Saturday, 6 March 2010

How not to become a developed nation

This post is about the Bolivarian militias and Venezuelans in general. This is about Venezuela's future or lack of it.

Some weeks ago I was listening to a BBC programme about the Basij, the paramilitary militia used by the Iranian regime to oppress its population or, as the Basij and the regime say, to "defend the revolution". I could not stop thinking about Venezuela.

The BBC interviewed people who had been victims of the Basij and also a former Basij. The stories were gruesome and although they were nothing really new, they kept being shocking. The human rights situation in Iran is as grim as ever.

There are important differences between Venezuela and Iran. One of them is religion. Venezuelans usually have a rather light view on religion. They are mostly Christians, sort of. They don't tend to mix politics with religion, even if the current president keeps telling them about how Christian he is and how socialist Jesus was. Venezuela, unlike Iran, was a democracy before the so-called revolution arrived. It was a highly dysfunctional democracy, but a democracy all the same. People were used to speaking out very loud about. As I said on an earlier post, there was no real culture for civilized debate. Still, there was a start.

This is Iran

This is Venezuela

This is Venezuela

The Venezuelan regime could not change that overnight and it did not want to do it. The new government did not want to alianate at an early stage potential supporters abroad and in Venezuela. They let international observers go to Venezuela. They let them see how Globovision was telling day in, day out about how dictatorial the regime was. A dictatorship just doesn't do that. The chavista government wanted foreign observers to see the very harsh criticism of a few national newspapers. Government officials know most international observers ignore how many persons could actually watch those TV stations or how many normaly read those newspapers.

Globovision is a Potemkin village for the Venezuelan government. It broadcasts its very critical view but it can only reach a tiny minority. In reality we can say Venezuela now is no longer a democracy. It is not a Belarus nor an Iran, but it is not a democracy. The opposition can bark, but the rope is short. And here I go to Venezuela's similarities with Iran:
  • both countries have governments that claim to be revolutionary,
  • both governments are cooperating very closely
  • both governments refuse to have an open, fair debate with the opposition (they insist the debates are taking place everywhere)
  • both governments use anti-US feelings to rally people around themselves and to distract from domestic problems
  • both governments rely heavily on oil exports and
  • both governments know developed nations rely on those exports to move their engines
I will also mention other similarities that English-speaking news outlets fail to mention:

  • urban, well-educated people are highly disconnected with the rural areas
  • rural areas as well as those living in secondary cities have very little sources of information beyond the official media

The development of the so-called "Bolivarian" militias is a worrying phenomenon.

One of the British journalists started to mention the typical characteristics of many of those Basij in Iran. The similarities were clear, even if not surprising. Most members of the Iranian militias

  • are of rural or sub-rural background
  • are poor
  • have very limited education
  • feel forgotten or despised by the rich and the well-educated urbanites
  • are deeply religious
Many of them want a real job and access to education.

Venezuelans are, as I said, not that religious. Their believes have nothing to do with becoming a martyr and going to heaven in martyrdom. Still, many of those who are still supporting the government and are not part of the high "caste" of boliburgueses have the same characteristics as the members of Iran's militias. About half of Venezuela's population, by official numbers work in the informal sector. That informal sector is not so much "electrician working without receipts" but rather "street vendor selling foreign toys on the streets". Many are depending on some sort of scholarship for doing almost nothing. The vast majority have a very low level of education.

While most (definitely not all) opposition leaders keep bickering in the posh areas of Caracas, Maracaibo and Valencia about who will be the candidate there, people elsewhere are left unattended. Many are craving to listen politicians about an alternative to the current regime. Most national leaders of the opposition just remain in a couple of cities. If some go elsewhere, they just do it very briefly, give their talk and go away. They do not listen.

While the regime is losing popularity, the opposition is not gaining ground outside the 3 main urban hubs, not even in the dormitory cities around those urban hubs. It is not easy: the opposition does not have the financial resources the government has and when it has tried to reach people in places in new places, its people have been brutally attacked. Still: it must keep trying and it must do it as a united front. The opposition needs to put down roots in those areas.

Meanwhile, the chavista regime wants to increase control there. It knows it cannot survive in an atmosphere of pluralism and civilized debate. Its leaders come mostly from those non-urban areas where the current opposition is weak, so they know how to use the situation of people living there. Not only do they have the access to petrodollars to pay for training, they give those people a feeling of belonging. They provide fun. They give them a mission. They let them feel important and they wash their brains. They talk a lot about Bolivarianism almost as a religion, - never mind their image of Bolivar is absolutely ahistorical. They know how to tell stories that lull.

Some people within the opposition underestimate the danger of those paramilitary groups: the first pictures of those militias show people holding rifles the wrong way, pretending to use weapons that are not loaded and the like. But people forget: it is much easier to learn how to destroy than to learn how to build.

The opposition will sooner or later discover the rural and above all the secondary urban areas. They have to: almost half the population lives in those secondary urban areas. The thing is how it will be able to compete and campaign fairly there. The opposition will find networks of people who think to be defending some revolution even if they are just defending a reactionary regime. The opposition will find people who have been brainwashed but who feel they have been taken seriously for the first time in their lives. The opposition will find armed people, people who have a salary as guerrilla. They will find people with a contradictory ideology, but an ideology all the same, more than what most opposition parties can claim to have.

The whole situation is very sad. The government is spending large amounts of money and time in training Venezuelans to become guerrilla fighters against their own compatriots and a US intervention. Instead it should be training them to become mathematicians or farmers, electricians or mechanics specialists.

Take the development of the 'Bolivarian' militias and combine them with the Venezuelan soviets, the consejos populares, and you have a recipe for disaster and lost decades.

On another post I will talk more about the consejos (or Venezuelan soviets). Daniel Duquenal already gives a good account on them and what is awaiting Venezuela.

Further information on Iran:

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