Listening to Chavez, Garrido Style

Alberto Garrido occupies a peculiar space in the universe of Venezuelan oppo punditry. While most antichavista hacks (including, I’m afraid, your truly) tend to just run their mouth about whichever Chavez outrage last caught their eye, Garrido has carved out an analytical niche by carefully scrutinizing Chavez’s actual words, both now and in the past, and – novelty of novelties – taking the guy at his word.

Perhaps because he gives Chavez what he seems to crave most – detailed attention – Chavez actually praised him this year as the most objective oppo writer…which is VERY CREEPY given that Garrido has, for years, been one of the most consistent voices claiming that Chavez wants to implement what amounts to a dictatorship.

He’s been ridiculed for implying that everything Chavez does has been planned out years in advance (Chavez hatched the plan to expropriate Polar when he was in kindergarten! He’s wanted to change the name of the country since he was in the womb!) but the fact is the guy’s been right so often – and the rest of oppo hackistry has screwed up so often – that I for one am ready to spend a Sunday evening translating the interview he just gave to El Nuevo Herald’s Casto Ocando.

[This being the Sunday Supplement, I’ll give myself permission to write (or rather, translate) a bit longer this time…]

Casto Ocando: How would you define this moment in Venezuela’s revolutionary process?
Alberto Garrido: It’s a moment of historic change because Venezuela, barring the unforeseen, is becoming the second Latin American revolution, after Cuba. And we’re witnessing a merger of revolutions between Cuba and Venezuela, which president Chavez has pointed to repeatedly.

CO: What makes you think we’re facing a real revolution, rather than a series of acts that often seem incoherent?
AG: They’re not incoherent. Rather, we’re in a transition. Because you have to remember that Chavez gained power through the ballot box, not through armed struggle. He can’t simply replace the old regime, like Fidel did, like the Chinese and Russian revolutions did. So he started out governing in the straitjacket of the rule of law within representative democracy. And yet, he has very resolutely followed a strategy set out years before in the so-called Valencia Assembly of MBR-200 (Chavez’s original party), which had decided to accept elections as a tactic for taking power within representative democracy in order to replace it.

CO: Is Chavez replacing democratic institutions for revolutionary ones?
AG: We should be very clear on the definition of democracy. In 2001, at the Quebec Summit, Venezuela refused to sign a declaration backing representative democracies. We’re seeing a plan hatched from within the state to create a parallel, revolutionary state.

CO: Which are those parallel institutions?
AG: Well, we used to have a separation of autonomous powers, in the style of representative democracy. By now Chavez, who knows perfectly well that revolutions are hegemonic and not pluralistic, has very skillfully, almost following the Fujimorista playbook for controling institutions, managed to tilt the public powers in order to place them at the service of the revolution.

CO: Don’t you think that rather than Fujimori, he’s following the Cuban experience?
AG: No, because as Fidel said a few days ago, “we don’t believe in democracies or in elections.” In Chavez’s case, elections are legitimizing instruments. Fidel doesn’t need elections for legitimacy. He’s the revolutionary boss and that’s that. On the other hand, electoral legitimation has been fundamental for Chavez, because it’s his protective armor vis-a-vis the rest of the world.

CO: That explains chavismo’s control over the electoral institutions?
AG: Not just the electoral institutions which, as we all know, have always been the product of a political discussion.

CO: But now it’s entirely dominated by chavismo.
AG: I think Chavez already announced that the Assembly, which will change in December, will have over 80% of revolutionary members. Not long ago, the chairman of the Assembly, Nicolas Maduro, already said the next Assembly will legislate to establish the bases of socialism. It’s a process towards socialism.

From the Venezuelan left, Chavez is often attacked by those who say there hasn’t been any revolution, and they forget that Chavez has recognized that there is no revolution. What there is is a revolutionary process, there are a series of changes tending towards a revolution that hasn’t happened yet, and that’s expected to unfold over a given period of time which could extend to two decades including the so-called consolidation period.

CO: Which elements of the Cuban system is Chavez successfully applying in Venezuela?
AG: There are 49 signed agreements, which cover practically all areas of national life. The most important are in health, education and literacy. There are growing high-level military links.

There’s always a lot of deafness regarding what Chavez says, and we need to listen to Chavez closely, because whatever he says, he does. Chavez has said that the revolutionary processes of Cuba and Venezuela, more than towards integration, are marching towards fusion. We’re talking about a revolutionary merger.

CO: Does this transitional process involve also a greater police control and greater state security in Venezuela?
AG: It’s like this. A new Framework Law for the Armed Forces (LOPAN) has just been approved. In the LOPAN they talk about six components. You have the four classical components of a regular military: Army, Air Force, Navy and National Guard. They add the reserves. But moreover, they add the Territorial Guard, with resistance duties. Because the entire civilian-military structure is organized around a war hypothesis, which Chavez has defined as Asymmetrical Warfare.

CO: That is, resistance against a possible invasion.
AG: There is a new defense doctrine in place. An army General, Isaias Baduel, has formulated for hypotheses for possible wars. One: a growth in the border conflict with Colombia. Two: the possibility of a multilateral intervension under a UN or OAS mandate, which I see as very unlikely. Three: a coup d’etat. Four: the possible US invasion of Venezuela.

CO: There are reports of discontent within the armed forces
AG: That may be so, but the problem is that restricting the analysis to the inner workings of the Armed Forces is a major mistake today. The process is horizontal accross the civilian-military divide, and it grows day by day. We’re not just facing a single regular force, which would be the traditional framework. We’re facing a horizontal force, where we find parallels with the Cuban framework. In Cuba they call it the Guerra de Todo el Pueblo; in Venezuela they call it Defensa Integral de la Nacion.

CO: How far are people to follow Chavez blindly in all of this?
It’s impossible to say for a single reason: there’s a numerically significant opposition to Chavez. That opposition has no leadership, it doesn’t feel represented by those leaders who constantly show up in the media. For me, the most important opposition Chavez faces today is inside his own organization.

CO: Fidel Castro managed to discipline his followers even through the use of terror. What about the proverbial indiscipline of Venezuelans when it comes to following a party line?
AG: There have been many warnings, from Chavez and his main political operatives such as Deputy Willian Lara, asking for reasonableness in internal dissent. That dissent is not an antichavista dissent, it’s an internal dissent against the management of the process by the chavista government.

CO: There are those who say that the revolution will last as long as the money.
AG: Was there money in the Soviet Union? In China? Is there money in Cuba? Did they have money in Nicaragua? No!

In fact, just the opposite. The excess of money has really hurt the central factor in the process, which is ideological and moral. Because if Chavez himself recognizes that there is corruption in his government, that corruption is there because there’s an overflow of money. The cabinet keeps tossing around trillions and trillions of bolivars, but you never see facts on the ground that reflect the supposed investment. So Chavez will need to distance itself from that whole corrupt sector that surrounds him if he really wants to push forward a revolution with clear ideological content.

CO: What factors could do Chavez in?
I don’t know if it makes sense to talk about “doing Chavez in”, because the process has advanced so far that, with or without Chavez, we’re going to see some events not just in Venezuela but in other parts of Latin America.

CO: You seem to see the revolutionary process with optimism.
I don’t know what optimism means. In Venezuela we need to be realistic, you can’t be either pessimistic nor optimistic. Of course, we will have a crisis. We still haven’t seen an explosive crisis, and we will see that in the not too distant future.

CO: Will Chavez lose power through the ballot box?
Representative alternation is not foreseen in a radical revolutionary system such as the one Chavez is putting forward. One of the central slogans is “there is no turning back from revolution.” Chavez keeps saying he’ll be around until 2030.