"The goal is to defeat and displace the dominating class backing Chávez"
"With Chávez at the helm, they are the bourgeois controlling collective goodwill." "Defeating Chávez would lead to a continent-wide shift toward democratization"
This Chilean professor at the Political Science Institute, University of Oldenburg, believes that Henrique Capriles Radonski heads a "movement seeking vindication and not simply taking part in just the elections; they are out to displace, from a social standpoint, a sector overtaken by the state." He sees this phenomenon as "a class not comprising the state, but actually produced by it." It is evident that Mires is taking a close look at Venezuela.
You show a degree of interest over the Venezuelan case. What is the nature of your concern?
Venezuelans have not fully realized how important Chávez's victory or defeat is for the rest of Latin America. Chavezism poses a roadblock on the democratization process that began with the end of the Cold War. That interruption gave rise to autocracies like the ones in Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia.
All of the members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA).
If Chávez loses, ALBA will definitely crumble, as it exists only as long as he is president. It is currently a mere extension of Venezuela and, if it continues to exist, it will simply be a collection of truly impoverished countries.
But ALBA was spawned without large Latin American countries.
For the other Latin American countries, the beginning of the end, downfall or defeat of Chávez is important because it would consolidate the democratization process interrupted by the rise of those authoritarian governments. Therefore, I am interested in Venezuela not only as a country, but also as a component of the Latin American or even global context because Chávez is a piece of the alliance amongst dictatorships and autocracies throughout the world. With Chávez out of the picture, it is likely that democratic progress would gain speed over its current pace.
Don't you think you are exaggerating the strategic importance of Chávezism?
I believe not. If you visit Bolivia or Nicaragua, you would find that they are not only copying the model but also, one way or another, forging a kinship under the continental Bolivarian revolution. I think many Venezuelans just look at the Chávez issue as an entirely local phenomenon, but it is not.
So, have larger Latin American countries also been tempted by Chávez's model?
Governments debating between broader democracy and autocracy tend to drift toward the latter as some sort of concession to the autocratic sectors of Latin America and, I believe, the Argentine government.
Has the Argentine government fallen under Chávez's influence?
When Cristina Fernández resorts to the authoritarian terms she sometimes uses, she does so feeling she has support at a local and a specific international context. I think Argentina is indirectly taking part in ALBA, maybe not out in the open but probably in other terms.
If things play out that way and Chávez does win, would countries free of the stigma you have mentioned be affected?
Chávez is not as popular as before, but he is still some kind of lucky charm for a Latin American revolution that cannot seem to come to fruition.
In your last article referring to Venezuela, you highlight Capriles's virtue of having merged the topics of democratic liberties with social justice. That is the essence of his political discourse, but do you think it can successfully be translated into reality?
The major cities vote mainly for Capriles. Chávez has achieved a large percentage of support in rural and semi-rural areas. If Capriles handles himself properly within those sectors, he may very well amass the support required to be elected. But this analysis is subject to all sorts of contingencies. Chávez still has some substantial potential derived from his charisma, populism and expansion of the State, through probably unproductive jobs as well as patronage and opportunism. That is why I would be the last to predict a victory. There are, however, certain contingencies that may lead to a narrow victory by Capriles.
You also point out the opposition's past mistakes of not having merged social justice and democratic freedoms, stressing the latter. But should not all candidates explain that without democracy, social justice could not exist?
Exactly, but it is difficult to convey this message in the language of the masses, which is ultimately used in political practice. Capriles has combined both elements. I believe that in the past Manuel Rosales also tried, but he did not do so systematically enough to appeal to the numerous sectors excluded from Chavez's social programs. Statism in Chávez's government has also led to large growth of centralism, and Capriles is seen as the decentralization candidate in a country inclined to that notion. Those aspects favor Capriles.
Is the term "capitalism" so bad despite its global application?
The term "capitalism" implies certain connotations and, if I were
advisor to the candidates, I would suggest steering clear of it. The concept of "exploitation" has been associated with it. Long-winded explanations would be needed to address the concepts of "liberalism", "neoliberalism", "capitalism of the state". No candidate can do that. Those surrounding either one, can by for example stirring controversy within that context.
Chávez does address ideological topics himself.
From an ideological standpoint, Capriles addresses the big issues using plain language: electricity deficiencies, education crises and decaying infrastructure. He is capable of proving how Chávez has abandoned a large number of social sectors. Chávez, however, is blundering. He wants to win over the middle class ("I will help you out"), but no one feels part of the "middle class" any longer. In contrast, Capriles does not speak of proletarians but of their problems, and that builds rapport. He could use sociological terms, but hardly anyone would understand.
Is it not about offering the same as Chávez used to offer but, with regards to social justice, ensuring that those promises will be kept?
A huge part of the success of populist movements comes from the vindication they seek and how these aspects are truly felt by the population. Chávez has addressed serious and concrete issues, unlike Venezuelan politicians of the past. He is right about certain aspects he has brought to light, but he has failed to pull through. Capriles, in stark contrast, is doing what (ex Venezuelan President Rómulo) Betancourt did, winning people over once again.
According to you, demonization of the term "populism" has been an error because this concept is, in good measure, necessary, positive and desired by the people.
I have said this in certain seminars but, if I had to do it on a public stage, I would not exactly put it that way. In lecturing, I would say that politics is essentially populist, especially with elections nearby. The problem is that there are demagogic populists while others remain less demagogic.
Where does the limit between one another lie?
In their promises. When Chávez promises to save the planet, he uses demagogic populism because he is incapable of doing so. Yet, when Capriles bids to build more schools and modern roadwork, he would not be demagogic because his ambitions are within the realm of what is possible. The difference lies in possible and impossible processes, somewhere between fantasy and reality.
Translated by Félix Rojas Alva
José Vicente Rangel clearly said: "We are not conducting negotiations threatened with a gun in the head." He warned behind closed doors in the midst of the social upheaval occurred during the oil strike in 2002 and 2003. Dissenting Timoteo Zambrano answered back that no other option was available: "The thing is that otherwise, you do not negotiate."