The Routinization of Barbarism

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expofonden5ht1335994500I can’t help but feel we’re missing the point about Convenio Cambiario #30. Forget the monetary dynamics for a moment, forget PDVSA’s cashflows and the October bond payments and all the rest of that. Let’s look at the big picture: in twiddling the nobs on PDVSA’s contribution to FONDEN, what CC30 regulates is the recondite detail of the pulverization of the rule of law.

Let’s review the facts – somewhat tiresomely but, it appears, necessarily.

The principle that all public spending needs to be, erm, public is obvious enough to border on tautology. The idea that the state can’t spend money except by authorization of the legislative branch – which by the very fact of needing to discuss it and vote on it, needs to make it public – isn’t just an explicit requirement of our current constitution. It’s a kind of meta-constitutional principle, a point-of-confluence of constitutional practice all over the world for the last several hundred years, and a core principle of any law-governed state.

Public spending is public: it’s even hard to enunciate the principle without seeming to belabour the point, this stuff is so basic.

Now we got used to it a long time ago, but it bears restating over and over again: FONDEN tramples this fundamental principle.

FONDEN is a mechanism for spending state money – a lot of state money – not just with no legislative approval, but secretly. We’re not even talking state security spending, or spending of any particular type that could give rise to any plausible justification for secrecy: just normal, run-of-the-mill state spending to finance things like sweets-catering businesses.

Somehow the practice of spending tens of billions of public dollars secretly has now become so normalized in Venezuela’s political culture nobody even bothers to include the half-sentence it takes to decry it. Its legitimacy is granted daily by a silent, common acquiescence that is, in its own right, a sign of deep rot in the public sphere.

Now, here’s the crazy bit: even though by any imaginable understanding of normal constitutional practice, the existence of FONDEN is an outrage, a day-to-day desecration of the bare-bones basics of constitutional government, the state still somehow feels it needs regulate the particular parameters of the desecration. 

CC30 is a little bit as if the Justice Ministry published a regulatory document limiting the number of ATMs that a victim could be dragged to to empty his bank accounts during a secuestro express. But it gets worse, because the next day the papers are filled with “specialists” discussing whether the government was right to cap kidnappers to 6 ATMs per ruleteo session, or whether it would’ve been better to allow 8.

When you engage in that discussion, you tacitly concede the legitimacy of secuestro express. Through the act of discussing it you implicitly acknowledge that the practice itself is now “normal” and that, when push comes to shove, it’s probably better to be clear on what is and what isn’t an acceptable way to express kidnap someone.

Bull. Friggin’. Shit.

Secret public spending is fundamentally unacceptable. Public spending not approved by a legislature is by its nature unconstitutional. The routinization of secret public spending is an outrage no minimally law governed country would yield an inch to, even by implication. And don’t you forget it.

1 COMMENT

  1. You couldn’t be more right about the importance of public spending being public. As a principle of democratic governance, it’s right up there with freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary.

    In your last link, above, you reference a story about how Fonden was financing a newsprint factory. Do we know whether that plant is in operation, or is it too just a slush fund?

  2. And it should be a good time to remind people of this.

    FONDEN was created in the Chavez era when people though Chavez was not corrupt (…uhmjum) his “entorno” was. So even when the media and political parties at the time tried to explain the population how absurd, unconstitutional and plain unacceptable FONDEN was, people still had some outside the box thinking that it was better anyway that Chavez himself managed the money so his entorno could not steal it.

    Well, now that EXACT SAME ENTORNO is the one handling FONDEN, and people still don’t care. May be too busy looking for diapers, or yes, they just got used to the chorocracy.

    • “…they just got used to the chorocracy.”
      It’s more like automatic simpathy, “alcagüetería”, or what I’ve thought, that chavistas hate the other venezuelans so much they don’t care they’re sinking in a shit hole themselves.

  3. “In even engaging in that discussion, you tacitly accept the principle that yes, well, secuestro express is, after all, “normal” now ”

    And it’s by things like this that chavismo will be remembered as the government that explicitly allowed criminals to thrive and prosper at the expense of the working people.

    Oh, boy, how they’re gonna be hated in the future, I even think that “chavista” will be one -if not the worst- insult to be spat.

  4. I, personally, cannot be shocked by this. Why? I ceased, a long time ago, to belabor the illusion that we are living in a constitutional democracy.

  5. To think that a lot could be changed for the better in Venezuela with a simple measure that already exists in the Constitution, would cost very little to implement, and carries no ideological baggage. The answer to half of Venezuela’s problems with abuse of public office is staring us right in the face.

  6. This barbarism is rampant in Chicago. Some years ago, the city began to create “Tax Increment Financing” (TIF) districts. In these districts, property tax collections by the city (and county and school board) were capped; any increase in property tax revenue went to a fund to be spent on improvements in the area. These improvements would increase property values and business activity, generating more revenue – a virtuous cycle. TIF districts were supposed to be “blighted” areas.

    In practice… TIF districts include some of the priciest parts of the city, including the downtown financial district. The diversion to TIF funds amounts to about 20% of the aggregate revenue. TIF spending is at the complete discretion of the mayor. And there is no publication of TIF expenditures. Some persistent journalists and activists have obtained the records by Freedom Of Information Act filings (followed by lawsuits to make the city actually deliver the records).

    These records show that much if not most TIF spending goes as subsidies to “desirable” businesses, or to improvements targeted to favored businesses, or to hiring politically connected contractors.

    And disgustingly, few if any of the aldermen in the city council seem to care – about the cronyism, and even worse, about the usurpation of their authority.

    Routinization of barbarism, indeed.

  7. I’ve tried to insert these topics into the public sphere, to work,to family,to friends but all i get is this look…i’m not using technichal speech, i’m not using big words, all i’m saying is “that money is being stolen, about 3000 dollars or maybe more PER CITIZEN (30 million citizens at least).

    Its like i’m speaking the most perfect mandarin. People just don’t understand how WRONG things like FONDEN are. Of course, it wont help that they don’t hear about it on the news,on the radio,on the movies,on the papers…

  8. Govt spending should always meet certain standards of rationality and good governance , it should be spent for the long lasting welfare of all , In a democracy the assumption is that a mayority of ordinary citizens will know how to ensure the accountability of their rulers in the handling of public resources and vote them out of office if they fail to meet such standards and such violation becomes public , thats the role of opposition parties.

    In Venezuela the whole accountability process is broke , first because most ordinary citizens dont always know when those standards are being violated , they can be decieved into thinking that the money is being well spent by bald face lies propaganda and misinformation , secondly because the people have ideiotically elected authorities and given them the tacit power to scape the mechanisms of accountability and third because opposition parties have been left powerless to express themselves institutionally or to reach the general public with their denunciations .

    If Chavez were still alive probably a mayority would still believe that the money was being well used and managed despite the destruction of public welfare that his regime has brought about .

    Peoples lack of economic literacy and basic management notions means that they cant always be rtrusted to to understand when the govt is crassly violaring all principles of good governance . Thats the achiles heel of a democracy where people dont have the knowldge or basic notions to judge the governance of their rulers .

    Also there is the tendency of political cannibalism even in a normal democratic situation where oppo parties will make venomed denunciations of that the authorities do even when there are reasons that justify what they do or prevents govts when they make mistakes ( which is inevitable in any complex human endevour) of admitting to them and try to remedy their consequences.

    Good economic management is very difficult in an ordinary democracy unless most people have some capacity to understand how an economy works. and oppo parties are responsible rather than scandalous in their opposition to the govt. Evidently Im not talking about now but about a potential future situation where a normal democracy is restored. !!

  9. I really couldn’t give a shit if most people understand why this matters or not. The vast bulk of basic constitutional principles are, always have been, and always will be obscure to most people. That’s all the more reason for the people who do appreciate the absolute necessity of standing by basic principles of legality to double down on their defense of basic principles of legality. If we don’t, nobody will.

  10. While I totally share your frustration it’s hard not to chuckle. As we like to repeat, que es una raya mas para el tigre. The whole chavista edifice is so riddled with corruption and ineptness so as to make it worth asking, what do you expect? But more specifically. what you seem to suggest is that we should start digging through the pile of excrement that is this edifice until we find the law first decreeing formation of FONDEN; and then identify what was unconstitutional and ask why nothin was done back then to avert the looming orgy of corruption. My point: by this time we are in it so deep that it almost doesn’t seem to matter when and how it went so wrong, only how we get out of this mess. I somehow cannot picture anyone filing a motion to reveal how FONDEN is run, because there is no precedent.

    O yea, and even if it should be legally possible and a motion to open FONDEN to the public should pass, if I were Maduro I would simply decree an indefinite state of emergency due to the “economic war”, or whatever Animal Farm dictates should be done by the pigs around this moment in the story.

  11. Worst part is, will that EVER change? I mean will the next president, even if it’s from the opo, bring back some sense to democracy and transparency if people don’t demand it? Isn’t it just easier to run a government if you have a secret stash of almost endless money? I remember back then that was an argument to have with chavistas, “ok, you trust Chavez blindly, I cant really fight that, but would you be ok if some other guy, say Rosales, for whatever reason comes to the seat and gets to handle the secret funds?”…yeah, they still believed Chavez was going to be there forever…

    What I don’t get is that its obvious that Maduro doesn’t enjoy the same blind faith Chavez had, so why on earth do people still don’t care?

    It’s the same thing with term limits, yeah people trusted Chavez to rule forever because he would neeever abuse his position as president to win an election (…uhmjum) But what happens now? Will that same people demand for those limits to be in place for the next president? Apparently not…

    And will we ever have a decent government (of whatever color) without those basic building blocks?

    So…how do we get those back?

    • Chavistas are a bunch of moronic hypocrites, who hate so much the other venezuelans they prefer to destroy the country rather to admit they made a mistake or were cheated.
      And I talk about the “chavista de base”, not about the douchebags in the rotten dome.

  12. Could the lack of accountability be at least partly attributed to resource curse? I mean, Venezuela is a country sitting on an ocean of petroleum(black gold or devil’s shit, however you’d name it). Since she relies upon natural resources, the government doesn’t really feel the need to explain how it manages the proceeds from those resources to the general public. I know that’s the case with Nigeria. They’re a major oil producer and somehow they’re missing $20 billion from their oil funds!

    • Certainly part of it. When it’s your own tax money, taken out of your paycheck or paid at the end of each year, you damn well sure demand an account of how it’s spent.

      When it’s just revenue off of natural resources, I think there is less of a basic understanding that the money being spent is also YOUR money and less of a demand. It’s a dangerous and inaccurate understanding of things, certainly, but that’s probably a factor.

    • Venezuela has been extracting oil on a great scale since 1918 and it’s well known that a byproduct of the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo was Saudi Venezuela, which eventually led the country to its monetary collapse in 1983.

      How can it be explained that Venezuela was doing quite well between 1918 and 1973? Where were the lack of accountability and the resource curse you’re speaking of back then?

      • Venezuelans are born with a sense of entitlement that the countrys oil represents an infinite source of wealth that can work magic and that the governments job is to distribute it hands full to YOU and that generating private wealth through your own efforts is not really necessary to recieve lifes bounty handed over in a silver platter by a munificent state. Specially where the head of state is someone like YOU who loves you .

        Pols adopt the previous discourse of open handed populism , each time giving and promising more and more , even as the population grows exponentially , creating a system of increasing expectations which the real resources of the state cannot meet. resulting in periodical crisis !!

  13. Where accountability is defined by laws and these are subject to interpretation and factual abrogation by officials elected by a mayority that doenst understand the need for accountability nor how to judge where good or bad use is made of public resources then all the laws in the world will do nothing to make rulers accountable for their economic misdeeds .

    This is the tragedy of many third world democracies , most people arent educationally or culturally equiped to understand economic matters at a macro level or see through the lies and misinformation of dishonest and incompetent rulers .

    A law is only as good as the people that ennact it or enforce it or who apply it , and if the latter are corrupt and or able to decieve the mayoirty of the crassly ignorant over whom they rule then laws become more ornamental than functional. !!

    Of course this makes the need for the better informed minorities to judge and inform the public about the rulers use of public resources ever more important and urgent !!

  14. Off topic, though still within the “law” 🙂 – Can anyone explain to me the difference of the office of “Attorney General” headed by Fiscal General Luisa Ortega of the “Ministerio Público”; and the office of “Attorney General” Manuel E. Galindo Ballesteros, who heads the “Procuraduría General”. Is there such a thing as two “Attorney General’s”? or perhaps a better english translation of title’s is in order. Any clarification is appreciated.

  15. Not quite but close enough , the Fiscal is the State’s Prosecutor of criminal cases , The Attorney general is the States attorney for all other cases .

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