Democracy Growing in Venezuela, Justice Says

Despite ongoing conflicts between supporters and opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the country is making progress as a democracy, according to Venezuelan Supreme Court Justice Fernando Ramon Vegas Torrealba, who spoke on April 13 at UC Irvine in an event titled ‘Venezuela and the Struggle for Democracy.’
Torrealba’s lecture, which concerned the changes in Venezuela following the Bolivarian Revolution and the consequent drafting of a constitution by the people followed a screening of the documentary film ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.’
Torrealba gave a historical account of Venezuela’s democracy before the establishment of its 1999 constitution, and compared it with Venezuela’s current status as a democracy.
‘We have a full democracy in function,’ Torrealba said. ‘We have complete and absolute rights of expression and rights of the press. Everybody says what they want to say. [Hence] opposition [to the government] has shrunken and shrunken.’
Torrealba addressed new laws concerning health care and education, as well as Venezuela’s influence in triggering similar democratic revolutions in other South American nations. He also spoke about Venezuela’s position as one of the world’s largest oil exporters, and briefly addressed the country’s current relations with the United States.
The documentary screened at the beginning of the event focused on the struggles that Chavez encountered as the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, a Socialist movement among Venezuela’s lower classes, and the way in which the people of Venezuela responded to his leadership. The documentary showed scenes from an attempted coup against Chavez.
Although the documentary was not a part of Torrealba’s intended lecture, Torrealba addressed questions from the audience concerning both his lecture and the documentary.
‘I thought that it was very important to have an event like this,’ said graduate student in Spanish and Portuguese Angela Espinosa. ‘I was very impressed that African-American studies [which co-sponsored the lecture with the Center for Law and Society] was able to get [Torrealba] here to speak with us. They did a good job of presenting the documentary beforehand. [Torrealba] was very generous with his answers and did a very good job in answering everyone’s questions.’
Torrealba’s visit to UCI was part of his nationwide tour speaking about democracy in Venezuela.
Torrealba became a member of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice in August 2004, and served as a member of the Electoral Chamber in January 2005. He obtained his law degree from the Central University of Venezuela and a master’s degree in the laws of economic integration in 1977. As an expert in commercial relations and an established writer, Torrealba works on international trade agreements with companies that wish to conduct business with Venezuela and writes regularly for newspaper columns.
‘The event was very informative and very clear,’ said second-year history graduate student Giovanni Hortua. ‘He was very open to discussing any issue. I think the students got a good general impression of what is going on in Venezuela and [what might occur] in the future of Venezuela.’