The Chavez Difference

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thanks to a combination of his own policies and plummeting oil prices, Hugo Chavez is facing setbacks to his plans to export socialism abroad, as well a popular discontent at home. As I noted yesterday regarding China, but perhaps to an even greater degree, the people have come to expect the government to bring them prosperity. This lack of self-reliance will result in just another dictator unless a major cultural change occurs among the public there. A real revolution will not occur until the people demand a government that will leave them alone to pursue their own prosperity.

Several passages about the article stand out. (The whole thing is worth reading for its sneak peak into Venezuela.)

First, the anti-oligarchy -- read anti-capitalist -- rhetoric el loco rode to power is wearing thin:

The area around the Caracas Country Club used to sit on thick foundations of old money, but no longer. These days many of the old members cannot afford their subscriptions.

The club no longer tries to shame them into doing so, as it once did, by pinning their names up on public display - there are simply too many defaulters.

Meanwhile the Chavistas, as the president's fans are known, buy so many Hummers that the vehicles have their own assembly plant in Venezuela.

Petro-money has seen sales of Rolexes rise sevenfold and clubs like Sawu, where the new elite pour Johnnie Walker Blue - that elixir of the ultra rich - into their Coca-Colas, flourish.

The fact that the institutions of privilege have merely changed hands increasingly angers ordinary people who were promised everything and have been given very little.


Chavez has long railed against the Venezuelan ''oligarchy", clans he claims used to rule the country and control its wealth. But among the poor, incidents such as "Suitcasegate" are prompting accusations that the Chavistas have become an oligarchy themselves.
The article fails to report one substantive change Chavez has wrought. In capitalism, which Venezuela has never tried, the newly wealthy would generally be the most productive and money would have little to do with political power due to separation of economy and state.

The old order, a far cry from such a state, still had the merit of being closer to this ideal in certain industries, such as oil. But now, with political flunkies occupying many key positions, such vital industries are being run into the ground by actual oligarchies -- of incompetents. The economy is substantially worse off than it was before, regardless of how the pouring of Johnnie Walker Blue seems to fool the media into thinking otherwise. Even for a "natural resource" such as oil, some minimal level of competence and conscientiousness is required to obtain it and make it usable.

In short, Chavez, who started out by equating wealthy captains of industry with sows at the government trough, has now installed real oligarchies. The people of Venezuela will pay for this in that the industrial infrastructure will have largely transformed into a government bureaucracy. But that's really just salt in the wound of their having lost their freedom long ago.

Second, I am reminded of a couple of points I have made about Chavez at various times. Of his "selling" of socialism to people not yet enjoying its "largesse", I once said:
It is worth noting to whom the great benefits of socialism are being touted: Those naive souls imported into Cuba [at Venezuela's expense] for the "free" [eye] operations. Anyone already under Castro's thumb is left to deal with shortages even though the Cuban economy is said to be improving at a 9% per annum clip. Ironically, [reporter] Gary Marx mentions blackouts. In one sense, then, while the Cuban government is restoring site to foreigners, it is blinding its own citizens! Or perhaps if Marx were a better spinmeister reporter, he'd say something like, "the almost-daily restoration of sight to the customers of the state power company also fits neatly into Castro's agenda".
The people of Venezuela are now wondering about this loudly. The rest of Latin America should take note.
Meanwhile, their president sends millions overseas to help like-minded socialist regimes in Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Cuba. Workers are now protesting: "How come he has money for them and not for us?"
And then, Chavez is acting even more frequently like the non-powerful person I once said he was: "Faced with crucial poll defeats, Chavez is showing the strain. As the elections near, he is lashing out in a manner more commonly associated with the continent's [other] dictators."

If Chavez melts down, and that's a big "if" since Iran, China and Russia will doubtless prop him up if they possibly can while the United States whistles and keeps kicking a can down the road, it may at least be entertaining in the short term.

-- CAV

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