By: Luis Hernández Navarro
Venezuela is accused of not being a democracy. They say that its president since 2013, Nicolás Maduro, is a dictator. They assert that his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, was a tyrant. In black and white, how true are these accusations?
In a strict sense, from the perspective of social transformation, the discussion implies, contrasting the relationship (or lack thereof) existing between procedural democracy and participatory democracy and the construction of popular power. But, let’s set this issue aside for now, and review it only if Venezuelan political life complies with the principal features of a representative democracy.
After the death of Hugo Chávez, Vice President Nicolás Maduro provisionally assumed the presidency of Venezuela on March 8, 2013. Almost a month later, on April 14, he won the presidential elections for a period of six years (until 2019), with a difference of more than 200,000 votes with respect to his closest competitor, right-winger Henrique Capriles. Maduro was democratically elected as the legitimate head of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
They don’t hold elections in a dictatorship. Nevertheless, in Venezuela there are elections and public consultations regularly. There have been numerous elections since Hugo Chávez assumed the Presidency of the Republic in 1999: four presidential elections (five, if you count the one that Chávez won for the first time in 1998), four parliamentary elections, six regional, seven municipal and two elections for the National Constituent Assembly (ANC, its initials in Spanish). Six referendums have also been carried out, including the one in 2004 that ratified the son of Sabaneta (Hugo Chávez) as head of the Executive.
Chavismo has won almost all the national elections clearly. The opposition has won in only two (one, a parliamentary election in 2015); it was defeated in the rest. That has not prevented it from winning some governorships and other local government positions.
Venezuela has a multi-party political system, with great ease for making electoral coalitions. The principal opposition grouping, the Democratic Unity Table (Mesa de Unidad Democrática, MUD), is made up of 19 parties. Dozens of parties politic openly and participate in elections. The legal requirements for forming such political parties are much more flexible than in Mexico.
In the National Assembly, indigenous peoples were entitled to three electoral positions. In the current National Constituent Assembly eight indigenous representatives participate, elected for the first time according to their uses and customs, in almost 3, 500 assemblies.
The Venezuelan electoral system guarantees free and fair elections. Its results can be easily verified. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who criticized Hugo Chávez, has endorsed the system on different occasions. “Of the 92 elections that we have monitored, I would say that the electoral process in Venezuela is the best in the world,” the former president declared.
It is said that there is no freedom of expression in Venezuela and that the State controls the communications media are controlled. Anyone that has set foot in that country and has turned on a television, radio or checked the kiosks or the local press knows that isn’t true. First, it’s because the majority of the media are in private hands, and second, because they freely say the worst barbarities imaginable in them, including racist insults against Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro. They convoke mobilizations against the dictatorship! “What tyranny permits a newspaper to classify it as such,” asks the writer Luis Britto.
In Venezuela, the private communications media (the majority opponents) are hegemonic. In 2014, Britto explains, 2,896 media outlets were operating in Venezuela: 65.18 percent were in the hands of private parties; 30.76 percent were community media, and just 3.22 percent were public service.
There were 1,598 private stations, 654 community stations and just 80 public service stations functioning in radio broadcasting. In open signal television 55 channels were private, 25 were community and just eight were public service.
There are no limitations on freedom of association, assembly and protest in Venezuela. It’s enough to review the press to document that in the last 18 years none of those rights has been proscribed in Venezuela; to the contrary, the opposition has made use of them, even to call for deposing Presidents Chávez y Maduro! Protests have been dissolved when opponents exercise violence and call for committing a crime.
Leopoldo López is not a democrat, but rather a fascist. He is not a prisoner of conscience; he is a criminal. He is under house arrest not because of sympathizing with the dictator Francisco Franco, but rather because of participating in and impelling the crimes of setting fires and causing damages that were executed as part of the plan to overthrow President Maduro called “The exit.”
But, democracy is much more than a procedural matter. And if, as Abraham Lincoln pointed out, democracy is the government of the people, for the people and by the people, what there is in Venezuela is a much more profound democracy than what its critics admit. It’s a substantive democracy that is made reality from the power of the communes, the expression of popular self-government in a territory, with resources, competencies and their own abilities.
The communal State is, according to Venezuelan legislation, the “form of social political organization, founded on the democratic and social State of law and justice […] in which power is exercised directly by the people, within an economic model of social property and of sustainable endogenous development.
Certainly, many criticisms can be made of the Venezuelan model. But, in black and white, asserting that Venezuela is a dictatorship and its president Nicolás Maduro is a tyrant is slander. Venezuelan democracy is much deeper than what exists in the majority of the countries whose governments offend its revolution.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee