Down with the oligarchs

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

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.