Challenging caudillos, changing Venezuela

Chávez hasn't got the courage to do what this lady is doing: debate

One of the main reasons why Venezuela has the disastrous politicians it has is the absolute lack of any mechanism for normal, civilized debate. It has always been a strong presidential system where the president does not have to answer to any specifics, just theoretically give some "report", report that always becomes a monologue.

We must challenge Hugo Chávez but also any other polician aspiring to play a major role in Venezuela to debate in real time, in front of the cameras, in front of challengers, not followers.

My Scandinavian, German or US American friends who don't know much about Venezuela will say: well, why don't you do it? They will silently think: "why do these guys ponder on such an obvious thing? Geez!".

Venezuelans and Scandinavians, Germans or US Americans who know Venezuela well realise that that is not so evident in the Land of Grace. There is no tradition. We went from being one of Spain's forgotten provinces to being a land of caudillos. Most Venezuelans know about the US primaries and the US presidential debates, but then those are one-time things. There is no parliamentary system around and frankly speaking, Spain's is not the best model. Venezuelans also know very little about the debates that do take place in places like Chile.

Most Venezuelans, although they would like real debates, don't demand them. Why? Because they think they would never happen.

This is a shame and needs to change. Rosales, who is not my take for a politician, demanded a debate with Chávez in the 2006 presidential elections. Chávez said he would not debate with someone who speaks worse than a 6-year old pupil.

Rosales may speak worse than a pupil, but Chávez should have been forced to debate with the candidate of the opposition, whether that person was a Rosales or a Pericles. The thing is Chávez has never had to debate with anyone after he became elected president in December 1998. He never ever debated, actually. Before he became president he went through a couple of interviews, but they were not that hard as he was just a candidate promising Heaven. He later had a couple of silly interviews as president where some journalists afraid to be "difficult", people like BBC journalist Lustig, asked such questions as "do you hate US Americans?". I would love to see Hugo being interviewed by German Marietta Slomka from the ZDF (you can watch her below grilling in German one of many politicians, she does so "gnadenlos", with no mercy):

Vargas Llosa once challenged Chávez to a debate, but Chávez was afraid and recanted after declaring he would accept. The Venezuelan coupster lost face in spite of all his excuses. He said Vargas Llosa was "not of his league", as if a president were something special, a kind of New royalty. It is not surprising, "revolutionaries" never engage in open debates once they get to power as they are as reactionary as the King of France.

Only old-guard Antonio Ledezma, very timidly, said on the aftermath of the Vargas event that he also wanted to challenge Chávez...and he did not have the discipline to insist. He did it so only after Vargas did, and he gave up right away. Are we, Venezuelans, so lacking in persistence to bring things through as Karl Marx said?

"Like most of his countrymen, he was averse to any prolonged exertion"

So far, the most persistent person to challenge a Venezuelan politician to debate has been Vargas, a Peruvian.

The only times Chávez had to answer "normal", not particularly difficult questions, were during two Alo Presidente shows: firstly with a young journalist from Brazil, who had not been "filtered through" and then when Rory Carroll, from The Guardian, also got a chance to ask a normal question. Chávez flipped out on both occassions. There also was an unrequested question from a journalist of Fox News, but the Venezuelan autocrat did not even bother to hide his refusal because it was "Fox News".

Chávez is a military. He is not used to debate. Actually, few other politicians in Venezuela, even if they are not military, can do anything in real debates. Why? Because they are used to the caudillo mentality. Even if they are not military, they think like one. We have seen that when some oppo leaders have been asked hard questions by US or European media outlets. We need to change that. Uribe told Chávez to "be a man and talk openly". I would not use Uribe's prejudiced tone. I would say "be courageous and debate openly" like the lady on the first picture at the German Bundestag.

In Venezuela as far as I remember we had only one TV programme where politicians were grilled, "La silla caliente", with journalist Oscar Yanez. It was journalist against politician. We have never had a real debate between a head of state and other politicians. At most we have had some monologues between parliamentarians at the National Assembly, if chavistas allow the others to take the floor.

We, Venezuelans, have to challenge politicians to debate openly. We have to demand from them to have the courage to answer in real time and not hide behind a programme like Aló Presidente or Plataforma de la Unión. Only if we persist until they do it will they start evolving into something beyond and above the XIX century Venezuela.

And here you get Sarkozy getting grilled on France 3.