Saturday, 20 November 2010

Caudillismo: a disease running amok in Venezuela

Ashurbanipal as High Priest. VII century BC. Middle East

Military coup monger Chávez in military fatigues, with red-clad Barquisimeto PSUV-mayor, XXI Century. Northern South America.

Caudillismo has been a disease in Venezuela since its very emergence as a nation. Caudillismo's origin could even be seen in the region's early recorded history.

The country was born out of a forgotten Spanish colony controlled through capitan generals. Military men settled the place and ruled as they please and controlled the flow of information into it. The region saw very little of the scarce Enlightment Spain experienced. More of the Middle Age mentality clung to Venezuela and stayed there.

Venezuela had a military independence leader obsessed with creating the myth of being "the" only Liberator. After he died, many other military strongmen reused the myth. Anything that was done in Venezuela was, according to them, thanks to their good will. When the civil governments came back in 1958, the caudillo image became weaker but still personality fixation remained strong. As the state controlled most oil revenues, the head of state played as much as oil prices permitted the role of big benefactor. When Venezuelans started to elect governors and mayors in 1988, the elected regional governments became mostly the platforms for a local caudillos. But it is only now, since the military took back control of Venezuela and oil prices more than tripled that the caudillismo started to run amok. These days, the image of the biggest caudillo has become more pervasive than images of Assyrian kings shortly before their fall.

The military junta and to a lesser but still great extent all local caudillos left and right have spent enormous resources telling people what they have is "thanks to the caudillo's work".

Like a zealous animal marking its territory with urine, Hugo Chávez and local caudillos waste people's resources in images stating only they can provide for the people as only they are "the people". Here you see military Chávez to the left - in battledress- and Mérida governor as well as local mayor to the right.

Every public work is considered now as "revolution's work". Nobody tells Venezuelans the difference between government and state.

When you arrive to Barinas, Chávez's home territory and his family's fiefdom, you are greeted by the caudillo even more often than elsewhere.

Above you see Chávez saluting in the only way he can, as a South American military caudillo. He is again to the left. To the right you see his brother and governor and then the local mayor. The brother inherited the governor position from Chávez's father.

Posters of Chávez are on every corner of the country, but in Barinas you see the images of the Chávez royal family more often than the image of Queen Elizabeth in a boring collection of British government stamps. Actually, there is a Chávez museum in the Casa de Chávez.

A wolf doing what Venezuelan caudillos do, but in nature. At least the wolf is using his own urine. Venezuelan caudillos use money from state resources to the same effect.

The caudillo's image can be seen on the walls of many shanty huts, particularly in the rural areas, where "national" party leaders of alternative forces from the urban centres almost never go.

The more the military junta strengthens its control over the country, the more shameless the personality cult will become. The alternative forces need to attack with intelligent educational efforts the caudillismo mentality. This won't be easy. Chávez is just the current caudillo máximo. Venezuelans' prejudices and education are the real origin of this disease. There is a little caudillo in most Venezuelans' heads.

My thanks go to Dan for the pictures and his observations about a recent trip he did throughout Venezuela.

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