Padre Ugalde, you’re wrong

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Katy says: – Father Luis Ugalde, SJ, president of my alma mater, is a towering figure in Venezuelan academia. His life experience working with the poor, his willingness to swim against the current and his unique observations on our country set him apart from those who typically talk about Venezuela, including Quico and myself. It’s been a privilege of mine to learn from him in class, work with him in the UCAB’s Board of Regents and get to know him as a friend.

Which is why it pains me that his latest article is such a disappointment. (Daniel’s translation is here)

First, let’s deal with the legal issue regarding the people being disqualified from running.

Article 39 of the Constitution reads: “Venezuelans who are not subjected to political disqualification … exercise their citizenship and therefore have political rights and obligations…” (emphasis is mine)

Right off the bat, the Constitution is saying that political rights and obligations are inherent to all citizens that have not been disqualified for some reason.

Article 42 of the Constitution, the one Ugalde quotes, goes on to say: “The exercise of citizenship or any of the political rights can only be suspended by firm judicial sentence in the cases that the law determines.”

What does “the law determine”? One of these is the Organic Law of the Comptroller’s Office. It clearly says, in articles 103-108, that the Comptroller can disqualify someone from running for office, and spells out the appeals process to get that overturned.

What do I make of this? That the legal case is not as clear cut as Ugalde would like to think.

Yes, it is unfair, and yes, the law as it is written clashes in some way or another with the Constitution. But it is not clear that the Comptroller is violating the Constitution, as Ugalde is saying. Attempts to make it sound as such are disingenious and, in a way, insulting to the reader.

Which brings me to my other point. In the second half of his article, Ugalde proceeds to blast “the opposition” for not standing up more firmly against this ruling.

Ugalde forgets that the opposition is the main victim of this injustice. Every political party has seen some of its best people disqualified. Ugalde calls them on apparently not fighting hard enough, saying it’s partly their fault because they don’t have the guts to stand up and fight. This strikes me as inaccurate and grossly unfair.

An indignant Ugalde claims that “some people” in the opposition are making “calculations.” Blanket statements like that taint the opposition as a whole and do us all a disservice. If he thinks “some people” aren’t fighing hard enough, he should name them.

Furthermore, he simply does not consider the possibility that the opposition will step up the fight once nominations have been settle. Fighting for the rights of the opposition’s single candidate in, say, Caracas, carries more weight than fighting for the rights of one of the many pre-candidates. Once everyone agrees that Leopoldo is the man, they will rally behind him and it will make it much more politically expensive for the Comptroller to maintain his stance.

Ugalde continues to blast opposition parties and leaders, saying they don’t fight for the Constitution and for democracy – never mind that I have yet to hear the students, the real leaders of the opposition according to him, discuss the issue. He claims, with no basis, that last September “most” political parties had given up the fight against the Constitution, and it was only the students who decided this was a fight worth fighting for. Only then did the parties tag along.

Ugalde knows this is not true. He knows that some political parties in the opposition had to fight tooth and nail, against the current of public opinion, for participating in December’s referendum and against abstention. And while it is true that the student movement played an important part in firing people up, his political insight is far too polished to really believe the predominant line that “it was the students who decided to wage the battle and that everyone else followed suit.”

Ugalde’s article is part of the conventional wisdom in Venezuela that sees everything bad that happens, every disappointment, every false step the opposition makes, as the fault of opposition political parties. I expect that kind of reasoning from Marta Colomina, not from Luis Ugalde.

Venezuelans have a saying, “the just pay for the sins of the sinners.” It’s a strange kind of justice for a priest to be handing out.

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