Sunday, July 23, 2006

Venezuela’s future: a two tier society

Constitutional proposal to come: ways to limit citizenry participation, for use in circumscribing the civil rights of anyone who might oppose the regime

Certainly such a direct constitutional change will not happen straightforwardly: it would too much for international opinion for even a rogue regime like chavismo to stand the heat. After all the kleptocracy that has installed itself at Miraflores is too keen on enjoying the rewards of power, and larceny, in such things as nice mansions in southern Florida or European capitals for which visas to travel are required. But creating, for example, a “betrayal of the fatherland” exemption could go a long way with a complacent high court to jail or at least muzzle any serious opposition drive. In other words, by threatening people with second class citizenry unless they do rally the “10 million for Chavez” slogan can go a long way in keeping them quiet.

Right now, this is only achieved through illegal ways that are successful only because the victims cannot find any Venezuelan court that will hear their case (the best one can get is to have the case received and then sent to some shelf where it gathers all the dust that Caracas traffic can create). But certainly at some point this legal limbo will have to be addressed least eventually these cases of political discrimination work their ways to international courts (1).

Today we already have the following civil handicaps for those who have dared to sign a recall election petition against Chavez in 2003. If you work in the public administration you are either fired or sent to the back of the room where you are left to languish until you either give up and resign, or go to retirement. If you signed but are not in the public sector, you can suffer from many aggravations that can go from mere denial of legal documents such as your passport (this blogger troubles in getting a new passport are starting to look strangely suspicious) to refusal from getting any government contract even if your product is better, more efficient and faster to deliver than your “pro Chavez” competition. If this last one is up to point the norm in normal democracies where there is some level of favoritism, the system is obscene in Venezuela where there is almost no calls for biddings and thus simple sympathy with the public “servant” in charge is enough for you to fatten your wallet with shoddy products. Of course this is the natural implication in such systems where sycophancy must be rewarded to consolidate the hegemon’s hold.

Unfortunately such segregationist system always end up in violence. They always start by denial of certain rights but those sycophantic characters who benefit of the system must always push up the ante, not only to maintain favors with the upper hierarchy, but to protect themselves from any threat from the oppressed citizenry. No mystery here. What is more troubling is that we are already seeing this incipient violence in Venezuela where a group of citizens has been ACTIVELY prosecuted without any legal protection by the government. The ex PDVSA workers of 2002 have not only been fired for their strike, which up to a point could be acceptable, but once fired their workers benefits have been confiscated IN VIOLATION of Venezuelan law that makes it difficult to lose your workers rights even if you were to lose a trial for your alleged crimes. These PDVSA workers have been robbed of their rights and savings WITHOUT EVER GOING TO TRIAL! But it did not stop there, the Chavez administration has made sure inasmuch as possible that these people could not find work anywhere where they could be of use, forcing even foreign companies to fire them if they wanted to deal with the government. That so many abjectly complied goes a long way to show the amorality of today’s world ruled by the thirst for oil.

This July 20 editorial of Veneconomy is quite an indictment on the chavismo social violence in gestation:
Viewed in retrospect, the unfair, arbitrary dismissal of more than 20,000 of PDVSA’s workers was understandable, given that, for the Hugo Chavez administration, having to deal with the professionals manning the company at that time posed a serious problem. These people viewed the company as a business concern and, logically, that vision committed them to criteria of competitiveness, efficiency, productivity, and meritocracy, values that inevitably clashed with the collectivist, “supportive,” and “socialist” view that the government has of PDVSA.

Looked at from this point of view, the firing of workers en masse and replacing them with people who sympathized with the Bolivarian ideas was “understandable.” But from any other point of view, it was an irresponsible decision, as it meant replacing specialist personnel who had years of experience with people who didn’t have the necessary technical skills or know about the business, and one that has resulted in the company becoming extremely inefficient and unproductive and seriously reducing its capacity.

Now then, even if anyone could by any chance “justify” such a mess, there is absolutely no justification for the punishment meted out to these former employees or for the cruel, malevolent treatment to which they have been subjected since their expulsion from PDVSA three years ago. The government has stopped at nothing to make them feel that “history is written by the victors” and that “the enemy” has to be annihilated.

These former PDVSA employees have been denied even their slightest rights. They have not been paid their seniority and severance benefits, which they have justly earned; their savings have been illegally frozen; they were evicted from their homes (the old, the sick, and children included) without warning or the right to protest and using military force; and they have been banned from enrolling their children in state schools.

Perhaps the cruelest measure of all is the persecution campaign against these employees, which consists of PDVSA threatening companies with suspending contracts or with not contracting them if they have one of these workers on their payroll or even as a subcontractor. And the biggest ignominy of all was the firing on April 1, 2006, three years after the oil strike, of hundreds of professionals who had been working at the newly christened “mixed companies.”

The apartheid being practiced against these citizens, who put their talents and know-how at the service of their country, has now reached the pensioners. Not only are the medical benefits to which they are legally entitled being cut, but they are being discredited, denigrated, and humiliated, it being forgotten that, while they are not Bolivarians, they too are Venezuelans.

Thus we have a clear vision of what is in store for Venezuela. A democratically elected government (1998) has been able to transform its popular mandate in a tool to perpetuate itself in power.

We have now a list of about 3 to 4 million citizens that will never be able to apply for a governmental job or contract even though they must keep paying taxes. The citizens on these lists are subject at any time to further inequities as it will please the government, be it from passport issues to denial of access to any public service.

We have also seen that active violence can be undertaken against selected group of people.

But perhaps what is the most worrying aspect of it is the lack of response from the society except for a few clear and courageous voices. The drama for the country is that the moral corruption which is met on us is finding acceptance when people pretend to ignore it or think “well, it is not my problem” when not a stunning “they deserve it”. The drama of these PDVSA workers heralded as heroes in 2003 is telling of the new cowardice within the Venezuelan regime, is telling that chavismo will be able to push further more liberty restriction without anyone really protesting, resisting. Woe is us!

1) you can read extensively on the most fragrant of this political apartheid actions, the Tascon’s list, by consulting the links on the right side of this page that refer to the Tascon and Maisanta lists.

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This post is in the series Venezuela’s future: constitutional proposals to come of which there is already one installment: Restrictions on the freedom of the press.

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