Archive for September 19th, 2005

Happiness is … a valid passport

September 19, 2005


For the
last two and a half years it has been very difficult to get a passport in Venezuela,
between inefficiency and the Tascon list, which banned everyone who signed the
recall petition from getting a passport via “regular” means to a shortage of
the precious books, getting a new passport has been essentially Hell. Add to
that the paranoia of Venezuelans who dislike Chavez and you had lots of people
applying, paying and otherwise doing any necessary pirouette to get a valid
Bolivarian passport.

This
created a virtuous corruption cyrcle that allowed anyone willing to pay up to
one million bolivars (US$ 465) to get a passport, although prices ranged
somewhere below that around Bs. 600 to 700 thousand. Some refused to pay;
others could not, creating a huge backlog.

Then the
scandal over the Tascon list hit the international political circle, Chavez
said bury the list and the ID office ordered what it thought were sufficient
passports to satisfy demand. Except that they misjudged the backlog and the
fears and some 400,000 Venezuelans applied to get the much coveted document.

The Head
of the ID office a while back blamed the problem on the people of course. Saying
that people were irresponsibly requesting passports which they did not need,
doing what has become commonplace in the Chávez administration: blame someone
else, but never take responsibility.

Then last
week, the same official announced that beginning this week, Venezuelans would
be able to apply for a passport via the Internet, but they would be penalized.
Under
regular circumstances, this would have not raised any noise, but
nothing is
regular in this country these days, the announcement of a penalty was
seen as a
threat against freedom and a plan to limit the movements of
Venezuelans. Moreover, the penalty would not be a fine, but the
“deactivation”of your passport, suggesting some form of movement
control.

Is that
the intention? I don’t know. It is very difficult to tell. We have learned not
to trust this Government in the last seven years. My personal feeling is that
this is only idiocy at work, but I have been wrong and naďve before.

Food for thought: Fascism Anyone by Laurence Britt

September 19, 2005

A
week or so ago, Ricardo Bello wrote an article entitled “XXIst. Century
Fascism” in which he described Britt’s “criteria” for fascism and
applied it to you know who. I was going to translate it, but once I
found the original Britt article on the web I decided to just give you
“food for thought” not only about the criteria but about the
similarities between right wing and left wong fasciscm. In any case,
here it is, I am sure we all have different opinions about the ones
that apply here or in the US. But this is a blog about Venezuela,
what’s your count (mine is 12) for our dear Government?

Fascism
Anyone? by
Laurence
W. Britt

The
following article is from Free
Inquiry
magazine
, Volume 23, Number 2.

Free
Inquiry
readers
may pause to read the “Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles” on
the inside cover of the magazine. To a secular humanist, these principles seem
so logical, so right, so crucial. Yet, there is one archetypal political
philosophy that is anathema to almost all of these principles. It is fascism.
And fascism’s principles are wafting in the air today, surreptitiously
masquerading as something else, challenging everything we stand for. The cliché
that people and nations learn from history is not only overused, but also
overestimated; often we fail to learn from history, or draw the wrong
conclusions. Sadly, historical amnesia is the norm.

We are
two-and-a-half generations removed from the horrors of Nazi Germany, although
constant reminders jog the consciousness. German and Italian fascism form the
historical models that define this twisted political worldview. Although they
no longer exist, this worldview and the characteristics of these models have
been imitated by protofascist regimes at various times in the twentieth
century. Both the original German and Italian models and the later protofascist
regimes show remarkably similar characteristics. Although many scholars
question any direct connection among these regimes, few can dispute their
visual similarities.

Beyond the
visual, even a cursory study of these fascist and protofascist regimes reveals
the absolutely striking convergence of their modus operandi. This, of
course, is not a revelation to the informed political observer, but it is
sometimes useful in the interests of perspective to restate obvious facts and
in so doing shed needed light on current circumstances.

For the
purpose of this perspective, I will consider the following regimes: Nazi
Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain,
Salazar’s Portugal,
Papadopoulos’s Greece,
Pinochet’s Chile, and
Suharto’s Indonesia.
To be sure, they constitute a mixed bag of national identities, cultures,
developmental levels, and history. But they all followed the fascist or
protofascist model in obtaining, expanding, and maintaining power. Further, all
these regimes have been overthrown, so a more or less complete picture of their
basic characteristics and abuses is possible.

Analysis
of these seven regimes reveals fourteen common threads that link them in
recognizable patterns of national behavior and abuse of power. These basic
characteristics are more prevalent and intense in some regimes than in others,
but they all share at least some level of similarity.

1. Powerful and continuing
expressions of nationalism
.
From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins,
the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself
and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans,
pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this
nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that
often bordered on xenophobia.

2. Disdain for the importance of
human rights.

The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance
to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of
propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by
marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious,
the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.

3. Identification of
enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause
. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of
scapegoating as a means to divert the people’s attention from other problems,
to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled
directions. The methods of choice—relentless propaganda and disinformation—were
usually effective. Often the regimes would incite “spontaneous” acts against
the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic
and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other
religions, secularists, homosexuals, and “terrorists.” Active opponents of
these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.

4. The supremacy of the
military/avid militarism.
Ruling elites always identified closely with the military
and the industrial infrastructure that supported it. A disproportionate share
of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs
were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used
whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and
increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite.

5. Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the
political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes
inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly
anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in
Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the
country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.

6. A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media were
under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the
party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media
orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources,
economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of
the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The
result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the
regimes’ excesses.

7. Obsession with national
security.

Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the
ruling elite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret
and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of
protecting “national security,” and questioning its activities was portrayed as
unpatriotic or even treasonous.

8. Religion and ruling elite
tied together.

Unlike communist regimes, the fascist and protofascist regimes were never
proclaimed as godless by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached
themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray
themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling
elite’s behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was
generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling
elites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the “godless.” A perception
was manufactured that opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on
religion.

9. Power of corporations
protected.

Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability
of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised. The
ruling elite saw the corporate structure as a way to not only ensure military
production (in developed states), but also as an additional means of social
control. Members of the economic elite were often pampered by the political
elite to ensure a continued mutuality of interests, especially in the
repression of “have-not” citizens.

10. Power of labor suppressed or
eliminated
. Since organized labor was seen as
the one power center that could challenge the political hegemony of the ruling
elite and its corporate allies, it was inevitably crushed or made powerless.
The poor formed an underclass, viewed with suspicion or outright contempt.
Under some regimes, being poor was considered akin to a vice.

11. Disdain and suppression of
intellectuals and the arts
.
Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with
them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and academic freedom were
considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal.
Universities were tightly controlled; politically unreliable faculty harassed
or eliminated. Unorthodox ideas or expressions of dissent were strongly
attacked, silenced, or crushed. To these regimes, art and literature should
serve the national interest or they had no right to exist.

12. Obsession with crime and
punishment
.
Most of these
regimes maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison
populations. The police were often glorified and had almost unchecked power,
leading to rampant abuse. “Normal”
and political crime were often merged into trumped-up criminal charges and
sometimes used against political opponents of the regime. Fear, and hatred, of
criminals or “traitors” was often promoted among the population as an excuse
for more police power.

13. Rampant cronyism and
corruption.

Those in business
circles and close to the power elite often used their position to enrich
themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power elite would receive
financial gifts and property from the economic elite, who in turn would gain
the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the power elite were in a
position to obtain vast wealth from other sources as well: for example, by
stealing national resources. With the national security apparatus under control
and the media muzzled, this corruption was largely unconstrained and not well
understood by the general population.

14. Fraudulent elections. Elections in the form of
plebiscites or public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections
with candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power elite
to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining control of the
election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters,
destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a
judiciary beholden to the power elite.

Does any
of this ring alarm bells? Of course not. After all, this is America,
officially a democracy with the rule of law, a constitution, a free press,
honest elections, and a well-informed public constantly being put on guard
against evils. Historical comparisons like these are just exercises in verbal
gymnastics. Maybe, maybe not.

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