Monday, August 04, 2008

The Venezuelan 2008 election: update 4 - Chavez the radical

The events of this week, from the disastrous show at Alo Presidente to the take over of Banco de Venezuela and the 26 surprise decree laws force me to write an electoral update earlier than I had anticipated. I think that it is important to stress that this Alo Presidente is the one that will settle the tone for the campaign just as a now distant Alo Presidente on a Santa Fe beach where Guardian's Rory Caroll was insulted set the tone for the whole Reforma Referendum campaign. The rest of the week was just the first consequences (or perhaps the cause of that Alo Presidente performance, as Chavez knew what was coming).

But before I get into the detail I will start with what could be taken as the conclusion of this post, which is nothing more than the words that I wrote in May 26:
What Chavez wants.

It is very simple: Chavez wants to remain in office for life. For the time being his aim is thwarted by the December 2 2007 defeat but he still has more than 4 years to find a way around this obstacle. [snip...] once Chavez is not anymore in office, once the judicial power is freed of his control, a boatload of chavistas, including Chavez, are going to find their sorry asses in court, [snip...] the only way that a few hundred of folks can keep enjoying their loot is for Chavez to remain in office ad perpetuum, including the Chavez family who have carved a nice little fiefdom in Barinas. Not understanding this makes it impossible to understand anything else that is going on in Venezuela these days.
All what is taking place these days can be explained by understanding the words above, fully, in all of their implications. Discussing the November elections as simple democratic 'floral games' misses the point. Those who do not understand this, from the opposition to Lina Ron, are missing the point and will pay for it, dearly. Because it must be stressed that it is not enough, like the case of Lina Ron indicates, to be OK, to 'understand' Chavez wanting to try to stay in office forever. What I have in mind is the difference between understanding and comprehending. I suspect that Lina Ron does not quite get it yet, nor too many folks at PJ or UNT.

Let's examine the evidence for Chavez radicalization. It all comes from Sunday 27, a week ago, in 4 Youtube videos. In these four videos I aim to illustrate that in ten years in office Chavez has learned nothing, that he is as autocratic as he was, and if anything, whatever ability to hide his undemocratic attitude he might had is coming undone under the recent stress.

The first two are short snippets, from the extensive collection "Usted lo vio en Globovision" where the news channel takes pleasure in allowing chavismo's own words and actions speak for themselves, a devastating series that the government has been trying desperately to suppress (that was why VTV for a few hours threatened with charging any signal coming from them).

The fist video is when Chavez shows his contempt for the Venezuelan worker, by berating the camera men of VTV for charging for their work during the Alo Presidente shows. Obviously, stupor mundi would expect anyone to work for him for free since he is such a tremendous asset for humanity. He goes as far as to act as the crassest capitalist in the world, when saying that VTV is almost going under due to the tremendous cost of its labor force!!! ¡Se cuenta y no se cree!

The next clip offers us a Chavez getting rid of his allies PPT and PCV. In 30 seconds you can see from his gestures and his words what an autocrat he has become, going as far as saying "leave me alone me and MY [political party]", establishing clearly how he considers the PSUV: his thing, toy, unavoidable nuisance, whatever.

The next two clips are unfortunately longer, a few minutes, and come, incredibly, from a pro Chavez site who apparently thinks that they are great. It is worth in these two long clips not only to listen to the words of Chavez but to observe his body language.

The first one starts with his thoughts about PPT and PCV. At 40 sec. he simply tells them that the real union would have been for them to join the PSUV last year. Chavez, the rancorous one. At 1:14 he says that "they do not respect age, they do not respect rank". At 1:52 starts Chavez disdain for what is not military. We get back to February 4 1992 as he complains that almost only the military went out to overthrow democracy. At 3 Chavez says that PPT PCV et al. do not reach 1% and that his socialist party will never disappear. At 3:20 he is calling them traitors. At 5:24 starts the now famous part where Chavez says that the bottom problem is that these "allies" do not recognize him as the leader, and the only one we presume. At 5:40 he names Aristobulo and Ali who left the PPT as role models (and "historical figures" to boot). At 6:30 he criticizes someone for being more Marxist than Karl Marx (some stuff just cannot be made up!). And more grievances against the Communist party now at 7:22 who Chavez accuses not to have believed in him when he left jail. At 7:38 "Me, Chavez, the Messiah". Note that we do not quite understand if it was a criticism of the PC then or if it is a lapsus form Chavez!

This next video is the second part. It starts with Chavez stating that the left is united because there is the PSUV and that is enough. At 0:42 starts the diatribe against the MEP (1). The MEP joined the PSUV and then left. He attacks Eustoquio Contreras, one of its heads, reminding him that on February 4 he had promised 200 men for the coup and no one showed up, as Chavez claims he had left a truck with the weapons waiting for these men at a couple of blocks of Miraflores. At 3:20 it is Lina Ron turn to be told. At 3:38 "if you, Lina, recognized my leadership truly, you would be inside the PSUV now". At 5:20 he starts ranting about how he guarantees the unity of the revolutionary ranks, including him, the people, the PSUV and the army; those who want to add up, should join.

It is too be noted that some of the things I pointed out are repeated several times, Chavez truly means it.

How are we to interpret this full frontal attack? A self revealing Chavez, a Chavez that does not trust civilians, that cannot negotiate with civilians, a Chavez that can only operate under a barracks scheme, obey or give orders, with him at the top of the pecking order. In these 16 minutes you can see the Teniente Coronel who would have never made it to general as Generals are the only military allowed to negotiate because they need to do so. What you saw is a man that will never be at ease in the civilian world, no matter how many years he is in power. What you understood there is the tragedy of Venezuelans who were fool enough to grant him an absolute parliamentary majority in 2000, the worst poisoned gift we could have given him.

But Chavez also knows how to read polls and knows very well that his project is in danger, and that his financial future and peace are in greater danger. I do not subscribe that chavismo inner incompetence is the root cause of the 26 laws thrown at us last Friday. They are incompetent but not that incompetent. I do not subscribe that the nationalization of the Banco de Venezuela was just to get back at Spain, that chavismo needed to be more efficient at buying votes through a major banking system. There is some of that for sure, but it is not all.

What we saw happening this week has been a deliberate strategy to radicalize the electoral campaign and make it so that even an electoral loss will not stop Chavez. His real objective is to make leaders of the opposition understand that even if they were to pick up ten states next November, they will not be able to do anything against him, they will be powerless, without resources. The aim is to discourage the opposition leadership and its voters by creating a sense of unavoidable doom and force them to either leave or start looking for accommodation BEFORE November 23, otherwise they will be crushed after. And this includes now even Lina Ron.

He might not succeed but this is what he is trying and this is what anyone running against him must understand, otherwise that person risks feeling quite lonely at election day. The campaign tone and objectives are shifting dramatically: the opposition must confront Chavez, not only on local administration, soon to become irrelevant if Chavez gets his way, but on his naked agenda of passing through laws what he could not gain through a constitutional change last December.

The nationalization of Banco de Venezuela, besides making Chavez feel good about hitting back at Spain after the 'Por que no te callas' serves other purposes: now any business in Venezuela has ceased to be officially untouchable. If a foreign bank can be brought to its knees so easily, what hope is there for any local one? Or any local private business activity for that matter. Do not let yourself be fooled by demagogics such as the "municipalization" of the Banco de Venezuela, whatever that means. Chavez knows very well that the Banco de Venezuela will be an empty shell when he gets it: deposits are leaving at a brisk rate I understand. What he is getting is much more valuable for him: not only a poster boy of what he can do with private business that dare to finance opposition campaigns, but also a shinny example of what you can get if you stick with Chavez, the cushy jobs deserted by B. de V. employees, and easier terms to get credits and mision money if you go with Chavez.

The 26 laws include enough economic and structural laws that the governors and mayors that will be sworn in early December will find themselves with less money, less influence than what their predecessors had, which was not that much to begin with. As such, savvy business people will learn, in particular in the country side, that they will be more helpless than ever if the government decides to stick its nose in their business and private affairs. But there is an added beautiful element:
Chavez contempt for his own workers is almost a subliminal appeal to business boss to get with him as he will protect you from unions!!!

Chavez has announced to us that he is already getting ready for the post November battle as the new authorities will have no other choice but to get moving on either a recall election on the National Assembly or at the very least a referendum to annul the 26 laws that Chavez just issued. He does not care whether these laws will be applied or not, he gets something much more valuable out of them: the ability to control the economy better through scare tactics and a contention battle that he hopes will eventually gut the opposition of any will to fight as Chavez keeps controlling the oil spigot. And may the deity forbid, but if he were to win the November contest these week activities would make it easier for him to get his big prize: indefinite reelection.

Now, a little thought to end this post: in which political system there is a deliberate attempt by the state to take over the biggest share of the economy in order to better control the country as a whole? And what precise name would you give this system if it includes verbal violence undemocratic ways and a crass appeal to the army to sustain its rule? And what about if it includes some union busting?


1) The MEP is a groupuscule issued from the AD division of 1968 (imagine how relevant this clowns are anyway, not all that Chavez says lacks support, mind you!)

-The end-

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