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Web Letter

I have to confess that Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's deep article about the results of the Venezuelan referendum moves me to write. As professor at the Andres Bello Catholic University I hosted Elisabeth during her stay in Caracas last June, and introduced her to some of the student leaders at our campus, one of the most active during the demonstrations. Also, as director of the national program of political education at Un Nuevo Tiempo (the largest opposition party), I witnessed the affairs from very close and I want to share my perspective with American readers.

Our victorious struggle was of course led by the students, but around them was a web of political organizations, NGOs, volunteers and veteran political leaders like Teodoro Petkoff, Manuel Rosales, Leopoldo Lopez, Gerardo Blyde and others, who supported our guys and gals everyday and guided them when they were confused.

After the presidential election one year ago, when the opposition recognized Ch&vez's victory for a second term, we began to be perceived in a different way. In the international forums, nobody can argue again that we were involved in a conspiracy to defeat the President--we'd never accept any game outside the democratic rules--although that was the generalized opinion sold by the powerful advertising machine of our government around the world. Sunday night Chávez could do nothing but recognize our victory as we did his one year ago, although Sunday night there was always present the temptation to say: "I don't accept this result." After his final demonstration last Friday at Bolivar Avenue in Caracas, when he said that "even for a single vote of difference, if we win, the reform will continue ahead," it would be very hard for him to say now that the margin of about 200,000 votes favoring the "No" didn't count. We in Venezuela say that the tongue is a punishment of the body.

But you must not misunderstand this result: we defeated the reform proposal, but Chávez is still the most popular and powerful political actor in our country. He will be President perhaps until 2013, unless we organize and win a recall referendum in the mid-term. We do not accept any other way to put him out of Miraflores's Palace.

We reached this victory thanks to the votes of the so-called "critical Chavezism," the persons who still support him but who disagree with the sixty-nine articles of the reform. In popular and very poor Caracas areas where Chávez always won--like La Vega, Antimano and 23 de Enero--the "Yes" lost with huge difference favouring us. We don't have new activists or supporters among these voters: they simply said, "No, this reform will not pass."

Father Luis Ugalde, our rector, wrote a brilliant article in El Nacional last Thursday telling Chávez: OK, man, go to work, go on to govern, you have to fight the insecurity and the violence in the streets, because we have 14,000 violent deaths every year (think that Michel Moore in Bowling for Columbine was so concerned because you in America have 11,000 every year, and think that you are 300 million people and we only 27 million)--go to work, son, because we have to reduce poverty, to recover agriculture and industry, to work very hard for the education and health of our people. It is we who have to make real the second article of the Constitution: "We Venezuelans declare a state of justice, solidarity and peace, based on liberty and the respect of human rights." That's your job as president: to make real those words, son, and not to risk the peace of the Republic with this bizarre project of Cuban-style communism.

I agree with father Ugalde in every word.

Some people, like General Isaias Baduel, are proposing a new Constituent Assembly to put Chávez out of the power. I think it is too early for this. We must try to win the game with the actual rules, although everybody can see the unfair game the congress, the electoral tribunal and the supreme court have played and will continue to play against us. If we proposed a change in the rules, we would be doing the same thing that Chávez did, dividing the country, risking the peace, and he--of course--would beat us, because in that case the proposed Constituent Assembly would be thought not in favor of the country but against him. And if they win the majority of the deputies for this hypothetical assembly, it would be the perfect scenario to reframe again his project of Socialism of the Century XXI.

Baduel is a good General, and he has proved his democratic vocation by helping us defeat the reform project; but I think he's an amateur in politics, it's too early for him to lead the opposition. Baduel still doesn't feel the pulse and times of the political flows, because he's spent his whole professional life on a military base--giving and receiving orders--and not in a political party or in political affairs, trying to convince audiences, negotiating and so on. He sounds like Michael Jordan, when--after being the best basketball player I've ever seen--he tried to play professional baseball; it's a different discipline.

The kind of Constituent Assembly he is calling for is historically destined to frame a nation, like you did in Philadelphia in 1787 and as we did in Caracas in 1999, accepting Chávez's petition. First of all, we have to recover the political institutions framed in the 2000 Constitution. You do not call for a Constituent Assembly in order to defeat a President, even if his or her government is a tyranny. We still have to accumulate strong political capital, rebuild the political professional organizations.

We have declared a pause on behalf of the opposition: It's Christmastime, gentlemen, and now we Christians are going to share these beautiful days with our families, together around the table, with bread and wine, in a celebration of love and peace.

Next year, starting January 23, we'll be calling for a Global Digital Forum to define and think through our proposal of country, of state, based on the ideals of social democracy; since the Socialism of the XXIth Century was defeated, we have to propose an alternative. As Elisabeth pointed in her article, most of us prefer the heritage of the democratic left; and we shall invite thinkers, scholars and political leaders from Spain, Chile, Norway, Germany, and the US too, to achieve together with us this project, this ideology. The forum will be open on the Internet, so any citizen here or around the world can participate, and their ideas can be put in the final document if we consider them relevant, giving these persons full credit. We are a collective; we are not going to build an alternative project to the so-called "Socialism of the Twenty-first Century" with a single and inspired head, to announce it on a Sunday talk-show like he did with the reform project.

We are framing a New Deal, a Third Way, and we've accepted the necessity of keeping our eyes open against any other attempt to diminish our liberties. Our fight, I told Elisabeth during a lunch at the American Ambassador's house in June in Caracas, together with Teodoro Petkoff and Heinz Sonntag, is to educate our people in democratic values and manners, in the way the great American philosopher John Dewey did: resolving problems like poverty, violence and exclusion by themselves--with a little help from a friend, of course. This is the pragmatist way to increase the democratic intelligence of the people, and the best security to keep safe the liberties the fathers of our nation gave us to enjoy and defend.

Oscar Reyes

Caracas, Capital District, Venezuela

Dec 7 2007 - 6:20pm