Friday, 22 October 2010

Venezuela as a feudal state (I)

Dots above represent deputies for Distrito Federal (capital area). Dots on the left below represent the three deputies for the First Nations

Venezuela is a feudal state. In spite of the flashy shopping centres, the countless Blackberrys and the open way in which its citizens discuss sex and religion, it is is still tied to a very feudal mentality. This can be seen in many aspects of Venezuela's life: the country has a strong military caste, a group of people hold a lot of power not just economically but on every other aspect of life and caudillos distribute fiefs and other goodies for personal favours at will, land distribution is very unfair and a lot of property rights are based on very fluffy grounds, to say the least. The only difference with real feudal times is that the head of state does have a very strong power in Venezuela. That is mainly due to the petrodollar distribution and the control of the military caste. Feudalism is by any means a very problematic term, but it can describe a Venezuela that saw countless self-styled revolutions but no real Enlightenment.

The reasons are legion and they have their origin far back in the past. Spain hardly experienced any sort of Enlightenment. The central powers did for a long time everything to prevent progressive ideas from spreading in the colonies. Venezuela was a second-class colony after the Dorado Myth proved a myth and Mexico and Peru became the cash providers. Venezuela became a military Capitanía General until its independence. Venezuela has since then been ruled mostly by military honchos. The oligarchs showed very little interest in changing the existing structures. Education, real education for the average citizen, was only a priority during brief periods of times. Now education is more a synonym for holding a piece of paper than for a set of skills and the development of analytical thinking. The current regime, which styles itself as revolutionary, has done little about land reform when it comes to the land of military men or people who collaborate with their leader. Real debates have always being shunned: "jefe es jefe" and "I am on another league", as the current president says.

Caudillismo, a Latin American phenomenon particularly strong in Venezuela, as well as the rejection of traditional parties lead to the atomization of the political spectrum within the opposition. This contributed to the strengthening of the military regime and the loss of more and more democracy and power to the regions. As Juan Cristobal wrote in Caracas Chronicles, in spite of all this, opposition started to rebound and has now become the majority of the Venezuelan population. We have to repeat it again for foreign readers: we are the majority.

The problem is that these emerging alternative forces are represented by a myriad of parties with a regional focus. Although they show an increasing will to work together, they are still doing that in a very loose way: there is no common logistics and ideas are not shared properly. None of those parties has a meaningful presence nationwide except for old AD, a party with a fuzzy presence all around the countryside.

The main reason for the parties' segmentation is that they are above all centered on a big leader, a caudillo who comes first and second, not on a programme or set of clearly defined ideas. That is also the case with the PSUV, but the PSUV has the advantage of (ab)using state resources to promote itself everywhere. The second reason is that they lack resources to expand. The third reason is that people in a country where half the population depends directly or indirectly on a state job are afraid of losing that job. The final reason is that party leaders have just one regional vision and not one containing the interests of the nation as a whole.

In the map above you see dots representing the deputies for the 2010-2014 National Assembly. Although the alternative forces have 51.3% of the vote (Juan says 52%, we should check out that, but it is definitely more than 51%), they got just 67 against 98 deputies for reasons Venezuelan bloggers have explained in great detail before. As you can see, each region has, apart from the red dots for PSUV representatives, a different colour representing the alternative forces.

Those forces decided to support for each region one candidate only, except for PPT, which went solo but is likely to work together with the others from now on. There are supporters of almost any party in any state. Still, the map shows how one party ended up becoming the only alternative force present in one state and nowhere else. It looks like feudal centres of influence.

  • yellow is for Primero Justicia in Miranda and northern Anzoátegui
  • dark blue is for UNT in Zulia and a bit in Apure and Aragua
  • light green is for old party COPEI (now called COPEI Popular) in Táchira and a bit in Falcón and Zulia
  • light brown is for Causa R in Bolívar
  • light blue is for PPT in Amazonas
  • dark green is for Proyecto Venezuela in Carabobo
  • white is for the old AD party, which seemed to be dead but still keeps a meaningful presence in what people from Caracas, Valencia and Maracaibo sometimes too foolishly call "jungle and snakes".

There are a couple of minor parties like Convergencia in Yaracuy, which got one deputy. Convergencia's only reason to exist is caudillismo: late COPEI caudillo Caldera decided to create it after COPEI stopped supporting him, the party was then taken over by one of Caldera's friends after this retired from politics. There is another caudillo party emerging, the one Leopoldo López created. As a newcomer, it did not get a deputy.

Unlike in feudal times, though, the head of state in Venezuela - the biggest military caudillo - has a very strong position, has a complete control of the Supreme Court, has control of the National Assembly -albeit without absolute majority-, has control of all state media, has the control of the National Electoral Committee and its power to gerrymander against Venezuelan law and above all a complete control of oil revenues, which are the Alpha and Omega of Venezuela.

If the alternative forces want to change Venezuela for good -in every sense- and not just end the increasing autocracy and mismanagement of the military regime for another form of feudalism, they have to tackle once and for all the Caudillismo that dominates their workings. They also need to get rid of old dinosaurs that still hinder the emergence of new leaderships and independent thoughts in the countryside. They need, in spite of the real or imagine ideological differences, to cooperate more strongly and present a coherent vision and concrete plan of how Venezuela will become a developed nation.

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