After eight amazing, humbling and exhausting years of curating Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, I will be handing the reins over to Geoff Ramsey next week. This change will coincide with a relaunch of the blog on July 14, with a better interface and more types of content. In August I will be taking a one-year sabbatical from Tulane and WOLA to be in residence at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame. There I will focus on a book manuscript that I was supposed to finish eight years ago.
We founded the blog in July 2012 when it became clear that President Hugo Chávez Frias was headed for reelection but gravely ill–and Venezuela was headed for significant turbulence. Given the demands of the 2012 presidential elections, in August of that year I informed my book editor that I would not be able to get the manuscript to him that summer, but would surely be able to by the end of the year. When I finished classes that fall, I planned to make a big push, starting the week of December 9.
However, on December 8, 2012 Hugo Chávez announced an upcoming cancer surgery in Cuba and designated Nicolás Maduro as his successor. I haven’t worked on the manuscript since. Year after year, I thought the Venezuela crisis would reach a new equilibrium and I would have the space to finish it. But alas, the downward spiral has only worsened and there’s no end in sight. Thus, as hard as it is to peel myself away, I am going to take the opportunity to repurpose and completely overhaul the manuscript.
Over these eight years we have sought to provide English-language, reality-based analysis that cross-cuts political polarization regarding Venezuela. We aim to describe the Venezuelan context as faithfully as possible, even when it’s uncomfortable.
Our objective was never “balance,” which itself is a politicized criteria requiring an untenable assumption that each side is equally to blame in whatever happens. Our analyses sometimes favor one side, sometimes the other. This is not because we are confused, naïve or lack courage. It’s because our loyalties don’t lie with political projects but with the rights of Venezuelans. All political powers should know by now that while we might praise them when their policies facilitate Venezuelan’s rights, we’ll throw them under the bus as soon as they don’t.
None of this means that our analyses ipso facto pop out of an unmediated access to reality, nor that ideology doesn’t matter. Our ideology is a focus on human rights as something more basic than (but not a replacement for) politics. Our tools are social scientific concepts and understandings of data. Our commitment is to actually engage the empirical world and let it impact our views, rather than searching for empirical material that fits our preconceived notions.
Nor does it mean we’re always right. Our method of analysis shows our readers what we are basing our inferences on. This empowers them to contest our interpretations, and present alternative facts, concepts or inferences. The goal is to generate a more productive discussion that at certain moments can even influence the course of events.
During the first five years of the blog’s existence, Hugo Pérez Hernáiz was my main collaborator, along with Becca Hanson and Tim Gill. Since 2017 Geoff Ramsey has been writing for the blog and in the past two years has progressively taken the lead of WOLA’s Venezuela program. Actually, saying 2017 is a little misleading since for several years before that, he worked behind the scenes with WOLA’s Communications team, providing important content, drafting Venezuela statements and coordinating media outreach.
Two years ago I started the Venezuela Weekly (VW). Given the number of international foundations, NGOs, policy makers and activists that were starting to get involved, we saw the need for a digestible, weekly summary that could help busy minds keep tabs on Venezuela. Over the past year Dimitris Pantoulas has contributed his keen analysis and ensured a more consistent, timely publication.
Over the past two years, under Geoff Ramsey’s leadership and with the energy of Kristen Martínez-Gugerli and wisdom of John Walsh, WOLA’s Venezuela program has reached new heights. The blog relaunch will consolidate that momentum.
Suffice it to say, that while I will be stepping aside from daily analysis, media work and advocacy, I won’t be taking a sabbatical from Venezuela. I need some time to take a step back, gather my thoughts, concentrate, and think through the processes of the past several years. I have an enormous queue of literature to read, containing arguments, concepts and data that I know are important, but which I have not had the time to engage. There’s a chance I will try to crowd-review some of the book chapters on the blog, as I finish them. I’m still thinking through the possibilities.
At the risk of leaving out some important allies, I’d like to thank all of those whose have supported this effort; without you it would have been impossible. Over the years journalists have become not only interlocutors but friends, including Christine Armario, Nick Casey, Andy Cawthorne, Frank Jack Daniels, Hannah Dreier, Daniel García Marco, Josh Goodman, Lulu García Navarro, Phil Gunson, Stephen Gibbs, Girish Gupta, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Patty Laya, Gideon Long, Eugenio Martínez, Boris Muñoz, John Otis, Stefano Pozzebon, Luz Mely Reyes, Andy Rosati, Kejal Vyas, Alexandra Ulmer and Alex Vásquez.
Venezuela scholars who have contributed, pushed and prodded in recent years include: Carolina Acosta-Alzúru, Andrés Antillano, Angel Alvarez, Victor Alvarez, Keymer Ávila, Cindy Arnson, Benedicte Bull, Julia Buxton, Armando Chaguaceda, Colette Capriles, Javier Corrales, Mariano de Alba, María Pilar García Guadilla, Gabe Hetland, Maryhen Jiménez, Dorothy Kronick, Luis Lander, Abe Lowenthal, Margarita López Maya, Leiv Marsteintredet, Miguel Martínez Meucci, Michael McCarthy, Jennifer McCoy, Francisco Monaldi, Michael Penfold, John Polga, Francisco Rodriguez, Antulio Rosales, Iñaki Sagarzazu, Andrei Serbin, Keta Stephany, Oliver Stuenkel, Carlos Torrealba, Alejandro Velasco, Leonardo Vivas Peñalver, and Veronica Zubillaga.
At Tulane Ludovico Feoli, Tom Reese, and Eduardo Silva have been unfailing supporters of my unorthodox pursuits. My students including Jenaro Abraham, Lucas Díaz, Ana María López, Dustin Robertson and Tara Yanez never fail to push me in unexpected directions.
Beyond the Venezuela team at WOLA, Geoff Thale, Adam Isaacson, and Gimena Sánchez have been wise in their feedback. Elyssa Pachico always gets the messaging just right. The blog was originally conceived in a discussion with Jo Marie Burt and Coletta Youngers, and created by Kristel Muciño. Behind it all was the enthusiasm and support of Joy Olson.
All of WOLA’s partners in Venezuela, Latin America, the U.S. and Europe have been amazing collaborators. And of course, my extended network of family and friends in Venezuela have helped keep my analyses grounded.
Thanks to you all, and my apologies to anyone I’ve left out. To my detractors I’ll just say, enjoy it while you can, I’ll be back in September 2021.