Category Archives: Venezuelan Democracy

Bolivarian Venezuela in crisis: An oil-rich nation collapses? Berlin, 10 October

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Bolivarian Venezuela in crisis: An oil-rich nation collapses? – Panel Discussion (bios follow):

  • Ms. Rita Bitar Deeb  PhD student in Political Science at the Otto-Suhr-Institut of Freie Universität Berlin
  • Dr. Ivo Hernandez  Lecturer in International Relations at the Political Science Institute of Universität Münster
  • Dr. Manuel Silva-Ferrer  John Boulton Foundation Fellow and Lecturer at the Latin-American Institute of Freie Universität Berlin
  • Dr. Thomas W. O’Donnell -Moderator  Guest Lecturer at Hertie School of Governance and the European Studies Program, FU/BEST at Freie Universität Berlin

WHEN: 10 October, 6-7:30 pm. LOCATION:  Hertie School of Governance,  Friedrichstrasse 180 – 10117 Berlin, Germany.  [To attend, please register online.] – Venezuela is currently unable to adequately feed its people, or to provide basic services such as medical care, education, and electricity. Polls indicate about 90% of the population would vote to remove its Chavista president, Nicolas Maduro, if his government allowed a recall referenda to take place this year, which is widely demanded. What will happen in Venezuela: Collapse? Chaos? Democratic renewal?  And, moreover, why is this occurring now?

Since the mid-20th Century, fueled by oil riches, Venezuela has veered from being the leading example of ‘democratic development’ within a continent rife with right-wing dictatorships, to a nation mired in its own economic and political crises. A ‘neo-liberal shock’ in the late-1980’s failed and was roundly rejected by citizens. At the end of the 1990‘s, Hugo Chavez broadly excited the hopes for development of not only Venezuelans but elicited significant sympathy worldwide with Chavismo’s ‘new resource nationalism’ and ’21st Century Bolivarian Socialism’. However, this leftward turn is also demonstrably failing, with the nation again on the brink of disaster. What comes next? Our panel of Venezuelan experts weighs in and will address attendees’ questions.


Rita Bitar Deeb is a PhD student in Political Science at the Otto-Suhr-Institut of the Freie Universität Berlin. She received her Master in Public Policy and Management from the University of Pittsburgh and Graduate Certificate in Latin American Studies. Her research interests are democratization process, social development and gender policy. She has worked for the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), and several local NGOs as project coordinator in Venezuela (Atenea, Súmate, Red de Apoyo-HHRR). Bitar has taught at the University of Kassel in Germany, and at the Catholic University in Caracas.


Ivo Hernandez is lecturer in International Relations at the Political Science Institute of Universität Münster.  He studied at Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) in Caracas, the London School of Economics (LSE), the University of Heidelberg and University of Tübingen in Germany and The National Defense University in Washington D.C. His research interests include oil politics, national oil companies, the logics of terrorism, and Latin American politics and political economy.


Manuel Silva-Ferrer is John Boulton Foundation Fellow – exploring oil, society and culture in 20th-Century Latin America – as well as Lecturer at the Latin-American Institute of Freie Universität Berlin.  Born in Caracas, he is a graduate of the Institute of Communication Studies at Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) and earned his PhD from Freie Universität Berlin.  He was Director of the state film foundation Cinemateca Nacional de Venezuela and Head of Cinema and Media at the Ministry of Culture where his work included developing the National Academy of Film and Audiovisual.  Silva-Ferrer led ExtraCámara, a magazine for Latin-American photography, and was co-responsible for the creation of the Centro Nacional de la Fotografía, a public foundation for the promotion of photographic art. During his studies, Silva-Ferrer was Fellow of the Fundación Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho, and awarded a PhD full scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).


Moderation & comments:

Thomas W. O’Donnell is Guest Lecturer at Hertie School of Governance and the European Studies Program (FU/BEST) at Freie Universität Berlin.  An academic, analyst and consultant in the global energy system and international relations, his work has encompassed especially the role of oil and gas in the EU, Russia, Latin America, Middle East, China and the USA.  His PhD is from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in experimental nuclear physics, and he previously studied Political Science and China Studies at the State University of New York and Canisius College.  In 2008-09, he was US Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor at the Center for the Study of Development (CENDES) at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and in 2015 AICGS (American Institute of Contemporary German Studies) & DAAD Fellow in Washington D.C. O’Donnell has taught post-graduate seminars on energy in international relations and development at The University of Michigan, The Ohio State University, The New School University’s JJ Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs (NYC),and Freie Universität, JFK Institute (Berlin). He is Senior Analyst at Wikistrat and consults with other geopolitical and business-intelligence firms. Before his PhD, O’Donnell gained broad tech experience in U.S. automobile-manufacturing, railway-operations and power-generation industries.  He is author of some 40 peer-reviewed scientific physics papers.


If you wish to attend, please register online.

“Venezuela: Petroleum, Politics & Economics in the Post-Chavez Era”–My Columbia U. talk, with Luiz Pinto, 9 October

If you’re in New York:  Luiz Pinto and I speak at Columbia University’s Institute for Latin American Studies (ILAS) on post-Chavez Venezuela, 12-noon, Thursday, 9 October: ilas_venezuela_columbia_talk_09oct14

My AQ piece: Maduro’s Conundrum as UNASUR Starts Venezuelan Peace Talks

Venezuela Pres. Nicolas Maduro during first UNASUR-and-Vatican mediated peace talk with opposition in Caracas 10 April (Reuters)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaking during the first UNASUR-and-Vatican mediated peace talks with the opposition in Caracas 10 April (Reuters)

Here’s my commentary at Americas Quarterly today, 11 April:

A delegation of foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) returned to Caracas on April 7 and 8, securing an agreement to hold peace talks to calm political polarization and protests in Venezuela.  The talks are being mediated by the foreign ministers of Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador, plus a Vatican representative.

The UNASUR delegation first visited in late March, recommending that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and leaders of the opposition’s Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) enter into a dialogue.  The U.S. State Department had expressed support, as had Organization of American States (OAS) General Secretary José Miguel Insulza.

However, UNASUR’s plan will be complicated by Maduro’s reliance on paramilitaries within his Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV), whose loyalty requires his polarizing words and deeds. This conundrum already wrecked a previous dialogue.

In early February, before protests broke out, a highly placed government official explained to me,  …  CLICK to Continue Reading at Americas Quarterly. Continue reading

Venezuelan state’s economic response to protests: Rationing plus Chinese and Russian loans to float a liberal dollar market

The anti-government protest in eastern Caracas 13 March ended in clashes with Venezuelan police BBC
The anti-government protest in eastern Caracas 13 March ended in clashes with Venezuelan police. Three more died in widespread protests. BBC

As protests continue against Venezuela’s faltering “oil revolution,” the political strategy of the chavista administration is striking for its intransigence. President Maduro has refused to recognize any grievances by students or other protesters. He calls protesters “fascists” and blames them for all the ills of the economy.  Protests are attacked by the national guard and often by state-organized paramilitary gangs on motorcycles who are praised by the president.

The administration’s strategy so far appears to be that protests will burn themselves out if they can be delegitimized and contained within middle-class areas.  Accordingly, the president’s rhetoric aims at inciting poorer citizens against protesters.  All in all, this is a risky strategy.  Protests have constantly intensified, with perhaps 25 persons dead now.
After a month of protests, the administration has taken urgent economic measures it hopes will undermine the protests and prevent their spread to poor and working-class barrios.
1. Ramirez announces Chinese and Russian loans and the launch of a very liberal Sicad 2

NYC Lecture: THE LEGACY OF HUGO CHAVEZ: Is ‘Oil-Socialism’ a Sustainable Alternative Development?

English: Hugo Chávez

I’m invited to deliver a public lecture Wednesday, 24 April, at 3:30 in New York City at The New School University‘s Graduate International Affairs. This will be a  critical examination of the legacy of Hugo Chavez’ “oil socialism” as an “alternative developmental model” for Latin America. Continue reading

Chavez’ Legacy for Venezuela’s poor & institutions: Watch my German TV News Interview

Deutsche Welle, the German international TV service, interviewed me on the
legacy of Hugo Chavez on  their live evening news broadcast Journal  from Berlin.  I tried to relate two, strikingly contradictory aspects of President Chavez legacy:

The outpouring of sincere affection for him from the poor and many others in Caracas, which the world is witnessing, as the embodiment of their liberating political awakening.  And, in contrast, the utter shambles in which Hugo Chavez, as a practical political leader of 14 years, left the Venezuelan state and economic institutions, including PDVSA.  My segment comes at 4:08 minutes into the video stream here:

Succession Crisis #2: Chavez’ non-inauguration: Why violate the “Chavez Constitution”?

The Supreme Court of Venezuela has just made a rather strange decision. Rather than deciding between the two possible scenarios described in the constitution for the case when a president-elect is unable to take the oath of office on the prescribed day of 10 January, they have instead pronounced a third scenario proposed by leaders of Chavez’ party: There is “no temporary absence” of Chavez, and there is “administrative continuity” (i.e., that there is no new administration since he was the previous president).

The decision by the TSJ [press conference 9Jan 2012] seems particularly amazing as it rejects the constitutional option of declaring Chavez  “temporarily absent” that would have kept Chavismo in the presidency without an election for 180 days.

This decision is just as transparently un-constitutional and invented as the rationals of the right-wing Honduran military and congress in 2009 for throwing the president out of their country in his pajamas, rather than pressing whatever grievances or charges they had against him within the framework of the constitution.  There is a habit growing in Latin America of “democracies” being unwilling to fight out political crises within the sphere of the constitution and the nation’s institutions.

Here’s the situation in Venezuela:  The vice-president and acting president, Continue reading