Monday, April 21, 2008

In my mail box: Pacifism and Raul Castro

[Update: written fast this morning, I finally got around to turn it into more acceptable English]

Mail boxes are a good source of material when one has writer's block. Fortunately I receive enough "suggestions" to find one that on occasion is worth posting. Even more so when it strangely matches those received from newspapers summaries in one's e-mail.

The first item comes from American Thinker where a certain David Bueche wonders about the uselessness of pacifism as applied to Tibet. Truly a "Free Tibet " bumper sticker will not produce much results. I object, though, to the quotes from Gandhi about the Jews such as "The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife". At the time Gandhi said that, his unique pacifist liberation of India had been successful; but a then aged Gandhi probably did not realize that the world he had known in the XIX-XX century transition was undergoing an even major transition where blunt violence was becoming sophisticated violence. David Bueche might be right in rejecting pacifisms as useless but he fails to realize that any oppressed group must go through a pacifist period to establish its moral superiority over its oppressor. Sad but true.

We saw it in Venezuela, all proportions guarded. In 2002-2003 the Venezuelan opposition was justified in trying to throw out Chavez. When everything is said and done, since 2003 Chavez has done much worse to undermine Venezuelan democracy than what Carmona promised for a brief 6 months period. Since this last one did not last 48 hours we will never know whether Carmona would have fulfilled his promise to a return to full democracy within 6 months. But the state control achieved by Chavez since 2002 has demonstrated to be more extended and more pernicious by far than whatever the loonies that accompanied Carmona intended to do. In case somebody forgot, in 2002 there was still decentralization and genuine autonomy on some matters for State Governors. The Judicial system was already somewhat compromised but still retained enough independence to produce the famous August 2002 on the "power vacuum". The media and the press where not forced into self censorship. The economy had still the possibility to rebound through the private sector. The extraordinary military spending that came later was not even imaginable then. Corruption did not seem to be any worse than whatever it had been. Electoral results were still respected by all.

All of this is over now as Chavez has successfully created a one man state where as expected economic woes are slowly setting in place in a permanent fashion and where corruption has reached unimaginable levels for the 2002 sycophant of whichever side. This has been made possible as the outside world looked at the violence of the 48 hours Carmonada as representative of all Venezuelan opposition and gave the necessary blind eye to Chavez power abuses that followed and led us to today critical situation. Our pacifist credential building period, to give it a name, finally came in 2006-2007 when the Reelection of Chavez was accepted and thus the man became careless and finally exposed his violent nature to the world by shutting down TV and repressing peaceful student protests. By the time Chavez openly supported the FARC he was done anyway, that support being the last nail in the coffin for international opprobrium. What comes next, more pacifism or more active resistance, is anyone's guess. But certainly if force is needed this time it will be better understood outside.

The other item that made me think some is a new OpEd by Maria Anastasia O'Grady from the Wall Street Journal. She does not buy the recent measures of Raul Castro to allow Cubans to buy cell phones they cannot afford to begin with, nor to allow them to get into tourist hotels by another door than the employees door. After all, once inside the hotel if they are not consuming they will be promptly shown the way out. For her it is all a matter of gaining time while Raul gets his new economical elite securely in place to make sure that no serious challenge to its power comes. In a way Raul Castro is expanding this now truism, the gatopardian principle: something must change to make sure that everything remains basically the same.

Raul Castro is of course aware of the bad image that Castro has gained since his opposition does not come from Miami alone. With the Women in White and the new wave of political prisoners of the recent years, even the mighty Castro of lore is finally tarnished among some of his most faithful international supporters... Fidel also understood that, but he just could not bring himself to make the first cosmetic changes; and even today he tries from his death bed to chastise his wanna-be successors who probably look on his missives with indulgent smiles. They know that things are changing in the hope that they remain the same in Cuba, and Castro can get a nice mausoleum.

The article of O'Grady is also interesting as it is a reflection of the strategy of Chavez. We could indulge in saying that Chavez is changing a lot to be able to go back to square one, a gatopardian exaggeration. But square one for Chavez is the XIX century caudillo with a coterie of faithful who made their fortunes courtesy of the good will of the caudillo. In that Chavez has probably been the model for Raul (as Putin and China are for both). Giving up on efficiency and productivity but understanding that in the XXI century a democratic fig leaf is necessary Chavez is set on creating a new economical gentry of people devoted to him because they will know that they owe it all to governmental favors, and from a government who can take it all away with a snap. Putin is an expert on that and in Venezuela already Chavez has shown to be willing to get rid of former allies who helped him reaching power. I expect that soon we will see one of this nouveau boliburgues rich bite the dust to remind the other accomplices of Chavez power.

The latest business nationalization wave must also be seen under that light. One of tis aims is to create a new managerial class at the expense of good business practices so that the least mediocre of them will become de facto the owners of the taken over businesses. A novel approach for sure in gentry creation and not the stated goal, but the unavoidable one as chavismo starts aging. The new forms of property advocated in the failed reform have not been discarded in spite of the referendum loss of last December. But that might be a blessing in disguise as Chavez will be able to adapt them to allocate in the future part of the nationalized business to new capital formed out of the revolutionary big piñata. After all, why not form for example a cooperative of capital from several nouveau bolivarian riche and sell them, say, a 20% stake in a nationalized business that needs to raise cash? That way for 20% stake and political support, these people could effectively acquire control of 100% of the said business. Remember, you read it here first.

Be it in Cuba or in Venezuela, the wished for result is the same. Pacifism, moral students, Ladies in White will not matter much when you control all the
essential political levers and all the economical important ones. If pressure becomes too intense you can always allow them to buy new trinkets or buy in a rush a few containers of powder milk.

-The end-

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