My friend Humberto wrote this letter to his British friend, it merits sharing it (By the way Humberto, there are political prisoners already, one is a General who refused to obey orders to fire on the people, the other two are the leaders of the general strike last year, both in exile):
We agree Venezuela has an unsustainable poverty gap. However, chavismo is not the way.
While Chavez may be preventing Venezuela from going the way of Argentina, I do believe there are worse things that can happen to a nation. Notice Chavez has totally demolished any autonomous businesses. Why? Most business-people oppose him and it is to his advantage to emasculate them. He has disassembled years of investment in people at the oil company by firing, for strictly political reasons, 18,000 of the most qualified and competent oil professionals who went on strike against him. As a scientist, you should know R&D at PDVSA (the oil company) is a thing of the past. The beneficiaries of the brain drain are none other than big oil, who is getting in on the action via extremely lucrative revenue sharing contracts. This is the de-nationalization of Venezuelan oil, occurring under a government that claims to be of the “left”.
You say you will change your mind about Chavez when I tell you of political prisoners. At present, all possible means are being used to strong-arm government employees so that they do not petition for a recall referendum. The signatures will be published along with your national id number for all to see. I do not doubt government contractors and employees will be checked against the list. Recently, government employees are being asked to provide “emergency contact” forms with the id numbers of relatives: could it be to intimidate relatives into not signing? Venezuelans abroad (like myself) will be denied the right to petition since “the process cannot be controlled” (I am quoting the electoral council president). So Chavez may not have political prisoners (mercifully they tend to go into exile since Venezuelan prisons are the worst they have ever been). But even this point on the lack of political prisoners is arguable: General Alfonzo Martinez has been jailed, without trial and in what seems to me to be an illegal manner, for the high crime of speaking publicly about democracy in Venezuela. Chavez intimidates and strong-arms anybody who opposes him. Total domination of every branch of the government is the avowed goal of the regime. As an example, the government controlled assembly is pushing through reforms that would increase the number of supreme court magistrates from twenty to thirty because the extra ten will be government appointees who will break the current 50-50 deadlock. They may succeed even though defections have taken its toll on the original huge chavista majority. A high court in Caracas has been dissolved because they have sentenced and decreed against the government: no matter that they (the regime) had simply ignored the now dissolved courts judicial orders.
On a more personal level, a relative of mine, a former chavista activist who volunteers in the “barrios”, cannot find work as a teacher anywhere because he is blacklisted. He is a “former” chavista who like many others, believed in his original message of hope. It is the worst form of intimidation. If you are not with us, you are nothing. If I were still in Venezuela, there is no doubt I would be blacklisted as well. Why should I be different than most of my friends from college and high school that stayed behind? The blacklist may yet end up being a badge of honor though I cannot criticize friends and relatives who have feigned loyalty to the regime to ensure jobs and/or contracts that can bring food to the family table.
And while the press, who was instrumental in creating the image that got him elected, is still nominally free, not a week goes by without abuse and intimidation from the government. The 24×7 news channel, Globovision, cannot broadcast live from remote locations because its microwave gear was impounded for “operating on unauthorized frequencies”. Chavez and his close buddy Fidel Castro, the soon to be extinct dinosaur of Latin American dictators, is calling Venezuelan media nothing more and nothing less than prostitutes (“jineteras”), sold to “special interests” yet not a single chavista newspaper has been able to stay afloat without massive government subsidies. The film you saw is well financed by the regime and exists in at least three different cuts.
Either you are with Chavez, or nothing …nada!
With Chavez, the fate that awaits Venezuela is worse than Argentina‘s. With the economy depressed, local industry in tatters, unemployment rampant, a nullified PDVSA, Venezuela is ripe for take-over by multi-nationals and special interests. This does not represent an issue for Chavez because his primary goal is to stay in power until 2021 (his words) and he has proven his nationalist ideology is made of rubber (e.g. very flexible). I believe he prefers foreign control of the economy because, by its nature, foreign capital is opportunistic and does not care about abstract concepts like “freedom”, “justice”, etc. so long as there is a profit somewhere. A foreign investor is detached from national reality (in a manner analogous to the Spanish-financed holiday resorts in Cuba, which are a “world apart”) whereas a local entrepreneur cares about the future and hence, would be involved in politics. So the future, according to Chavez, is an economy driven by foreign capital, where “extraction activities” and not internal growth is the primary activity. That way Venezuelans can “grab” a little.
The poverty gap we both agree is unsustainable is in fact worse than it ever was because: (a) the poor are poorer, and (b) the middle class has been slowly pauperized and (3) a new “chavista” ruling class, that leeches unproductively from the state, has emerged to take its place. So even the most basic issue of Venezuelan politics and society has not been addressed by this regime. Mercifully, what remains of our tattered democracy may yet come to the rescue as support for Chavez is vanishing across the board but also, most significantly, in the dominant impoverished population. The best evidence: Chavez is routinely resorting to filling-out stadiums with civilian dressed military recruits, obeying orders. And, he cannot be seen in public without eliciting a spontaneous Latin-style “cacerolazo” or massive pot banging against him.
And in the government, mediocrity runs rampant. Chavez himself surrounds himself with “yes-men” he micro-manages on an almost hourly basis, rarely getting any sleep and sustaining himself on caffeine and only God knows what else. He would come-up with some half-assed idea, call up the minister, and two hours later either change his mind or demand to see results. The promises to Venezuelans have been as endless as his speeches: to end unemployment, to rescue abandoned children, to feed the hungry, to pull everybody into the middle class … The cabinet itself has been a revolving door of dissatisfaction. To keep former ministers from speaking, they are sent to diplomatic consular postings abroad, where they can escape the madness and more to the point, stay quiet and “loyal”. The state of the Venezuelan military is one of the saddest aspects of the “revolution”. In essence, they have been reduced to a praetorian guard serving the tattered emperor while ignoring key national security concerns such as Colombian guerilla infiltration. Chavista officers have accumulated wealth through corrupt side deals and often own property abroad (ironically for “revolutionaries” southern Florida seems quite popular). Righteous officers are held back in their careers and are sent to “punishment” postings. Yet even here there is hope as there is a sense that the armed forces can be recovered.
Opposition to Chavez runs the full spectrum of left to right. It includes labor unions, chambers of commerce, as well as former guerillas. Respectable left-wingers, who ought to be natural allies of Chavez if the rhetoric was real, like President Lula da Silva of Brazil, are keeping their distance. I am not prepared to vouch for anybody in particular in the opposition but at this point, I do not care to anyway. The single-minded goal is initiate change. Opposition to Chavez is not ideological because Chavez is not an ideologue. That’s why it is nonsense to speak of a leader of the opposition. Venezuelan politics is not bi-polar nor should it be. I like the shades and rainbow colors and I am not concerned. Leaders are emerging already and we will have them. Opposition to Chavez is about fighting divisiveness and mediocrity that has torn apart my country. That’s why most of us will do everything we can to give Venezuela a fighting chance.
In Venezuela, most of us speak of “robo-lucion” instead of revolution (the word “robo” means theft). The so-called bolivarian revolution is nothing more than a pretense for narcissistic self-perpetuation for who is, at the core, a deliriously pathological character that clearly is in dire need of psychoanalysis and institutional treatment (see the “New Yorker” article that contains an interview with his psycho-analyst). In short, a fraud, a tragic lie inflicted on Venezuelans who really, deserve better.
Step 1 is to shut down the circus by firing the ringmaster, head clown and owner of the joint. We get rid of this farce through the recall referendum. It will be difficult: he already yelling fraud and accusing the CIA of infiltration. But, we must win.