Monday, February 12, 2007

The Venezuelan autocracy: building it up (part 2: a brave new Venezuela)

Once the new leaders and new speech are starting to come forward, it is also time to create the new country and educate its people as to the new thought standard. This must be done on several fronts. Rewriting the past makes the present look less of a perversion. Changing the power structure of the country makes it more disperse and more dependent of the central power. Educating the young with revolutionary precepts should ensure the long term stability of the ideological regime. It has all been tried before, it has failed everywhere, but it will be tried again by people unable to understand history and the human nature that shapes it.

The new country

This is rather easy to explain: a revolution must bring changes and what could be easier to do to convey the impression of change but to change the internal borders. This artifact has been employed from the extreme right to the extreme left with some success, at least at first.

One of the questions that were left unresolved from the 1999 constitutional assembly was the geographical repartition of Venezuela. For example there was the major administrative problem of Caracas: with a third of the population of the country the city sprawls over two states and a federal district. That was not settled, the constitution leaving an ersatz called “cabildo metropolitano” who far from solving problems in fact allowed for a further atomization of Caracas administration. There were also some significant imprecision in the borders between states that could have been settled once and for all. Unfortunately the new constitution did not bother about settling those disputes and did not even tried to create a mechanism to do so. There was also the rather chaotic municipal distribution where some states (Tachira) have a plethora of small and inefficient municipal councils when compared to monstrosities such as the Irribaren district of Barquisimeto or the Libertador of Caracas.

There were two reasons for the less than august constitutional assembly to ignore such important matters. The first set of explanations is that its objective was to ensure immediate presidential reelection, extension to a 6 years term and control on the judiciary. The second reality that made the assembly desist of territorial redrawing at the time was the existence of strong local feeling (Caracas and Zulia in particular). Considering that then the distribution of popular support for chavismo was far from established, it was advisable to postpone any intervention in redefining regions.

But now that the basic political objectives of Chavez have been reached and that Zulia was able to mount a strong offensive against Chavez last year, it is time to disrupt this network of local loyalties which is what makes the cultural wealth of a nation. Cultural wealth is of course anathema to socialism as it is understood in Cuba or the Soviet Union where all men are equal in language and culture and where remains of original local traditions are only dusted for show to the outside world when not banned outward as a form of capitalist exploitation. When all are equal and think equally, what use is it to have regional variations?

The official project has not been introduced yet but it is quite explicit in the “five motors of the socialist revolution” that supposedly started December 4 2006. There is open talk of redrawing border districts and even getting rid of governors and possibly mayors. Now the basic popular district will deal directly with Caracas. Chavismo without any sense of ridicule, without any shame, ignoring all of human history, pretends to present this as the ultimate decentralization of power when we all know that it is the ultimate form of centralization: all connected to the great leader, and thus all dependent on him!

At any rate, the final project might take years to clearly apply but in the very near future expect that the first districts to be redrawn and gerrymandered will be those where the opposition still has some strength. These mini bastions will be diluted as needed and local leadership clearly erased as its power base will be disrupted in any possible way.

The new power structure

The tool to redraw the map of Venezuela has been set: popular participation through communal councils. All is vague but what is not vague is the atomization sought through them. How will this operate? Well, let say that San Felipe is redrawn. Thus the city which has an electoral population of roughly 35 000 will be divided in “consejos comunales” that will have from 1000 to 5000 participants (I am assuming such numbers as there is notable lack of precision, the only thing we are certain is that these new councils will rule).

Roughly these councils would gather to decide such things as which school will be renovated first, or which street needs to be batched. The inter neighborhood decisions concerning such matters as local hospitals or campuses will still be left to some town hall or state system, but the objective is that eventually all decision power will be shared between the local councils and the central government who will allocate money to feasible projects. The people supposedly will decide which contractors will be hired and will supervise the correct pursuit of contracts.

All very obviously confusing since from the start it is very difficult to see who will decide when there is a conflict between a certain district and the central administration. But still, one could conceive of systems to solve such situations: maybe the leaders of individual councils could gather in special assemblies? Referendums could become a frequent occurrence?

But that is not at all the objective sought by the government: these councils will in fact be controlled tightly by chavista agents, and when that cannot be obtained, the recalcitrant councils will be easily quarantined. How will this happen?

To begin with there is the participation problem. Chavismo has been the great beneficiary of abstention, no matter what some sectors of the opposition might claim. The less the people participate the more chavismo will control the situation. In a country where life conditions are everyday more and more difficult from the high crime rate to deficient public services, folks will simply do not have time to attend the constant flow of meetings that the new system will require. If you have no town hall, then the people are the ones who must debate since you cannot even hire someone to do the job for you. Only those in the public administration will have the time, and the duty, to be regulars to these meetings and slowly but surely will impose their ways.

But let’s assume that indeed many do show up. Then there is the second secret weapon for chavismo: open air democracy. See, the debates will be carried supposedly among neighbors and supposedly for the sake of convenience voting with raised hands will be a frequent occurrence, when not the norm. When there is a chavista governmental representative attending and suggesting (implying?) that the government would like a given project to include or exclude this and that who will dare to vote against? See, after the Tascon List this type of situation is one that most Venezuelans are weary of. At these assemblies it will be incredibly easy for the government to label friends and foes. In districts were chavismo is a weak majority or even a strong minority, the exercise of this “popular” democracy will ensure that chavismo will become quickly a strong majority.

Certainly if the CNE were to do its duty and if any communal vote had to be through secret ballots maybe the debate might not affect the community since the leaders of each side should present their arguments as in any normal democracy, people deciding then according to their interests and conscience in the privacy of the poll both. But the CNE has neither the man power nor the will to control all garbage collection votes of the country. Soon the tendency will be toward raised hand voting and democracy will be gone.

As for the opposition districts? Well, a few will remain, those where the opposition represents at the very least 60% of the voters. These districts will certainly not account for the 37% who voted against Chavez, but more likely will represent at the very most 20% of the population of Venezuela. They will be limited in the resources received as a major pressure tool from the central autocracy. And they will be the last remaining fig leave to show that Venezuela is still a democracy. But the best part for chavismo is that these districts will be too weakened to be able to generate an opposition leadership that could one day successfully challenge the establishment. Or so they will hope anyway.

The new history of Venezuela: passing the message

Last but not least there is an element that could either be included into the creation of the new Venezuelan man, or in the new power and territorial distribution: it is rewriting history and rewriting the educational system. This is a much more nebulous area than the ones described above. But the evidence is already there. It is fit to include it here since it is a tool under creation for future usage. Also, there is the necessary corollary, the need to control better the freedom of expression left so that no counter message may reach the lower classes upon which the glorious revolution is based.

Rewriting history

This can be seen everyday; it is obvious to any semi informed observer. Hugo Chavez is diligent in reinterpreting what Bolivar did and meant. Now this oligarchy scion of the Venezuelan colonial elite, this son of the enlightenment is fast becoming some “mestizo” who was socialist before Marx and Engels. I will not offend the leader intelligence discussing the intellectual implications of such “desproposito” (Out of subject? Incoherence?).

But this is not enough. For eight years Chavez has been trying to inject to the Bolivarian heritage, made revolution, all sorts of anachronistic ideas. The indigestible hodgepodge he is creating is starting to affect the country psyche, and even Chavez’s one. So he has decided to push forwards and settle on his own what is true of false, a new Trofim Lysenko of the historical academy this time. Thus he determined on his own the Venezuelan flag, changed the coat or arms, revisited Zamora impact, pondered Miranda role, meditated which are the real borders of the country (meaning that he keeps dreaming of a new Gran Colombia), decided who are the heroes and villains at any historical moment, etc… And this is about to be enshrined in the new Bolivarian education.

The new school curriculum

It is obvious that to make all these untrue asseverations and opinions of the new Conducator, Chavez needs to rewrite Venezuelan education, in a way that slowly but surely the volk will agree with its Supremo. But this not as easy as it might seem: parents might be very willing to vote for Chavez to keep their governmental job or privileges, but when brain washing starts at school it might become another story. The government has realized this quite well, to the point that the only big item that was left out of the enabling law was the never ending discussion of the new education law.

But it is a priority of the government. Taking over private education and independent public universities is a must for the regime. Private education is an obvious target for any autocracy as private schools might be forced to follow the official curriculum but can interpret the ideology as they please to dampen the effect of the official garbage, and even add additional course to undo any brain damage.

The attack on higher education is more visible. Right now several measures have already been taken such as creation of deficient new higher education organizations who are nothing more than political education centers that will grant deficient degrees that will not be marketable on the private sector market and thus will doom its graduates to keep bloating the new bureaucratic caste in Venezuela. Such a caste will depend more than ever on Chavez for its relevance.

But perhaps independent universities are even more of a target for chavismo. It remains a fact that in internal elections within these few privileged campus chavismo candidates or propositions have always failed, and most of the time miserably. It is a fact of life in Venezuela that the intellectual elite of the country, as meager as this one might be, has become overwhelmingly anti Chavez, and will remain even more so as autocracy rears its ugly head. The autonomy of these universities is threatened and it is just a matter of time until the old campuses of Venezuela will be taken over. Within a year or two it is quite possible that the only independent universities remaining will be the Jesuit colleges (UCAB) or the Metropolitana in Caracas. All the other campuses will have rectors imposed by the regime with the consequences that we can all foresee clearly.

Unless of course people awaken to the threat.

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PS: Controlling the media

I am adding this as foot note because that process had already started before 2006. With the infamous Ley RESORTE the government has already obtained a very significant self censorship in the broadcast media. Major opposition journalists have been evicted from their talk show on Televen and Venevision who have become "neutral" TV stations. Provincial radio, heavily dependent on governemtal advertisement are all but neutralized or gone to the dark side. Only the press is still free and lively (though not as vigourous as it used to be as they exert some discrete self imposed restraint).

But now the government has announced that it will push up the ante. To begin with there will be massive investment in media. CMT, a local Caracas TV station was bought by a chavista business group. Purchase of local radio stations will keep apace. New TV stations are promised, all run by the governemt or local allies. Andres Izarra of Telesur was verty explicit when he declared that the message of the government must be intense and reach everywhere, overwhelming any counter message that might appear (stopping short of shutting the anti message?).

The new intensification of the media wars was the announcement that RCTV, the venerable TV station that survived all sorts of political abuses in the past will be shut. The reasons are strictly political, strictly because Chavez said so as there is no legal basis to even start a punitive action! But it is also a test to see how the international community reacts. If we only see weak complaints you can be certain that Globovision will be next in line.

And then we will have only newspapers left. However self censorhip is easy to establish there: you can fine journalists for all sorts of minor faults, you can send the SENIAT on a regular basis, you can limit acces to controlled dollars to buy printing paper, etc... Chavismo has never lacked creativity when it needs to harass whomever disagrees...

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