Monday, January 31, 2005

Dissenting with Chavez

In a previous post, I raised the issue of shaking up the tags and false clichés that have been successfully attached by the Chavistas to any dissenting person. The fact is that the Chavez movement is one that accepts no dissension, practical or philosophical. It is the negation of dissension what makes Chavismo such a dangerous and undemocratic political current. For the Chavistas, any dissenting voice is dangerous, anyone that disagrees with their politics must be ridiculed or set aside and, if it becomes a potential threat, persecuted.

Since Chavez took power, the government has infiltrated or changed every single democratic institution. This is a government that wants to have absolutely everything under control. Even non-political institutions like hospitals or research centers must be taken over by the Chavistas.

When AD or Copei ran the country, despite the flagrant partisan spirit that was present in the government, and despite the attempts by either party to try to have as much control as possible of the institutions, there was no intrinsic fear of dissension. We were far from having an ideal government, but one could find dissenting voices at several levels. The Universities, the Supreme Court, the Unions, are just some of the examples. More importantly, at that time, dissenting was something nobody had ever thought about. It was neither defined nor feared. If people did not agree with the government, they did not agree, end of it. Yes, some civil servant jobs depended on the color of your party, but the fact that that color was wrong did not bring intrinsic fear of persecution.

The situation is quite different now, especially after the Revoking Referendum. People are afraid, not in an extreme way like in old totalitarian regimes, but afraid noneless in a very subtle way. For instance, they are afraid that the well deserved promotion that should be given soon would not materialize because “they signed”. Afraid that they will not get the dollars to travel abroad or to import goods for their company because “they signed”. Afraid to lose their jobs, even if they were hold through different governments, because “they signed”. Afraid that a passport or an ID card will be denied if the “signed” light turns on. Afraid that their retirement benefits would not be approved because “they signed”. The act of signing for the Revoke Referendum, a perfectly legal act guaranteed by the Venezuelan constitution, has been considered by the Chavistas as a valid reason to blacklist those that exerted that right. Today, one blogger wrote about a personal example of this situation.

To understand how important that subtle fear is one must understand that in Venezuela almost everything depends on the government. Unfortunately, the Venezuelan economy depends almost exclusively on the oil rent. In Venezuela someone used to say that there were not “good or bad governments” but rather “high or low oil prices”. Thus, people’s jobs either depend directly on the government (civil servants, researchers, university professors, hospital employees, etc.) or indirectly (consulting firms, service companies, exporting and importing companies, etc.).

Now, where does this fear of dissension come from? In part the explanation can be found in the military background of President Hugo Chavez. We must not forget that Chavez is not an ordinary retired lieutenant-colonel. He was in the army when he tried to overthrow a legitimate government and was later forced to retire to get a presidential pardon and run for president. In the army, there is no room for dissension and I think that such military directive has been widely adopted by the government of Hugo Chavez. If one pays attention to Chavez words, it is indeed easy to realize that he very often uses military terms and that his political strategy equates to a military strategy.

Sadly, there is a large group of bright, prepared and entrepreneurial people among the Venezuelan dissenting voices. Unfortunately, Chavez confrontational style, dictatorial manners and fear of dissention have kept away those talented and dynamic Venezuelans. Chavez has not learned that in order to rebuild the country he needs those people. And to attract those people he needs let go of his fear of dissension. In order for the country to bounce back of six years of divisions, he needs to build a real democracy where dissension will be listened to and the opposition would not be set aside, but rather consulted.

A democracy where all the ballot papers will be counted.

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