Political stability is one of the major movers of an economy since it creates a platform on which all the institutions of the government touching on economic or social agendas play their role. Many countries have gone through political turmoil in where dictatorship and political abuse has played a key role in abusing the rights of the citizens. However, the realization of the importance of democratic regime has made such countries to undergo political transition and embrace the rule of law. Venezuela is one country that has seen both sides of the political rule from the dictatorial rule and abuse of human rights in the earlier and mid years of the 20th century to the current democratic leadership.
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Venezuela is a country lying on the northern coast of the South American continent, whose history, politics, economic endowment offer a good lesson to behold. Having attained independence from Spain in 1821, the country has progressed tremendously both in political and economical platform; indeed, it is one of the leading producers of petroleum products. The political space in the country has never been a smooth one especially considering that, until 1958, the country was one of the countries where political abuse was rampant. There was dictatorship spearheaded by the then leaders including vincente Gomez, Eleazer Lopez, Medina Angarita, Romulo Betancourt, Romulo Freire, Carlos Delgado and Marcos Perez Jimenez (Davis 42). However, 1958 marked the transition year where the rule of law was adopted in the country with Edgar Sanabria taking over as an interim caretaker and democratic elections proper taking place in 1964 where Betancourt took charge as president elect.
This transition has gone far to transform the Venezuelan political and economic environment and currently the country is among those that are highly developing due to good government policies. Despite the prior abuse of human rights, there has never been set a truth commission especially considering that there was mass death of innocent lives during the coup detat. This paper will discuss the political process of Venezuela since the time of dictatorship including the main actors and tactics used to the time after political transition.
Principal actors and tactics used in the conflicts
It took Venezuela twenty-three years to move from authoritative regime to the rule of the law where democracy has been viewed as the way forward for peaceful coexistence. Since military took power and rested it on individuals some of whom that abused it, various institutions have been born to correct the situation (Leonard 1659). The death of President Gomez created many problems in the political arena which necessitated General Eleazer, the dictator to assume the leadership immediately (Ebel, Tara and Cochrane, 1991, p. 116). Although gaining support from the congress, his leadership was followed by much opposition from the citizens who demanded the dictatorship to be liberalized but Eleazer, realizing this, immediately freed the long-term serving prisoners who had opposed the previous regime and thus cooling off the political turmoil that existed. Those people who had initially exiled returned and formed different political parties, although the new constitution of 1936 banned them from engaging in political affairs.
The eruption of a general strike in 1936 was one of the most trying moments of the Gomez regime since it was so severe that it almost pushed the regime to the wall. This government had already refused legal acceptance on the existence of opposition parties and had witnessed the suppression of the oil workers who were among the main participants in the strike. Moreover, the leadership illegitimated the labor unions in the year 1937 claiming that they were involved in activities that are illegal and not acceptable in the nation. According to Davis (43) the president made more emphasis on the economic development by introducing central bank and other agricultural and industrial banks that were controlled by the government and also started new oil fields that led to the program of improving the infrastructure and development in the economy. However, the speed at which this was being implemented was so slow that wide range criticism was received on the integrity of the plan.
In the year 1941, the congress decided to replace Eleazer with Angarita as the minister of war, who came up with a new political plan different from that initiated by Eliezer. However, the escalation of the World War II interfered with the plan especially on the transportation system, forcing immediate establishment of new laws on foreign affairs to boost the exportation of oil
The legalization of Democratic Action in influenced members to form a local government and elections were later held in 1943 where the party gained victory. Following the end of the WWII in 1945, there was conspiracy intending to overthrow Medina, planned by the Patriotic Military Union and resulting from the perception by the junior officers that there was lack of professionalism in the power carried in the senior ranks. Betacourt was asked by the officers to be the president of the planned new government and immediately after the coup, two camps were formed where one (AD) was mandated to manage the government while the other (UPM) was mandated to manage the military, with the senior majors being forced to retire immediately from the military (Denova and Fredrick 94).
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In October 1946 AD‘s principal competitor decided to elect a governing body that would form a new constitution. It had to organize its political will to match with the existing politics and was fortunate enough to win the elections with overwhelming numbers in the Constituent elections and the presidential elections of 1947. The large victory of AD made its leaders to believe that they can do better and push more for the progressive programs even without wondering the actions of the opposition. In the year 1947, they promulgated another new constitution and the party had strong vision to better the conditions for workers and social justice in the country.
The popularity grew larger after the election of Romulo as the president in the year 1948 and was followed by the signing of the land bill despite complaints from the most powerful land owners who were against it. Moreover, the number of military personnel was reduced which enhanced the reduction of the reduced the budget allocated to the military. In November 1948, the UPM issued a threat to the president demanding that COPEL to share powers with the AD but following the decline of their demand, the government was overthrown and the military provision of Junta took the control in the government led by Delgado with support of anti-AD party citizens. The military of junta did so many changes in the government including the avoidance of the 1947 constitution and finally banning AD and persecuting its members. Delgado is assumed to have taken a more improved direction as compared to Junta members on matters like dismantling of the AD group and encouragement of transition from the military government to the civil government. He later assassinated in 1959, an action assumed to have resulted from public disagreement with Llovera and Perez who had in history advocated for the rule of military. However, the AD went on being stronger despite the underground formation of Frente Electoral Independiente party by the leaders of Juntas military arm, which they thought would help to win in the political arena.
Five years that followed witnessed one of the worst forms of dictatorship that created a lot of suffering to the people throughout the country. Pedro Estrada came up with National Security Police that banned any opposition where very many people were tortured and others killed while the political authority rested in the inner circle of people who surrounded Perez. In the year 1957, the opposition sprang up with the underground movement known as junta that was determined to overthrow the government. The electoral body in the 1957 was designed to remove Perez from power by voting him out but detecting the kind of embarrassment that could be faced; he cancelled the elections that were planned to take place. However, Perez Jimenez was declared the winner leading to a large outrage opposition from the civilians and the military. What followed was an attempted coup d’etat which did not succeed because there wasn’t any coordination between the organizers. As a result of this, people were much offended and went to the streets to demonstrate in the entire town and even the outside. The army, seeing this, feared that the life of Perez was in danger and forced him to resign from the government and exile from the country, becoming the last dictator running away from the country and leaving a legacy that involved wanton killing and wounding of innocent people (Davis 46).
In the year 1958 under the formed electoral law junta decided to convoke the planned elections in the later part of the same year, and since all parties that had contributed to the political changes did not agree on a single candidate, they decided to come up with a common idea so as to split the posts in the cabinet among the parties. The three major parties elected their leaders with AD deciding to nominate Betancourt, URD nominating Larrazabal and COPEL going for Caldera as their candidate, all of whom participated in the elections that were won by Betancourt. The inauguration of Betancourt as the new president in the year 1959 depicted the transition from dictatorship to democracy in the country history and a lot of reforms were expected to follow thereafter as people had the voice after all.
The year 1958 marked as the transition point of the country from political dictatorship to democratic rule (Trinkunas, 2005, p. 62). The three parties decided to create better image so as to market themselves to improve matters with respect to the economy. During this period the local industries were protected from foreign interference through institution of governance measures. Betancourt did well in his reign with new labor measures such as the existence of collective bargaining and right to association. Trinkunas (2005, p. 64). argues that the poor benefited greatly from the government’s provision of essential resources and services such as food, healthcare and housing, an initiative that led to acceptance of the rule of Betancourt by the people from all over the country.
The coordination of the main political parties that existed after the political transition was a key factor in the sustainability of democratic rule in the country. Indeed, Trinkunas (2005, p. 63) observes that the leaders of the three main political parties (AD, COPEI and URD) were very competent and used their political skills to control their parties and integrate interests for a sustainable democratic process. The coalition of the parties was however not to last for long since in the year 1960, URD left the governing body protesting the president’s refusal of acceptance of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. When the URD left the government, it linked up with another rebellious group and both formed Fuerzas Armedas de Liberation National (FALN) with an aim of overthrowing the government. Despite the fallout, the AD became even stronger than before Betancourt as new and better ways of improving their party were established. They provided better military services, better wages and salaries and amnesty to the crimes that were committed during rule of dictatorship. The Catholic Church by this time had expanded its political image in the government having initially opposed the dictatorial rule of Perez. Its main concern was looking for past enemies and uniting them and ensuring that the impending elections were not interfered with or disrupted. Despite having a weak treasury that had been inherited from the previous regime and which had slowed implementation of the proposed agendas, Betancourt’s successful elections of 1963 are claimed to be one of the highest achievement during his tenure.
According to Ebel, Tara and Cochrane (1991, p. 115) the country’s transition to a democratic state was facilitated by its richness in oil reserves and “institutionalization of a national competitive party system”. Being a country rich in oil and actually one of the leading exporters of the oil products, the country was able to collect enough revenues that were distributed to the civilians thus ensuring their living standards were uplifted. This distributive nature of resources influenced the harmonization of the democratic space in the country. However, the mainstream political ground was witnessing push and pull for supremacy as witnessed in the disintegration of the ruling party in the year 1967 due to lack of agreement on the preferred presidential candidate thus causing problems on the ruling party. These problems dogged the party into elections and it lost to one of the breakaway parties led by Caldera, who was elected as the president after garnering majority votes. What followed were major improvements in the social and educational sector with the economy being reported to be flourishing especially due to good policies that replaced the previous government’s policies that were seen to be archaic. Finally, bilateral trade was restored encouraging the Soviet Union and other socialists to contribute well into the newly established economy. The Country security had greatly improved and the president adopted pacification policy which legalized the major political parties of the time. It is in this regime that the history of violence is claimed to have been brought down completely in what is called death of Ernesto. The regime that followed after the 1974 elections led by Peres was quite unfortunate since inflation did set in and destabilized the economic progress, and thus leading to the introduction of the investment Fund to combat pressing problems.
Truth and commission
There has never existed a truth commission but currently, there has been a debate to start this commission to try those who masterminded the coup d “etat” that was not successful anyway. Following the political transition and until the turn of the century, Venezuela was seen as an exception democratic country compared to other nations in the continent and those years were taken as the time of the civilians of the country to heal from the atrocities they suffered from previous regimes (Trinkunas, 2005, p. 62). However, the head of catholic churches in Venezuela is more concerned in initiation of this commission following the incumbent president Hugo Chavez’s promise to have those who were involved in the coup to go through the process and be punished if found guilty. Chavez and his group of supporters have come to an agreement that they should create a panel that find out those who must have sparked many shootings of innocent victims during massive rallies by the opposition.
The pressure from the church leaders and other influential people are more likely to force the president to allow the formation of the truth commissions to try those masterminded the shooting and killing of people during the failed coup de etat and ensure that impunity is not condoned in the country. However, the preference of Venezuela to protect its independence and interests and enhance the living standards of its people as well enhancing cooperation with trading partners (Ebel, Tara and Cochrane, 1991, p. 116) may be an influence to the country from external interference in the form of commissions. Many leading groups for human rights in the country of Venezuela had already agreed on the formation of the commission so as to find out more about the deaths that led to President Chavez removal from power for two days. They require that the parliament must set a deadline for producing the delegates who will work in the truth commission. The setting up the truth commission would be a step forward towards ensuring that the human rights are respected.
The political dictatorship of the earlier years of the 20th century made Venezuela, a country with a lot of potential, to be a subject of human rights abuse. Bad political governance and corrupt officials made the country to suffer not only economically but also socially since the citizens had no voice and their lives were left under the manipulation of the political dictators. Venezuela had been seen going through the democratic process that is good for the people comparing to earlier years. Indeed the country has moved from times of dictatorships to periods of rule of law where democratic institutions have been active in ensuring that the political structures are functioning well for the benefit of the society. Although there are some flaws in the present system of governance there has been a great improvement.
Davis, Charles L. Working-class mobilization and political control: Venezuela and Mexico. KY, University Press of Kentucky. 1989.
Denova, Hollis Michael and Fredrick, Julia C. The history of Venezuela. CA, Greenwood Publishing Group. 2005.
Ebel, Roland H. Taras, Ray and Cochrane, James D. Political culture and foreign policy in Latin America: case studies from the Circum-Caribbean. SUNY Press. 1991.
Leonard, Thomas M. Encyclopedia of the developing world. Volume 3. NY, Taylor & Francis. 2006.
Trinkunas, Harold A. Crafting civilian control of the military in Venezuela: a comparative perspective. UNC Press. 2005.
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