Sunday, 1 March 2009

The worst it gets, the more Mugabe Chavez will become

Mugabe? What kind of exaggeration is that?
Well, things are still far from the Zimbabwe level, but it has only been because Chávez so far did not need to. With an oil boom as we had not seen for decades, he could spend immense amounts of money buying up people, even if he does not invest in Venezuela's sustainable development and even if the murder rate has more than tripled since he is in power and a lot of other things are not working as they should.

But now, with oil prices "only" 200% what they were when Chavez came to power in 1998 and only half what they were last year, Chávez will have to look for scapegoats. Bush is gone and even if Obama will become the new ogre, that won't be enough. Venezuela has price controls of every kind plus a stupidly overvalued currency, a disastrous economic management and more corruption than ever (which is to say a lot). In view of that, the country has the highest inflation rate of the continent and companies do not want to invest. Now, it is getting very difficult to national companies to survive in this framework. Things start to disappear from the supermarket shelves: from rice to toilet paper, you never know when you will see them again. That has happened time on and off in the last couple of years and now the situation is worsening again.

So Chávez decided to take over the rice factories.

Here in English
Here in Dutch
Here in German
Here in Russian
Here in French (most likely invalid link after today)

I forecast the following:
  • the government will keep up confiscating more companies this year
  • at the same time it will look for deals with foreign investors that can give them fast cash now, even if the deals are compromising Venezuela's future (think deals on oil, gold, wood, etc with the Chinese, Russians, French, even US American companies, in spite of all the anti-US talk). As investors know by now how risky Venezuela is getting, Venezuela's government wil have to pay an ever higher price
  • the government will start to promote, as it did some years earlier, squatting big time: there have been lots of squatters since 1999, a lot of them have even become professional squatters (getting one piece of land, reselling it, going to the next), but the amounts of people occupying buildings or lands have always increased when oil prices haven't risen fast enough or when they stagnated a bit, as in 2002)
  • the government will illegally slow down - again - the flow of tax money to areas where the opposition won in the last local elections and will use money in distributing goodies there to buy up new voters

That is still not a Zimbabwe level, at least not economically. We simply have too much oil still (even if it won't ever be enough to cover up all needs of 28 million people)

It is often difficult to explain Venezuela's political mess to Northerners as that they tend to think in absolute terms. They think conditions tend to be either like in Western Europe, with relatively free press, with real debates between government and opposition or like in a Lukashenko-like regime where no public dissent is tolerated. OK, they also suspect there are lots of countries where there is some form of democracy even if there are lots of human rights violations, like in Mexico. Still, when they hear the opposition cry we are heading into a dictatorship they rightly try to look for signs of a Lukashenko situation in Venezuela. They won't find it yet, even if they do report of a personality cult as seen only in Turkmenistan with their late dictator.

Venezuela is a wee bit different. We had a dysfunctional but real democracy for many decades now. We used to speak loud. There were lots of human right abuses, but still we had a democracy and we could speak out our minds. We still do after 10 years of Chavez in power, as long as we do not work as state employees. But things have been getting more difficult for years since 2002. Right now we have a dialogue of the deaf and the government is trying to make every possible open debate impossible. It still leaves a lot of apparent freedom of speech for some TV channels. It uses them as Potemkin long as they broadcast to a group of converted anti-Chavez supporters, everything is fine. That is how in Venezuela you have Globovisión, a TV channel you can only watch in open airwaves in Caracas and in places where people have cable or satellite dish. There you can hear Chavez is a dictator, that he is taking Venezuela to a path of communism and much more. The problem is that that channel and RCTV (similar stance, less political programmes) can only be seen by 30% of the Venezuelan population. Then you have a lot of private channels that have decided since 2002 to stay away from politics. They show a lot of sports and soap operas and the like. Finally you have on the other side the Chavez channels, which are just a Chavez propaganda machinery and where you hear the opposition are just a minuscule group of CIA-supported olygarchs who are planning a coup (as if Chavez had not been our first coupster in many decades). There are also the cadenas, which are government messages every radio or TV station in Venezuela has to broadcast live. The cadenas were used once or twice a year for a couple of minutes during previous governments, but now with Chavez we have several hours of cadenas a week. If you are on your car in Venezuela you better have some CDs with you.

Venezuelans read very little even if literacy for many decades have been over 90%. Those who do read can buy El Universal and El Nacional, which are relatively good newspapers critical of Chavez where many Chavez supporters also write (and praise Chávez). They can also read Tal Cual, a magazine mostly bought by the political junkies who oppose Chávez. Tal Cual's main editor is Teodoro Petkoff, a former guerrilla and current social democrat. Apart from that, there are the pro-government newspapers. There you would never have a person critical of Chávez talking, unlike in Globovisión, El Universal or El Nacional.

So, we are far far away from Zimbabwe, both politically and economically. Still, we will be getting closer to it every day.


  1. The thing which bothers me about fellows like Mugabe is that they are so out of touch. He threw a birthday party for himself. The cost was estimated at a quarter of million. On top of that he asked $2 billion in aid from his neighbors. Go figure.

    So many of his poor have fled to South Africa it has created big problems for them. They have plenty of their own to take care of.

  2. The confiscations started
    (in Spanish):
    First they will take over those fincas with unclear legal status (there are many like that in Venezuela) of people who are NOT supporting Chavismo.

  3. Two more things:
    Big reshuffle in Cuba
    with more military in power.
    That country's economic situation is rapidly worsening.
    I read in Spiegel there is no more rice there. Coincidence?
    Chavez would not occupy Polar just for Cuba, but perhaps he wants now to help Cuba a bit.

  4. Cuban Thing: El País online has an article today, suggesting that the reshuffle might be a move to make US-Cuban negotiations easier.
    Maybe this is a good side-effect of the embargo: Of course I would like to see free elections in Cuba, but the embargo is the wrong strategy for a long time.

  5. Oops wanted to say: Good side efect of the crisis, not embargo.

  6. I think very groups, mostly in the US (and perhaps within the Cuban government) want that embargo to continue.

    I will check out the article, but the wording of why some were sacked looked to me more like a last attempt at Fidelization than anything else.

    I wonder if the reshuffles now in the Venezuelan government are independent on the Cuban events...perhaps, perhaps not.

  7. The new reshuffle of the Venezuelan cabinet, though, can be just out of habit. At the beginning I was keeping a track at the amount of times Chavez changed the ministry of Interior and Justice...when the count hit 9 I stopped. Ministers come and go and some return to posts after one year. It is completely ludicrous stuff.

  8. Another factory seized:

    Obviously, Chávez is focusing on the food sector as he has been told what is coming next. With the crisis looming over Venezuela and the Bolivar currency ridiculously overvalued, those companies are not being profitable with the domestic market.
    Chávez does not want to devalue for the moment and he does not want to let prices rise further, so he decides to take over the areas that could cause a major disruption.

  9. What's with the opposition's "perro muerto" strategy? Are they conciously avoiding to engage the government so as to have an excuse when the crisis hits the fan, or are they demoralized and hopeless?
    Of course, defending private industry would only provoke Chavez into expropriating quicker (you know how he rolls), but frankly, the "let's step back and watch everything crumble" is a kind of kamikaze approach.

  10. The canus mortus strategy?
    I think they are rather clueless, the canus stolidus way.

    I wrote it in Caracas Chronicles: people hope it won't affect them, it is "just the agricultural business" now, let's remain low profile and pray.

    We do need a new strategy (or rather plan B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I) but so far all our strategies have been thought up to the second or third step, never through.

    We definitely need to be more proactive. Think taking over their "participatory democracy" crap, create groups of interests with ninis and even Chavistas light. There are thing 70% of the population can agree on which won't be liked by the government. We need to ask for them and talk about them time after time, we need to propose many of them and put the government on the defensive.
    Then we can start further action.

    But to do this the Borges and others MUST listen a lot to the people who are still not supporting us but who are not hard-core government apparatchiks and similar thugs. There are a couple of million of those people.
    They and we can start demanding things from the government.
    I will go into this on a post.


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