Strategies for building awareness for the potential of peace education in Cameroon Ben Oru Mforndip
Special Report
Has Democracy Enhanced Development in Africa? Conrad John Masabo
Permanent Emergency Powers in France: The ‘Law to Strengthen Internal Security and the Fight Against Terrorism’ and the Protection of Human Rights Lena Muhs
Women’s Political Representation in Sri Lanka: Leading towards Prosperity or Peril Pujika Rathnayake
Lack of empathy as a threat to peace Victoria Scheyer
Comment II
The death of democracy in Honduras Daniel Bagheri S.
Berta Vive Daniel Bagheri Sarvestani
The Persons Who Changed the Lives of Terrorists and Criminals Surya Nath Prasad

Teaching Peace from Tales of the City: Peace Education through the Memoryscapes of Nagasaki Patporn Phoothong
Special Report
Reflections of Refugees in Africa Wyclife Ong'eta Mose
Challenges and prospects of AU to implement the Ezulwini Consensus: The case of collective security and the use of force Tunamsifu Shirambere Philippe
The Right to Food Shant Melkonian
Freedom of Expression Under Threat in Zambia Mariateresa Garrido
Douglas Janoff on LGBTQIA Human Rights Luciana Téllez
Common Things: Communication, Community, Communal Peacebuilding Lina Patricia Forero Martínez
The political Crisis of the 2017 Honduran Election Daniel Bagheri S.
Research Summary
Water Security in the Sixaola River Basin Adrián Martinez Blanco and Diana Ubico Durán
Reborn Arunima Chouguley
An Open Letter to the American People: Political Responsibility in the Nuclear Age Richard Falk, David Krieger, and Robert Laney


Last Updated: 03/15/2006
(Not) Learning from the Past
Peter Krupa

Imagine a country with a lot of oil and a lot of poverty, where one political party has control over every public institution. That party is led by a former military man who was once jailed for staging a military coup. He has swept to power by condemning the political establishment and promising to clean up corruption.

This military man weekly appears on television to give rambling, 4-hour speeches denouncing the plots being hatched against him and outlining his plans for the future. He has noted that he may need to stay in power for many more years in order to complete those plans.

Meanwhile, citing external threats, this military man is using his country’s oil revenues to build up his country’s military, buying small arms, helicopters, aircraft, and patrol boats. In addition to building up the regular army, this military man has declared the formation of a parallel reserve force of which he would have direct control. This reserve force, to be the largest on the continent, will take the form of local militias made up of civilians trained in the art of guerilla warfare.

There is talk of making membership in these militias mandatory for public employees and those who benefit from social programs.

It’s an old story, practically a cliché, and one that repeated itself countless times during the 20th century. You can probably finish it yourself. Popular support erodes, rebellion arises, desperation sets in, totalitarian tendencies come out, the military is put to use on the people who paid for it, and 20 years later academicians are still trying to figure out how to stop the cycle of violence.

The easiest way, some of them always conclude, would be to stop it before it starts. Would that foresight were also 20-20, but at least now the world has the historical knowledge to recognize that countries following the above pattern are headed for disaster.

The question is if the world can ever bring itself to act before it’s too late.

The country now in question is, of course, Venezuela, and the military man described above is its president, Hugo Chávez. Among the socially conscious of the world, that name is generally associated with much-trumpeted social initiatives and alleviation of poverty - Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution. But put all that aside for the moment. Certain facts tell a different story, one that seems to be leading down a well-known path toward serious long-term conflict.

Fact one is that Hugo Chávez is not a civilian politician but a military man, an ex-paratrooper. Although he is fond of associating his opposition with a 2002 coup attempt against him, he himself led a failed coup in 1992, and the date of that attempt - Feb. 4 - is now a national holiday.

Fact two is that Chávez the military man is buying weapons. Last year he purchased 100,000 AK-47s from Russia, along with an agreement for purchasing another 300,000. He is also in the market for MiG-29s and attack helicopters, as well as a billion or so dollars worth of airplanes and patrol boats from Spain (he was also recently turned down by France when he sought to buy two diesel submarines for a cool billion). Along with his weapons spending spree, he is developing a reserve force that he says will be 2 million strong - larger, even, than that of the US.

Fact three is that Chávez thrives on conflict, and when there is none he creates it himself. Last year he started a name-calling contest with Mexico which ended with both countries withdrawing ambassadors, and recently he had some hot words with Peruvian leaders as well. His acrimony towards the US knows no bounds, and he regularly accuses the CIA of being behind everything from assassination plots to Human Rights Watch reports to tabloid rumors of his affair with a former Miss Venezuela. Venezuelan intelligence once supposedly uncovered a secret US plot to invade Venezuela called “Operation Balboa” (although since that revelation, details have been scarce).

Fact four is that he has changed the constitutional term limits, and will do it again. After being elected in 1999, he changed the constitution in 2000, “resetting” his presidential term. He is up for reelection again this year, and, facing a boycott of the elections, he has threatened to eliminate term limits altogether. In the past, he has repeatedly indicated that he may need to stay in power until 2030, just to make sure the Bolivarian Revolution is firmly in place.

The facts of Venezuela’s political situation in general are rather grim. Chavez supporters have total control of all levels of government, including the Supreme Court and the National Elections Committee, effectively eliminating the checks and balances that are supposed to come with democracy. Also, French NGO Reporters sans Frontières has noted that incidents of media harassment and intimidation have increased, and a new law on the books provides punishment for those who "advocate undermining public order."

The situation described above should certainly be worrying to the rest of the world - especially those who study peace and conflict - and could very well come to a head within the next year or two. A conflict could easily be touched off internally by the violent actions of an opposition that feels increasingly shut out of the democratic process. On the other hand, erosion of popular support could push Chávez to trump up an external conflict in order to rally his troops - a time-honored tactic of military leaders everywhere.

The point is that it’s time for the world to take notice of a bad situation before it gets worse. No, Venezuela’s situation is not yet critical, but that’s just the point - wielding it’s much-lauded soft power, the international community should start encouraging Venezuela away from the path of conflict and political oppression. And it should start now.

Soon enough, it may be too late.

Peter Krupa is the editor of the Peace & Conflict Monitor