Ever since last Monday I have been suspicious of what hides between Chavez’ proposal to nationalize telecom company CANTV and electric company Electricidad de Caracas. The whole thing makes little sense. These two companies have become the center of attention but are not and should not be that critical to Chavez’ so called socialist project in Venezuela. It certainly makes no sense to use much needed funds on nationalizing these two companies, while there are so many needs elsewhere. Even philosophically, neither of them are that important in Chavez’ project, after all, except for Valencia, Caracas, Nueva Esparta and Puerto Cabello, the Government already controls the rest of the electric sector via power comapny CADAFE and power generating and transmission company EDELCA.
The same with CANTV. What is the point in calling it strategic, when you have competitors in all fronts, with CANTV’s cell phone subsidiary Movilnet having only 35% of the cellphone business? After all, fixed line penetration is barely 11% of the population, while cell phone penetration is above 50% of the population.
The same thing happens with data, while CANTV certainly has the best network in the country, if it is badly managed in the future, like it was in the past, it will just give an opening to competitors to take business away from it. Yes, CANTV has 85% of the Internet access business, but it does because it has executed so much better in terms of quality of service and price that it managed to prevail. But will it be able to continue to prevail in Government hands? And if it doesn’t, will the Government then tell us that it needs to privatize the rest? In fact, if the Government were sincere, it would nationalize the fixed line operations of CANTV (which are regulated) and let the company keep it’s cell phone subsidiary, which are not. But can the Government keep up the same quality of service?
I doubt it.
I doubt it, because the first thing that will happen is that good managers and technical people will certainly migrate to Movistar and Digitel as CANTV becomes a political operation with ever changing managers and Presidents, much like the Ministers and the General Directors of the Ministries, which last on average less than one year in their positions.
Thus, the key seems to be what unannounced changes Chavez will be able to sneak by us using the Enabling Law, which now is supposed to last for two years. The experience is not new. In fact, Chavez had a long honeymoon with Venezuelans when he was first elected in 1998: the call for the Constituent Assembly, the approval of the new Constitution and Chavez first reelection. But people began to get worried when in 2001, Chavez asked for an Enabling Bill and a scant ten days before the end of it, it presented 44 Bills that were quickly passed by the National Assembly, including the infamous Land Bill. Less than two weeks after that there was the first major protest against the Hugo Chavez Government on December 10th. 2001.
There is not much information about what will or not be included in this Enabling Law or how open or close ended it will be. It will certainly include a new Law for a National Police, various laws to restructure the Armed Forces, a law for nationalizations. But beyond that it is not clear.
Will a new Sports law be part of it? Will that law ban professional sports as has been suggested by various Chavista Deputies? Will a new Health Care Bill also be part of it? Will that law nationalize private hospitals and health care facilities? How about Education? Will the new Higher Education Bill be part of the Enabling Law and take away the autonomy of public universities?
The same thing can be asked about Constitutional reform. While Chavez has chosen that route, some of the changes he is proposing seem to go to the heart of the still young Bolivarian Constitution and would seem to require a Constituent Assembly for its approval. This in turn requires a referendum calling for it, as well as another calling for its approval. From the change of the country’s name to include the word socialist to the political restructuring of the country, these appear to be more than just adjustments that would require more than a simple reform by the National Assembly. But of course, since Chavez has 100% of the National Assembly, he does not want to have a Constituent Assembly with even the minimal voices of dissent present in it. Autocrats are not democrats, they act according to their desires and interests, not democracy and the law.
The so-called restructuring and redistricting of the country is what bothers me the most. In the name of more decentralization, which Chavez has certainly gone against during his eight years in power, Chavez is proposing the elimination of municipalities and Mayors and their substitution with “communal boards”. What Chavez proposes is a sort of federal system for cities in which communal boards make up its components. In this manner, Chavez will not only eliminate the rise of possible political opponents, but his more militant supporters will overwhelm these boards, giving Chavismo total control of the country at all levels.
It is these changes, which seem to be critical to the progress of the fake revolution and acquiring control of the political and social system in Venezuela. So far, they have not been given the prominence that they deserve. The average Venezuelan could care less if CANTV is or not nationalized, but education, sports, and his/ her political representation are indeed of importance, but by focusing the debate on the more confrontational nationalization processes, the Government may simply be masquerading its true political objectives.