Tinderbox meets match

There’s a lot to digest in today’s appointment of La Comandante Fosforito (in English, Commander Firecracker) as Minister for the Penitentiary System.

It’s no secret that Venezuela’s prison system is one big, hot mess. The buildings themselves are decaying and overcrowded. If you enter there as a petty criminal, chances are you’ll come out either dead or a full-fledged sociopath. A number of mafias – prison guards, civilian bureaucrats, and the prisoners themselves – traffic in everything from food to drugs to war weaponry.

Fixing this complicated issue is going to require massive skills, lots of courage, and a huge budget. It’s the job for someone open to considering different solutions, who understands how to build things fast, and who has first-hand experience in law enforcement.

On paper, Iris Varela’s appointment is anything but an unqualified disaster. She is like Hugo Chávez, only more violent and flamboyant. She has no managerial experience, and her negotiating skills are nonexistent. As Robert N was saying in the Comments section, she should be in jail, not running them.

But perhaps there is some secret brilliance to this appointment. When it comes to dealing with mobsters, maybe it takes one to know one. And perhaps Varela has enough political capital of her own, and enough knowledge of and influence over the inner workings of the current chavista judicial mafia, to actually make a difference.

Or perhaps the most obvious answer is the right one. Perhaps Varela will turn this into a circus, and will only make a bad situation worse. Maybe that’s why the initial reaction of some in the opposition was … supportive.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but things are bound to get louder before they get quieter. She may be a disaster, or she may be brilliant, but she will not be ignored.