Monday, August 30, 2004

The consequences of the recall election result in Venezuela
Part 4: Chavez options

Monday 30, August 2004

Hugo Chavez Frias might have a few reasons to celebrate, but he also has a few reasons to worry. Whether his electoral victory is fraudulent, it still does reflect a few basic facts that must be revisited before we go into what Chavez options are.

The new electoral map of Venezuela

From the precedent post, the reader has gathered that there have been shifts in the electoral distribution of voters. Now, areas where the middle class and educated folks tend to reside vote against Chavez, sometimes overwhelmingly as in some Caracas suburbs where Chavez rejection reaches 90%.

Equally, in urban areas where Chavez was supposed to do real well, the result was not so obviously in his favor. In such areas rejection of Chavez even went above the national “official” average of 40%! It might not be a wild guess to predict that many of the skilled workers and little shop owners might be the core of the group that did not went for Chavez in such areas.

The consequence of that is very clear: the very large majority of the skilled, trained, professional work force, after 6 years of chavismo, cadenas and what not, still do not buy Chavez "glorious bolivarian revolution".

No exit polls are needed there: the votes distribution by itself tell the story.

This does create a problem for Chavez, or rather will force him to take some decisions that he might have wanted to avoid. Indeed, how can you "reconstruct" a country where perhaps as much as 80% of the skilled work force is not willing to cooperate with you? The task is immense and no matter how willing are Chavez supporters, there might just not enough of them. What to do? Forge ahead and eliminate or disregard the opposition? Hire more Cubans or Chinese? Throw an olive branch, and some cash, and try to woo enough opponents to be able to at least make some basic functions operate until you train enough people to make do without the abhorred opposition? Somewhat Lenin did this with his NEP in the 1920ies. This is not a farfetched comparison, all historical context set aside of course! The polarization of Russian society then, with the entrenched Kulaks on one hand and the Bolsheviks on the other forced Lenin, who needed results, to compromise some.

Chavez options

The options of Chavez are quite simple: either he manages to make a deal with the opposition or he will go on his own, disregarding 40% of the country who feels that they have no "minority" protection. This is a crucial point. Democracy works not because there are elections, but because the basic rights of the minorities are protected. That is why minorities do go along and wait for their turn to unseat through elections the majority. In Sweden the right wing parties took more than 40 years to unseat the social democrats. But if Chavez chooses the confrontation path, he might as well get ready to start repression big time while risking utter economic failure.

What is Chavez doing?

Already Monday 16 on the wee hours Chavez Miraflores speech contained promises of dialogue, but irrepressible as always he threw a few menaces in. The following days were the same. Quickly he named Jesse Chacon to the interior ministry, which in Venezuela controls all the security police. Jesse “James” Chacon, as he is known, came to fame during the failed 1992 coup when his commando mercilessly killed plain employees of VTV who were not resisting at all the take over of the TV station. This was one of the bloodiest moment of the 1992 coups. Naming Jesse Chacon is not a reassuring signal. He is considered a hardliner and one that is not to be afraid of pulling the trigger.

Since then the news has not been any better. The "coronation" of last Thursday was a rather spiteful act to show how much Chavez despised 40% of the country. Among the thorns thrown in one of the many cadenas of the day was a call to extirpate sitting elected officials from all town halls and governorship still in the hands of the opposition. The words used to describe these dutifully elected folks do speak volumes about the undemocratic nature of Chavez. He will not be satisfied until there is no opposition. Or perhaps a communist style opposition like communist Poland had with its agrarian party?

Yesterday he called for the Army, THE ARMY!, to make an inventory of all the lands that are not under production. The report is to be submitted in 2 weeks and then the government will start expropriation of unused land. Of course, no provision was announced as to why some land might not be in use, which can be justified for all sort of reasons. And let’s not forget that good use is a subjective term in Venezuela with the new land law: if I plant carrots but a bureaucrat decides that I should plant sugar cane, then I could be forced to plant sugar cane. In the purest old colonial plantation style.

In other words, besides a few weak call to dialogue, all of Chavez words and actions have been oriented toward revenge and absolute control instead of acknowledging and listening to that 40% official minority. No wonder that even the efforts to meet with business sectors, undertaken by some ministers, are not meeting with great enthusiasm. Trust is not gained that easily.

But one should not be surprised. For the simple soldier that Chavez is, an enemy is someone that must be disposed off. Alberto Garrido, a frequent writer on El Universal and a prolific writers of books on Chavismo and its history, had predicted long ago recent events. He has become our Cassandra and is as disliked as she was in Troy for the dire scenarios that she predicted. But once again he has been proven right.

I was listening to him yesterday as he gave a rather precise evaluation of the situation. The “revolutionary” strategy, to use the fashionable terms, has been set up long ago, in the 80ies plotting days. It included a fusion of the people (the people WITH Chavez that is) and the Army into a single "civic-military" revolutionary unit. This is what was meant with the recent orders to the army. Chavez was planning to do that after his 2006 reelection. But the referendum can be seen as a reelection, if not real at least legal. Thus, the acceleration in the revolution that Garrido predicts for the next few weeks.

This acceleration in the "deepening of the revolution" is prodded further by the historic moment experienced by the "empire". The need of oil by the US, its miring in Iraqi sands, is a golden opportunity for Chavez to set the roots of his system once and for all. If bloodshed has not happened, it is because it was not needed yet (although the events of February/March 2004 have established that Chavez has no problem sending in the army for repression). Chavez knows that it will be at least March 2005 until the US is able to establish again a state policy vis-à-vis Venezuela, a bipartisan one that is. This should not be difficult as Kerry has shown at least as much dislike for Chavez as Condi Rice. Chavez knows that this might be his last chance at nailing the coffin of the opposition and making irreversible changes in Venezuela, before the US can do something about it. That is, he has six months to make the opposition, the media, and whatever parcel of power they still hold irrelevant.

He will benefit from a few accomplices. South America has always been slightly jealous of Venezuela, and our woes have left them rather amused. No help is to be hoped from these quarters. However Chavez need for international respectability is a golden opportunity for people like Lula or Kirchener to use the Venezuelan jester for their own benefit. Chavez might play along as he plans to outsmart them. But Lula has other things in mind. He wants to make a trade deal with the US in the best possible conditions for Brazil. Speaking "in the name" Latin America he will carry more weight at the negotiating table, and having Chavez oil on his side (while pretending that Chavez is the one calling the shots) Lula will have more bargaining power to reach the desirable US market.

The conclusion is very simple. Chavez seems to have decided to do whatever it takes to stay with his gang in power. Nothing new for the regular readers of this blog. Garrido is a little bit more dire than this blogger, but both share the cynical appreciation of Chavez motives. But Garrido also added that this will last for only for a while. He considers Chavez an historical accident that eventually will be dealt with, at great cost probably. How long is anyone’s guess. One thing is sure, oil did us in once again. The Devil’s excrement, as Miguel so rightfully titled his blog.

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