Venezuela: Interview with Raul Baduel

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Baduel in former times: Venebloggers apparently have some sort of inside joke about the former defense minister and Pikachu. Go figure.

On a personal level, my feelings for Chávez have not changed. But I am saddened to see many journalists, especially foreign journalists, reporting on what happened in Caracas, when followers of the president, in his presence, subjected me to a summary judgment, yelling “Baduel is a traitor! Up against the wall with him!” —Raul Baduel

“Nothing is as dangerous as leaving the same citizen in power for a long period. The people get used to obeying and he gets used to giving orders. Thence comes usurpation and tyranny.” –Simon Bolívar, cited by Cynara Menezes this week.

Most interesting thing I read all week: the interview in CartaCapital (Brazil) with former Venezuelan defense minister Raúl Baduel, whose “defection” — as in “going over to the other side” — from the ranks of Chavism was noted only briefly in English-language coverage, and generally in the most cartoonish of terms.

CartaCapital actually thought to (1) go to Caracas and (2) ask the gentleman why he decided to publicly urge a NO vote on the constitutional referendum.

Did your newspaper do that for you?

Baduel is pictured sitting behind his desk, holding up a copy of Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.

Perhaps it was because they did, and measured the efficacy of the man’s initiative on the ground, that CC was able to issue the most useful prognostication-interpretation I have yet seen on the referendum: The potential importance of the NI-NI (“neither-nor”) vote, expressed mainly as abstentionism.

Whenever CC sends a correspondent to Caracas — generally Cynara Menezes — they invariably come back with a rare glimpse of how things are more or less actually going in Hugoland, in quotidian terms. Buses running? Beer, beans and bananas affordable? What do the taxi drivers of Caracas think? What jokes and sayings have people come up with to describe the situation?

Is TVes, for example, the public channel that replaced RCTV, really public broadcasting, or is it all Hugo, all the time? The nickname it has received is que bien te ves — “How nice it is for you to see yourself[, Uncle Hugo.]” I have not had a chance to watch any of that, have you? I will try to find some clips and put them on an NMM(-TV)SNB(B)CNN(P)BS newsreel.

Rather than relying exclusively, or even principally, on personagems — those handful of “man in the street” interviews used to create the illusion that one is fleshing out and “corroborating” the abstract public opinion trend one is decribing — they tend to describe public places — markets, schools, public events, workplaces — and groups of people, relating to one another in institutional settings.

They also tend to try to bring the Brazilian reader closer to the reality they are reporting on with a comparative approach. Sample: Photograph of a large building in the foreground, with a hillside favela behind it. The building bears a huge billboard: “Vote for Chávez.” Caption: “Disregarding the billboard, does this scene look familiar to you?”

The personagem, of course, has its proper place: For example, the vendedor de leyes in La Guaira.

Most of all, if you have read CC’s dispatches throughout the process, you have not been treated to the boneheaded Manichaean allegory of Leftist barbarian hordes, marching in lockstep toward Chávez’s proposed one-party system.

Aznar’s phantom menace, in other words. “There are two, and only two, sides to every issue.” The usual nonsense.

One question for Ms. Menezes: Are there any sane Venezuelan newspapers, or journalists, that you recommend reading? Responsible adults not caught up in the “moral panic” wars?

Too bad CC — the little newsweekly that could — cannot afford to maintain a permanent correspondent there — and elsewhere.

There was this news today as well (A Tarde/Agência Estado).

O general da reserva e ex-ministro da Defesa da Venezuela, Raul Isaías Baduel, pediu hoje que seja realizada uma Assembléia Constituinte que reconcilie o país, após o referendo constitucional. Baduel alertou que o presidente Hugo Chávez poderá realizar mudanças drásticas com os poderes que lhe outorgou uma lei especial aprovada em janeiro. “Devemos ficar atentos para possibilidades de impor essas mudanças por um caminho diferente da Constituição, como por exemplo através das leis de habilitação, da parte das mesmas pessoas que propuseram esse engano,” afirmou.

Former defense minister and reserve general Raul Isaías Baduel called today for a new Constituent Assembly to reconcile the nation, after the constitutional referendum. He warned that Chávez might work drastic changes with the powers granted him by a special law passed in January. “We should be alert to the possibility of imposing these changes through other means than the constitution …”

Those remarks were widely covered in the English-language press. The AP, for example.

Early Monday, Baduel reminded fellow Venezuelans that Chavez still wields special decree powers thanks to a pliant National Assembly packed with his supporters. “These results can’t be recognized as a victory,” Baduel told reporters.

Does this give you the idea that victory will not be complete until Chávez no longer has those powers? I am not sure that was the thrust of the remarks. The AE gives a bit more of the quote (but only in chunks):

Enquanto Chávez reconhecia em cadeia nacional de rádio e televisão a derrota, Baduel disse à imprensa que na disputa de ontem “ninguém ganhou nada, ninguém perdeu nada.” “Esses resultados não podem ser considerados uma vitória,” afirmou o ex-ministro, após o Conselho Nacional Eleitoral (CNE) ter informado que os votos contrários superaram a aprovação por apenas 1,4 ponto porcentual.

As Chávez went on national radio and TV to admit defeat, Baduel said to the press that in yesterday’s dispute, “No one won one anything, no one lost anything.” “These results can’t be recognized as a victory,” said the former cabinet minister, after [the results were announced.]

Baduel, ex-colega de armas de Chávez, disse que o referendo de ontem serviu para reconhecer “duas Venezuelas”, cujo “fantasma” só poderá desaparecer com uma nova Constituição que volte a juntar as “duas Venezuelas.” “Convido o povo venezuelano a superar essa fase, unido ao redor da convocação de uma assembléia nacional constituinte,” disse, e em seguida anunciou que “nos próximos dias,” formalizará o chamado.

Baduel, a former comrade in arms of Chávez, said the referendum yesterday served as a recognition of “two Venezuelas,” whose “specter” could only be dispelled with a new Constitution that would once again unite the “two Venezuelas.” “I invite the Venezuelan people to get past this phase, united around the convocation of a national constituent assembly,” he said, saying he would formalize this request in the coming days.

The AP:

Baduel, who as defense minister helped Chavez turn back the 2002 putsch, said Venezuela can only be properly united by convening a popularly elected assembly to rewrite its constitution.

Fair enough, I guess, but I think it probably deserved the separate headline that the AE gave it, rather than being buried below the fold the way the AP did. If only because one read today, again, that opposition leaders are talking about a willingness to debate some of the proposals of the reform on a case-by-case basis.

And “there were fears,” from the AP, is Larry Rohter-style rumor-mongering — coupled with a post (or cum) hoc ergo propter hoc:

There were even fears property would be confiscated if the ballot issue won, and the Caracas Stock Exchange gained 4.3 percent on Monday.

Il y’avait du peur.

Fears expressed by whom?

Baduel may be somebody who has the ability to get things done, rather than just a symbol of “defection from the Chavist ranks” egging on the forces of righteousness to the ultimate victory.

A couple of remarks from the interview, in which Baduel also said he thought that a Constituent Assembly, not the referendum, was the proper way to go about things. And explains why.

The opposition boycotted the last congressional elections, but the opposition president candidate did poll more than one-third of the electorate.

If a Constituent Assembly were convene on the two-thirds majority principle — a lot of the turmoil in Bolivia deriving, apparently, from the simple-majority principle adopted for drafting their new constitution — could something get done?

Can Baduel get the opposition to start participating again? Opposition leaders were actually out in the papers today talking about being willing to discuss certain articles in the proposed reform, on a case-by-case basis.

CC: In your opinion, did the president make a strategic error in putting articles in the reform that were so unpalatable?

RB: What I sense is that this reform was not totally sincere with the Venezuelan people, because it argued for some benefits — such as labor reforms — that could be accomplished based on the current Constitution. On the pretext of giving more power to the people, he is actually taking power away from them. To change the constitution, there has to be a new Constituent Assembly.

CC: You and Chávez are comrades of long date. Have you broken for good?

On a personal level, my feelings for him have not changed. But I am saddened to see many journalists, especially foreign journalists, reporting on what happened in Caracas, when followers of the president, in his presence, subjected me to a summary judgment, yelling “Baduel is a traitor! Up against the wall with him!”

Success and failures of the Hugoistic endeavor so far, under “failures”:

We have not managed to reduce the levels of poverty in our country in objective terms. We remain in the social welfare phase. I do not deny that at first this was necessary, but we have ample time in power now to generate a basis for productive employment, to take the right steps toward inserting Venezuela in the information society. We cannot fail to see that, whether we like it or not, globalization exists. We are also still a [one-product economy.] We only produce petroleum, and we consume things we do not produce. We could have taken steps by now toward strengthening our industrial base.

Chávez is Lyndon Johnson, trying to keep the New Deal schtick going when it has clearly outlived its usefulness?

You hear some interesting discussions of the New Deal analogy here in Brazil from time to time.

CC: Solid evidence that “boots on the ground,” non-embedded journalism is the only kind worth paying for.

The sad thing is that it is far from being the rule here in Brazil, or the only magazine you need to read to keep up on things. Its staff is small, and it does not use the practice that one suspects gets used at other publications: Using pseudonyms to make the staff look bigger and more diverse.

(This is a venerable tradition of the Brazilian tabloid press, going back to the 1860s, I was just reading in an academic study of the São Paulo press at the turn of the 20th century. Damned interesting book, titled something like Arrested for Punning: The Journalism of Irreverent Narrative in São Paulo, 1900-1911.)

Brazil could use two or three newsweeklies of the same quality.

Instead, it has IstoÉ, Época and Veja.

Which are most often just dreadful.

From YouTube:

Comment by the poster: “TVes campaigns for YES, and the elections commission does nothing. What the hell?”

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