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August 6, 2006

Uslar Pietri, Venezuelan Democracy's Undertaker

Arturo Uslar Pietri was considered one of the leading Venezuelan intellectuals of the 20th century. He certainly was entertaining and educational on TV where he addressed his "invisible friends." He was also a failed politician who ran for president and lost badly. Carlos Andrés Perez (CAP) was of the opinion that, having failed to reach power via elections, Uslar Pietri was trying to reach a position of power through machination.

People's image of Uslar Pietri is entirely wrong. He was an intellectual who should have stayed out of politics because he understood nothing about democracy. Uslar Pietri helped to pave the way for Chávez and Chavismo. Uslar Pietri was one of the destroyers of our democracy, what little we had of it. Democracy is a very fragile system and ours didn't survive Uslar Pietri's attack.

We had several populist governments from Betancourt though Lusinchi, six to be exact. Each one got more bogged down with socialism and populist than the one it replaced. Price controls and the nationalizing of the oil industry were two of their worst mistakes. We have never invented anything new in the political arena. We import policies like we import everything else besides oil. Social Christianism and Social Democracy are European imports just like Petkoff's Euro Communism was an European import. While Lusinchi was president, supply side economics and privatization took root in the USA under Reagan and in the UK under Thatcher. True to form, when CAP was reelected, he imported both without preparing the country for it. It was also at this time that our Congress gave up the ghost by giving CAP extraordinary powers to rule by decree. One of the three pillars of democracy crumbled with those special powers. Instead of selling the very painful removal of price controls to the people, instead of first educating the people for the changes that were about to be implemented, CAP charged ahead. The rise in the price of gas at the pump was the straw that broke the camel's back. The situation was ripe for Chávez's failed coup. Caldera gave his treasonous speech in congress and Uslar Pietri started his campaign to replace CAP with a group of "notables" (elite).

As I stated above, the Adeco congress had already broken one of the pillars of democracy, the legislative power, and now Uslar Pietri was hacking away at a second one, the executive power.

Democracy is a very frail system and it needs to be handled with care. The balance of power between the legislative, executive and judicial branches is one of the few safeguards we have in a democracy. The other important issue is continuity. You cannot just throw out a constitution and enact a new one like you change underwear. You cannot replace a legally elected president by a group of "notables" even if they come from heaven above. Each one of these acts breaks the continuity, the "hilo constitucional." The pressure brought to bear by Pietri and Caldera and the spinelessness of AD to defend the president was enough to get CAP impeached on trumped up charges (misappropriation of black funds).

That is the sad story of the demise of our democracy: the abrogation of power by the Adeco congress, CAP's hubris, Pietri's attack on one of the pillars of democracy and Caldera's demagoguery. The day CAP was impeached and replaced by Ramón José Velázquez, our democracy, what little we had of it, gave up the ghost and Uslar Pietri was one of the undertakers.

Denny Schlesinger

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