[News] Chesa Boudin: Venezuelan Democratic Process Is Working

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 7 12:09:30 EST 2007

Chesa Boudin: Venezuelan Democratic Process Is Working

Written by Katie Halper
Thursday, 06 December 2007

Source: <http://alternet.org/mediaculture/69787/>AlterNet

Last Sunday, Venezuelans voted against reforms 
put forth by President Hugo Chavez. The vote 
against Chavez's 
for constitutional reform was surprising and 
extremely close, 51 percent to 49 percent. And 
yet both the United States and 
hailed the result of the referendum as a sign of Venezuela's democracy.

Looking for an on-the-ground account of the 
referendum and insights into the results, I spoke 
to journalist and activist Chesa Boudin, author 
Venezuelan Revolution: 100 Questions and 100 
Answers. Boudin lived in Venezuela while 
researching Latin American public policy as part 
of his master's degree from Oxford University and 
is back in Venezuela working on a new book about 
Latin America's shift to the left and his own political awakening.

In a phone interview from Caracas with AlterNet, 
Boudin reflected on why the defeat of the 
referendum is a victory for Chavez, what JFK can 
teach the United States about respecting 
revolutions, the myth of the Chavez dictatorship, 
the now-obsolete "fraud" T-shirts preprinted by 
the opposition, and the good, the bad and the 
ugly (and the pretty) of Venezuela.

Katie Halper: What is it like in Caracas right now?

Chesa Boudin: It's very calm here. Of course you 
have the normal violent crime and criminal 
activity in Venezuela. That is constant. If you 
had asked me last week, I would have said that 
Chavez's referendum would have passed. But by the 
end of Sunday, before they announced the results, 
I knew that it wasn't going to win.

Halper: Why did it fail?

Boudin: First of all, there were real problems 
with the content of the reform. Second of all, 
there were problems with the process through 
which they tried to get the reform passed. And 
third of all, there is general discontent with 
certain aspects of the government that weakened 
voter turnout even though the government remains 
very popular, and Chavez in particular is extremely popular.

Halper: What were your reservations?

Boudin: I was concerned about the centralization 
of power, indefinite terms and expanded emergency 
power. I was concerned about the vague nature and 
confusing way many of the articles were drafted. 
And I was also concerned about the government's 
capacity to put into practice some of the 
articles that were on their face excellent. Like 
the expanded guarantees for social security for 
taxi drivers, street vendors, etc., is a great 
law. But in practice the government doesn't have 
the ability at this stage to put that into 
effect. Many of the changes they were making 
could have been made through simple legislation; 
they didn't need to be constitutional.

Halper: Why do you think Chavez wanted to do away with term limits?

Boudin: There is no question that Chavez wanted 
to get rid of term limits. I think that was one 
of the main motivations for the reform. I think 
they chose this year rather than four years from 
now, for two reasons. One, so they don't need to 
worry about training new leadership. I think they 
need to change the leadership. I would encourage 
Chavez to stay in the government until his term 
ends and then train new leadership. He should 
allow somebody else to take charge for a change 
to see what good comes from the sharing of power. 
I think the other reason is because Chavez is a 
military man, and he had a very powerful 
successful electoral cycle last year when he won 
with almost 20 percent over the opposition. I 
think he saw the opportunity to steamroll forward 
through elections. And I think it's a good thing 
that there is a check on that. Chavez does 
command the loyalty of the masses. But it's not a 
blind loyalty. And it's good that there be a 
check on executive power in any country.

Halper: Do you agree with Chavez's claim that 
this is proof of Venezuela's democracy maturing?

Boudin: Yes. I think the government was 
overconfident and took the popular support for 
granted. And this will force the government to 
realize that the grass-roots and popular support 
is contingent and cannot be assumed or taken for 
granted. There are people who will go out there 
and vote simply because Chavez says they should 
do. And they were able to get basically 50 
percent of the vote. However, there were a lot of 
people who simply weren't convinced because it 
was rushed, because they had reservations. And 
this will force the government to win, on a daily 
basis, the support and respect of the masses. 
That's an important thing for any government, not just this government.

It will also force Chavez and his inner circle to 
reevaluate the information they get. The new 
political party that Chavez founded a year ago 
has roughly 5 million members, but Chavez didn't 
even get the vote of all the people in the party. 
He got 4.5 million votes, less than 4.5 actually. 
So clearly there is a problem. The people around 
Chavez are telling him what they think he wants 
to hear. I think Chavez does a much better job 
with keeping in touch with the people than Bush 
does. And this will be a wake-up call for Chavez 
and the whole political establishment and, hopefully, a very positive thing.

Halper: How do the results of the referendum 
relate to the opposition's claim that Chavez is a dictator?

Boudin: Calling it "the opposition," as people do 
both internationally and in Venezuela, makes it 
sound like it one homogenous group. It's a very 
diverse group that happens to be unified by their 
hatred of Chavez and his model. But there's a 
wide range, some of which, in the United States, 
would be considered liberal, or mainstream. And 
then there are right-wingers. Some of the 
opposition doesn't call Chavez a dictator, but 
most of them do. And certainly the U.S. media 
tends to describe him in terms that suggest dictatorship.

But the point you're getting to is how does his 
accepting the results change the position of the 
opposition. I'm one of the people who identifies 
with the Bolivarian revolution, who thinks the 
outcome was pretty much perfect. I personally 
had, as did almost every Venezuelan I talked to, 
serious reservations about reform, even though it had lots of good things.

If this victory had been the other way around, if 
Chavez had won by one percentage point the 
opposition would have been in the streets crying 
fraud. They already had the T-shirts printed. 
This loss gave Chavez the opportunity to take the 
high road. Thus far, at least, he has humbly 
recognized the opposition's victory. And as long 
as he continues to take the high road, I think 
it's proof to Venezuela and to the world that 
Chavez is not a dictator, that Venezuela is 
democratic, that the popular will of the people is what matters.

The claim that Chavez is a dictator is based on 
nothing but media hype and propaganda. He has 
more of a democratic claim than Bush. He 
continues to have the support of the majority of 
the country, which Bush never had. Chavez has 
been supported multiple times through elections, 
recall referenda, and he's won with huge margins. 
And the elections were monitored by the EU, the 
Carter Center, the International Lawyers Guild.

People accuse Chavez of executing people. There 
are executions in Venezuela, but not by the 
state. The police are incompetent, the prison 
system is atrocious; people are killed all the 
time through gun violence. But that's not the 
same thing as the government executing people. 
That's not the same thing as the government 
promoting death squads, which they do in 
Colombia, a country we support. But violence is 
there, and access to guns is a real problem.

Thus far the opposition has been the most 
responsible that I've ever seen it. Again, the 
opposition is a diverse group, but historically, 
during the Chavez era, it has played a very 
negative anti-democratic role, starting with the 
coup in 2002, boycotting elections regularly, 
crying out fraud when they couldn't get out 
votes, trying to undermine the democratic 
process. This is proof to them and the world that 
this is a democratic system and that they do have 
a chance to win gains if they go about it democratically.

Halper: Can you talk about the alleged CIA memo 
that was circulated outlining the U.S. plan to intervene in Sunday's elections?

Boudin: I'm not an expert on CIA memos, but the 
version that I saw was not plausible. It was only 
in Spanish, it was a Word document, not a real 
document that had been scanned. It may have been 
based on some real U.S. intervention. There's no 
question that the U.S. government and its 
subsidiary grant-giving agencies like U.S.A.I.D. 
and National Endowment for Democracy were sending 
money to opposition groups. That's public 
information. But whether this particular CIA plan 
was a reality, I highly doubt. In Venezuela, 
there is constant accusation of U.S. intervention 
and, more often than not, it's rumors.

I want to be perfectly clear that there is a real 
risk of intervention. The U.S. 
in the coup and has overthrown dozens of 
governments in Latin America over the years. But 
since the coup of 2002, the main form of U.S. 
intervention and destabilization has been through 
political and electoral means, investing millions 
of dollars in opposition groups that advocate 
against the government in the media and civil 
society. The U.S. is trying very hard to unify 
the opposition and find candidates to defeat 
Chavez. If they do choose to increase 
intervention, all the analysts I've read, 
including ex-CIA agent 
Agee, who wrote a report on this a few years ago, 
suggest it will be through a low-intensity 
paramilitary intervention, not a direct U.S. army 
intervention like we see in Iraq and Afghanistan. 
The administration doesn't have the political 
capital to invade another country, and if they did it would be Iran.

I think Venezuela should prepare against 
intervention, but not against a U.S. military 
invasion, because it's not likely and because 
there's nothing you can do about it if they bring 
out the big guns. Venezuela is much better off 
preparing against political electoral 
intervention and the possibility of a 
paramilitary destabilizing force, which was used in Nicaragua with the Contras.

Halper: Not that the Contras weren't a formidable enemy.

Boudin: Yes, but Nicaragua was a very poor, 
easily starved country. Venezuela has billions of 
dollars coming in every year from revenue and a 
fairly up-to-date military arsenal and 26 million 
people. So it's much bigger than Nicaragua. But I 
think it's important to differentiate between 
interventions like the Contras or the 
paramilitaries in Colombia or Blackwater 
intervention, which I think are possibilities, and an Iraq style intervention.

Halper: What do you want Americans to know about Venezuela?

Boudin: Venezuela's political process is a 
democratic one, one in which the majority of 
Venezuelans have cast their vote repeatedly. And 
it's incumbent on the U.S., which advocates for 
democracy at least rhetorically, not to intervene 
or destabilize the Venezuelan political process. 
Venezuelans should be free to choose their own 
path and to make their own mistakes. As 
Americans, we can learn from the good and the bad 
of what happens in Venezuela. You have a peaceful 
revolution in Venezuela. John F. Kennedy said, 
"Those who make peaceful revolutions impossible 
make violent revolutions inevitable." The quote applies to Venezuela perfectly.

At the same time that there is corruption and 
there are problems, there are also revolutionary 
programs that provide food, housing and free 
healthcare, which is not only more cost-effective 
but more humane than what we have in our country. 
And rather than condemning it because Hugo Chavez 
and George Bush both have a tendency to talk too 
much and say stupid things, people should come 
and see Venezuela for themselves.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/69787/

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