Saturday, June 11, 2005

Moments for reflection in Venezuela

There were a few unrelated events in Venezuela this past week that should make us take a pause and think about where it is that we are going. The answer is nowhere fast, but I aim to be a little bit more subtle, as the way we go there is important, and understanding how we go is our only chance to stop the train wreckage that is surely going to wait for us somewhere.

The Bolivian train wreck

I cannot help but think of Bolivia as our distant dark mirror. Certainly Bolivia and Venezuela's histories are so different that building a parallel is simply stupid. But when I look at Bolivia I look at the type of social unrest that could well happen when Chavez runs out of money for his handout programs.

The best little kept secret in Venezuela is that public spending keeps increasing faster than the oil price. In other words, this means that no matter what happens to oil price, the Chavez administration will run out of money. Chavismo Misiones are closer to work programs than to any jobless solution. Certainly some Misiones are positive and do bring improvements to the lot of the poorer as reflected in recent polls. But if subsidized food (Mercal) or basic to simple health care access (Barrio Adentro) make sense, hidden job programs do not (Vuelvan Caras, Sucre, bloating of public service rolls, the Military Reserve). There is no positive example of such programs in history and the reader needs only to look at the archetype of modern National Workshops, the French Ateliers Nationaux of February 1848 which ended in perhaps the most horrifying repression in French history, the June 1848 riots.

I suspect that chavismo knows the long term unsustainability of these programs and that might be the reason in part behind some of the recent moves of the government. But they cannot bring themselves to take the only measures that will really allow for some sustainable recovery of the private economic sector: predictable rules of the game guaranteed by an independent judiciary. Because let's not be fooled, the only sector that can bring down unemployment, and the obscene underemployment, of Venezuela is the private sector. Right now, only oil related foreign companies are the only ones setting up shop. Venezuelans invest as little as possible and the only sectors that do show some "expansion" are public works, large banks, already established concerns such as in telecommunications, and such. These sectors create few or temporary jobs, and the only reason why they keep investing is that because the government needs them too much. Unfortunately there is no sign of the judicial regularization that could attract other type of investors more willing to take chances and start the job machine creation.

What will happen when chavismo will run out of money to sustain its job programs? Will we see workers take to the streets Bolivia style? Even with Chavez still in office?

The judicial system in check even by the parliament that created it

The National Assembly last year violated the Venezuelan constitution with the acquiescence of the previous High Court to pack this one with chavismo faithful. This death of justice left for the common man the National Assembly as the only legal way out some day. If anyone was fool enough to hope for redress there, this week Maduro highjacking of a criminal report investigation by the assembly put any doubts aside as to really runs the country.

Simply put, a bipartisan (!!) commission found that the governor of Guarico State Manuitt was associated with Human Rights violations. What did the president of the National Assembly Maduro do? On his own (?) he named yet another commission to revise the work of his peers. Thus even within the National assembly there is no respect for precedent AMONG chavistas themselves. The only thing that counts is the word from Miraflores who for some reason decided that it was not convenient to investigate a political ally that Chavez had backed in 2004 when already evidence of mafia practices in Guarico existed. Of course the beloved leader cannot be seen supporting criminals.

Legitimacy in Venezuela

These and more events such as the surrendering of Venezuela at the foot of Castro are bringing to the forefront the question on how much democracy, how much legitimacy is left in Venezuela. Not much according to Gustavo Coronel.

His premise is quite simple: democracy cannot be based anymore on just elections, no matter how clean these ones might be. What this blogger has resumed in the past as "protection" of minorities as the yardstick to establish a government commitment to democracy, is more elaborated by a United Nations Commission of Human Rights in 1999, which includes:

* Freedom of opinion, of expression and of association
* The rule of law, equal for all citizens
* Universal and equal suffrage
* Political participation, with equal opportunity for all
* Transparent and accountable government institutions
* Equal access to public services.

On all accounts Venezuela is already failing on 2, 4, 5, and 6, and in great danger in 1 and 3. Gustavo Coronel explains this quite well and this blogger wishes to thank him from saving me the trouble to write a similar series of articles that I was planning.

Thus we can say that at the very least the legitimacy of chavismo is questionable today.

Through a glass darkly

These days we see that Chavez has not only failed to pacify the opposition he has encountered for years, but he is probably exacerbating it again. Worse, we also see him planting the seeds of a new opposition, the one that will demand more programs, more handouts, that he will not be able to fulfill as he might not even be able to sustain those he is already giving out. Populism, in particular its more virulent form Peronism, has an inner forward momentum that cannot be stopped: too many aspirations must be raised to maintain support and the thin thread will snap. What will happen to Venezuela then, when old opposition and new one will meet?

13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

First Corinthians

When an agnostic starts quoting the New Testament, you know that pessimism is in order.


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