US boosts aid to Syrian opposition, but are rebels ‘turning against America’?

The Obama administration today moved to bolster Syria’s opposition with a commitment of $45 million in non-lethal and humanitarian assistance, but the aid may not be enough to stop a backlash against the U.S., a prominent senator warned.

The announcement coincided with reports that Assad’s sister has left for the United Arab Emirates in what one analyst calls a further “blow to the regime.”

The U.S. would contribute $15 million in non-lethal— mostly communications – equipment as well as $30 million in humanitarian assistance to aid refugees and other victims of the violence, said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

She welcomed signs of stronger coordination between rebel groups within the notoriously factional opposition.

‘‘It is encouraging to see some progress toward greater opposition unity, but we all know there is more work to be done,’’ Clinton said.  ‘‘We are working to help them strengthen their networks, avoid regime persecution and document human rights abuses.”

The boost in assistance is at least partly a response to growing concerns that the West’s failure to assist democratic forces within the opposition is contributing to the growing influence of radical Islamists and raising the risk of sectarian conflict.

“We know the regime will do everything it can to pit communities against each other and that extremists will be eager to exploit tensions and impose their own brutal ideology,” Clinton said. “So the opposition and civil society will have to be especially vigilant against this threat and reassure minorities they will be safe in a post-Assad Syria.

AP reports: The new U.S. humanitarian assistance — which brings America’s total humanitarian contribution to more than $130 million since the crisis began — will include food, water, blankets and medical services to victims of the violence. U.S. officials said on Thursday that an earlier shipment of medical goods provided by USAID had just arrived in southern Syria. The officials would not provide details of how the aid made it into Syrian territory.

The additional non-lethal support brings the total U.S. contribution in that area to nearly $40 million since the crisis began and includes 1,100 sets of communications equipment, including satellite-linked computers, telephones and cameras and training for more than 1,000 activists, students and independent journalists.

‘‘Conditions in Syria continue to deteriorate as the Assad regime relentlessly wages war on its own people,’’ Clinton said.

The opposition may also be buoyed by reports that Assad’s sister has left for the United Arab Emirates:

It is unclear if Bushra al-Assad’s brother has approved her trip and sources told the Financial Times the trip is not a defection but an attempt to protect her children after the assassination of her husband in July.

Even if it is not a defection, her departure will be a blow to the regime, said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma.

“You can’t overestimate how much Syria is run by an extremely narrow group of people who are all intermarried – this is a family business at heart, it’s about traditional loyalties,” said Landis. “When you have a family member like Bushra leave the country, it’s a vote of no-confidence.”

But the boost in U.S. aid may not be sufficient to ensure a ‘democracy divided” for the U.S. in a post-Assad Syria, warned Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who met opposition leaders in Turkey earlier this month.

“The overall feeling is of deep disappointment and increasing anger at the United States among the opposition forces,” Lieberman told The Cable’s Josh Rogin, noting that the rebels are struggling to understand why they aren’t receiving more American help. “They know they are getting some help from the Saudis and the Qataris and the Turks. They see a little more from us, but not anywhere near what they need,” he said.

Lieberman and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) met with senior leaders of Free Syrian Army branches during a recent trip to Istanbul.

Following a meeting of the Friends of Syria group, the Arab League’s Secretary-General called for a Security Council resolution to endorse the Geneva declaration – agreed by both Russia and the West – that calls for a political transition.

“What is important is that Geneva…agreed that we should start a transitional period, from the present regime to another regime so that Syrian people’s rights will be met,” said Nabil El-Araby. “If we are truly friends of Syrian people we will take steps to save the whole region from an expanded civil war, and causalities of massive proportions.”

Despite the new assistance package for the opposition, the Obama administration remains adamantly opposed to more active intervention, says a leading analyst.   “Russia and China are blamed – and rightly so – for blocking UN measures to halt the murderous repression of Bashar al-Assad’s regime,” writes the FT’s Philip Stephens:

Diplomats, however, report that none is as determined as the US administration to avoid being drawn into the conflict. The message delivered to Europeans by their US counterparts is that the US does not have sufficient strategic interest to become embroiled in a Syrian civil war. The representative of one close ally of the US has been heard to remark that if Moscow really wanted to discomfit Washington it would lift its veto on international action.

“As more parts of Syria’s control slip from the regime to the opposition, we’re supporting civilian opposition groups as they begin providing essential services – reopening schools, rebuilding homes, and the other necessities of life,” said Clinton:

Dedicated civil servants are working to preserve the institutions of the Syrian state while freeing them from the regime’s corrupt influence. In these places, we are seeing the emergence of a free Syria, and the United States is directing our efforts to support those brave Syrians who are laying the groundwork for a democratic transition from the ground up.

A growing chorus of voices, including Zalmay Khalilzad, a former US envoy to the UN, and former State Department policy planner Anne-Marie Slaughter, has called on the administration to provide not only nonlethal technical assistance, but to arm Syria’s pro-democratic opposition in order to counter extremists.

Khalizad and Slaughter are both board members of the National Endowment for Democracy.

‘Hypocrisy goes global’: blasphemy issue vital to future of Arab democracy

The struggle over blasphemy is a part of the larger debate on the future of democracy in the Arab world and beyond, writes Arch Puddington Vice President for Research at Freedom House.

The amateur anti-Islamic video that provoked the recent violent anti-American protests has not only “reignited efforts to enact global legislation that would penalize insults to religion,” but also prompted “an epidemic wave of hypocrisy,” he argues:

First, there is Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who called for recognizing “Islamophobia as a crime against humanity”…… Yet even as he speaks dismissively of “hiding behind the excuse of freedom of expression,” Erdogan presides over a government that is a world leader in the jailing of journalists.

Then there is Hassan Nasrallah (above), the political and spiritual leader of Hezbollah. In a televised speech to his followers in Lebanon, Nasrallah declared: “Those who should be held accountable, punished, prosecuted, and boycotted are those who are directly responsible for this film and those who stand behind them and those who support and protect them, primarily the United States of America.” But while Nasrallah demands punishment for those who have insulted Islam, he has publicly and repeatedly pledged solidarity with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, a man responsible for the violent deaths of up to 20,000 Muslims.

The available evidence confirms that the violent anti-American protests were not a “spontaneous reaction” to the 14-minute video, but were pre-organized, writes Yarim-Agaev, a former Soviet dissident:

The film, “Innocence of Muslims,” was available on YouTube for a long time without attracting any attention. Two days before the riots, the film was broadcast in Arabic on the Salafi Egyptian television channel Al-Nas. Several popular preachers on other conservative Islamic satellite channels called upon people to turn out Tuesday at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt. If this was not organization, what was it?

“Protests orchestrated on the pretext of slights and offenses against Islam have been part of Islamist strategy for decades,” says Husain Haqqani, professor of international relations at Boston University and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

The debate over freedom of expression “is a distraction from what is really going on,” he contends.

“It ignores the political intent of Islamists for whom every perceived affront to Islam is an opportunity to exploit a wedge issue for their own empowerment,” writes Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2008-11:

Islamists almost by definition have a vested interest in continuously fanning the flames of Muslim victimhood. For Islamists, wrath against the West is the basis for their claim to the support of Muslim masses, taking attention away from societal political and economic failures. For example, the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Conference account for one-fifth of the world’s population but their combined gross domestic product is less than 7% of global output—a harsh reality for which Islamists offer no solution.

“The Arab world is at an important crossroads. It is time to abandon this false narrative” of a Western war against Islam, says a former radical Islamist.

Across much of the Muslim world, the democratic West is “viewed through a hodgepodge of conspiracy theories, half-truths and a selective reading of history,” writes Ed Husain, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of The Islamist:

When I met Muhammad Mahdi Akef, the influential former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, in April 2011, he insisted that Al Qaeda was a figment of the Western imagination. The idea that it doesn’t exist, that the United States attacked itself, is buttressed by preachers in mosques, on satellite television channels and in glossy Arabic books.

When I watch Al Jazeera Arabic I am stunned by unchallenged references in talk show interviews to the “American Zionist plan” or “the American enemy” or the “ally of the Zionist entity.” Attacking the United States has become part of the political culture in much of the Middle East.

If hypocrisy is a common feature of many reactions to the crisis, “so is the limp response of democratic political leaders,” writes Puddington. “In this regard, President Obama’s relatively straightforward defense of freedom of expression at the United Nations stands as one of the less apologetic affirmations of the values of freedom in the face of pressure from the advocates of censorship.”

But the overly apologetic response of some Western leaders is explained by a failure to understand the lessons of history and the nature of ideologically-driven political actors, says Yarim-Agaev, a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.

“Any suggestion of compromise or acceptance of the legitimacy of your enemy’s ideology is a sign of your weakness—which only provokes further attacks,” he contends:

It is not surprising that America’s leaders are not proficient in the strategies and tactics of ideological warfare. Lessons learned from communism are now long forgotten, and are certainly not taught to current U.S. politicians. ……..We did not start wars with communism, Nazism or Islamism. They were imposed upon us. Those ideologies thrive on confrontation with the free world. Today we must revisit Kristallnacht, the Holocaust and the Cold War, to recollect our successful experience of dealing with those virulent ideologies.

“The struggle over blasphemy is a part of the larger debate on the future of democracy, both in the Arab world and beyond,” Puddington argues on the Freedom House blog:

Those who stand firm behind freedom of expression are not advocating offensive speech, but the fundamental right of all human beings to decide for themselves what speech to endorse, denounce, dismiss, or ignore. This right applies not just to YouTube videos, but also to the words of political leaders. And that is the true reason why many leaders are so eager to restrict it.


Burundi – no poster child for democratic development

Burundi is not making a good case for the virtuous circle of pluralism and good governance generating economic growth, writes Dave Peterson, especially when neighboring Rwanda’s authoritarian model of development appears so successful.

The Chinese model of authoritarian development seems to be gaining some currency in parts of Africa, such as Rwanda.  Rwanda’s evident economic success, whatever problems it may have with equity and sustainability, is in stark contrast to neighboring Burundi’s continuing poverty.  Starker still is the so-called good governance Paul Kagame’s iron fist has brought to Rwanda.  Corruption has been suppressed, order and discipline abound, and a path of peace, stability and growth seems to have been found.  In comparison, Burundi’s corruption and dysfunction only seem to get worse. 

The only good thing that could once be said of Burundi was that at least it was democratic, while Rwanda was not.  The 2005 elections heralded a new beginning after Burundi’s long civil war.  But the 2010 elections were a different story, however free and fair international observers declared them.  They had their flaws, and rightly or wrongly the opposition boycotted.  Since then, unfortunately, Burundi’s hard-won freedoms have eroded considerably.  Opposition leaders fled the country, extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses increased, and insecurity returnedAccording to Freedom House, Burundi’s once-decent partially-free rating of 3 for political freedoms in 2005 had fallen to 5 last year.  Nevertheless, Rwanda’s political freedom rating remains at 6, which I would argue is overly generous. 

In addition, those of us in the democracy-building community have often assumed or contended that democracy will engender peaceful political competition that will in turn result in good governance that will then lead to economic development.  Ghana might be considered an instance of this kind of development, but Africa offers precious few other unambiguous examples. 

Burundi’s negotiated peace had been hailed as a model for sub-Saharan Africa.  Indeed, according to a focus group study from the National Democratic Institute, ethnic divisions in Burundi largely receded, a development largely attributable to the open political process.  Rwanda, by contrast, has criminalized discussion of ethnicity, and despite the current calm and apparent stability, observers fear that domination by a single minority ethnic group is unsustainable and will inevitably lead to conflict, instability and violence.  Yet, since the 2010 elections it is Burundi that experienced the surge in violence and human rights abuses, although this may be subsiding. 

Fortunately, several NED-funded civil society groups in Burundi are addressing these issues.  

The drift towards monopartism, corruption, and human rights violations dominated the agenda of a conference held a few days ago on September 24 – International Democracy Day – organized by the Civil Society and Electoral Monitoring Coalition (COSOME). About 40 representatives of political parties, civil society, religious leaders, democracy experts, a member of the electoral commission, and two former presidents, Sylvester Ntibantunganya and Domitien Ndayizeye, debated the duties of politicians;  called for greater democratic control and more space for civil society; and  recommended greater freedom of expression, more control over political institutions, and inclusive dialogue.  They contrasted the democratic system enjoyed by the elites and their “Bretton Woods bosses” to the democracy of the people, who contend with unemployment and insecurity.  There were many other criticisms, admonishments and recommendations, all of which was broadcast on three radio stations. 

What I found most remarkable about all this was that such an event could never be held in Rwanda.  Any criticism of the government there is only heard in whispers and behind closed doors.  The Rwandan media would never broadcast such a debate.  The idea of having representatives from so many different political parties getting together in the same room to have an open discussion would seem unfathomable in Rwanda today, but in Burundi it is normal, if rare. 

Another NED partner, PARCEM (Parole et Action pour le Reveil des Consciences et l’Evolution des Mentalites – above) has a more direct interest in good governance, particularly the fight against corruption.  It is well known that Burundi is plagued by corruption at every level and it is now considered the worst performer in East Africa, which has some pretty tough competition in that category.  Surely this discourages investors, both domestic and international, and generates cynicism and conflict among citizens.  Corruption undermines the rule of law, weakens government institutions and squanders resources.    Yet Faustin Ndikumana, PARCEM’s president, was arrested earlier this year for his efforts to expose corruption in the judiciary. 

The group currently has a modest NED grant to campaign for better laws to combat corruption, including a Freedom of Information Law.  I was surprised in perusing both the World Bank and the International Crisis Group’s recommendations for Burundi that enactment of such a law was not suggested.  The Freedom of Information law in Nigeria seems to be making a significant contribution to the fight against corruption and it has become a contentious issue in South Africa.  Many other African countries are considering similar provisions. 

Civil society doesn’t have all the answers to the problems that bedevil Burundian democracy, but greater respect for freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression can certainly help strengthen the enabling environment for transparency and good governance, and ultimately economic growth.  Arresting whistle blowers, human rights activists, and journalists is certainly not conducive to good governance, economic growth, or social peace, and the international community should be more forceful in denouncing such behavior.  Rather, more support should go to such groups to insure that other support to the government is not wasted through corruption.

“Better poor and free than rich and a slave.” Sekou Toure was referring to his former French masters, and did not turn out to be much of a democrat himself, betraying and in turn enslaving the people of Guinea.  But democracy offers an alternative.  NDI’s focus groups noted Burundians’ desire for freedom and democracy, and I think most Rwandans would want the same thing if given the chance to express themselves and vote freely. 

Dave Peterson is the Senior Director of the Africa Program at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

Vietnam: ‘Communist rulers losing’ battle against dissident blogs

“The Internet has become the principal staging ground for dissent in Vietnam, and its Communist rulers are trying to clamp down with new laws, stepped up arrests, intimidation and longer prison sentences. But so far, it’s a battle they are losing,” AP reports:

The 7-iron resting against the wall in Le Quoc Quan’s office is for self-defense, not sport. The human-rights lawyer and blogger has not left home without the golf club since being beaten last month by iron-bar-wielding men he suspects were sent by the police.

If the assault was meant to silence him, it failed. Within days he was back online, and reporting about the incident.

“The growth of the Internet is endangering the government,” Quan (above) told The Associated Press. “People can actually read news now. There is a thirst for democracy in our country.”

Experts say Hanoi lacks the money and know-how to comprehensively censor content like its neighbor China, which has a solid firewall and big tech companies that operate their own popular social media products that Beijing can easily control. Vietnam is also undergoing a sharp economic downturn, and the more it restricts the Internet, the more it diminishes an engine of growth that sustains small businesses, connects exporters to markets and encourages innovation.

“Vietnam’s government portrays itself as the sole guardian of the country’s national interest, yet economic slowdown, state-backed land grabs, and perceived territorial concessions to China are increasingly criticized by independent bloggers,” said Shawn Crispin, south east Asia representative of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Vietnam’s Communist authorities this week imposed harsh prison sentences on three bloggers accused of spreading anti-state propaganda.

One of the convicted bloggers, Nguyen Van Hai, who writes under the pseudonym Dieu Cay, or Peasant’s Pipe, was among several detained journalists cited by President Barack Obama in a speech on World Press Freedom Day.

The U.S. has called for the bloggers’ release.

“The government’s treatment of Dieu Cay appears to be inconsistent with Vietnam’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights relating to freedom of expression and due process,” said a statement from the U.S Embassy in Hanoi. “There will be more arrests, more protests, but that is OK,” said Quan, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. “It will bring change.”

Land seizures by party officials are an increasingly common online complaint, AP adds, and the issue is seen by many as one of government’s most vulnerable spots. Protests of seizures are often organized online and blogged about afterward.

Such efforts are getting easier as more Vietnamese get online. About 30 percent of them have Internet access, which in Vietnam is growing at one of the fastest rates in Asia. A survey by McKinsey and Co. in April found that the Internet sector currently contributes 1 percent of Vietnam’s gross domestic product.

“The government is somehow scrambling to put the genie in the bottle, but you have a much more assertive citizen that has been empowered by new information technology,” said Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch. “The organizing ability of the new social media allows people with disparate agendas to link up more closely.”

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), is calling for concerned individuals to write to the authorities in Viet Nam urging them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Dieu Cay, Mr. Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan, as well as of all human rights defenders in Viet Nam;

ii. Release Mr. Dieu Cay, Mr. Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan immediately and unconditionally as their detention seems to merely sanction their human rights activities and is contrary to national and international law;

iii. Put an end to all acts harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Dieu Cay, Mr. Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan, as well as against all human rights defenders in Viet Nam;

iv. Comply with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular: its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, as well as Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

v. More generally, ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Viet Nam.

Addresses: ·

H.E. Mr. Pham Binh Minh, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1 Ton That Dam St., Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-37992000; 080 48235; Fax: 84-4-38231872 – 84-4-37992682, Email: ·

H.E. Mr. Nguyen Thai Binh, Minister of Interior, 37A Nguyen Binh Khiem St., Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-39764116 – 84-4-39764278; Fax: 84-4-39781005 ·

H.E. Mr. Ha Hung Cuong, Minister of Justice, 56-60 Tran Phu St., Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-37336213 – 84-4-37338068 ; Fax: 84-4-38431431 ·

H.E. Mr. Tran Dai Quang, Minister of Public Security, 44 Yet Kieu St., Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-069 42545 – 84-4-048 226602; Fax: 84-4-9420223 ·

H.E. Mr. Vu Duc Dam, Minister, Office of the Government (OOG), 1 Hoang Hoa Tham St. Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-80 43100 ; 84-4-80 43569; Fax: 84-4-80 44130 ·

H.E. Mr Vu Dung, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotential, Permanent Representative, 30 chemin des Corbillettes, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Geneva, Switzerland; Tel (Assistant): +41 022-791 85 40; Phone: +41 (0) 22 791 85 40; Fax : +41 (0) 22-798 07 24; Email : ·

HE Mr. PHAM Sanh Chau, Ambassador, Boulevard Général Jacques 1, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Tel: +32 (0)2. 379 27 37 ; Fax : +32 (0)2. 374 93 76; Email : – Please also write to the embassies of Viet Nam in your respective country.

With ‘Chávez cult over,’ who will decide Venezuela’s election?

A group of eminent persons today expressed concern about the “precarious state of affairs” in Venezuela and called on the international community to “remain firm and persistent” in demanding a free and fair election in next month’s standoff which pits incumbent Hugo Chávez against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles (left).

“The situation in the country is marked by a high degree of uncertainty, because no one knows to what lengths Chávez might go to retain his grip on power,” says the group,* which includes Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, former German president Richard von Weizsäcker, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former South African president Frederik Willem de Klerk, French philosopher André Glucksmann and Roman Catholic theologian Michael Novak.

“What is clear is that the regime appears increasingly determined to ensure its survival by any means necessary,” say the signatories,* members of the Prague-based Shared Concern Initiative. “Chávez has all the normal advantages of incumbency, but can also be expected to use every available administrative resource at his disposal to ensure re-election.”

In the run up to the poll, there is one question at the forefront of everyone’s mind: does Hugo Chávez still have it? writes Francisco Toro:

By “it”, I mean his legendary, intense, emotional connection with the poor – a kind of attachment that has, for many, a feeling of religious fervor. Of faith. “Chávez is the only one who has ever really cared about the poor” – you hear his supporters say again and again.

But 14 years on, as even his most hardcore supporters acknowledge, Chávez’s experiment in 21st-century socialism isn’t really working. After the chaotic nationalization of most of the agro-industrial chain –, food shortages have become chronic…. Lines at subsidized government grocery shops are long, and particularly scarce commodities sell out almost the second they’re delivered.

The steel and cement industries can’t produce enough to meet the country’s housing needs; electric utilities have brought chronic blackouts throughout the country; and the phone company has failed to deliver adequate internet access. Venezuelans like to joke that Julian Assange passed over Venezuela for political asylum simply because the internet is so slow there.

Analysts say a strong turnout by disenchanted ex-Chávistas could tip the balance in favor of Capriles, AP reports:

The impression has grown that the president has become too enamored of his own global legacy while neglecting basic needs at home such as infrastructure and public safety. Chávez’s election manifesto of proposals for his next six-year term trumpets abstract ideas such as “preserving life on the planet and helping to save mankind,” a “new international geopolitics” and “a continuation of the 21st century socialism.”

“The votes of those who have changed sides are key in this race because without them, it would be impossible for Capriles to win,” said Luis Vicente Leon, president of Datanalisis. 

Capriles has “edged closer” to Chávez, according to recent polls, but still lags behind the incumbent in the run-up to the October 7 poll.

“It has taken Venezuela’s long-suffering opposition movement 14 years to decode Chávez’s intoxicating appeal and formulate a compelling alternative,” writes Toro, editor of the Caracas Chronicles blog:

Capriles can’t match Chávez for charisma, and doesn’t try to. But after 14 years of deepening economic dysfunction, administrative chaos and dependence on oil, he has sensed an opening for a no-nonsense campaign centered on institutionalizing the revolution’s social advances while sweeping away its legacy of political sectarianism, ideological rigidity and mismanagement.

“Never again should you have to show a Socialist party membership card to access a social programme,” Capriles says in his stump speech, invariably bringing the house down. The line hits home because every person in the audience knows someone who has been shut out of access to the latest oil bonanza for ideological deviance.

Chávez has insisted that buffalos will pass through the eye of a needle before he gives up power.

So what if he loses? The Economist asks:

He said earlier this month that a Capriles victory would lead to a “profound destabilization” of Venezuela, which might even cause “civil war”. The opposition worries that the army might back the president if he decided not to recognize defeat. In 2010 General Henry Rangel Silva, now the defense minister, said the armed forces were “wedded” to Mr Chávez’s socialist project and would find it “difficult” to accept a change of government, though he later qualified these comments. The president himself often says the army is Chávista.

Even if the army is not Chávista, though, most state institutions are. They will pose daunting problems to Mr Capriles if he wins. Should Mr Chávez win, he will try to use their power to make his “revolution” irreversible. But he is likely to find that power harder to wield in a country that is showing itself to be a lot more evenly divided than in the past.

*Frederik Willem de Klerk was President of South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. André Glucksmann is a philosopher and essayist. Vartan Gregorian is President of Carnegie Corporation. Michael Novak is a Roman Catholic theologian [and former board member of the National Endowment for Democracy]. Yohei Sasakawa is President of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. Desmond Tutu is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Richard von Weizsäcker was President of Germany. Grigory Yavlinsky is Chairman of the Russian United Democratic Party Yabloko. They are all members of the Prague-based Shared Concern Initiative.