Category Archives: Venezuela

Story of Ocumare: AfroVenezuelan and Chocolate Story

While the brigade was intense in meetings and running around,  we were fortunate to have a break in between the hectic two weeks. Every year, the vacation in these types of brigade are different. This year, it happens to be in Ocumare de la Costa (Ocumare), Aragua.

We set off early in the morning from Caracas on two cramped taxis on our 4 hour journey to Ocumare. Ocumare,  being on the Caribbean Coast,  is separated from rest of country by mountainous Henri Pittier National park.  On our journey,  we have seen first hand price speculation. Arepa,  the main dish in Venezuela, should cost less than 50 bolivars,  is being charged three to four times of correct price. Even the military,  who are supposed to report or enforce against price speculation, we’re happily eating away in the rest area ( the one selling overpriced Arepa. We have passed the city of Maracay, the capital of Aragua. This city was one of the sites actively participated in 1992 Chavez coup. It was here on our return journey,  we saw with our own eyes,  the world’s cheapest oil.  It was practically free and 32 litres fuel is way cheaper than 50 ml coffee shot.

As we entered the Henri Pittier National park,  we witnessed something unique in Venezuela – military checkpoints on the road.  We are not entering military zone,  but they exist anywhere.

Our place at Ocumare was a decent place and you get the tropical feel in this part of the world. Ants everywhere,  tropical fruit trees,  humidity etc.

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Scene at a bay near Ocumare de la Costa

 

One of the key aspects to this trip to the Caribbean is to examine the role of cacao in the region.  The cacao was first planted in Bahia de Cata (which is next to Ocumare) – in a valley- by the Spanish. Subsequently, these beans were transplanted to Ocumare and Chuao (nearby town , famous for coast and the chocolates). Initially, the African slaves from one tribe were brought into the plantation. However, many ran away from the plantation due to the roughness of the working conditions. To counter this, Spanish brought warring African tribes who have different cultures and segregated them to different cities in the municipality (Costa de La Oro). This created historical division that exists among the AfroVenezuelan society where they clique to their own groups.

Cacao plantations are grown in the valley, surrounded by 3 mountain ranges (east,west and south) and Caribbean to the north.  These lands used to belong to ex-Presidents and dictators which exploited the production of cacao plantations. President Romulo Betancourt in the 1970s made an attempt to break the latifundistas. This included giving land to cacao’s federation. However, the past governments did not follow through on monitoring the progress of land reform. The government did not give any form of training  in plantation and land administration. Back in the day, all the cacao beans were exported via Puerto Cabello (main port, in neighbouring state of Carabobo) to multinationals (i.e. Nestle) and there was no in-house of processing of the beans. Situation began to changes in 1990s and subsequently in the revolution. Revolutionary government began to introduce training  and education to cacao farmers. Land titles were issued to cacao farmers

Since Ocumare is famous tourist site in Venezuela (like Chuao), it brought economic pressure to the cacao farmers. It is more lucrative to work in the tourism industry and the current younger generation opting to work as a taxi driver or anything else but cacao plantation.

Venezuelan Socialist Corporation of Cacao

Venezuelan Socialist Corporation of Cacao

Let’s examine in bit detail on cacao production sovereignty. As mentioned previously, the Venezuelan government gearing the country to produce food materials in house for domestic consumption. We visited a cacao seed bank in Ocumare  (UPC Monasteria – a former monastery converted to a research centre). The seedlings are given to farmers for free (with conditions applied) and cacao seedlings are planted in the farms (the beans would be sent to a centre for processing).

UPC Monasteria

UPC Monasteria

Venezuelan Socialist Corporation of Cacao was set up in 2010 to oversee the production and distribution of cacao products. We visited one of the centres in Ocumare, which happens the receiving end of cacao beans. This centre is where the fermentation and drying of cacao beans is done. The products of this centre are sent to a processing centre (like mini factories)

We visited Bahia de Cata, Afro Venezuelan village in a valley. In this village,there one shop lot row which is collapsed in the middle and two slots is the centre of chocolate products. Afro-Venezuelans working in this mini factory are processing the chocolates in traditional methods (nothing is high-tech here).  It is here we, the brigadistas made a lot of purchases of raw chocolates (one cannot miss opportunities like this). They sold raw chocolate, chocolate liquour, chocolate soap and other. From this factory, they sell their products to the open market or to government owned chocolate entities.

Chocolate factory in Bahia de Cata

Chocolate factory in Bahia de Cata

After visiting chocolate factory, we were given the opportunity to experience Afro-Venezuelan music just outside the factory. They retain much of their African heritage as they have resided the same place for 500 years or so. We met a community leader, Sebastiana, which plays an active role in preserving the oral history of Bahia de Cata. She may have an oral history dating back 200 years and currently teaching (though advanced in age) cultural history  through school theaters. She is currently documenting her stories in a book.

All in all, we have immersed ourselves the importance of food sovereignty and bit of cultural insight on this area.

What did we learn here:

  • Venezuela is investing to ensure cacao is produced from start to end within the country
  • Afro-Venezuelan is culture remains largely preserved.

Credits to one of my brigadistas for providing top quality photos.

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Venezuelan Election Commission

Upon my arrival in Caracas, I did mention brigade leader that I am very much focused on elections. He told me there is a surprise which he reveal later. Something beyond I thought of: to meet CNE President Tibisay Lucena.

The night before we met her, we received a quick briefing on her role and personal life. She could be considered to be the most powerful woman in Venezuela as she is presiding an institution that determines the fate of the country. Despite a powerful role, she is very easy going and down to earth

The day came and we headed to CNE headquarters. It was housed in 1970s building and underneath it, a mini shopping center that reminded me of Komtar in Penang. Due to controversies associated with CNE and physical attacks on Dr Tibisay (yes Venezuela is quite violent on politics), CNE HQ had tight security with airport scanners deployed.

CNE HQ

As we were an international delegation, Dr Tibisay wanted to meet us personally rather sending a representative. While we were waiting, we were served with drinks in modern meeting room by professional kitchen staff. We were introduced to some contacts in CNE meanwhile.

Finally, Dr Tibisay came to her office as traffic delayed her big time. What I was surprised was she was wearing casual clothes to meet an international delegation like us. Unlike other countries, Election Commission (CNE) is an INDEPENDENT branch of government (Venezuela has 5 branches of government). It was created in 1999 when the new constitution was approved and replacing fraudulent and corrupt CSE , the older commission. CNE is composed by 5 to people including Dr Tibisay – the President. The candidates were nominated by civil society groups, university and Citizen branch (e.g. Attorney General) Subsequently, they must be approved by the National Assembly- the Parliament of Venezuela. Strictly independent, I heard 2 out 5 have an opposition slant and remaining have government slant. The fact that Venezuela has totally separate branch for Election Commission has prompted other Latin America to do likewise.

When the new Constitution (1999), a lot of Venezuelans were out of electoral roll and hence excluded from the democracy. CNE made huge strides in voter inclusion where they made every possible attempt to connect with voters. To ensure equality of voting accessibility, each polling district would not have more than 600 voters. Each voting center should be at max of 1 km from residences (this became a massive logistic issue when it came to areas of wetlands, mountains and forests). Previously, it was possible to have a voting centre 46 kilometres from the voters. They have stepped the number of polling tables across the country.

Secondly, CNE made voting system super Secure- I really mean Super Secure. I was informed that Venezuela has 17-18 audit or security checks for elections. Political parties from both spectrums and international observers have full rights and access to implementation of security checks. Venezuela, may as well has the highest random auditing system for ballot check. Since all Venezuelan Elections is DIGITAL, 40 to 50% of votes are randomly checked to match the proper outcomes. CNE and political parties audit the electoral machines.  If one political party wants to modify the auditing system, it must sought cooperation and agreement of EACH political party in Venezuela.  As mentioned previously, voting in Venezuela is done digitally. Hence, biometric scanning is used to unlock the voting machines during voting. However, this becomes an issue for people who have their fingerprints not easily deciphered (i.e. fishermen) or do not have fingers. The biometric scanning is modified to verify based on lower number of points on fingerprints. For those who do not have fingers, the President of Polling table is authorized to unlock the machines. (On a side note, if the President made three errors to unlock the machine, the alarm would ring and CNE would be notified on this matter)

In terms of logistics, handling Venezuela elections is a mammoth task. CNE have to spend a lot of resources in developing and designing software solutions for political candidates. Secondly, prior to elections, they have constant outreach to voters. During my stay in Caracas, I have seen two registration booths in train station and the square (Plaza).
Plus, they have software to count minutes of political ads on television. During election time, they have to deploy Electronic machines to all parts of the country (including the Amazon) . I heard that the voting machines were sent on DONKEYS, boats, helicopters and planes. (On a side note, since they head to remote areas, they work with government agencies to provide government services like vaccinations). In terms of voting results, transmission is done through secure lines such as internet and satellites. Considering around 80% voter participation, they have fast release of results in few hours time.

Beyond constitutional elections, CNE provide services to trade unions, political parties (including opposition ones) and communal councils ( participatory democracy at local levels). CNE provide the technical knowhow and other logistical advice needed for election. The day we visited Dr Tibisay, CNE workers were having their own trade union elections.

I asked her why Venezuela has so many elections in the past 19 years. I think they have around 18 elections- I need to check. This is because the presidential, governor, legislature and mayor terms are all different. Bear in mind, Venezuela experienced an electoral decentralization since 1989. Dr Tibisay gives her personal phone numbers to political parties rep to handle issues directly. She had to organize a way to rescue a candidate in bathroom lockout in rural state of Guarico, hundreds of miles away!

We were informed of the nature of international observation  group. The composition must include people from all spectrums and religions. Candidates for this group must be nominated by institution.

I am keen to sign up, there is one coming up next year. All in all, if there is one thing I fully trust in Venezuela, it would be CNE. I am inspired by the efforts made by CNE to uphold the constitutional voting rights of all Venezuelans

Additional Information:

International Delegation Report on 2009 referendum

Carter Centre Report on CNE and Venezuelan Election System

Summary of Election process and auditing

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Self Governance and Urban Agriculture

In other countries, when we build apartments, most or all the times, the developers or the government do not create spaces for community democracy or self-sustaining agriculture. Some apartments and flats do have some form of committees with varying level of participation. However, in Venezuela, things are done differently here.

First, we need to understand that Venezuela has a severe housing crisis. Due to the oil boom and subsequent dominance of the economy, the rural (agricultural sector) was abandoned. Rural masses came in droves to urban areas in search for better prospects. However, majority could not get a decent job that would allow them to live in proper housing. Hence, shanty towns like around in Caracas appeared where the poor was pretty much excluded from the society. With the advent of oil economy, agriculture has declined in its importance as it was cheaper to import food products from overseas

With the revolution in 1999, the government had inconsistent plans in resolving the housing backlog and crisis. Then, big floods of 2010-11 which created many Venezuelans homeless. It finally drove a big point to Venezuelan government: You need a concerted effort to resolve the housing crisis soon. Secondly, with rising purchasing power among Venezuelans during the revolution, the consumption has began to outstrip the domestic agriculture production. Yes, Venezuela is self-sufficient in some products for first time in a long time. However, there are many mouths to feed and current food shortages highlight the importance of decentralizing agriculture. Under the revolution, the government actively encourage of devolving power to the citizens as they believe representative democracy has failed the society historically. The concept of communal councils (group of few hundred families) and communes (group of communal councils) were introduced half-way through during Chavez’s presidency. As for the moment, these two self-governance mechanisms (mentioned above) are parallel system with municipal (city council) system (relationship has been uneasy).

Some Reading Materials (before we proceed):

http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/9787

(* Bear in mind, Venezuela is very decentralized state, it has been in the process of devolution since late 80s, way before Chavez)

Grand Housing Mission (GMV) next to Tiuna El Fuerte, Caracas

Grand Housing Mission (GMV) next to Tiuna El Fuerte, Caracas

Towards end of the brigade, we got the chance to see self-governance and urban agriculture at play in one community. We went to La Fuente housing complex in a middle class suburb of El Paraiso, Caracas. It is a home to 9 tower blocks, 153 families and in total, has over 500 people. The people residing in well designed homes are from the shanty towns of Caracas. La Fuente is a good example of Venezuelan Grand Housing Mission (GMV) which is meant to tackle housing crisis.

As the residents are coming from very low-income brackets, the payments of house purchase is based on your financial capacity. Hence, a socio-economic study is done to assess the financial capacity. Residents pay the purchase in installments (depending on their social status) WITHOUT INTEREST. The apartments are sold at 1/5 of the MARKET RATE and the installments are about 10-15 times lower than market rate (the installments are not affected by Inflation). In extreme cases, those who have no financial resources are given fully free equipped houses. For those who struggle to pay the installments, PDVSA (state oil company) Black Gold Foundation actively assist those residents to find productive works to pay off the installments.

In La Fuente alone, they have 30 social enterprises. Below each apartment tower block, they have created spaces for businesses to be set up (though ones we saw were empty). However, there is one big challenge in regards to businesses operating here. Residents treat them as though it is their family business and the challenge is to change their mindset that they live in the community (more like how to contribute community).

As mentioned previously, residents living here are from different shanty towns and hence, different cultures and mentalities are brought in. This created problems in the early days as the integration of the residents were hard. Over time, people overcame the differences through participating many communal projects. To ensure peace in La Fuente, there are restrictions when you can play music and drink. In future, the community in La Fuente are looking to create communal justice to resolve inter-family disputes. As La Fuente is a small community, there were no schools within its perimeter. To overcome, the government social missions (like on education) cover some of the educational gaps of the community.

On top of apartment blocks (currently 7 out 9 blocks), the community devoted empty spaces to urban (& organic) agriculture. Most of the produce are community consumption. Any excess would be sold at the market a discounted rate (1/3 of capitalist price). The profits are reinvested in purchasing discounted seeds from public foundation. Under the Cuba-Venezuela Bilateral Agreement, Cuban agricultural specialists are brought in to train the community at La Fuente on how to grow and maintain the organic plots (Cuba is leader in organic agriculture)

Urban Agriculture at La Fuente apartment complex in Caracas

Urban Agriculture at La Fuente apartment complex in Caracas

Communal Councils

It is self-governance in action but works hand-in-hand with representative structures of the country (relationship between these systems are not easy). For example, PDVSA works with communal councils to develop projects that are needed by the community. The community draw their own maps where their council should cover. For example, La Fuente communal council (El Gigante) covers the 9 tower blocks. It has a collective leadership with a number of spokesperson (vocero or vocera)

In each tower block, families pay maintenance fees and elect two people to manage the bank accounts. All the problems faced in communal councils are resolved through consensus. Communal council also propose projects that would benefit the area. In every communal council, you need to have two mandatory vocero (a) – one on financing and another auditing. This is to ensure the money spent on the communal projects are well spent. At the beginning, the state pumps a lot of money to finance many communal councils. However, now, the state encourage communal councils to build productive works for the community to self-sustain. People have the right to formulate the communal budget but participatory budgeting remains limited.

When a communal council is created, an assembly of people (over 15 years) must be convened. Two commissions (Promoting and Election Commission) are elected by the community. Promoting Commission promotes and education the concept of communal council to the community. The Election Commission organizes elections within the communal council and does receive help from Venezuela Electoral Commission (CNE). Later, minimum of two to a maximum of 5 spokespersons are elected (including two compulsory ones – finance and auditing)

The spokesperson are elected to represent the needs of community and they are elected for 2 years. They are expected to work in their own communities. Spokesperson can make their own decisions but they need to get the consent and approval of the community When important decisions are made, the citizen Assembly is convened to vote and debate on this matter. Most importantly, if the spokesperson fails to carry his or her duties, he or she can be RECALLED anytime. In La Fuente, the spokespersons in every 3 -4 months detail out the financing that are going on in the community. Moreover, an increasing people in La Fuente are actively participating in popular auditing. When the projects are materialized in front of the eyes of the community, this create a new impetus for greater participation in community councils.

Having said that, let’s us acknowledge there are problems with community councils:

i) I personally believe it is every right of Venezuela (left, right or centre) to organize themselves to create community councils. Hence, it is possible to middle class communal councils that are not supportive of the government. Some times, opposition infiltrates the communal councils to sabotage the process from within.

ii) Clash with existing bureaucracy (i.e. with mayoralty office). For example, communal councils in Merida (Andean city) issue permits (for street sellers) and determines how many should be issued. The opposition mayor office of Merida issues another round permits in the same streets of communal councils. This creates confusion among the people

Having said, we have to understand the revolution is a massive school and everyone is learning as they go. Hence problems and success are part of the process of deepening democracy.

 

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Public Transportation: At the Service of the People

When we were travelling in Venezuela, we received the full experience like a Venezuelan commuting to work in Caracas. This involved using taxis, going on foot, taking the metro, cable car and buses. Under this revolution, government has invested massively to improve the public transportation network in major cities. As for today’s discussion, the article focusing on Greater Caracas.

First, let’s talk about metro. Caracas, being on a valley, grows east-west direction and only to be restricted by the towering mountains of North. It was opened in 1980s and it gets jam packed during busy period. Since the concept of time is not valued, hardly there any timetables of any departing trains. Despite everyone rushing to work, Venezuelans do form an irregular queue before entering the train. Once the train doors open, everyone rushes in. It is very possible the whole platform is full of people during peak times. Most of the Metro lines are underground with some exceptions here and there.  Let’s examine the routes. Currently, they have 4 lines operating on east-west direction and towards southerly direction. Under the government of Chavez and Maduro, they have successfully extended the railway line to nearby capital of Miranda, Los Teques. In the coming years, Los Teques would have a fully fledged functioning metro linked with Caracas metro. In every train we boarded, we have seen posters of two new railway lines and other associated service linkages. I have attached the map of existing and under construction of railway network here. Truly, on the trains, we have seen how committed the government in extending the rail service for the needs of the people.

One of the lasting legacies of Chavez is completion of passenger train service connecting southern end of Caracas to town of Cua (Miranda) – 30 minute ride.  As we traveled from Caracas to Ocumare (in Aragua state), we have seen the progress of interstate railway network that would start from Caracas and connect major cities in West of the Country. It was stated the Venezuelan government in the last 2 decades has built MORE railway network than 4 decades of pacted democracy of 1958-1998.

Part of bigger railway network project, near Maracay (Aragua)

Part of bigger railway network project, near Maracay (Aragua)

 

Having said that, metro only gives access to major suburbs of Caracas. Historically, barrios (shanty towns) of Caracas on perched on many hills around the city do not have good access to centre of Caracas. Private buses do serve these communities but the journeys are very long – let’s say around 2-3 hours. As we headed to ELAM (Medicine School) in far eastern Mariches suburb, there was MetroCable Service. MetroCable is a gondola lift system which is very effective and environmentally and urban friendly public transport link.

MetroCable connectin Petare to Mariches

If you oberve the photo, notice that MetroCable do not require wholescale of eviction of residents as towers occupy less space. A journey from Palo Verde to Mariches used to take 2 hours if you use the ground transportation as there are so many stops and winding roads on the hills. MetroCable cuts down the time to 20 minutes! The turnover of the gondola unit is high. A journey on MetroCable gives everyone true appreciation of the vastness of Caracas and people living in the barrios.

Barrios occupying on the hills

Barrios occupying on the hills

What we have seen is one example of MetroCable. There is one more line connecting San Agustin which is located towards centre of city. Essentially, we have seen the government closing the gap for the poor to access the city. More importantly, I was informed for the construction and subsequently the maintenance of these links involved knowledge transfer. It is very important as country must have technological know how to maintain the system without depending on outsiders.

In terms of buses, it gets bit complicated. There are so many buses and they operate in supposed cooperatives (Well, the owners tend to subcontract the buses to everyone). Government finds it difficult to control and regulate private buses as any harsh moves would leave people in Caracas stranded. Government has bought new and modern bus and provide free transportation in selected routes.

All in all, I am impressed with the level of effort the government has invested in public transportation. They have a grand plan of connecting every part of the country with railways. This is to lessen dependence of private trucking companies and buses. When I saw the MetroCable, I truly understood why this project is revolutionary in its own sense. Bringing poor to formerly exclusive rich areas and breaking down barriers between rich and poor

What did we learn here?

  • Government is fully committed to invest in public transportation
  • In less than 2 decades, the revolutionary government has built more railway networks than 40 years between 1958 and 1998
  • MetroCable is innovative, urban and environmentally friendly network connecting previously off-grid communities with Caracas
  • Having said that, railway expansion has bit delays and are with problems.
  • Metro Caracas seems to having an issue of overcapacity as it was designed for much smaller population
  • Management of bus networks has been fraught due to strong powers of private buses.

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Venezuela – Otra Malasia & Quick History

As I was landing to Caracas airport at Maiquieta, I was fortunate to see a glimpse of neighboring city of Catia. I saw the green mountains, barrios next door to well developed buildings. Indeed, Venezuela was land of contrast.

As the oil boom exploded, rural side was neglected. As a result, thousands moved to the city to find better prospects. However, they found none and poor built homes are lasting legacy of failed prospects.

As the oil boom exploded, rural side was neglected. As a result, thousands moved to the city to find better prospects. However, they found none and poor built homes are lasting legacy of failed prospects.

Upon my arrival, I was greeted by my tour guide and we waited for our last Australian delegate. We waited at a coffee shop and I got a rough idea of multiculturalism in Venezuela. We have the mestizos, Afro Venezuelans, fair looking, Chinese Venezuelans and Jewish people. Caracas airport, in my opinion, a combination of 2000s and 1970s architecture.

As we traveled to Caracas, we went through modern tunnels and viaducts (massive engineering feats in the world back in 50s). We also had more glimpses of the barrios shantytowns on the hills separating the airport and Caracas.

Caracas is separated from the coast by mountains that soar nearly 3000 metres. The highway from airport to Caracas was the mostly costliest project in World in 1950s

Caracas is separated from the coast by mountains that soar nearly 3000 metres. The highway from airport to Caracas was the mostly costliest project in World in 1950s

Part of the engineering feat of building the highway in 1950s

Part of the engineering feat of building the highway in 1950s

The moment we arrive in Caracas, I realized another version of Kuala Lumpur appeared. Tall buildings, clogged roads and even design of buildings and overpass reminded in Malaysia. There is one key difference, Venezuelans drive on left – we need some adjusting.

After quickly settling down at our house, we were briefed on our itinerary for the brigade. Our itinerary constantly changed or modified as this is a norm in Venezuela.

The brigade kickstarted with short history lesson. A university Preventative Medicine Director grounded us the background context of Venezuela. Ever since Venezuela was colon used by Spain, it was deemed as peripheral territory. This is because unlike colonies like Argentina, Bolivia etc, Venezuela did not have much to offer. This meant the church had less control on Venezuelan society. Hence, Venezuela from various migrant backgrounds were inter married easily. This was critical for the fight of Independence by Latin American Hero No 1, Venezuelan Simon Bolivar. Venezuela has three days of independences-1810,1811 and 1836. Venezuela, the most closest Spain colony to Spain, was threatened and attacked by Spain. Simon Bolivar had three dreams:

  • Independence
  • Continental Unity & Integration
  • Anti-Imperialism as he foresaw threat of rising United StatesAfter Simon Bolivar dream to unite South America failed, Venezuela experienced years of chaos.

Then came the oil. It changed everything and Venezuela became very strategic. In the Early 1900s to WW2, Venezuela was dominated by dictatorships. Early era of dictatorships pretty much gave up most of the oil reserves to hands of foreign interests.A brief social democrat revolution in 1945 opened a chance of democracy and dignified living. It was quickly ended by another pro American coup.

Venezuelan people rose up and dictatorship was replaced by pacted democracy ( a rotation of power between two parties). Venezuela was having good times though not many benefited. All came to an end when neoliberalism was introduced in 1989. 3000 people killed in 4 days when they resisted neoliberalism.

This led Chavez stage a failed coup in 1992. Though he failed, he became hero as he assumed responsibility of the coup and stating the his objectives momentarily failed. Pacted democracy crumbled in 1998 when Chavez elected. Immediately, he and many people worked on a new Constitution to build a new state. Once approved, Chavez government introduced reforms to bring about healthier, educated and dignified people. However, he was confronting many oligarchic powers.

Two coups against Chavez in 2002 were attempts to finish off the social democratic experiences. They failed due to massive popular support Chavez had.
Subsequently, the revolution deepened with increased popular welfare missions, changing economic and political structure s and recapturing the essence of Venezuelan culture.

The revolution was not without problems and Chavez was leading the show big time. This became problem when Chavez succumbed to cancer in 2013. Perceiving weaknesses in new Maduro government, Venezuelan opposition groups, business class and international allies have stepped up political and economic war.

Venezuela is at critical time with regular shortages, fast inflation and economy at a terminal crisis. With this understanding, we were ready to go more in depth in coming days.

What did we learn here?

  • Venezuela is the centre of fight between haves and have nots
  • Historical neglect of the countryside brought up the huge slums (barrios) in Caracas
  • Venezuela today is recapturing the dream of Simon Bolivar of reuniting the continent in one banner
  • Venezuela is working to reverse the centuries of inequality and dispossession
  • While it made significant inroads to reversing inequality and bringing more inclusive politics, the revolution has stepped on many toes of big business, oligarchs and old political elite
  • At present, Venezuela is facing an economic crisis with high inflation, shortages, hoarding and other matters. They needs to be fixed soon, if not, the revolution could be terminated after 2016.

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Three events that shook Venezuelan pacted democracy: Conclusion

Part IV: Perez’s Impeachment and where is CAP now?

After these two coups, CAP lost the support of his party members, AD. His opponents began their campaign to discredit CAP by specifically focusing on mismanagement of ‘partida secreta’ funds (presidential discretionary funds). La Causa R and Jose Vicente Rangel (future VP under Chavez)-journalist- joined this campaign by denouncing on CAP, minister of secretariat to the president and minister of interior relations on the funds issue. Soon, private sectors, COPEI, mass media and even members of AD joined this campaign. Perez and his supporters claimed the money ($17 million) were utilized to support Nicaraguan electoral process in 1990. At the end of 1992, a request of trial was submitted to Supreme Court. Ramon Escobar Salom (public prosecutor) presented the mismanagement of funds to the Supreme Court on 20th March 1993. By May, Supreme Court ordered a trial against CAP and partners. On 21st May 1993, CAP was suspended from office (as Venezuelan Congress voted for suspension). Supreme Court proceeded to prosecute him. Octavio Lepage took over the presidency till 5th June. He was later succeeded by Ramon Jose Velasquez (historian). On 31st August 1993, CAP was barred from returning to office as the Congress voted on it even if he is not guilty (after failure of Perez of refusing to step down.) It is the first time in Venezuelan history that the president got impeached from power. He was not found guilty for the embezzlement charges but convicted for misuse of public funds by the Supreme Court in May 1996. He was placed house arrest (28 months –first 10 weeks in Caracas jail) but this did not deter him coming back to politics. CAP created his own party Apertura and ran for Senate seat in native Táchira state (though under house arrest). In April 1998, CAP and his mistress were charged of placing deposits in US bank more than exceed public salary wage. He won the Senate elections in November 1998 and he received immunity. Supreme Court ended his house arrest and clear the charges on him (He got Senator’s immunity). However, time was short for him (From exile in Florida, Perez claimed Chavez would not last a year in the office of presidency).

Once Chavez was elected in 1998, a new constitution was drawn up to replace the 1961 constitution. This Constitution dissolved the Senate and replaced with National Assembly (unicameral legislature). In 1999, he decided to run again from his native Táchira but lost the seat. This cost his immunity. He first moved to Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) and later rotated between his homes in Miami, New York and Dominican Republic. In 2001, Venezuelan prosecutors charged CAP of breaking Venezuelan law whereby legislators need to declare their assets upon entry and exiting their public service career (he failed to disclose the bank accounts).  CAP claimed this amounted to political persecution and later became fervent opponent of Chavez. In 2002, Venezuela requested his formal extradition back to Venezuela. In 2003, Venezuelan suspended ties with Dominican Republic till latter investigates CAP conspiracy to overthrow Chavez (CAP made such comments when he was exile there). Later, he was forced to exile to U.S. On 21st October 2003, he suffered stroke which partially disabling him. In May 2004, his former house (held by his previous wife) was searched by Venezuela authorities during anti-paramilitary raid. His reaction (from Miami) was “We were expecting this because we know that there rule of law does not prevail in Venezuela,”. He claimed violence was necessary to oust Chavez and stated the raid was form of Chavez’s plan of distracting Venezuelans. In July 2004 (prior to recall referendum on Chavez), during interview with Venezuelan daily, CAP acknowledged that he is “working to remove Chavez”. He added, “Violence will allow us to remove him” and “he (Chavez) must die like a dog, because he deserves it”. Chavez accused CAP of plotting to assassinate him (CAP denies). In February 2005, State Prosecutor Indira Josefina Mora issued arrest warrant on CAP for his responsibility of the Caracazo crackdown (Plan Avila). In 2008, his former party (AD) announced that CAP will return to Venezuela. On 25th December 2010, Perez DIED at age 88 due to heart attack in Miami. Soon after his death, there was a row between his relatives of the place of him to be buried. His partner, Matos said she wants Perez to be buried in Miami while his estranged wife wants his body to be buried in Caracas (No updates so far whether this issue is resolved or not). On 26th December 2010, Chavez gave his mixed farewell to his deceased adversary, “May he rest in peace,” and “But with him may the form of politics that he personified rest in peace and leave here forever.

References

1) Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, Richard Gott, Verso, 2006, United States of America (pp.119-121)

2) Hugo Chavez :Oil, Politics and the Challenge to U.S., Nikolas Kozloff, 2006, Palgrave Macmillan, New York (pp.47,56)

3) The history of Venezuela, H. Michael Tarver & Julia C. Frederick, 2006, Palgrave Macmillan, New York (pp.145-146)

4) The battle of Venezuela, Michael McCaughan, Open Media & Seven Stories Press, September 2005, UK.

5) Carlos Andres Perez, Former President of Venezuela, Dies at 88, Simon Romero, New York Times (Americas), 26th December 2010,http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/27/world/americas/27perez.html?_r=1

6) Venezuela issues arrest warrant for former president  Carlos Andres Perez, Jonah Gindin, Venezuela Analysis,25th February 2005, http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/964

7)   More Anti-Government Paramilitaries Captured in Venezuela, Martin Sanchez, Venezuela Analysis, 11th May 2004,

http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/499

8)  Venezuela Suspends Oil Shipments and Withdraws Ambassador from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela Analysis, 19th Septemeber 2003,

http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/112

9) Row over Venezuelan ex-leader Perez burial rekindled, BBC News, 4th January 2011,http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12116729.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:100% CREDIT FOR THE REFERENCES ABOVE. NO INFORMATION OWNED BY AUTHOR.

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Three Events that shook Venezuela pacted democracy: Second Coup

Part III: Gruber Coup Attempt-Second Coup against Perez

Background

The principal organiser of the coup was Admiral Hernan Gruber Odreman with the aid of air force General Francisco Visconti Osorio (he was one of key members of Chavez’s coup in which his planes was not allowed to take-off due to risks). His other main members in this group was Admiral Cabrera, contacts from La Causa R and other civilians and got the support of remaining members of MBR. The group named themselves as July 5 Movement (after Venezuelan Independence Day).

Planning

The group spent more time on thinking what to do next after the successful coup rather ensuring the success the coup in the first place. The original plan was to create Council of State in which the members will form civilian and military backgrounds (the president will be civilian). This council will last year or so and plan to reorganise Venezuela. Unfortunately, the coup plan was hit by delays and in process, losing key members. The timing became high priority as the gubernatorial elections will be held on December 1992. The coup must be done before the elections to prevent the coup aims being misinterpreted. The month chosen was November 1992.

Implementation

On November 25th 1992, Admiral Gruber made a video of his recorded broadcast that supposed to be air on the day coup. The technicians were satisfied with Gruber’s broadcast after couple of rehearsals. The coup occurred on November 27th (launched early morning) but the coup plot was damaged with failure of participation of key members (breaking the promise). Admiral Gruber arrived at his office and expected this will be well organized coup. Gruber faced the similar problem with Chavez; communication equipment failure and he could not contact with fellow national conspirators. Like Chavez, he was isolated in the coup plot. At 3.30a.m., General Visconti forces seized El Libertador Air Force Base (Palo Negro, Aragua) with little opposition. However, some of the personnel defected to Barquisimeto (a base loyal to government). Mariscal Sucre Air force Base (Boca del Rio,Maracay) was later seized by rebels. For this round, rebels manage to seize VTV (State TV Channel) (in a bloody battle) in Los Mecedores and Gruber expected his recorded message will be broadcasted-hoping civilian uprising to occur. Early morning on that day, VTV broadcasted Colonel Chavez’s announcement that CAP has overthrown by coup. However, the images shown on television were flickered and confusing videos were broadcast (including Chavez’s rhetoric). Instead of causing popular rebellion, it confused Venezuelans what to do next and damaged the coup plotters reputation. According to Gott, the videos could be switched or operator might place the wrong videos on the machine. The rebels were successful as the many airbases were seized and the skies were largely under them. The coup was bloodier as there were serious fighting in Caracas and Maracay, killing more than 170.

CAP later emerged on television, announcing everything is fine (as the rebels fail to takeover another television station-Channel 10). Rebels Air Force strafed the Army barracks. Another section of Rebel air Force bombed the Miraflores palace, Presidential Guards Barracks & Building of foreign ministry. Government responded this time sending two F-16s chasing the rebel Air Force and subsequently attacking rebel Air Force Bases in Libertador and Sucre. From Sucre Air Base, rebels attacked Barquisimeto and damaging couple of planes. Government responded by shooting down some of rebel planes. In Caracas prison, inmates staged uprising. DISIP Caracas HQ was attacked by rebels. By midday, Gruber surrendered. Suddenly, air force plane flew over Caracas and gave supersonic bang (Gruber’s video, had it broadcasted, would mention this event as a signal for uprising). Another rebel air force plane was shot down over Caracas.   Elite sections of the Army, paratroops with support of two tank columns seized Libertador and Sucre bases with much fight. An attempt to rescue Chavez and his allies out of jail has failed. By 2.00 p.m. General Visconti ordered evacuation of the bases. He took his fellow air force plotters (92 of them) on Hercules cargo plane and fled to Peru around 3 pm. Other rebel air force personnel fled to Aruba and Curacao. On other hand, plotters (Around 1000 of them) were sent to the jails, joining imprisoned Colonel Chavez.

Consequences & Long Term Implications

Meantime, CAP lost his support from his Accion Democratica (AD) old guard members. His party members accused him and two other ministers for corruption. He was forced to resign and Gott dubbed it ‘congressional coup’ (Please refer to Part 4). Gubernatorial elections of the following week witnessed a decrease in participation for voters. Established two parties, AD and COPEI saw their presence reduced. Other minor parties like La Causa R and MAS (Movement towards Socialism) had their presence increased. Prior to 1989, all state governors were appointed by the president. Colonel Chavez asked his fellow supporters to abstain the coming presidential elections in December 1993 (which many of them did). The absentation rate was higher (40%) compared to presidential election of 1988-where Perez got elected: 25%. The main candidates almost received equal amount of votes, probably the first time in Venezuelan history. The winner was Rafael Caldera, the former president of Venezuela. Though he founded COPEI, he abandoned the party and created an independent group called Convergencia (allying to Moviemento al Socialismo (MAS)). Though Caldera was the clear winner, he had no majority in Congress (he got 30% of election votes) and he was forced to make alliance with AD. LA Causa R, radical party became third largest force in the country after AD and COPEI. Caldera recognized that he owed to Colonel Chavez’s coup for his successful bid of presidency. On 27th March 1994 (Palm Sunday), Chavez was released from the prison. In 1997, Colonel Chavez created Moviemento Quinta Republica(MVR)- 5th Republic Movement as a ‘campaigning organisation). During the presidential elections, both AD and COPEI struggled to field a candidate that could win. These parties shuffled their candidates as these candidates had very weak approval ratings. Finally, AD and COPEI decided to stand behind Salas Romer (Proyecto Venezuela-conservative group) as the presidential candidate. Chavez won the presidential election by 56.2%. His party (MVR) received 40.17% which overwhelmed all other Chavez’s allied parties. ON 2nd February 1999, President Chavez received his presidential sash and assuming his duty as the President of Venezuela. It marks beginning of 5th republic of Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolution.

References

1) Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, Richard Gott, Verso, 2005, Great Britain (pp.71-75,119-121)-Core of the article is based on this book

2) The history of Venezuela, H. Michael Tarver & Julia C. Frederick, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, United States of America

3) Foiled Again, TIME MAGAZINE, 7th December 1992,http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,977163,00.html

4) Air Power of Venezuela’s 1992 Coup attempt,http://www.aeroflight.co.uk/military/venezuela.htm

5) Wikipedia

AUTHOR’S NOTE:100% CREDIT TO THE REFERENCES ABOVE. NO INFORMATION OWNED BY AUTHOR

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