Some comments on Corrales and Penfold

April 28, 2007

When I first read the paper by Corrales and Penfold, which I posted yesterday and which
appeared in the Journal of Democracy, 18,
99 (2007), I thought I would highlight a few paragraphs in a post and leave it at that.
But then I realized that there was little, if any, material that should not be
there and the piece should be read as a whole. It not only provides an
excellent reference to most of the political events of the last eight years,
but it does so in very clear fashion, without wasting time on the details as
much of what is said can be readily be found in many places, including this and
other English speaking blogs. Perhaps the only point not mentioned that should have been in the paper is the bridge between the Constituent Assembly and the new
Constitutional order which was the infamous Congresillo which without any
legal or Constitutional basis, ran the country for months and appointed many of the so
called independent powers that we still have today.

But there are a few points that need to be emphasized that
are brought up in the paper that I think are relevant to both newcomers to
Venezuelas Chavista history, as well as those that have followed it from the
beginning, because we either sometimes have a short memory, or because they
reveal  the levels of improvisation and and how for Chavismo politics is the goal in itself :

—The paper correctly reminds us of one of the most
surprising aspects of Chavismo for its first four or five years: Its
inattention to social programs. Chvez not only cancelled most of the social
programs his Government inherited, but the only new effort created up to 2003
was the Bolivar 2000 program, an infrastructure program led by the military
which was mired in corruption and left very few tangible accomplishments. It
was only the low popularity enjoyed by the President that led to the Misiones
in late 2003.

This is important not only as a historical fact, but also as
a reminder that Chavismo has spent eight years improvising and changing
directions. Even today, XXIst. Century Socialism is an ill defined concept and
many of the battles of the last two years, represent exactly the opposite of
what Chavez was pushing for in 2001-2002. A good case in point is the heavy
crude partnerships of the Orinoco Oil Belt, where one can still remember Chavez
telling French representatives that he wanted to expand these partnerships with
them, only to be taking them away from them today by force. Moreover, Chavez
offers tracts of the Orinoco Oil belt to other nations state oil companies, while at the same time it is
kicking out the national oil companies of Norway and France.

—The importance of clientislism in Chavez strategy is
another one of the salient points of the paper by Corrales and Penfold. The
proof of this is in how the resources of the misiones have little to do with
the needs of the people being helped. It is much more than improvisation in
this case, it is simply political. Resources are not allocated by the social
needs of the poor, but rather by the political needs of Chvez and his MVR
party. This obviously becomes very inefficient in terms of the goals of
fighting poverty or attacking health problems, which explains in part the lack
of results despite the huge resources spent.

—The paper talks about something which I have never
addressed in the blog, which is how Chavismo did away with campaign financing
in the 2000 Constitution which became a trap for the opposition, as the
mechanisms of intimidation have made it more difficult for other political
parties to obtain funding, while the line of division between Chavez MVR and
the Government is almost non-existent and state funds and institutions are used
without any scruples in political propaganda for Chavez. This has created a hug
asymmetry, in the words of Corrales and Penfold, which certainly is detrimental
to democracy. When Government campaign financing was eliminated in 2000, I
recall thinking it could not be good to do that, but at the time I was still
not conscious of the lack of scruples of Chavismo and how this would be used in
the future to nullify the opposition or outspend it, like in the December
Presidential election by a huge factor, without any possibility of a recourse
with any instance.

—Finally, there is corruption. There has always been
corruption in Venezuela, but the levels and the obscenity we have seen in the
last few years are simply hard to describe. The effect goes from the simple
signs of newly found wealth, symbolized by the Hummers that Chavismo seems to
enjoy driving, to the meteoric rise of relatives of the leaders of Chavismo as
multimillionaires, owners of banks, milk producing companies, farms and the
like. We are not talking people becoming wealthy; we are talking about people who
now own hundred million dollar enterprises, where no wealth at all existed in
1998 when Chavez came to power. And then, of course, are the friends of the
revolution, those that have piggybacked on Chavismo, or quietly opposed
Chavismo while becoming ten times wealthier than they were before. This
corruption actually flows from the corruption at the political level: These
people have had no qualms about enriching Government officials in order to
enrich themselves and this symbiotic relation has turned those on both sides
immensely rich. In eight short years, Chavismo has created a new oligarchy
through corruption that easily outnumbers the old one in both wealth and the
number of individuals who are now multimillionaires in US dollars. It is so
blatant, that he new oligarchy owns jets, where the old one had propeller
planes, and they can safely land in the La Carlota airport of Caracas, where
Chavez decreed three years ago that only helicopters could land. Those not as well connected, use
Aeropuerto Caracas, where jet planes have gone in these short eight years from
being 10% of the plane population  to roughly 40%. Of course, the difference in
their prices is at least factor of ten.

All, in the name of the revolution!

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