Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 3, 2007

NACLA, Michael Coppedge and “political risk” in Venezuela

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,Latin America — louisproyect @ 5:46 pm

For the first time in many months, I took a look at the latest issue of NACLA–a journal on Latin American politics that was launched by 60s radicals but today is anything but. Despite the presence of contributions by some decent people, like William Robinson who used to write for the radical American newsweekly the Guardian, it contains an article that can best be described as disinformation.

Michael Coppedge advises on “political risk” in Venezuela

Titled “In Defense of Polyarchy,” and written by Notre Dame Professor Michael Coppedge, it states:

I recognize that Hugo Chávez, or his candidates or proposals, have won at the polls consistently and repeatedly since 1998 (although if the government had not delayed the recall referendum by more than a year, he would have been voted out in 2003). But polyarchy requires more than winning elections, even though some in the U.S. government sometimes forget this when it suits their purposes. Polyarchy also requires holding fair elections, and there have already been some abuses of this in Venezuela: physical intimidation of opposition voters at the polls; preferential registration of likely Chávez voters, including some noncitizens; and possible small-scale electronic fraud. And there are good reasons to believe that future elections will not be fair, if the government needs them not to be fair. There has been proof that voting machines can be used to invalidate the secret ballot if the government wants to do that. There is now an unreasonably partisan electoral council that has repeatedly shown that it does not make fair decisions, and the courts are stacked in a systematic way so that it’s impossible to turn to them to appeal these decisions of the electoral council. For all these reasons, there are questions about whether future elections will be fair.

As is so often the case with these sorts of scholarly pieces, it is difficult to figure out where the author is coming from ideologically. A check of Professor Coppedge’s CV at the Notre Dame website provides some background.

In 2005, Coppedge was a “Member of expert group advising academics contracted by USAID to do a quantitative assessment of its Democracy Promotion activities”. Great, just what NACLA needs–contributors who consulted with USAID on “democracy promotion”. Anybody who has followed Venezuelan politics over the past 5 years knows that the USAID has funded and advised anti-Chavez groups. What audacity. Coppedge writes about the threat that Chavez poses to Venezuelan democracy when he is on the payroll of an outfit that has promoted coup attempts repeatedly.

In 2004, Coppedge advised Gerson-Lehrman Group’s Policy & Economics Council on political risk in Venezuela. Gerson-Lehrman Group (GLG) is in the business of providing risk assessment to hedge funds and other institutions, just the kind of background that prepares one for writing for a radical (well, erstwhile radical) journal. The Lehrman in Gerson-Lehrman is Lew Lehrman, the New York state billionaire who has funded rightwing causes for the past 20 years or so.

Lew Lehrman’s brother is on the board of this outfit. On the board of director’s page, we discover that “Thomas Lehrman is Director of the Office of Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism in the U.S. Department of State. Previously, he served as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and as a professional staff member on the President’s Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.”

For his part, Mark Gerson is an old hand at rightwing causes. When his alma mater Williams College interviewed the “risk assessment” entrepreneur, he revealed the conversion that was no doubt helpful in making connections in all the right places eventually:

The weekly meetings of the James A. Garfield Republican Club were immensely helpful in our intellectual developments. It was like Alcove 2 in City College when many of the neoconservatives attended there in the 1940s. Everyone was well-informed and intellectually serious; when you came to a meeting of the Republican Club, you were expected to have read The New Republic, Commentary, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The American Spectator and anything else of note at the time.

Aporrea.org, a pro-Chavez website, reported on GLG’s activities in Venezuela:

Este es el caso de la empresa consultora de Otto Reich, cuyos informes sobre Venezuela son utilizados por su discípulo en el Departamento de Estado, Roger Noriega, para definir la política exterior hacia Venezuela, y de la firma “Gerson Lehrman Group” (GLG), que comenzó a elaborar recientemente un informe sobre el futuro de Venezuela, su situación política y las posibles repercusiones que ésta podría tener sobre el mercado petrolero para un “cliente” de fondos de inversiones.

Roughly translated, this states that GLG was preparing a report on the future of Venezuela, with an eye towards any repercussions that an excess of democracy might have on the world petroleum market. One wonders if Professor Coppedge provided some input to this report, using his political science training to assign a quantitative risk to such an eventuality. I hope that GLG paid him well for his professional services. In today’s day and age, the kind of imperialist-minded rats that pop up in John Le Carre’s fiction demand top dollar and Professor Coppedge deserves every drop of blood money that comes his way.


  1. please send me your thinking to my address and oliged.

    Comment by Prabhas Choudhuri — February 3, 2007 @ 7:28 pm

  2. V. sad, really. Normally NACLA’s a great source. Quick question, Louis: Can’t get hold of NACLA Report very easily where I live (Amsterdam), but had a quick look at the NACLA site, and it looks like the entire issue is devoted to a discussion of ‘democracy promotion’. Is the rest of this edition as bad as the above article? Tell us a bit more, if you don’t mind. (In other words, is is worth my while trying to order it via the local anarchist bookstore?)

    Comment by Victor S — February 6, 2007 @ 4:18 pm

  3. I imagine that the articles by Greg Grandin, Josh Ginden and William Robinson are all pretty good. Fred Rosen was a former editor of NACLA and presided over its rightward drift. Christy Thornton is the new publisher of NACLA and no doubt continues in the same vein as Rosen based on the inclusion of Coppedge’s dreadful article. She graduated from Columbia University about 5 years ago and seems to be a typical NGO type hustler. Jorge Dominguez seems to be somebody cut from the same mold as Coppedge based on his observation that “U.S. engagement in peace processes and associated elections in Nicaragua in 1989-90, El Salvador in 1991-92 and Guatemala in 1995-96 also advanced democratic goals.” (Electoral Intervention in the Americas: Uneven and Unanticipated Results). To call US subversion of the Nicaraguan elections an advance toward “democratic goals” seems pretty obscene, doesn’t it? Bryant Garth is another academic centrist based on his statement that “The forces mobilized by anti-U.S. rhetoric may lead to reforms that many in the United States might favor, but the sequence of events will necessarily be less predictable than the more controlled soft colonial processes that rely on and strengthen a moderate reformist establishment.” What exactly is this guy recommending? A moderate reformist establishment? He is the dean of a law school and has served as a consultant to the World Bank on judicial reform in Latin America. That’s not quite my idea of who NACLA should be publishing, but from what I have heard through the grapevine they are close to bankruptcy. Maybe that’s the market telling them that centrist pedantry doesn’t generate contributions.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 6, 2007 @ 6:08 pm

  4. Ran across this post during a search on Coppedge. I knew this guy was a fool when he claimed in a book on democracy that the only reason the coupmongers in Venezuela didn’t take over was because Chavez wouldn’t resign and therefore taking over the presidency would be unconstitutional.

    It seems pretty much any idiot can be professor nowadays.

    Comment by bh — May 5, 2008 @ 6:54 pm

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