Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chavez deus ex machina

With the flurry of recent events one is in need of reviewing which Chavez’s real intentions are. Well, readers of this blog have known long ago what this is all about, to install Hugo I. But maybe it is time to evaluate the last couple of months, a check point of sorts, to see where we are going. First, we need a summary of what must be comprehended if you want to make sense of current events.

Principles of chavista grammar

I know, I know, this is going to be repetitive for many of you but I think on occasion it is worth listing again what are the moving forces behind what we see unfolding.

Chavez wants to remain in office for ever. This is clear, and it is the main driving force of all that happens, from the people that think they will benefit from Chavez hold on office from the mistakes of many in the opposition who amazingly seem not to have quite gotten that, not forgetting those who have already accepted that as a fact of life and pretend that all is fine as they dodge bullets daily, you know, like a Panglossian silence.

Chavismo cannot leave office peacefully. After ten years of larceny and corruption and outright looting, too many within chavismo know that without Chavez in power they will not be able to enjoy the loot they have accumulated. At least not inside Venezuela. Since many of them are resentidos sociales they do want to enjoy their new wealth inside Venezuela, not in Miami. Otherwise many of them would have already left, having by now ensured their financial future. No, most chavista want to be rich IN Venezuela to rub it off the faces of the many folks they hate.

The people that rule are thugs. I do not mean this in a pejorative sense, believe it or not. No, I mean this in a psychological sense. Chavez and his entourage are ruling Venezuela exactly as if this one were the gang in charge of some bad neighborhood. They also feel their turf under constant threat from other street gangs. What this means is that they are unable to see people that disagree with them as just that, a disagreement that needs to be discussed in public so that people can decide which is the way they want to do things. They are unable to see anyone that disagrees with them as anything else but a personal threat. In a way, so far, this has been our salvation from totalitarianism: these people are not ideological enough to have such a driving goal, what they want is control and loot. As long as you are not perceived as threatening them, or do not provoke their envy, you are fine. Por ahora.

Chavistas are competently incompetent. Forgive the purposeful oxymoron. The general lack of education or experience in things of the world for most if not all chavista officials are for all to see. After 10 years they are still learning on the job. Unfortunately learning is difficult for them because, well, they do not have the proper education tools, the ones that taught you how to learn and how to evaluate ideas. However they do have the cunning, and they have raised cunning to value status, erasing most other values such as honesty, hard work, openness and transparency. The mystery here is how come a government was able to survive mostly on cunning: no real creativity, no follow up, no nothing, only cunning and day to day improvisation, with the only long term goal being retaining Chavez on top. Look for example at the misiones, the only semi creative thing chavismo ever did. These days Chavez is satisfying himself with renaming them. Chavismo has survived because the political opposition goes from mistake to mistake and because of generous oil prices. Chavistas have proven themselves exceedingly competent on their cunning maneuvers, in order to bend and twist all that stands in their way. For the rest? Forget it!

Chavez’s problem

As far as he is concerned, Chavez has a single problem in life: he lost the 2007 referendum and according to the constitution he must go February 2013. Any constitutional change to remove that expiration date can only be done through further constitutional violation. Of course, that does not bother him a bit, but you know, you still need to make that change believable enough to force people to accept it. Thus all his measures aim at:
Psychological war to make folks believe he will not go, that he is indispensable.

Controlling everything in society in such a way that if he violates the constitution there will be no way for a political challenge to rise and block his takeover. This has a side benefit: if he manages to control society but for any reason he fails to retain power in 2013 he would at least be able to put someone in place to rule by proxy, à la Putin.
Application of the chavista grammar rules

Now that we have reviewed how chavismo is motivated and how it perceives its challenges let’s look at some examples on how he tries to solve intractable problems, the chavista deus ex machina.

Inhabilitaciones. Barring popular leaders form running for office is the latest trend. And yet chavismo is not creative there as it is a method already in wide use among some of Chavez friends. But in this case the peculiar competence of chavismo is clearly in example: they do not even need to jail or put their opponents on trial. A simple administrative decision by what is nothing more than a bureaucrat is enough to stop the run of, say, Leopoldo Lopez for Caracas Mayor. Now, his 20 to 30 points lead is of no use for the opposition as Leopoldo is more worried about benefiting of his victim status rather than solve the candidature problem he left in his wake. We could even say that chavismo made Leopoldo act more like a self serving thug than a responsible long term politician, validating their outlook on life.

Nationalization of the cement industry (and others to come along that line). No sane government has any need to nationalize the cement industry of the country. There are many ways to control prices, and supply, and priorities. For example the government could decree that for its own needs it gets in priority so many tons of concrete a year. Thus the private producers will need on their own to increase their production to satisfy their own customers which can only be served after the state has been served. And they can charge them more if needed as the government can negotiate a “special” price. So, why take over cement industry?

Well, here we have at play the incompetence in chavismo in building housing and major public works. The need to blame another is in part solved by pretending that the government is nationalizing the cement industry because we are led to think Cemex, Lafarge and Holcim where not following this well established capitalist principle of selling the rope to the guy about to hang you.

But we also have the fear of losing power. See, in 4 years Chavez will have to support a successor election, in case he has not found a way to change the constitution and run again himself. As such the nationalization of the cement industry is an admission that the coming local November election will mark a defeat for chavismo, and give 4 years exposure to an eventual successor at some state house. The new crop of local authorities will have four years to prove their worth, for example building the housing that the central government is unable to do (see, by the way, the case of Acosta Carles who is the only chavista governor with a significant public housing track record and who is now able to challenge chavismo in Carabobo!). The solution is thus simple: from now on chavismo will control who will get what cement and at what price. I bet you anything that the new governors will get near nothing, and at high price. You want bridges, houses, hospitals and schools? Vote Chavez! The ultimate blackmail.

This scenario is applied to the nationalization of the steel industry, on the nationalization of the main refrigeration complex in Venezuela, on other food concern nationalization to come who will send their production to PDVAL and MERCAL in priority, and thus to chavista mayors and governors and officials. You are hungry? You want a Mercal near you with full shelves? Vote Chavez! The ultimate populism!

Last minute enabling law decrees. No, the government was not that incompetent to issue on the last day of its 18 months period the 26 decrees it emitted a couple of weeks ago. No, the government was not deliberately violating constitutional principles as a provocation: the constitution has lost its virginity as early as late December 1999 and for thugs repeated rape does not count. No, the real reason for the late publication is that the government needed to tailor them as useful as possible considering polls. It was good to also void any discussion that could have forced a withdrawal of some of the decrees, an event that could have taken place easily if there was a public uproar before the enabling law expired. Now, only painfully long process can change these laws and thus chavismo can apply them for a while at least, long enough to give a few blows.

The enabling law decrees. It is very simple: passing many of the social and economic controls that Chavez wished for in December 2007. He did not get them, people rejected them, so he did the thug way: I am the strong guy here, my way of the highway. That is how Chavez solves the problem he got on December 2: a distinct possibility of weakening about to become much worse November 23. Now, the result of the elections in November 2008 will not mean that much as chavismo will retain the main power tools in all states and cities no matter who is elected there, opposition or chavista as many of them seem to desert Chavez after 4 years.

These laws carry a whole lot of goodies for chavismo, the kind of goodies that populist of the past had wet dreams about. Just to give an example: now Chavez can expropriate whomever he wants. It is not in the constitution but it is in the law. Chavistas come, take your business away with the lamest of excuses BUT you will be paid something, someday. Promised!

Chavez now can decide to lower your prices because “the people” need your goods. He can lower that well below costs if needed if he can prove you were hoarding. Since it is chavistas bureaucrats who decide, not even judges, who is hoarding, well, you are screwed. And if you stop production because you cannot afford it, then you are expropriated.

If by any chance you considered starting a protest or something then you will have the militia getting in your place of work, because see, now Chavez is again a military by law and as such he has the right to go above any general or any officer to force any militia or troop to enter and loot your store, or protect chavista looters. Until then he could only declare wars or guarantee public order. Now he can loot. Be happy that you are not sent to jail because you could end there easily, for more years than if you had killed your spouse.

And I let you imagine what will happen to your business if you are caught financing some opposition politician. May the good Lord take you in his mercy!

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I can keep going on with more examples from the decrees, or how some of these things are used as decoys to distract people from taking about the very real problems of the country such as the murder rate and the murderous inflation rate. But I trust that the reader got the point.

-The end-

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