Monday, May 26, 2003

May 25, 2003

From the preceding posts the reader must have discerned that there is significant amount of social unrest in Venezuela. Of course, the worsening economic situation and the non-stop political battle since Chavez reached office are propitious to such a situation. However, after more than 4 years in office one is allowed to wonder how come there is no end in sight, and why isn’t the government trying harder to appease tensions. It would be unfair to say that the Chavez administration wears all the blame, however its attitude makes one put squarely most of the blame at its feet. The best example is the conciliatory attitude of Chavez after his return in April 13 last year. This lasted barely a month and was soon to be seen just as a tactic to win time in the political battle. Because that is what is going on, the administration is constantly on the offensive and any break is just to save time when some particularly strong pressure is brought to bear on it. The opposition attacks on Chavez must be seen, under this light, as a constant reaction rather than a plain ideological rejection of the Chavez system, a knee jerk rejection that indeed existed in the early days of the administration.

Zozobra” is the Spanish word that qualifies best the present unrest or emotional turmoil to which we are subjected these days. Unfortunately, there is no good translation to characterize this feeling we have. This state of quasi-emotional unrest we live is a mixture of depression, irritability, and anxiety, due to varied forms of belligerence that we witness daily. It is easy to deduct that creation and control of a state of “zozobra” can give an advantage against the adversary. Is Chavez deliberately abetting such a situation? And why? Before I try to give an answer to that let’s examine a few events in this recent weeks.

INVASIONES” (land grabbing invasions)

Although Venezuela is perhaps the most urbanized country in South America, Chavez came into office with rural ideas worthy of the XIX century. In a time where less than 5% of the North American population live from agricultural ventures and feed 100% of the US population, and a few percentage points elsewhere, Chavez dreams of the Venezuelan agrarian pasts and has put as a corner stone of his system a return to land. This gave birth to a Land Law that pretty much threatens private property in the country side. Though parts of this law were struck down by the courts, the administration has circumvented that by application norms that disguise the objectives desired and are less easy to appeal in courts. The original principle of the law is not bad: use it or lose it. That is, if you have thousand of acres and are not putting then to produce then you should leave them to whoever wants to work them. But the practice is another matter since it is up to the government to decide whether land is properly used, and if the original property titles are to be respected. The institute that directs this new law is presided nothing less but by Chavez’s brother.

This has created chaos in some areas of the country. Effectively Chavez supporters have decided to start taking lands from established producers. Usually they invade the best portion of a given estate, helped by the National Guard that goes as far as forbidding the re-entry of the legitimate owners to check out on their cattle, their own installations or simply retrieve their personal possessions. This video taped in due form and shown on TV. That the owner has all titles in legal order does not seem to cut it out for legal protection. But to add insult to injury, some Chavez officials are buying huge ranches on public function salaries, and are not molested by these alleged peasants asking for land. Ah! The invaded properties tend to be close from cities, next to paved roads, and not far at the end of dirt roads.

The psychological effect is quite clear. If you own land you wonder when your turn is going to be and whether being friendlier with chavistas might protect you.


Since one of the main opponents to Chavez is the old CTV, what else but to create a new trade union? Done, with the foundation of UNT who supposedly should assemble these Bolivarian workers unhappy with the old union bosses. The union competition results quickly in increased pressure to the factory managers, owners and workers as the only way the UNT has to recruit is to promise more than the CTV does.

The effect is that in the middle of the worst crisis in our country we are witnessing union fights that do not belong in a country where more than half of the people are jobless or work in the informal sector. The effect is magnified as the government is trying to organize UNT even in the newly jobless, or jobless to be, by promising to organize the workers to take over closing factories and running them as “co-operatives”. The potential for disturbances are endless.


Crime is a major source of “zozobra”. How is affected your life style when going out requires that you ask question such as: Is the place safe? Is the parking secure? How late can I stay? Must I drive through unsafe areas? Are you going to stay late working as a volunteer for political organizations when you better be home by 9 PM?

Consider how awful and scandalous is the jail situation, that it has become a major source of hard criminals. Consider the images of rioting inmates that have become a weekly routine. Consider the poor state to which local police forces have descended due to either lack of funds or governmental sabotage. Consider that if you get caught in some street demonstration you could get jailed for a few hours in that hell. It would dampen your will to demonstrate in the streets, in particular since you know that pro Chavez folks are waiting for you at the end of the march as it happened yesterday in Catia , for example, with one death and two dozen injured [2]. The helpless police almost reduced to witness status.


Reports abound that if you are not with Chavez, you get at the bottom of the ladder from anything to dollars for business, to subsidized housing or health care. Yes, patronage is a “normal” consequence of democracy but in the ever more scarce fund availability due to the crisis and out of control corruption, this aspect of “member” reward is reaching yet new heights. People that used to get some minimal services and are not getting them anymore are starting to take things in their own hands with an endless series of street protests. More “zozobra”.


Constant “cadenas”, relentless threats and weird to stupid announcements bring a daily dose of upsets. And make you wonder what is really going on. Just a recent example is the proposal of an alphabetization plan under the supervision of Cuban teachers. That this is the third one since Chavez came to office, indirectly admitting that the previous two were a failure, does not seem to have occurred to the administration. Then one sees the reading-books from Cuba shown on TV. Whether these would be the books actually used is not the issue as the mere idea to teach the letter G to your child with words such as Guerilla is very perturbing.


Clearly the government is not making things easy and seems to be quite happy with the general unrest and desperation. There is really one very simple explanation. Chavez might not have willingly created such a state of unrest but he has decided now to use it to his advantage. With the coming potential recall election on his tenure his administration is trying all sorts of legal ways to postpone it as much as possible, if not call it off altogether. If these strategies fail, it would be easy to whip up the “zozobra” into a general state of public disorder, invoke a martial law to reestablish order and claim that no elections can be performed while the disorder exists. Voila!

Indeed, there is significant verbal offensive from Chavez, repeating all the promises that he has made years ago and that he has not fulfilled. Just as if he were running for the first time again. El Universal today publishes the promises made these days and how they were worded 2 to 4 years ago [3]. Sobering comparative reading. If these renewed promises do not convince people to go back to his leadership, “zozobra” should provide an excuse to force them back into the fold.

[1] This is the third installment of a series of articles on the Chavez counter-offensive.
[2] In Spanish, El Universal
[3] In Spanish

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