Down with the oligarchs

In his weekly Sobremesa, Juan asks if the opposition has really faced up to its oligarch problem.

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When you talk about Chávez’s legacy with foreigners, the one thing that nearly always comes up is “but it couldn’t all have been bad, what positive change did Hugo Chávez bring?”

If you’re like me, you tend to fall back on something like: “well, he put the issue of poverty up front and center, and that’s a good thing.”

But there is another issue in which Chávez was right, one that we seldom dare speak about.

Chávez was right about the oligarchy, and in denouncing them, he did a good thing.

There must be a million quotes of Hugo Chávez saying he was going to “do away with the oligarchy.” He talked at length about the oligarchy in the XIXth, XXth, and XXIst Century. After a while, it all became boring, the incessant rants of a dying man, repeated ad nauseam by his acolytes, who would add on things like:

“To accomplish their goals, [the US] has the surrendered support of a local oligarchy that knows no homelad who only wishes to recover their lost privileges in exchange for our natural resources and the entire nation to their masters in the North.”

It pains me to say that, after years of writing about chavismo, the claim has some truth to it.

The opposition is full of smart, hard-working, wonderful people, but it also has some pretty detestable characters. I don’t believe the arguments about them engaging in “economic war” or being “pro-American pitiyanquis.” But the part about the oligarchy and their lost privileges? I’m with Chávez on that one.

The Venezuelan opposition contains many people who, indeed, are oligarchs: people who used to be in all the right places, who would benefit from all the right contracts, and live off oil wealth like it belonged to them. People with unearned privileges who felt the country owed it to them.

You’ve probably been around some of them.

The entitled caraqueñito who blabbers on about his piñatas en el Country, rolling his “r”s like only an entitled caraqueñito can.

The frustrated technocrat who honestly believes he, and only he, knows what is good for the country, and everyone else is wrong.

The former Blue-label-guzzling businessman who had to flee the country and now has to (gasp!) work for a living as middle manager in some unremarkable Florida firm.

The sifrinita who still refers to chavistas as “monos.”

And so on …

These folks, most of them members of the caraqueño elite, ruled the land like the owned the place, and they still have not realized they no longer do. They had lifestyles that could not be explained according to normal Venezuelan incomes. They looked down on anyone not like them. The people who lived paycheck to paycheck? Suckers.

The “widowed oligarchs” approach the revolution not in the way a citizen approaches a political process, but as a landowner approaches a squatter on his plot of land. How dare this rabble take over my country?, they seem to be saying.

Chávez got tons of political millage out of his rhetoric in part because the attacks rang true.

Normally, this wouldn’t matter much. “So what?” you might be thinking. Every group has its loonies, and ours are nowhere near as bad as theirs.

But as chavismo’s inevitable collapse approaches, I’m beginning to sense that the “indignant crowd” (to call them something) sees an opening to get back on top and rule the roost once again. In fact, they might just be calling the shots.

As change approaches, the special interests appear to be lining up – backing this or that political leader, looking to place their people in all the right policy circles, trying to frame the debate in the way that benefits them, always looking to be on top of the bandwagon … when the bandwagon drives up Av. Urdaneta.

They do this not out of patriotism, and certainly not looking out for the best interests of the country, although I’m sure there’s a bit of that even in the most rancid of oligarchs.

No. They do it for themselves. Our selfless opposition leaders are just vessels for their own glory, power, and money. Principles? Those are for suckers.

We are social animals, and it’s natural for some of us to want to be the alpha male. A little ambition can go a long way, and is generally a force for good. The problem is when unguided ambition and self interest disguised as “the struggle for democracy” becomes one of the guiding forces in your movement. I think it’s a legitimate question to ask ourselves to what extent our political movement is hostage to these special interests.

So … does the opposition have an “oligarchy” problem? Is it important? Let’s get the sobremesa going.

78 COMMENTS

  1. First of all: my family definitely did not belong to the oligarchy and yet I reject this credo that Chávez was the first one to “put the issue of poverty up front and center”. It seems as if we are afraid to deny this one claim less people think we are so “ultra right”….funny, as I am not one.

    My father was one of those who, even if not an adeco, would tell me how AD had actually brought about so much for the poor much more effectively firstly in a couple of years before Chávez’s hero, right-winged dictator Pérez Jiménez, forced his way to power and in the few years after he was thrown out. The land reform in the early sixties, even if small, was more significant than anything Chávez did. The way education improved back then was something we have never seen again.

    What Chavismo did manage to do incredibly well was to erase a lot of the memories of a lot of Venezuelans.

    Yes, Adecos ended up merging with the old oligarchy and a new one also appeared. But this bring us to something else: oligarchic groups in Venezuela, except for a couple of those who claim to have “Bolivar’s blood” or the like, renew themselves much more in Venezuela than in other places. A lot of the wealthiest people in Venezuela in the XX century were actually Cubans and others who had recently arrived.

    And new oligarchs keep appearing.

    The brother of former Chavista minister and military coupster Miguel Torres was briefly kidnapped and those who read every detail realised he had a hacienda of 500 hectares. I would not be surprised if the Torres family has much more land in Apure.

    http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/140709/intento-de-secuestro-sacude-la-unidad-chavista-en-apure

    The Chacín clan and surely many other milicos have thousands and thousands of hectares;

    Would we call Diosdado Cabello woring class?

    When Chavistas tell me “no volverán” I tell them: “de qué carajo hablas? De los oligarcas,
    Uds nunca se han ido, nunca en la historia de Venezuela han salido Uds del poder.”

  2. What Chavez did was oust the oligarchs and instill his regime as the new oligarchs. At least past governments weren’t as self destructive as this one in terms of economic policies.

  3. “The frustrated technocrat who honestly believes he, and only he, knows what is good for the country, and everyone else is wrong.”

    Yeah… It’s really bad to have people think about the country ad-nausseum and develop informed opinions. Truly, these people are as hateful and despicable as the bolichicos.

    I do believe the country has an oligarchy problem, and that a very large portion of it has Pre-Chávez origins. Putting academics with strong opinions nearly in the same ballpark is, I think, incorrect.

    • Oligarchs are a problem but Chavismo has done nothing against them, really…as long as they cooperated, they were left alone. Other oligarchs came in.

      What people don’t get is more general and it is something I keep repeating:
      that Venezuela is still an utterly feudal country, in many senses. Oligarchy is just a part of that.

  4. I think we have to hilar más finito. Haranguing generically against insufferable toffs is fun and everything, but who and what are we talking about exactly?

    As a matter of political economy, Caracas has an especially weak traditional ruling class. The Mantuano elite had already been decimated by the 1830s and never really managed to put itself back into the center of the country’s political or economic life in the way it had been in the Colonial Era.

    The 19th Century saw a whole rotating cast of newly minted elites, each cycling in and out of influence within a couple of decades. The Andean elite of the 1899-1945 period never entirely went native in Caracas, and at any rate oversaw a structural shift in the control of the economy from the screwed-up 19th century montonera pattern to a petrostate model where the commanding heights of the economy were always basically in state hands. (Or at least starting with Medina Angarita’s hydrocarbons law.)

    So as bogeymen go, the insufferable toffs of Caracas had been in a relatively weak position vis-à-vis successive waves of arriviste power groups for 160 years even before Chávez took power on an explicit promise to destroy the material basis of their power, which he and Maduro have proceeded to do with absolute determination and pretty impressive success.

    So then what exactly are we talking about? You certainly don’t mean oligarchs in the traditional political economy sense of “people who run the country by virtue of having a lot of money” – probably the last Venezuelan to actually put himself in a position to run the country largely because he was filthy rich was one Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad.

    But OK, granted, yes, Caracas has long had a relatively small, very white, horribly unsympathetic stratum of high society whose main objection to chavismo has been pretty unspeakable in terms of rank snobbery and class hatred. I should know, I grew up among those people! The vast majority of them have left. Maybe 10 years ago they were making life plans around returning to power 12-de-abril style, but to my mind what’s really remarkable is that most of them have pretty much made their peace with permanent exile by now. Their kids grew up abroad: they never went to the big 15 años bashes, couldn’t point out Playa El Agua on a map. Venezuela’s become an abstraction to them. The better positioned ones have transmuted their elite education abroad into elite jobs abroad. They just ain’t going back.

    A few are probably thinking to go back, and a relative handful may even have some jalado-por-los-pelos dream of running the show like the last 16 years never happened. But in sheer power terms, will they be in any kind of position to call the shots on their return? Do you really think when these guys call Chuo Torrealba on the phone and tell him to jump, Chuo asks “how high?” Really?

    • There is something I don’t understand about Venezuela’s elite, which happens to be whiter than the average Venezuelan.

      I have a hard time believing that they are the direct and relatively unmixed descendants of the Spanish. It’s not like the Spanish were careful about not mixing, and I’m sure all the civil wars in the XIX century blurred whatever ethnic lines were left.

      In any case, my own particular theory is that Caracas’s white-ish elite are mostly related to the italian, lebanese and jewish inmigrants of the early XX century and to the italian,spanish and portuguese inmigrants of the 50s. Not being from Caracas, I was always surprised when I visited family there as a kid, and noticed that all of their relatively wealthy neighbors had “foreign” last names. And I keep seeing that, most Venezuelans at top schools in the US have non-Spanish last names.

      So while our elite is white, I don’t think they are the same as the white elite in Bolivia, who do actually go all the way back to colonial times.

      What do you think?

      • Whiteness is an obsession of American observers of Latin America with its own provincially North American cultural baggage and naval-gazing political theory.

        “White” is a far more fluid thing in Venezuela, with very multiracial population genetics, and many instances where your own relatives may look drastically different than you.

        I listen often to my American social justice warrior friends prattle on about “white elites” with only the dimmest understanding of Venezuela. Our very own Hun school harvard educated master of the valley political prisoner has appreciably dark skin and would certainly NOT be treated as “white” within, say, North Dakota. Especially if they threw him in janitor garb and gave him a pail. Watch how quickly he becomes something else!

        I say that not to pick on Lopez, whom I respect the shit out of, but to raise a point. White is something far more contextualized within American borders than an average white American himself can readily appreciate. I know a little of this, because I am an English speaking, Venezuelan immigrant with white skin whom nobody would ever expect would be Latin.

        But the couple of times in my life some pissy racist American called me a “spic” it was me speaking Spanish to a friend. Somehow the whitewashy glasses fall of when its a different language.

        • “Our very own Hun school harvard educated master of the valley political prisoner…”

          If Leopold Lopez is “non-white”, then the most popular American TV show of the early 1950s featured an interracial couple. Do Americans make distinctions about “Latins”? Yes. But as in Venezuela, “white” in America has a variety of meanings.

          Distinctions are made on a basis of contrast with background. For example, in the film Hatari! a group of adventurers capture wild animals in East Africa. The group includes Europeans, Americans (including an Indian), and a Mexican. But in the context they are all “white”. On the other hand, I once read this bit of dialog from circa-1900 upper Midwest America: “There’s no white men living out there, just a bunch of Swedes.”

          IOW, “white” could mean “anglo”, or it could mean “European descended”, or it could mean “not black African”.

    • I think you have never been in Valencia or other towns, if you think about it…and well Los Amos del valle es Uno, but not middle class professional could , or even belong to that , ever. And Well now, that has changed so much right? some of the same last names with boliburgueses contacts…yeah…he put it there….and? and really living in el cafetal well that was never more thatn what the call Clase C ( and yes gasp because lots of people would like to think they were higher middle class, not really)
      name dropping, scholl dropping etc…well that is something that I still see in many languages countries etc…so

  5. I was thinking this article might turn to be interesting, until I got to the stupid chaburro cliché of “…he put the issue of poverty up front and center, and that’s a good thing…”

    EVERY. SINGLE. GOVERNMENT. Before chaburrismo put the issue of poverty up front and center, because it has been a problem that EVERY previous government tried to address one way or another, or at least, like chaburrismo did, for mere rethorical purposes.

    You should know that better that I, after all, I’m younger than you.

  6. I really don’t understand your ire. Every single country has its families with accumulated fortunes. It usually works like this:

    First generation: Some guy either works hard or gets lucky and makes a small fortune.

    Second generation: The first generation still remembers being poor and teaches their children to appreciate it and how to make more money. The fortune grows.

    Third generation: Their parents don’t remember being poor, and their children grow up with expectations of wealth and privilege forever.

    Fourth generation: By now, the original fortune is getting diluted and squandered.

    Fifth generation: OMG! I have to get a job?

    So, yes, there are always some wealthy people, and quite a number of them are insufferably snobbish about it. What of it?

  7. Quico, point taken… But it’s not as simple as all that. No me maten, but isn’t the reason ll and mcm are kind of forsaken in their struggle by the large majority that this oligarchic speech shines through? The very fact that oppo talking points revolve around an ephimeral change, that none of them seem to feel aludidos by the chavista anger nor feel that they somehow need to justify their right to rule, points to some kind of given obviousness that chavismo is a mistake wich should nevet have happened in the first place. 60%+ may be willing to vote against Maduro, but the chavista line still holds sway overuch more than that percentage. Meaning: yeah, we do kind of nerd to justify ourselves and make honest amends.

    If you think Chavez’ spiel is the same as all previous populism, if you don’t see the difference between “you poor thing!” and “you new ruler,” you have no idea wtf just happened (for 16 years).

    • “If you think Chavez’ spiel is the same as all previous populism, if you don’t see the difference between “you poor thing!” and “you new ruler,” you have no idea wtf just happened (for 16 years).”

      Excellent synthesis of the difference between the better part of the chavismo spiel and all previous attempts to help the poor, not only by the State, but also by the Church.

      Too bad the “you, new ruler” was such a spiel, the infrastructure behind it was weakly designed and delivered, and it remains to this day, nothing more than a spiel.

  8. So, instead of electing educated people to public office, we should elect working people instead… like bus drivers. Oh, wait…

    Sorry. I guess I hadn’t gotten it out of my system yet.

    Seriously, Juan… This is so “zero sum mentality”. Being wealthy doesn’t make someone a threat to rest of society.

    Now, if you want to get serious about reforms that would actually do something to break up Latifundos, the best way is to levy significant property taxes. This forces land and property holders to actually do something productive with them or forces them to sell. Most of what is structurally wrong with the Venezuelan political system is too much centralization. Power must be decentralized and states and municipalities must run off of locally collected taxes instead of funds dispersed from the federal government.

    • How about this: We contract a country to nuke this country into oblivion and we’ll never have to worry about corrupt politicians or food lines ever again!

    • “So, instead of electing educated people to public office, we should elect working people instead… like bus drivers. Oh, wait…”

      Allow me to fix this:

      “So, instead of electing educated people to public office, we should elect people who think that being ignorant, uneducated and stupid is the right thing instead… like somebody who constantly portays ignorance and misery as cool stuff. Oh, wait…”

  9. As it has been said in other comments, the truth is there has not been an oligarchy that could be traced back to the days of la colonia.

    What is true is that different groups of people throughout our history have put themselves on the government and used the state for their own personal interests, in detriment of the rest of the population.

    The solution to this is a truly liberal-demcratic regime, where the individual is at the center of it all. The state would be at the service of all, which really means at the service of no one. The only way out of this mess if by building a country where each person can fulfill their own aspirations through their own personal work and effort, as long as it does not interfere with the aspirations of another.

    I do not think this post has any substance. In fact, I would even say their is some Chavista resentment in it.

  10. After Juan’s outright endorsement of Lovato’s infamous piece on FP about Leopoldo Lopez back in July (see 100 comments on CCS Chronicles since then or the cheesy amendments since) now this, one can only conclude that his over religious, clearly populist or leftist biases have invaded the good man’s soul.

    Oligarchs? From Simon Bolivar to the brightest politicans even Churchil or Franklin, or sifirinos pelucones, burguesitos for good reasons. The problem is lack of basic education and massive corruption, ask Chavez’s pretty billionaire daughters.

  11. ol·i·gar·chy
    ˈäləˌɡärkē/
    noun
    a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution.
    “the ruling oligarchy of military men around the president”
    a country governed by an oligarchy.
    “the English aristocratic oligarchy of the 19th century”
    government by oligarchy.

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/oligarchy

    What else does Cleptozuela’s Chavista little band of criminals and military have today?

  12. Massive public Ignorance prefers Capriles or Chavez or Cabello or even Masburro. Instead of Leopoldo, myself, or Maria Corina. The numbers are there on every poll, today. It’s beyond pathetic, to the point that they deserve every cola sabrosa they will get until 2019.

  13. “Too bad the “you, new ruler” was such a spiel, the infrastructure behind it was weakly designed and delivered, and it remains to this day, nothing more than a spiel.”

    Right, a yell in the dark more than an actual political program. The question for the oppo: will you acknowledge the yell, with all the scary soul-searching that would involve, or is 16 years not enough?

  14. Chavismo isn’t an enemy, I think. It is a well grounded “enough.” To call it a cry for help would be to miss what it demands most vehemently: dignity, a place in politics and in society. That’s my interpretation of Juan’s article, and I applaud the bravery. “Mono? Y si te quito PDVSA? Sigo siendo mono??”

    Chavez is deeply loved. Let’s do acknowledge the reasons why.

    • The reasons are a landslide of lies and brainwashing, along a truckload of impunity for ransaking the public funds and slaughtering the population.

      Sure, people who love to be told that the abject misery they live is NOT their fault but the fault of those they envy, kleptomaniacs who made themselves rich looting billions in weeks, and criminals who can steal and kill at their leasure REALLY love the corpse, man.

  15. The oligarchy was destroyed during the war of independence , thereafter Venezuela has lived under the aegis of mostly military caudillos and the circle of their closest supporters who changed composition every so many years , there is no tradition of a permanent class of rich oligarchs monopolizing political power, In Venezuela people achieve power quite independently of their personal wealth or class connections thru their involvement in military or political feats !! Lots of people who achieved power came from humble backgrounds , Paez , Monagas , Guzman Blanco, Crespo, Cipriano Castro, Gneral Juan Vicente Gomez , Betancourt , Perez Jimenes, CAP were not the children of wealth or of aristocratic families. Chavez used peoples penchant for professing glamorized passions and hatreds to create the myth of a Venezuelan oligarchy …very sad to see people who should read more history adopt the Chavez view . If you want to look at a country with a real oligarchy , look at Colombia !!

  16. I think that these “olygarchs” you denounce, like chiguire’s Maria Alejandra Lopez do exist, but they are as imposible to “fix” as chavista radical who will honestly believe every mojon the goverment throws at them. They have always existed in every country on earth. Unlike what Diosdado and co. may say, they are also human.

    The kind of narrative you display in this article was invented by communists like 150 years ago as a way of harnessing the power of the masses so they could help them replace the existing olygarchy with their own. And is still in use and somewhat effective.

    So you have two group of radical at both ends, they accuse each other of similar things, it’s easy to demonize the other, what is hard is to break the circle of resentment, I think the best way of doing the latter is isolating both ends and just do what is proven that have to be done to get a country going, this is what I think Capriles is trying to convey.

    It’s easier to get into power under the wings of radicals than on a platform of pragmatism tho.

  17. It occurs to me that Chavez’ talk of oligarchs and oligarchy may also be interpreted as a kind of rhetorical device of sorts that served particular ends for chavismo. I say this because it seems rather odd to speak of oligarchs and oligarchy in Venezuela, if compared for example to Colombia where the concept seems to make more sense and fit better, even if it still sounds somewhat anachronistic. On the other hand, in Venezuela with AD and Carlos Andres Perez (a Gocho and not a Caraquenio) there also developed a sense that poverty and inequality was being addressed in some significant way. Although in retrospect one may be skeptical of how much of that is a kind of myth with some minimal foundation in real wealth redistribution — Here I think Venezuela’s oil wealth in the 1970s rather distorts things in significant ways. I believe that oil wealth or better yet the perception of oil wealth shaped and distorted economic/class/race inequality in Venezuela. But more to the point, some of the reactionary elements in the opposition are no doubt worrisome, although in relative terms they pale in comparison to such elements in South American countries such as Colombia and even Chile, for example.

    PS. Great job on the new Caracas Chronicles!

  18. Boliborgeois, Enchufado, Sifrina, Oligarcho, Escualido. and so on….all are Venezuelan. All climbing over eachother inside the crab bucket that is the present state of things.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crab_mentality

    The sooner we can stop perpetuating these bullshit wedge issues and look at things in terms of how all sectors of society can build a better representative government based on respect versus erasure and insults, the better.

  19. Juan these are timely and obviously provocative observations. Well said. Of course anyone who speaks of Chavez outside Venezuela will say, he had the poor in mind. Of course they say that, and as far as it goes, he did. He just didn’t help them the way he and many people think. He was in fact, an oligarch.

    The regime is not falling because of a broad based, unified democracy movement. It is falling because oil prices are lower and people want to turn back the clock to what was before oil prices were lower. Within this collapse is no popular democratic urge, no seed of reform. So the reformers, even the best and even the sons and daughters of the oligarchy who “get it”, have failed to bring the people with them, and vice versa. There is no democratic wave coming. There is just a wave that says, get these people out.

    So yes, the Venezuelan opposition has an oligarch problem, but that simply means, there will be nothing changed when the current bunch are voted or otherwise forced out. The oligarch mandate, the oligarch structural problem, the oligarch way of thinking, the idea of ‘status’ as the central ordering principle, will remain. I fear.

    • “…he had the poor in mind…”

      So did CAP, Lusinchi, Caldera, Campins, and every 4th republic president, no one wins elections anywhere if they don’t “have the poor in mind” so it’s better to look for another “virtue” of the corpse and chavismo.

  20. This is a very poor blog entry. If you say that somebody hacked your account and wrote this, I would believe you. Even me, a caraqueñito, would give you the benefit of the doubt.

    And Quico, you are insulting your whole family when you write that you grew up among those people. Do you really think that our main objection was class hatred? So we could not foresee the disaster that was coming? Fyi I never hated chavez because he was a ‘mono’ I hated him because I just knew that he was never going to be a good president. Never!

    • I hated that sob because he was a murderer, a cowardly one also, and because of his regime now I’m a pelabolas with little to no possibilities of having the basic “independent non-mantenido grownup stuff” such as his own house.

      Also, being on the verge of death every time I go out due to his “impunity for loyalty deal” with the whole criminal structure in the country counts too to loathe him.

  21. Perhaps using the term oligarchy is too much. If one had existed in Venezuela, Chavez wouldn’t have made it to the presidency. What I think you are trying to convey is the poor’s disdain for the rich and vice versa; which is a long way from qualifying as an oligarchy.

    The struggle between the haves and the have nots will continue as long as someone is there to record it.

  22. People forget that in Venezuela a great many of the better off are only one generation away from being poor themselves , that social mobility has been common and massive for many years , that even quite well off people have many close relatives who are still poor or clinging to the edges of poverty , that family ties are strong and bind the richer and poorer members of a family close together, there is no established long term better off class of the wealthy and powerful who monopolize political power because wealth is not wed to power but the other way around, it is power which attracts wealth or at least a comfortable life style. Ive seen on a daily routine basis well off people and worse off people happily chatting together , helping each other out in queues and other social situations . equalitarism of treatment is a much appreciated social quality in Venezuela , there is even a pejorative name for people who are standoffish and arrogant in the way they relate to the worse off , they are called ‘hediondos’, (stinky). There are of course power cliques and social cliques which form around government big chiefs their friends and relatives , but they are cliques not classes . precisely one feature of Venezuelan life which stands out if our propensity for creating cliques of friends and political fellows , Venezuela is a country of cliques but cliques or ruling circles have in Venezuela no roots in the existence of traditional social classes of the wealthy and priviledged.

    Maybe Im influenced in my view by my parents and my own family members attitudes and behaviour towards people of more humble in origin , the naturalness with which they keep the exchanges and relationships cordial and warm, the spontaneous ease and friendliness with which they talk to them , the sincere concern about their lives , the effort at helping them in their problems, the unaffected manners and speech.

    Of course social divisions exist , and there are people whose attitudes towards the worse off is tinged with a petulant and petty scorn , but more than that there is the natural resentment which all human beings develop against those who are better off, that life has treated better than themselves , sometimes with reason sometimes simply because of the contingent way history and circumstances and biography combine to make the life of some easier and more comfortable than the life of others !!

    • The above is true. Yet this post reminded me of something that happened in 1999, on the day Chavez was invested ass President. In the company I worked for, the general comment was that Chavez “had no class”. Despite that I had never (and never have) voted for Chavez my first thought was “WTF?”.

      Maybe there is on Oligarchy per-se, however Elitism IS rampant, take a look at this: http://geert-hofstede.com/venezuela.html I don’t know how accurate Hofstede’s “cultural dimensions” thing is, but to me, it describes very accurately elitism here in Venezuela So pervasive is elitism here that IMHO, it trumps practicality every time.

  23. We don’t necessarily have an oligarchy problem, as several here have pointed out, but we most certainly have a political opportunism problem. Classism? Yes, but not nearly as many other south American countries. Even the entitled attitudes of those criticized here arise as an “inherited trait”, if you will, of the culture of political opportunism. I remember a refrain from the IV Republic that went
    “gobernar en Venezuela es como lear jojoto
    cinco anos roba uno
    y cinco anos roba el otro.

  24. Having witnessed for around a decade the yearning for the recent past from Venezuelans that are now “pelando bola” I can not agree more with Juan’s post. What do you think would happen if tomorrow, by an act of god, the triumvirate Capriles-Lopez-Machado was handed the reigns of the country. The same people that send you straight to the arms of the failed chavista era would take over and try to make up for lost time and income. The problem is that the institutional design of the country is geared towards a struggle to capture the vast rent that digging a hole on the ground and extracting a valuable liquid gives.

    The main difference with Colombia’s case is that the oligarchy in Venezuela included a vast part of the upper-middle class, not the 0.01% of the upper class. To put it in statistical terms, the right tail of the income distribution in Venezuela is a lot fatter than anywhere. To put it in anecdotal terms, it is not normal for someone who considers them self upper middle class to own one (or several) properties and bank accounts n Miami or New York, think that shopping in Sak’s Fifth Avenue is the way to go, or going on ski trips to Vail (by the way all three examples are true stories). I am not saying that thee people were corrupt (some might have been) but the simple fact of keeping an overvalued currency for years, or being subsidized by the government in any activity perpetuates this system.

    Another example of Colombia, we have been preparing for at least 20 years for the “post-conflict”, defined as the time when marxist guerrilla’s put down their arms. Now it seems we are close to getting there and believe me there are still many things to achieve but a lot of thought has been given to the problem to prevent people from trying to achieve political purposes with violence.

    Are Venezuelans prepared for the “post-chavismo” era? What kind of institutional design will be able to achieve this? Just market friendly policies will not do the job…

  25. Oligarch: a person who belongs to a small group of people who govern or control a country, business
    According to this definition by Merriam Webster the Venezuelan oligarchs are the chavistas, who have had almost total control of the country during the last 16 years. A more elastic definition would probably include the Venezuelan “aristocracy” who have been tied to political power no matter who is in power with the main objective of making money. If we use this extended definition, a considerable amount of Venezuelans would be categorized as such.
    But no matter how elastic the definition it does not support some of the assertions made by Juan. He starts by saying two things which have proven to be demonstrably inaccurate. He says:

    “When you talk about Chávez’s legacy with foreigners, the one thing that nearly always comes up is “but it couldn’t all have been bad, what positive change did Hugo Chávez bring?”
    If you’re like me, you tend to fall back on something like: “well, he put the issue of poverty up front and center, and that’s a good thing.”
    But there is another issue in which Chávez was right, one that we seldom dare speak about.
    Chávez was right about the oligarchy, and in denouncing them, he did a good thing”.

    One, Chavez was not a defender of the poor as much as he was a foe of the middle class. His “love” for the poor was demagogic and this has been proven today, when we know that Venezuelan poverty is worse than when he came into power. He mistook the fight against poverty with a policy of handouts to buy loyalties and consciences. Two, He could hardly be sincere in denouncing oligarchy if he was, at the moment he did it, a member of an oligarchy. Morrocoy diciéndole conchudo al cachicamo. How can he be right, denouncing what he represented to the highest degree?

    Juan is obviously speaking about the many Venezuelans who have been the grey eminences behind the throne of past and current presidents; the ones who cooperated and got rich with Gomez; the ones who got rich with P.J.; the ones who helped the mistresses of CAP and Jaime to dress well; the bolichicos and the bankers today; the intellectuals who serve the despots for money. These prostitutes are the ones Juan is talking about but I think a better term for them is thieves, rather than oligarchs. Most of them are not interested in power but in money.

    Political power, political control, is one of the typical characteristics of an oligarch. This is absent on most of Venezuelan thievery.

  26. Oligarch: : a person who belongs to a small group of people who govern or control a country, business
    According to this definition by Merriam Webster the Venezuelan oligarchs are the chavistas, who have had almost total control of the country during the last 16 years. A more elastic definition would probably include the Venezuelan “aristocracy” who have been tied to political power no matter who is in power with the main objective of making money. If we use this extended definition, a considerable amount of Venezuelans would be categorized as such.
    But no matter how elastic the definition it does not support the article by Juan. He starts by saying two things which have proven to be demonstrably inaccurate. He says:
    When you talk about Chávez’s legacy with foreigners, the one thing that nearly always comes up is “but it couldn’t all have been bad, what positive change did Hugo Chávez bring?”
    If you’re like me, you tend to fall back on something like: “well, he put the issue of poverty up front and center, and that’s a good thing.”
    But there is another issue in which Chávez was right, one that we seldom dare speak about.
    Chávez was right about the oligarchy, and in denouncing them, he did a good thing.

    One, Chavez was not a defender of the poor as much as he was a foe of the middle class. His “love” for the poor was demagogic and this has been proven today, when we know that Venezuelan poverty is worse than when he came into power. He mistook fight against poverty with a policy of handouts to buy loyalties and consciences. Two, He could hardly be sincere in denouncing oligarchy if he was, at the moment he did it, a member of an oligarchy. Morrocoy diciéndole conchudo al cachicamo. How can he be right, denouncing what he represented to the highest degree?
    Juan is obviously speaking about the many Venezuelans who have been the grey eminences behind the throne of past and current presidents; the ones who cooperated and got rich with Gomez; the ones who got rich with P.J.; the ones who helped the mistresses of CAP and Jaime to dress well; the bolichicos and the bankers today; the intellectuals who serve the despots for money. These prostitutes are the ones Juan is talking about but I think a better term for them is thieves, rather than oligarchs. Most of them are not interested in power but in money. Political power, control, is one of the typical characteristics of an oligarch.

  27. Sorry I missed this discussion yesterday! I do believe there is a group of widowers who really don’t care too much about democracy or freedom, but are acting to recover what they have lost during the “bolivarian revolution”. There at least are two oppositions: those who want a more organized movement, broader interest representation and stregthened institutions and those who believe that Chavez (and now Maduro) is the only problem so we only need a new government. There are political parties, academics, NGOs of both kinds. Speaking of academics, knowledge is not bad, but no political change will be sustainable without political discussion: that applies to economic policy, but also to several issues as violence or what are we going to do with our national universities. No one on his own will be able to deal with so much at the same time, no PhD will be enough. Maybe our “elite” has changed a lot during the last 2 centuries, but we still believe in a positivista statement: the people don’t know what is good, a leader (or a tecnocrat) will do what has to be done and save us all.

  28. I haven’t posted here in years… But this entry brought me back just to say: WTF…

    Between this and calling LL and MCM sifrinitos (del Merici for the latter) a few years ago I’m starting to think the real problem in ALL of Venezuela (not just in chavistas) is resentimiento. This entry is wrong on all levels, and quite dissapointing…

    And most of the comments as well. WTF.

    • Because Venezuela’s national sport isn’t talking shit about the current government, it is HATING somebody else hates too.

      One example that comes to my mind is Patricia Poleo, dude, I don’t know what the hell some people have against her, she’s kinda grating sometimes, but there are folks who are not chavistas, and seem to enjoy insulting her in ways worse than the pusv goons posting crap in noticiero digital.

  29. I am a little late to this discussion, but when I read it I also thought that perhaps was the maracucho in you talking more than anything else.

    First, the only “oligarchs” that have been in power for many years are the military class. Not the “white caraqueños”.

    Second, since the declaration of independence, there have been only TWO elected presidents that were born in Caracas: Guzman Blanco and Romulo Gallegos, so what is the oligarchy you are talking about?

  30. Coming late to the frey!

    One thing missing IMO from the comments, and also from the post is how we Venezuelans are so not interested in the source of the wealth, but the wealth it self.

    The thievery-du-jour (great double entry Mr. Coronel BTW) achieves economic power with every new political cycle and then lingers as it spends its ill gotten wealth.

    Some wait in the shadows and reinvent them selves after a generation or so, and comes out as a new born patriot! Others just remain in the woodwork, with unknown professions and livelihoods, and pop up again in election times with template political parties, etc.

    Venezuelans really challenging the status quo, and demanding change , transparency, efficiency from the public servant ( Sumate style) are the biggest risk this political establishment (chavismo and MUD) have faced and naturally were neutralized and demonized.

    It just could not be accepted. If the drive to have elections was successful , what would be next! political accountability? Vaderetro satanas!

    The establishment knows running Venezuela or being in the official opposition in Venezuela are two of the best businesses there are out there. The nation be damned.

    A good thing about chavismo Juan asks! perhaps that they were so eager and rapacious that maybe they managed to take down the model and something else will have a chance to emerge.

  31. Many years ago a large transnational oil company (before nationalization) needed to get rid of a large amount of worthless old junk which it had accumulated thru the years (old broken down typewriters and the like) , the law however only allowed it to dispose of that junk by requesting the Oil Ministry’s prior approval which (bureaucracy being what it has always been in Venezuela) involved a long daunting administrative effort . Youd think that oil transnationals supposedly being the all powerful entities that certain left wing viewsmade them out to be , getting the permit would have been a piece of cake . No such thing .

    So guess who the transnational asked to help it get the permit , the Number 3 Maracaibo Garbage Collectors Union . who were friendly and had the political heft to get the permit from the Ministry.

    This is a true story and it tells you what kind of country Venezuela has always been, one where power rested not on an oligarchy of grand inter married traditional families or big economic groups . but on organizations that had a certain political clientelar influence on the ruling political clique. !! There are dozens of stories like the one above.

    We talk of oligarchy where power is held by a small group of inter related families and economic interests which over a long period control the machinery of government and use it for its sole or primary benefit , thats not the case in Venezuela were power has rested not on social classes but on a number of ever changing political and military cliques for their own benefit and for the benefit of their clientelar base. Personal ties of friendship and shared personal interests count for more in Venezuela than purely ideological ties. Thats what makes it possible for the bolichicos to mate up with revolutionary govt big wigs to pursue mutually advantageous business projects .

  32. The main goal of the Chavista revolution was ethnic cleansing of a mass of people by forced exile, like in Zimbabwe. Those people whom Chavez hated were the post wwii European very poor immigrants and their children who “made it” and became “rich” (by Venezuelan standards, but by world standards they were just well off not really rich). As a result of 15 yrs of Chavista revolution these people have had to leave Venezuela en masse because their survival depended on small agriculture, commerce and professions that are no longer viable. Si an “oligarch” in Venezuela is just a descendant of a white poor who made it out of poverty. Maybe one or two “oligarchs” had political power but by and large they were not interested in political power. This indifference was their Achilles heel. Had they paid attention, the story would have been other.

  33. “Venezuelans are so not interested in the source of the wealth, but the wealth it self.

    The thievery-du-jour (great double entry Mr. Coronel BTW) achieves economic power with every new political cycle and then lingers as it spends its ill gotten wealth.

    Some wait in the shadows and reinvent them selves after a generation or so, and comes out as a new born patriot! Others just remain in the woodwork, with unknown professions and livelihoods, and pop up again in election times with template political parties, etc.”

    Correct. People tend to over-simplify or over-complicate things. Educated, somewhat populist intellectuals as Juan, Economists as other blog writers, getting immersed in tricky little fancy words like Oligarchy.

    When Vzla has simply been a mix of different shapes of Kleptocracies. Before and after Perez Jimenez, the one thug who must have stolen the less of all, just by looking at what he constructed in 5 years.

    The main difference between all of these disguised Cleptocracias, leaning to the right or the left, has been how much they have STOLEN. And how many people have died. The range goes anywhere between a few thousand to a 1/4 million dead during Chavismo, the worst of all by far, and the most voracious thieves the planet has seen in a long time. Not that the Ad/CopeyMas MUD were any saints for 40 years..

  34. our fellow blogger It is right in writing that when Chavez spoke of the Oligarchs he was maliciously tagging the mostly middle class opposition with a peyorative term to rouse the resent filled passions of the worse off, whose hatreds he could then galvanize into a support movement for himself , the self proclaimed avenger of the People against their purported upper class victimizers !!

    What is worrisome is that this resentment and demonization of people who belong to a wealthier stratum is apparently shared by people like the author of the piece , who are well read , smart and members of that same middle class which Chavez was pillorying in his discourse by referring to them as ‘oligarchs’. !!

    We have to be careful in understanding how Chavez used his discourse to falsity historical reality to serve his megalomaniacal agenda !!

  35. Por cierto, tanto que se habla de que supuestamente se les dieron a los chavistas todas las razones del mundo para odiarnos hasta el punto de querer matarnos mientras destruyen a Venezuela, y creo que nadie ha pensado bien la cosa desde el otro punto de vista.

    ¿Sabrán los chavistas que ellos están dándole razones más que suficientes y comprobables (A diferencia de las de ellos que no van más allá de la envidia simple en el 95% de los casos en lugar de un agravio de verdad) para ser considerados y tratados en el futuro aún peor de lo que ellos nos tratan a nosotros hoy en día.

    Ciertamente, habrán bastantes personas que estarán interesadas en seguir con sus vidas, pero ahí les dejo eso, los chavistas han sembrado tanto odio en Venezuela que es imposible que salgan lisos al terminar este peo, y es bastante deprimente, porque eso va a salpicarles a los que son de su base, porque los peces gordos boliplastas seguramente habrán dejado el pelero en un 90% gracias a la impunidad ridícula que reina suprema hoy en día.

  36. Even after 15 years of Chavismo and at least 35 years of continuing social, political and economic decline, many still don’t know how to check their privilege or, at least, be aware of how their unique advantages in Venezuela (and their corresponding entitled attitude) were a major part of the problem.

    Some actually move overseas to discover a progressive self that is, in turn, conveniently set aside when reflecting about our ‘inconvenient’ reality back home.

    This was a great (and honest) piece, Juan. Well done.

    • I think this “honest” piece contains only 50% of the “narrative”. Like in the US, the “black lives matter/mass incarceration as a replacement of slavery/check your privilege” narrative is only half of the story, the other part being the “breakdown of the black family”. Recently the Economist tried to take a neutral stand (http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21650533-what-dead-white-man-can-teach-america-about-inner-city-decay-fire-and-fuel). Unfortunately, many Venezuelan liberals, like Juan, do not try to present the two “narratives” but only the “check your privilege” one (like the Atlantic did here (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/black-incarcerations-uncomfortable-history/408733/).

      The reason is that the acceptance of guilt (a Christian virtue) is taken to be proof of being a liberal, irrespective of whether or not the guilt is deserved.

      There is absolutely no question that the other 50% of the narrative is relevant in Venezuela. Today the Venezuelan family is even more broken down than it was in the 50s. Venezuela has the highest teen pregnancy rate of all hispanic countries and the highest proportion of female headed households. But no, mentioning the other side of the story is too much “sincerity” for Juan, so he prefers to “check his privilege” even though doing so is “ganar indulgencias con escapulario ajeno”.

      The “oligarchs” Juan talks about are not a hereditary/clan structure because different “oligarch” groups have been replacing one another for 2 centuries. So what Juan means by “oligarchs” are white middle class Caracas inhabitants, the descendants of European post WW2 immigrants because only this group has indeed behaved in a clan-like way, though the political power of this group is and has been limited due to the fact that most people in this group were not active politically until recently, and only became active when their survival was threatened by Chavista ethnic cleansing hatred.

      First of all, this group of “oligarchs” was a large group of people, so you can point to it an blame it for something. After the post WW2 immigrants arrived, Caracas became close to 50% European. Second, this group tended to stay together close to Caracas and the major urban centers, it did not spread out into rural areas and dilute itself geographically (again, you can point to it). Third, this group tended to marry within the clan (again you can point to it). And the reason was not simply skin color as I can vouch for by listening to the experiences and opinions of many people I know within this group, though I am not Venezuelan. Many of the WW2 European immigrants came from poor rural areas in Spain, Italy and Portugal, where family structures were rock solid and sexual mores were unforgiving. The contrast between their “patriarchal” families and the “matriarchal” families of barrios (let’s be euphemistic, shall we?) is one of the most important reasons why inter-marriage was looked upon with utter disgust to a level akin to pure racism, except that the phenomenon was not based on biology but on culture.
      And finally the Venezuelan “oligarchs” were a story of economic success. The poor post WW2 rural immigrant became middle and upper middle class in Caracas.

      Strictly speaking, the “oligarchs” should include another Venezuelan group with similar characteristics: the jewish community. But Juan didn’t dare mention that because that’s beyond the pale, isn’t it Juan, despite all your “sincerity”. And it is not by chance that along with the post WW2 European immigrant clan, the jewish clan has also been the object of ethnic cleansing Chavista hatred.

      Ethnic cleansing Chavista hatred for Europeans and Jews has resulted in the forced economic and political emigration of 2 million Venezuelans in 15 years. That is ethnic cleansing “a la Zimbabwe.” I mention Zimbabwe because Mugabe was greatly admired by Chavez and Chavez did immitate a number of Mugabe’s policies.

      Not to mention any of this after 15 years and in the face of all the evidence of this catastrophe indicates an almost pathological level of political blindness.

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