Where are we standing now? The February 15 vote has indeed changed some of the parameters of Venezuela but it has not solved any of the basic problems and as such we have not progressed towards any satisfactory settlement, political, economical or social for that matter. However a few things are now clear: the electoral composition of the country and the economic crisis on its way to hit us, and real bad, are the things that will push Chavez toward a further radicalization of his policies with disastrous consequences.
The not so new political division
One thing that is now very clear is that we know exactly how the Venezuelan electorate is divided, without any of these external parameters weighing in such as local politicians, local issues, historical perspectives and others. After 10 years of rule the country has decided strictly based on Chavez merits and as such it has awarded him 55% of the vote. Which is his lowest personal score, by the way, but a clear majority nevertheless.
As I have written in preceding texts, I personally think that those 55% of the country that voted for Chavez are basically of undemocratic nature. Not that the 45% who voted against him do not contain also a significant amount of not very democratic folks, but it is my conviction that the immense majority of the Venezuelans who have a democratic fiber in them did vote NO on February 15. Those who did not vote NO were either unable to vote for X reason, or actually belong to the counted few democrat idealists still hanging around the Chavez camp. As such the lesson we must get out of February 15 vote, no matter how bitter that lesson is, is that the large majority of Venezuelans, perhaps as much as 2/3 of the country really do not care how things are done as long as they get what they are seeking. I cannot write it in any more charitably.
Let’s decompose the chavista electorate of three weeks ago.
A portion is hard core chavista and would vote for him no matter what, even if he were found in bed having sex with an underage boy.
Another portion vote for him because they think that Chavez is offering them some revenge from real or imaginary ills. Usually voting for Chavez is an excuse for their own shortcomings. We call them the “resentidos sociales”.
There are those who are scared, who think that if they do not vote for Chavez they are going to lose their jobs, or social unrest will come, or their relative would lose their jobs, or something. These people do not care about the large issues at all, probably only vote when they feel their routine threatened. We can include in this group a strange group of conservatives who actually think that they should be allowed to vote for the same cacique for as long as they feel like it. Indeed according to some pollsters when Chavez allowed all politicians to run for ever, that is when his chances to win brightened.
And of course we cannot forget another large constituency, those who are getting something out of the regime, be it a meager misión stipend, or a juicy governmental contract, it does not matter. They are out looking to make a buck and they cannot care less if others are making more or less than them, if the system is fair or not, as long as they get their hands on something.
All of these people share something: they all know very well what Chavez does, how reckless and abusive he is, how corrupt his regime turned out to be. They all knew that perfectly well and yet that did not stop them from voting for him. They have absolutely no excuse, never should they be allowed to say that “Oh, I did not know! Oh, I was following orders!”. After ten years, they have no excuse and thus the only rational explanation for what they are allowing to happen to our country is that they do not care about democracy, they strictly care about what is out there for them to grab. Some kind of perverse “single issue” voter we could call them. It is not that this is such reprehensible attitude towards life and politics, it is just that the difference between the barbaric and civilization resides in the later to be willing to consider more than just its self serving interests or loves. When the barbaric becomes the overwhelming majority, then a society should get ready to get what it deserves.
Chavismo on the rampage
The terrible thing here is that Chavez and his entourage know well the low democratic tenor of their electorate, and the implication in it: no loyalty when things turn sour. He also knows that this year will be more difficult as there will be less lavishness to dispense in 2009. That is why he decided to radicalize his actions.
In 2006 Chavez thought he had it made and did the gorilla thing: RCTV went down, and the “reforma” was launched. Within one year he had received his first knock out, and that happened with Venezuelan heavy crude hovering at the 100 USD level. Now again he basks in victory and he once again behaves as if all was within his reach. Except that now he is missing 15% of the electors he had in 2006, a 15% that more or less found its way to the opposition. Chavez knows that his time is now counted and the time to act is today. He has a very precious few months to create the system that he hopes will lock the deal for him once and for all.
In democracy even a landslide victory is no excuse to create an irreversible social change. True, landslide victories can produce permanent changes in society but at some level all understand that there is certain reversibility, or at least always to possibility to adapt a given system even if it cannot be overturned anymore. But Chavez, and his advisers in particular the Cuban ones are no democrats and with the current crisis they know it is now or never. They do factor in one advantage: the world is so busy with its crisis that any undemocratic move in Venezuela today will not be met by a strong reaction from overseas. Not to mention that these outside folks think that if Venezuelans are stupid enough to vote for a creep so obviously on an authoritarian trip, so be it for them.
And thus Chavez has started to act. All what we see these two weeks, from intervention of the rice processing pants to a radicalization of the personnel in government through a new ministry, is designed for that, to force the economic issue, to stir the people on his side against the only enemy at hand: the opposition for the time being symbolized as the private sector. Which curiously does not stop him form trying to pick up a fight with Obama, as a future needed enemy.
Chavez is obliged to go to war: he has run out of money and he must secure a food supply he cannot easily import anymore. By a series of populist measure he will try to ensure that his Mercal and PDVAL remain supplied. At the same time he finishes off the private sector which is always seen as a threat, not only political but also moral. This is why this week end we saw a Chavez minister implying that the people should not wait for the state to nationalize of intervene private business, they should actually take the initiative. This is why even areperas are a target because they are simply a constant reminder on why the government is unable to tame inflation, not to mention that for the cheap hordes of chavismo they are a convenient scapegoat.
What to expect for the reminder of 2009?
The situation is, to say the least, delicate. The chavista offensive against the private food production concerns is going to be an irremediable disaster: we are not going to have enough food, without having the means to import the needed stuff. To this you need to add the collapsing mining and metal industry of Bolivar and the PDVSA inability to sustain investment to keep up not only its production but also its bloated bureaucracy. True, for a brief period of time, while the new takeovers still sort of work out (a month? three maybe?) there will be a brief euphoria in the chavista base as distribution of cheapened items take place. But this cannot last and then chavismo will have to face the music. Some to all of these things will take place, with their consequence:
Taxes will be raised: any weak possible investment will dry out. Increasing taxes to go out of a crisis can only work as a short gap measure when you have already a strong production base and you want to use these taxes to restart consumption and/or production of some sectors. As it stands today, the private sector that survived the 2002-2005 crisis is working full speed and cannot increase much its current production without massive investments that will take at least a year or two to have any effect.
Public sector employment will be curtailed; private sector job offering will not rise: these people will find no jobs in the private sector. A stalling and then a decrease of production will take place because of the adverse conditions facing the private sector. The increased number of ill conceived regulations that saddle the weakened private sector, from CADIVI to LOCYMAT, are designed to control and weaken the private sector. As the crisis looms we cannot count on the private sector to help, even if it wanted to do so.
Food shortages will come back with a vengeance: the government will be faced with either allowing prices to rise sharply or to institute some form of rationing system.
Budgetary cuts will have to be decided: once weapon purchases are canceled the only fat that can be cut is at the level of social misiones, or increasing gasoline prices.
A devaluation will happen: this, with all that is already listed above will lead to higher inflation than the 30%+ we already observe.
If to all of this you add the deliberate political tensions that Chavez is creating these days what do you expect the final results to be? Social breakdown and the increased repression justified in the name of keeping order in the country. That repression will include serious attacks to freedom of expression as the government will need to hide its economical failure and the repression it needs to undertake to make sure this one does not affect its hold to power.
It is a classic textbook scenario. In fact, it is quite possible that Chavez looks forward open confrontation, civil war even, to become either a martyr Che style or a Mugabe/Castro feature. Or why do you think that Venezuela this weekend decided to support Sudan's Bashir, Darfur genocide notwithstanding?
There is no more pretense even.
And these sad considerations force me to consider what I should be doing for myself and this blog.