Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Venezuela Desperately Needs Democracy, Says Former Venezuelan Politican at GU

Venezuela is currently a country in disarray under the rule of former Lt. Colonel Hugo Chavez, according to former Gov. of Carabobo Province Henrique Salas Romer. In a speech Wednesday in Copley Formal Lounge, the former Venezuelan presidential candidate spoke about the need for democratic institutions to improve and a focus on strengthening local government in order to prevent a divided Venezuela.

Romer, who led the Proyecto Venezuela Party in the 1998 elections, claims that Chavez is losing respect, not just in Venezuela but also globally. This loss of respect, Romer said, can be attributed to the ongoing negotiations with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. These negotiations are increasingly isolating Venezuela from global trade and investment, which could endanger the country’s economic future.

Chavez was elected President in 1998 after his Movimento Quinta Republic), or Fifth Republic Movement, defeated the two parties that had enjoyed control of power for more than forty years. The VR was able to defeat COPEI, the Social Christian Party led by Pres. Rafael Caldera, and Accion Democratica (Democratic Action party) led by Carlos Andres Perez. COPEI had been discredited by a growing economic crisis. Furthermore, the two parties were weakened by the lack of a presidential candidate. Instead, the two parties threw their support behind Romer, who finished with nine percent of the vote.

“I was part of a growing regional party,” Romer said. “[But we weren’t successful because] the people were voting for retaliation against the two popular parties”.

Romer said the problems in Venezuela have several causes. The combined impact of falling petroleum prices, mounting foreign debt and the relentless assault of globally mobile finance capital have led to escalating inflation and interest rates. A further result is the drastic decline in living standards in Venezuela since the mid-1980s.

Romer said he sees Chavez’s decline as fueled by his relationships with United States enemies such as Hussein and by a dangerous guerilla movement.

Chavez was attacked in the media for traveling to Europe to meet with world leaders shortly after Sept. 11.

“The press thought he was acting like he was on some honeymoon, meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth,” Romer said. Chavez also went [to pursue] business interests. He met with Hussein shortly after departing England. These relations with US enemies puts Chavez at a risk of alienating risk Venezuela’s largest trading partner, Romer said. These negotiations between Venezuela and Iraq are looking to mend relations with OPEC and control the supply of oil and keep prices high.

The situation with Iraq has played a role in U.S.-Venezuelan interactions. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) stressed the need for the U.S. to eliminate Hussein as a threat in a recent Georgetown speech. If the U.S. were to destroy Hussein’s regime, the relationship with Venezuela, which counts on oil from Iraq, would become more strained. Venezuela is one the United States’ top foreign oil suppliers. This would give some leverage to Chavez in negotiating with Washington. The benefits for Venezuela would be continued US trade, investment and technology, which are greatly needed, he said.

Romer also saw the guerilla movement as a threat to Venezuela’s security in the future. The support that Chavez received from the Stalinist Communist party and the Movement Toward Socialism has led to the reemergence of military and authoritarian political figures in Latin America. The threat for a divided Venezuela exists as long as the guerilla movement exists, according to Romer.

The solution to reform in Venezuela, Romer said, is to strengthen local government. The Proyecto Venezuela seeks to empower local communities to have a voice in their government. While not giving any specific examples, Romer sees this strengthening of local governments as a guide to “make Venezuela become more mature and make it easier to elect a new president who will begin create social and economic reforms.”

Romer likened society to the human body, which needs a capillary system to move blood to all parts of the body. Likewise, he said, a country needs to integrate all parts of society in order for the country to run efficiently and properly.

The key challenge in Venezuela and all of Latin America, according to Romer, is “to vertebrate the country by strengthening local government. In order to do this, we must strengthen the economy from the bottom up.”

The speech was sponsored by the Center for Latin American Studies and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.

More to Discover