Scarcity was much cooler under Chávez

Maduro's dwindling base
Maduro’s dwindling base

During the last presidential campaign, I took to highlighting the differences between a Chavez-led race and a Chávez –less one. For the sake of consistency, indulge me while I revisit this theme during its immediate aftermath, by asking: what is the difference between a Chávez-presided shortage and Chávez-less foodlessness?

Let us first review the uncanny similarities between Escasez 2008 and its lame 2013 iteration.

In 2008, prior to and following a surprising and unprecedented electoral defeat in a Constitutional Referendum, Hugo Chávez suffered a drop in popularity. This was largely caused by shortages in consumer staples such as milk, sugar, eggs and vegetable oil.

According to market research firm Datanálisis, the “scarcity index” in 2007 was up to 20%, but rose to 35% during the first trimester of 2008, “reaching 90% for some products such as milk.” Long lines at supermarkets, rationing of basic staples, and overall grumbling were prevalent. The critical situation caused a 28% inflation rate that fiscal year. Oh, and Regional Elections were slated to happen in November.

Fast forward to May, 2013: different President, same scenario.

Miserable domestic production of goods stifled by government-imposed price ceilings for raw materials. Currency controls regulating the orgy of imported consumer products with no foreign cash being handed out. Reduced public spending due to a searing fiscal hole following a State-sponsored electoral campaign.

These have all resulted in shortages of basic foodstuffs, medicines, industrial wares and dollars with which to import all of the above. Long lines at supermarkets, rationing of basic staples, and overall grumbling are prevalent. Inflation thus far has risen to 12,5%. Oh, and Municipal elections are slated to happen later this year.

Maquiavelo said that, in order to retain Power, “all Princes must have both virtue and fortune.” Virtue, in making sound political decisions, and fortune, in enjoying favorable circumstances that sound political decision-making may take advantage of.

Chávez, without a doubt, had the “virtue” part of the equation down solid, insofar as that he was shrewd and cunning in handling crises to his advantage. But I will venture to say that, throughout his reign, and contrary to statistical theory of chance, he also enjoyed a shitload of “fortune,” and I don’t mean that in the material sense.

He was just a reeeeally lucky bastard.

What did Chavez do, when faced with a potentially regime-threatening nationwide shortage of consumer goods in 2008?

He followed the Chávez damage-control playbook, measures which were made to be seen as an ideologically-based “I-knew-it-all-along” plan, but were most probably an improvised, reactionary course of action to assure political capital facing Regional elections (the “fortune” part is that he had an unprecedented oil windfall: 2008 registered an historic peak in crude oil prices).

First he blamed our consumer woes on capitalism and the world financial crisis.

Then, clearly making a case for his brand of 21st Century Socialism, he attributed shortages to the increase in demand thanks to people´s higher disposable income.

Then he blamed the private sector for hoarding and speculating, blamed the private media for spurring nervous shopping sprees aimed at destabilizing an otherwise perfectly functioning government, and of course, blamed the North American Empire for generating chaos and inflation overall. Classic.

Then came the spectacle: He ordered the National Guard to seize trucks full of food, always before cameras, through the Plan de Soberanía Alimentaria. During his Sunday televised show, he approved a 600 million dollar Plan Excepcional de Desarrollo in order to foster corn and bean processing plants, as well as irrigation and transport infrastructure. He devised a State-centralized food distribution and retail behemoth through the creation of PDVAL. And then he threatened to expropriate any private entities that he deemed non-cooperative. Which he did. Whilst driving a tractor. On national TV.

And then he used all our petrocash for epically proportioned solutions to the scarcity, such as flying in 747´s full of eggs.

Chávez went on to win 18 of the 22 governorships that November, garnering 55% of the national vote in his favor.

How has the mustachioed replacement, Maduro, faced our current crisis?

Well, he should be given brownie points for initially blaming the private sector for his woes. Off to a promising start. That is, until Lorenzo Mendoza basically did another perreo on his ass, à la Capriles circa March 2013. What has followed this exchange greatly underwhelmed my expectations for Chávez-inspired despotism.

There have been no announcements of forced expropriations, no indictments of capitalism, no grandiose apologies of communal power, no riling up the masses in defense of cheap chicken… just a feeble admission by Maduro that the government is working alongside the private sector and that *gasp* this is a strictly non-political issue. He even called for… dialogue.

WTF?

I though Maduro was Chávez’s son. I though Maduro wanted to stay in power. I would’ve at least expected a national cadena taking over a supermarket chain.

Have we really fallen this low that no media spectacle may disguise our discontent, no elections are near enough, and that our President is actually resorting to taking measures in order to solve our crisis?

Nah. That would mean that Maduro is actually governing. He might not be headlining his own anti-speculation Broadway Show, or criminalizing corn flour manufacturers, like good old Chávez would’ve done…but that is because he’s too busy defending his legitimacy as President, something Chávez never had to do. (and also, he can’t sing).

In the meantime, Maduro has neither the acumen nor the cash to actually solve the problem in the short term. With chavismo we had loud denunciations of mythical villains responsible for the problems, as well as a pragmatic approach to getting the problems solved. With Maduro, we’re getting neither the bark nor the bite, neither the lights nor the shadows.

As far as I’m concerned, the difference between Chávez and Maduro in dealing with the havoc they themselves pursued, is that Chávez had the virtue AND the fortune, and Maduro has neither of the two.

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