Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Arria and the reality

I feel sorry for us as a country when I hear Diego Arria and the non-response he gets.  Last night for example Alo Ciudadano took great pains to explain that we needed to make a campaign plan of solutions, inclusion and what not, from El Ciudadano himself to Ramon Guillermo Aveledo as his main guest.  I do not mean to defend Arria here, he does go overboard in his anti Chavez campaign even if he is quite justified in doing so.  What concerns me here is that we are having two sides opposing each other more and more inside the Unidad and that if the situation is not controlled adequately we could lose it all.  If according to the Unidad spokespersons the solution is not to follow Arria, it certainly is not the one offered by Capriles and Perez, pretending all is fine and easily fixable.  All is not fine.

Yes, I know, I have been ranting about that a lot, but the more the campaign advances, the more the country spirals into final decomposition, the more I think that Arria is closer from the truth than Capriles.  Or rather that both are wrong.

As I have already written Diego Arria would be a great transition president (emphasis intended), and since I wrote it, he coincidentally campaigned on that (maybe he reads my blog?).  His solution is basically what is required for Venezuela: a transition government whose members know that they will assume the political costs of all that needs to be done, likely sacrificing their future political career.  In other words, a government that offers itself to the Republic, for its salvation, in sacrifice at the altar if you forgive me the cliché.  And I admire Arria for offering himself instead of remaining in his cozy US retreat (he got attacked by chavista thugs once again last night, including tear gas inside an auditorium).

This may sound melodramatic but it is not.  There follows a short list of measures that would be required to be taken in the first 6 months of an eventual new government.  As you read the list make your pick of at least 50% that are a must in the first 6 months.

-Increase the price of gas by at least ten folds.
- Increase utilities price to more realistic levels and start making all pay something even if if it a token payment.
- Remove price controls on all but a few items, noting that within a year even those items will be out of price control.
- Revert land ownership in at least 50% of the Chavez seizures, even if it means putting them up on the auction block and paying the old owners with that.
- Start a progressive dismantling of CADIVI while creating a system of semi protectionism that should last for a few years until Venezuela recovers some of its producing capacity, or at the very least until we are producing 75% of our food again.
- Start the privatization process of some of the stuff that Chavez grabbed.

- Stop some of the Misiones, revamp the rest into a system that is designed to help the 30% more vulnerable part of the country.  That is all the government can afford it if want to have enough cash to pay our debts and restart the economy, rebuild our infrastructure.
- Revamp a retirement system so that no one gets from the state more than 2 times the minimum wage no matter how much you paid in Social Security taxes.  True, past exemptions will have to be maintained but it should be made clear that in an European way retirement now will be for all AFTER 60 something, with limited benefits, starting for those who are below 50 today.

- Confront the judicial power forcing them to start working or to resign.  Admittedly the crisis that would start might require at the very least a referendum and possibly a Constitutional Assembly.
- The drug traffic problem is too advanced but if the government does not take at least the step of purging a couple of dozens of high ranking officers and investigate them, Mexico is ahead for us.
- Revert brutally the centralization of Chavez, send to the states, chavistas or not, a bigger allotment of money and bigger responsibilities.  This may be obvious but after a few years of centralization people are into the habit of "asking Chavez" and they might do against governors and mayors what they did not dare to do against Chavez.

- Break up with Cuba, send back half of its contingent and have the courage to keep financing Cuba at a lower level for a few months in exchange of their silent departing.
-  Get ready to confront Brazil, China and seek forgiveness and repentance with Europe, Colombia and the US.
- Manage a debt repayment plan that will include the investigation of the contracts that such debt required.  Get ready to default if needed.

- Start building jails
- Finance a doubling of police corps in Venezuela
- Force local authorities to participate and arm them as needed, even in chavista governors hands.
- Without forgetting to explain that other ways to reduce crime through jobs and education will take years and that some repression is required meanwhile, because such measures are unfortunately going to affect a lot the lower classes where crime is now almost a necessity.

Etc., etc., ....

Now that you have this short an partial list to be embraced the day after you take office ask yourself the following questions:

- What president or political party can survive such a set of measures that are going to alienate for sure his opposition and his own supporters?
- Will the new president have also the time to deal with pothole repairs and school repainting?
- Can we afford an improvised character at the presidency, someone who will start his decision making process thinking about his eventual reelection?
- Can we afford a president that does not know how to find people adequate for the job, and not willing to boldly delegate and hope for the best?
- And let's not get into the possible scenario of confronting a massive electoral fraud, bare chested, at the front of protest marches, Toledo style.

In all truth I do not know if Arria is up to that daunting job.  I think that he will know how to delegate, he will know how to deal with foreign creditors, he may even know how to tackle crime to make it a little bit less aggravating  but when I hear that he is already discussing presidential reelection and cutting down the term to 5 years I wonder if he is connected enough to our reality.  At the very least he is fully aware that after 3 years he would be toast and unable to retain office.  But his mission may be done then and we should all be the better.

But when I look at the others I am worried further.

Maria Corina at least has the merit to show her awareness of the situation but she is making it a personal match with Chavez as if it were enough to remove him from office.  True, it is sine qua non but there is more to it today than Chavez.

Medina has the right feel but he is mentally too disperse as we will need a president focused as a gamma ray knife.

Perez and Capriles do not even give us the impression that they are aware how deliquescent the country has become in a single year, and not even due to Chavez illness.  This sudden degradation is the result of a willful process even if the extent might be surprising chavismo itself.  Only Lopez by harping at the security issue shows that some awareness has hit him.

I will repeat it once again: favoring the Capriles or Perez campaigns as they are is a disservice not only to the  country but to them.  If the strategy of pothole fixing were to prevail and beat Chavez (which I personally doubt since at the end an "efficient Chavez" will never trump the real thing) let's think about what type of mandate they will have when the hard choices will have to be taken, when Luisa Estela starts striking down their decrees, when Luisa Ortega refuses to pursue criminals, when parliament refuses to vote credits the way they do for Chavez today as if nothing, when chavista governors refuse to follow and assume their responsibilities, when PDVSA goes on strike because it refuses to accept at least a 20% of payroll cut when 2/3 should be fired on the spot..

I am sorry if I am a nagging Cassandra but Capriles and Perez are forging right now the sword they will fall upon and as a perverse contrast Arria may be unwillingly helping them.  But at least Arria's role is accidental whereas Perez and Capriles seem to seek suicide.

But there is still two months to go, let's allow ourselves the moderate optimism that things may get better message wise.  I personally doubt very much that Venezuela will set the precedent of winning the primaries in the center and then win the general election on the extremes where Chavez will push it, the more so if the primary winner is already in the center.  I am certain that it would be easier to move to the center starting February 13 2012 than avoid being pushed to the extreme because you already wasted all of your centrist arguments in the primary campaign.


Added in proof.

I wrote this last night and decided to sleep over it.  And yet, once editing was made I went ahead to publish. However I want to add something I read this morning in El Universal which in a distant way sustains what I am writing above.  Namely that promising efficiency may not be enough to rule and may not even be enough to win in the end.  Capriles and Perez take note.


  1. A. Barreda9:28 PM

    I agree with you on your diagnostic: the country is a mess and it won't be a walk in the park if we win the election.
    However, you have to understand that, in spite of CNE's submission, the risk of fraud and the unwillingness of the TSJ, Asamblea and whatnot, we still need to win the election first. And nobody is going to defeat Chavez by promising that he'll put Chavez in jail.
    Nobody wins election by promising haircut programs and austerity. Just look at Chavez: did he promise Socialism and class warfare? No, because people don't care about that.
    Let them kids talk about rainbows and unicorns, that when the time comes the grown-ups, i.e. the aveledos, the arrias, etc. will take care of business.

  2. A Barreda

    I do not think you will find anything written in this blog as to winning election by putting Chavez in jail.

    However sugar coating the issue, pretending to be an efficient Chavez not only may not win the election in the end but even if it were to win it would still put us at risk of losing everything. El Caracazo anyone?

    If HCR or PP manage to reach power on the same speech, within 6 moths they are out of office.

    The disaster is coming, win Chavez, win Unidad. Thus the manner in which the election is won is as crucial as winning it. Winning also carries a "mandate" to do this or that and if you cannot do it, well.....

  3. torres2:53 AM

    If a transition (i.e., sacrificial) government is a given, then isn't the key to ensure that one of its actions is to prevent future government from going down the petrostate path, so that even if there is a Caracazo and a chavez deja vu, the oil money will be out of government hands?


  4. Like I said, I totally agree with your diagnostic. Changes must be made. However, it's not only the "let's put Chavez in jail" that puts people off. It's the austerity measures that will scare most voters.
    However, even Reagan and Thatcher did not get elected talking about firing people and privatization. They had to sugar coat the thing.
    Yes, if the candidates promise unicorns and rainbows and later they go Thatcher on their arses, we're risking a Caracazo, just like it happened to CAP II. However, I believe we're not going to repeat the same mistakes all over again (i.e. shock therapy) because that would suicidal. Mr. Aveledo has already said that any MUD gov will go for a slow economical transition, which is better than no transition.

    Let's face it: simple people dream about a 100% annual pay rise and 0% inflation, as if it were even possible. Sure, nobody should promise that. But nobody is going to vote for a guy promising the opposite either. Hay que ser realista.

    First thing is to get elected. Second thing, clean up the mess. If in the process of cleaning up the mess the next president has to face a recall vote, which is very likely given all the unpopular policies that are needed, so be it. But, we have to get rid first of the blahblah commander first.
    Un paso a la vez, Mr. D.

  5. In Caracas Chronicles, Juan nagel reviews all pre-candidates but does not mention Diego Arria. I think is a deliberate attempt at writing him off and I find it pretty pathetic. He is a pre-candidate in good standing, saying his piece. Accusing Chavez in The Hague is not a "radical" act but an act of good citizenship. A Constituent? I don't like it but he argues well for its need. He is being attacked by thugs and MUD has decided he does not exist. I ind this unreal.

  6. Gustavo

    You can either report on the elections in general or you can support a given candidate. It is a blogger's choice.

    Ignoring Arria is a disservice to the MUD and a service to Arria. Whether some like it, Arria is the "news" right now inside the Unidad campaign, and he may disappear in two weeks to make Perez the news for X reason.

    Arria deserves full analysis of his proposals no matter how "extreme" they may look for some. First, they are not extreme since they are as democratic as they come. But there is a perception that his views could damage the MUD efforts to unseat Chavez under the pretense that he scares NiNi, a.k.a. as sinvergüenzas in my book. I fail to see that, and I fail even more to read from someone a strong case for that theory (pollsters arguments do not count much because they are always questionable when they are using their data to influence the debate instead of merely offering data; you know who you are datanalisis).

    There is nothing worse than a poll driven campaign. That polls should influence, help setting the tone of the message is OK, but polls can never become the message, can never replace the principles that make a candidate. Would have Churchill, De Gaulle, Truman, Reagan, and even Mitterand reach office if they had surrendered early their political beliefs to pollsters? All of them accepted to lose one election or more until their positions were finally vindicated. And we are all the better for that.

  7. I think it is an advantage that while the primaries last,Chavez CAN be attacked from different angles by various candidates.

    Some of the candidates can take harsher ,or more hardline stances against the incumbent, while others are more moderate and each of us is free to choose.There is NOTHING intrinsically wrong about this.

    The fact that people would ignore this is strange to me and somehow undemocratic in nature.Rather authoritarian don't you think? At the very least immeasurably doctrinaire.

    Ignoring plausible , democratic, candidates because "YOU" don't like them is the height of division and egoism.Unbelievable at this more advanced stage of Unity.

  8. Anonymous5:19 AM

    You'll need a president that's willing to say; 'I don't give a damn about your potholes or unpainted schools. That's for governors and local government to fix. Go bug them!'


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