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The (counter) revolution will not be

14 February 2014

We’re seeing a decent dose of wishful thinking from the media coverage of [Wednesday’s protests in Caracas], but the fact (not speculation but fact) that a large chunk of the Venezuelan population supports the current government is given very short shrift; we only get to hear from those who “want change” (that very 21st century euphemism for something much darker). We’re also seeing bad things from the Maduro government, such as the censorship of TV stations that covered the violence and the calls to arrest the supposed ringleader Leopoldo López… near-term don’t expect the big changes that are currently getting hyped to you.

Inca Kola News

Ever since the failed putsch in 2002, the mainstream English-language media (and much of the more conservative Spanish-language media… U.S. based Univision and Mexico’s Televisa, to name two) have been predicting a violent demise to the Bolivarian Revolution.  Hugo Chavez was an out-sized iconic figure, but then again, so were Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Benito Juarez… neither of whose passing spelled the end of the transformation of their nation’s economic and social systems.  Nicolas Maduro … like Harry S. Truman in the United States or Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada in Mexico … was never going to live up to the iconic status of his predecessor and to hold the line against reaction was all that they had to do.  While Lerdo de Tejada was violently removed from office, it had more to do with his personality (or lack thereof) than opposition to radical social change.

Photo:  Fox News

Photo: Fox News

And, as with any period of social change, there is bound to be bitter opposition.  While the depth of the actual opposition to the Bolivarian Revolution is probably fairly sizable, the opposition in the streets is not as huge as the media would have us believe.  That’s not to say there isn’t opposition to Maduro himself…due more to his own personal inadequacies, and those of some of the post-Chavez leadership, and basic economic conditions (ironically, a more equatable society means people have come to expect access to certain consumer goods like  toilet paper, leading to anger when the goods become scarce).  That means grumbling, and maybe electoral gains by opponents, or calls for bureaucratic shakeups, but hardly a call for revolution.

While the activities of those “much darker” elements (read CIA, foreign oil interests, and the “economic hitmen” of multinational corporations) that were irrelevant to Truman or Lerdo de Tejado (though, when you think of it, U.S. bankers and railroad corporations… the multinationals of the day… did play a role in financing Porfirio Diáz’ coup) are at play … as they have been since Chavez first took power away from the old elites, these protests — although they have led to violence — may have no more significance than the “TEA Party” protests in the United States had a few years back.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. el_longhorn permalink
    20 February 2014 4:28 pm

    Venezuela is barely functioning at this point, 50 percent inflation, rampant crime, shortages of essential products. It is not even clear that Maduro legitimately won the election (shades of AMLO and Mexico 2006?). The economic mismanagement of Chavez and now Maduro is legendary, and this all happened despite Venezuela’s massive oil wealth. And then there are the human rights issues and media censorship that has become part and parcel of the Bolivarian revolution.

    And all I hear from the Chavistas is “it’s the CIA” or “it is the rich people who are undermining the economy” or “it is the fascist anti-revolutionaries!!”

    I am a data person. Let’s judge the Chavez regime on its accomplishments. What are they? off the top of my head – some improvements in poverty measures, such as education and nutrition prompted by the massive government spending from Chavez. Those gains may have even reversed at this point, I am not sure.

    On the other hand, you have horrible economic management, rampant crime and corruption, diplomatic isolation (except for Iran and Cuba), deep political divisions in society (already existed, but definitely worse), and suppression of the media and political opposition.

    When you strip away the rhetoric, you have some minor social gains balanced against a very poor record on most every other level. I just don’t get the fetish that people on the left have for Chavez and his movement. The Bolivarian revolution was already in trouble while Chavez was alive, and it will probably not long survive his death. Because there is nothing there!!

    Contrast what Chavez did in Venezuela over the last decade or so to what Correa has done in Ecuador. Similar ideologies, but Correa has actually had success.

    • 20 February 2014 4:54 pm

      Agreed, for the most part. The country is mismanaged (and dependence on one export is FUBAR), but it is hardly isolated in the world and there’s every indication that the unrest is largely fomented by outsiders (as in the Ukraine). There’s never anything said about violence pre-Chavez, so it’s hard to say whether the focus on it is just a social problem that never was resolved, or something resulting from massive social change (the U.S. South after the Civil War saw a huge rise in the murder rate, as did South Africa after apartheid, the former Soviet Union after its collapse, etc.) While Ecuador is also an oil exporter, it has a much more mixed economy (minerals, agricultural products) and its problem was more foreign debt than too much money… which makes it hard to compare the two, other than having a similarly Bolivarian outlook. Bolivarianism itself — however you define it (and originally it was a right-wing term, coined by José Vasconcelos as an alternative to U.S. influence, which he termed “Monrovianismo”) — seems to have some staying power. CELAC, Mercosur, etc.

  2. el_longhorn permalink
    21 February 2014 11:17 am

    “and there’s every indication that the unrest is largely fomented by outsiders (as in the Ukraine)”

    That’s just not true, either in Ukraine or Venezuela. And the tip off is that people use the term “outsiders”. Who are these nebulous and unnamed outsiders? How many are there? What is their interest in Venezuela? And how are they secretly motivating thousands and thousands of people to take to the streets against the government? This is just the standard response of authoritarian governments to dissent. The dissenters are outsiders!! Thus their criticisms are not legitimate and force/repression against them is justified!! Yawn. A strategy as old as the hills.

    Maduro is weak, the oppositions senses it, and they are going to take their shot. If I was a betting man (actually, I am, but I don’t think Vegas has odds on this!), I would say that the Venezuelan government falls within a year or so. I just don’t think that Maduro has the governing skills or the charisma to hold on in the face of an energized opposition and a demoralized base of supporters. Hopefully the opposition can consolidate some of Chavez more popular and successful programs (education and health care – we love our Cuban physicians!!) while scaling back some of the others.

    Chavez worst decision was to expropriate the oil contracts and companies. That really hurt production and government revenue, starting the spiral into economic disaster. Correa (and his Harvard education) were able to renegotiate to the Ecuador’s advantage the same kind of contracts that Chavez was expropriating. Ecuador ended up with the oil expertise, the employment, and increased petro dollars. Venezuela ended up with nothing. Correa is more popular than ever. Chavez is dead and his revolution is dying.

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