Monday, August 19, 2013

A XXIst century dictatorship primer

Even though for informed people the Venezuelan regime has become a symbol of utter corruption, immeasurable incompetence, sublime contempt for the rule of law and plasticity for human rights, you read here and there that we are a democracy. We cannot possibly be a dictatorship because people are happy and keep reëlecting the same folks letting hysterics dominate Twitter. What these people fail to notice is that the concept of dictatorship has evolved with the times. Now, in the earlier part of the XXI century, in an age of mass media and massive social media, the tools of dictatorship have had to evolve, even if old means are yet to be out of fashion as we see in Egypt these days.

To understand that "adaptation of dictatorship to new realities" let's start by remembering what are the core concepts of democracy and, as a consequence, what trumps a democracy and can thus represent the basic tools to sustain a dictatorship.

A democracy cannot be defined alone by elections, even if those are free and fair. In a complex, multiethnic, multicultural world, and dare I invent a word, multieconomical, we need to look beyond what were the democratic aspirations of the XIX century: right of vote for all, equal justice for all and for more forward looking societies like the US, equal opportunities for all. The aspirations of the XIX century and the birth of the welfare state have led to our current system where democracy also includes protection for minorities, guarantees that a political minority can become a political majority, rule of law though independent institutions implying stricter separation of powers. Not to enter into human rights which have expanded considerably from those of the XIX century which were basically limited to habeas corpus and freedoms of the press and beliefs.

This restructuring of democracy tenets have also implied the redefinition of power. All through the XXth century democracy has had to contend with that side of human nature that wishes to control everything. This made democracy to be seen for some as weak and incompetent creating a wish for a substantial chunk of the society that wants clear and direct answers. The enemy of democracy has thus been the will of small groups who invented crass appeal to the populace, or populism, to reach power. In their more extreme forms these people went easily over to fascism or communism, which are the negative picture of the democratic aspiration, totalitarianism.

Unfortunately at this vantage point it seems that the trend is for a victory of populism in its milder forms over sensible government though we should not give up quite yet. This has been made easier because mass media cannot resit to dabble in political influence, in all countries of the world. Exciting the masses is rather easy and a few good soundbites can influence an election more than electoral homework. But yet these media and international realities make an outright grab to power more difficult than it was. Absolute control is today nearly impossible unless it was established in the last century.  Thus ambitious groups and individuals had to reshape their goals.

The only thing that, with some ease, can be more or less thoroughly controlled today is the income of the country. In an authoritarian regime this is a must because the state income is used by those in powers to play off one side of the country against the other one.  Other forms of control then can follow. In a welfare state age and crass consumption sponsored by all types of media living off advertising, the power of the purse is more effective than the power of the weapons. True, the other tool of dictatorships, giving only to a few powers for abuse over their brethren still exists but runs into lots of problems in an age of human rights, no matter how many psychopaths a regime can draw. Disposable bribe money works better, violent repression is a last recourse. Although preparations for repression are made as diligently as they used to be made last century.

The trick for those craving absolute power is on how to reach absolute control over the state financial resources. The Venezuelan model is the first success story though one difficult to emulate unless you have a spigot of money like the one that exists underground in Venezuela. The model was implemented in stages so that not that many people objected to it at any given time, outside of the 2002 scare.

First, you sell the empty promise of a new constitution without describing what you will put in it. As such people project in a new Constitution any of their phantasms or needs to be fulfilled. In April 1999 only 10% voted NO to elect a constitutional assembly.  Then, with the new constitution as an excuse you change the institutions of the state or at the very least exchange the people holding them for your cronies. This was strategically done in December 1999 when the transition commission between the two constitutions overextended its reach in removing all the members of the judicial system it did not like.

Once the judicial power has lost its independence it is just a matter of time in taking control of the rest of the state. This was done by 2004 when the opposition was left with a few town halls and two state houses. Then it becomes easy to manipulate financial arrangements to make sure only the regime can drain the bulk of resources and distribute them at will. Once this is achieved the regime is on its way to become an "electoral" dictatorship. It takes about half a decade to create a dependent population that is too afraid to vote against the regime least it risks to lose what is seen as its lone livelihood. This was achieved by 2006 when the charisma of the leader and the dependency on state giveaway programs ensured a solid electoral victory and the beginning of the other measures more in agreement with a traditional dictatorship, like restricting the freedom of expression, or using corruption to gain the willingness of supporters to start harassing opposition people, be them politicians or mere civilians that refuse to accept the new regime.

Today, certainly, we can access Internet, we can travel outside of the country at will but with significant difficulty, we can talk freely among friends to trash the regime, we can still get significant news in some newspapers. But that is pretty much it. For the rest we are in a dictatorship, a bona fide one even though the above hides it for the casual observer.

Let's list a few of the restrictions we suffer that do look like those of a more traditional dictatorship.

  • As of this week there is basically nothing critical of the regime on TV. And on radio only in some cities. Newspapers and media in general practice a significant amount of self censorship and some news only appear in the Internet. Yes, you can still find criticism but now you must work for it, the masses that satisfy themselves on TV do not get much.
  • Nobody remembers the last time the state lost a case in the High Court of Venezuela. Suing the state is a waste of time and money unless you need to do so before you can be allowed to reach for international help. Also, winning a case in court against a friend of the regime is an uphill and very expensive battle. Expensive because in the end the winner of the trial is the one that bribes the highest.
  • Your property is not your property anymore. Once the state decides to expropriate you you have no recourse, your compensation is dictated by the state, not by an independent third party. And that compensation will be payed by the state whenever it pleases it.
  • You cannot use your property at will. Some items now can be sold or rented only after the state consents, after deciding on the price. Your access to foreign currency is severely restricted, and only if you travel.
  • You cannot manage your business as you see fit. Not only heavy regulations make it difficult to work but they stimulate extortion from abusive state inspectors. Worse, you cannot let the market decide your selling prices; and in increasing cases you cannot sell it where you want to whom you want even at fixed prices.
  • For those who must deal regularly with the authorities, roughly half of the time the person that you need to reach, the one with real authority in charge, is military personnel. A large amount of governors and ministers come from the army.
  • Personality cult is for all to see. Be it the one for Chavez still going on, but there is also an incipient propaganda for Maduro.
  • Human and civil rights are trampled for some groups. There are political prisoners, a few but mistreated notoriously to set an example. The elected opposition representatives in Parliament are beaten up and insulted as a matter of fact.
  • Corruption is eating up the country. You need to pay something for almost anything important you need to get done. Obtaining loans from state banks, any business with the state, has a a fixed percentile rate of the deal to be given to the one who signs it. In cash, no trail.
  • Political segregation is the norm since the Tascon list was set in 2004. Many services now only reach followers of the regime, though badly. Obtaining a public job, a subsidized housing, a scholarship, is obtained only after pledging allegiance to the regime.
  • And to close a list that can still go on, elections are neither free nor fair anymore. There is clear electoral fraud patterns that are now in the public domain. It starts with the extreme unfairness of an election where the opposition is not allowed to finance itself or communicate its program against a regime that uses all the resources of the state and the media to promote its cause and blackmail voters. And it ends with the dead voting and the end of secret voting.

All of these items taken separately could make the case for a mere authoritarian regime. Taken together they surely indicate a dictatorship.

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All of what I wrote above is documented in hundreds of posts that have been forming this blog since 2003. The path toward dictatorship was undertaken in 2004 with the apartheid political list by representative Tascon which created a class of sub-citizens, not to say traitors. In 2007 the regime suffered a setback, the last election where the opposition was still able to carry its message with some effectiveness. In 2010 the first massive electoral fraud was perpetrated, including an obscene gerrymandering that left an opposition with a majority of the vote with barely a little bit more than a third of legislative seats. Personally it was in 2010 when I started calling the regime a dictatorship. Final confirmation came, for those who still pretend otherwise, in the legal maneuvering required to violate the 1999 constitution and ensure that Maduro would be the heir of Chavez. Maduro is an illegitimate president that got its official mandate after a fraudulent election that the regime refused to audit, of course. The paradox is that Maduro is the front dictator of the country but he is not the one truly in charge. The real dictators are elsewhere to be found. But that is another story.

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Note

I would be remiss if I were not to mention the Venezuelan model elsewhere. The one that comes closest to the Venezuelan model is the Russia of Putin although they certainly were able to come up with the same considerations that drove chavismo to do the deed, under Cuban direction. Though Putin has been more careful at keeping appearances, so far. But the model is the same in that the regime bases its success on the spigot of cash it controls. Just as the US has financed Chavez, Europe has financed Putin.

Of the other countries that have tried to follow a Venezuelan model, only Ecuador has a small spigot of cash. If it has not become a dictator ship it is because Correa has been a better manager of the economy and has accepted that the US dollar remains the Ecuador currency. The other imitators, Argentina, Bolivia and Nicaragua are sui generis in their own with much lesser promising options if the Venezuelan cash were to stop sustaining their political corruption system. But there are other politicians that are dreaming of an improved Venezuelan system that are in the wings, in Chile, Peru, Honduras, etc....

23 comments:

  1. Anonymous4:35 PM

    If you have not read this article, thought you might find it interesting. (nothing that you do not already know, of course)WSJ article " US Rice Farmers Cash In On Venezuelan Socialism" http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323681904578640291651501034.html

    Luisa

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    Replies
    1. I twitted furiously on it last night.

      Delete
  2. Anonymous6:41 PM

    ..... " dictatorship have had to evolve, even if old means are yet to be out of fashion as we see in Egypt these days. " .....

    I'm sorry did you just refer to the situation in EGYPT as a dictatorship? meaning you do not think that MR. MURSI's MB government, democratically elected had transformed itself into a pseudo-Chavezite style dictatorship?? Is this a concept only valid for Venezuela's opposition then?? Are we then blind to the fact that 70% of the Egyptians are content to relegate the MB dictator to the dustbin of history? To hold elections in the near future and roll the dice again (preferably w/o the MB, but maybe even with a reformed one). I can not take this post seriously when it starts this way, even though deep down I do agree with your tenet for writing it .....
    Maybe you could correct the unjust reference you made to Egypt's current transition authority via a clarification/retraction in the next post???

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    Replies
    1. And dictatorship is a dictatorship. Morsi was on his way to become one and he was replaced by one. Two bad do not make a good.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous12:02 AM

      so when 70% of the people ask or demand the removal of a bankrupt government, we should assume that government, who much like the Chavista predecessor, is taking over institutions will willingly agree and step down! The problem you are having is assuming any military intervention is a coup sir. then using your own flawed definition to beat a dead dog! Please take a look at what Col. Pat lang writes in his (much like your own) prestigious blog in collaboration with FPRI Senior Fellow Abdallah Schleifer, :

      http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2013/08/western-media-misunderstands-egypt-abdullah-schleifer.html

      I like your blog a lot. But on this point you are plain wrong. besides, your own arguments for change in Venezuela reflect your belief that the 21st century socialist flunkies have usurped all institutions leaving no way for real change to materialize through use of official institutions and channels.... a situation not unlike what has happened in Egypt with the difference that they had better leadership and recognized the pattern earlier and nixed it. If after about 6 months to 1 year no elections are held you may start nagging with no objections....

      Delete
    3. Anonymous5:27 AM

      I fail to see how his opinions on Egypt in any way change what is going on in Venezuela. You may disagree with his opinion of what's happening in Egypt, that's fine, I do too, but let's stick to the topic, please.

      I'm not the same "anonymous" as above, obviously.

      Delete
  3. Boludo Tejano7:20 PM

    Succinct and sad.

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  4. Anonymous9:33 PM

    Daniel,
    You need to leave VZ before the dictatorship puts you in prison because of your sexual orientation.
    ,dave

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think they have plenty of excuses to hurt me besides my private life. I am fighting for my country my own way.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous11:30 AM

      I give you credit that you are. Unlike the remainder who forget and spend their time drinking and listening to music on the weekends. People want change, but nobody wants to do anything about it. I really do wish Venezuela gets a silver platter but I don't think that will ever happen.

      Delete
  5. Excellent points, comprehensive view of what's happening in our country.

    Since I'm a short-fuse guy, and quite stubborn, I'll say it again in a few words:

    The root of all evil is a lack of education. Education normally brings acceptance, economic well-being, progress and freedom.

    In that sense, I wanted to point out to you, Daniel and readers, that this has been a problem brewing ever since Perez Jimenez and before. No government, adecos or copeyanos, these despicable chavistas no, NONE has done SHYT for education. That's why people still vote for THUGS and thieves, and complete fools like Maduro.

    They do not know any better. Most of those who see what's going on left the country for personal safety, if they could. So we've had a massive brain-drain, with only a few people as you still in the battle there. 98% of what's left are illiterate, corrupt thugs, rich or poor, but certainly trying to steal anything they can after the oil monies come in.

    So yeah, sure, it's a neo-dictatorship (I suggest you watch Jaime Bayly, you probably do already).
    but clowns like Maduro or Chavez and their lunatic supporters, vicioius and corrupt Thieves, only stay in power for the few reasons aforementioned: economic collapse, due to brain-drain exodus and corruption, poverty, and above all lack of education.

    Look at the few countries that are doing much better in America, not to mention Europe or some in Asia, even in Africa.. Colombia, despite that huge drug problem, moving ahead. Doing great, compared to Venezuela now. Chile, Costa Rica, even Brazil is taking huge strides. Even Peru is getting better, etc, etc.

    Why? better education to begin with, then law and order follow, with less corruption, and less brain-drain exodus every year.

    My main point here, again, is yes, Chavismo and Maduro are cancers, incompetent beast that dammaged out country irreparablement, comme on dit. but the root of the problem was brewing way before that, since caldera, carlos andres, lusinchi, etc,all thieves and thugs who did NOTHING for education, ranchos y mas ranchos for Decades, more corruption for decades, way before the worst 2 "leaders" chjavistas showed up.

    It's an endemic Venezuela problem, much deeper than you seem to suggest.. Arturo Uslar Pietri saw it coming 50 years ago.. the curse of Venezuelan oil, and corruption. Greed and lack of education.

    Take Chavez out? You get Maduro.. even worse. Take Maduro out? you get the other thug, military, I forget his name now.. And remember, they are all surrounded by an extensive Legion of thousands of other uneducated leeches and thugs, thieves, who also want a piece of the pie and some power.

    The only solution I see is massive street riots, the people out in the streets, to get someone like Capriles or Corina in power, as they deserve, and get these thugs out of power, violently if necessary.

    CI

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  6. Sorry for the numerous typos, I forgot to check. I get so pissed off about our country..

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  7. Anonymous2:28 PM

    Violence at this point is the only solution.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous11:28 PM

      Well, well, well. So after all I am not the only one having the opinion that the only way to achieve regime change and return to democracy are massive street protests, incl. riots - absolutely justified to fight this dictatorship.
      Let's remember that the power of the people is stronger than the people in power!
      Mike

      Delete
  8. margareth4:23 PM

    Violence no way. The military will do anything for Maduro & co. They get a huge salary all the time. A tactic to keep the Military satisfied. Yes people in the streets millions would be great and maybe strikes?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Anonymous4:05 AM

    Maduro et al are highly dependent on petro dollars. Anything that cuts off the flow will eventually dampen their powers. Venezuela is top heavy on bribes and payoffs. If it stops, the loyalty of those accepting corrupt payoffs will disappear also. Chavez fired 10.000 PDVSA workers and accepted lower oil production in order to assure an income of dollars. He knew the consequences. I would say a strike by about 500 key workers in PDVSA is the best way to start a rebellion against Maduro.

    Of course, some sabotage might help get things going. Maduro fears death and sabotage.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Boludo Tejano4:50 PM

      I would say a strike by about 500 key workers in PDVSA is the best way to start a rebellion against Maduro.

      Chavez fired the PDVSA employees who took part in the 2002 strike, and replaced them with loyalists. Loyalty, not competence, was the criteria for employment. Your hope of a strike of "about 500 key workers in PDVSA" is pie in the sky. It ain't gonna happen.

      Delete
  10. The way to make street protests work is to take the streets and the plazas in such massive numbers that it becomes unthinkable to shoot all of them (I am talking half a million and up), and then stay there... day after day until the will of the regime to fight it crumbles. This requires massive organization and exquisite timing, but it can be done and has been done successfully.

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  11. Anonymous11:24 AM

    Every person on this planet has an ability to care for themselves (and their children or aged elders) if they are allowed to do so. Sometimes we act in harmony with others to meet our common gaols. Socialism, in all its forms, prevents this. The basic concept is alluring, but fundementally prohibits anyone from making a profit. The only thing I own is my time and how to use it, also my mind, to make plans (at this God would laugh as he/she have their own plans). I'm not doomed to my own thoughts, or so I believe.
    Venezuela is a most beautiful nation, along with its people, I have had the privalage to live in this country with my wife, who was born in Caracas, (I am Irish) for a number of years, and whom I love with all my heart. I see the state of corruption and criminal neglect of those who are the sworn up-holders of all that matters in the agreement.
    The agreement is the “Constitution”. All citizens made a contract between 'themselves' as to how they should be governed. The current government has refused to honor that agreement especially the Supreme Court as it should be seperated by law only and its constituonal mandate.
    The United Kingdom does not have a constitution but its behaviours are based on law – only law is relevant. It is an excelent model.
    “I think therefore I am” is not a good expression regarding sentience but better is “I think and do”.
    Dont cry for me Venezuela – I love you.

    God bless us all said Tiny Tim (Dickens).

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  12. What other methods would work to remove the Chavez/Maduro dictators from power?
    Look at Cuba, with the Castro brothers after 50+ years. The place is even worse than Venezuela, poor, zero economy, everyone who fled long ago.

    They applied the same terror regime, threats, violence, and stuck to power. Same as North Korea, etc, etc, etc. These dictators, thugs like Maduro crave the power and the money. They just do not let go. That's why they do anything, threat people, kill them, cheat on the so-called "elections", anything.

    The only way to get rid of such cancers is protest, massive street protests, and yes, some violence in self-defense out there. Unless we are willing to be like Cuba, poorer and more miserable and more dangerous every year, for decades, or wait, like Spain did with Franco after 50 years of hell.

    CI

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  13. Anonymous6:37 PM

    Put everyone in the street who voted for Capriles and I would like to see what Maduro would do. This madness needs to end.

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  14. As Bayley suggested the other day on cable TV, Capriles needs to grow a pair of cojones. Even if they send him to jail, protest, loudly about the stolen elections and the evident "trampas" and corruption from the Maduro thugs.

    Straight up. Actually Maria Corina Machado has been braver than Capriles, although they are both brave, and face death in the face everyday over there..

    Perhaps Capriles and Maria Corina should form a strong partnership, aliados de la oposicion contra la dictadura y el desastre chavista/maduro en Venezuela.

    Prominent politicians, influential people everywhere, they have to get together.

    People will do the rest. They already voted against Chavismo and this retarded Maduro, but the bastards cheated, clearly, no doubt. The dead and Cubans voted, why didn't they vote for Capriles? If you die in Venzuela, it's probably because you get killed like a dog in the streets, for a pair of sneakers and 20 bucks.
    That's why I had to leave the country years ago, and why I'm so concerned for a few friends left there who can't get the hell out. Daniel and his brother and families are some of them, brave enough to stay there and fight. Plus many more families that risk everything there now, getting shot for a cheap watch, just because their businesses and families are still there.

    I took the easy way out and got the hell out of our messed-up country. So did most all my family, thank God. They are safe now. But some friends aren't. And they try to still work, which is impossible, but somehow make it, living through all of that Chavista and Maduro Crap.

    Brave soldiers



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  15. Egypt is another mess right now, but at least people had the guts to hit the streets and protest.. we',ll see..

    It's a different mess, because it's fueled by religious crap, differences between fanatics.. (as most wars in the World, historically) Venezuela's problems are simpler: GREED. Lack of education.

    ReplyDelete

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