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Venezuela watches the Arab revolutions

Journalist and Venezuelan expat Francisco Toro shares his perspective

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What makes a government more likely to be overthrown than others? According to Venezuelan journalist, Francisco Toro, the answer resides in its political vulnerability.

“The brittleness of a government is a pre-condition to its collapse. When a regime gets to the point of forcing an entire country to fake loyalty, the chances for overthrow are very high,”  said Toro.

Currently completing a PhD at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, Toro also writes a blog about Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, and its social and political situation since the mass protests and general strikes against Hugo Chávez’ government between 2002 to 2003.

“What is going on today in the Arab countries is similar to the situation in Venezuela nine years ago. Yet, in some ways, it is different, and this difference is the reason why they succeeded in the attempt and we didn’t,” he said.

According to Toro, the situation of the Arab states protesting today differs from Venezuela’s at the time of the anti-Chávez movement primarily in the structure of their autocratic regimes. The difference is that Venezuela operated through selective intimidation rather than the general hardship and human rights violation of the Arab states. He attributes this to political division within the country, and the influence of pro-Chávez supporters.

“Overthrowing a government is not always the best solution. In the case of Venezuela, the government was much stronger. It has taken us ten years to realize that the best strategy to improve the politics was to exploit the small space for liberty that we were given,” he said.

In hindsight, Toro sees the 2002 demonstrations in Caracas as a mirage. Having lived through the demonstrations, he remembers being incapable of visiting his sister on the other side of the city due to protests on every corner. He recalls how demonstrations were announced along with traffic updates on the radio.

“The feeling was insane. Watching the events occurring at Cairo a little more than a month ago stirred up all those memories and dreams of social change and liberty,” he said.

Toro, however, was quick to draw a distinction between that and the current situation in Cairo.

“What has been occurring in Egypt is not a mirage. Severe autocracies are brittle, because they crack down on human rights. We would not have been able to have this conversation two weeks ago in such societies, and people are aware of that,” he stated.

Toro also pointed to stronger ties with the outside world due to the staggering expansion of media and various other methods of communication.

“When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, I was a 12-year-old boy in Venezuela. Europe seemed to me like another planet. I didn’t feel the slightest repercussion of it. And that was only about twenty years ago,” he said. “What is going on in Egypt and in Libya is exhilarating.”

Toro explained that in recent years journalists, politicians, lawyers and activists alike have developed the international consensus that the influence and power of ideas shaped by the public cannot be denied.

He spoke to the establishment of internationally recognized norms of justice and how the protests in the Arab world have prompted many people with similar political climates to consider their own governments.

“It brings about the question of what government can be legitimate in this world,” he said. “It is, after all, the 21st century.”

Francisco Toro’s blog can be found at