Saturday, February 20, 2010

The radicalization of Chavez: a break or break?

It must be difficult to be Chavez today.  11 years of promises, of people buying, of exhausting B.S. and still you do not have the country on your side and your poll numbers are below 50% because some malcontents grumble about the lack of water, lack of light, lack of security, lack of food items at the store, high prices, lack of personal security....  From the comforts of Miraflores Palace where Chavez has grown fat and lazy and egomaniac, it is difficult to understand the growing restlessness, the unwillingness of too many to give him that blank check he so wishes for, to bring us to a Cuba like "mar de la felicidad", sea of happiness.  And yet, the dense fog of hubris does not stop reality to seep inside the mind of Chavez, and he sees that he cannot rely on anyone as even some of his alleged close followers are rumored to be reluctant to become mere Cuban colonial employees and prefer to resign.

Thus Chavez has launched himself into the only thing he knows how to do: divide the country, scare people, blackmail them, impose his word if not his will.  In short he is running again, in the campaign of his life because he knows that his entourage is only able to hire buses to ferry red shirts, if that much.  And because if he loses this one he will be out, from the hand of his own people.

Two recent events illustrate quite well this anxious Chavez.  A Friday before last he convoked a march of students to try to counter the very successful real student protest against his repression and terrible management of the country.  I was at my Chiropodist the following Saturday, dealing with an ingrown toe nail and reading Panorama waiting for my turn.  The shop owners are clever, they buy Panorama and El Universal for the customers waiting room.  Panorama, once the respected newspaper of Maracaibo, one of the only three papers able to give a run for their money to the Caracas ones, has become so pro-Chavez that it is embarrassing.  Witness this picture illustrating a quarter of the front page, of a Chavez brandishing with a black glove the Bolivar sword calling "his" students to arms.

The caption says it all, only the students attending "bolivarian universities" are the true students. dismissing the "manitas blancas", little white hands, as fascists and what not.  Hence the threatening, simplistic black glove?

Except that his student rally saw too many buses as usual (opposition student marches never need buses to fill their ranks), and as Globovision lovingly retransmitted, most of these chavista students looked suspiciously like public employees requested to march.  But that is really not the offensive part, not even the silly vest calling for the fashion police: the problem here is a clear image of Chavez calling for violence, as if the opposition could overthrown him just as he controls EVERYTHING in the country, including, he never tires of reminding us, the gun power.  Is he really trying to let us know that his patience has run out and unless we submit to his will it is going to be "off with their heads!"?

Chavez and his well armed Zamora militia
Today there was another such sorry spectacle which also combined history rewriting.  The old square of El Calvario, built in the XIX century and the first public park built in Venezuela under Guzman Blanco, has been renamed for Zamora, a caudillo of the Federal Civil Wars who did not live long enough to have made himself execrated like most of the other caudillos of that time.  Conveniently forgetting that Zamora even had slaves at some point in his life, and that he used populist promises of land redistribution to recruit armies for his own ambitions once Caracas denied them, Chavez paints him as second only to Bolivar. As if Zamora had ever shown any significant intellectual abilities to construct a political inheritance of any type.  But history of Venezuela is now what Chavez decides so off went the Columbus statue of the park, and the name and tradition (even though El Calvario has long ceased to be a park where you could hang out, invaded by thugs, junkies and what not).

Thus Chavez went today to what is now becoming his weekly mass rally.  From El Universal, the  picture on the left says it all.  The show was set to make Chavez look as the agricultural leader of the masses (the straw hats) while displaying his power with the well armed militia at his feet.  Never mind that his agricultural policies in 11 years have transformed Venezuela in a country that needs to import more than 50% of its food, a percentage that keeps increasing.  Facts have long ceased to matter in what has become a purely emotional joust.

Chavez arriving at El Calvario today, with Jesus and Gauleiter

There was yet another telling picture of Chavez arriving at the Zamora square to be.  He arrived in a tractor, I suppose honoring the agricultural prowess of Zamora.  One is astounded by the levels of sycophancy.  First, the painting behind, where Chavez is larger than Bolivar, and as tall as Jesus though a little bit below.  And then the security guard holding tight to the truck.  Why?  To make sure Chavez would not roll on their boots?  And look at those clinging dearly for life around Chavez!  Eager to be seen in the shot even if they risk their neck!  The one behind Chavez with glasses is the new Vice President, a fanatic without charisma or following who badly needs to rub it out from Chavez.  Or the Gauleiter of Caracas, the woman appointed by violating the constitution, an individual who has proven her incompetence in the less than one year she has been in charge, who has been publicly scolded by Chavez and who cannot contain her joy at being front line for the tail winds of Chavez.

Don't these people have better things to do on a Saturday when there are so many fires to put down everywhere?

The radicalization of Chavez this time around is exacerbated because it is becoming clear to most people that he has been a bad manager, that his orders are not followed, that his promises are not materializing and that whatever little bit some thing he has achieved is crumbling down fast, including any pretense of an ideology he tried to build up.  So he needs to show authority, to pretend that he is in charge, be it expropriating a supermarket, be it demanding public servants to bow to him, be it insulting people, be it threatening them directly with weaponry. In other words he is resorting to his last resource: be the only bully around.

I am not the only one thinking like this. As I was researching for these words I run into an interview of Luis Vicente Leon who in general irks me a lot by his tendency to believe that pollsters should rule the world. but for once I agreed with him. Chavez is indeed in need to show that he is the strongest, if anything by doing the craziest things just because he can get away with it. One of the subliminal messages he sends, I would add, is that "if you cannot beat me, then join me, or shut up!". Luis Vicente for once in a show of modesty says that he cannot tell whether this will succeed because the campaign is not anymore between Chavez and the opposition, but Chavez and the lack of electricity and so on.

Whatever it is, it is quite a gamble. If with his amazingly aggressive start of the year Chavez does not manage to raise his numbers he might finally fall into the death spiral of politics, the one from which politicians never recover. But then he might not as the devaluation is going to bring a sensation or prosperity in lower classes as Chavez will simply spread depreciated currency. How long will it take for the people to realize that the cash is worth much less than before? A month? A quarter? by September? Leon seems to be betting that Chavez could have time to buy his way out, but he is not sure, not because Chavez cannot do it but because it might be too late. I personally think it is too early for Chavez to do what he does because there is still 6 months ahead and the more he spends the more he risks to bring the economy down by denying resources where they are really needed right now.

But then again Chavez is a reactive personality and he cannot stay quiet as the electricity crisis is taking a stupendous toll on him, enervating him enough that he promised us that by June all will be solved. Does he not recall that he told us that Venezuela was ironclad against the world crisis just to devaluate the currency one year later by 100%? Imagine a major black out in June...... Or the Guri running dry anyway......


  1. Anonymous7:45 AM

    Until there is a cohesive opposition Chavez may be worried for nothing.

    By the way, this painting with Christ and Chavez in the background implies that Chavez thinks his supporters are ignorant or they are ignorant or both. I am very offended by that painting and can't believe others wouldn't feel the same. I'm not particularly religious; I just find that over the line.

  2. Daniel,

    This post is priceless!

    When I see a little black glove on one hand I think of horror fiction....or the oh-so-fearsome Black Glove group of super villains.

    But the Painting/and photos remind me more of a Strindberg play.The fact that Chavez creates such a bizarre scene in El Calvario shows a desire to present the image of a weird, semi- threatening mystical intention.

    Here we have a Trinity, or the 3 crosses on Calvary.There are mystical forces at work ;)so appealing to a dark cult.

    Maybe even the electrical deaths and re- surges can also create the illusion of the cycles of Death and rebirth.

    This is no normal world we live in....but so much stranger than real life.

  3. Militia In The Dark
    February 21, 2010: Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's mismanagement of the economy, and resulting inflation and unemployment has created a growing opposition. Chavez has come up with an idea that will make the most of the growing economic decline. Because many government employees are now working shorter hours, because of electricity shortages, the government is encouraging these workers to use some of their additional free time, to join the workers militia. This is a pro-government (well, pro-Chevez) organization that relies on volunteers, and is armed with Russian weapons bought by the government. The militia already has 150,000 members, and the government wants more. There are currently 2.3 million government employees in Venezuela, and most of those hired since Chavez took power were selected in part for their loyalty to Chavez. The number of government employees (now 20 percent of the work force) has gone up 70 percent since Chavez took over. The Venezuelan military has 130,000 personnel, but Chavez is mostly concerned with the growing number of civilians who oppose his rule. Thus volunteers for the militia are not accepted until their loyalty to Chavez is assured. Not everyone qualifies.

    Chavez also has his own source of weapons for his militia. Two years ago, Venezuela obtained a license to produce Russian AK-103 assault rifles. Manufacturing began last year. Four years ago, Venezuela bought 100,000 of these assault rifles, the most recent model of the original AK-47.

    Russia hasn't manufactured the AK-47 (or its upgraded version, the AKM), for many years. Instead, Russia now makes the AK-74, a weapon similar to the American M-16 (firing a slightly smaller 5.45mm bullet), and the AK-101 (which fires the U.S. 5.56mm round) and the AK-103 (which fires the same 7.62mm bullet of the old AK-47). The AK-103 is essentially a very up-to-date design of the old AK-47. Normally, the AK-103 sells for about $800 each (including cleaning supplies, magazines, spare parts and the like.) But many of the AK-103 sold to Venezuela from Russia are being billed at $1200 each, the additional $400 going into the pockets of Venezuelan politicians who got behind the weapons purchase and distribution (to friends of the current Venezuelan government) of the weapons. New weapons, old traditions. Venezuela could have bought newly manufactured (but not by Russia) AK-47s for $400. But this purchase was not so much about weapons, as it was about politics. And that's why there so much more opposition to Chavez.

  4. Charly1:24 PM

    Good article. Somehow I sense you start to depreciate the man making enormous efforts to appear bigger than he is. It is quite pathetic to see someone go down the drain like that when he had everything at his disposal to really change his country. Give it a bit of time and he becomes "chicken sh*t".

    As for the milicias campesinas bolivarianas, have you seen some of the pictures. Before bullets for their rifles, they all need urgently a new denture. The youngest must be at least 150 years old. Imperio temblad!

  5. Seeing him riding that tractor I got an involuntary flashback to Dallas 1963. Sorry if that offends anybody.

  6. chavez is in his own little world ,a legend in his own mind. i recently came back from caracas,and is just slowly going down the drain
    electricity blackouts ,inflation,free speech being denied ,and the funniest thing yet sad ,is the hours and i mean hours of chavez' speeches broadcast on govt tv.chavez will destroy himself, as all dictators eventually do !!!

  7. 1979 Boat People6:43 PM

    Thugo Chavez with a sword.

    Humn, did i see similar picture not too long ago? Oh yes, the picture of the dictator Manuel Noriega of Panama.

    This time, Venezuelans have to do the job instead of the imperialist US.

  8. Kenprice, very interesting.

    The one time I remembering seeing Chavez back down was recently, when the malandros came down from the serros to complain about the cuts in electricity. He backed down fast.

    Other than that, Chavez seems stronger than ever. He's closing down supermarkets, making himself the source of food. I see jobs disappearing fast and Venezuelans are realizing just how bad things are getting (finally!). On Sabado En La Noche last night (a Globovision show where they laugh and have a good time so as to forget things for awhile) there was a fleeting moment where they were having trouble keeping up the smiles.

    I see a collapse as the only way Chavez goes.


  9. Boludo Tejano8:15 PM

    Ken Price's posting on Militia in the Dark came from Strategy Page.

    I have read that Thugo may be changing his mind on his initial refusal of Colombia's offer to sell electricity to Venezuela. While it would be very humiliating for Thugo to purchase electricity from his arch enemy Uribe, such a decision may well end up saving Thugo's bacon. If electricity purchased from Colombia mitigates or even stops the blackouts, that will reflect well on Thugo. Most people won't care where he got the electricity nor that the purchase was the consequence of Thugo's abysmal decision making over the last eleven years. Most will simply see a problem solved.

  10. Anonymous12:01 AM

    Is falcon opening the door for other governors from PUSV? Is this a sign that not all will follow the radical turn? Falcon on the outside may be dangerous how is el supremo going to deal with him?

  11. boat

    noriega wielded a machete, not a sword. i actually would have understood better chavez wielding a machete to encourage students to hit the fields....

  12. barqui

    the hour of falcon has not rung yet. falcon cannot jump alone. he will do it when he is sure a few figures follow him, namely at least another governor. but i do not see that happening any time soon except perhaps in monagas.

    now, if we reach September and the opposition actually wins parliament and is allowed to legislate, then things will change dramatically.... falcon would then be seen as a heir to chavismo by many.

  13. "Here we have a Trinity, or the 3 crosses on Calvary"

    Don't forget that the two men crucified with Jesus were thieves, criminals. Not a nice thing to say about Simon. :)

    Or we could also recall that one of the two thieves repented of his ways and asked Jesus' forgiveness there on the cross, while the other excoriated him even as they were dying. An interesting metaphor there.

  14. Charly9:08 AM

    Looks like Falcon jumped ship after all. Now you will see the garbage that will pile on the poor man's head. Falcon and Reyes Reyes have never seen eye to eye. Reyes Reyes is one of the (very) few Venezuelans Chavez trusts. Falcon rejects Chavez top down approach. See the picture? Pick a chair on the Titanic and enjoy the show.

  15. Anonymous9:17 AM

    dano: as Im watching the Vancouver Olympics and seeing such staggering beautiful scenery and happy smiling mostly anglo faces its funny as hell in a sad sort of way to watch Hugoslavia further embark on the path to profound stupidity and self destruction......

    Hugo with a sword and a black glove!! what a limp dick !!

  16. The militia's guns were not loaded, too much of a risk to have loaded weapons around Chavez. None of them even have their magazines attached the guns. I suspect the weapons were handed out for the photo op and then returned to the armory later.

  17. Yikes Daniel, the pics from El Calvario are just priceless!

    I have no problem with Chavez being taller than Bolivar... El Libertador was a very small man in real life! If I'm not mistaken he wore size 33/34 shoes (Eur size). But then, people were not as tall as today, Napoleon was also very short, wasn't he?

    But all in all... chavez with Jesus and Bolivar; goodness gracious! Talk about 'delirios de grandeza'!

    Venezuelans today don't know too much about history, or should I say chavistas are re-writing it. Zamora was a bandolero, cannot even think of the right english translation for it!

    OTOH, didn't Zamora fight against centralism? and that is really what chavez is imposing? It is almost crazy to name El Calvario after him, being the park in Caracas. I find the whole thing so politically incorrect and bizarre!

    I won't say much more... but being very ofended ~I'm the daughter of a llanera~ by the sad image of fake llaneros that look like cuban militias with chinese straw hats.
    Argh.. creepy!

  18. Liz

    Do not forget that Zamora is a very controversial image, due probably at his rather early exit from the front stage, before he had time to make irreconcilable enemies. That is why at some point there was even a State named after Zamora, and today I think there are t least a couple of municipalities called Zamora.

    We should always judge people in the historical context they operated, which does not stop us from condemning Zamora. But in the beginning of the Federal Wars, Zamora did have a point, alleged decentralization. The irony, no?

  19. jsb

    of course they were unloaded.... they will be loaded only when chavez sends them to kill escualidos. but then again it remains to be seen if they indeed will shoot escualidos....

  20. charly and barqui

    looks indeed that falcon made a move. i had not watched the news last night when i made the comment.

    (wiping egg from face)

  21. Anonymous1:14 PM

    Marin--"Seeing him riding that tractor I got an involuntary flashback to Dallas 1963. Sorry if that offends anybody.1:34 PM"

    Recall that Cuba was involved with Oswald who shot Kennedy. Chavez is still a Castro want-to-be. It is a bad thought, but I wonder how many Venezuelans would take a clear shot a Hugo Chavez.

  22. Liz, Napoleon was actually relative tall for his time. From Wikipedia: "British sources put his height at 5 ft 7 British inches: ... equivalent to 1.7 m. Napoleon surrounded himself with tall bodyguards and had a nickname of le petit caporal which was an affectionate term that reflected his reported camaraderie with his soldiers rather than his height."

  23. Anonymous2:33 PM

    being "vecinos" I figured you knew. Sorry for the assuption.

  24. @Marzolian,

    thanks! I said that because of the furniture that belonged to him. Especially chairs!

    Sure, I'm no connoisseur of the matter, just happen to notice the small size of old time pieces. I would really like to see his clothes and in a museum sometime! (I'll have to go to Paris for that, I guess)

    Anyhow... our Libertador was not tall at all ;(


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