“Venezuela and the United States”
Bernardo Álvarez Herrera, Venezuelan Ambassador to the US
Location: MacMillan Hall, Starr Auditorium, Room 117.
Event SummaryIn Venezuela and throughout Latin America, Hugo Chavez has inspired a great sense of hope about the future of the region, the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, Bernardo Álvarez Herrera, said in a recent lecture at Brown University. He also spoke about American-Venezuelan relations, economic policy, democracy, regional integration, and censorship.
Historically, Álvarez said, Latin Americans have been discouraged by their governments from taking part in the political process. Chavez's government, however, has worked to change that. Álvarez, in what he called a "revolution of popular participation," said that every Venezuelan is now encouraged to vote and to be involved in politics. This has led to great excitement within the country and throughout the region.
The ambassador also expressed strong optimism about the future of Latin America and about the possibility for greater regional integration. The example of popular democracy that has been established in Venezuela, Álvarez suggested, has inspired the rise of populist governments in countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina. As the common people have gained more power, both nationalist and regionalist sentiments have increased. "For the first time in many years," he said, "there is the possibility of a real political unity in South America."
Álvarez also condemned neoliberal economics and argued that this is not the proper economic model for the region. Where neoliberal policies are implemented, they lead to increased poverty and diminished state sovereignty, he said. Venezuela, noticing this pattern, has adopted a new approach. This radical economic strategy is "transforming all of the anger and confusion" that resulted from Venezuela's earlier experiment with neoliberalism, Álvarez said.
Speaking about American-Venezuelan relations, the ambassador commented that many of his American colleagues see events in Venezuela through a distorted lens. They do not understand, he suggested, that the dramatic political, social, and economic changes that are occurring in Venezuela have widespread support throughout the region.
Furthermore, Álvarez argued, it is inaccurate to view these changes as a threat to the United States. Instead, they are better characterized as a "challenge to a certain view about hegemony in the hemisphere." Álvarez urged the Bush administration to confront the question of whether it prefers to dominate Latin America or to allow for self-sufficient and democratic states to emerge.
Álvarez spoke at length about claims that Chavez is resorting to increasingly authoritarian policies. Venezuela has had numerous democratic referendums, he said, that have legitimized Chavez's presidency and demonstrated the widespread popular support that his policies entertain. In addition, Álvarez argued, Chavez always acts "in the frame of the constitution."
The ambassador also dismissed criticism of the Venezuelan government's recent decision to cancel the operating contract of the country's independent station RCTV. This action, he said, has been incorrectly characterized as an attempt to silence the opposition. Instead, the reality in Venezuela is quite different. RCTV was just one of over 170 private channels, Álvarez pointed out, and there are still numerous media outlets that are critical of the Chavez government.
The lecture was part of the Diplomatic Dialogue hosted by Brown’s Center for Latin American Studies. Also coming to Brown as part of the Diplomatic Dialogue will be John J. Danilovich, a former US ambassador to Brazil and Costa Rica and the current chief executive officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which is a US government corporation that distributes overseas development assistance funds. He will speak Monday, April 16, at 3pm in Watson's Joukowsky Forum.
By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Jebediah Koogler ‘10