Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Challenging caudillos, changing Venezuela

Chávez hasn't got the courage to do what this lady is doing: debate

One of the main reasons why Venezuela has the disastrous politicians it has is the absolute lack of any mechanism for normal, civilized debate. It has always been a strong presidential system where the president does not have to answer to any specifics, just theoretically give some "report", report that always becomes a monologue.

We must challenge Hugo Chávez but also any other polician aspiring to play a major role in Venezuela to debate in real time, in front of the cameras, in front of challengers, not followers.

My Scandinavian, German or US American friends who don't know much about Venezuela will say: well, why don't you do it? They will silently think: "why do these guys ponder on such an obvious thing? Geez!".

Venezuelans and Scandinavians, Germans or US Americans who know Venezuela well realise that that is not so evident in the Land of Grace. There is no tradition. We went from being one of Spain's forgotten provinces to being a land of caudillos. Most Venezuelans know about the US primaries and the US presidential debates, but then those are one-time things. There is no parliamentary system around and frankly speaking, Spain's is not the best model. Venezuelans also know very little about the debates that do take place in places like Chile.

Most Venezuelans, although they would like real debates, don't demand them. Why? Because they think they would never happen.

This is a shame and needs to change. Rosales, who is not my take for a politician, demanded a debate with Chávez in the 2006 presidential elections. Chávez said he would not debate with someone who speaks worse than a 6-year old pupil.

Rosales may speak worse than a pupil, but Chávez should have been forced to debate with the candidate of the opposition, whether that person was a Rosales or a Pericles. The thing is Chávez has never had to debate with anyone after he became elected president in December 1998. He never ever debated, actually. Before he became president he went through a couple of interviews, but they were not that hard as he was just a candidate promising Heaven. He later had a couple of silly interviews as president where some journalists afraid to be "difficult", people like BBC journalist Lustig, asked such questions as "do you hate US Americans?". I would love to see Hugo being interviewed by German Marietta Slomka from the ZDF (you can watch her below grilling in German one of many politicians, she does so "gnadenlos", with no mercy):

Vargas Llosa once challenged Chávez to a debate, but Chávez was afraid and recanted after declaring he would accept. The Venezuelan coupster lost face in spite of all his excuses. He said Vargas Llosa was "not of his league", as if a president were something special, a kind of New royalty. It is not surprising, "revolutionaries" never engage in open debates once they get to power as they are as reactionary as the King of France.

Only old-guard Antonio Ledezma, very timidly, said on the aftermath of the Vargas event that he also wanted to challenge Chávez...and he did not have the discipline to insist. He did it so only after Vargas did, and he gave up right away. Are we, Venezuelans, so lacking in persistence to bring things through as Karl Marx said?

"Like most of his countrymen, he was averse to any prolonged exertion"

So far, the most persistent person to challenge a Venezuelan politician to debate has been Vargas, a Peruvian.

The only times Chávez had to answer "normal", not particularly difficult questions, were during two Alo Presidente shows: firstly with a young journalist from Brazil, who had not been "filtered through" and then when Rory Carroll, from The Guardian, also got a chance to ask a normal question. Chávez flipped out on both occassions. There also was an unrequested question from a journalist of Fox News, but the Venezuelan autocrat did not even bother to hide his refusal because it was "Fox News".

Chávez is a military. He is not used to debate. Actually, few other politicians in Venezuela, even if they are not military, can do anything in real debates. Why? Because they are used to the caudillo mentality. Even if they are not military, they think like one. We have seen that when some oppo leaders have been asked hard questions by US or European media outlets. We need to change that. Uribe told Chávez to "be a man and talk openly". I would not use Uribe's prejudiced tone. I would say "be courageous and debate openly" like the lady on the first picture at the German Bundestag.

In Venezuela as far as I remember we had only one TV programme where politicians were grilled, "La silla caliente", with journalist Oscar Yanez. It was journalist against politician. We have never had a real debate between a head of state and other politicians. At most we have had some monologues between parliamentarians at the National Assembly, if chavistas allow the others to take the floor.

We, Venezuelans, have to challenge politicians to debate openly. We have to demand from them to have the courage to answer in real time and not hide behind a programme like Aló Presidente or Plataforma de la Unión. Only if we persist until they do it will they start evolving into something beyond and above the XIX century Venezuela.

And here you get Sarkozy getting grilled on France 3.


  1. Agree.
    In France, there's a show called "90 minutes to convince" and it is a political fiend's smorgaboard: one candidate or President, 90 minutes, and non-stop experts debating him on every point.
    Yes, it's hard. They bring the President of the National Institute of Economics to challenge the President's figures; the head of research to call him out on slashing budgets; and so forth.
    No ads. No cuts. No editing. Just hot people-on-bastard-politician triple-X action.
    Sadly, we'll never have that in Venezulu, where the last debate I saw between Escarrá and some oppo lawyer was cut short by Escarrá challenging, "Let's go outside and I'll f*uck you up", with this segment repeated ad nauseum on La Hojilla and Mario cheering, "yeah! You show him! Bitch slap him!".
    I mean... Com'mon. Light years away...

  2. Never say we'll never had it.
    I know we are light years away from that but I want to prove Marx wrong.

    What we need is a group of half-way or quarter-of illuminati
    (in reality "medio enterados")
    who keep bugging politicians and journalos about bringing in debate as done elsewhere. We need to promote the idea not in a frenzy for a week, but on low flame all the bloody time.

    I was thinking about subtitling little by little just some pieces of those debates carried out in Britain, in France or in Germany, hell, we can even show some stuff from Chile.
    Venezuelan politicians will certainly play dead

    Playing dead

    but we need to keep the pressure until they start accepting it.

  3. By the way, Vincent, if you find one or two short examples of politicians being grilled on French TV, send me the link...perhaps you also can do the subtitling? I am sure you have the software :-)
    A minute or two would do. I think that if all those pieces are put together and sent to all kinds of people in Venezuela, we would start making people realise what we need...and push for it.


    Well Kepler,

    Despite our considerable disagreements I see in this post an emergence of some essential understanding in this area.I can't think of a post more relevant for Venezuela than this one.I would love to see you develop these ideas more and more.I would have opened my own blog to do so, but am laboring under a difficult time in my life caring for aging parents and grandchildren at the same time.

    Venezuelans are a naturally brilliant group of people who for the most part have had a deficient education .I have participated as a teacher in the programs of Machado( see above link), and can attest to their strength of empowerment for aiding students to reason in independent , participative,and in-depth ways.
    I would desire these programs for children and young adults all over the world.I know that some of the programs are a bit advanced but could be scaled to needs.Once children get the hang of it, they will soar.Actually most teachers will learn a lot too (while participating) because they will have to grow in order to help their students and participate in ANY way in the processes.

    Children learn extremely well around the ages of 10 and 11.At these ages they are beginning to develop an abstract mind, yet still have the emotional and mental openness to learn without much prejudice.I would start at this age.We are lucky that in Venezuela there is not so much PC, therefore educational programs that are truly good can still be started after Chavez is out.

    It is much harder to do something good here in the States( at least in Public and Charter schools) with the fated and evil Board of Education wrecking everything up.

  5. Thanks for the link and your comments, Firepigette.

    I think there are three topics here
    1) understanding the ideological evolution of communists and chavistas and their "field work" in Venezuela, within the framework of what Venezuela had (a land of caudillos, militaries and this fuzzy Bolivarian myth)

    2) trying to grasp how the general population was experiencing things (what education in very general terms they were getting and how they were perceiving their role towards Venezuela)
    3) ask for and propose some ideas about how to promote fair debate and critical thinking

    I will go into one of those topics next week or so.

  6. Great Kepler,

    I look forward to these posts.

    If I have time to find interesting links or if something interesting comes to mind, I will email you.

  7. It also have to do with the mythology of chavismo. For them Chavez is beyond a regurlar president, he´s a cult leader and, for them, it would just be stupid to debate with somebody like Rosales. They like to keep the image of Chavez as a unreachable person for the oppos but reachable for the chavistas... even if he is behing a bulletproof glass, 20 bodyguards and 5 snipers.

    About the debates, there was about a year ago a small show in "Canal i" with two journalists and two politicians. The show ended in less than a year, it was obviosly bad for chavistas and channel is owned by "boliburgueses"


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