Monday, April 11, 2005

Apostate wisdom: McRevolutions may leave an unwanted aftertaste

/ revolutions / different /
Apostate Windbag, has an excellent piece about the revolutions popping up all over the former CIS (and beyond) and, among other things, how they are received in the corporate US press, in comparison with the uprsings and revolutions occuring in Latin America.
The author further raises the possibility that once people taste a bit of freedom they are likely to ask for more - a fact which might produce results that will surprise US policy makers.
In the process, WaPo double standards are exposed, the shadiness of John Laughland is discussed and a great defense of Chavez is offered. Stuff that, as you might guess, had me cheering wildly.

In fact, the whole damn blog is not only written in a rich and interesting prose, but I have found precious little that I can conceivably disagree with...

Thus, Apostate Windbag is now proudly featured in the side bar, filed under "from the left". Go read it.

found via another great left blog Dead Men Left

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Arguing about Chavez is usually a waste of time; most folks have already made up their minds.

Still, a few thoughts.

-- Chavez will comfortably win re-election next year.

-- Human rights abuses -- especially by Venezuela's vicious and uncontrollable police -- will continue. The police issue was around long before Chavez, and is not his fault, but he's done nothing to fix it, nor will he.

-- The Supreme Court, having been packed full of Chavez loyalists, will, unsurprisingly, be obsequiously loyal to Chavez.

-- Key inflection point: enforcement of the new laws on the media. A much more patient and reasonable man than Chavez would have reason to be enraged with Venezuela's opposition media. However, the new powers given to the government -- most notably, the ability to prosecute for "slandering" the President or the government, "inciting violence", and so forth -- offer vast potential for abuse. What the government does with these will bear watching.

-- Oil revenues are likely to stay high, so Venezuela's economy will perk along for the next year or two. I see serious problems ahead after that, say in 2007-8, but the details will be contingent. Still, you heard it here first.

The Nation had an interesting article on Chavez a few days ago. Hang on...

[googles]Ah, there it is. The first half is pretty standard stuff, but it gets interesting towards the end. Apologies for the long quote.

* * *

"Look, Chávez won the referendum. People have to accept that," says the editor, Albor Rodriguez. She is in her early 30s, an escuálido (Chavez opponent) all the way, but she respects the facts.

Standing erect at her desk, one black-clad shoulder tipped forward, she takes long drags on her cigarette between comments. "There is no 'Castro communist' here. That's ridiculous. They say there are Cubans in the government and the security. But there is no proof. However, does Chávez have autocratic tendencies? Yes! He comes from the military. Does his government, or he himself, know what they are doing? No! His head is a mix -- a marmalade of notions and slogans. He speaks without thinking. He makes innuendoes about Condoleezza Rice being in love with him. That's insane. He's totally erratic."

Albor, to my surprise, is almost as harsh on the opposition: "They lost because Chávez has a deep emotional connection with the people, and they have no connection with the people. Also, he has spent a lot of money on the barrios. He pours money into the barrios."

She explains that when her paper reported on the real work of the missions, some readers accused her of lying and "having gone to the moon to find these things." She explains: "The opposition lied to itself. They were deluded and now they are smashed..."


There are some in the opposition whose critique focuses less on Chávez's supposed abuses of power and more on the government's alleged mismanagement and left-wing economic tomfoolery. Oscar Garcia Mendoza is president of Banco Venezolano de Credito, a very old and conservative bank. He's what Chávez would call an "oligarch," the official enemy: a capitalist financier. But when I meet him in his beautiful corner office on the ninth floor of a Modernist highrise, he is beaming. He wears a dark blue suit, his gray hair is cropped stylishly short and he has that healthy look that seems to come from being rich and relaxed.


"Business has never been better," says Garcia. "This government is totally incompetent. They have no idea what they are doing. The head of their land reform, Eliezer Otaiza, is a former male stripper. And did you see they just appointed Carlos Lanz, a former terrorist kidnapper, a communist, as head of Alcasa, our largest aluminum company?" Through it all, Garcia wears a slightly suppressed grin as if he thinks the whole thing is hilarious. "I mean, can you imagine that?"

In a way, Lanz's appointment is not so outrageous: Another former guerrilla, Ali Rodriguez Araque, once minister of mining and energy, then head of OPEC, is now foreign minister and widely respected as a level-headed negotiator.

Garcia also has some very concrete criticisms. He says that the current economic boom is a chimera based on oil prices. In 2004 government spending jumped 47 percent, much of which went to pay for healthcare and education-the missions. But despite the oil windfall, the government has had to borrow heavily. Instead of turning to international financiers, it has increased its internal debt to Venezuelan banks.

Garcia says that in the past four years this internal debt has gone from $2 billion to more than $27 billion. The Finance Ministry confirms these figures and says that 60 percent of this debt is held in government bonds.

"But what makes this really crazy," says Garcia, "is that the government is depositing all its oil revenue in the same banks at about 5 percent, then borrowing it back at 14 percent. It's a very easy way for bankers to make money. That's why I say this is a government for the rich."

Last year Venezuelan banks made $1.38 billion in profits...

The economy is awash in money: Growth was 17.3 percent in 2004. So if the economy is booming, why does Garcia dislike Chávez?

"These people are crooks," he says. "Look, Venezuela has always been corrupt, but these guys are the worst." When I point out that the government just fired 120 managers in Zulia state for corruption, Garcia waves it away as insufficient.

"What are they doing with all the money? They are not investing. They spend it all on food and medicine. As soon as oil goes down, their party is over..."

Getting a Chávez government response to charges of mismanagement, corruption and overdependence on freakishly high oil prices is difficult. My inquiries are fed into the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the Information Ministry, where every few days a new official loses my paperwork and needs a full CV and another letter from my editors and another complete written explanation of my project.

After three weeks no one in the Chávez government has come forth with an on-the-record statement except for one laid-back spokesperson at the Higher Education Ministry.

Finally an old friend gets me an interview with his boss, Jorge Giordani, a former academic who befriended Chávez during the rebellious paratrooper's stint in jail and is now the planning and development minister. On matters of economic development, Giordani is the revolution's brain. We meet in his office near the top of South America's tallest building, one of a pair of towers, the other of which stands half-burned, its gold-tinted, mirrored windows blown out and black, the result of a recent accident caused by bad maintenance...

[Giordani] evades most specific questions. As for corruption, he says simply: "We are not doing enough. It is a very serious problem."


Many Chavistas hope that investing in physical infrastructure, health and education will open new, nonpetroleum industries in high technology, business services, healthcare and agriculture. When I ask Giordani how the country plans to wean itself from oil, about land reform and about the many so-called "endogenous" development projects being promoted, he sighs and shakes his head as if I am naïve...

Giordani seems weary and cynical. "No, I am just practical," he says with a chuckle. "Development in Venezuela will take at least fifty years."

* * *

Bolivar, in an idle moment between ordering his political enemies killed, supposedly said that South America was "the graveyard of ideals". Venezuela, well, it'll be interesting to watch. From a distance.

Doug M.