Monday, January 15, 2007

What Venezuelans voted for: a government of Soviets

The latest announcement of Chavez that he would redraw the map of Venezuelan internal divisions is perhaps the most dangerous proposal he has made so far. In light of the crucial importance of what is at stake, it would not be idle to speculate that nationalization of the CANTV phone company and its impact on foreign news, mostly busy with Iraq, ETA and how to make a quick buck on the stock markets, is a deliberate effort to distract the eye of the foreign observer (as well as the national observer who prefers to discuss an eventual reduction in pay check of National Assemblymen than the real power structure of the state). What Chavez wants is absolute control of the country for ever and the announcement to have the country governed through "juntas comunales" is one way to get it.

I had understood that as soon as I heard the news, and Miguel already started insisting on it. But I think we need to decry this as much as we can: if Chavez gets away with that, there will be no way anyone will be able to unseat him except through violence. To understand this it might be good to very briefly review some historical precedents, and then look at what is proposed in Venezuela

Soviets

"All power to the Soviets", this historical slogan implied that workers would gather and decide on their own what would be the fate of the business they had taken over. Soon these Soviets became the revolutionary machinery, town administrative councils and eventually replaced parliaments and representative democracy. Indeed, the original soviets in their desire of being a true democracy squelched from the start real democracy: all could express but in public, no secret voting. Thus the enemies of a revolution could be identified early, and clearly.

The Soviet cockamamie idea that the best way to install democracy from the base is through some form of popular assembly has been taken over by all sorts of leftists regimes who all ended up in the utmoust naked dictatorship. None stopped for a second to reflect on why it only sort of worked once, in old Athens with limited citizenship (and perhaps some small Swiss canton, without allowing women to vote in either case).

In the Americas we have for example the "comites de defensa revolucionaria" who as the base organization of Cuban government is now not much more than your neighborhood spying agency. If you run afoul of your building member/representative, well, you are in trouble. But of course the original idea was to promote democracy, organize the neighborhood for defense against hoodlums, cleaning the streets, etc,… In fact the CDR is amazingly considered within Cuba as a NGO, though it examines the credentials of anyone who wants to exert public office. Anyway, short of ironies, we all know how it ended up.

Now what chavismo wants to create is the latest avatar of these disgraced models of society organization. We had the forerunner with the "circulos bolivarianos", but those did not prosper well, and now even that “bolivariano” label seems slightly annoying as the “popular” label is more “en vogue" in chavismo lexicon. All the ministries have been renamed "Ministry of the popular power for ______", for example.

The proposal at hand

Perhaps it is best to start by citing the new "minister of the popular power for popular participation and social development" (I am not making this up), issued from the Communist Party of Venezuela and who at 28 year old has not managed to finish some informatics studies. That is fine, he has the required ideology for a chavista ministry, who cares whether he has the capacity for it. This David Velasquez, when interviewed by El Nacional (by subscription, January 14) declared
If I reply as a communist [!?] I would say that what is sought is to transfer as much power and as much democracy to the organized communities, that the State apparatus would eventually be reduced to levels that it becomes unnecessary.
Translation into real terms: "we are going to get rid of all the public administration and institutions that form the current municipal and state system and replace it by modern Soviets where we will have the upper hand and where we exert the democracy of Chavez".

What is offered is the following, according to the few items that we have been able to gather so far (apparently it would be a constitutional violation to do that and there is already talk of calling a brand new constitutional assembly: it would require the modification of dozens of constitutional items!). Municipalities, today 335, will be reduced to a 100 or so. Right there we see the first contradiction: the new federal power will be even further distant from the people. Modern countries such as France do not think that they have “too many” municipalities. In fact France for about 60 million people has thousands of municipalities and nobody is complaining much. In fact, there are more than 36 000 “communes” which probably makes France the most "per capita" municipalities in the world.

In exchange for these municipalities Venezuelan will get “juntas/consejos comunales” who will be elected (we do not know how yet but the CNE will be involved one way or the other) by relatively small urban sections. Some of them will gather together to administrate the larger cities. How the executive will be handled in such system is totally unknown so far. What is clear is that the government will create an executive figure which will be very weak, if any. It seems to me that the objective of the government is to rather transform these already existing communal councils into bona fide “control” groups while all the previous municipalities functions will return to the central state. That is, the state would name the executive branch of the municipalities but these ones would be controlled by these councils. Unless I am wrong of course, but such is the vagueness of the propsoal (though the determination is not to be doubted) that this is the best I can come up so far. How they can claim that this is a progress in decentralization of administration totally escapes me.

What is even weirder is that Venezuela under the now much hated 4th Republic did not have mayors!!! Yes, that is right, municipalities were managed directly by municipal councils who every year elected a municipal president who exerted some of the functions of a mayor. Of course a system where no one is responsible for anything was bound to fail dramatically and that failure is the reason why the figure of the Mayor was created and given significant local power to start to be more effective at solving local problems. Chavismo seems to have forgotten that, as much as it forgot the quality of phone service when CANTV telephone company was state owned and sometimes you needed to wait for an hour until your phone had a dial tone.

But it gets better. Carlos Escarra, this born again communist who has decided to be more chavista than Chavez blithely declared for El Nacional (January 12)
That idea comes from the Commune of Paris [the 1871 failed insurrection of Paris, the first communist attempt in the world and to this day the only one conspired as a genuine popular revolution by many] the full community life, which is the sharing of possessions and services by a superior collective entity.
Amazing! Besides forgetting to put this insurrection in context, forgetting that they ended up eating rats, that hundred and thousands where summarily executed by the Commune, or from the Communards once it was crushed, that this bloody episode ensured 20 years of conservative government in France allowing for the creation of a colonial Empire, it shows that Escarra does not understand anything from history or proper ideological constructs. Socialism, communism, "bolivarian socialism" (I am not making that one up) are just vehicles through which he gets noticed by Chavez even if it will screw the country for decades.

Let’s imagine how it all works

Again, it is important to understand that the real obejctive here is to minimize the possibility that the opposition can ever create a counter leadership. Next a possibel mechanism on how this coudl be reached.

First you create small communal councils. Of course, because they take place among neighbors we can all vote in trust with raised hands. In other words in 80% (90% ?) of the cases few will dare to raise their hands and get identified as not favoring the regime, a stain that we all know remains forever in the lists of the regime (Must I remind folks the apartheid that the Tascon/Maisanta lists have installed in Venezuela?). Only in Chacao, Baruta and a few town halls where there are few public workers and many strident opposition will we get a few "juntas comunales" expressing themselves against Chavez. These ones will see soon the funds destined to these organizations dwindle. But they will probably be let alive to show for the exterior world.

The second step will be to destroy the executive power. This can be done by atomizing this power by letting these communal councils name the different bureaucrats. No more mayor to coordiante the whole thing. Eventually the mess that wil come can only be sorted by some form of state intervention (through Misiones, local delegates, financial officers, or even the local army barreacks!)

In the third step, once the potential opposition blocks are duly noticed, we “change” the municipal boundaries. For example, there is already open talk that "Caracas has too many municipalities". So Chacao, Baruta and El Hatillo are integrated with Libertador, Sucre and perhaps even satellite cities such as Guarenas or Charallave. The opposition few juntas comunales are drown in the mass of councils that make the large metro district of Caracas. And Juan Barreto, the new provisional mayor of this new “federal city” of 4 million people now gets to grab all the tax income of Chacao and Baruta to use it wherever he pleases to foster his chavista bases. It is call plain robbery in my book, but Barreto has stolen so much already that by this point he would not care (if he is not replaced before by some other crook even more eager to screw opposition types of possible and easily more efficient at that than hapless Barreto).

So there you will have, the councils of Chacao, screaming bloody hell for all to notice but totally ineffectual as they would be drowned in Caracas at large. The tax money of Chacao will be wasted and Chacao will have no motivation to remain the clean and organized district it is, buhoneros invading everything. The new mess of Chacao will be favorable to hide the mess of Libertador and Sucre that chavismo is totally unable (unwilling?) to solve. But all will look so democratic!!!!!

And of course governors at some point will be swept away. That way the very few chavistas who thought that they might have a political future, such as Diosdado Cabello, will see their career truncated or ended while Chavez keeps coasting from manipulated reelection to manipulated reelection since "there is no one else".

Conclusion

It is perfectly clear that this proposal has only one objective: for Chavez to get more control on the state, and to lower considerably the risk that a local successful opposition politician can get enough clout to challenge him as Rosales did.

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE this change can be considered as a possible improvement of local administration, or more popular democracy. More than ever local events will depend on what the local chavista or the central ones decide. The local folks in too many districts are woefully unprepared to manage what is required for a modern city, even if it crumbles under garbage and lousy services. They will vote themselves for governmental appointee to direct them once they realize that are in over their head. Assuming that some indeed want to raise to the challenge. Running a town is not something open to people off the street!.

Finally, there is enough inner workings to the system to induce opposition people not to participate: in this structure they would be exposed and blocked in their career, progress, business, and what not. Not to mention that they would be highly ineffective since funds would be allocated at discretion by the government and pro Chavez districts would receive relatively more funds. Indeed, the local taxes could even be suppressed or sent directly to the national treasury so local councils will be at best receiving part of their local taxes. Right now for example Chacao is financially mostly independent from the government whereas Libertador is not. Thus Liberator could simply get the local taxes of Chacao to fund Libertador programs without even Chacao councils allowed to evaluate them. A new meaning for taxation without representation!

This is the moment of truth for the 37% of the opposition. This is the time to go and hit the streets and talk to chavistas to tell them that WE ALL LOSE UNDER THIS SYSTEM.

And democracy dies completely, as well as privacy, right to dissent, etc... Look at the Cuban CDR and dare to tell me that I am wrong, that it will not end like such a system.




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