The Church of Hugo: A business approach

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The Church of Badass-dom

On the second anniversary of his, erm, sowing, I couldn’t help but reflect back on this story. About a year ago, I had to represent a client —a Canadian company— before a public institution. “Represent” is not quite the word though, it was more like interpreting, decoding, and tearing apart a business deal. A representative from the Canadian company – the Canadian – was sent to Caracas to assess the deal, which, as usual around these parts, seemed too good to be true.

The setting was the typical business meeting with chavistas: a small re-enactment of the sort of workshops that Chavez used to hold on national television, where jokes are cracked, people are mentioned, praise is doled out, with a dash of reprimand and public humiliation.

The meeting, in this case, was chaired by an Air Force officer – the Colonel – flanked by his lawyers.

Then, there was one of those slimy characters that abound in corrupt systems. One of these business intermediaries – the Liaison – who had been awarded the contract, and was now looking to my client to provide the actual service.

The Colonel was polite. He did, however, show special contempt towards his lawyers, often blaming them for delays on closing the deal and treating them like children. He ordered one of them to fetch coffee, then glanced at us, and an evil, proud, smirk slit his face as he fixed his eyes on the lawyer’s ass while she walked away.

The Liaison started praising the Colonel, the institution, and the project. He explained how it would be good for the country, and how it was in consonance with Chavez’s Plan for the Homeland.

What came next was neither a sermon nor quite a prayer. It was one of those rote speeches that young children from Margarita learn in order to entertain tourists with a fictionalized version of local history.

“You don’t know this,” said the Liaison to the Canadian. He paused, then turned towards me, and continued in a condescending tone, “and probably neither do you. Before Chavez, there was nothing. WE were nothing. Then, on February 4th 1992, he fell from the skies dangling from his parachute to bring hope and equality to the people. Like Bolívar, his father, before him. He endured many hardships. He was imprisoned, and when he got out was made President.”

“Then, evil, greedy, forces from the past deposed him from the presidency, and on the third day he came back and brought with him 21st century socialism. His return brought many years of wealth to the nation. And he ruled justly and generously. And fought fiercely against capitalism, and struggled gallantly to stay with us even when he was beign eaten away by cancer.”

“And then he died…”

“But not without leaving his words behind. His wish for us. His command. His plan. The Plan of the Homeland, HIS words. Since then, he has been planted in the same place where he landed from the skies on that historic 1992 morning, in the Cuartel de la Montaña. Planted in that soil, so he will sprout, and flourish, and grow strong like a Samán tree, to protect us, to give us shelter under his loving, generous, shadow.”

He made another short pause before closing his speech— “Chávez vive…”

“…. la patria sigue,“mumbled the others.

Their response sounded like that of a bored teenager in church. Nonetheless, they answered. Automatically, as protocol would seem to dictate.

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After we left the building I felt watched. From above. I looked up, and there HE was. Hallelujah.

Business resumed thereafter, and I’m sure I caught a glimpse of the Colonel rolling his eyes, having probably listened to the same speech for the umpteenth time.

Our deal was never closed. It was a good-old fat guiso, but it didn’t mesh.

The hallways of ministries and public institutions are swarming with clerical chavista bullshitters like the Liaison, with contracts under their arms, trying to get a piece of the loot. They are willing to humiliate themselves to gollumish levels, spewing out nonsense they don’t even believe in just to keep their lifeline.

Then there are the high ranking officials. Most of them were relatively close to Chavez. They don’t buy into the mythology, like our Colonel, but they play along because it has become a part of Bolivarian business jargon.

What’s curious about the Church of Hugo is that, even when the flock doesn’t seem to believe, and no one seems to oversee them, everyone follows the ritual. Their fear of each other is the backbone of the cult.

Or perhaps, deep down, they do believe a superstitious kind of belief: they are afraid of the wrath of the Supreme Commander, a fear rooted in an otherworldly realm no one can define but nobody dares mess with.

This helps explain why, to them, we’re not opponents. We’re apostates.

1 COMMENT

  1. Raul, excellent description of the cult/problems. It would be difficult for the Country to progress with even remnants of this cult persisting in the Govt.-total collapse, followed by excision, would seem to be necessary.

    • The whole theological angle is a bit irritating for me, and distracts from an analysis of the Chavéz cult.

        • Being an atheist, I have to disagree 😛

          Really, the whole cultish thing is bad. No need to say that apart from that it is something that “get people away from true God”. The whole mirror bit was more interesting – how the political Idol becomes a representation of the “people” in the minds of the “faithful”, and why that makes the insistence on “keeping him alive” so central to the “faith”.

          Of course there is another level: a dead symbol is quite useful as he or she cant contradict the ones that are using it. We reached that point with Bolivar long ago, and was the whole reason for the “bolivarianismo” in the “revolution”. WIth Chávez, I think, the distance is not so great yet for the Comandante to be just a prop to be used in whatever direction somebody else wants.

          In a sense, he is still alive, yes, because nobody has made him a tool of his or her designs, apart from the whole justification on being “the heir”.

  2. “The hallways of ministries and public institutions are swarming with clerical chavista bullshitters like the Liaison, with contracts under their arms, trying to get a piece of the loot”.

    Raul, great piece! I have been through several of these extenuating exercises. I have not commented about any of those here because being a foreigner (although neighbour), somehow I felt I shouldn’t. But the picture that you brought about in your post has been part of the real world in the corridors of Venezuela government institutions for a long time. They talk a lot about his ideological BS, make sure you understand that the “liaison” is the one that will get things through and then start a sweet talk about “contributions” and all the other different ways of ensuring that their savings to buy a house and a great lifestyle in Florida will be made possible through your cooperation.

    You know what, at the beginning of all this, considering the previous socio-economic (mostly income distribution) of Venezuela, which by the way was about the same of most other Latin america countries, I somehow believed (or hoped ?) that something serious and advanced was coming forward. But unfortunately the inner workings of the system is closer to Zimbabwe than to any other model.

    I remember that after my first trips to Venezuela, a few years after HSF took power, fellow businessmen in my country used to ask me: how come this guy made it? My standard reply: fly to Caracas and during the one hour trip from la Guardia to your hotel make sure you keep looking both ways of the road and avenues. By the time you check in you will understand why he got it. Now, many years afterwards, I think that those living in those places may be the same ones who will get rid of the PSUV guys. Difference is that HSF talked their language and had the ability to manipulate them and make them believe in the future. Now there is no one with that kind of capability and relationship with the masses. That is what worries me the most: no food and no hope. Eventually it can get ugly. Hope that the opposition can find a way to negotiate a transition properly with those who actually matter: Chavez widows.

    • “…how come this guy made it?
      …HSF talked their language and had the ability to manipulate them and make them believe in the future.”

      He promised them a future of revenge and payback against those they hated, the “resentidos” are not called like that for nothing.

  3. So the liason is basically a fatter, greasier version of Starscream from the transformers series: A spineless buttkisser with a chronic backstabbing disorder, who’s willing to screw anybody at any time just to get a profit right now.

    Or for those not familiarized with the ficticious character, the liason is a representation of the disgusting “vivo criollo”, who is actually a pile of rot.

  4. ‘Apostate’ is a very apt descriptor to underscore the deep chasm that exists between the ‘two Venezuelas.” Religion and political ideology are indeed powerful narcotics that foster disdain, hatred and divisions in national communities. It fractures a previouly shared national narrative and at its worst promotes and shapes paroxysm and fratricide.

  5. Pardon my french but MAricooooooo! Befoer Feb 4t nothing existed? I would have asked stat to change the year in my cedula then I could be younger on paper…I am trying to imagine what face i would be doing (because I am kind of transparent) So difficult…

    • Thats the modus operandi of the “revolution” since the beginning. They have spent a lot of effort into erasing any conscience of the actual history of Venezuela in the last century and imposed as the gospel their own twisted interpretation of it. Any attempt to tell them otherwise marks you as an “oligarch”.

      Sometimes I wonder if the new generations are buying all this bullshit and how will that be the most poisonous legacy of the chavistas.

      • There’s people that actually believe the poor ate perrarina in the 4th.

        …And for anybody who lived in the 4th, that’s a hilarious lie.

  6. Raul, thanks for the great inside-the-room piece. This took place a year ago…I wonder if you think it might be any different now? There’s a this-is-the-way-it-is-follks arrogance that strikes me as too confident for today’s climate. I would guess that today’s meetings have more of a ticking clock feeling. What do you think?

    • Thanks Lucia. I do think things are different today. Although praise for Chavez is higher than ever in political speeches —due to the the lack of oomph of the chavista leadership—, public officials have toned down while dealing with outsiders. Meetings with the government run swiftly. The problem they have is the sterile system that Chavez left behind. Even in the face of emergency, the government’s pisamanguera policy kills decision making. This is nothing new, of course, it just has worsened because there is less to go around.

  7. As I read your story, I kept getting images of “Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom” Hollywood fest crossing my mind. We all know how this will end. These cults of personality never end well. They always end up eating their own young. A lot of hearts will be ripped out still beating before it all end in a big conflagration of suffering and Fire.

    If you had asked me me 30 years ago that this was the future of the county, I would have told you that you were bat-shit-crazy.

  8. Stolk, do you intend keeping your job? Because bullshitting on a blog isn’t going conducive to you keeping your job.

    You’re a lawyer? For real?

    • Hmmm, a threat and an insult couched in false moral outrage. The Commandante Eterno has spawned many imitators, but they just don’t sing!

      • Wow.

        What company would consider appropriate that their employee talks smack about a negotiation?

        That comment on the other party’s fixation on the lawyer’s ass is just completely out of place. Raul Stolk could not be a professional by any means. This is z-lister journo.

          • Listen, child, I don’t care about soliciting moral outrage.

            I’m trying to explain that people that in reality do the job Raul Stolk claims he does, don’t trade their chances of ever getting hired again for a fucking blog post about how the party he’s mediating with has a fixation on their lawyer’s ass.

          • If you thought THAT particular fixation was the point of the post, and in your view the author has engaged in some moral or ethical shortcoming in not being fully alive to his private interest, then I suggest you light another candle for HCF and celebrate the path he has set you on.

          • “engaged in some moral or ethical shortcoming in not being fully alive to his private interest”

            This is precisely why z-listers get away with it. Their retarded reader base thinks social matters are constrained to right and wrong. You came here for a story and you leave satisfied without questioning the likelyhood of a mediator resorting to drama.

          • I leave satisfied that Stolk’s account has you hopping mad, dspur. And your reaction is way out of proportion — for the pseudo oppo that you periodically pretend to be.

          • that you’re replying to me and anyone else you consider not worthy of your crown jewels and pseudo-oppo spin reveals that you consider us worthy of your time. Thank you for your attention. I am so humbled.

          • Me huele a mujer. As in, “I am woman, hear me roar.” No man would be so outraged by the base, if not twisted instinct of another man ogling a woman’s ass, unless that woman’s ass were his daughter’s.

        • It is a fricken’ “anecdote” from his own personal experience, not “journalism”. He can tell the story any way he wants to.

  9. This story seems like a loose parallel to the biblical story of Moses delivering his people from slavery. No doubt, the original Moses story got polished up a bit before it went to print too. All legends are invented after the fact. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.

  10. Ive had my share of contacts business and otherwise with people inside the whale and although some things sound familiar ( like the presence of an outsider who has an inside track into the mind of the people sitting with you and who could talk on their behalf) never did I hear any adoring or even passing reference to the dear departed leader or to anybodys loyalty to his message or memory . If any reference was made to some aspect of the cult it was done perfunctorily , matter of fact and with a kind of mute embarrassment , sometimes lowering the eyes. Except for two old people (absolute asses of course) who did disclose their identification of the project most people ignored all references to it and tried speaking matter of factly and professionally about the subject at hand . Often words or references would come out sort of indirectly letting you know that they disagreed with the policies of the upper ups but that they were there to obey . I do believe that many people inside the whale may pay lip service to the cult but feel no real devotion to it and that many are even disgusted by it or by the decisions and tone of the main Priests but are careful not to show it to protect themselves from being branded blasphemers.!! Very common was for people to try to give excuses no body had asked them to give about how come the upper echelons had fucked up in their decisions leading them to the problems they were facing .!!

    I sense that the cult is really something that exists in the very lowest rungs of the whale structure or in people who have come to represent the regime in a rather official way. !!

    • So far you have first hand experience trading BBL’s for lightbulbs (or was it your “friend” in the URSS?), mediating with public offices and applied-marxism.

      • I have many many friends from long time ago , some are people who are deep deep inside the whale , some are actual believers , some less so , after a long long period of working many sides of a business or task with all kinds of people you come to know or understand all kinds of stuff , it comes with age , iis also comes with close obesservation and watching what makes most ordinary people tick , the barter of light bulbs for oil was an actual experience from long time ago , not my own but taht of a very close friend who now lives abroad. Sometimes I fudge a bit with details to keep trolls like you guessing or from sheer love of mischief . the interest with Marxs thought however is genuine , he was such a smart guy at the same time such a sucker , he was a brilliant figure (specially poking his finger at the rapacious smugness of the capitalism of his time) but very naive as to the possibility of dreaming up a society that coul replace it with a perfectly ordered one. I feel that much of what he thought was betrayed by his adoring but dumber disciples .!! also by his puerile adoration of the german style of doing philosophy of his time !!

        I sincerely must thank you for inspiring me to reread somethings I had forgotten about his thought. !! tht maybe wasnt your intent but still ….its given me a bit of fun !!

          • You know, he’s got to try to convince himself that we are all a bunch of evil soulless baby-eating monsters, just as the strawmen caricatures and stereotypes created by the cult to justify their assholery.

            That’s why he lashes like a rabid animal at the slightest provocation, sayig idiotic stuff like “you hate the poor because you’re fascist” or “the family of the kid that was murdered with the shotgun is using him as a political tool, which means they are rotten as persons”.

  11. 20 minutes after N. Smith’s report: 283.58 !!!! This is panic selling.

    I don’t see this as merely pent-up commercial demand from people who were waiting for SIMADI any longer. This is something bigger. For what it is worth, here is my interpretation of what is driving this. First, remember that the DolarToday rate is interpreted from the rate of exchange in a very informal marketplace in Cucuta, Colombia. The vast majority of currency trades there are with drug money, smuggling money, and money from various other shady activities, along with informal exchange for commercial clients. Suppose that the consensus amongst all the various Chavista officials, generals, and other beneficiaries of the system was that the whole house of cards were about to collapse? They would sell out and convert all assets in Bolivars into hard currencies as rapidly as possible and at any price.

    Any other interpretation that fits the facts here?

  12. On Thursday I’ll be defending my Master’s thesis on this very issue: “Chavez’s Apostles. PSUV: The discourse of Political Religion”. I came to the same conclusion as you.

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