Public Life: The Nth Casualty

Left to right: America's diplomat, Haiti's president, Venezuela's foreign minister and its drug lord.
Left to right: America’s diplomat, Haiti’s president, Venezuela’s foreign minister and its drug lord.

What will have a bigger impact on the lives of Venezuelans over the next, say, two to five years?

The parliamentary elections slated for later this year, or whatever was said behind closed doors between Thomas Shannon and Diosdado Cabello in Haiti this weekend?

That’s the question that kept gnawing at me as I stared at this picture (for far too long) today.

And you know what? It’s no contest. The Haiti meeting wins, hands down.

Venezuela faces many transcendent questions today. What will happen to the elite narco-military clique Diosdado godfathers? When will the chavista chokehold over the CNE, the Courts, the Fiscalía ,and the other nominally-independent institutions of state be broken? Who will implement the fiscal and monetary adjustment needed to restore a semblance of order to economic life? Who will govern Venezuela? How can the transition out of the current catastrophy be made orderly?

On all of these, the Port-au-Prince meeting just laps the election.

I don’t have any particular insight into what Shannon and Diosdado talked about. I can’t do any more than wonder what kinds of deals were cut, or what threats were made, or even what the agenda might have been. For all I know, they were talking about Esquivel.

But that’s the point: regular people have no access to the discussion that really matter for the future of Venezuela. At all.

The whole idea of public life – of an impassioned public debate by regular citizens about the future of their polity – looks quaintly outdated. And that leaves people like you and me – passionately interested in public life but without privileged access to information – looking more and more superfluous. We are public opinion roadkill.

The grotesquely disfigured simulacrum of a public sphere we see in VTV and La Patilla resembles the real thing less and less. The reason, mostly, is that chavista power can’t conceive of the public sphere as having any independent purchase on the real decisions that determine the course of the ship of state, any kind of capacity for independent opinion formation, interest formulation or – heaven forbid – exercising influence.

Actually, I think the real takeaway from the whole lurid, terribly amusing, but ultimately impossibly sad Jim Luers Affair is that even a estas alturas del partido VTV and AVN still haven’t taken down the original articles quoting the non-existent mug. They just don’t give even the tiny-little-bit-of-a-fuck it would take to minimally cover their tracks, even if all that means is taking down some of the most extravagantly debunked pieces of misinformation they’ve disgraced themselves with in ages.

Or take the BCV’s increasingly bizarre determination to simply not publish any more statistics about the economy. Ever. Even though they have them, and we know they have them, and they know that we know they have them. Why? It’s that attitude again, the same one that shines through their failure to retract the Jim Luers stories.

It’s not carelessness, exactly: it’s contempt. Contempt for their readers, yes, but also a deeper kind of contempt – contempt for the principle that what regular people know can or should matter. At all.

Contempt for public life.

Yes, the situation is catastrophic on the government side. But let’s not gloat too much. It’s not like the MUD celebrates the kind of engaged public life the government is busy trying to eradicate. On the contrary, a cogollocratic opposition leadership similarly feeds its rank-and-file pap about unity even as its narrative comes to look every bit as threadbare as SiBCI’s.

In those circumstances, the handful of spaces fighting to preserve something like the real thing – this blog among them – find ourselves fighting a losing battle.

None of the discussions that matter take place in public. None of the discussions that matter get reported on. The future of Venezuela is locked up in a million Port-au-Prince style closed-door confabs, with the Port-au-Prince meetings’ only real distinguishing trait being that somehow, someone started snapping pictures, and they ended up being made public – not to inform anyone of anything actually said, of course, but just to suit the propaganda needs of a government that doesn’t communicate in any other key.

We’re used to bemoaning the death of Venezuelan democracy. What I”m getting at is something related, but separate. We’re not just losing our democracy, we’re losing the Republic – the res publica, the whole notion of the state as a public thing we’re all entitled to know about and discuss and argue over and build consensus about.

And that’s worse, because a vibrant public sphere is a prerequisite to a healthy democracy. Try to institute the latter before you have the former and you end up like Libya.

Which, come to think of it, may be very much the way we’re headed.