Friday, October 24, 2003

Lula and Chavez

Friday 24, October 2003

I had been walking a lot that Monday checking out the sights of downtown Rio, enjoying a Brazilian holiday that semi emptied the streets. Resting a little before going out again for dinner I watched TV for a little while. One of the stations was showing President Lula giving a speech. Out of curiosity to hear the sound of his voice, I decided to listen to it. Brazilian Portuguese is actually not too difficult to follow for the Venezuelan ear, even more so when one is fortunate enough to speak another romance language besides Spanish. I quickly gathered that it was an important speech since Lula was installing a symposium at the Brazilian Congress to study an eventual treaty of free trade with the North American association (ALCA, Spanish or Portuguese acronyms).

Such a speech in Venezuela by Chavez on such a sensitive political topic would not have been a missed opportunity by this one to saddle us with yet another “cadena”. But that was not the case in Brazil: only one network was showing the speech live. I know, I zapped my remote and only one TV network was broadcasting the speech live.

Lula was actually reading from notes, but in a very natural way, which probably means that he wanted to be sure the message he was transmitting was complete and coherent. This lasted a very few minutes, then Lula gathered all the sheets of paper together, put them aside and gave a few personal remarks. These remarks were to the point, nothing personal. Although it is clear that his administration will lead the negotiations, it was clear that he was speaking in the name of Brazil and that he was encouraging the Brazilian Congress to participate actively and study the issues well. He stressed that this was not the time of personal positions and political gains but that Brazil had to negotiate as one. “We want to make this clear: it is not a matter of saying yes or no to ALCA, but to discuss what ALCA we want” (my free translation from a column of Jornal do Brasil in the plane next day). Nothing that I could gather smelled of personal aggrandizement: Lula seemed genuinely to be more of the cheer leader of the negotiation team-Brazil than trying to impose any particular view on the matter he might have. His stronger words were really to the US stating that we will discuss ALL and not only the issues that the US wants to discuss.

The total duration of the speech must have been in the 10-15 minutes order. Congress and assistance applauded a different intervals and as far as I can tell no booing or over enthusiasm came from the audience. All in all, very institutional, very organized and business like.

In Venezuela such a speech would have lasted at the very least an hour, in “cadena”. Chavez would not have read notes, except on occasion pick up a small piece of paper that seems more a list to “to do” than any prepared speech. The speech surely would have included strong attacks on neo-liberalism, assorted to cheap criticism of the USA desire to impose its will. A few wild card ideas such as creating a South American block to face the world would have been floated, yet again while conveniently forgetting that Venezuela is the main sabotager of the only block to which it belongs, the Andean Block. All of this garnished with personal comments on his youth in Barinas, narrating what supposedly people in the streets tell him of the Free Trade Zone proposal, grim examples of neo-colonial exploitation and of course reminiscences of April 11 2002 alleged coup and the press plotting against his pure regime. Not forgetting of course his latest phobia, the international complot against Venezuela.

This is all well and fine but nowhere on Chavez discourse you would have seen a well thought counter proposal, nor mention of the people that would be negotiating and even less encouragement to do a good job. The listener would leave thinking that actually one of the two things would happen: either that night mighty Chavez will sit with a couple of collaborators and draft a proposal on his own to regulate, say, intellectual property, or that he will just avoid negotiating anything since whatever is on the table can only end up to be in the favor of the US of A. But nowhere the listener would have gathered a clear indication of what would be the issues to be negotiated, which ones are crucial to Venezuela, etc… In other words, as usual, nothing constructive would be unearthed of the hodgepodge that his speeches are.

This was rather a revelation for me. I knew that Chavez was an incorrigible babble-mouther, that he loves to get drunk with his own words. But somehow one gets used to his style to the point of forgetting that the real style of a responsible president, even from the left as Lula, is to be able at least on occasion to give a managerial speech. Chavez is unable to do so. All his speeches are political litanies and tales of recriminations and woes, real of imaginary.

Indeed, in 10 minutes of TV watching in my hotel room, in a foreign language, I understood better the issues described by Lula than any issues ranted for two hours in Spanish by Chavez.

There is no way around: Chavez lacks elemental managerial and organizational skills, even at the level of his speeches. What carries Chavez’s speeches is the emotion, not necessarily the content. The chaos of his administration certainly reflects that.

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