Monday, June 16, 2008

Ali Rodriguez Araque finance minister: a new defeat for Chavez

After almost two weeks of rumors Chavez finally named his new finance minister in the person of Ali Rodriguez Araque. What most people might fail to notice is that this nomination is yet a new sign of Chavez current weakness, an almost admission of yet a new political set back.

First, a new finance minister appointment was needed because the current holder, Rafael Isea, has been thrown to the electoral battle fields to try to salvage Aragua state. Isea was not someone easy to replace.

After a reasonably long tenure, by chavismo standards, at many financial posts Isea had become quite tied with all bond emissions, bonds of dubious values and of less than transparent management. Thus Isea became a darling of sorts to the chavista financial groups, someone who knew only too well how to make Chavez main backers happy. Whoever was to replace Isea must be of the utmost trust of Chavez , and utmost discretion to make sure that nothing would ventilate out of the ministry. In particular these difficult days, as Cristina Kirchner, just to name an example of Chavez debtors, is sinking fast. An everyday more likely Argentina debt default would call into question the more than 6 billions of Argentina debt that the Chavez government foolishly acquired. This time it will not be the IMF that will be left holding the bag, but the Venezuelan people.

Amazingly it seems that Chavez was not able to find anyone with any serious capacity willing to take on the finance ministry (that perhaps Isea was very relieved to leave). He had to postpone his now infamous address to the country to offer new economic measures because simply he had no one to sit on his right. Short of calling Giordani back he had to turn to a faithful, someone who would accept to bear with all hard times that seem to lie ahead. Thus Ali Rodriguez Araque, who for the sake of the revolution will accept to take the blame in a vain effort to protect Chavez.

One has to realize that Ali is a hard core leftist, an ex guerrilla that came down from the mountain in the last batches and always gravitated wherever he felt were the most radical political groups. He ended up with the PPT which has provided a disproportionate amount of civilian cadres to Chavez as the only party remaining inside his coalition who had people with a career of sorts before Chavez came to power. Even though the MVR outranked by very far the PPT in votes, this one almost achieved at times parity inside the government.

The many positions that Ali R. occupied were crucial for Chavez on two aspects: he always presided where Chavez needed to access funds that he would not normally have access to; and he would be placed where funds would be spent in ways that Chavez should not spend them. Ali R. presided over the transformation of PDVSA from an independently managed and accountable business into one business whose sole mission was to pass any buck it made directly to Chavez without going through any real legislative control. Ramirez just followed into the foot steps to finish the transformation of PDVSA into a disgusting political agency. Ali R. also was placed on foreign policy duties where he worked on the ways to provide money to all sorts of unsavory allies. And then, when older and sicker, he was dispatched to Cuba to monitor the crucial link of Chavez. The embassy at Cuba is crucial enough that he went there to replace no one else but Chavez brother himself, which tells you how essential that job is. Besides the ideological and political implications of the post, it is also the most likely conduit through which all sorts of corrupt and amoral deals go through.

I am not saying by this that Ali R. actually made rich from any of these positions, not at all. But Ali R. has this most precious of qualities sought by autocrats like Chavez: he is a believer and for the sake of the success of the revolution he is willing to close his eyes upon as many misdeeds he will need to close his eyes.

As for the possibility that Ali might encounter some success in his tenure? None.
He is there for the very short term. Comes December, depending on the electoral results, a new minister will be sent for.

No matter what he does he is inheriting an economic policy that has already failed and that shows no sign that someone is really trying to mend. When the inflation of Venezuela is the highest, by very far, of Latin America no analysis are required anymore, just a dramatic change.

At a time where creativity is required to ford the shoals of overspending and stuck production, he is an ideologue, stuck in the 60ies. He is also unbending and autocratic even if his demeanor is soft spoken.

Whatever pragmatism he has shown on occasion, it will be swept away by the needs that Chavez will display as the electoral campaign progresses.

And surrounded with creeps like El Troudi, there is no hope he will get advice worthwhile following.

And that is why we assist to yet another failure of Chavez. In his need he had to scavenge the bottom of the barrel to bring up a guy well past his prime, sick and weak, and this he did right after he once again he insulted the intelligence of the country alienating further its productive forces. That is, had Chavez wanted to sabotage the potential of his new finance minister, he woudl not have operated any differently.

Chavez has been unable for years to attract new talent, and even in his recycling he manages to fail.

-The end-

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