Chávez, the myth


A pretty good op-ed in the New York Times, by Cristina Marcano and Alberto Barrera. The money quote:

From the intensive care unit, the president “continues to perform his duties”; he gives orders and sends kisses to children. This is what his vice president says. According to the Supreme Court, the Congress cannot consider him absent, for no matter how ill he is, only Mr. Chávez himself has the authority to declare himself absent. The opposition is demanding a “fe de vida” — proof that he is still alive, as if he were a kidnapping victim. Day after day, on the street, on Twitter, our president dies and comes back to life. But this is not a magical realist novel.

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  1. Extraordinary article. With one exception:
    They say: “Venezuelans today are less poor than they once were. But they are also far more dependent on the state, and more susceptible to a propaganda machine that attributes this “miracle” to Mr. Chávez. Over the past decade, his government has invested around $400 billion in social spending, an oil-infused luxury that few countries in the region have ever been able to indulge in”.
    The authors perpetuate the myth that Chavez has decreased poverty in Venezuela by “investing” about $400 billion in the social sector.
    What I frequently see in the best of analyses is failure to see the difference between the temporary condition of having money in the pocket and a true, permanent scape from poverty. More spending money does not necessarily mean less poverty but, at best, a temporary alleviation of poverty. A structural cure for poverty simply has not existed during Chavez’s watch. Only citizens who are self-reliant can escape poverty. And this requires empowerment, not handouts. $400 billion can go a long way to make the poor feel better for a while but, when the handouts cease, as they inevitably will cease, the poor will revert, and in worse shape than before, to their previous condition.

    • Gustavo Coronel, semantics is in order:

      You make a distinction between poverty reduction and poverty alleviation. Poverty reduction, you claim, requires a structural change whereby the poor become self reliant. Poverty alleviation, you seem to equate, achieves a non lasting, short term solution with a mere handout. The main problem is that when you make that distinction to imply that poverty alleviation doesn’t really count, you basically send the message to those benefitting from the poverty alleviation that they are wrong to be thankful for the alleviation and that they should not support the person who alleviated their poverty, but rather should vote for the people who will not offer such relief and instead will make them self reliant the harder, longer but better way. Such a stance simply does not win majority votes in country with a majority poor, especially since such a stance is one which has failed those very same voters for 40 years in the past.

      Secondly, your emphasis on the distinction between reduction and alleviation contrasts with your refusal to distinguish the difference between handouts and distribution of rightful monies. Giving people the cash from oil that rightfully belongs to them, is equivalent to evenly distributing an inheritance between heirs, as opposed to giving some people cash and not others from taxation collections which is a handout program. Handouts produce laziness and servitude; distribution of rightful monies produces responsibility and empowerment.

      Your flagship of self reliance can only sail when people are given the tools with which to decide and act on their own. Having money is the best learning tool, allowing people to experience spending/saving decision consequences, thus causing a structural change in poverty, not a mere alleviation. There are countless programs where such trust has been put to the test and have produced results exceeding all positive expectations, but most importantly, results far better than any alternative, even the ones you suggest.

      Finally, you always seem to sidestep the issue regarding the oil money causing the Ring of Power syndrome, where everyone keeps thinking that they know the best way to spend it for others. The syndrome is refusing to recognize that your position of whoever gets in power should wield the money the way you suggest is a mere continuation of the petrostate that brought us chavez and his handouts…

      • I agree with you extorres that the oil money should be managed like in Norway, deposited directly into the accounts of every single Venezuelan.
        That will get rid of two evils of the Chavez gvt: corruption and apartheid (the use of lists to determine who gets the oil money and who doesn’t).
        Any other large scale development plan to get rid of structural poverty in V will fail.

        • AND it wins turnover votes, which are more votes won than those that would be lost by those who refuse to accept cash distribution. 🙂

        • Hold it there… easy does it. Do you know that the government of Norway takes in more fiscal income per barrel of oil through gasoline taxes, than the value of a barrel of oil in the markets?

          • Sure, DO let the V govt obtain its income from gasoline taxes.
            Regimes that get their income directly from the oil well (independently of what the electorate thinks) become klepto-auto-cracies whereas those that get their income from the wallets of the electorate are forced to be better behaved.

    • As usual Coronel your doom mongering is in the future and as such has no substance. Take social programs away and of course people will be worse off whether or not part of the population is self-relaint. On the other hand, take away people’s jobs as in Spain and what o you have – a revindication of the capitalist system?

      I have been following your scribblings since about 2003 (yes ten years) and all your predictions have never come true. BTW – how is the Carnegie Foundation these days? Are you all still wallowing in a farrago of lies to justify US imperialism?

      • Capitalism did not take away jobs in Spain. Bad bank regulations did. By allowing the banks to invest or lend to real estate projects holding very little capital and thereby being able to expect obtaining huge returns on equity, the regulators distorted the economy, and too much bank money was channeled into real estate.

        And I might not always see eye to eye with Gustavo Coronel on some issues, but I do not doubt for one second that his love for Venezuela surpasses whatever feelings of admiration he might harbor for other countries… Does yours?

        • Its painful to see how someone honourable and honest is pilloried simply for having different opinions from ones own . If Arturo is taking issue with failed prophecies he doesnt have to go very far from his own camp to find the worst prophets of all . . . Helping the poor scape from their worst miseries will always deserve our approval , but for backward misery stricken masses much more needs to be done to give them a decent chance at a better life, one that doesnt just offer them sporadic pinatas of cheap staples and pitifully paid small ‘make believe’ jobs, but good well paid stable really productive jobs or occupations they can use to prop themselves above the miasma of poverty. This is a task which the Regime has flagrantly failed to accomplish. despite the enormous sums being lost ,stolen wasted, mismanaged or simply given away to sattisfy the supreme leader’s megalomaniacal boorish hunger for praise and applause . By the way, maybe a matter of opinion but many find Coronel an extremely gifted and lucid writer, so to refer to his writings as ‘scribblings’ doesnt fit the grade at all!!,

          • Indeed, I have often found reasons to be very envious of how well Gustavo Coronel expresses himself in writing.

  2. Well the so called myth is still alive when y”all called him dead many times or dying.
    On Dec.8th the NA unanimously said he could go for treatments and even some in the opposition keep saying it also. What y’all against the democratic process this week when you can’t have your way?

    Stop crying.


    • I am not crying. On the long run (and I mean longest run, five years, nay two!) he is dead and chavismo is over.

      The democratic process you allude to has failed miserably. Even the opposition deputies failed at it. You see, Venezuela, unlike Cuba has a Constitution consecrating an open society. Thus, to grant medical leave (and to judge over the absence of a sensitive political post such as President), you have to have some knowledge. A medical diagnosis, and a blueprint for therapy. If I did something like that on no knowledge, or rather on gossip, I would feel like a moron.

    • Cort: Art. 235 of the Constitution, which is intended to limit the president’s ability to simply go wandering off abroad, has no bearing on the issue of a temporary or permanent absence, which is separately provided for in the preceding two articles. It is blindingly obvious that the president is ‘temporarily absent’ from his duties. Not only is he incomunicado in a foreign hospital, he is manifestly not in control of day-to-day government, much of which has been delegated to Maduro (and the rest is presumably simply not being done). There is a reasonable doubt on the part of the ordinary citizen – chavista or anti-chavista – as to whether he will ever be able to resume these duties. This is not a small matter, given that he is the head of state.

      If these are not the circumstances in which the constitutional assembly deemed it would be necessary to convene a medical board to determine his true state of health and prognosis, pray enlighten us as to what those might be. The TSJ ruling of 9 January appears to render that provision permanently inapplicable, which makes a nonsense of much of Art. 233. The sala constitucional did not so much ‘interpret Art. 231’ (its supposed remit), as rewrite part of the 1999 constitution in order to get the government out of a hole it had dug for itself. Is that part of the ‘democratic process’ you’re referring to?

    • Cort, you couldn’t be more wrong. Many in the opposition want Chavez to hang on, the last thing I want is for him to die right now! He needs to be alive to sign off on the fiscal adjustment which Venezuela needs, anything else will lead to chaos and turn him into a mythical hero. I pray for his health.

  3. People who take joy in other peoples misery are called schaudenfreund in german , now Venezuelans take turns becoming schaudenfreund , half of them become it when they learn of the supremos worsening condition while the other half become it when they hear that his condition is improving to the chagrin of the other half , in either case the sentiment is a kind of moral venom that poisons those that feel it . I didnt know that eating dulce de lechoza was a sign of schaudenfreund pleasure , I learned that from our President . Now lots of people keep a pot of dulce de lechoza handy , just in case any one of these days they can get to enjoy it !! As Jogi Berra once famously said : “it aint over until the fat lady sings”.

  4. About the religious aspect of chavismo, I think this article illustrates it rather more colorfully (in Spanish) and with equal accuracy:

    I shall repeat my comment there: How does one conjugate being a rationalist, progressive Leftist, looking towards the liberation of the neediest, those persons chained by exploitation and superstition… with this religious-superstitious spectacle, a parade fascist in everything but in name, grossly and vulgarly messianic, this myth-making on steroids? At least the propagandists of bona fide Führers, absolute monarchies, theocracies, and other despotic systems entertained no illusions of liberating anyone, quite the contrary…

  5. It’s inevitable really. He’s dead but can’t be allowed to die. There’s seems to be competition to see who can give the most vivid account. Jaua today says he shared a joke with Chavez. By tomorrow it’ll be Maduro saying he was jogging and then Diosdado on Friday recounting his breakdancing exploits. I can’t wait to see the winning entry of this ‘Who’s the biggest bullsh!tter competition’.

  6. Suggestion: Chavez will suddenly “recover”. “He” (an impersonator) will be seen on video in Cuba, boarding a plane to return to Venezuela. As the plane comes in to land in Venezuela, it will be shot down by an anti-aircraft missile, with all aboard killed.

    The Chavernment will discover that the perpetrators were agents of the Venezuelan oppo. (If they are really clever, the actual missileers will be some low-rent stooges with MUD ties who thought they were actually working for the oppo.

    In the wake of this terrible crime, the Chavernment will declare a national emergency and martial law; most of the oppo leaders will be arrested for complicity, and a lot oppo journalists, too. The TNJ will declare the Presidency vacant and call for elections in two weeks. (The Constitution says “within 30 days”.)

    To deflect charges of a sham election, several prominent but ineffective oppo figures will be allowed and encouraged to run: Cesar Perez, Eduardo Fernandez, Cecilia Sosa, Henry Ramos Allup.

    After Maduro wins (easily), the crackdown on the oppo will continue. There will be show trials where oppo figures “confess” to organizing sabotage; there will be a national campaign to find “wreckers”. (These were major features of Stalin’s Great Purge.)

    When the smoke finally clears, Venezuela will be Cuba with some oil.

  7. From the article:
    ” absence might be just what Hugo Chávez needs to save him from his own failure. Myths survive only when they rise above the miseries of reality.”

    From George Orwell “1984”:
    “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”
    “Big Brother is Watching You.”

    If Chavismo is unsustainable, then it is inevitable that the oppo’s will gain control of the present for a while, but can they ever overcome the myth that rose above the reality of its legacy? Perhaps, if they can create a reality that rises above the myth!

    • For the most part, dead dictators lose their shine once the facts come out. Peron is an exception, but Presidential deification need not be inevitable. The first thing requiredis investigation and publicization of the contents of the files of the Executive Branch. . While Chavistas will try to hold stubbornly to the faith, reality can defeat their fantasies of who Chavez really was.

      • That’s why many actually want Chavez to recover and live a few more years. When the inevitable fiscal reckoning comes (or god forbid a drop in the price of oil), they won’t be able to say “If only Chavez hadn’t died”. They must know what the consequences of his policies are (besides the crime, corruption, and international embarassment).

  8. “Over the past decade, his government has invested around $400 billion in social spending”

    I am not sure where they get that figure from, but I am absolutely certain that only by giving out gasoline for free, the government has invested over $100 billion of market value, in asocial spending.


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