Thursday, February 22, 2007

Feb 22/07 | On a Report from the International Crisis Group: Venezuela = Crisis Indeed!

For some it is more of a crisis than for others: Viva La Robolución!

PMBComments: This extensive report is worth reading. The very well regarded International Crisis Group does well to focus careful attention on the brewing crisis in Venezuela because it is all too obvious that it no longer has a "constitutional, democratic, electoral and peaceful" solution (if it ever did once the electorate fell for a coupster's "charm" or largess).

Mr. Chávez - the man - has long rendered that type of happy outcome a pipe dream. This does not mean it would not be desirable to have a rosy ending, only that sticking to blind hope in the face of crude reality might well fall under the category of criminal naiveté and make the wishful thinkers accessories to the crime underway. PMB

The link to the full report - which is downloadable in PDF format - is here


Venezuela: Hugo Chávez's Revolution

Bogotá/Brussels, 22 February 2007: Venezuela is at risk of serious internal conflict if President Hugo Chávez continues to polarise society and dismantle the checks and balances of representative democracy after his recent landslide re-election.

Venezuela: Hugo Chávez's Revolution,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines what that overwhelming victory in December and Chávez's "Bolivarian Revolution" mean for one of the world's major oil producing countries. After eight years in power and despite his repeated electoral successes, Chávez faces serious challenges: there is growing frustration with spiralling crime, government inefficiency, excessive spending and corruption, and polarisation in the body politic has reached historic proportions. There are also concerns in the region that the ex-colonel is willing to sacrifice democratic principles to advance his agenda. Under the guise of "direct" or "participatory" democracy, Chávez has progressively weakened the checks and balances of the political system.

"Chávez has created a regime that is not yet a dictatorship but is developing strong autocratic tendencies, has suborned the military, taken control of the judiciary and the electoral commission and passed laws that can be used to intimidate and muzzle the press", says Markus Schultze-Kraft, Crisis Group's Colombia/Andes Project Director. "All the levers of power can be operated by his hand and his hand alone".

Chávez has been reconstructing Venezuela since his first election in 1998. He pushed through a new constitution that dismantled the system by which the traditional parties had dominated the country for most of two generations. The two-chamber Congress became a unicameral National Assembly, which has had only pro-Chávez members since the badly fragmented opposition unwisely boycotted the December 2005 elections. On 31 January 2007 it passed a new enabling law granting the president far-reaching legislative power for eighteen months.

Three scenarios could trouble Chávez. The likeliest is that problems will arise if oil prices drop to a point where the president cannot sustain current social spending. "If a recession imperils government funding, this could lead to more unemployment, undermining faith in the revolution and provoking an angry backlash", says Crisis Group Senior Analyst Jeremy McDermott. It is also possible that the political opposition could eventually regain its footing, take control of the National Assembly and provide a serious alternative. This scenario could prompt diehard Chavistas to resort to violence to defend the regime. There is also a possibility that Chávez could be challenged from within his movement, as there are some disagreements over where the president is leading the country.

"If Chávez continues to build personal power at the expense of other institutions and militarise the government and political life, there will be serious risks of internal conflict, especially if the oil boom that cushions the economy falters", says Alain Deletroz, Crisis Group's Latin America Program Director. "Whether the social polarisation and accumulating tensions turn violent depends primarily on whether, at a moment of triumph, Chávez acts with restraint".

*Read the full Crisis Group report on our website:

The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering over 50 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.