An event 28 years in the making


It’s hard to overstate the significance of tomorrow’s planned televised debate between the opposition’s five candidates for President.

Venezuela has no tradition of political debates. In fact, the only Presidential debate I can remember took place 28 years ago. In it, Rafael Caldera berated Jaime Lusinchi for not responding to a letter he wrote him. This played right into Lusinchi’s hand, whose message was that Caldera was an out-of-touch crank who was more of the same. Some people say the debate sealed his faith.

To put things in perspective, Venezuelan politicians have been more willing to raise the price of gasoline than debate their political opponents. At least the price of gas has gone up a few times since 1983. The closest we got to a debate during that time was in the year 2000, when Francisco Arias Cárdenas…debated a chicken.

Kudos to the students of UCAB, my alma mater, for pulling this coup. And thanks to the candidates for playing along.

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      • Yup, only the MUD. Chávez would rather eat nails than debate. But they are all going, so that’s a big, big deal: Capriles, Pérez, Leopoldo, Maria Corina, and Diego Arria.

        • And yet, and yet, Juan: I firmly believe we should time after time challenge Chávez to have a series of open debates: “no seas cobarde, no te escondas detrás de los militares, debate sin monólogo paralelo, como lo hacen en todas las democracias del mundo”

          The worst that could happen is that he accepts, after all. That is the absolute worst…and then it’s up to our candidate to make the best of it and most likely s/he will.

          If Chávez does what he did to Vargas (but then he will have to make it more openly and during more time), we call him a coward.
          And people, even light Chavistas, will be put off by Chávez’s attitude.

  1. Kind of weird, I see videos of Lusinchi and all that comes to my head is the Radio Rochela impersonation.

    The way of voting in 1983… Se cayo la cedula. Simpler times.

    Hope that this debate fulfills some of the questions of many voters, including me. Kudos to the students for pulling it off. Cesar Miguel as host is a great choice.

    Don’t be surprised if a cadena appears in the middle of the event. After all, “los invidiosos van a invidiar”.

    • I was pretty impressed with the Lusinchi videos. If you didn’t know what came next, you almost want to go out and vote for the guy!

      • In 1983, I was two years old. In base of all the commercials of that time (thanks YouTube!), I wouldn’t vote for anybody then.

        Other questions: Are pom-pons still used in political rallys today?

        • Well, that’s kind of glib. The guy’s campaign was pretty darn good, and his message was spot on. He won with 56% of the vote, so he did something right.

          • Well, they did something right. They tied Caldera to Herrera Campins flawlessly. The black friday sealed the fate of COPEI at the time. More or less like in the 2008 US election, when the meltdown buried any chance for McCain and the GOP.

          • Lusinchi was a very good candidate, and had been a very good Congressman. Caldera, sadly, underestimated him.

          • Unfair – those are roughly even payouts, which would be fine if the probabilities were even. (And you know they’re not by the simple fact that you and Juan are both suggesting the same thing.) I’m thinking you should offer up about 60 beers to the one bottle of wine.

        • Juan guessed right. The airwaves have been expropriated for a cadena. Nobody gets to see the debate tonight. Maybe it will be rebroadcast, but it won’t get the coverage it would have tonight.

  2. I loved the guy with the Tom Selleck ‘tache at the race track on 3:20 of that Lusinchi video.

    I mean, wasn’t his slogan “Lusinchi es como tú”? I guess 1983 vintage adecos pictured the electorate as a fat fuck with a pair of binoculars and a gambling problem…classic!

    • An alcoholic who plays hooky with the public’s money and cheats on his wife with his secretary.

      Lusinchi’s may have been the only honest campaign Venezuela has ever had.

    • I wouldn’t generalize to a failure in democracy without first analizing the voting systems. Current electoral systems are not designed to select candidates that would make the total population happiest. Instead, they they are designed to seek the candidates that can make the largest subpopulation happiest, regardless of the remaining population. Even then, they fail in design when multiple candidates are more likely to divide the largest subpopulations, rather than the smaller ones. On top of that, when the government can cause such an overwhelming advantage or disadvantage towards anyone it chooses, it’s the current implementations of democracy at fault, not democracy, itself.

  3. I am impressed.

    The important thing about democracy, and generally a free society is the marketplace. Of ideas and proposals here. You are not necessarily talking to your “opponent” when you make your offer, but appealing to the audience that will buy it or choose another.

    Debate is more important inside groups who have to produce a candidate, a program and a common objective. They have to decide who will carry their offer, and that this person represents them. To a lesser extent this is true of whole countries.

    Chavez won’t debate an opposition candidate and thus shows complete disinclination to include anyone not voting him in the same society, namely Venezuela. He won’t address anyone not kowtowing to him with anything approaching respect, and in fact those kowtowing to him are also shown no respect either. The PSUV has no real debate and no choice. Just acclamation of the Leader.

    These things could be stressed as a difference in offering. If opposition figures in addition do what the PSUV has been only pretending to do, namely hear ordinary persons’ concerns and comments publicly, the difference will be more marked.

  4. Hey, guys, an idea: why don’t we write to chavezcandanga with @el_pais or @oas or the like asking if he will put a cadena while the debate is going on?

    • idea is good — if it was put in practice, say a day or two ago. No? After all, serious mainstream outfits, especially the OAS (as though Chávez would care), need a little turn-around, when monitoring/reporting on international events.

      • Anyway, I started doing it, although no OAS.

        For instance:
        “@chavezcandanga Dinos, Hugo: harás cadena para q pueblo no vea debate de oposición? @venevision @bbcmundo @el_pais”

        @chavezcandanga @mariacorina2011 @el_pais @bbcmundo Chávez, vas a hacer cadena cuando se de debate de oposición? #MUD #Barinas #Falcón

        • Come on, guys! Challenge Hugo to do it, to zwangs-broadcast some shit and blame himself, cc to your favourite international media outlet. This is the only way we can try to prevent him from actually doing it.

  5. That these candidates debate, makes me happy. Maybe the government puts a cadena. Maybe not. After the debate, the whole government and its followers will laugh about the candidates’ flaws. I don’t care and it does not matter.

    They will be showing who they are by laughing at the debating candidates. They will be showing that in the end, they really are the conservatives, the non-progressives.

    Debate brings Perestroika and Glasnot. And that, we need

    I only hope that oppo candidates are clear on what the debate is for

  6. For some reason this debate makes me nervous. Any minor slip will be magnified and taken out of context by Chavez. He might not be debating, but he will be there nevertheless.
    Anyway, hats off to the oppo candidates showing what democracy is all about.

  7. Saying the last presidential debate in Venezuela took place 28 years ago is totally untrue. The last actual debate was held by Globovision in 1998 between Hugo Chávez and Claudio Fermín. A snippet can be watched here:

    If memory serves me right, the other candidate Henrique Salas Römer never accepted debate invitations.


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