VENEZUELA: Congressional Delegation

CDA has been taking delegations to Venezuela since early 2006 to help U.S. policy makers understand the political dynamics in the country, to look for opportunities to create a positive discourse between leaders in Venezuela and the United States, and to learn whether U.S. policy toward Venezuela is effective or requires reform.

CDA has led eleven delegations and research trips to Venezuela since our program began. We have observed the last four elections in Venezuela. We have tried to understand the substance and purpose of Venezuela’s social and political project. We have also focused on the important national security and economic issues affecting bilateral relations – considering the impact of world oil prices, the continuing availability of revenue for social projects, and the Chávez government’s pursuit of its foreign policy goals. We continue to follow Venezuela’s shifting economic fortunes and have reported concerns shared by many Venezuelans about government policies that threaten political spaces. Our trips, research, and reports attempt to capture the Venezuelan reality as it is, with all its complexity and contradictions.

This report provides an overview of the current political and economic situation in Venezuela, the state of U.S.-Venezuela relations, and related matters. It is primarily based on observations drawn from meetings and interviews in Venezuela from February 17 – 20, 2010. It contains our findings based on what our sources told us about these subjects:

• The prevailing economic and political conditions in Venezuela;

• The President’s strategy leading up to the National Assembly elections;

• The status of Venezuela’s political opposition;

• Conditions facing the media as a measure of the health of Venezuela’s democracy;

• Perspectives on the upcoming National Assembly Elections;

• The state of U.S.-Venezuela relations; and,

• Venezuela’s political future.

Our delegation included staff from three offices in the U.S. House of Representatives as well as Sarah Stephens, Executive Director, and Collin Laverty, Senior Program Associate, of the Center for Democracy in the Americas. On this trip we held meetings with Venezuelan government officials, businessmen, academics, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, community workers, everyday Venezuelans, journalists, and foreign and U.S. diplomats.

We chose to visit Venezuela at this time to make these assessments roughly six months before Venezuelans vote in elections for their National Assembly. These elections, scheduled for Sunday, September 26th, will be for every seat in the legislature, which consists of 167 deputies. CDA will return to Venezuela with a delegation to monitor those elections when they occur.