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Here's the issue. On what sort of planet does a strategy of democracy promotion entail both rabid opposition to Hugo Chavez's rule in Venezuela and the massive deployment of military force to back Iyad Allawi's rule in Iraq? I can see definitions of "democracy promotion" that would explain either initiative, but no possible definition that explains both.

UPDATE: For the record, I would agree that pro-Chavez apologetics are not what's called for here. Since the US military is not actively engaged in an occupation of Venezuela, however, we have at our disposal the option of non-intervention, which, I think, would be a superior alternative to Bushian coup-mongering and so forth. As long as Chavez keeps winning elections, then intervening against him only poisons our reputation in Latin America, much as we may be right and the Venezuelan people wrong in thinking that the path on which Chavez is leading the country is an unsound, authoritarian one.

August 18, 2004 | Permalink


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Well, AnagramGenius says "democracy promotion" yields "Practice moody moron". Except in Bush's case, I don't think it's practice.

Posted by: Tim H. | Aug 18, 2004 10:27:37 AM

Of course Matt, as you and everyone else who has thought seriously about Bush's "democracy promotion" policies have long since made clear, the real key here is that said policies are practically non-existent; while Bush may believe his rhetoric, that's basically all it is. As for any substantive coherence between these two particular approaches...well, if you define "democracy" in strictly "liberal" (i.e., non-populist) terms, and you define "liberal" as basically meaning "similar-to-America," then you can put them together. This approach isn't wholly without merit; lots of those who consider themselves democracy-promoters insist that it can only take one form, namely the basic free-market/non-nationalistic package exemplified by most Western societies. Chavez, love him or hate him, demonstrates that democracy is a little bit broader than that, suggesting that either democracy-promoters should fine-tune their rhetoric a bit, or expand their sympathies for all that is genuinely "democratic." Don't hold your breath though.

Posted by: Russell Arben Fox | Aug 18, 2004 10:37:31 AM

As I plow my way through Fukuyama's new work, I have to say that I'm convinced that state-building as he defines it is the key.

I highly recommend the book.

Posted by: praktike | Aug 18, 2004 10:46:11 AM

Russell -- Very nice summing up of the problem.

Posted by: Kyle | Aug 18, 2004 10:51:00 AM

Just two days after winning the recall fight, the Venezuelan government declares:The government plans to submit a bill to Congress that would allow the government to ban programming it sees as slanderous or an incitement to violence and to punish violators. The government is also studying the possibility of unifying municipal and state police forces into a national police force, wresting control from mayors and governors, many of whom are Chavez opponents.

Vicente Rangel said the government "will be more audacious, more effective..."...not sure either state is on a path to democracy.

Posted by: j.scott barnard | Aug 18, 2004 11:11:33 AM

Venezuela needs no path to democracy -- it was a US-style democracy for decades before the Chavistas came along. It's pretty clearly on a path away from democracy towards Peronist Argentina-style disaster.

Posted by: right | Aug 18, 2004 11:22:31 AM

"On what sort of planet does a strategy of democracy promotion entail both rabid opposition to Hugo Chavez's rule in Venezuela and the massive deployment of military force to back Iyad Allawi's rule in Iraq?"

One could profitably invert the question: what sense does it make to oppose propping up Allawi but support Chavez and his "Bolivarian Circles", as so many on the left are doing?

Posted by: Abiola Lapite | Aug 18, 2004 11:29:43 AM

i suppose all those european countries and canada that have national police forces and stricter laws against incitement of violence/slander are headed "towards Peronist Argentina-style disaster".
i suppose the similar move here in America towards collecting intelligence agencies under one umbrella is also a match "towards Peronist Argentina-style disaster".
keep matching...

Posted by: captainblak | Aug 18, 2004 11:32:39 AM

This post shows an obvious lack of thought on Matthew's part. The difference, of course, is that in Venezuela Chavez took a functioning democracy and is in the process of destroying it. And in Iraq Allawi took a country that was completely undemocratic and is in the process of creating a democracy.

Let's take, for example, the Freedom House 7-point scale for freedom (where 0 is "not free" and 7 is the most free). We have one leader takes a country from 7 to 5, and threatens actions that would take it to 3 or 4. We have another leader who takes a country from 0 to 2 and strives to go to 3 or 4. Yeah, they may both only end up at 3 or 4, but there is ABSOLUTELY a reason to oppose one and support the other.

Posted by: Al | Aug 18, 2004 11:39:25 AM

I can see definitions of "democracy promotion" that would explain either initiative, but no possible definition that explains both.

Perhaps because "democracy promotion" is the public face meant to provide respectability. "America promotion" is the more accurate term.

Posted by: 2shoes | Aug 18, 2004 11:42:12 AM

Chavez did not destroy democracy, he took a rigged system with NO democracy, and put into place a system where elections would be held at regular intervals, where those elections would be free and fair, and where an election could be called early with 20 (he wanted 10) percent of the populations vote. So don't give that BS about his destroying democracy, if you LIKED the apartheid state that existed before (and still does to too great an extent) then you're sick and immoral and theres no way around that.
You look at both these sides and side with the people who staged a coup. You side with the right wing racist and classist elite in that nation. STABILITY is NOT DEMOCRACY. I've never heard any of you crazy's list HOW Chavez tampers with Democracy. Land reform is not anti-democratic. Stopping vote fraud (which you seem to think is a good thing) is not anti-democratic. Nobody can actually point to anything undemocratic that Chavez has done. What he has done is try to clean up the truly MASSIVE corruption on Venazuela and he has tried to give a population that was locked into a permanent caste system based almost entirely on race and money some hope. Like I've said before, people like Matt look at this guy and say "oh dear god, he's letting the poor people get uppity!". I look at him and wish we had a leader with half that courage and determination. If chavex were the man you all say he was, his enemies would be too busy being dead to have started a referendum.

Posted by: soul | Aug 18, 2004 12:14:56 PM

By the way, if you think this media bill is undemocratic, why don't you actually go read up on the Venezuelan media. You can't hide behind freedom of the press if you're OWNED by a man's political enemies. That's not a free media, that is a one sided propaganda campaign
For the record, Democracy means you elect your leaders It doesn't mean that you have the right to buy up every media company in the country and only put out anti-chavez BS. It doesn't mean you get to own all the land you want in the country. It just means you get to vote and that vote is counted fairly. NOBODY has ever made any real accusations that chavez hasn';t allowed that.
Disagreeing with someone's policies doesn't make them a tyrant. A Tyrant murders and rapes. A tyrant jails his enemies and tortures them. a tyrant does not allow his political opponents to hold a referendum against him. The fact that this vote was held and certified means everything you say is irrelevant bitching by the side that lost.
It just always amazes me that you people HATE Chavez when you give Putin a total pass. Like I said above, it's all about hwo they impact business. Putin lets them do whatever they want, Chavez protects his people. That's why you hate him. Stop lying about him being "undemocratic" and tell the truth: You hate him because he doesn't let the rich do whatever they want.

Posted by: Soul | Aug 18, 2004 12:22:27 PM

It just means you get to vote and that vote is counted fairly.

Really? So, according to you, I guess our First Amendment is completely irrelevant to our democracy, as long as our votes are counted fairly.

Maybe I'm experiencing nostaligia for a time that never was, but I always thought the left wing used to be interested in things like civil liberties. Apparently not any more.

Posted by: Al | Aug 18, 2004 12:42:23 PM

I somewhat agree with Soul. Chavismo is in fact pretty similar to Peronism but what many seem to be unable to understand is that the most important fact is NOT the authoritarian tendencies of the movements (much less pronounced in Chavez, in fact) but the social class dynamics of the process. It's true that Venezuela was a functioning democracy before Chavez, but it's still a functioning democracy and there are no signs that it will stop being one soon. As for the press law and control of police forces I would strongly recommend to watch the documentary "Claves del LLaguno". After watching police officers shooting with M-16 at pro-Chavez demonstrators and the TV networks denying that any chavista had been shot (despite several fatal victims), you see that it's a whole different ballgame there. If you think Fox News is partisan, believe me, Venevision makes look them look like the poster boys for even-handedness.

Posted by: Carlos | Aug 18, 2004 12:45:37 PM

Soul suggests: "You can't hide behind freedom of the press if you're OWNED by a man's political enemies."

Er, yes. Yes you can. That's what the whole "free" part of "a free press" refers to.

Pro-reform media outlets are not exactly an unknown animal in any corner of the world. If Venezuela is lacking, perhaps Chavez's efforts would be better spent creating a few? Because sooner or later, the wheel will turn, and the Chavistas will find those selfsame laws pointed at them.

Posted by: Doctor Memory | Aug 18, 2004 1:11:35 PM

Carlos, see "Cual Revolucion" for another perspective on shootings by Chavistas that, even when caught on tape, they go unpunished. There are probably violent people on both sides.

As to the Chavista that showed up in this thread, I won't even bother trying to respond because there's only black and white for those folks. There's no middleground. You're either with the revolution or your not. Unfortunately, that kind of all or nothing attitude is what's going to destroy Venezuela. --s

Posted by: j.scott barnard | Aug 18, 2004 1:16:45 PM

it was a US-style democracy for decades before the Chavistas came along.

It was a Bush-style 'democracy', you mean: entrenching the power of the wealthy and the corporate media.

Anyway, the Bush position is quite consistent: they put a CIA asset in charge of Iraq, and would like a CIA asset in charge of Venezuela.

Posted by: ahem | Aug 18, 2004 1:24:45 PM

Ten years ago, Venezuela was the most functional democracy in South America. Sure, it had social problems that needed addressing but smashing the entire party and political system was a drastic mistake. Again, anyone who's studied Peron knows exactly what I'm talking about.

Someone name a single Latin American president who has been elected through cult-of-personality-politics and not subsequently destroyed whatever democracy the country had: Cardenas, Peron, Fujimori, Menem. This is the pattern that Chavez fits into perfectly, and the result is going to be terrible for Venezuelans.

Posted by: right | Aug 18, 2004 1:29:20 PM

We hate Chavez because he believes in being part of OPEC!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Rob | Aug 18, 2004 2:06:50 PM

Um, Abiola, you've really missed the point. Matt is not saying that these two stances are mutually exclusive; he is saying that you cannot hold both of those stances in the name of a single ideal of "democracy promotion." Perhaps if you saw the possibility for some shades of grey between supporting a coup and supporting the elected leader, you might be able to make stronger arguments than a pithy "reversal" which is actually more of a reduction.

Posted by: neil | Aug 18, 2004 2:31:47 PM

First, unless the date for Iraqi elections slips badly past January, to say that we're massively backing "Allawi's regime" seems a misleading to describe our goals right now in Iraq. Better to say we're trying to ensure effective central state authority so that the elected government will actually have a chance to govern in 2005. If we were trying to support Allawi in power indefinitely that would be one thing, but right now he has a 5 to 6 month sell-by date.

Second the Bush administration (and the New York Times ed board!) had a bad bobble during the April 2002 coup, but since then their policy (along with Jimmy Carter!) seems to have been the reasonable one of supporting the constitutionally prescribed referendum option as a way to resolve the situation one way or another in a legal and legitimate way (not "rabid coup mongering.") It's in now way perfect since Chavez will now use his victory to continue to hollow out what's left of Venezuala democracy, but it seems the best way to have handled a bad situation. A lot like Iraq in that way.

Posted by: rd | Aug 18, 2004 3:03:50 PM

J.Scott, my point was not to deny that some chavistas are violent (and that to some extent the government may protect them) but to stress that the behavior of the TV networks and some police forces is so extreme that is difficult to imagine unless you actually see it. As for Right's post my answer is that Venezuela never had the most functional democracy in the region. It had a functioning democracy that systematically misused resources, wasted the oil income and esentially cheated the poorest part of the population. It couldn't last forever and it didn't. Don't blame Chavez for the monumental imcompetence of his predecessors and the venezuelan elites in general. As for the idea that Perón "destroyed" Argentina's democracy, ¿Is it a joke? Argentina had been ruled by the Armed Forces for a decade when Perón became a popular figure. Although Perón tactics were truly dictatorial (differently from Chavez) the long sucession of military coups after him was really a consequence of his opponents failure to win elections. It was the inability of the upper classes to previously integrate the working class and to accept the new political weight of that class once Peron appeared which encouraged them to provoke coups. I'm no chavista (he seems a pretty poor president to me) but to call him a future dictator seems a huge stretch to me.

Posted by: Carlos | Aug 18, 2004 3:21:36 PM

I'm no chavista (he seems a pretty poor president to me) but to call him a future dictator seems a huge stretch to me.

Exactly. If he's a poor President, well...that's the Venezuelan people's mistake to make. Let them make it. There is no justification for international intervention, in any lesser or greater form, at this time.

Posted by: 2shoes | Aug 18, 2004 3:38:35 PM

The last The Economist had its share of usual carping about Chavez, and results of opinion polls about the democracy across Latin America.

Venezuela topped the list in two categories: the percentage of people who believe that democracy is superior to other political systems, and the percentage of people that are satisfied with the way democracy functions in their country.

Given that the latter percentage was 70+, one should hesitate before claiming that Chavez reforms are anti-democratic. Take packing of the Supreme Court. Before it was done, this august body threw out convictions of the liders of the military coup in spite of their obvious culpability. Once the court is so unfair, people do not perceive court packing as damaging the democracy, and rightly so.

Another tidbit from The Economist: Chavez is a demagogic populists who props his popularity with public money, which results in an enormous budget deficit. Actually, this deficit is a tad above 5%, while ours is tad below 5%.

Posted by: piotr | Aug 18, 2004 5:25:11 PM

Could somebody explain the Chávez-Perón comparison to me please?

Ok, they're both populists of a sort, but Perón's populism was directed against "foreign capitalists." His program relied on lowering taxes for the general population, providing subsidized services to the poor and working class, and paying for it all with predatory tariffs on the country's only source of foreign exchange, beef exports. Within a few years, the beef export industry had been destroyed and the mobilized working class wouldn't allow any reduction in the subsidies provided by the state. Even before Evita died in 1951, the economic model had entered into crisis, and Perón's eventual overthrow by military coup was a foregone conclusion. The subsequent history of coup, countercoup, and civil war stemmed in large part from the country's inability to come to grips with the Peronist legacy, both as an economic program and as a social movement.

Chávez, OTOH, has wisely invested in and reorganized Venezuela's main source of foreign exchange, the oil industry. Booming oil profits, a result both of good management and soaring oil prices, are being invested in health care and education for the poor. Last time I checked in on the World Bank and the UNDP, that's exactly the kind of thing development economists recommend as the best way to address gross inequalities in income distribution and to promote overall growth in GDP. Unlike Peronist economic insanity, Chavism seems to be sustainable over the middle term, and should still produce beneficial results even if the oil wealth dries up.

Yeah, Chávez is a populist and his commitment to democracy is less than stellar, but those who see him as nothing more than a demagogue are missing the point.

I know this doesn't address Matt's question, but for someone like me -- having grown up during the Cold War -- this kind of dissonance in US foreign policy is just par for the course...

Posted by: litho | Aug 18, 2004 6:57:40 PM

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