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Teodoro Petkoff Malec (Spanish pronunciation: [teo pet kof malek]; 3 January 1932 – 31 October 2018) was a Venezuelan politician, guerrilla, economist, and journalist. Petkoff, one of Venezuela's most influential figures on the left, began as a communist but later founded the broader socialist Movement Toward Socialism in response to Czechoslovakia's 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion. Petkoff ran for president twice in the 1980s and was defeated both times. He oversaw President Rafael Caldera's introduction of liberalization economic policies in the mid-1990s as Minister of Planning. He was a vocal critic of President Hugo Chávez and ran against him in the 2006 presidential election until he dropped out four months before the election to favor Manuel Rosales. Petkoff founded Tal Cual in 2000 and served as its editor until his death in 2018.
Life and career
His father was a Bulgarian emigrant and his mother was a Pole of Jewish origin. He received a Bachelor degree in Economics from the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) where he also served as a professor for 14 years. In the 1950s he was member of the student resistance against the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez and was imprisoned on several occasions. In the 1960s, along with his brother Luben Petkoff he was a guerrilla fighter under the command of Douglas Bravo against the government of Rómulo Betancourt. Later, he joined the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV).
In 1971, Petkoff left the PCV to found, along with other dissidents, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), after the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. He was a member of Congress and twice an unsuccessful candidate for president, gaining 4% in the 1983 presidential election and 3% in the 1988 presidential election.
In the second government of Rafael Caldera (1994-1999), MAS was in coalition with the centrist National Convergence party of Caldera, along with other left-wing parties such as the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) and the MEP, and other right-wing parties as the National Movement of Integration. Petkoff served as Minister of the Central Office of Coordination and Planning (Cordiplan), directing the government's economic policies. From Cordiplan, Petkoff managed the Venezuela Agenda, a neo-liberal government program for reducing the size of the public administration, controlling inflation and stopping the currency devaluation, while administering social programs aimed at improving the population's nutritional health and providing "children-mother" services for the poorest.
In 1998, Petkoff left the MAS because he was against its support of Hugo Chávez's candidacy (see ) in the 1998 Presidential election. He left the political world and became a journalist, working as a director of El Mundo. Afterward, he founded his own newspaper, Tal Cual. Tal Cual has been outspoken in its criticism of both Chavismo and those who supported the 2002 coup attempt against Chávez.
Petkoff wrote several political books. In 2005 he published The Two Lefts (Las dos izquierdas, Alfadil Editor, Hogueras Collection) where he analyzed the resurgence of left-wing politics in Latin America. Petkoff argued that there was a sharp difference between the governments of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Néstor Kirchner, and Ricardo Lagos, compared to the governments of Chávez and Castro, which he characterises as similar. The main ideas can be read in an article published in the journal New Society (Nueva Sociedad) in Spanish.
On 21 April 2006, after rumours indicating that a number of intellectuals and middle-class liberal activists had asked him to run in the 2006 Presidential election, Teodoro Petkoff launched his campaign to be the next president of Venezuela. In a short televised message he explained his reasons and asked Venezuelans to follow his lead in the construction of what he described as a new, better Venezuela. On 4 August 2006, Petkoff dropped out of the presidential race. Five days after dropping out of the race, he endorsed Manuel Rosales, former governor of Zulia State, for the presidency.
In July 2008 the Inter-American Dialogue published a paper by Petkoff about Venezuela under Chávez, saying “Chávez’s Venezuela is a Bonapartist democracy of sorts, a one-of-a-kind 'dictatorship.' He aims to make the armed forces the institutional base of his power.”
In an October 2012 interview, Petkoff noted that while Venezuela under Chávez retained certain democratic institutions, such as political parties and the electoral process, he described other aspects of democracy, such as “the full exercise of freedom of expression,” as being “very beleaguered” under Chávez. He said that “Chávez has more fascist than socialist elements, unless we speak of Stalinism: the cult of violence and death, contempt for opponents, singing to the past, and so on.”
On 12 May 2012, Petkoff and his wife were mugged by an armed man on a motorcycle after leaving a Caracas restaurant. In December 2012, while on the island of Margarita, Petkoff suffered a fall and sustained injuries that required surgery. Petkoff died on 31 October 2018.