Dynamics of Public Policy
Venezuelan public policies reflected the strong contrasts between the goals expounded by practically all major political parties and policy actors and the reality of their implementation. The constitution provides for access of the people to the government, principally via elections; but in its daily operation those with links to powerful groups, such as labor unions and business groups, enjoyed an undeniable advantage in influencing policy formulation. These groups therefore benefited more often and more directly from government policies.
It was not so much that a limited number of families controlled the system. Venezuela long ago ceased to be a rural society in which a few landowners could pick the president and run the country. Rather, through the sophisticated use of the system, certain politicians and political groups achieved a greater say in policy making. Through their various branches, the political parties served as conduits for both policy demands and implementation. Thus, when agrarian reform policies figured prominently in AD's programs, peasant leagues affiliated with the party exercised considerable influence in the formulation and implementation of reforms. These groups also benefited inordinately from these reforms.
This was not to say, however, that certain groups held exclusive access to government and to policy makers. Under the Venezuelan democratic system, various groups participated in the overall process. The system was less than totally open, however, in that certain groups had greater input in the policy-making process, depending on the issues or the status of the group. Thus, even in the modern era of civilian governments, the military would hold veto power in certain policy areas, such as border control or the pursuit of terrorists. In the formulation of economic policy, both the major labor unions and the major business groups affected would be heard at the highest levels of government, where compromises and deals were struck and the political parties and leaders would attempt to preserve their influence among competing constituencies.
The caution and political moderation resulting from the trienio and the harsh decade of dictatorship that followed served as a backdrop to the dynamics of policy-making in Venezuela. The high hopes and radical reforms of the trienio came to naught because too many groups felt threatened; the memory of that period served to deter political actors from pushing too far in one or another public policy area. Both AD and COPEI reinforced this moderating influence by according each other a certain level of participation in policymaking and policy implementation.
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