Quico says: Talk about making my blog superfluous. This article by Javier Corrales and Michael Penfold in the April issue of the Journal of Democracy condenses material that’s taken me hundreds of posts to cover into a single, clear, stylish and theoretically-cohesive gem of an academic article.
I tried trolling it for a few “key paragraphs,” but you can’t really do that: the thing is too tightly written to pick apart without losing the overall sense. Definitely one for The Reader’s Guide.
Maistoian in outlook, Corrales and Penfold focus on what the government does, without getting bogged down in an analysis of Chávez’s discourse. You could call that a flaw, until you realize the way it allows them to discuss the realities of power in the Chávez era. The move frees them up to chronicle chavismo’s toxic mix of plentiful oil revenue, polarization, clientelism, opportunities to engage in corruption with impunity, and discrimination in favor of supporters when filling government-controlled jobs without getting distracted by the mountains of rhetorical BS the government shovels out day after day.
Addendum: When I edit the Reader’s Guide, I usually take a few minutes to check that all the links still work, and to re-read some of the outstanding material there. Check out this devastatingly prophetic shard from Guido Rampoldi’s bulldozer of an article for Italian daily La Repubblica in December 2005:
Made public by a pro-government web site, the list of the 3 and a half million Venezuelans who signed the petitions for a referendum against Chavez has become a tool of political discriminition in the hands of the public administration. Through new laws, they’ve tamed the fury of the private TV stations, which until two years ago were arguably even worse than state TV, but are now either circumspect or indifferent (because they risk hyperbolic fines and shut downs.) They’ve also aimed straight at the journalists: they risk 30 month jail sentences if they criticize too strongly even a National Assembly member or a general, up to five years if they publish news that “disturb public order.” In the new Penal Code, blocking a street can land you in jail from 4 to 8 years, and according to the Supreme Tribunal there is nothing illegal about prior censorship.
Until now, the government has resorted these pointed weapons only rarely.
But when the time comes, they’ll be ready. In October, the Bush administration added Venezuela to the list of five enemies of the United States, even if it’s on the third tier. In response, Chavez ordered his armed forces to prepare for “asymetrical warfare”, to be taken to the enemy through “non-conventional tactics, such as guerrillas and terrorism.” Whether or not he really believes in the prospect of a power play by Washington, trumpeting the possibility is extremely useful as a way to keep his country underfoot, and, in a few years time, to launch a more explicit authoritarianism: if the nation is under attack, who could protest if the president arrests the traitors, crushing the enemy’s fifth column?