Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Hugo Chávez debate

I recently received the Winter 2007 issue of the Latin American Studies Association Forum, which is available online. It includes five short articles on Venezuela, from strong support to criticism. They're worth a look, as they provide reasoned, non-vitriolic analyses about Chávez's domestic programs (and how to measure their impact) and why people love him or hate him.


Justin Delacour 4:01 PM  

Don't you think it's a little weird for Jennifer McCoy to head the Carter Center's Americas program and, at the same time, vocalize her opposition to the Chavez government? Since when do the heads of election observer missions moonlight as outspoken opponents of democratically-elected governments?

Justin Delacour 4:32 PM  

By the way, I just read McCoy's piece; it doesn't come off as opposition to Chavez, per se, but she has expressed opinions in the past that really aren't befitting of a supposedly impartial election observer.

Diana Barahona and I wrote a piece about this a couple years ago: "The Carter Center's Jennifer McCoy: Can She be an Impartial Observer of Venezuela's Referendum?" (Forgive the error of calling McCoy a "University of Georgia" professor; she's actually at Georgia State.)

So far, McCoy hasn't done a terrible job at the Carter Center, but her dual role as an election observer and outspoken critic of Chavez is highly questionable, in my view.

Greg Weeks 4:41 PM  

Well, shoot, you need to read the link first! I've been doing other things while writing a reply, so did not see your second post until now. Here is what I wrote to your first post:

Good question, though in this particular article she takes pains to acknowledge both the role of elections and satisfaction with democracy in Venezuela (as measured by Latinobarómetro). She’s been more critical before, so I am not sure whether this represents a change of opinion or not.

As for election observers, in some cases like Venezuela I wonder whether “impartial” exists, or exactly how we would define it. I suppose “has not published anything critical or laudatory” could be one, but Hugo Chávez is so prominent that it is very hard not to have a formed opinion.

It also occurs to me, though, that having someone critical as one observer can be very beneficial if you plan on having a fully democratic election, e.g. no one seriously disputes the last presidential election. There are many issues related to democracy to be debated regarding Venezuela (and no, I do not plan on launching into them now, though the articles in the post do a good job of starting, so do not bother writing a lengthy retort!) but even those very critical of the government admit the elections were clean.

Justin Delacour 5:34 PM  

"As for election observers, in some cases like Venezuela I wonder whether 'impartial' exists, or exactly how we would define it. I suppose 'has not published anything critical or laudatory' could be one, but Hugo Chávez is so prominent that it is very hard not to have a formed opinion."

Well, natuarally, McCoy and everyone else is entitled to his or her own personal opinion about the Chavez government. That's not what's at issue here. What is at issue is McCoy's public writings. McCoy can't expect the Chavez government to trust her when she criticizes it so regularly, and often about things that have nothing to do with the actual legitimacy of Venezuelan elections. I wouldn't expect the Venezuelan opposition to trust an electoral observer that criticizes it regularly about things that have nothing to do with elections. Thus, I don't see why anyone should expect the Chavez government to trust McCoy.

Personally, I think Carter himself has done a better job than McCoy at distancing himself from the political actors and sticking to his role as an election observer.

Camilo Pino 10:39 PM  

Thank you for that link Greg.
I enjoyed Rodriguez’s piece about the missions.

I thought you were an electoral observer in Venezuela during said referendum. Aren’t you an outspoken Chavez supporter?

Justin Delacour 11:43 PM  

No, actually, I wasn't a certified observer. A professor of mine served as a certified observer for the Carter Center (and found the opposition's claims of fraud to be completely absurd), but I just went there to check out the political process overall.

Greg Weeks 6:38 AM  

Camilo, long time no blog!

Camilo Pino 6:46 AM  

Too much work. But really miss it and want to do it again. Will try in mid June. By the way, this site is looking really solid.

Anonymous,  5:17 PM  

Funny, the spring issue arrived in my mailbox a little over an hour ago. It has a short piece by Evelyne about LASA and political science.

I also like how the email telling me you'd commented on my blog came immediately after I'd posted a follow up comment on yours.

Greg Weeks 5:34 PM  

Mine also just arrived--I don't know why I got the last issue so recently.

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