Monday, 12 April 2010

Getting used to a dictatorship

Tania Díaz

Goose and gander

The new Venezuelan minister of the Popular Power (sic) for Information, Tania Díaz, has just declared the first group of schoolchildren is ready to become "communication guerrillas". They will be used to spread governmental messages in Caracas and then throughout Venezuela. They will "present a new way of looking at the world through Bolivarian socialism". They will get all resources for that: loudspeakers, written material, courses of "communication".

A few days earlier, the government started a process against the opposition governor Salas Feo on the basis that he is "proselitizing in Carabobo state schools". What did he do? He distributed books and other school material with the image of his party. Obviously, he should not have done that, he should have distributed that material without any propaganda*. Still, it seems that in Chavista Venezuela what is good for the goose is not good for the gander.

Yesterday former coup monger and current president Hugo Chávez said that "if the opposition tries to do something irregular" he will speed up the revolution process. Former vice-president and journalist Rangel added on the same ocassion that "the opposition is not democratic and the opposition are behaving in a subversive way".

Venezuela as a political soap opera

The general public in democratic countries usually does not get to see how a country becomes a dictatorship. People hear that a country in some remote part of the world has been living under autocracy for decades and then a new dictator pops up in the news. Sometimes people just start to read more and more articles about growing problems with human rights somewhere with a name ending in 'an'.

Things have turned out to be different with Venezuela. It has become a permanent political soap opera. In 1998 the South American country was a democracy, albeit dysfunctional. It still was a democracy several years later, with Chávez in power. Chávez's clownish ways and the excitement by the left in Europe and North America guaranteed an almost permanent place for Venezuela in the news in Europe and North America.

A lot of people were crying "wolf, wolf" from the very beginning, but most foreign and national observers did not believe the coup monger of 1992 could become what he is now. After all: he came to power via elections. Some people from the right were saying Venezuela was becoming a sort of Cuba while doing their shopping in malls that were chock-a-block with imported stuff. The Venezuelan government has been organizing elections on a yearly basis. This is not a dictatorship, is it?

The Carter Centre and the EU did a very sloppy work in evaluating elections and the government has done a lot of unkosher things to "optimize" electoral results, but Chávez did have and has the support of millions. His popularity kept growing as oil prices kept rising and even if it has started to go down, it is still high. Everybody knows the opposition is deeply divided. It claims to be working now more united, but still it is made up of many dozens of political parties.

Things are a changin'

Venezuela is receiving several times the amount of petrodollars it was getting in 1998 but the economic situation is becoming more difficult and the country is in recession. The government knows it has to speed up its process for total control before things deteriorate further, specially in view of September's elections.

Fortunately for the Chávez regime, Venezuela has plenty of oil and gas and more is discovered by the day. Spanish oil giant Repsol just announced Venezuela's gas reserves have increased by 30%. Moratinos, Spain's leftist minister of foreign affairs, is certainly happy to hear that, specially with Spain's current economic situation.

Venezuela is still far away from a Cuban state, in spite of all those Cuban intelligence officers and in spite of all the governmental attacks and foul play.

Chávez's apologists still see space for hope. And even if things were to become like Cuba one day: isn't Cuba the romantic island of Buena Vista Social Club and the cocktails for rich European tourists? There is still plenty of room for getting used to it all, specially with so much oil at play.

* A reader sent me an email saying he did not know Venezuelan pupils don't usually get text books from the state and that he was shocked. He has good reason to be shocked and disgusted. I will go into more into the catastrophic problem we have with education in a new post.


  1. Venezuela is not a dictatorship.
    It is a mulit-party democracy.
    If Hugo Chavez wanted it otherwise,
    It would have been a dictatorship long ago - thanks to an opposition boycott he has the numbers in the federal legislature.

    Elections are free and fair.
    People are free to protest against and also for)the government.
    Media still largely owned by forces who supported the 2 day Carmona dictatorship.

  2. So maybe in few years Venezuela is called Cubazuela.

  3. Venezuela is not a dictatorship. (No, not yet, but we're geting there)
    It is a mulit-party democracy.(Where the party of the government uses public funds and resources, which is a against the law, to further it's political aims, and gets away with it)

    If Hugo Chavez wanted it otherwise,
    It would have been a dictatorship long ago ( Yes, but he's stayed his hand por ahora, hasn't he? The arming of the militias outside of Regular Armed forces control is his counterweight and part of his push to finish the job)

    - thanks to an opposition boycott he has the numbers in the federal legislature. (The only sane argument in your comments)

    Elections are free and fair (Government workers are threatened with losing their jobs if they don't vote the party line. We're still waiting for the results from 2007, which are unpublished)

    People are free to protest against and also for)the government.(Protest for the government, no hassles, protest against, go to jail)

    Media still largely owned by forces who supported the 2 day Carmona dictatorship.(Media largely controlled by the government, few independent outlets left, and getting more polarized by the day)

    Come down off your cloud, skywalker, and open your eyes.

  4. Skywalker,

    Venezuela was a multiparty democracy. It is a multiparty autocracy becoming a dictatorship.
    The human right situation and climate towards pluralism is right now is actually quite similar to Russia's. Hey, you can have there Kasparov telling people Russia is not democratic. You can still read Novaya Gazeta.
    Venezuela still has the very pathetic Globovision, but we all know Globovision can only reach less than 28% of the population, those who already abhor Chavez.
    There are still a couple of newspapers, but their circulation is minimal.

    What I have been trying to say in this post is that Venezuela did not follow the normal patterns. Before Fidel there was another dictator.
    For decades now the pattern was: dictatorships are still only those countries that already had dictatorships before.
    Chávez was not able to install his system before. He even may not have been aware he would end up becoming the figure he is now, even if he was always authoritarian.

    As for elections: please, check out the link I provided on elections, including the report from an EU observer.

  5. From miguel octavios blog I am getting the impression that the economic situations is getting worse. International reserves are drying up and there seems to be no way to get credit for sustainable conditions for this Government. And there are still lots of bills to pay for sozialized enterprises and other heroic adventures of the fearless leader. Without groceries and other stuff to allot, rojo rojito schoolchildren won't help that much, I guess.

  6. Axel,
    I am a dummy in economics, but my impression is also that the government is getting into difficulties and things will get more and more difficult.
    I hear from good sources about the growing disappointment.

    Still, I would be cautious. Chavistas have shown more creativity than the Borges and others: even if their pseudo-ideology is contradictory at best and even if reality shows they are not delivering, they still touch some nerves, they tell stories that captivate some.
    Borges and similar? He talks from the point of view of a child who went to a private school (perhaps I am wrong) and who definitely went to a private university and then abroad. He talks from the viewpoint of someone whose friends live mostly in Eastern Caracas.
    He talks about private property and private property and private property and "don't mess with our private education".
    Although he has a point on talking about private property and all, he and a lot of the other oppo leaders are failing to talk to the vast majority and address problems that affect all Venezuelans.

    Very simplistically put:
    I think Chavista officials may be destroying the country, but they still give some millions the impression they care and that one day Chavez will correct the problems they "still have"
    The oppo leaders tell the converted they won't destroy Venezuela as Chavismo is doing, but they completely fail to talk to the poor.
    I read once a Tweet from Borges:
    "the poor are the most affected by the loss of private property"
    Can he please say something else where the phrase "private property" is not mentioned?

  7. I know I am being very hard with the opposition leaders, but how could I not at this stage and under these circumstances?

  8. We have our Borges, too. They are called FDP. You know that.
    And the 1.5 days Chávez wasn't president, they run in that FDP trap (Carmona on April 2002).
    Normally one might think, that Chávez would forge together more centrist politicians. But the party system probably fractioned long before Chávez. In the 90ties or earlier. Chiles Concertación somehow got their things together in mid 80ties, but as Ronald Reagan said about South America: Those are all different countries. There is a reason we have that 5% clause in Germany. It has to do with bad experiences during Weimarer Republik.
    Would venezoeleans like a more radicalized, cuban style system? Combined with further empoverishment? One day a lot of people without the oportunity to leave the country might get angry. The outcome would be chaos and violence.

    This neoliberal-chilean stuff has its own problems, anyway. A huge part of the "middle" class gets the ridiculous wage they allways got. I've seen one "credit contract" too much with 35% or more real interest rate. Issued by Banco Santander or some such. A guy who started to work at a bank out of University told me, that he doubts if he isn't made for that. He got the impresion that its all about putting some hidden extra fees on the credits of the poor. And during the earthquake nearly any public hospital between Talca and Chillán broke down and not one of those private clinics.
    But they really care more about education, even if some people invest a huge part of their small income for private schools. And with an expected steady growth rate of 4.5% there is at least hope. I expect their PISA to go up in the next quest, but its more because of some underpaid teachers and parents, who care about the future despite often not easy living conditions.

  9. "Normally one might think, that Chávez would forge together more centrist politicians. "
    One might...wrongly so.
    But then analyze the background of most of the new generation "oppo leaders". They are mostly guys who grew up in Caracas's East, went to private school, then to the UCAB and have a tourist visa for ten years for the United States. There is no crime in being like that, but when all your friends tend to be like that and on top of that you don't make the effort to spend some quality time actually listening to other groups, specially outside Caracas, you are bound to have what you have in Venezuela.

    Ever read Humboldt's Voyages to the Aequinoctial Regions? More often than not the dialogues he had with Venezuelans over 2 centuries ago are more or less the same now...some Venezuelans back then seemed to have been more open minded than now.


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