The Incomplete Revolution

Professor Jennifer McCoy helped keep the peace in Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. Then she was run out of the country.

As director of The Carter Center’s Americas Program, Georgia State Distinguished University Professor of Political Science Jennifer McCoy has worked to broker peace and promote democracy in some of the most unstable Latin American countries.

She had a front-row seat to the national elections that ended the 10-year rule of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and sat across a table from a cigar-chomping Fidel Castro in Havana. During Hugo Chávez’s presidency in Venezuela, she led an effort to facilitate a dialogue among Chávez, his supporters and his opposition.

McCoy’s first visit in that endeavor came after a 2002 coup d’état attempt. Though Chávez was reinstated less than 48 hours later after an outpouring of Venezuelan support and pressure from the international community, he was rattled. Chávez invited The Carter Center to mediate.

After seven months of unsuccessful negotiations, McCoy flew to Caracas to meet directly with Chávez.

“We knew this was the last chance to get an agreement, and it required President Chávez’s personal imprimatur,” McCoy remembers.

Jennifer McCoy is director of the Carter Center's Americas Program and has been professor of political science at Georgia State University since 1984.

Jennifer McCoy is director of the Carter Center’s Americas Program and has been professor of political science at Georgia State University since 1984.

Chávez nitpicked over grammar and nuances, McCoy remembers, but he eventually signed. The accord laid the groundwork for a 2004 presidential recall referendum that could have cut short his term, but Chávez prevailed.

“The opposition had high hopes that President Carter and the center would be able to convince Chávez to step down, and were particularly crushed when it didn’t happen,” McCoy says.

Communications were abruptly severed as the opposition lost faith in The Carter Center, insisting that the results were fraudulent. The center had no choice but to shutter its office for a time in Venezuela. Without trust from both sides, it could no longer serve as an intermediary.

McCoy returned home to an onslaught of angry emails blaming her for Chávez’s survival as president. Her book International Mediation in Venezuela,” published by the U.S. Institute of Peace in 2011, details her experience.

After his death in March, major media outlets called upon McCoy to weigh in on the legacy of Chávez and the future of Venezuela.

“Chávez was a master at addressing very different interests and holding them together as the undisputed leader,” McCoy told the New York Times.

Chavez’s party is now led by his protégé and former vice president, Nicholas Maduro, whose razor-thin victory in the 2013 Venezuelan special presidential election was a surprise to both sides. McCoy led an election delegation and wrote an extensive report.

“The opposition disputed the election results and both sides will need to work together to restore electoral legitimacy in the future,” McCoy says. “I hope to be able to contribute to that effort.”