Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Comparing Venezuela and Egypt. NOT! Musings on youth protest...

Even though this blog likes historical coincidences readers will have noticed that I have stayed clear from the latest Egyptian revolution cum coup. For one thing, my allergy to anything military, reinforced by the utter corruption and amorality of the military in charge of the Venezuelan regime. Nothing good comes from military and for a single de Gaulle or Eisenhower you have scores of creeps like Chavez or Velasco Alvarado. But apparently some are not so coy and reach the pages of the NYT OpEd.

I do not want to criticize Daniel Lansberg, a polished writer in English or Spanish, with interesting ideas. But his entry in the NYT "We had our Tamarrod, and failed", fails. And it is not the good recommendation of Moises Naim that will save it.
In his article my tocayo compares the successes of the youth movement in Egypt and in Venezuela, assuming that it is prospering in Egypt and failing in Venezuela. I will just quote his misguided wistful ending:
Seen from this position, Tamarrod’s successes to date are inspiring. The movement has already accomplished far more in Egypt than we ever did or, frankly, ever dreamed of in Venezuela: Twice now, Egypt’s youth has played a critical role in stripping power from governments it thought were keeping the future from it.

Our youth revolution fell short; may yours be realized.

I truly do not understand why Lansberg thinks that the youth movement in Egypt is winning and the one in Venezuela is failing. I suppose that in parts it is the wish of so many to compare situations that cannot be comparable in any way, outside of the generalities that Morsi and Chavez acted more like intolerant religious leaders than democrats. And that is far from satisfying, even to start a line of thoughts.

The youth movement in Egypt (or rather Cairo?) is indeed a youth movement in that it spilled over from campus to working districts, a youth that felt it had no future. From the start the youth of Egypt showed a unity of purpose across social groups that was never present in Venezuela. As such in Egypt it was a powerful motor for political change, at a grass root level, and better comparisons could be found in Paris in 1830 or Vienna 1848. In all cases, sooner than later, the old regimes came back in "gattopardian" ways, just as it seems to be coming back in Egypt.

In Venezuela the youth movement was rather, at first, a Caracas intellectual elite campus, as Lansberg himself admits. I write intellectual elite because it was not a social elite even if those do overlap greatly in Venezuela. The campuses that started the anti Chavez movement were those campus from the private or autonomous universities where the best and brightest, those that actually like to think and hold personal thoughts, want to go. The parallel system of higher education that chavismo has tried to established attracts those that are unwilling or not able to join these campuses and satisfy themselves by going to campuses where ideology is rampant, where party cadres are formed and where a degree is earned more by steady attendance and accommodation rather than technical or scholarly work. As such the university youth movement was handicapped from the start, with a a group of students seeking a true future and freedom on one side while those following the national temperament after decades of handouts were only too willing to play by the regime rules to land a dead end job in some obscure public administration, their skills being mostly useless in the real world.

As such I beg to differ from the pessimistic tone and ending of Daniel Lansberg piece. I think that the Venezuelan youth movement has accomplished a lot, besides being the main motor for the defeat of Chavez in 2007. That its leaders are managing slowly but surely to infiltrate the political parties is actually a victory, it is the seeds of political renewal in Venezuela. Those things take time, perhaps annoying those that want a quick fixes to our political and economic woes.

If anything, the "failure" of the Venezuelan student youth movement comes from the failure of a society who since the times of Gomez is used to the notion that a few banknotes are enough to paper over any difficulty.  As such too many prefer to bitch at Chavez's regime from Twitter than actually do something about it. This, of course, as from another window of the same lap top they negotiate subsidized dollars to go on vacation or import what they cannot produce anymore.

I do not mean to belittle Daniel Lansberg for his rather unfair conclusion. I congratulate him greatly for reaching the pages of the New York Times and make aware people of the situation in Venezuela which, no matters how you write about it, is always depressing. What I wish for him next time he has such an opportunity is to think things through a little bit better, a little bit deeper.

PS: sorry, this post had a part eaten up while I did a minor editing and I had to rewrite a paragraph which maybe different from the previous version but the cache was cached....  This is the fault of chronic internet faults inside Venezuela and blogger simply cuts communication or saves wrongly.


  1. Anonymous10:10 PM

    A principal problem in both Egypt and Venezuela appears to be the horrid state of the economy. The ouster of Morsi, alone, will not remedy that problem for Egypt, despite the recent grant of eight million dollars in aid from Arab governments unfavorable to the Muslim Brotherhood, which had supported Morsi and now demands his return.

    Beyond the unity on the need to improve the Egyptian economy and hence the lives of the "common people," the new folks in charge will have to reject the Islamist tendencies of the Government. That seems, maybe, perhaps, to be happening now. The Egyptian military is also more active at the Israeli border attempting to promote both its own security and that of Israel. Good job thus far, at least.

    1. 8 million dollars? This is barely enough to retire a corrupt chavista official ! :-)

      I think that in fact Egypt economy is worse than Venezuela in that there is no access to some easy money to restart the engine. If chavismo leaves, a half good management would be enough in Venezuela to get a 5% economic growth within a couple of years.

    2. Anonymous10:59 PM

      Quite true. However, my fingers got ahead of my brain when I typed "eight million" rather than "eight billion," the correct amount. Sorry about that.

  2. Anonymous10:12 PM

    Sorry, but I happen to agree with what Lansberg has written. The Venezuelan youth appear to be half-hearted in their efforts. They are sincere, no doubt, but are simply overwhelmed by the nastiness, the brutality of the spit-in-your-face Chavistas. This is an ugly power struggle for the future of Venezuela. No, the Egyptians got it right. They understood the rules of the game. They used their military to their advantage. Good for them! I hope one day soon it will happen in Venezuela as well. But if they youth really' want change, they better get tough,....and soon.

    1. so, dear anonymous, you pretend to remain anonymous behind the lines while the youth goes to butcher itself on the front line?

      maybe we are like we are because there are too many anonymous. and i certainly do not think that Lansberg meant it the way you seem to have understood it.

  3. Charly3:28 AM

    The 2007 referendum, what a glorious moment of the student movement. Generally overseas information on Venezuelan actuality comes with some twists and inaccuracies. For those interested in the topic, I recommend: "The Dictator's Learning Curve - Inside the Global Battle for Democracy" by William J. Dobson, the Politics and Foreign Affairs Editor for Slate. Chapter 3 is titled "El Comandante". In it Dobson who interviewed student leaders in Venezuela after the 2007 referendum showed how Otpor members who had ousted their own leader 10 years earlier were teaching Venezuelan student leaders in Mexico how to identify Hugo Chavez weaknesses and contributing in no small part in puling the rug from the now defunct SOB in the 2007 referendum. The chapter is very accurate. No wonder Maduro and pals have a fit every time students hit the street. There is a global network of activists exchanging ideas and methods on how to make dictators life miserable or at least unsecure. For an old libertarian, it is very comforting.

  4. "Everything must change, so that everything can remain the same."


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