¿Celacomió? Absolutamente não, meu amigo.


First off, credit where credit is due: chavista diplomacy deserves real kudos for some great optics at the Celac Launch summit still going on in Caracas today.

Those photos of dozens of Latin American and Caribbean heads of state coming to his capital to join an initiative he’s held dear for so long are a big propaganda coup for Chávez. They put him in the role of elder statesman, almost, and certainly show how counterproductive the U.S.’s ongoing hardline against Cuba in hemispheric affairs has been. I have to imagine the Casa Amarilla is thrilled with all this, and they have a right to be.

(I’ll save for another time the rant about the way the optics in Caracas this week highlight the insanity of the Arria-cho strategy of painting Chávez as an utterly isolated, beyond-the-pale, Assad-like figure dodging the prosecutors in The Hague…just think, while Arab league summits was busy kicking Syria out, Chávez was preparing to host the meeting to create the Latin League!)

Still, it’s worth pondering the extent to which Chávez’s hemispheric ambitions have been downsized at this point. A decade ago, the goal was to lead a block of states to supplant market-based approaches to economic development with a state-led socialist development model. Today, Chávez’s biggest diplomatic coup in years consists in hosting a series of governments engaged in successful market-based economic development experiences, but without a U.S. delegation in the room.

Partly, I think, this stems from a fundamental misunderstanding about who the real rival was. Chávez flatters himself thinking he was engaged in any kind of meaningful contest with the Americans. His real rival was the superpower closer to home: Brazil. Or rather, the real threat to his vision for hemispheric development was a successful Social Democratic Brazil becoming the go-to model for other governments in the region.

Today, Brazilian soft power – the power to make others want to emulate you – is running extremely high. When new left-wing governments come to power in the region, the model they instinctively turn to is the Brazilian model. The contrast between Brazil’s thriving economy, falling inequality, rising middle class and vibrant democracy and Venezuela’s increasing oil dependence, social stagnation and democratic involution is too plain to require much elaboration. So, even a guy with a long track record of leftist extremism like Ollanta Humala can’t really resist the lure of Brazilian soft power.

And so the presidents will come. They’ll make their speeches. They’ll eat their state dinners. They’ll sign their grandiloquent declarations. And then they’ll go home to administer a model of development that’s diametrically opposed to the one their hosts wanted to see become dominant in the region.

Which, I suppose, is why Foggy Bottom is entirely relaxed about the Celac launch. The gringos may not be in the room, but neither do they really need to be. Given the overwhelming preponderance of Brazilian soft power in the region, Celac doesn’t pose any kind of credible threat to U.S. interests.

Latin America just isn’t going to abandon a successful development model and adopt a patently failed one because a bunch of speeches were made in Caracas.

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  1. a bunch of speeches by stunned statesmen and women by the cacerolazos vs cohetones war thst even made cristina and raúl jmp and protest at the noise. slithery chávez said the fireworks were in honor of fidel with a nervous smile as cacerolazops prevailing after the fireworks slattered out, even around ft tiuna.

    • Argentinian friends have been wondering why Cristina, who is apparently known for carefully choosing her words, took a painful stab at Chavez when she mentioned elections that had been lost. One hypothesis is the Nestor Kirchner Salon and, especially, the portraits:
      According to others, however, she has a good idea of what is going on in Venezuela and that she explicitly criticized the cohetones because she was aware that their purpose sas to muffle the cacerolazo.
      May that be so..

      • “Cristina, who is apparently known for carefully choosing her words”

        Known to whom? My impression is she is known for speaking off the cuff, sometimes taking even her advisors by surprise. She has never seemed to grasp the concept of a “trial balloon.”

        And yes, those paintings are ugly.

  2. The biggest obstacle for imitation of “revolutionary” socialism (what chavismo purports to be), is that it should convince it’s would-be emulators to believe whatever they say, not do what they do or pretend to see results, of the good kind.

    Brazilians can lead by example, they have pragmatic aims too. Chavismo instead…

  3. sorry x the typos i should have inserted.: ” chávez looking ever more like porky the pig”
    and with today’s constant and incessant rain hope that dudamel’s curls frizz out for playing at la carlota in a concert for a regime that permits henry vivas to slowly go deaf and blind in SEBIN. while spending 20$ in a cardboard summit…

    • I can’t believe so many leaders that I thought had at least half a brain
      showed up in Caracas. Was it the possibility of getting money from
      a madman that brought them?

    • And all or most of the leaders attending know it. But, they have all been “induced” to attend. It costs them little to attend, and some of them, such as Mexico’s Calderon, used it to gain concessions. See Miguel’s write up on the deal with Cemex in The Devil’s Excrement. Venezuela, on the other hand, is paying dearly for this circus.

      The image of an unpopular, but rich, kid bribing the other kids to attend his birthday party comes to mind…

  4. BTW: where was the Unidad’s Secretary this whole week? Well, in Brazil, of course: meeting with almost anybody that wasn’t in Caracas, including members of the Government’s alliance.

  5. I agree with your main observations, Quico. The mise en scene was impressive, though there´s room to wonder who was genuinely impressed. The visiting dignitaries are not naive and only time will tell whether the spectacle will have an impact on their policies. An important target was the domestic audience (v. AVN´s http://www.enfoques365.net/N33703-celac–caracas-es-una-fiesta-por-primera-vez-se-ve-esto.html) — but basically the already loyal followers.

    Your point about the downsizing of Chavez´s hemispheric ambitions is *very* well taken. Literate oppo types would do well to dwell on that instead of debunking the project. Someone less megalomaniac could possibly have tried to revive SELA which was created with similar intentions but it was CAP´s brain child and anyway it is easier and more politically profitable to inaugurate than to relaunch. And then, Chavez has repeatedly maintained, successful experiences not withstanding, that political integration should come first, economic integration will follow, later. CELAC is clearly another rewind,

    There should be nothing wrong with creating a Latin American organization based on cultural and economic differences with the US and Canada in addition to secular grievances — an umbrella or more for sub-regional pacts. (The inclusion anglophone republics muddles things a bit, but let´s forget that…) This is only a threat to the US (and Canada???) if processed and labeled as such.

    Pretty is as pretty does, on both sides of the street.

    • I can’t imagine why Kirchner and Rousseff wouldn’t want to stay to discuss the critical issues of Paraguay without a maritime coast, of coca protection for Bolivia and Peru, of climate change in the C.A. rain forests, and of the declaration that next year is the year of Bolivian quinoa.

      Today, the US and Canada reached a new milestone in productivity, not having to attend the CELAC conference.

  6. Although the declaration would need a detailed analysis, a quick reading shows the usual bland language, no allusions to imperialism, capitalism or north-south antagonism, and an almost complete sidelining of human rights issues. And of course, “respect” for self-determination, meaning Cuba can’t be criticized on any grounds.

  7. Excellent analysis. The sad conclusion is that Chavez continues to get away with his utter lack of scruples, squandering incalculable amounts of taxpayer’s money in buying foreign support and portraying and image of the champion of democracy while consolidating a system of political apartheid in Venezuela.

  8. For non-Spanish speakers, the link below lists (in bad english) some of the resolutions which, according to Chávez, were agreed today. If what he says is true (a big if, of course) these resolutions are somewhat more ideologically charged than the bland Declaration. But the funny, or incongruous part (or if you wish, the one that supports the post’s analysis) is this:
    “Afterwards, the Venezuelan head of State handed over the presidency pro-tempore of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States to his Chilean counterpart, Sebastian Piñera.”

  9. thank you for this account, quico. In the meantime, I have a question.

    Has anyone else OD’d, like I have, on the likeness of Simón Bolívar?

    Used to be that I had some respect for the historical father figure of the nation. But I can’t take it anymore. He’s larger than life on a banner that represents 33 countries (among them those that have their own liberator, thank you very much), his statue forms the backdrop for political photo opps, his name is implied in the Holy Trinity (Simón, Hugo, Fidel). Hasta cuando?

    Now, everytime I see his image, my blood starts to boil. Is it just me?

    • You are not alone. Such pure nonsense! Mr. Kepler described the
      history of this cult propaganda very well. Attempted “mythmaking”..

    • It does seem rather harsh to judge Bolívar by the behavior of people 180 years after his death, perverting his image for private ends. (And, in any case, is Chávez’s perversion any more revolting than Gómez’s? or Guzmán Blanco’s?)

      I content myself to realize that the catastrophe we’re now experiencing is the one whose prospect worried the Libertador most throughout his life, even leading him to propose a presidency-for-life specifically to avoid it…oh irony.

      • Gramted that you are expert on Life and Thoughts of Simon Bolivar and I am certainly not,
        I disagree with both of your paragraphs.
        I an not “perverting his image”, and yes, Chavez perversion of Bolivar is 10 x magnitude
        worse than before..
        As to what worried Simon Bolivar most throughout his life–? Well, I don’t believe Mr. Bolivar
        had any idea what weird alien in the form of Chavez would appear and what he would do
        to Venezuela. Nor what the world would be like in the 21st Century..
        Point is, let Simon Bolivar lie in history and deal with reality now.

      • We should definitely not judge Bolívar (not “the Liberator”, as he declared himself , but one of the hundreds of thousands of liberators of Venezuela, mind, as many others paid more dearly than he did – money is not all) by what this current caudillo is doing.

        Still, it is about time we judge him by what he really was: one of several important figures. He was generous, he was a good tactician, particularly after 1816. But he was neither irreplaceable nor anything. He wasn’t original either – only that most Venezuelans of today seem to think so. Hadn’t we had him, we would have got our independence sooner or later (remember Puerto Cabello, his way to betray Miranda to get the salvoconducto, his very costly and pointless military actions on Caracas while people didn’t give a dime there, instead of going to Guayana, as he finally, after years, did, when he saw Piar’s work).

        You may have particular reasons to go for the “moderate” and self-declared historical hagiography of the guy – I don’t know-. Perhaps it is just a “We need our hero, man”.

        Bolívar was not that portray Karl Marx wrote about him. Still, he was far away from the image the vast majority of Venezuelans left and right and quite some PSFs have about him.

        Bolívar was what he didn’t want to be, what he hated to be compared with: a little Napoleon.

        Slavery abolition etc? I won’t go into detail on that, but he was not less racist than the average Gran Cacao and his promises towards Pétion were not just lukewarm because of some fierce opposition from “the others” (es que él no sabía someone? es que no lo dejan gobernar). If you go through his correspondence with people such as Santander you will see he was as not a bit better than the average on that. His was Realpolitik, specially after he saw what Piar did. It was the only way he could convince people to fight on his side while in reality he was not much different from the other mantuanos. He was initially only interested in liberating the black if they immediately enlisted in the troops he was trying to form. He constantly, very explicitly, referred to his fear for the pardocracia.

        He definitely wouldn’t have been able to do what he did if he hadn’t, by the way, taken over Piar’s work and introduced the very important mercenary troops Venezuela got.

        Without those mercenaries Venezuela would have been probably the last country to get independence. In most important battles there were probably more non-South-Americans on our side than on the side of the “realistas” – paid for.

        Unfortunately, the way he depended on those mercenaries and the debts we incurred with the British for the weaponry and the payments weighted very heavily on Venezuela for a century and lead to a lot of misery. US Americans apparently knew how to make better deals .

        The war was basically a civil war and he couldn’t have won it without those Britons and some other foreigners. You would have to analyze the battles. The Llaneros also played a vital role, no doubt about it, and because of that role Bolivar very explicitly gave their big guys – starting with Paez – so much power and most of the land the Bolivar-close mantuanos didn’t have (the others lost). And that was fatal for the development of Venezuela since then until now. Think land reform.

        Bolivar’s payment through lands made the military a special caste with more power than anywhere else in South America, including Argentina or Colombia. Check out the role of the military elsewhere.

        He didn’t even liberate Bolivia and Sucre, notwithstanding his brilliant tactics, didn’ do it either. The Battle of Tumusla was won by Carlos Medinaceli Lizarazu and the Spaniards had virtually given up.

        His “renouncing government” was a complete show that he thought he could play forever (only he didn’t have oil).

        It is funny how so many Venezuelans have fallen for the Discurso de Angostura…because they didn’t know the backgrounds of what was going on there and the mood of the representatives and little about who they were.
        Initially Bolivar symbolically gave his sword back to the delegates to show how detached he was from power…all theatre, like so many other things. There was the big fear that Bolívar wanted so much power…and he very tactully tackled those fears with the initial part of the speech.
        Bolivar gave some sweeties to the delegates (on elections, on how bad it was for one individual to keep for too long power) only to let them go for what he really wanted: the dictatorial powers he wanted and was so much eager to keep. Well: it was not that hard, as he had some links with quite some of those delegates.

        If you start to analyse who was really behind his public acclamations of Libertador: it was always him and his entourage. Of course, with time he became a myth, specially as the others in the region could not gain more power than he ever did.

        He repeatedly said he didn’t want to become a king, which was easy to see as everybody knew what had happened to Bonaparte, but in the end he wanted the same thing, just without the crown on the head. Bolivar was declaring himself Libertador (entrada a Caracas) from 1814 onwards already.

        Specially after 1827 he became a complete conservative, prohibiting such things as the writings of Jeremy Bentham, probably the only reknown philosopher of that era who didn’t see Latin Americans as inferior beings. He ended up persecuting the Freemasons and other groups (funny, coming from him…but then he knew very well why).

        You mentioned Guzmán and Gómez. Yeah, they also played with the Bolívar cult. But curiously Venezuelans don’t mention Páez. Even historians such as Caballero hardly mention Páez’s role in enhancing the Bolívar cult Bolívar himself so skilfully cultivated. Carrera Damas does a bit better. Páez, who at the end took power from Bolívar in Venezuela and effectively blocked his way to return, was the first president who used the Bolívar logo to distract people from the real problems: he was the one who initiated the return of Bolívar’s bones to Venezuela (even if they came two years later), he who proposed calling Caracas “Bolívar” (the chuzpah!), something Caraquenos back then thanks God thought too much, but they then went to putting that name to Angostura, and he was the one who pushed by all means the motion that a Bolívar cult with Bolívar marble statues imported from Italy and all that crap be introduced in the Congress and a real “cult” began. The deputies who were against that had no chance: Bolívar, once dead and the people seeing the mess the country kept sinking in, saw in that dead figure “what could have been”.

        I think it was a tragedy for Venezuela Bolívar died when he did. He should have survived more years, whether in Europe, where he wanted to go, or anywhere else. Then this pernicious cult wouldn’t have taken such a pathetic and negative course.

        It would be create if we once stopped having so many Plazas Bolivares and Avenidas Bolivares in every bloody town and instead had thousands of main squares and avenues called after such people as Carlos del Pozo y Sucre or Fernandez Morán or even Andrés Bello or Aquiles Nazoa.

        • Kepler,

          Every nation is built upon a foundation of shared mythology. These myths may or may not be based on truth, but even when the foundation of the myth is based on historical fact, the story is inevitably enhanced to achieve an aura of “greatness”. But regardless of the historical accuracy, these shared myths are are part of the glue that binds a society.

          Instead of tearing down the mythical status of Bolivar, it would be more useful to use it to rewrite the narrative to create a moral message that serves your cause. i.e.: Bolivar would have opposed Chavez because he opposed power being so concentrated and believed in a decentralized power structure. If you comb through his writings, you can find that which supports the narrative you want to promote.

          In other words, use the myth to your advantage instead of destroying the myth completely. Human societies need their myths and heroes.

          • Syd,

            No free society has ever done much by focusing on one single figure or even a couple of figures. Canadians have more than one or two men as “glue factor” (in fact, there is not a single one there), the same goes for US Americans. Venezuelans have only one bloody obsession and that was so before Chávez: Bolívar.
            Even when I was a child the personality cult we had was more pervasive than the one of Atatürk, even if we kept it with some humour.
            2 centuries of Spanish colony were more than Conquista and encomiendas. Thousands of years of native American prehistory was more than Guaicaipuro.
            Venezuela is the only place on Earth where a THIRD of all the municipios are called after military caudillos. That’s not the case in Colombia and not even in North Korea.

          • Roy,
            There was a moment I thought so, but not anymore. First of all: Bolivar has always been completely over the top…way over the top. I have tried to find out what other nation had such a personality cult making up almost the whole foundational myth. None. Not even Atatürk. Not Friedrich II in Germany. Definitely not Peter the Great. Not Mao, not Washington. And it is that Venezuelans spend so much time on Bolívar that they know nothing more
            and in the end, there is nothing more to glue them together. That is not the case with the US Americans, with the Germans, with the Chinese. They have traditions that go over one single figure and over the cuisine (so, it is not just about the turkey). It is about really knowing where we came from and what cultural goods we took from that.

            Half of Venezuelans don’t even know – test it, please – in what century – take one century more or less – the Spaniards arrived to our region or from which language our mother tongue derives or any real meaty thing about our native American ancestry (which is imprinted in the vast majority of Venezuelans).
            Venezuelans don’t see themselves as inheritors of European, African or native American tradition. La mamá los parió y el papá putativo es Bolívar. And that is why they keep going back to their errors like the dog to its own vomit, as the proverb says.

            We only have this semi-God creature and every government since Páez has tried to use it and the military and some clever politicians have always tried to make themselves the “seers”, the interpreters.

            Surely we took Bolivar on the light side while the civilians came to the forefront…but this was going to happen. Not for nothing all those guerrilla groups since well before Chávez kept calling themselves no-sé-qué-vaina bolivariana.

            It has failed us. Let’s get another sense of identity. It is not about complete destruction. It is about trying learn about a much richer past and present.

            I see myself as Venezuelan. I prefer to see my Spanish, my native American and sub-Saharan cultural traditions, our scientists and creative artists as part of my “national” identity. The pox on military caudillos.

          • ok, bon point, too. Except for one thing. Don’t be too harsh on Venezuelans for not knowing their native american ancestry. Good grief! I knew more about the caciques and the coming of age traditions of natives in Venezuela than I ever learned — until fairly recently — about the various tribes that make up the native tradition in Canada, a near colony (British Commonwealth) that had set up residential schools for native children, pulling them out of their homes and their communities, forcing them to learn English, forbidding them to speak in their native tongue, and of course shoving Christianity down their throats. Somewhere in this time line native communities were marginalized onto reservations.

            The US has its own sorry history of atrocities. So, al César lo que es del César.

          • [Bolivarian cult history]- “has failed us. Let’s get another sense of identity. It is not about complete destruction. It is about trying learn about a much richer past and present.”
            Absolutely. Move on. Learn to be competitive in the modern world. Focus on
            building a strong economy using your energies and resources in positive ways.

          • Kepler,

            What usually generates iconic historical heroes is wars or great national endeavors. Venezuela hasn’t had any of these since independence. I think you are just going to have to live with Bolivar until such time as Venezuela has to generate some new heroes.

            Good thread. Good comments!

          • Roy,I agree.

            All countries, despite cultural and religious differences, have historic figures and role models who represent their national values.These people define their country’s culture and show the world their nation’s best qualities. These figures may be politicians, or athletes, or even authors and artists.Women must continue to fight for their recognition in being just as valid national role models as well.It’s all cool until our iconic ideas are mostly negative.There are some countries whose icons and ideals seems to be rallied around hatreds, not to be discussed here.

            We are not going to find perfect people , so we have to accept that humanity can inspire despite imperfections.

            I have no political role models myself but don’t see it as negative that others do as long as people don’t get what we might call worshipful 🙂

            I have no feeling for Bolivar , ni fu, ni fa, but I do feel negative about the silly way Chavez seems to see himself in his image :An upper class well -educated man of Spanish
            decent…yes indeedy 🙂

          • Has anyone noticed Chavez’s friends and “brothers” –Quadaffi, for example -they re all
            women abusers.

        • I cannot disagree with your basic premise: that Bolívar is a more complicated figure than the one brandished about these days. Yet, there is a lot of “what he really wanted” in your note that makes it a turn to the other (simplistic) side. If, as you mention, Bolívar was awares of Napoleon’s fate and wanted to avoid it, I think he deserves a more nuanced picture than the one you make.
          Yes, he was a mantuano; but you must remember that not even them as a class were fully behind “el primo Simón”‘s project (think of his own sister to start with, and of la Cosiata). All I can think is of Schelling’s image as a revolutionary romantic poet in his youth and a pear-shaped diplomat later on: peoples remember what they want to remember.

          • Fombona,
            The fact he mentioned repeatedly he wanted to avoid being a Napoleon doesn’t mean he did not take over a lot of the negative traits. If he didn’t take over others, it was probably because Venezuela was in no position to be a France.

            Likewise: the fact you say a million times you are a democrat or this or that doesn’t make you one.

            The fact many mantuanos were not behind Bolívar is not surprising at all. Venezuela’s independence was foremost a civil war. Specially after 1813 people in central Venezuela did not want to do anything with the independence movement. They had paid it too dearly with all kinds of massacres from either side.

            By the way, perhaps you find this interesting (OT), on Miguel Penalver:
            (in bold)
            This is the kind of things we don’t learn at school in Venezuela.

            For Goodness sake: Mexico doesn’t have such a personality cult as Venezuela. Even Argentina or Chile don’t. Curiously enough, Chile seems to remember Andrés Bello much more than we do…even if Bello spent most of his time in Chile, this is sort of a shame.

  10. “When new left-wing governments come to power in the region, the model they instinctively turn to is the Brazilian model.”

    Not so much ” instinctively ” as out of necessity, if the Cuban model had been economically successful, many on the left would have chosen it. The Castros are often revered in Left Wing circles for having brought the Left Wing dogmas to LA.Fidel Castro’s larger than life image cannot be just attributed to the embargo.

    As an example, we can look at the visit of Michelle Bachelet to Fidel who came back raving about the profundity and wisdom of this great man.

    • I thought Ms.Bachalet was doing a wonderful job-yet, Washington politicians avoided her like a “hot potato”..But, her ” visit of Michelle Bachelet to Fidel who came back raving about the profundity and wisdom of this great man.”-was the “other Michelle” arising, the one who seeks
      men of power to spawn with…truth be told.

    • “profundity and wisdom of this great man.”

      Yes, with a f****d up ideology going nowhere that he did not bother to change or reform. .

      And then there’s his regime having more dead on his rap sheet than Pinochet. Also, three times the number of years and no visible hope of ending.

  11. Besides a one-paragraph note from AFP, the New York Times has not bothered with the CELAC story. If you do a google news search for CELAC it seems like the international media had very little interest in the story.

    Media conspiracy? or Not that important?


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