Saturday, 30 October 2010

Venezuela as a feudal state (II)

Caudillos have marked Venezuela since S. Bolívar declared himself "the" Libertador", as if he, singled-handedly, had liberated the region. Bolívar repeatedly rejected federalism and advocated a strong central government arguing decentralized power would lead to chaos, weakness and caudillismo. In reality a country where there is state of law, transparency and a clear distinction between state and government, federalism can become a real option and government becomes more efficient. Bolívar wanted a central government mostly because he intended to be the one in power. Gran Colombia, the union of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and what is now Panama, fell apart not just because of the national caudillos but also because of the way the central government was conceived.

Venezuela became a very centralized nation but it never became strong or prosperous. Military caudillo after military caudillo ruled as short-sighted despot of a country sunk obsessed with a mythical Independence Time period. The exploitation of oil in the XX century just brought the impression Venezuela was, after all, a prosperous nation. Oil became the Dorado that did not materialize before.

When our last military dictatorship came to an end in 1958, a succession of democratic, albeit dysfunctional governments came to power. Social democrats from AD and Christian democrats from COPEI took turns to do some good and some evil, squander a lot and steal a bit. The presidents sent their governors and mayors to the whole country like party satraps to distribute what petrodollars could buy. They kept their local caudillos, who had to be from their own party. Depending on how ineffective and corrupt AD or COPEI was with a region, that region became more or less COPEI or AD. Local leaderships were based on AD or COPEI-alliances.

Centralism ruled until 1988, when Venezuelans could finally elect their first governors and mayors. Suddenly a new set of local proto-caudillos appeared. Venezuelans started to see some form of competition and people started to say: "this guy is better than that one" or "this is even worse". More parties appear, often created by caudillos who could not find their way in COPEI or AD. Those parties became a platform for them. Some started to do a rather decent job, some others did not.

Unfortunately, Venezuela was going through a big crisis, with oil prices at record low levels for years. Venezuelans finally elected as president a military man, the 1992 coup monger. That happened exactly at a time when oil prices started to go up again. That military strongman has greatly profited from the biggest oil boom in decades. He has also done everything to revert decentralization: he has taken power and a lot of financial resources from the elected governors and mayors and distributed resources exclusively according to political alliances, i.e. to how subservient his governors are to him. Chavismo was nothing more than a continuation of caudillismo, now with a union of military men, some communists and a lot of former AD politicians who now distanced themselves from what they call "the IV Republic". Corruption has since reached levels we never thought possible.

Different leaderships could appear based on those first directly elected governors and mayors and also on the fact people saw how badly Chávez's satraps were managing their regions . Only the better educated got an idea about how much money was squandered as Venezuelans - as actually most people around the world- would have no direct information about what oil prices mean for any Venezuelan government.

Some of the governors and mayors have turned out to be better than others. Some became part of the alternative forces.

They all are still trapped in the Middle Age fiefdom mentality. I made the map based very roughly on the deputies each alternative party got in the National Assembly Elections last September. I painted states grey when the opposition got clearly less votes than the Chavez party. Some states like Carabobo have a majority for the opposition, but the alternative forces got less deputies because of the shameless gerrymandering carried out by the pro-Chávez Electoral Commission.

The problem is that party alliances are still based on who gave what job to whom.

  • Blue: UNT, with its centre in Zulia.
  • Light green: COPEI 2.0, based on Táchira.
  • Yellow: PJ, with its centre in Miranda, but also strong in Anzoátegui.
  • Cyan: PPT, a party that is not part of the Unity Front, but is part of the opposition, is now strong in the Amazonas state.
  • Light brown: Proyecto Venezuela is basically a party set up by local caudillo Salas Römer and his family.
  • White: the old AD has a lot of dinosaurs mostly in Margarita Island (Nueva Esparta state) and Sucre. They also have quite a lot of presence "in the countryside".
  • Dark green: Convergencia, only present in Yaracuy. Convergencia's only reason for being is to continue caudillismo in that region.
  • Pink: Podemos (socialist)
  • Green: Cuentas Claras, made up of independent people.
  • Brown: Causa R (socialist), in Bolívar.

UNT calls itself "social democrat" and PJ calls itself "centre" or on other occasions "liberal". Commies in Europe call it "far right". All of them, including UNT and PJ but also the Chávez party, the PSUV, are in reality nothing more than caudillo platforms.

PSUV is not local just because the president is the founder of the PSUV. Other than that, it is just the same thing. In many of the states, whether they are ruled by the military regime or the alternative forces, at least one of the mayors of one of the municipios is the brother or cousin of the ruling governor.

If Venezuela is ever to get out of underdevelopment and stagnation, what we now call "political parties" have to mature. They have to become real parties with a real programme and a concrete plan. They have to stop being caudillo platforms. They have to merge with those that have a similar ideology and become national. They have to choose their leaders through transparent elections.

Right now they are keeping up with feudal customs that came with Spain and were only superficially adapted through the centuries.

By the way, most well-known Venezuelan politicos have or had their haciendas: the Chávez family has the Chavera (and many people say a lot of other lands through front men), many of their amigos like military honcho Ramírez Chacín also have thousands of hectares of land. That goes for PSUV governors in many regions. Rosales, UNT founder and now in exile, also had his couple of haciendas. Former Guárico governor Manuitt -now also in exile-, had his haciendas. But those haciendas are mostly symbolic tokens of a politico's importance in today's Venezuela. Their resources are elsewhere.

In any case, the main difference between Venezuela's current feudal system and that of Middle Age Europe is this:

When the price of those barrels is high, the main lord or king controlling the fields does not even have to have peasants producing anything as Gómez had at the start of the XX century (my granddad was one of those landless peasants back then). The ruling caudillo just needs people to keep other caudillos under control and away from the fields and he needs to give those peasants some of the coins he gets by selling those barrels abroad. The problem comes when he doesn't give people enough coins.

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