Unhappy Birthday: “Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights” is Five Years Old

AP Photo/Leslie Mazoch

This month marks the fifth anniversary of Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. This would normally be a cause for popping corks and cutting cakes. But, writing this on the eve of the vote to select representatives for a Constituent Assembly that is not only unconstitutional but could disempower the Venezuelan people for years to come, it’s hard to be festive.

This anniversary message, then, will not be a celebration but rather a reiteration of our commitment to the Venezuelan people. Whatever happens in the coming weeks and months, we will be here, fighting for the rights of Venezuelans, and against the powers that seek to restrict them—whomever those powers may be.

Over the past year we’ve frequently heard—as both praise and criticism—that the blog has changed, that we now have a much more critical line on the Venezuelan government. This latter is true, but it does not represent a change, because our perspective has never been oriented by partisan political options. Indeed, the very first post on this blog back in July 2012, stated the following:

“Reality-based,” of course, does not mean that our facts or our analyses are always right. Rather it means that our posts seek to engage facts and be influenced by them rather than trying to select facts to support pre-established perspectives. And of course, “independent” does not mean apolitical. The contributions to this blog will be consistent with WOLA’s values of human rights, democracy, and social justice, and this is in itself a political position. But it is a non-partisan position insofar as it does not ally itself with particular political projects, parties, or personalities. Rather, we seek to call it as we see it, identifying the good, the bad and the ugly on all sides of the political spectrum.

On our first anniversary, in 2013, I further clarified.

“Reality-based” does not mean that this blog provides inerrant truth. We simply try to get it right using the best available information, rather than spinning difficult facts in favor of one of Venezuela’s current political options. Nor does it mean that our analysis will necessarily be “balanced.” If at any given moment one side deserves it, they are going to get more criticism than the other.

And this is what we have done. In 2014, when radical sectors of the opposition launched the #lasalida movement, we were quite critical of them, while defending their right to protest. That movement came approximately two months after Maduro’s coalition received strong support at the polls in the nationwide municipal elections in December 2013. In that sense it seemed to us like an undemocratic rejection of popular sovereignty as expressed at the ballot box.

In the past year and a half the same situation has occurred but with the actors reversed. In December 2015 National Assembly elections, Venezuelan citizens sent a clear message that they wanted change. Since then the Maduro government has consistently ignored that message, undemocratically rejecting popular sovereignty as expressed at the ballot box. They have used the Supreme Court to neutralize the National Assembly and the National Electoral Council to postpone further elections. Now they are calling a Constituent Assembly to change the rules before they get voted out of power.

None of this means we have “turned the corner” or have become allied with opposition politics. In terms of partisan politics, we should be considered fickle, untrustworthy and unreliable because that is not where our loyalties lie. Rather, our loyalties lie with the Venezuelan people and their struggle to defend their rights against power, whether that power is leftwing or rightwing, national or international, public or private. An individual or institution we praise today, we’ll throw under the bus tomorrow if they disempower, abuse or otherwise betray the people.

This blog is a thoroughly collective undertaking and I would like point to a few people who are especially important.

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz, Timothy Gill and Rebecca Hanson were my original collaborators on the blog. All three of them have finished their Ph.Ds. in the past year and are moving on. Hugo is in the process of moving to Barcelona, Spain to teach there. After one year as a postdoc at Tulane, Tim will be starting as an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. In the midst of a flurry of important projects, Becca will be starting as an assistant professor of sociology and Latin American studies at the University of Florida. I am thrilled by their success and hope they will continue to contribute to the blog.

Geoff Ramsey will now be my main collaborator, bringing his crack research and communication skills. He has already coauthored or authored some of our most successful pieces this year. Elsewhere at WOLA, John Walsh and Geoff Thale provide substantive commentary and feedback when needed, as do Gimena Sánchez and Adam Isacson. Kristel Muciño originally conceived the blog and leads a crack communications team including Loren Riesenfeld, that is always innovating and pushing us forward. Former Executive Directory Joy Olson was unfailing in her support. New ED Matthew Clausen has enthusiastically embraced the blog’s mission.

Venezuela’s foreign correspondents have become my closest interlocutors. Nick Casey, Stephan Gibbs, Josh Goodman, Girish Gupta, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Gideon Long, Nick Miroff, John Otis, Alexandra Ulmer, and Jim Wyss, always push me along with their questions. Andy Cawthorne, Josh Goodman, Andy Rosati and Kejal Vyas have become friends as well as colleagues. Hannah Dreier has moved on to ProPublica and we all wish her well there. I also appreciate the sustained interest in Venezuela shown by Jerome McDonnell of WBEZ Worldview and Ian Masters of Background Briefing.

My scholarly and activist colleagues provide pointed yet generous feedback. Carolina Acosta-Alzúru, Benigno Alarcón, Andrés Antillano, Marino Alvarado, Mario Arraigada, Felipe Cala, Javier Corrales, Mariano De Alba, Steve Ellner, María Pilar García Guadilla, Gabriel Hetland, David Holiday, Luis Lander, Luis Vicente Leon, Abraham Lowenthal, Margarita López Maya, Miguel Martínez Meucci, Michael McCarthy, Jennifer McCoy, Manoela Miklos, Francisco Monaldi, Boris Muñoz, Pedro Nikken, Dimitris Pantoulas, Francisco Rodríguez, Antulio Rosales, Luz Mely Reyes, Iñaki Sagarzazu, Ana María Sanjuan, Michael Shifter, Harold Trinkunas, Rafael Uzcategui, Alejandro Velasco, José Virtuoso S.J., Angélica Zamora, and Verónica Zubillaga. At Tulane Ludovico Feoli and Tom Reese provide consistent support for my work. Eduardo Silva provides extended pushback on our extended bike rides along the Mississippi.

We would also like to express our appreciation for our readers. We are flattered by your interest and humbled by your trust. The weeks and months to come are sure to be unpleasant. But we aim to rise to the occasion, contribute to the understanding of complex situations, and hopefully to the development of just and democratic solutions.

Please stay tuned, as very soon we will launch a shiny new version of the blog.