I remember I went with him to interview your father and when we arrived at your house he was on the phone with you, I think you where in boarding school, in England at the time).

What a great country it was."

Reading the TIME story, it is interesting to note that AD got a great deal of credit for spreading well what was insignificant oil income by today's measure. PMB

Time Magazine

Friday, Nov. 29, 1968

Continuismo v. Change

By day, Caracas resembles a collage of advertising posters. At night its plazas glitter and bustle with popular rallies. Next Sunday is election day, and Venezuelans are enjoying the campaign with the enthusiasm of a people liberated from dictatorial rule only ten years ago. No fewer than 28 parties are competing for congressional seats, and have festooned the capital with tigers, roosters, flying saucers and other party symbols. In one square, the chief opposition presidential candidate, Rafael Caldera, head of the Social Christian Party, has a huge calendar ticking off the days until el cambio, "the change." In riposte, the governing Acción De-mocrática party is flying two calendars charting the days "until the fourth defeat"—a reference to Caldera's three unsuccessful tries for the presidency.

Outgoing President Raúl Leoni has cut so many ribbons inaugurating public works during the campaign that opponents claim he keeps a pair of scissors in his pocket. Leoni cannot constitutionally succeed himself, but his appearances aid Acción Democrática's candidate. He is Gonzalo Barrios, 65, an adroit and tough politician who, as Interior Minister, put down Venezuela's Castroite rebels.

Generation Gap.

Barrios can use all the help he can get. During Acción Democrática's ten years in power, it has fissioned three times, in each instance losing some of its younger and more radical supporters and some momentum for reform. Hoping to charge through that generation gap is Caldera, 52, a talented lawyer who has been trying for the presidency since 1947, and now has assembled the country's smoothest-functioning political machine. Also in the running are four splinter candidates, most notably Acción Democrática Dissident Luis Beltran Prieto and Miguel Angel Burelli, who has the support of three minor opposition parties.

The election turns largely on Caldera's cry for change and for more activist government as against Acción Democrática's slogan of continuismo, or more of the same. Undeniably, Venezuelans have never had it so good. During ten years in power, Acción Democrática has poured the country's ample oil revenues into schools, highways and public works. The economy is growing at an annual rate of 5.1%, and the benefits have spread through much of the population. Venezuela's per capita income, $745 a year, is the highest in Latin America. Unemployment is down to less than 7%, and the bolivar is one of the world's strongest currencies.

Whoever wins is unlikely to tinker drastically with such success. No less encouraging is the fact that the election has not been marred by riots, as in 1958, or terrorism, as in 1963. On a continent where military dictatorships are more the rule than the exception, Venezuela's military leaders took the unusual step of publicly promising to "respect and enforce respect for the verdict that emerges from the election."