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Chavez opposition sees opportunity

February 18th, 2010
01:22 PM ET

To watch the full-length edition on Venezuela, click here to get our podcast.

(CNN) - An energy crisis in oil-rich Venezuela is putting pressure on President Hugo Chavez and that - with protests over media regulation and falling oil output - is opening the door for a possible political shift, an opposition activist said.

"We can win if we present the right candidates, and if we go knowing that this is David against Goliath, because that's what the show for an election in Venezuela (is) going to be," Leopoldo Lopez, a former district mayor of Caracas, Venezuela, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.

The opposition hopes to take advantage of the pressure facing Chavez by tapping into key constituencies such as students, community leaders and union leaders, Lopez said.

Venezuela is in the midst of an electricity crisis so deep that one of its own government agencies, the National Electric Corporation, warns of a national energy collapse by May if something is not done.

As a result, rolling blackouts have been used to conserve energy. During the past several months, Chavez himself has taken to the airwaves, urging Venezuelans to change their incandescent light bulbs to energy-saving bulbs and to save water by taking three-minute baths. The government also made plans for a possible partial state of emergency.

The electrical crisis exposes years of under-investment in infrastructure and is one of the reasons voters could shift toward the opposition.

But Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, disagreed.

"When you see the situation in Venezuela these days, it's far from being ... the worst situation in the last decade of Venezuela," Alvarez Herrera told Amanpour. "If you talk about economic growth, if you talk about social inequality, if you talk about inflation, employment, et cetera, the situation is not what has been presented."

The reason for the energy shortage, Alvarez Herrera said, is the drought that has created low levels at the country's most important hydroelectric dam.

"Seventy-five percent of electricity come from hydro," he said. "And we need to adjust that. So we are facing a challenge, but not the kind of collapse of crisis that it has been presented."

The government is investing more than $1 billion this year to shore up its electricity-producing capacity.

In addition to the electricity crisis, protests over the suspension of an opposition-leaning cable channel and falling oil output also leave questions about the future of and Chavez's 11-year presidency.

The combination of situations opens the door for opposition candidates in the country, even as Chavez throws his considerable weight around, Lopez said.

Meanwhile, the heated protests and counterprotests between Chavez's detractors and supporters can be a problem in itself, Michael Shifter, vice president of the Inter-American Dialogue, told Amanpour.

"Both sides are at each other, and you can't manage an economy, you can't bring a society together if you have that level of confrontation, and that ... I think, is the core failing of Hugo Chavez," he said.

Shifter continued, "Chavez is popular because he has an emotional bond with a lot of Venezuelans, and he put his finger on a legitimate grievance in Venezuela, inequality and justice. The problem is, he can't solve the problem. He can't deliver results."


Filed under:  1 • Venezuela
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Vicente Rober

    Theres no democracy in Venezuela, Chavez popularity is only the publicw workers, now the workers from the "stolen" companies have to wear RED every friday, as all public institutions.
    So if Chaveza appointed asemblyl members win, will be mainly beacause of pressure and fierce control of the ELECTORAL MINISTER OF THE REVOLUTION.
    Ms Amampour, dont be fooled by Chavez ambassador, come to Venezuela and will see the non-doctors doctors form Cuba, just trying to escape Cuba form Venezuela, and perhaps notice their secret services disguised as doctors to avoid their nurses/docors fly away.

    Venezuelas democracy is dead.

    February 18, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  2. Andreina Gallegos

    I am Venezuelan, currently living in Singapore. It was such a surprise to finally see CNN focus on the problems of Venezuela. I liked the program and understand that all views have to be shown, but please the Venezuelan Ambassador is 100% wrong. Just go and visit Venezuela for a few days and talk to the people. While the world moves forward we move back, to electricity crisis, food shortages, and total lack of security, and in the meantime giving away money to other countries while the problems of the country only keep getting worst.

    February 18, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  3. maria chester

    I'm so glad someone clever like you , Christiane, has taken this subject to the light! Since 1998 Venezuela has this growing situation that apparently remained behind thick veils...Chavez sold himself as the "ambassador of the poor" only to deceive them with what Venezuelan people call "bozal de arepa" ( something like "a chunk of bread in your mouth")...paying every week to "chavistas" an allowance in order to keep their mouth shut.
    Now, he is more violent and is going mad against people using electricity. Instead of solving the problem he is clashing with consumers because they are "imperialists and capitalists" ( while he has TWO air conditioning in the open air during his infamous "Alo Presidente" every Sunday)...while he is claiming and demanding people they"must save energy" he was giving away during the last 10 years several electrical power stations to his "friendly countries" in Latin America.
    I was there between 1985 and 2003 and I can tell you how wonderful Venezuelan people was before this tyrant came into power.
    The wound will take years to shut, it is too deep, too profound to cure. Poor against rich and white against black...thousands of people assassinated per year, no public health, no public education, private companies taking over by the government, crazy inflation, no basic products ( no sugar, no coffee, no milk)...
    I guess everything has a cycle and Chavez has his own.
    I hope the end of his cycle is close, for the sake of Venezuela.
    Thank you for your fabulous interview with Leopoldo Lopez..he is a great politician, one of the many they have capable of taking the lead if they are allowed...

    February 18, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  4. Mauricio

    Nice interview, PLEASE invite LATINOAMERICAN people to your latinos shows subjects, only people from Latinoamerica knows whats goign on, my respects, im sure this gentlement Michael Shifter is a great person but I dont think he could give BETTER opinion about latinoamerica.

    February 18, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Reply
  5. Jose Luis Rivas


    I as Venezuelan doesn't see the problem as only Chávez. What we are getting is the continuation of the last 60 years of mercantilist governments just like this one. We had money exchange controls since 80's, this have created shortage of food and other goods that we don't create in Venezuela.

    Our increasing government makes more and more properties and companies through the expropriation and then more Venezuelans become public employees and obligated to wear red.

    The worst part for us, Venezuelans, is that the opposition doesn't makes more than dissidents discussions and while the Venezuelans are waiting for new proposal they only show the same broken policies from the past.

    The real issue in Venezuela democracy is that there is no alternative proposal, only change of head-of-government.

    February 19, 2010 at 11:13 am | Reply
  6. E. Garcia

    At last!!!! At last CNN Int. has put their eyes on Venezuela Neo Totalitarist Goverment lead by Colonel Hugo Chavez, At last people around the world will know what really happens in Venezuela, and not only the version of the $$$$ of Chavez!!!

    February 19, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  7. Richard

    I think what both Leopoldo Lopez and Shifter say is true. I am a Venezuelan student and I know the country is polarized. I think the older generations in my country are consumed by hatred... some say the country was better before Chavez, while others say it was worse. The point is the younger generations have only had one president: Hugo Chavez, and we don't like him. However, sometimes it's tough for the students to talk about peace when both sides hate each other so much. I think that's why Leopoldo said it's the younger generations the ones that have to get organized because the older generations are just simply blinded by the past and can't see the realities of the present.

    February 19, 2010 at 11:21 pm | Reply
  8. A. J. Alvarez

    The problem with Venezuela it is not Chavez or the government, the problem with Venezuela are their citizens, they are not united for one common interest they see Venezuela getting out of this big mess, they always looking for the opportunity to steal and taking advantage of anything, and when the time come to take a vacation or holidays off everybody suddenly forget everything and leave it behind to go have fun. Here is when the government take advantage as there is no body to fight back.
    As long we are separate and indifferent we never going to win, there have to be sacrifices in order to accomplish anything in live.
    Are we going to understand this one day?

    February 20, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  9. ron

    Chavez is an unfortunate dangerous joke. His own people recognize him as a complete blithering idiot. But he has effectively shut down all opposition ala the Soviet Union and Iran. The infrastructure of Venezuela is so incompent it is in complete shambles. No electricity, no water, no milk and food item because of their embargo against Colombia.
    He wants to be the Supreme Communist leader of the Western Hemisphere. We had better wake up, realize who our only real friend in all Latin America is, Colombia. We should pass the Free Trade Pact with Colombia and Panama. Then we need to denounce such dictators as Santa Baby Chavez, and his clone Zapata in Honduras.

    February 21, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Reply
  10. Robert Mooney, Sr.

    I want to thank you for an excellant program and I hope that you will carry on this issue as well as the others that you have done. I believe that you hit upon something that most everyone is aware of, this leader is trouble not only for his own people but for the region. I hope that you will continue to report on Venezuela and its real problems.

    February 21, 2010 at 10:10 pm | Reply
  11. Alvar Lobo

    Chavez's priority is ideology, not quality of life. Take a look at the obscene rise in corruption and in delinquency in Venezuela -only two of the gravest problems-and you will grasp the sad reality suffered by precisely the poorest people in the country. And about Chavez's support from part of the cannot help thinking about the support that some other people like Hitler also had in his time...

    PS. I am not "rich" or "oligarch", two of Chavez's favorite pejorative tags

    February 21, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Reply
  12. Gunnar

    There is no doubt that there are major problems in Venezuela, some related to infrastructure issues that are rooted in decades of neglect, lack of managerial accountability, and political corruption. These problems far pre-date President Chavez but they are the kind of problems that can turn citizens against a government. If one wanted to criticize, one might say that the leaders in Venezuela need to be more proactive and less reactive.

    Former Mayor Lopez tries to portray himself, and his colleagues, as "pro-democracy activists" when everyone knows that what they are is front-men for the same corporate and oligarchic interests that ruled Venezuela, not for 50 years, but 500+ years as if it were their own plantation and the working poor were their slaves. He and his friends are also on the payroll of the U.S. through organizations such as the NED and USAID. They know how to play the "Orange/Pink/Green Revolution" tune for the mainstream media. But, one careful look behind the veil of these "movements" reveals the same wealthy, landed gentry, and mercantile class that exploited the country before, stole its wealth and put it in foreign banks, and did not give a damn about the health, education, or well-being of the common people.

    So, yes, there are problems. Yes, there are unmet needs. But, there is a far greater chance that 90% of the population will be well-served by the Bolivarian movement than by a return to the days when Accion Democratica and the Christian Democrats managed the country solely for the benefit of the U.S./Euro-centric wealthy Venezuelans and their multinational corporate bosses. By conflating Venezuela and Iran, CNN has only shown that it has very little understanding of the realities of Venezuela or of the trajectory of history that has led to the changes going on throughout Latin America today. Venezuela is not Iran and it is simplistic and rather childish to try to put them in the same box. But, we don't really expect more from what is another channel for the corporate point of view to try to brainwash the ill-informed public.

    February 22, 2010 at 1:11 am | Reply
  13. Alvar Lobo

    Gunnar: congratulations. You have spat the same pre-cooked cliche arguments used by leftist saviors over and over again-the bad oligarchy against the good and poor enslaved peasant. Venezuela is not a XVI century big plantation as you may think. Please learn more about this country before you try to enlighten the world, and as they always say: if he is so good, would you like Chavez ruling your country?

    February 22, 2010 at 3:00 am | Reply
  14. Jose Luis Rivas

    Gunnar I don't see what you say about Bolivarian movement going on here. I live next to people that can't eat everyday without making a long line for food subsidiarized by the government and imported from Brasil, Argentina or any other country the "bolivarian" government consider his friend.

    Yes, López is another merchantilist, not that Chávez is not a merchantilist itself.

    We, Venezuelans, are not getting richer, are not getting more food, more job. We, normal Venezuelans, must wait for food from big government mafias at the prices they want. We cannot even think on forming a business because there's no guarantee that will belong to us. So there's no job sources, there's no money sources, there are only importations of food and shortage.

    I'm sorry, what 90% of Venezuelans are you saying are being served-well, Gunnar?

    Don't be slave of the propaganda.

    February 22, 2010 at 3:58 am | Reply
  15. Gunnar

    I fully understand and empathize with the disappointments and frustrations – believe me they are widely shared. I have a big portion of my family living in Venezuela – just regular folks trying to get by. I've been living in, working in, and visiting Venezuela regularly since 1977. So, my awareness and knowledge about Venezuela is not limited to the "Chavez years" or to any framing being done by anyone's propaganda. It is based on 33 years of firsthand participation and observation.

    In this program, Leopoldo Lopez is propped up as "democrat," a "reformer." Do those of you concerned about the reality of the daily struggles in Venezuela want to go back to the days when frontmen like Leopoldo Lopez were the faces of AD and Copei? I'd be surprised if you did. Is there any doubt that the same people they represented would sweep back in and take over everything if they had the chance. You saw them "disappear" the entire government with their tool Carmona. Do you think they have changed? Are the problems in Venezuela primarily tied to particular political parties or banners or might they run deeper and require a commitment to grassroots cultural and social reform (not just petty politics), from and by the people, and not by these wealthy hypocrites like Leopoldo who look and sound so comfortable to the U.S./European audiences?

    February 22, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Reply
  16. Kahoneez

    My problem is that CNN criticisms , reports and opinions are ALL in line with U.S. foreign policy and I doubt it's by coincidence .

    Venezuela govt bad .
    Iranian protesters good .
    Afghan protesting U.S. occupation , Ignored
    Iraqi protesting U.S. occupation IGNORED . Pattern is there and you can't deny it . Your selective coverage proves you are parroting U.S. foreign policy and act as an agent and frankly I don't belive a word you say about anything . You ignore GAZA as well .

    Not that we expect you to provide context of U.S. policy towards Venezuela like the attempted coup backed by U.S. according to Independent reports and Chavez himself and of course you have no interest in pointing this out . Just like Iran , you fully aware of u.s. destabilizing Iran , economically and w/ special forces as reported by Hersh , so to think After Venezuela Nationalized their oil , U.S. is not doing the same is fairy tale .
    Bottom line U.S. supports the oligarchs in Venezuela as has done in EVERY Latin American countries , uses NED and USAID as front groups for U.S. intelligence to funnel money and support to opposition groups that are operate by RICH and WHITE Venezuelans. Another area you stay clear of , U.S. involvement in destabilizing Venezuela .

    February 24, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Reply
  17. DG

    Ms. Amanpour,
    I admire your work. I have been following your news reports for more than 10 years. I consider you a balanced and great reporter. Being a Venezuelan myself, I really appreciate you bringing this type of debate about my country to the World. I would ask you to please try to come to Venezuela and do one of your deep reports in the country, such as your recent “Generation Islam”.
    I am including here some of the points that I think are important to discuss with Venezuelan Government officials.
    Violence – In Venezuela, there have been more than 100,000 murdered people in the last 11 years.
    Expropriations – Given the absence of law in the country and that Chavez has absolute controls of all powers and literally does whatever he wants.
    Foreign Relations – Chavez tries to buy other nations with the power oil provides him.
    Emigration – Recently I read an article about how a big chunk of the middle-educated class has left the country given that there are no working opportunities and they feel unsafe in the country.
    Freedom of Speech – It is well known that Chavez does not tolerate having strong critics, and that is why he decided to shutdown RCTV, twice, in addition of having Globovision in his sight.
    I could go on, on the reasons why Chavez have been terrible for the country. There have some small good things about his government, such as the Misiones, but the positive do not come even close as to offsetting the negative. He converted Venezuela into a polarized, cubanized, violent country. That serves as example of corruption, of what happens when powers are not separated, of terrible foreign relations disputes, and a country topping the lists of most violent countries in the world. I have to admit that I admire the work of politicians such as Leopoldo Lopez, and many others like him, that eventhough has to face many barriers are still fighting strongly for a better Venezuela.
    I reiterate, Ms Amanpour, if you can, do one of your programs in Venezuela, and if you get to interview Mr. Chavez, please try to make him answer the questions you are asking, he is an expert in evading and dodging hard questions, as could be seen in past interviews with personalities such as: Larry King or Barbara Walters.

    February 24, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Reply
  18. Umberto Amado

    There is a foolproof way of evaluating venezuela situation: since 1999, the beggining of Chavez gov.,State powers have been submitted to support the executive branch. There is not separation of powers. No democracy can withstand that test. There is not one single institutional initiative against Chavez that gets tru the jurisdictional blockade.there has been more than a dozen electoral processes that give legality to Chavez, but most of them have been influenced by Chavez unlegitimate intervention using uncontrolled state resources, open threaths to non supporterd, persecusion of disidents, ilegalization of opposition candidates, imprisonment of opposition activist without due procces,submission of pleasing media and suppresion of non obedient media. Private business has been forced to shut down by 40% mainly thru state controls, enterprises seizures, undescriminative goods imports on top of an open policy of demonizing private inittiative. Education in been controlled based on the cuban communist model, similar to the sandinista experience. Corruption is at the hightest level historically and state finances is been managed without any fiscal discipline. But what best describes the extreme political situation is a policy enacted from 1999 caracterized by the stimulus of social hatred and deformation of venezuelan democratic history and values. Still our democratic cultural learning tell us to go and vote for a new national assembly in september.

    Umberto Amado-Cupello
    Political science professor

    February 25, 2010 at 12:55 am | Reply
  19. Mandy Faraday

    ask Bernardo Alvarez Herrera this: his opinion of COMMUNISM

    February 25, 2010 at 2:52 am | Reply
  20. Juan F

    Since the triumph of the cuban revolution Fidel Castro saw Venezuela as the crown jewel that he needed to seize in order to spread the communist revolution in Latin America. Romulo Betancourt bit him and his Venezuela guerilla followers. By 1968 Rafael Caldera completed the pacifing effort with guerrilla commanders like Theodore Petkoff and Americo Martin and others becoming democratic leaders of the socialists with no ties to Cuba. Until then Venezuela was in a strong route of progress althought a need for stronger economic guarentees and decentralization of government were needs to be implemented. In 1973 with the rise of Carlos Andres Perez to power, populism was fostered by huge Oil revenues. At this time government spending policies where strongly criticized by many including Juan Pablo Perez Alfonzo founder of OPEC but no significant corrective action in government spending was adopted except for the creation of the Venezuelas Investment Fund(FIV). Nevertheless progress in higher Education was made that allowed for our present day highly qualified professionals (mostly on leave), Corruption was also bustered when Carlos Andres Perez impeachmet failed in the Sierra Nevada corruption affair. From there on corruption started taking its toll. And a traditional leftist faction of the military (Gral Muller Rojas and others), favored the plotting of younger official, The Chavez bunch. A common saying of the following government employees was "Dont give me money just put me where is at".
    Ethic and moral decomposition of society and increased poverty and a loss of faith in Institutions brought about Hugo Chavez into power. His populism created a mush stronger sentimental bond than Romulo Bentacourt´s did with the poor and many middle class. This need for government affection not meaning education, services, health or security as before but emotional dependence discursivly created upon promising free fulfillment of every need is pretty much alike the emotional dependence of the mistreated wife that again and again forgives his partner awaiting for a new beat up.
    These emotional bond is what sustains Chavez support with the poor.
    The opposition movement failures to unite, walk the streets, and its inability to communicate hope with a credible political, economic and social platform is what keeps Chavez in power as long as he has spending money to feed his emotional bond . Mean while Fidel Castro provides Chavez at a high price all the fear and control mechanisms he has to keep the people and specially the oppositions political class at bay. So far Fidel has almost seized the crown jewel and spread his power via Chavez in Bolivia, NIcaragua, Argentina, Ecuador an other countries. The final Objective? the spread of Marxist- Leninist revolution in Latin America.
    My opinion about Venezuelas opposition movement is that 10 years after they still dont talk the talk end much worse they dont walk the walk with people needs.

    February 26, 2010 at 11:52 am | Reply
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