Lessons from Venezuela

William Ury

Director of the Global Negotiation Project, Program on Negotiation, Harvard Law School

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: Venezuela; too early to call? So far okay?

A: Yeah two or three years in is too early to call but it's still the key thing is, even if you go back and rewrite the history of the last three years, here's a time when most, I would say, international observers would have expected a lot more violence and possibly even escalation to civil war that hasn't happened; it's a dog that hasn't barked. Now, could it still happen? Yes, I mean, it could still happen. But things and are a lot of people unhappy with the situation there? Yes. Is the conflict far from over? Yes, it's far from over but I'm just saying I'm not saying it's a success story

Q: No, no

A: But I am saying that it's an example of - an experiment, one of those experiments going on the world today - of trying to prevent war before it happens.

Q: Right. And I think the global opinion also played a factor there when the coup, marginally supported by the United States, was condemned the world over .

A: And that's the third side. And Brazil, for example, and other Latin American countries said, "That's not the way we do business around here anymore " and in fact they shamed the United States into remembering the ideals are democracy here, and so the United States had to change its tune. Q: Ok, so lessons learned from that? Is it too early for lessons learned from Venezuela and the third sider ?A: Oh no I don't think it's too early for lessons learned; it's too early to claim it as a success story. But there are a lot of lessons.

Q: Top three?

A: Top three lessons I'd say one of them is, work from within the society and try to empower those inside society and the forces inside the society - the inner third side. The job of the outer third side is to empower the inner third side; it's not to come in and rescue the situation. Number two is media. Very important. The media, not in every situation but in most of these situations, the media plays an enormously important role. It can be destructive and can also be turned into a more constructive role. The media is key to the mobilization of the third side and to enter the conflict itself. So pay attention to the media. And number three, think about separating the roles so that One thing that happened here was that the Carter Center, for example, was playing the role of let's say mediator, but it was also playing the role of electoral referee - an arbiter. And for example, when it called the elections, this last referendum, it called fair, then it was regarded by the opposition, which many people didn't regard it as a fair election, it diminished it's ability to play the role of the mediator. So you want to think about maybe separating the functions, the merit of separating the functions, so that you have different organizations playing different roles, that are working in coalition with each other, but not necessarily all played by the same organization.

Q: Right. The risk of tainting one decision in one arena.

A: At least think about that.