They're not weird, we're weird


008_NR_6438_PMulling yesterday’s dreamlike i-non-guration and meditating over how far gone the republic now seems, one thought keeps haunting me: it’s not their values that are weird, it’s our values that are weird – Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic.

It’s a painful realization, but we we can’t help but circle back to again and again: the value-system that was outraged by chavismo’s power grab this week is miles and miles from home on the Northern Fringe of South America.

Specifically, our horrified rejection of the accumulation of unlimited power in a single set of hands is a core value for Western liberalism…it happens to make no sense to most Venezuelans.

The rejection of unified power is, when you think about it, the ultimate WEIRD value. In the Western world it’s universal, though it takes very different forms. In the U.S., lefties fret about Wall Street amassing too much power, civil libertarians fret about the Pentagon’s drone strike program giving it too much power, the right frets about the government in general getting too much power by taking people’s guns away or taxing them to oblivion.

How you interpret what “too much power” means and who you think should be prevented from accumulating it is very much under dispute – a dispute often at the heart of WEIRD politics. But the general, diffuse belief that it’s dangerous to your freedom to allow too much power to accumulate in a single set of hands is a meta-narrative woven through the polity, silently holding it together.

In the WEIRD consensus, the more power the state has, the less power I have. And the Venezuelan opposition’s mindset is squarely within this WEIRD consensus. But the reality – painful and maddening though it is – is that most Venezuelans aren’t weird. If #YoSoyChavez, then the more power the state has, the more power I have.

That’s why so many people find our particular obsession with legal mechanisms to prevent one faction from accumulating too much power bizarre and off-putting. To the broad middle of the Venezuelan electorate, Supreme Tribunal Magistrate Luisa Estela Morales is speaking plain common sense when she says “the division of powers weakens the state.” 

People don’t want a weak state. People want a strong state that’s on their side. People believe that the state, one day, will come through for them: deus ex machina solution to all their problems. Our perverse little obsession with tangling it up in red-tape looks to them, to the (very limited) extent that they think about it at all, like a mean-spirited attempt to hobble it for our purposes.

For that broad center of the Venezuelan electorate that votes for Chávez, we’re basically obsessing about about a non-problem, and proving our irrelevance in the process. The reason why you virtually never see chavismo engage in serious debate over the hollowing out of the constitution’s checks and balances is the same reason you never see the opposition earnestly debate the problem of CIA sabotage of the electrical system. We think it’s non-sense: a non-problem talked up by our enemies to score cheap political points. It makes no sense to us, so we discount it.

And that’s exactly how they react, and will continue to react, when we note the way they blatantly flout the constitution to accumulate more and more power.

As an aside, in Samuel Huntington’s last good book before he became a ranting reactionary, he had a really enlightening riff on all this. For Huntington -and this is from memory, so caveat lector– the problem of limiting power only arises where states are powerful enough to be a threat. But Huntington locates those mostly in the WEIRD countries, and notes that most states in the rest of the world have the opposite problem.

Writing in the 1960s, Huntington argued that, as new groups are mobilized into politics, the state often struggles to keep up, to govern enough to meet the challenges of rapid urbanization and the political empowerment of new groups.

In such contexts, the overall problem is that there’s not enough state power to go around society, not that there’s too much that needs reigning in. He saw this – rather than any of the entelechies arising from Marxist theory – as the real reason communist politics were so attractive in so many developing countries: communism set out specifically to solve the problem of not-enough-power-to-meet-societies-needs, whereas liberals senselessly set out to place limits the power of states that already didn’t have enough.

I’m not doing his argument justice here. But it’s a gorgeous read.

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  1. And this is what I’ve been saying all along, ever since I left Venezuela in 1996… the “majority” of Venezuelans enjoy what they have today, they thrive on the caos that is Venezuela, and “us” (the weird ones) trying to change that is a futile battle.

    If I was a die hard rojito, like Cort or Arturo, I’d be pissed at the weird ones trying to “sabotage” what I believe to be a perfect society.

  2. I understand your point but see a vast difference between taking seriously a conspiracy theory where there is no proof and openly debating what is written for all to see.

    Let’s not collapse hierarchies, these concepts on completely different levels.

  3. I belong to the weird set you talk about, but I would never describe my values as Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic. Of course educated and democratic, but Rich? Western? Industralized? These are the reasons we have Chavez in power, and we’ll see lots of it to come. We do not understand that the capital that Chavez brought was a sense of proud on being Venezuelan that even if we are actually governed by Cuba, people feel “Patria” etc … We the so called educated should be able to understand that the values are not imported, and that the worse thing for the opposition is to relate itself with any of that pro-miami-pro-usa-pro-capitalistic set. Our values should be our own, and not a copy of the rest of the so called Western world. If anything I would call my values : Democratic, Humanistic, Educated and Pluralistic – and that in it self is a contrast to the undemocratic and hegemonic chavismo.

        • Or take it to a whole new level: Meritocratic Educated Idealistic Rational Insightful Articulate Democratic Enlightened Modern Advanced Sophisticated Intelligent Admirable Decent Oligarchs.

          Chavistas will love it because it spells “ME-IRIA-DEMASIADO” which is exactly what they think of us, and precisely the net effect of making (the altogether valid) arguments in this post.

    • I think you misunderstood the point of this post. WEIRD values, on the extent that they foster a prosperous and developed society, are themselves limited to the economic and political spheres. The bases of development, among all industrialized “First World” nations, are built upon democracy with separate powers, property rights, and political and economic competition. The rest is pure idiosincracy.
      Case in point: the large cultural-religious-societal differences between say, the USA, Australia, Singapore, France or even the tiny Baltic States, among many other examples.

      • It’s highly abstract NOW….wait until it becomes all too real and it starts hurting them (At some point the economic distortions need to be dealt with, the government can’t borrow forever).

          • Not quite as long as you might think. The capital markets are (and have been) drying up as far as Venezuela is concerned. Bear in mind that the values of the major banks originate in Mr. Toro’s WEIRD values system and they cannot like this farcical succession since people who tend to flout things like Consitutions tend to be rather poor credit risks.

            The well is drying up even as imports (and the need to pay for them) increases.

            This is why you see an increase in commodity factoring. Bear in mind, and the authors of this blog love to point this out, that Venezuela has been borrowing money at credit card rates for years. Now, however, you see them basically selling future revenues via extractive resources in exchange for hard currency/lines of trade now. What are the specifics of the China loan deals wherein they pay with oil at below market rates? Is this really a good deal for Venezuela where they mortgage the future on which 40% or so of government revenues rely?

            In business, this is called receiveables factoring, (although in this context, forfaiting or future factoring is more apropos), and is generally used as an interim form of financing or, in an more established company, a financing structure of near-last resort. The discounting of the future cash flows to access funds now is typically a really bad sign of the financial state of an enterprise. Its analog in personal finance is a payday loan or a trip to a pawn shop. Both bode ill for the state of Venezuela’s ability to fund itself and creditors in general take a dim view.

            Ask yourself which you trust more, a debtor who pays his credit card bills, or a debtor who is suddenly sellinghis stuff to pay his credit card bills?

            The offset here is that as long as the government pays on time and appears relatively stable, the markets will remain open. When that goes away, so do the cash streams. Does the government seem “stable” at the moment, from an outsider’s viewpoint?

        • I give you a distortion that hits you like a ton of bricks. I was eating tequeños at Chops in Maracaibo this past December and I ordered a tiny espresso-size cup of ketchup for dipping. I paid 8 bolivares ($0.50). Right after I stopped at a gas station and filled up the tank of an SUV (I put about 40 lt. of gas) with 4 bolivares ($0.25). Problem is the non-WEIRD people believe this aberration is normal and can be sustained forever, when in reality not only it’s completely unsustainable but it will eventually cause a catastrophic collapse of the economy and a social crisis of gigantic proportions.
          In the chavista recipe the ideological aspects as well as the exaltation of patriotic symbols of national heroes like Bolivar, Zamora and others are just the condiments of the dish, while the meat is the outrageously irresponsible public spending. When the government can no longer continue the current rate of public spending and is forced to take away the meat from the recipe, it will not matter how much condiments they use, people will not like the dish anymore. The sequence of events, starting this year, is more or less like this: devaluation, insufficient salary increases, three digit inflation by September (real inter annual inflation is currently around 50%, not 21% as the crook Eljuri claims), social unrest, increased smuggling of gasoline to Colombia, labour strikes across the country, shortages of food, gasoline and other items, more social unrest. The fate of the government relies almost solely on the financial aid from China and Russia at this point. If the government cannot secure more loans this year, we will be at the verge of the catastrophic collapse that inevitably will come sooner or later.

    • What happen is that the definition of a weak or strong state is relative. For me a strong state there are differences on the difference branches of the state powers based on the of make decisions independently of what is favorable to other state powers.

    • Also, remember that the “left” is usually “good” and “benevolent” so how can’t they be on the people’s side? Latin America have not gone through a N.Korea type of deal (yet).

      Similarly the language used such as “Chavez eres tu” imprints that idea of being on your side. The paternalism, the protection by some almighty figure is almost a cultural need here.

      “Bolivar es el padre de la Patria, Gomez es el padre de la Paz, Betancourt es el padre de la Democracia” and I believe it has been said that “Chaves es el padre de los Pobres”.

      But like Manuel Caballero says, these titles do not have a place in history, but in legends.

      What we see here is the state embodied in a man. A strong man. Like Louis XIV. Today the state is perceived as weak because it is in a coma in some hospital bed overseas.

  4. Great, provocative post. I think this is mostly right with respect to issues like the independence of the judiciary.

    But I also think there is some basic democratic DNA in the Venezuelan body politic — at least a broad sense that the guy at the top should be elected…

    So: tick tock.

    • After what I saw yesterday, I think that the democratic information on our genetic material has been diluted by the other strong component of Venezuelan genetic material… the definition of a strong leader as the one that is “guapo, apoyao y griton”.

    • oh yeah, it’s not the democratic portion of the DNA that worries me – that one’s strong indeed. It’s the liberal portion that keeps me up at night – that one is like a wheezing 4 year old with polio.

      • I’d be happy if it weren’t that strong. At least we wouldn’t have to deal with this widely held belief that 50% + 1 of the vote is sufficient to justify mediocrity and theft.


      • Quico, I’m genuinely puzzled. I don’t understand why your post – and most of the ensuing debate – focuses on the argument about whether states should be weak or strong. To me, that’s a pragmatic matter, very much as outlined in your reference to Samuel P.. It’s not really an issue of values. Maybe it’s because I’m not Venezuelan (although I don’t think so). The way in which chavismo offends my values (well, ok, one of the MANY ways) is that it drives a 32-wheel gandola through the rules by which the society as a whole democratically decided it should be governed.

        The way Chavez and his acolytes run the country is by doing whatever they feel like, and then having a subservient supreme court come up with a retroactive, pseudo-legal argument that justifies it. As if that were not enough, they revel in it. And then accuse the opposition of being undemocratic, golpista and whatever other adjective happens to be in fashion. They demand to be treated fairly, but positively enjoy treating their adversaries with arbitrary cruelty. This is much more fundamental than the weak state:strong state argument. The law, the constitution – these are just window-dressing. What has been going on here for the past 14 years is a slow-motion military coup. The really troubling thing is that it is not just most Venezuelans who don’t seem to care – the rest of the hemisphere (despite everything that’s written in the Democratic Charter y demas hierbas aromaticas) is not that bothered either.

        • Only WEIRD people like rules, so who cares if the rules are broken and then patched over with a patina of legality? Certainly not them. Rules are there just to see if you can get around them. And who says that we agreed on the rules? Do you think all 8 million Chavista read the constitution in its entirety and said Yes, I want these rules? No, the said I like Chavez, he has our back so his rules must be good for us, I’ll support him.

          • That’s what I meant about it being much more fundamental than the issue of whether or not to have a strong state. What we have now is the kind of ‘rules’ that govern a troop of chimpanzees – step out of line and the Big Chimp cuffs you across the ear. It is when societies begin to codify rules, and abide by them, that the long trek towards civilisation begins. I take your point about no one reading all 350 articles before saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the 1999 constitution. Where I disagree is with the argument that this means the nation did not agree to the rules. Accept that, and we really are back in the jungle!

          • But that’s the main point of the post, WE think having rules, agreeing on them and respecting them it’s the thing to do. They? It seems not so much. Is it the jungle? maybe, do they care? I don’t think so. So, we are judging from our values and they do not match those the other side considers important. The ultimate question for me is: do they consider “the right to have elections” a valid one? Or will still cheer if Chavez dies and no elections are called under the “continuity” argument?

          • That’s just slightly different from what I was trying to communicate. The question isn’t whether we think having rules is good, the question is WHY do we think having rules and respecting them is good? The fear of the excessive accumulation of power drives you to developing mechanisms for restraining it, and we call those mechanisms “the constitution”. But where that fear is absent, the social basis for constitutional government just sort of whither.

          • I disagree, Moraima. They believe in the rules, too. It’s just that from their point of view, the opposition does not offer any more respect for the rules than the alternative. For example, we see Afiuni as the extreme case of disregard for the rules. If you step back a few feet you’ll see what they see: Afiuni applied the supposedly fair rules to let a rich dude out of jail; this does not match all the people who were still in jail past their legal date, reason for letting this single rich dude out.

          • Let me try to re-formulate what I see as the confusion here: the relative strength of the state, vis-a-vis the other centres of power in a given society, is a separate issue from the existence of rules that govern that society and whether or not they are respected (by the state or others). There is no reason why a strong state should not operate within a set of rules arrived at by consensus. My problem is not the strong state per se, it is the fact that the state doesn’t obey the rules.

            You are perfectly entitled to say, of course, that a weak state obeys the rules because it’s obliged to. But in a society with a weak state, it may be the bankers, the merchants, the labour unions or whatever, who break the rules with impunity. The problem is the refusal to abide by previously agreed rules, not the existence of a strong state. I can have a perfectly civilised discussion with someone who holds different views on the merits of the latter. But an adversary who uses his power to ride roughshod over the constitution is like a boxer who enters the ring with a machine gun. The state is strong in Venezuela. That doesn’t offend my values. What offends my values is the pirate clique that has hijacked the state for its own private use.

  5. Quico you forgot another thing that makes us weird.
    I will never celebrate when the government oppresses, jails, etc, those that oppose them.
    I will never celebrate when somebody that had a business I wish I had goes bankrupt because the government just did not like them.
    I will never celebrate when a TV channel, newspaper r radio station has to be closed because they informed the real news.
    I will never celebrate when a president from a different country can come to my homeland paid by my own government take a microphone and call ” buitres” those who oppose the ruling government.
    And I will NEVER get a “rodilla en tierra” for ANYONE

    That makes me weird in country like Venezuela, and I am sure as hell proud to be.

  6. Perhaps the opposition should focus its strategy in a more scientific way, investing all that they have to come up with an energy source that renders oil obsolete. Do that, and the current political system collapses.

    Fortunately there is a gazillion dollars being invested in that front.

    • Then the chavista lumpen will strike them down, just as with salem’s witches, because of their vendepatrismo, “oil is our rich and now you have destroyed it, now we’re poor because of you, get the vendepatrias!! (and their money too)”

  7. Communists have no critique of untrammeled state power (if they control the state). Libertarians have no critique of untrammelled corporate power; they assimilate it to “freedom”, or to “economic freedom” if they are more careful. These are the antipodes of the analogy; not CIA sabotage of the electrical system. For the average Chavez supporter, regulation or even seizure of private corporations fails to register as a flesh-and-blood violation by the state. The corresponding blind spot on our side is a failure to fully imagine being hungry, with a family, yet “refused” a job by companies with lots of jobs to hand out. Of course, the Oppo is far removed from the Ayn Randian pole, and is correspondingly far more reality based than the PSUV is, following closely the failed nostrums of the previous century. Most oppo truly try to understand the other side, while the PSUV dismisses and insults, so secure is it in its closed mental system.

  8. Quico just discovered “caudillismo”.

    The irony is that the faults of “caudillismo” are taught in secondary school civics classes. You’d think we’d figure it out by now.

  9. >>> … WEIRD LIKE IN Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic?
    No way! Stick that defeatist attitude up your u-know-what. I’m WIRED. I’m ALIVE.
    I’m plugged into the 21st century. Keep the backward, autistic weirdos where they
    belong – with the redshirted LOSERS!

    • Hate to break it with you but I don’t think I’ve met a single rojito with the Asperger’s.

      Maybe Cort but I don’t know if he really counts.

    • >>> … How you interpret what “too much power” means?
      MEANS SUCK DRY the BLOOD out of your rabid followers, leave them with
      delusions of grandeur to compensate for their miserable lives. Put-downs
      and insults and threats are the STRAWS that prop their pathetic existences.

      • Humans are born naked, and die alone. Islands on this earth.
        What they do is ultimately their take on their lives. So take this
        shopworn ditty and stick it on the forehead –
        Seize the day [ Carpe diem ] and live it to the hilt.

  10. Excellent post Quico. I particularly like the Huntington summation (which matches my long ago recollection as well.) A couple of question though:

    If weird values are so foreign how do we explain those nearby states with separation of powers like Colombia, Peru, Chile, Costa Rica etc. that function as they do?

    Likewise, in a country where even the most anti-imperialist westophobes are likely to love beisbol and wear blue jeans and hoard dollars what is it about the specific weird values that has made them so hard for society at large to adopt them?

    • Daniel, I think the difference with other countries goes back to OIL wealth, or more in general, the source of wealth in a country and the best way to harness it. In Vzla, high oil prices means a rich state and the population will do what it takes to be part of that, meaning giving power away to the government. In countries that need private sector investment to thrive, limiting that power and having a functioning state is the best way to increase the sources of wealth

  11. Ever since Samuel Huntington came up with his culture-based theory of international conflict I have always found aggravating the idea that Latin America does not belong to the Western world. When I was young(er) I always felt part of that communion of values and beliefs usually referred to as Western Culture. Now I have changed my mind, but not to the extreme expressed by this post. I still believe Venezuela is Western. What has changed is my agreement with the use of the word Western. What is Western? Was Hitler and the Third Reich part of Western history? Is Karl Marx within the tradition of Western philosophical thought? Was “separate but equal” an expression of the Western ethos? I don’t know, but I prefer to avoid using the word Western like this article does. It feels too simplistic to do so. Maybe Western means something more complex and diverse than we think, or maybe it is denoting something different entirely that has nothing to do with culture.

  12. What is apparent, even from the photo with this post (check out the front line), is that both sides have elites which increasingly share common interests (same schools, same neighbourhoods, same vacation destinations, same shopping malls, same conspicuous and expensive tastes).Without Chavez and his familiar llanero paja smoothing all of this over, who is considered “us” and who is considered “them” may become more fluid as things progress.

  13. Yes we are weird.
    But then again why wouldn’t we be weird? Or better put, why would anyone in Venezuela not have populist –and I’m being simplistic in the use of the term- values? After all the adoption of civic values comes from a mix of education and pragmatic testing: we are taught something in school/family/TV, we go out into the world to see if it works, we adjust to the results.
    The majority of Venezuelans are not being taught western democratic values (WDV), and certainly don’t have the opportunity to see them work in developed countries. However, they have been learning a lot for the last 14 years. Chavez’ constant appearances are as much educational as they are offensive to us. And more importantly, Venezuelans have seen –at least in the earlier years- the “Chavez” values work: separation of powers is only an encumbrance for a leader that wants to work for you, and I am working for you (i.e. misiones). They learned values from the president/TV/School/Family, and saw them work: the values stuck.
    But here is the thing: people change their minds, values evolve, societies get better. What we are seeing now is a snapshot: people don’t care about western democratic values. It doesn’t mean they never will.
    I am reminded of one of Pinochet’s high ranking cabinet member I met some years ago. I asked him how he explained the common Chilean’s outstanding understanding of economics (i.e. typical story when going to Chile: the cab driver can easily explain the yield to risk ratio of his retirement account). He said that during the Pinochet years political debate was out of the question: Pinochet was there to stay, everybody shut up. But what the dictator did allow was economic debate: his Ministers appeared often on TV advocating for their policies, and were always met with public pushback for them. Hence the populace turning the TV was drawn onto discussion of mainly economic matters, and they inadvertently learned from it.
    We have for 14 years only turned on the TV to watch Chavez, Chavez, Chavez. I wonder however if there could have been a way in which this 14 year discussion could have enriched the people’s understanding of politics, or better said, of political coexistence. Whether the opposition could have insisted more and more effectively in their argument for WDV. But then again, I also wonder whether “discussion” is an accurate term. Certainly most of the times the term “monologue” seems more appropriate.

  14. Brilliant post, FT! I’ve always thought my Western, representative democratic values are seen as completely weird by most Latin Americans. Let’s face it, the Western political systems are descended from people like John Locke and John Stuart Mill and others, people who distrusted power and created governments that would prevent accumulation of power and abuse of it. There’s a reason the term ‘I know my rights’ originated in the Anglo-American political sphere.Those of us who are mentally a part of that sphere don’t like it when authority oversteps its bounds. Chavismo on the other hand is a hyper-Rousseauian form of government with good old fashioned caudillismo thrown in. Five centuries of authoritarian rule have created a population that needs to be told what to do and sees nothing wrong with authoritarianism because they simply don’t recognize it as such.

    • liberalism is not the only type of western ideology that exists as your reference to Rousseau makes clear; western is not the same as anglo-american; you mean anglo-american liberalism, not western values

    • Five centuries of authoritarian rule have created a population that needs to be told what to do and sees nothing wrong with authoritarianism because they simply don’t recognize it as such.

      And let’s not forget the role of institutions whose responsibility was to educate that population, over the centuries, but chose instead to focus their energies on educating well only a small slice of that population. The rest were dealt breadcrumbs. Hoy es lo que hay. The poor (and recent military conscripts) are now used as red fodder. Whereas previous generations more or less ignored the poor, and kept them ignorant, today, chavistas use the poor and keep them ignorant.

  15. Most of what you say is not only true but very useful. However, private enterprise is not the enemy of the people all the time. Where did THAT value come from?

      • Property rights are hard to conceptualize sympathetically when you have no chance of ever having any property. To understand the Chavista mind, you have to think of “private property” as a system of keeping poor people out of places they would like to be. Want to go swimming? You can’t, the beach is private property. Want to plant some grain to feed your family? Sorry, private property. Perhaps the WEIRD-os of the title post think from one side of the property line, while Chavistas experience things from the other side of it.

        • Or in this case- want to go swimming? -can’t: the pool is for PDVSA employees only…I don’t understand frankly what is private property and what is government property in Venezuela.

  16. I agree somewhat with your initial observation but strongly disagree with your conclusion. It’s not that “they” want a strong state on their side, it’s that they seen no other option than a strong state on their side. If you consider the Capriles option, it’s just a worse option because it’s a not-one-like-us option wielding the ring of power. Talk to them about the option of giving them directly the power of oil money directly to them, and you’ll see there is no ideology or belief system behind the powerful state concept to which you seem to think they’re sold.

      • Cristina,

        Do you really think the people will be empowered by small amounts of monthly money?

        I would ask you to rethink what empowers folks.

          • Money empowers, misiones enslave. Consider a child who once inside a dollar store sees a candy and asks a parent to buy him it, versus a child with a dollar entering a dollar store who lights up with the coins in his hand thinking which candy to buy, or if it would be best to buy a toy that lasts forever instead of a candy which gets consumed in minutes, sometimes deciding to save it, others to give it to a more needy person on the way.

            If you don’t think money empowers, think how much power the government has because of it. It’s really just the same power, that would be distributed. Misiones are simply the way the government is wielding that power. We need to do a double whammy: take the power away from government, and distribute that power to the citizens. Besides, oil money belongs to the citizens in the first place; citizens should not have to grovel for it or feel like it’s the government giving them anything with it.

          • “Money empowers, misiones enslave. “
            That’s what I wrote.
            versus a child with a dollar entering a dollar store…
            Correct, which is why Communism CAN NEVER work with humans unless they are under the jackboot.
            Misiones are simply the way the government is wielding that power.
            Exactly, hence ‘missions enslave’

    • In theory, chequera mata comunismo. In theory.
      In practice, Fidel/Raúl would never allow your cash transfer theory, ex torres. For their hegemonic appetites depend on a number of factors, among them: un pueblo embrutecido (check), holding the capo (check), controlling information (check), all leading to public uncertainty (check). Vz is already there, or almost.

      • First part, agreed. I think the castros are well aware of chequera matando comunismo, which is why chavez reacted so quickly to mi negra with a credit card. Imagine a communist offering a credit card!

        Second part, disagreed. I don’t think Venezuela is there yet. I think we’re in time to kill the petrostate, but even the opposition doesn’t want to let go of the ring of power… The power that oil money has over everyone thinking that they know the best way to spend it is what prevents them from giving it to its rightful owners, the citizens.

  17. For many this has been a rough wake up time , they thought they lived in a politically civilized place with some serious but correctible flaws and now feel they live in a politically savage place where Might Makes Right and most people idolize raw violence and barbarity as the eponimous expression of their inflamed collective delusions . Yesterday was a cannibal feast where carnage was made of some of the most cherished western political values and ideals. The cannibal king’s nose is adorned with a bone but his head still sports a smart black top hat and he is not conscious of any incongruity. We thought this was our country , that we belonged in it , now maybe that we are become strangers in our own country, alienated from the rest of our more primitive minded country men who no longer feel any alligeance to the ideals of civilized political discourse we identify with . Makes one think of Cortazars invaded house where room by room is taken over by a slowly advancing dark evil shadow that cannot be contained . Still that kernel of democratic feeling is still there, and is that healthy core sense of human solidarity that’s characterized venezuelas common people for most of its history . We may be seeing the heyday of a fanatical craze that in time will fade , that sooner than later the statistical rule known as -regression to mean- will reassert it self. making Venezuela a fertile ground for the rebirth of western liberal democratic values and institutions.

    • Bill Bass, what you describe might be called a “popular revolution” by some. The revolution “takes over room by room” and alienates the 40% opposition. In a true democracy, things don’t happen like that. The 40% are alienated, indeed! But not only alienated, they are gradually being prevented from contributing their skills, talents, and ideas that could make things much better than they are for everyone.

      • This is precisely the point of our human bastardised version of communism etc: bring everyone down to the same level making then controllable and voilà! Unfortunately humans aren’t ants and historically this always seems to end in lots of deaths and blood on the streets.

  18. That thesis of Huntington does ring with me. If I had not heard so many otherwise educated people saying that the Venezuelan State was weak, that we needed a “Strong government”, even a military dictatorship to “bring order” and such, even being nostalgic of Perez Jimenez.

    Without ever asking what kind of strength, where it was to be applied or by whom (A: For example, the same corrupt and abusive official that produced so much misery and even disorder). Sometimes I wonder if these persons worried about power being applied in a just way and to preserve the rights of those who had been bullied, that the order they might want is one where a person might feel safe when they are peaceful and respectful of others, and I must shake my head sadly. It figures not. Not then, not now.

    “Specifically, our horrified rejection of the accumulation of unlimited power in a single set of hands is a core value for Western liberalism…it happens to make no sense to most Venezuelans.”

    Venezuela, being in the worst of all possible worlds, compounds the awful curse of people who can’t correlate limiting the power of a huge organization like the government with personal liberty with a resource curse. Namely oil. Oil revenue which in Venezuelan minds has to be in the hands of the Head of the State and nowhere else. Everyone now wants the State to have all that money to come to their rescue and solve their problems.

    However, there are still hard limits set by reality. Chavismo has come up against them. There’s crime. There’s corruption and economic inefficiency that reach levels that break the camel’s back. There’s the mortality of the Head of the whole setup.

  19. Do not fall into pessimism, for the love of God. I am among those who think that the real question is not liberalism vs. Communism, if not, quite simply, as put Capriles (although he still does not understand the role of law in the welfare of the people), to have an effective government or an incompetent government.

    I am quite sure that the vast majority of Venezuelans, in fact, probably even many of those discussed here in Caracas Chronicles, we would be willing to accept an absolute monarchy that proved to be fairly capable and efficient, and it did not interfere too much with our daily lives. Chavez failed in that challenge, and that’s the real reason that Capriles got 45% of the 7-O.

    First, do not be pessimistic. Much of the country is outraged with the recent violation of the Constitution, at least enough to give us the long-awaited national majority that we seek since 1998. After all, no one voted for Maduro, and depending on the course of the coming events, we will see whether or not the country is willing to accept in silence this mess.

    Too bad the opposition is as inept as ever calling for a march to within …TWELVE DAYS! And let alone better Capriles. He’s about to lose critical support among the mass opposition remains as comeflor if we should hold a march for now.

    We are overestimating the strength of Maduro and Diosdado, fuck, that our opponent now is not Hugo Chavez. We have to play our cards right, soon to leave the streets and enforce the Constitution.

    Yes, I think this is a great opportunity to solve the dilemma false liberalism vs. communism mentioned by Quico. It’s time to show people that respect the law if the benefits in their lives, let us be frank and admit that most do not follow the laws in the countries of the First World by moral principles, if not for something simpler: “no quiero meterme en brollos”.

    It’s time to make it clear to people that Leviathan can also fuck them, and use that to start rebuilding our democratic conscience.

    • Pablo, I have not seen any polls regarding the issue so I don’t know if much of the country is outraged. And sorry but I did not follow the march thing, are you saying we should be marching sooner? And exactly how a march is going to help?

      • There is also no way to know otherwise, @Moraima. In fact, I think the situation is still too early to draw conclusions hastily.

        And you started a march to dispel the darkness and make it clear that a large segment of the nation is against this violation of the Constitution. And above all, to allay the fear that exist in our society.

        @Gordo: of course. But the priority now must be the restoration of the authority of the Constitution and leave it clear to everyone that Venezuela will not allow the rule a guy was not elected by anyone.

  20. I have to be honest, this discussion sounds too hypocritical and phony. I hate to sound like the typical deluded leftist but I remember very well the times of la cuarta. Many that today tear their robes for what they interpret as a flagrant violation of the constitution were not so observant of the law back in the day when they ran things. I guess the appreciation of legal principles hinges more on political circumstance than cultural background.

      • Sure, but my point is that, maybe, saying we are different, saying that we are just WEIRD (not to mention how incredibly condescending that sounds), is a little bit too much of an oversimplification. I recognize I don’t understand the Chavista psyche myself, but basing it on cultural differences sounds too convenient and self-serving to me. I don’t know. Maybe I just like to believe a core of universal values exists that all peoples share regardless of their culture.

    • One thing I always remember is that under the IVth there was a long-established tradition that the party out of power always got to chair the Comisión de Contraloría of both chambers of congress, and the party-out-of-power had to ok picks for Contralor General. It’s obviously not that much, but it does show an awareness that letting people police themselves is not a good idea.

    • ” I always remember is that under the IVth there was a long-established tradition that the party out of power always got to chair the Comisión de Contraloría of both chambers of congress”

      Sure, but you wouldn’t attribute that to politicians of the 4th having a different culture, or would you? That was just the political equilibrium of that time. That fact does however illustrates the real problem we have, which is not different cultures, but the institutionalization of a radical (revolutionary) rhetoric. Because, let’s face it, the opposition in Venezuela is not a real opposition. Chavistas don’t call us the opposition, they call us the right, the bourgeoisie, the counter-revolution… In other words, they DON’T RECOGNIZE US as a LEGITIMATE political factor. They merely tolerate us (who knows for how long) for expediency reasons and nothing more. And this institutionalization of radicalism that was built thanks to a very charismatic leader and an unprecedented rise in oil prices is what keeps them in power.

      • you forgot to add: and a persistent withdrawal of “opositores” from participation. Chavistas have fought hard to monopolize and sweep all spheres of public participation. People who dissent are around but they withdrew and act as if they themselves believe they do not matter. They just complain that chavistas do not take them into account. That’s why they’ve been reduced to irrelevancy and invisibility in all this drama, even thought they are ~45% of the electorate. Is it reasonable that despite being 45%, downtown CCS is a forbidden zone out of reach for the opposition to participate in any kind of civic or protest activity?

        • There are three reasons why the opposition is not being as aggressive in its protests as it might . 1st they come from having been dealt an humiliating electoral defeat which they could not rationally account for and which struck a blunt blow to their self confidence . 2nd the regime and its supporters are always ferociously threatening violence against any display of protest which it automatically qualifies as a heinous moral crime, and ordinary people are afraid of being violently harmed. 3rd they are stimied subliminally by the superstition that if you are a mayority then democratically you are entitled to do pretty much what you want even though they know that popularity does not legitimize tyranny! 4th it takes guts and resolution to face up to the kind of battle that is being fought , for what the regime is engaged in is in a war to the death against its enemies although veiled under a camouflage of ‘institutional politics’ and not all ordinary people have the guts for fighting a war , or know how to wage one on the terms in which it now has to be fought. There are no bullets flying about but instead insults , threats , menacing displays of outraged force , lots of bellicose manipulation of peoples passions and fears.and chirurgically focused abuses against certain opposition institutions or figures. . globovision ).

  21. In latin america people dont need a super strong government to see their dreams fulfilled , they need a competent government, one that is good at optimally organizing its resources for maximizing the long term welfare of its people. A strong government is not the most blatantly barbaric or violent in its methods , This is only the delusion of those primitive romantic minds that get a narcicistic kick from vicariously identifying with regimes that make a show of being mighty and violent .

  22. I think that any individual who is somewhat more intellectual/intelligent/educated than his peers seems “weird” to them, regardless of the society. Communism’s solution to give the central state more power in order to deliver to the underprivileged classes more power/equity is an attractive theory, but fails in practice for all the known historical reasons; Venezuela’s failure has just been extended somewhat in time due to an anomalous 10x increase in the price of oil. Anglo-Saxon cultural/intellectual values are actually/historically vastly different from those of Latin/Spanish values, and surely can seem “weird” to the latter. Finally, Jan. 10’s pathetic demonstration is not necessarily even reflective of the Venezuelan masses’ true values, since it was a paid/coerced show of largely Government-dependents, most of whom would have said and done the same to whomever was the paymaster; they even had to be bussed in from all over the Country, since, by assumption, they couldn’t be found in enough numbers closer by in the millions populating the barrios in and around Caracas.

    • Only because of our strong belief in individual freedoms/democracy have most of us on this Blog not become Boli-Bourgeoisie; but, this, in turn, has condemned most of us to becoming a WERP (Western-Educated Rent(SS)-dependent Poor), especially in our old age.

      • Correction: TWERP: (Transitional Western-Educated Rent(SS)-dependent Poor). Transitional, since most on this Blog have not yet reached the age when they can collect SS (and retire in tattered comfort).

    • I find it annoying when bloggers freeze the viewer’s ability to backspace onto the original source of the link, like forced, linked broadcasting. For that reason, I won’t bother with this site. Thanks but no thanks.

      • What do you mean Syd? Just click the cross in the corner and you go to the original and other blog-posts etc. It’s like that due to the Blogger template Nebelwald is using. If you mean there are no hyper-links to other sites then that is because it is all his writing (I assume because in other posts on the same blog there are links.

    • Why? Isn’t La Habana the capital of Venezuela? It is now the permanant and last residence of the head of state. It is where all executive orders and acts of state originate from. How is that not a capital? So, of course foreign heads of state will go there for executive-level meetings.

      • You’re right, Roy. I’m supposed to submit to the logic that accumulation of power, even if that means the power that’s dictated from another country, is not weird (…)

  23. Belated welcome to the club FT:

    “En nuestro lado se cuestiona la sostenibilidad del régimen chavista, los niveles de violencia, la depauperada infraestructura, las violaciones a los derechos humanos, civiles y políticos, las relaciones lesivas con dictaduras y otros adeptos al proyecto dizque revolucionario siempre expectantes ante la próxima dádiva o contrato con Chavez, y hasta la venta del oro de la nación. Pero la realidad es que los millones que votan por Chavez, sean de clases bajas, medias o altas (pues en todas las clases hay), les importa un bledo lo descrito. No podemos caer en el error de juzgar al otro desde nuestras premisas éticas, morales, e ideológicas, cuando el otro no comparte con nosotros dichas premisas. Hay que analizar esto desde las premisas del otro para poder entender. Es imperativo desarrollar la capacidad de ponerse en los zapatos del otro y ver las cosas desde su ángulo. Al hacerlo es pero que muy fácil entender el por qué del apoyo al caudillo.”

    • Alek: Excellent, as usual, by someone who has lived on the level of “them”, which is the only way to really understand Venezuela’s current situation. Without being overly- optimistic, however, there is some hope for the future. With a roughly 55-45% result on O7, a small 5% change gives a virtual 50-50 tie, and possible win. This change, I believe, will come in time, with the inevitable/already-beginning worsening economic situation. Much of Venezuela’s economy is really based on the free-market exchange rate, which not only has skyrocketed, but will remain high post-devaluation, due to the increasing scarcity of dollars, as oil does not increase in price as it has in the past, and as further indebtedness becomes more difficult. And, this in a Venezuelan economy that depends virtually 100% on imports for things like household appliances (washing machines have gone from Bs. 4m to 12-16M, TV’s similar, in the past month or so alone), machinery/auto parts, etc. Yes, giveaway Mercal food prices will be maintained, because without them the “Pueblo” literally cannot afford to eat on their miserable Bs. 2M ($200 at 10/1) monthly minimum wage; and, this is another way to vastly understate real inflation, as is also done by publishing lists of price-controlled consumer items that virtually no one observes in practice. As with all would-be/Communist regimes historically in the past, Venezuela’s attempt will fall eventually due to economic reasons. Cuba’s failed experiment endured partly because the 1/3 of population that could have made a difference emigrated, and largely because of timely circumstantial bailouts by the USSR and Venezuela.

  24. I think your analysis of WEIRD vs not WEIRD is accurate, since it makes manifest a deeper issue. What the Chavez era has shown in alarming fashion is the fact that the values championed by the “Age of Reason” have never permeated Venezuelan society as a whole.

  25. Mr Getty : The chasm is old and became deeper as time passed , If interested try reading works of Pbro Alejandro Moreno (on the Marginal family) , C. Zubilllaga , ‘La Marginalidad sin Tabues ni Complejos,’ ( 2000) and Alberto Rial’s ‘La Variable Independiente’ (1997) specially the part that describes the studies of Geert Hofstede and Mc Clelland which show Venezuelans as the third most ‘Power’ besotted people in the world.

  26. Every time I talk to a Venezuelan in Venezuela (even a well educated one such as, e.g. a computer programmer) about how democratic voting majorities have been used to oppress minorities quite legally and quite horribly (e.g. Jim Crow laws in the US) I get a blank look. And, after a long exposition of the US case, they come out believing that certain racial groups commit atrocities by voting because of their inherent inclination, but not because of the potential flaw of majority rule. They fail to see the relevance of the example.

      • Just to filter out the noise created by the belief that the West is especially prone to ethnic supremacist abuses, it might be interesting to provide a different example, such as the discriminatory legal systems set up in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei etc. that constitutionally set up first class citizens (bumiputera or sons of the earth, Javanese, Malay, Muslim) and second class citizens (which can collectively add up to close to 50%, Chinese, Hindu, aboriginal, non-Muslim that have lived there for 400 years or are the original inhabitants) that are quite clearly oppressed by regimes that escape criticism because they traditionally stood against the spread of communism in SE Asia… I wonder if the reaction would be the same.

        • Examples abound, but I don’t think you need to go down that route any further. The reaction already implies that they’re open to the possibility that majority rule isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, since demanding particular qualities from a given populace for it to properly rule itself by majority vote (e.g., lack of ethnic supremacism) is equivalent to saying it isn’t the universal decision-making scheme some of our fellow countrymen say it is. Then you can ask them if we meet those qualities at the moment.

          Our unyielding faith in the usefulness of voting is partially responsible for the conceit of the ruling party and the quietism of the opposition. It amazes me how little it has changed for the latter, despite fifteen years of relentless bullying.

    • The voter is voting within a controlled information environment in which everything they know has been filtered by pro-government authorities, where the opposition is stripped of its powers as an opposition party to question and challenge and even listen to the conversations where issues are discussed and policy is formed. Elected leaders in various positions local and national who in the performance of their duties and who exercise their rights to act independently within the accords of their personal consience and professional ethics, are persecuted, imprisoned, or forced into exile.

  27. Latin Americans not experiencing a North Korean junta? In a literal sense true, but do not forget too easily the thousands of Cubans dispatched to their deaths in distant lands such as Angola all to bolster the low self-esteem and faltering ego of Su Caudillo. This fate awaits Chavismo’s cannon-fodder-in-progress, it is a dictum of Marxist dogma. Presently, the land in the destruction of the bourgeosie phase. Almost simultaneously, the rise of former (alleged) workers into the ranks fo this bourgeoisie and high-bourgeosie. We are there now, with the Bolisburgese. Next, exporting the Gran Revolucion by force of arms, and the rise of new Prolis out of the ashes…Chavez swallowed this claptrap hook, line,and sinker, and his Cuban Mil Intel handlers are true believers, sepecially since it is the only token their country can give in exchange for a healthy chunk of the Venezuelan Oil Patrimony. And, the war to come will significantly reduce the populace, meaning fewer to object to their program, and reduced internal oil consumption in Vzla. So, more for them. Those who are trading their heritage for a bag of Harina Juana and Fidel’s Book of Marxist Dogma will learn,and pay dearly in flesh, blood, and national treasure.

  28. i read lots of folks from south america and latinos. in usa the google company is over monopolizing everyone forcing local internets to arise that will not allow the monopolize google to even get a voice. i see society force these mad rich dictators to do like the norton software guy to turn paranoid and hit the road, but these mad people will have waste the greatest opportunity to make the whole world into a better place with technology. how will the excuse this when they face GOD in the after life! It was their jobs to lie subvert and destroy society for a little more money?


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