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.