Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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Preventing Political Unrest in Venezuela

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
September 13, 2012

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez talks during a press conference in Caracas on September 5, 2012 (Jorge Silva/Courtesy Reuters). Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez talks during a press conference in Caracas on September 5, 2012 (Jorge Silva/Courtesy Reuters).


Andrew C. Miller is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

American policy toward Venezuela and its tendentious president, Hugo Chavez, rarely captures headlines. But when it does, the results aren’t pretty. In a campaign spat this July, Mitt Romney called President Obama’s Venezuela policy “alarmingly naïve.” An Obama spokesman, in turn, labeled Romney’s remarks “disturbing.”

Obama administration officials would happily ignore Chavez if they could. They see him as relishing attention from “the Yankee empire.” With Venezuela’s presidential elections approaching, however, the administration might have to give Chavez the attention he craves.

The election, set for October 7, is perhaps the most competitive since Chavez took the presidency more than a decade ago. Chavez’s ill health has limited his campaigning, while his forty-year-old opponent Henrique Capriles Radonski has gained traction by running around the country (literally, in some cases) to show off his youthful vigor. Most polls give Chavez the edge, but surprisingly, Capriles has caught up to—and even overtaken—the president, according to some pollsters.

Will Chavez concede if Capriles wins? What happens if the results are too close to call? What if Chavez wins but dies shortly thereafter? Patrick Duddy, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, looks at these scenarios in a recently released Center for Preventive Action memo, “Political Unrest in Venezuela.”

Venezuela has a highly polarized political climate, which could boil over into unrest—and possibly violence—if the upcoming elections are somehow scuttled. Venezuelans have largely avoided political violence to date, but the threat exists nonetheless. Chavez recently warned of “civil war” unless wealthy voters backed him, and Capriles had to cancel a rally due to reports of armed chavistas threatening his supporters.

The United States would have trouble ignoring unrest in its southern neighbor. The instability would create new opportunities for narcotraffickers, hinder democracy promotion efforts, and put U.S. commercial interests at risk.

Duddy encourages the Obama administration to not sit on the sidelines as the election draws closer. It could, for example, identify actors (including opposition figures) that would face financial and diplomatic penalties for trying to scuttle democratic processes or inciting violence. The Defense Department could also leverage its Latin American and Spanish contacts to stress to “the Venezuelan military leadership that they is obliged to uphold their constitution, respect human rights, and protect their country’s democratic tradition.”

The outcome of October’s polls is uncertain, but the Obama administration should be working now to support a democratic and stable electoral process. If not, President Obama risks appearing, as Romney has said, “out of touch” when it comes to Venezuela.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Richard Cheeseman

    One way for the US empire to help prevent unrest in Venezuela would be to stop the official campaign to discredit the government, divide Venezuelans and boost the opposition. That illegal and imperialist campaign was revealed in the Wikeleaks cables. It was official imperialist wrongdoing in which the cited author Duddy was involved in his ambassadorial capacity and which he still won’t leave alone.

    The Obama administration ought to just keep its aggressive hands off Venezuela and professional imperialists like this author also should just mind their own business and let other countries enjoy their independence and sovereignty.

  • Posted by Javed Mir

    Let the political democratic process take its due course and that will enable masses to elect the leader they want. Maximum participation of the people in the affairs of the country will strengthen the future of democracy in Venezuela.

  • Posted by Venezolano

    I think the United States should get involved because Chavez is already given hint that he will cheat once again. This has been long over-due, the country cannot keep living this way. The current adminstration is out of control as far as basic needs, medical needs and plain and simple the insecurity which holds a dark cloud over that great nation. Chavez is a crook that buys the people and then doesn’t deliver. For god sake, he changed the constituion of Venezuela. Enough is Enough!

  • Posted by Venezolana

    Thanks Venezolano, easy for people who doesn’t suffer day to day the destruction of a country and the democratic values that now are history, to comment on issues with such lightness. Wondering, what kind of agenda these people have?

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