Friday, December 08, 2006

The Venezuelan election of 2006: Chavez plans?

The good thing about winning reelection without any real administrative promises is that you get a blank check. Chavez only promised indefinite reelection, a one party system, more socialism without explaining what it would be about except for some barter system in some areas. His basic campaign plank was “trust me, I love you”. I think that very few politicians got away with so little substance in their platform.

In other words if tomorrow Chavez decides to nationalize, say, the phone company, CANTV, he can claim that it was implicit in his electoral campaign. Who will be able to contradict him?

Thus we have no plan from Chavez except a very vague “socialism of the XXI century” which seems to be a blue print on how to bring Venezuela as close as possible to some form of castro-socialo-communism-light-to-strong. Can we piece together some general direction, at least?

How to rule a country

It would be a great novelty for Chavez in the next six years to start ruling the country. Over the last 8 years he has amply demonstrated that he has done all but rule Venezuela. Besides bombastic announcements and frequent overseas trips, we have rarely seen him on top of things, visiting regularly major construction sites, supervising personally that things get done well, on time and within budget.

But what we see today is Chavez already traveling to Brazil, Argentina, perhaps Uruguay and Bolivia. He is not going to rule, he is going to go back to the only thing that truly interests him now, world diplomacy where he gets adulation all the time from people that do not have to go through the drudgery of having to work in filthy downtown Caracas and who he must pay to vote for him.

If Chavez were a democrat he would worry about polishing a little bit his image. After all one can certify that at the very least 38% of the country has no representation at all in parliament and hold only two besieged state houses, accompanied by a handful of town halls. He could for example call for a constitutional commission for any changes that would be composed by half chavismo and half opposition and make thus any change truly a national consensus change (the opposition would not mind letting get his indefinite reelection if they could get better minority protection and a new National Assembly; in fact Rosales even robbed him of that constitutional plank announcing that the opposition will seek its own constitutional changes, which was probably part of the scowl on Chavez face during his last press event). Chavez could announce that he would not seek a recall election against any opposition held job (after all in to years they will be all gone and they do not form any obstacle to his long term ambition). He could release all the political prisoners.

But Chavez is not a democrat. He might not be a bloody dictator (yet?), but he is not a democrat because he lacks that very basic notion of democracy: respect for the rights of minorities. It was enough to convince yourself by just watching Chavez grimaces in Tuesday's press conference. The scowl on his face was the one of a guy about to cash in his chips, exert a strong revenge for having been forced to campaign, from having been robbed him of the 10 million brag, from having allowed the brief thought that Chavez could be beaten, from having demonstrated that if Chavez has the numbers, the enthusiasm is on the other side. He cannot forgive that. In fact he cannot forgive anything. But this being a press conference and Chavez having become good enough of a politician, and having been trashed at the UN two months ago, he realized that he had to give a bone to start rebuild his international image badly damaged. So he will be releasing soon poor General Uson, the poster boy of political prisoners in Venezuela. He might release a few others. Not the criminals of course he made sure to underline. This was quite a sobering moment: Chavez without realizing it was acknowledging that he controls the judicial branch, that he could send a letter and a case would be reopen, that he decides who is a criminal and who is not.

How not to rule a country

Thus we are fixed: Chavez will not be interested in the everyday happenings of the country. He will be traveling a lot. He will pick up the mantle of Castro (or is that the funerary shroud?). He will drop by in Caracas on occasion to give orders and to punish those who did not fulfill them, not to get the work done, but to make sure that it is not Chavez who is blamed for the failures. He will inaugurate every single subway station made anywhere.

Milagros Socorro had yet another stunning piece today that you can read here (sorry, no time to translate it all). Her point is that all those who voted for Chavez knew exactly what they were voting for, and they were wrong, they will be disappointed, again. Here, just this paragraph:
They went to vote for Chavez, they exerted a democratic right, they are many, they are more, but they are wrong. Not only voting for whom they did, but just voting, because that vote is a act of faith in whom does not deserve it and has done everything not to be the object of this trust. Because that vote is like a gigantic eraser that would come to vanish the ills that Chavez has caused to the nation and to give him another opportunity, another blank page for him to write this time the right story. He will not do it.

He does not know how to do it. He does not have preparation to do it. He does not have the institutional framework to do it. He does not want to do it.
We can see it today already in El Nacional where Aurora Morales says that they “are waiting for Chavez to get the general lines of discussion for institutional changes and one party formation” or something to that effect. They cannot do anything without Chavez.

We see it in Rodrigo Cabezas at the National Assembly who decided to start discussing anyway the economical changes announcing that private property will be respected but that it will be only one form of property and that workers will have a say in how private companies will be managed, in particular in increasing production. And the laws of the market? And who will invest in Venezuela just to have the workers decide what is produced? Will workers invest in the company? Risk their benefits if their decisions do not pan out as expected?

The mental state of these theorical guys will make sure that the next few years are going to be as conflict laden as the previous 8. I want to see the nouveau bolibourgeois rich “share” their new wealth, deal with workers when there is conflict. Oh, but wait, they are chavistas and tribunals will likely be more lenient with them than with others.

Consultations? Not that I know of. And certainly not with opposition sectors.

XXI Century Socialism

So, 63% of Venezuelans, we are told to believe, voted for XXI C.S. and not for Chavez. The only problem is that this new ersatz will be specified only now, AFTER the election.

I wonder what will happen when the real project of Chavez, the one we could get from a few little phrases here and there and who most people did not pay attention to, will start being implemented. Reduction of private education. Reduction of private medicine. Modification of property rights. Further militarization of the regime. Socialization of work and even of small business (today with powerful tax agencies there is no need anymore to nationalize companies, Cabezas even said that today!). And more and more taxation as the only one allowed to get rich is the state and its acolytes. Did you know that the High Court magistrates of Venezuela have an average monthly salary, including year end bonuses, 90 times above the revolutionary minimum wage? And they probably have benefits that the humble Venezuelan worker cannot even imagine. In social democracies of Europe the difference between wages is kept below 10 fold. But you now, those are social democracies, bourgeois constructs that cannot be imitated in this Animal Farm that Venezuela has already become, even before the XXI crap is implemented.

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