Regular readers and well informed people already know what is going on and why, but it never hurts to refresh memory and simplify the input.
Chavez wants to be president for life
This is now vox populi and has been clearly established through all the speeches of Chavez (¡hasta el 2021! the 'til 2021! slogan). It has also been established through actions, ranging from a failed constitutional reform in 2007, to a more successful unconstitutional amendment in 2009, including the regular destruction of any political figure that could cast a shadow over Chavez, be it opposition (Rosales in exile, e.g.) be it pro Chavez (add up all the discards of Chavez since Miquelena in 2002 until the most recent of the Chacon brothers with the current possible defenestration of Diosdado Cabello).
No need to elaborate further on that one.
The regime cannot surrender power because too many would have to face justice
The corruption of the regime and its incompetence are now vox populi. The Chavez regime will deserve its own very special chapter in any Encyclopaedia Corruptionensis that might ever be written. And to aggravate corruption there is stupendous incompetence as the regime has been proven unable to provide basic public services to the population in spite of record income in the past decade. In Italy trains ran on time.
Examples abound of course, you just need to read newspapers, even the pro regime ones who on occasion narrate corruption accusations when there is some power infighting going on. I will chose only the two glaring examples of this year, which help explain best what is going on.
Incompetence: the electricity crisis. With the Guri dam full of water, we are having again major electric shortages and the regime simply has decided to ignore them. In my own business in San Felipe through October we have lost four full days of work due to long "unscheduled" power outages, accompanied by the frying of one AC and two computers that could not resist the voltage/amperage surges in spite of the expensive surge protectors we used for them. The protectors died also and of course we will have to pay for all replacements as the utility company could not care less. When shortages were scheduled we actually had much less overall trouble and losses than since the regime announced the end of the electricity crisis. People notice such blatant lies, you know....
Corruption (accompanied with incompetence, by the way): the PUDREVAL crisis. Early this year we learned that over 120,000 (or much more depending f the sources) TONS of FOOD were lost, were never received even if paid for, were not adequate for human or animal consumption, etc, etc....... You can count these disappeared stocks whichever way you may want but we are talking here, say at 2 USD per kilo average at the very least, freight and shipping included, of a national loss of 240 million dollars for which ONLY 3 people have been supposedly investigated and are to stand some form of mock trial. Numbers vary and billion of dollars numbers have even been advanced, but even at 240 million dollars it is clear that those who are investigated are merely the fall guys. The real guilty party, the ones that at this point should be behind bars, are still occupying high governmental positions in some cases: Elias Jaua, the vice president, and Rafael Ramirez, the oil minister, PDVAL head, to name two of them.
And of course, I am not even bothering describing the petty robbery from government "officials" who have created a sophisticated "legal" network of extortion and plain robbery that has put Venezuela at the bottom of any international survey system on corruption and transparency in governance and business. This is a text for "dummies" after all and I need to keep it simple and obvious.
The regime cannot surrender power because too many of them will be ending up in international jails
As if local crime was not enough, the regime has been dabbling in international crime, from ETA terrorist group support to transforming Venezuela into a main go-through zone for drug trafficking. These days that fear of ending in an international court, be it The Hague or some average bench in Florida, seems to have become the most pressing concern of the regime high ranks, including Chavez himself who at the very least can be accused of enabler. When the "enabling" is big enough, it becomes enough to send you to jail too.
The key moment seems to have been the Uribe legacy as he was leaving office, introducing at the OAS a detailed account on how the Venezuelan regime is abetting terrorist FARC camps inside Venezuela (vox populi at least in Zulia and Tachira states). That this charge has not gone further at the OAS for the time being is simply due to Colombia preferring to us to blackmail Chavez into staying quiet on Colombian matters and start paying up the billion of dollars Venezuela owes Colombia business. Chavez has started paying, demonstrating that indeed he is on the spot. Not to mention that he received in Caracas a few day ago Colombia's president Santos who he threatened of all sorts of horrors were he to be elected last summer.
The not quite expected result of the Colombia accusation has been that previous accusations are now retaken or exposed as people find the time right for such activities. We have for example the ETA/FARC association through Venezuela's good offices that is creating a major problem between Spain and Venezuela and eventually between Venezuela and Europe. It would seem that Venezuela is being increasingly cornered on that matter and that in spite of all the corrupt business deals between Venezuela and Spain Chavez might have to prepare himself for an official break up like Cuba did a few years ago. This will not stop that affair and when the investigation and trials are concluded many Venezuelans will not be able to travel to Europe anymore, amen of their seized financial accounts as it has already happened in Andorra. Collateral damage could be the fall of the socialist government in Spain when due elections are held, thus it is difficult to see how Chavez and Zapatero are going to weasel that one out.
But the latest incident establishes beyond doubt that the regime is getting ready to never to surrender power, Myanmar style for the time being until eventually it will become Cuban style.
The US has already pointed three important names in the Chavez hierarchy as being related to drug trafficking large scale. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) those are General Silva, head of the Venezuelan Operational Strategic Command, General Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios, Director General of Military Intelligence, and former official and Justice minister, Ramón Rodríguez Chacin. Any one of them setting foot in a US territory will be immediately arrested, if I understand well. Needless to say that when the US states such a thing it is because it means business: they do not go for hot air effect as Chavez does routinely. And we can imagine easily that the US is probably able to expand that list at will since obviously these three men are not enough to explain how Venezuela has become a major route for drug trafficking.
Well, General Silva declared this week that the Venezuelan army would not accept an opposition victory in 2012 (ever?) because the army is married with Chavez project. So much for free elections in Venezuela. And, by the way, he was merely echoing earlier Chavez declarations where he said that the opposition should pray for a Chavez victory in 2012 because the people would not accept an opposition victory. Apparently "the people" may have different meanings and descriptive parameters depending on what side of the electoral rift you place yourself and do not necessarily mean more than 50% of the inhabitants of a country.
Regardless, you cannot claim anymore ignorance anymore: the regime has declared its unwillingness to respect adverse electoral results in the future. Additionally the prospect of a coup in 2012 or earlier, to allow for permanence of Chavez is something that is now decided in some pro Chavez circles. The regime has started preparing public opinion.
If there is one thing that this modest blogger recognizes to Chavez is that he is the only person he is sure that knows better the Venezuelan electoral map than he does. Much better in fact. Like some politicians, a large chunk of his strength is to know exactly what to say at a given place and time. We might not realize it quite well because Chavez discourse is not directed at thinking people like us, but you will observe that Chavez knows very well where not to waste electoral time, and where to invest it. That is, one might be surprised that last election Chavez spent such a tremendous amount of time in chavista doomed Zulia for a rather lousy result. But think about it: what would have been the total vote tally had he not campaigned there? Chavez campaigns for one thing, and one thing only, the total national vote share he gets; the numbers of governors, representatives, mayors and what not being accessory to this. These numbers do mater, of course, as they simplify his rule when favorable, but in a hyper-populist regime as his, what matters is to get more than 50% and thus the extraordinary energy of Chavez is spending time in hopeless districts in order to scrap the maximum votes he can. It is not enough for him to win, he needs to win big each and every time to validate his plebiscite run regime.
Thus it is clear that Chavez understood very, very loud and clear the result of September 2010 when his combined forces, electoral cheating and all, only gave him 48%. That in representative count he can claim to have crushed the opposition, courtesy of gerrymandering, the number that impressed him is 48%. Chavez knows that he went down from 62% in December 2006 to 48% in September 2010 with no reason in sight on what could stop this slow but certain decay.
You can argue with me that electoral trends are bumpy affairs, and offer me all the Ifs, Buts, and Thens you want, including a few Howevers if you please, the fact of the matter is that even a messianic leadership cannot resist the effect of time when it fails to deliver on enough of its promises. You might not agree with me on that but I am sure that Chavez does. His actions certainly prove it.
And that reality will not fade away and Chavez numbers have no where to go but down. Why? Because "the economy stupid!" Ask Obama about that! He promised paradise with Health Care Reform and other but the jobless rate and emptier pockets did him in a few days ago for Congress. In the last two years you cannot point at a single economy initiative that the Chavez regime has taken that could mitigate the Venezuelan recession. In fact all measures taken could probably make things worse in the long term, such as making it difficult to raise capital for investments, assuming that any one would want to invest in Venezuela..... today any investment decision in Venezuela, private or public sector is driven more by political reasons than economical ones. Or why else did you think that the Polar giant announced this week that it decided to invest 100 million dollars with a Spanish partner to develop long preservation yogurt (which are horrible to taste but that is another story)? That investment is a direct challenge of Polar to Chavez, to demonstrate to public opinion that it is not afraid of Chavez, that if Polar yogurts do not reach the public it will be because Chavez blocked the venture (through nationalization?). The beauty of it is that these non-refrigerated yogurts/desserts are targeted to low income people who have a hard time affording the fresh products, and even more of a hard time finding them in their neighborhoods if they wish to buy them anyway.
Chavez cannot take the measures that need to be taken because they will go against all that he has done for the last decade and that is simply a No-No. Thus his only economic plan, to give it a charitably descriptive name, consists on hoping that oil prices go back up to 100 USD by the end of 2011 and that the Venezuelan economy reaches the bottom fast. Indeed, an economy can only drop so much as people need to eat and clothe and obtain minimal health care. Thus at some point before 2012 the Venezuelan economy will stop dropping, will stabilize courtesy of inertia, and might even show an occasional 1% increase which will be meaningless, due to mere good weather harvesting whatever can still be harvested or some other happy coincidence. Meaningless perhaps but always good at electoral time. By the time folks realize that the economy has tanked for good, it will be 2013.
There is one last point to consider that did not fit in the above discussion: Venezuela having willingly become a Cuban neo-colonial outpost, the Castro brothers cannot take any risk in seeing Chavez booted out of office in any way, shape or form. Never will the Castro brothers find a sucker like Chavez and his survival is essential to their own survival, at least for the years of life they think they have left to them.
And thus Chavez, advised if not ordered by Cuban advisers/bosses, is doing the only option he has left: a slow motion coup d'etat to take control of the country in a way that any challenge to his authority will be useless.
It is not the point at this time to evaluate the chances of success of his effort, I am too much of a dummy for that. The only thing that is left to complete this text is to describe how and why the coup is taking place.
Why is the coup taking place?
The answer is disarmingly simple: Chavez and his cohorts have decided that people cannot be trusted with the ballot anymore and thus something must be done to annul the power of vote. This being the XXI century, the age of Twitter and Picasa, where even Iran and Myanmar have all the trouble in the world keeping the lid with methods that are considerably harsher than what the Venezuelan army so far has been willing to try, the triple C alliance has to try a softer approach first, trying to postpone as long as possible the eventual blood bath. limited or river like, that will be inevitable at the end of the road. Thus Castro + Castro + Chavez have decided in a first step to gut the institutions of any relevance left and to gut electoral results of any significance and to make sure that even that meaningless electoral results gets all the odds in favor of Chavez.
That is why we can talk of a coup since when the deed is done, if it succeeds, the opposition will not be able to gain power peacefully through elections. The problem here is that even if the triple C maneuver fails it might be too late to avoid even a limited bloodbath. But this is also another story.
Why is the coup allowed?
It is also important to state at this point that all what is going in Venezuela is in large part due to the blissful ignorance of the world, too busy to sign corrupt contracts with Chavez to worry about the fate of a people, a people stupid enough I will admit it, that mistakenly elected Chavez in the first place. I will assign some blame here: the OAS at large, Brazil, Argentina and Spain as the main culprits and the ones that will have blood on their hands even if their wallets look fat. Significant guilty parties either through their blunders or their distancing or failure to use the moral voice they owned are the US, Chile, France and Italy. Minor players but players anyway include Uruguay, Mexico, Santo Domingo, and Portugal. Though a case can be made for Italy to go into that group. The only important countries who might have signed an occasional deal with Chavez but always kept their distances are the UK, Germany, Peru and even Paraguay in a way. I keep in a different section Colombia, Trinidad and the Netherlands because their neighbor status is very limiting but at least Colombia has been clear about its displeasure with Chavez. It is certain that if the first two groups of countries had been more critical the later two groups would have been more assertive in their criticism of Chavez actions.
But the damage is done. The irony here is that the three men that most contributed to Chavez becoming today's Frankenstein, Lula, Bush and Kirchener, will not be around to clean up the mess. Kirchner just croaked and will never face reckoning at home or outside, Bush is publishing his memoirs and claims Chavez to be evil now that he is away of the White House, and Lula walks out of office soon and could not care less about Venezuelan blood though he will remain in history books as the main enabler of Chavez, the biggest tarnish to his image. You just wait, it might even happen before Lula croaks.
How is the coup developing?
There are two aspects: one long term and continuous and one short term, seeking the immediate crisis if necessary, a provocation if you will.
The long term actions
These have been going on for a while and will keep going on for as long as needed. In short they consist in gutting all state institutions of real power so as to make people aware that voting will not change anything, that power resides with those close to Chavez and that if you want your share you need to find ways to get close to the flame.
Already the judicial system is in the hand of Chavez and selected political prisoners keep reminding the common folk as well as the politicians that you can only go so far into legitimate criticism of the regime. Either you shut up or you end up in jail or in exile.
Already state houses have been gutted of most of the little power they owned.
Already business has been told that ownership is a matter of Chavez will.
Now what is left to do is to wreck town-halls by completing the set up of the comunas/poder comunal which is nothing less than an expanded Cuban CDR system where the community organizes itself so as to make sure it follows the revolutionary lines. That is, a snitch system to spy on people. Already there are enough reports to substantiate that: pro Chavez comunas are quite often dwindling as people refuse to participate further once they realize the system rewards the snitch and the political activist at the expense of the community that is supposed to benefit. And it is now vox populi that when a comuna elects an opposition leadership ether it is not allowed to register legally, or does not receive any of the promised funding according to the very law of comunas. The message is clear: organize yourself in pro Chavez groups or wither.
The comunas might risk to send the local administration into anarchy but it serves one essential purpose in a dictatorship: it removes the intermediate between Chavez and "el pueblo", these local elected officials who through hard work and dedication can develop a political base. That is simply unacceptable.
The objective of the comunas and other mechanisms such as university intervention, ideological exposure in schools, etc, etc have really a 2012 horizon. If Chavez manages reelection then he will be free again to try to change the constitution and this time around, with no local power to oppose him, he could manage to enshrine dictatorship in the constitution with the forced blessing of the people. Clever, no? Just like in Myanmar whose last elections are praised by China alone, who takes seriously the 70% participation.
But something needs to be done short term.
The short term actions
These are designed to ensure an electoral victory in 2012 through elimination of the opposition as a political factor so as to win by default if necessary. Myanmar style again, so as to become Cuba afterwards.
The first thing to do is to kill any important private property. The reasons are simple and two fold.
First, since the state is forbidden to finance electoral campaigns, the opposition gets its donations strictly from the private sector. Eliminate this one and you deprive the opposition of means, while in violation of the constitution you use all the apparatus of the state to finance your own campaign, buying votes if needed. The financial advantage for Chavez is now orders of magnitude.
That explains why Chavez has restarted his nationalization program which will lead him inevitably to the final confrontation with the Polar Group. It is quite possible that by June 2012 few private enterprise with more than a couple of hundred employees will remain private, or that any business that is making money through some miraculous way will keep making money as it will simply be taken over or overtaxed or forced into public support of Chavez, going as far as financing Chavez campaign.
The second fold is the choice of nationalized companies: they control the food system. What Chavez seeks, nakedly, is to control the largest percentage of the food supply system to be able to deviate it at subsidized cost to his supporters so as to make them dependent and if possible convince the wavering to join to make sure they get at least their square meals as there soon will be very few well paid jobs left. That is, if oil goes up enough enough Chavez will have enough money to feed half the country on a XXI century version of the dole, while the other 50% that will never vote for Chavez will suffer in full inflation and scarcity. This is a new type of class war, with little to do with class but a lot to do with hatreds and artificial divisions.
To complete this wave of nationalizations expect additional political measures such as the closing of more media, probably even Globovision at least a year before the 2012 vote. A few people will be jailed, maybe including this blogger. A few people will be forced into some exile. The objective will be to browbeat a significant chunk of the opposition if not into submission at least into despair and abstention.
Provocation is never too far in such a perverse system, as a way to speed up events, regardless of the final results: when you are a mad man like Chavez, sudden death as a martyrdom quality not unappealing even to the coward. As I was giving some final touches to this text started a few days ago there was a cadena tonight where Chavez promoted to the highest rank General Rangel Silva, even though he is on US narco lists, even though even the OAS in a rare instant of backbone condemned his undemocratic and violent implications.
You can be sure that provocations and nationalizations will keep apace, the more so that Chavez feels weaker and the more so that economic numbers keep getting worse. The Makled case in Colombia is such a potential breaking point, as the accusations of that narco criminal are sure to bring down quite a few people inside the regime inner circle. The surprising thing here is that in front of the gravity of the accusations the regime refuses to investigate, implicitly acknowledging that at least part of what Makled says from his Colombia temporary seclusion post is true and no response is possible except gross provocations like promoting Rangel.
Chavez is crossing a Rubicon of sorts these days, pushed by a political crisis that no one seems to have a way to control. The only option in his mind is to start a coup, as a reflex more than any realistic option.
Woe is Venezuela!
PS: as you may have noticed there is not a single link in this long summary post of the situation. I wrote it as a story and if I had to substantiate everything, which I can, be assured, I would have had to put dozens and dozens of links.To save time you may want to visit my colleague blogs from Venezuela who have developed some of these points while I was away. A search on Google with the few names I have mentioned is enough to give you more information than what you can handle.
Some of the ideas are not necessary mine as is but all crossed my mind long ago in at least a related way. I am saying this because I am not original here: anyone with a thinking mind, with a knowledge of what Venezuela has suffered over the past decade can only come to this type of conclusion, even if chavista, if there are still thinking chavista lefts which I increasingly doubt. Even inside the opposition the silence on the coup taking place betrays not ignorance of the coup but haplessness. Those who already have lost a lot like Diego Arria or are not afraid anymore like Osvaldo Alvarez Paz speak in terms such as I wrote above without the sarcasm that I used to soften the blow. Humor is not an option anymore inside Venezuela as Chavez is leading us right into civil war if his coup is not stopped on time.