To start the first newsy post of the year let's start by discussing the new comedy offered prime time by Chavez, a new cabinet with orders to discuss with the private sector ways to improve the economy.
First, there is nothing "new" in this cabinet.
Second, whatever "conciliatory" words Chavez might have uttered they were already killed when he ordered the state oil monopoly PDVSA to grow cabbages. Well, in all fairness he did not ask directly PDVSA to grow anything but he did decide that PDVSA through a new business line, PDVAL should double MERCAL. In other words, if PDVSA oil production keeps going down, it should compensate it in some not so distant future by distributing subsidized cabbage. For some reason these words failed completely to reassure me as far as finding regular supplies of some food staples in the near future. As usual Chavez fails to see what the real solution is: let the market play its role and limit MERCAL to a network of stores in the less favored areas where a limited but critical list of items is provided cheaply to those willing to go to these stores. Trying to have MERCAL compete directly with all the food delivery system only brings havoc to the whole system. Not to mention the worst element of the lot, the price control system that has so brilliantly failed last year with an official 22.5% inflation rate. PDVAL will be sen as yet another threat, and thus will delay any putative private investment that Chavez might be wishing for.
But it seems that kicking and screaming Chavez has finally started getting the fact that the December 2 fiasco is due to the Hallaca Effect. Hence the cabinet change where Chavez tries whimsically to find better management for the country. The list of new appointees fails to impress us, and fails even more to reassure us. In short, the "new" cabinet was more of a punishment for those who failed to win the referendum than any real care to improve the Venezuelan productive system.
The first one to lose his spot was former chavista star of electoral shenanigans Jorge Rodriguez who loses the vice presidential chair. For me it is a little unfair: he followed orders and the quality of the campaign and the dismal constitutional proposal were not his fault alone. But such is the fate of prime-ministers/appointed-vice-presidents in presidential regimes: they are a safety valve.
The other one, and a way more deserved boot, is William Lara, the ineffective and bitterly partisan propaganda minister. Ooops! I meant Information and Communications minister. Though even there I do feel some pity for him: he did all the dirty job of Chavez, from RCTV closing to all sorts of calumny spreading and yet he pays for them. But truly, he was not the man for the job, a job that requires not only blind devotion to the leader but enough guile to understand complex social phenomenon such as the student dissident movement.
The "new" ministers
Well, most of them are reshuffled pawns. Right there we see no hope from serious improvement in any sector that at least those ones will direct. And the novelties are even scarier than the reshuffled guys.
The return from the grave award must go to Rodriguez Chacin. He was the Interior/Police minister in 2002 and left the government that fateful April. Since then he became a "businessman" in Apure/Barinas where he reputedly and unaccountably acquired large tracts of lands where gossip says that FARC hides and even hides some of its hostages. Whether this is true might not be that questionable considering that he was the surprising point man to negotiate the failed release of hostages attempt twp weeks ago. Yet the failure does not seem to affect his carer as he returns to his old post. Why? Is Chavez planning to grow even closer to the FARC? At any rate Carreño was so awful that in retrospective Rodriguez Chacin seems a most unlikely improvement.
Izarrita returns. Once Propaganda minister, he did not fare too good and manage a dignified exit by becoming the director of TeleSur, the chavista CNN for Latin America. He did managed a very relative success there in that he managed to avoid this TeleSur to become yet another clone of VTV, 24/24 Chavez news. It is still an indigestible old line lefty hodgepodge, but at least it has more variety than other Venezuelan Networks. On the other hand Izarra did use TeleSur to bring all sorts of celebrities to visit Chavez from Sean Penn to Naomi Campbell. That was enough, I suppose to bring him back to his old job in a period where Chavez requires a softer image to rebuild his battered international credibility. He actually started well by admitting publicly on his first day in office that the state media had been badly managed. An understatement if ever, but I am too demanding I suppose.
As usual there is a lot of reshuffled useless revolutionaries, though there is a surprise: Ramon Carrizales jumps from Housing to the vice presidency. This totally uncharismatic character is a rather odd choice for such a political position. However Carrizales has proven he could deal with the private sector to rebuild the La Guaira bridge. If he is an ineffective manager himself he at least seems to know how to hire people to do the job. Well, DO might be a tad generous. Let's say that in an ocean of nullities Carrizales at least has shown that he can achieve occasionally some minor feats, which is more than can be said from 90% of the public servants around Chavez. In fact perversely that he managed to build a little bit over a third of the promised public housing can even be see as a great success under chavismo where standards are regularly revised downwards.
Among the other recycled ones we should just mention Erika Farias, semi hysterical militant that nobody quite knew what she was doing to another position where no one knows exactly what she is supposed to be doing.
The cheap novelties
The cake is taken this time by Haiman Al Troudi that readers of this blog have already extensively met. Needless to go back on him as someone totally ignorant of modern economical principles and trends except to point out that he is incredibly ill equipped, mentally and educationally, to chair one of the crucial positions, the one in Planning that is vacated by Giordani the unmovable minister there except for a brief period in 2002-2003. In fact even more surprising is the departure of Giordani, the longest serving of Chavez minister and his very own guru. But there is quite a simple explanation. Giordani presided the first phase of Chavez regime from 1999 to 2002 when he was forced to let the bolivar float from 600 to soon 1000, an event that contributed greatly to the vents of 2002. Now, as he AGAIN applied similar policies to those he applied then he would have had to preside to yet another currency devaluation from 2150 to at least 3000.
Even though man is the only creature that stumbles twice on the same stone, Giordani knows better and he is letting poor naive Troudi to bear the blame, probably as early as this spring.
There is a newcomer who is also worth mentioning: Socorro Hernandez. Named to preside the newly nationalized CANTV a few months ago she ash presided over a decrease in service quality of the concern, while watching earnings drop fast. Of course, as the old unreconstructed ideological lefty she is, she cannot see a profit that should not be distributed away instead of investing it in the technological improvements that a sophisticated company like CANTV needs. Now, as Communications minister she will rule over the competition of CANTV while being able to try to speed along ways to shut down Globovision. As the ideological apparatchik she is I do not expect her to have even 10% of the angst that Jesse Chacon might have experienced had Chavez ordered him to close down Globovision.
Does this mean anything anyway?
No, not really. Chavez being what he is, any soft words he might have said last Sunday will be promptly forgotten, as the PDVAL announcement already hints. As a matter of fact Chavez himself announced the color: his people must get ready for the October election. That is right, we are already on the campaign trail as that is the only activity that Chavez knows. Though he is not as good as he used to be as sen from last November campaign.