Saturday, January 10, 2004

Qaddafi and Chavez
The school of left wing authoritarianism, Venezuela or Libya

Saturday 10, January 2004

A few months ago I did write about some perturbing similarities between the mess that Zimbabwe has become and the mess that Venezuela is becoming. Yesterday the New York Times had an article on the recent decision of Qaddafi to give up any suspicious weapon program that he might have. I have picked up a few sentences that feel too eerily close to home. The words from the Times article are adequately pasted as Libyan green.

These experts agree that the main factors underlying his decision [to give up his illicit weapons programs] are more likely to be his disastrous economic policies at home, the squandering of Libya's bountiful oil resources and a deepening isolation that threatens any hopes for the country's future.

Squandering oil wealth? What has Chavez done with 3 full years of high oil prices?

"Qaddafi has always had a messianic complex," one Western expert said of the unpredictable army officer, who seized power in 1969. "He feels that God has been unfair to him by making him the leader of a small country of five million people, and he always imagined himself walking on a larger stage, like president of the United States."

Messianic complex? We know all about that in Venezuela. Chavez wants at the very least to be the heir of Castro. Quite often his subconscious betrays him when he speaks of a reborn Gran Colombia, the short lived state that encompassed Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela. His, fortunately tuned down, pretense to be the direct spiritual heir of Bolivar is in all memories.

Having failed to exert power as an Arab leader in a region that has largely shunned his erratic policies, Colonel Qaddafi has sought in the last decade to reinvent himself as an African leader, lavishing financial aid and oil supplies on a destitute continent, including some on pariahs like President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

Having failed to woo leaders of South America Chavez has turned to the trouble-makers. Evo Morales of Bolivia is the latest example.

But none of those attempts to find legitimacy have delivered what Libya needs most: an infusion of Western investment, especially in its oil industry, whose production has declined steadily from a peak of 3.3 million barrels a day in the late 1970's to about 1.4 million barrels a day now, industry experts say.

Venezuela own oil industry has dropped dramatically. Only the few fields managed by foreign contractors are maintaining the out put by dangerous overexploitation. Yet, we were above 3 million in 2002 but we are down to 2.5 and going down, according to all reports from foreign reception of oil. Seriously audited numbers from Venezuela are unavailable.

As a result, much of Libya looks like its poor neighbors. Its schools, hospitals and airports have deteriorated, and its national airline is dangerous to fly, Western pilots say. "They would like to have Boeing aircraft and rebuild their fleet," one Westerner said.

Venezuela as shown a marked pauperization, from the informal vendors taking downtown streets of most cities, to the ruinous state of hospitals and schools. Of course, a few showcase items are in the works such as a renovated airport for Caracas. Visitors see that first.

The arrival of satellite television and the Internet since the late 1990's - much later than they appeared in most Arab countries- has given rise to what professors call an "electronic perestroika," an opening to the outside world that has shocked many Libyans into a realization of the backward conditions they live in.

This is probably the reason why Chavez has not succeeded yet in taking over the way he would like to. There is something to be said for mass communication in the early XXI century.

Seven months later, Mr. Ghanim's claim to have privatized 360 state companies is more fiction than reality, foreign diplomats say, but he is trying to rebuild the institutions of public administration that Colonel Qaddafi spent years tearing down to prevent any competitor for power from emerging.

That tearing down of any potential competitor is what Chavez is doing. No institutions have survived the chavista onslaught. The very few, like the Central Bank, that somehow were revamped by serious minded pro-Chavez people are indeed turning against Chavez excesses and he is trying to sack the office holders. Only submissive organizations can be tolerated.

"This is a micromanaged country," said one diplomat. "If a light bulb burns out, no one dares to change it until he gets permission from the leader."

Well, it does not go that far in Venezuela yet. However it is well known that no minister will make any significant, not important, just significant decision without "consulting". The Venezuelan public administration, slow from the start, has got down to an ice age pace.

"He is the chief of his tribe, and he wants most of all for his family to be at the helm of the ship," a European diplomat observed.

Chavez tribe is extensive and well provisioned. One brother is close at hand on sensitive political positions. His father was elected to his home state, Barinas, in 1998 on the breath of Chavez. The Barinas administration is reported employing relatives of Chavez. And the tribe is quite extensive if you consider those faithful from 1992 that already then bowed to any wish and whim of the great leader, such as Diosdado Cabello, the multi-ministered acolyte, the closest to the big patronage positions.

It is not pointless to recall that Chavez is the only elected head of state to have visited the post Gulf War I Saddam Hussein. In that trip he also made a stop in Libya where Qaddafy personally toured him at the US raid bombing sites, museum like preserved. Whether the US bombing was justified is a different question, but Qaddafy and Hussein are/were heads of pariah states during that visit, and certainly they have no democratic credential, nor were democratically elected. The lack of regard for this fact speaks volume on Chavez real motivations for Venezuela's future.

We have a saying in Venezuela:

Dios los cria y ellos se juntan

(God breeds them and they find each other)

Indeed.

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