Blog | Democracy and Dialogue: Venezuela Election Q&A

At the conclusion of the Carter Center’s work to help resolve Venezuela’s political crisis, Dr. Jennifer McCoy, director of the Americas Program, traveled to Caracas Feb. 24, 2005, to present the Center’s final report on the presidential referendum process. Before leaving, she and former Carter Center Caracas Representative Francisco Diez talked about the Center’s work there for the past two and a half years and the future of Venezuela.

What’s the biggest achievement of The Carter Center in helping to prevent and resolve conflict in Venezuela?

Jennifer McCoy: The achievements belong to the Venezuelans, not us. We’ve supported, facilitated, observed, and made recommendations, but every decision along the way has been made by the Venezuelan people, and the results have been brought about by the Venezuelan people. I think the most important thing that has happened is peace has been preserved.

Francisco Diez: It’s also important to note there are more and more Venezuelans taking on the task of facilitation and bridge-building between segments in conflict-groups like Aquí Cabemos Todos, Fortalecer la Paz en Venezuela, the collective group Paz en Movimiento, and Ojo Electoral. This wouldn’t have occurred two years ago with the same visibility, diversity, and energy that we’re seeing today.

What new elements and methods did The Carter Center bring to the table during the past two years to reduce political and social polarization in Venezuela?

McCoy: The first step was to establish the Tripartite Working Group with the Organization of American States and the United Nations Development Programme. This initiative paved the way for some very fruitful cooperation. We also established ties of trust and community among all sectors, not just in Venezuela but on the international scene as well.

Diez: We also realized that negotiation at the highest political levels, although vital, wasn’t going to be enough to heal political and social divisions. We found it was necessary to promote a broad-based peace-building process. The Fortalecer la Paz en Venezuela program worked with hundreds of facilitators, leaders, reporters, and various social groups in favor of peace. They worked to dismantle the “wall of contention,” avoiding bloodshed in the country, and they are the ones who are going to continue to help transform the social dynamic in Venezuela.

Which conditions do you believe are necessary to continue strengthening peace in Venezuela?

Diez: I think it’s an ongoing job, for the midterm as well as the long-term. It requires strong local actors who are deeply committed to democracy and peace and who are fully committed to their social responsibilities. The world has its eye on Venezuela, and it can be a model for social transformation in peace and democracy, or it can become enmeshed in permanent conflict with no end in sight. Tolerance, broadmindedness, clarity, and strength of spirit are required.

What kinds of problems did you encounter in your activities as mediator, facilitator, and observer, Mr. Diez?

Diez: It was a big challenge and the source of some tension, because a facilitator or mediator can’t judge, while an observer is obligated to judge, in a way. However, it was always clear to me I had two roles: first, to facilitate negotiations for as long as the parties wanted to negotiate-even though the topic of the negotiations was the electoral process-and second, to observe the process when they were entering into electoral competition, where some would win and others lose. I did this, but I know that in the eyes of some, the roles were not separate, but one and the same. The fact that I’ve been attacked from both sides, and still have good friends on both sides, is a good indicator to me that I did my job as an objective third party.

The Venezuelan political crisis, the escalation of violence, and concerns with the electoral process have been key issues at this juncture. Did some of these factors stretch or exhaust the capabilities of The Carter Center?

McCoy: The Carter Center has similar programs in many other countries, so we’re prepared to delve into these problems, understand them, and try to resolve them. That is not to say we shouldn’t learn from our experiences and always try to improve our work. For us, the most important thing isn’t so much The Carter Center in and of itself, but the people of the country where we’re working. The political crisis, the violence, and an arbiter that isn’t trusted by the public affect the people, not The Carter Center. We try to work with the people as much as our capacities will allow and for as long as national actors consider us useful. In Venezuela, various elements of the international community in general have been limited and don’t have much room to work, and this is true to a certain extent for The Carter Center as well. Most of these difficulties were resolved in their own good time, and we received a lot of support from all political and social segments over the past few years.

It is remarkable that an organization like The Carter Center has worked so closely with a hemispheric organization like the OAS. Has this set a precedent to build new conflict resolution structures on the global level?

McCoy: The Carter Center already had worked with the OAS and the UNDP in other countries in the region and joined forces with other renowned organizations under action plans we put together and continue to promote. But yes, the OAS alliance was almost unprecedented in the way we carried out our mission together in such a fruitful manner. It meshes very nicely with the model we promoted for Fortalecer la Paz in consensus-building and mutual support, rooted in working together.

President Carter, Dr. Jennifer McCoy, and Francisco Diez brief Carter Center observers during the May 2004 reparos (Photo: David Rochkind).

What are some dangers to Venezuelan democracy now, and what will The Carter Center do to keep reinforcing democratic institutions in that country?

Diez: Democracy is endangered when dialogue and negotiation disappear, when the checks and balances that characterize democracy as a system are eliminated. These are favorable circumstances for authoritarian, violent segments who look for openings to exploit weaknesses and don’t want to listen to the voice of the people or respect a country’s institutions. One of the problems for democracy, not just in Venezuela but across Latin America as well, is that the other side is always to blame, and if you place the blame, that seems to solve the problem. Of course, that isn’t so. You’ve got to have a broad consensus to move forward. That’s why the work that has been done with community-based groups, teachers, reporters, and nongovernmental organizations in the Fortalecer la Paz in Venezuela is so important.

McCoy: With regard to what The Carter Center will do, we still haven’t decided that, and my trip to Caracas will help us gain a better understanding of whether we can offer further help at this time. Francisco Diez is no longer with The Carter Center-he works full-time at the UNDP now. And although we’re closing our offices in Caracas now, we remain just as committed to Venezuela as we have been since our very first electoral observation mission in 1998.

Related Resources

Read more about the Center’s work in Venezuela »

Statement on Caracas Visit by Jennifer McCoy, Jan. 26, 2005 »

Observing the Venezuela Presidential Recall Referendum » (Comprehensive Report)

Observacion del Referendo Revocatorio Presidencial en Venezuela » (Informe Integral)

El Centro Carter y el Proceso de Construccion de Paz en Venezuela, Junio 2002-Febrero 2005: Resumen »


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