Monday, 28 January 2008

Hugo Chávez Gómez

Venezuela is a democracy since 1958. It has been very dysfunctional, there is corruption as much as you can imagine, there is nepotism, there have been violations of human rights all the time, but it has been a democracy for many decades since then. I grew up in a country where people could more or less criticize and insult anyone they wanted and they did that often with all their heart. Some did get into real trouble by expressing their ideas before and since Chávez came to power, over 9 years ago. Still, Venezuela has been a democracy all the time...sorts of.
We make a lot of noise, we resist. We are used to that.

That is why Chavez has had so many troubles to reach his personal goals. That is why gullible foreigners have been puzzled by the claims of some parts of the opposition that Venezuelans live in a "dictatorship". There is such a thing as a mixed political system. There is Lukashenko light. There is Venezuela.

If you happen to visit Venezuela in the context of some EU delegation, if you belong to the left part of the Left and you are staying at a nice hotel with cable TV and you happen to watch Globovisión or another similar fierce opponent to Chavez, you might arrive at the conclusion that Chavez is a democrat and a rather permissive politician. If you just visit some shopping centre and take a guided tour by Chavista officials to some slum, you might become more sure Venezuelans live in total democracy. You might hear Globovisión saying Chávez is behaving like a dictator, that he is a monster, that corruption is unprecedented and nepotism has reached incredible levels. And you might think: well, that is not what one hears when visiting a country like Belarus or Cuba. You would never hear something like that in Iran or in China either.

The thing is: Chávez has been trying to push us into a dictatorship and things went well for him as long as petrodollars were flowing in fast enough. Chávez has played the game as long as he knew he had good chances. He threatened in a more menacing way when he felt more insecure. In 1998, when he was running for the first time, he kept saying if he did not win, "The People" would stand up and violence would ensue. He said the same thing time after time before the referendum of 2004, when it was not clear he would win. He kept repeating that time after time.
Chávez popularity started to drop last year. Corruption has been too much, mismanagement cannot be covered up by the huge amount of petrodollars, crime has hit everyone and all threats are way too much for the average Venezuelan.

Last December he lost a referendum. The referendum was intended to allow him to run for president as many times as he and, of course, The People, wanted, and it had some sweeties as well intended for the people (don't confuse with The People). Since then he has kept repeating people were lazy for not going to vote for him en masse, people did not understand the issues, his workers did not do their jobs and he once said the opposition's victory was just a pyrrhic
victory and one that was "shit, shit, shit".

He started saying he would push for his reforms in other ways. It seems he even forgot the sweeties he was adding to his reform to get it passed in December (sweeties like a 6 hour work day in a country where productivity is very low). His obsession is staying beyond 2013 and that is all he talks about, apart from hammering on against Colombia's government.

Yesterday Chávez declared in Aló Presidente that he would press for a referendum in 2010. That referendum would be ask people "a little question" (he keeps repeating "little" all the time). People would be asked if they want to allow indefinite reelections.

He said, more importantly, that there will be a war in case in the next elections a "counter-revolutionary" would win.

"If Hugo Chávez - he often talks in third person - has to hand over the presidency to some else, he won't give power to a counter-revolutionary because if he did, we would have a war. I am telling those Venezuelans who are confused or angry not to be short-sighted, we are the project of peace".

Hugo Chávez Frías is known for using the personality cult to Simón Bolívar in ways similar to what old dictator Juan Vicente Gómez did. He might be wanting to "Gomez us" in other ways now as well. What might he be thinking for 2013? He might think
  1. to let someone with the same maternal and paternal DNA he has be the president of Venezuela, someone like...hum, minister of Education Adan Chávez Frías
  2. to let a pawn of his do the same, someone like PDVSA chef Rafael Ramírez or any other "revolutionary" he likes
  3. to use violence in spite of results. In that case he would say the opposition did not leave him any option and he would have done it for the people (even if we know it is for the The People).
How can someone still call Chávez a democrat if Chávez is not able to accept that a "counter-revolutionary" may become the president of Venezuela, even if the people wants another person he does not like? Why would there be a war if the opposition wins and Chávez says he is the project of peace?

A reference about Gómez:

Juan Vicente Gómez claimed to have been born the day Simón Bolívar was born (well, our good chap Chávez does not say that about himself, it would be hard to believe). He was president of Venezuela from
  • 1908 until
  • 1914 when he gave the power to puppet Victorino Márquez Bustillos until
  • 1922, when he took over officially again and was president until
  • 1929, when he selected puppet Juan Bautista Pérez, who ruled in his name until
  • 1931, when Gómez took office again until he died in 1935, according to his friends on the very same day Simón Bolívar died.

To the EU observers: it takes more than just watching Globovisión in a nice hotel in Caracas (and going to guided tours) to get a picture of the state of democracy in Venezuela.


  1. Hi Kepler,

    Great article.


  2. Hi Kepler!

    Great post about Chavez. I totally agree with you on that Venezuela´s Democracy is disfunctional.

    I think that the most democratic time for Venezuela was ironically under Medina, and right with Betancourt, but the dream of the 58 quickly vanished in personalismos... we haven´t got out of that mentality... ufff

    However, here between Venezuelans, something that is remarkable different from Gomez to Chavez is that Gomez was a smart hacienda owner, something that Chavez seems to be quite the opposite. Gomez was a guy who eliminated the local caudillos a plomo limpio, and he succeeded, not like Chavez´s failed coup plan... one is a loser, the other wasn´t. I think this is important to take in consideration when comparing both dictators.

    I don´t know if it is because of the circumstances were different, but under Gomez there was an explosion of economic development (thanks to the discover of oil), he put in practice that newfound richness into making roads, pay the external debt, create the national guard... you know, what Chavez has done with this unprecedented oil cash flow? Given it away to other nations... he is paying the external debt. OK, and what else? I don´t think Gomez would have done something like that.

    Morover, he would have decapitated Daniel Ortega as him was talking about Venezuelan internal affairs right there in Aló Presidente. So much to criticize the US nosing around when they do the same.

    In that regards, and acting as Gomez´s devil´s advocate, I make a case for him, he loved his country, Chavez doesn´t.

    So, I guess what I wanted to say, I wish he were another Juan Vicente Gomez! Both dictators, not good, but Chavez doesn´t fit the shoes of Gomez at all.

  3. Hi, Feathers.

    The thing is it is hard to say Chávez is a full-right dictator.
    He does follow some very bad patterns we see popping up through Venezuela's history.

    To me Chávez is some weird mixture, something between a very dangerous demagogue and a potential dictator with some flashes of desire to help the poor that do not bring many fruits due to all the rest.
    He is not a full dictator but something light mostly because we do not let him get with it all.

    I believe that as you have countries with a mixed form of economy (planned economy and private
    enterprise, like China or Belarus) you also have countries with a mixed form between democracy and not-democracy, like Venezuela.
    Everything is a continuum, even in several countries within the OECD.

    I must differ about Gómez. Gómez was a bigger criminal. Venezuela's XX century began the day Gómez died. The only issue is that the petro state had not taken hold.

    My grandfather had to escape to the mountains for weeks to avoid getting drafted by the Gómez's army. He did not want to be part of Gómez's thugs (people either became criminals themselves or where oppressed there by the officers who did become criminal).

    Pimentel, Gómez's closest friend, had several haciendas on the lands where my grandparents grew up. People were living almost like in the Middle Ages: most farmers who worked for Pimentel did not get money, but vouchers they could exchange at Pimentel's shops.
    Pimentel had a complete harem there. The old people of the town told me how Pimentel would deliver small girls to Gómez for him to sleep with. I know this is not just myth.
    Some mothers were even giving their teenagers willingly to either of them to get protection.
    Gómez gave access to allow US companies to Venezuelan oil for less than peanuts.
    Many people were killed for their political believes, something we cannot say today, in spite of all the mobbing, of people who were sacked for their political positions and so on.

    Chávez is a very bad manager and he lets criminals do a lot of harm, but sometimes it is simply he cannot control his own thugs.
    Still, he did not do what Gómez did to Venezuelan universities. These were often closed for long periods. Gómez very strictly limited the things people could study there.

    I even would say some part of Chávez does love his country, but in a very sick way, like many very bad presidents and even dictators alike have done. That happens quite a lot. Actually a friend of mine who works in research in neurology often discusses with me about what characters like these believe in, to what extent they do the things they do because they
    want to enrich themselves or have more power and to what extent they are driven by some psychiatric problem. I do not believe Chávez wants to enrich himself, even if people around him (see article about the Chávez clan) want to.
    What he does want is power, by all means (other politicians just want power by electoral means only).

    I believe Chávez has serious psychiatric problems, that he is selfish, violent, very dangerous and still at the end of the day he might sometimes think he is doing something good for Venezuela.

  4. Feathers, and believe me: Chavez has everything for being a dictator. I would reserve the term 'full-fledge dictator' for someone who would have got his referendum. He is a half-grown golem and criminal. Although I often recognise the similar patterns between different full-fledged dictators and dictators-in-the-making I do not like comparisons of the time X was better than Y.
    Once people violate human rights on a systematic basis,
    they become criminals and a comparison of their evilness is not useful or may let some people think one is excusing one on the basis of the other.

  5. Kepler,

    Feathers has written an excellent article concerning Chavez's NPD, mental disorder, on her blog. It is a must read.

  6. "I believe that as you have countries with a mixed form of economy (planned economy and private
    enterprise, like China or Belarus) you also have countries with a mixed form between democracy and not-democracy, like Venezuela."

    Yes, I got your point he is not totally a dictator. I agree with you.

    About Gomez, I know he was a criminal... not defending him in that regard, just separating the differences he might have with Chavez.


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