Friday, September 15, 2006

On why a true leftist doesn't believe in Hugo Chavez's lunacy

This is my argument as to why all the people and organizations that support Chavez's "Socialismo del Siglo XXI" are not ideologically mature or ideologically sound on what socialism is all about.

How Luis Miquilena fits into the life of the comedian Hugo Chavez, who, according to Jaime Baily and a whole bunch of Venezuelans, spends his free time acting as the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela? Miquilena is, ladies and gentleman, the father of Frankenstein.

Luis Miquilena who is considered the political mentor of Venezuelan comedian/ president Hugo Chavez, is a founding member of the Communist Party of Venezuela, a former chairman of Chavez’s MVR (Movimiento Quinta Republica) party, he organized Chavez’s first trip to Cuba, where he met Fidel Castro. He also organized Chavez’s first electoral campaign in 1998. He was also Chavez’s former omnipotent minister of both the Interior Ministry and Justice Ministry; and President of the Congress until 2002, when he renounced, due to Miquelena’s disagreements with his Hugo, the boss. His loss to the Chavista Revolution was a very hard hit for the chavismo, since almost all of the serious left in Venezuela and the world, separated from Chavez and his revolution.

He gave an interview to Andres Oppenheimer, which is part of his new book, “Cuentos Chinos”. You can read the whole interview in Spanish, in here (*). I don’t know if this text is exactly the one coming from his book, but regardless this is a resume of the Spanish text that I read. It offers a very good insight of the mental state of the enigmatic President Chavez. I can't wait to read the whole book.

"... He met Chavez in 1992 after his coup d'etat intent, and when Chavez was in jail already. He was invited once to visit him (1). After this meeting, they became friends and Miquelena became his ideological mentor. They had a father and son relationship.

After Chavez left jail, he lived at Miquelena's home for 5 years, until he won the 1998 presidential elections. They used to sit at nigh and watch the starts, dream and talk about a new Venezuela, a decent country, a humble country with no criminals (free of corruption).

Miquelena introduced him to the Cubans, to Fidel.

How would Miquilena describe Chavez? A new Castro? A leftist Pinochet? Or what? Oppenheimer asked. Miquelena described him as intellectually limited, impulsive, temperamental, surrounded by obsequents (condescending aids), incredibly disorganized in all aspects of his life, never on time for appointments, meetings or anything, totally ignoring finances, luxury lover and very erratic.

Miquilena also added that Chavez is the most unpredicable man he had ever know. He said that making any description of Chavez is impossible since he is a temperamental, emotive, erratic persona. He also mentioned that he is not too well "furnished" mentally and he doesn't have any definite ideology.

Miquilena keep describing the hero of many as tailor made for confrontation. Chavez, according to Miquilena, doesn't understand the execution of power as for him to be the nation's arbiter, to manage the rules of the game and to manage conflict from a democratic point of view; he is not prepared for it. Oppenheimer asked: “But, doesn’t he share Castro's views?” Yes and No, Miquilena said. He saw Fidel as a success in the sense he has stayed in power for more than 40 years, but he is aware that Cuba is not a model for today's world. “But then, did he radicalized with time?” Oppenheimer added. Miquilena said that the dynamic of events drew him closer to Castro, and more because of temperaments (disposition, personality) than ideology. He also added that probably because of Chavez's narcissism, he was drawn to a very confrontational rhetoric (closer to Castro’s) and also because of this, it generated bigger world attention that could projected him to the international stardom as a continental leader. (2)

Moreover, the more anti-Yankee the speech, the more international attention he was getting from the international left. And, as the internal political decay in Venezuela became impossible to cover up, Chavez could not have found a better excuse for it than to blame the US for any real and non-real aggressions. Fidel also seeded into him the idea that he was going to get killed, and that’s when Chavez started getting more and more consultations from Chavez’s Cuban intelligence and security services. The oil strike was used by Cuba to send “help”, and Chavez happily accepted 17,000 "helpers" from Cuban “doctors” and “teachers” (3).

But Chavez never had a really defined ideology, not a long-term plan, because he was, fundamentally, an undisciplined man, Miquilena added. His style of government was teenager-like. He used to call his ministers past midnight to tell them about a brilliant idea that he just had. He gave them a lot of instructions and everybody agreed with him. Then, when things didn’t work, he simply changed his ministers. It’s not a coincidence than in 5 years of government, he has made 80 changes in ministry appointees.

Hugo Chavez is surrounded by “ordenanzas”, the military term for his aids, who never ever contradict him. Oppenheimer also talked to Ignacio Arcaya, a former minister of the Government and Justice, who said that Chavez used to call him very late at night, sometimes around 4 a.m. with some urgent requirement, only for the President to forget all about it the day after. He once told the President that he was the sole cause of disorganization of his government. Chavez then asked why Arcaya said that. To which Arcaya replied it was because of the way he (Chavez) over-tasked his ministers by ordering such diffuse assignments such as to "prepare a report about education, to bring you a sancocho, to go the US for banking, come back and take his children to the baseball game". "You cannot do this,” Arcaya said, “because of the ministers aren’t ever going to say no, but of course, they won’t get anything done.”

One time he asked Arcaya for a report on the jails in Venezuela first thing in the morning. Arcaya spent the night working on it, only for the President to leave for Margarita Island in the middle of the night and forget all about the jail systems and the report upon his return.

Miquilena also remembered how much he disliked Chavez disorganization, his non-punctuality and the humiliatingly bad treatment he gave his aids, governors, high officials, etc… One time he fired a governor from his desk and told him he was a "piece of shit" and to leave immediately from his desk. Then, after realizing he had overreacted, apologizing and giving the man his job back. Yet he would soon overreact again and insult and fire somebody else.

Regarding the economic management of the country, Miquilena pointed out how arbitrary Chavez was, like he was managing a personal farm, without any rules. Suddenly, asking to give X and Y millions to the bank. One time, he was caught in tape giving a speech about the “Banco de la Mujer”. He was fascinated with the work done and yelled “Is there a minister in here? Someone from the military house? Ah, Gonzalez, take note of this: give 4 billion bolivars to this bank”. Miquilena said that this was something that happened all days.

According to Miquilena, Chavez incendiary rhetoric was producing a lot of enemies, not only from government outsiders, but insiders as well. Because the president was talking about a fictitious revolution that didn’t have anything to do with what was really happening. Then, he started to divide society between rich and poor, between oligarchs and the people, with a revolutionary speech with wasn’t in tune with what was really happening in real life, “and that it won’t never happen”, in Miquilena’s opinion. Because, Chavez’s speech was to eliminate the oligarchy from Latin America, but he is economically following neoliberal economic policies and is also giving historically the best and juiciest contracts to North American multinational oil companies. Miquilena warned him that one day people would discover the lie. He said to him that with this speech, he was deceiving revolutionaries (those who think they are), to the economic sectors as well as the old left which was still wishing for a revolution. Miquelena got tired of telling him that with this speech he wasn’t gaining anything but losing support from all sides.

And how did Chavez react to this, Oppenheimer asked? He did react positively and used to asked Jose Vicente Rangel (former Foreign affairs minister, Defense minister and actual vice president), as well as Miquilena to fix things for him. Just after the air was cleared, he started again with the violent speech.

One time Chavez asked Miquilena to call Gustavo Cisneros (Univision, TV mogul), who in that time was having a very aggressive agenda as an opposition member(4). Chavez wanted to get into an agreement with him. Miquilena invited him as well as the Attorney General (Isaias Rodriguez), and they all three had a very extended lunch. All parties agreed on tone down the speech. After lunch, when Miquilena was driving home, he turned on the radio to find Chavez giving a live speech insulting Cisneros. So, this was happening at the same time he was asked to try to fix thing with Cisneros. So, this defines the characteristics of Chavez persona, “anything unpredictable goes”, he added.

When Miquilena concluded that he wouldn’t be able to change Chavez. He looked to Fidel for help. He managed a meeting on 2002’s “Cumbre de Nueva Esparta”. Fidel agreed with Miquilena's argument of helping Chavez to fix his politics, since stupid politics wouldn’t benefit anyone. Castro mentioned that Chavez wasn’t doing any type of revolution. Fidel knew what a revolution was, Chavez didn’t. For Fidel, a solution would have been a change of the social means of productions from one class to another… but he knew that Chavez wasn’t doing that, and it wasn’t planning on making it.

Castro was a realistic person who valued, more than anything, for Chavez to stay in power and for what he could bring to Cuba. And how didChavez react to this? He agreed to tone down the speech once again, only for him to turn it on again once he arrived to Caracas. At that point Miquilena quit.

Before ending this interview Oppenheimer asked which one of this two analyst was right. Petkoff (Teodoro), whose analysis of Chavez’s process is that there is “not a dictatorship but a process of institutional weakness to make a stronger caudillo”. Or Garrido (Alberto), who says that Chavez was implementing a gradual plan of total absolute control. Miquelena answered that Garrido is supposing that Chavez is a man with a plan, with some type of ideological structure, and that he disagrees with him in this aspect. He thinks that Chavez has a total scramble of mixed things in his brain, and that he let himself go depending of the day. He mentioned again how purely temperamental Chaves is. His north is to stay in power. He doesn’t have any discipline or a clear theory on where he is going. After winning the referendum, Chavez made fun of the process, allowing certain democratic facades. He would make a “Briton government, trying to get the perfume of democracy around him while maintaining some type of judicial, parliamentary and electoral mock-ups.

The man with two pedals.

As a lot of people were afraid of, Chavez radicalized its victory after 2004. On mid 2005, with oil to US $60 a barrel, almost 8 times more expensive than when he was elected, and with a demoralized and intimidated opposition, the president had accumulated powers without precedent in Venezuelan’s contemporary history. Some months after the referendum, he won 22 of the 24 government elections and 280 of 335 townships. Likewise, he appointed 12 more justices, all of whom were "Chavista" to the Supreme Tribunal, making it from 20 to 32. He approved the “Ley de contenidos” (spring media law), which gave him the power to close the media outlets upon his order. And he also made a change of the modus operandi of the congress so some very key laws could have been approved with simple majority. This gave him control of the Legislative power, in which his members had little participation to this point.

Also, he dedicated to buy weapons all over the world, to restructure the military and change their uniform to give them some type of anti-imperialist charm. He also expanded the reserve members from 90 thousand to 500 thousand. Among other things, he bought 15 Mi-17 attack helicopters, Mi-35 and more than 100 thousand Ak-103 from Russia, 10 troop transportation planes and 8 patrol ships to Spain, and 24 Super Tucan light fighter planes to Brazil, in addition to start negotiation to buy 50 Russian Mig-29 fighter jets, all for the price tag of US $2 billion.

For the Venezuelan opposition, the thing that worries them most is the expansion of the reservist troops, since they are not under the defense secretary but under the presidency. People believe that they are only popular militias created with the solely purpose to watch the citizens, Cuban style. In that time, Chavez and Castro were announcing already the “International” (Cuban) population of “doctors” and “teachers” and etc, inside Venezuela, to be expanded from 17 thousand to 30 thousand. In the meantime, Chavez has kept ratcheting up the rhetoric against the United States. Expanding Cuba’s daily oil subsides from 53 thousand to 90 thousand. He has invested more and more his cash stack of petrodollars to expand his influence in the region, with projects like Telesur, the Alba, etc… “The Cuban and Venezuelan revolution are only one”, he proclaimed on TV on July 9, 2005, in an act in which he commentated 96 Cuban consulting aids from the Misión Robinson.

Oppenheimer decided to call Petkoff since he became very intrigued of the course that Chavez’s government has taken to ask him if he still believed that Chavez is not making a Cuban revolution. Petkoff said that without any doubt, he thinks that Chavez has expanded his control of the state institutions but he also said that his rhetoric doesn’t come with the structural economical and social changes of what any revolution should have. He emphasized on Chavez expanding control on the state institutions.

So, what is Venezuela right now? A Totalitarian system, or a democracy with a strong man? Oppenheimer asked. Petkoff answered that he doesn’t pay attention to Chavez’s “revolutionary” speech but he used two pedals, one is the authoritarian one, the other is the democratic institution, depending on the need. Petkoff ended by saying that these days he has used the authoritarian one much more than the democratic one.

Oppenheimer had put into balance all that Miquilena and Petkoff had said to him and has come to the conclusion something he always suspected: Intellectually, Chavez is a rudimentary military man, but very clever, who holds on very tightly to his power. His political success is due in good part to the sky high price of the oil barrel in his administration. On mid 2005, when the oil barrel was around US $60 per barrel, Chavez presented himself as the savior of 500 years of oppression. “The polarization between rich and poor was created by capitalism and neoliberalism, not by Chavez” he mentioned on an al-Jazeera interview, he added (5): “It was created by a slavery system that has lasted more than 5 centuries. Five centuries of exploitation, especially during the 20th century, when the capitalist system was imposed upon us (6), and at the end of this century when the neoliberal age was also imposed to us. This is the most unvarnished stage of the wild capitalism. This system created very hard conditions that leaded to a social explosion. In 1989, I was an official of the army and I saw the country errupting like a volcano. Then, there were two military operations, one of which I participated along with thousands of military and civilians”.

Maybe the best description of Chavez is the one given by Manuel Caballero, another very respected Venezuelan leftist intellectual against Chavez. He also suggested to Oppenheimer, along with Petkoff and Miquilena to take Chavez’s leftism with a grain of salt, and one should see him more as populist military man rather than an ideologue. And after watching him for so many years, Caballero ends: “Chavez is not a communist, not a capitalist, nor a muslim, nor a Christian. He is all of them if he needs to be, in order to stay in power until 2021”.

(*) H/T to Cuyuni for the link
(1) For those who don't know, Chavez he was a celebrity in Venezuela on those days, and all who-is-who in Venezuela was obliged to visit the star Hugo, celebrities, intellectuals, jet setters, etc..
(2) This is so true. Just look at him now. Take the anti-Bush speech and the “I love Fidel” phrase and he is nobody.
(3) The “” are mine, since I have the serious doubt that these people are really medical doctors and teachers.
(4) Not anymore.
(5) ZZZzzzzz…..
(6) Since he mentioned the word "especially", I suppouse that acording to Hugo, feudalism was a better system than capitalism...

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