José Vicente Rangel's Legacy, cont.

Quico says: Thinking through JVR’s exit from the vice-presidency (cuz, lets be real, that’s the only part of the cabinet shake-up that matters) I was reminded of an annecdote I heard from a fellow journo in Caracas back in 2003. The guy had to go cover a press conference at the Vice-presidency, but of course those were the days of the daily mini-riot downtown, as government hoodlums took pock-shots at the then oppo-mayor of Caracas offices and Metropolitan cops tried to hold them back with water cannon and tear gas.

That afternoon, my friend emerges from the metro at Capitolio station to find the by then routine scene. He zigzags past the nervous looking cops and scurries through the Esquina Caliente crowd, wading through a cloud of tear gas on his way into the press conference at the Casa Amarilla.

By the time he gets in, my friend and a bunch of his colleagues are a coughing, wheezing mess of tears and blood shot eyes. Shoving a microphone in front of his face, they ask Rangel for a comment on the circus just outside his door.

Rangel stops and gives them that look of his – if you’ve ever seen it, you know the look I’m talking about, that smug glare brimming with contempt and boredom and schadenfreude all rolled up into one – then says,

“Riot? outside? I don’t know why the media insists on inventing these stories. It’s a fabrication, this allegation, part of a plan to destabilize the government, part of the media coup. Everything is calm in the center of Caracas.”

I remember the look of sheer arrechera on my friend’s eyes as he told the story.

“I swear, my eyes were still bloodshot as he said this. Some journos were still coughing from the gas, we could still hear the hubbub just outside. And there I was, holding a mike inches from the guy’s face. It took every bit of willpower in my body to restrain myself from just clocking him upside the head with it.”

That, dear reader, was José Vicente Rangel. That was his modus operandi: untrammeled contempt for his former profession, barely concealed delight at the way power allowed him to piss all over the truth, to flaunt his ability to lie and lie again, ever more outrageously, without anyone being able to hold him to account for it. And, of course, never happier than when he is in full frontal provocation mode.

A sick, sick fuck Rangel is. A caso clínico.

And now, for better or for worse, he’s out.

How come? Well, one (typically unverifiable) rumor making the rounds these days is that José Vicente Rangel was fired for opposing the move to shut down RCTV. If true, it signals that the guy was Miquilenized – dumped for confusing means with ends.

Miquilena was Chávez’s point man for taking the country from representative democracy into a “revolutionary process.” The guy’s old-regime know how was invaluable in maintaining stability as Chavez began the process of breaking down the old political system. As soon as his relative moderation came into conflict with Chavez’s more radical vision, he was dumped. Could it be that the same thing has happened to Rangel?

It seems likely. Rangel appears to have been the mastermind behind Chávez’s brand of “Goldilocks Authoritarianism” – not so hot as to place the government entirely beyond the pale in international circles; not so cold as to leave any truly meaningful avenues for dissent open. Harrassing opposition journalists and media without quite shutting them down was a classic Rangelista stance. Choosing to shut down the station – and facing the international heat such a measure would generate – seems to break with the Goldilocks Authoritarianism strategy.

Miquilena was suckered into believing Chávez valued his moderation in itself – in fact, Chávez merely used it as a means to the end of launching the “revolutionary process.” JVR may have thought Chávez valued Goldilocks Authoritarianism in itself – but it now looks like it, too, was a means to an end: transitioning from “revolutionary process” to “revolution” plain and simple.

It may be that, in time, we’ll come to see JVR’s rampant cynicism with something akin to nostalgia, that we’ll come to remember him as a moderating figure once no such figures are left in Chávez’s entourage. Or it could be that Jorge Rodríguez will seek to pick up where his mentor left off.

Then again, JVR’s exit could bring the end of chavismo’s maddening duplicity. Because, yes, JVR was a sick fuck – but he was a calculating sick fuck. An influential one, and – lets face it, a kind of genius at the game he played. Without him around, we’re left in the hands, basically, of mindless sick fucks – or, at best, influenceless sick fucks.

As “revolutionary process” turns into revolution, the smoke and mirrors involved in maintaining an appearance of democracy may abate. With all institutional restraints removed, all key institutions (self-)purged, state coffers bulging and even the TV airwaves in on the game, we’ll see chavismo as Chávez had always wanted it: impetuous, utopian, aggressive, unchallenged.

Ay papá…