My tendency is to see Venezuela as such an extreme outlier in the region – in terms of the scale of mismanagement and sheer state criminality – that lumping it together with other countries in the region makes little sense. So it’s interesting to read Jorge Castañeda, the noted Mexican academic, breezily interpret our history as a fairly typical part of a region-wide trend. 

The Latin American left has had a miserable few months. In ArgentinaVenezuela and Bolivia, it was decisively defeated in three different kinds of elections. The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, most likely seeing the trends around him, decided to abandon his attempts to remain in power. In Chile, corruption scandals are tightening around previously respected leaders. Most recently, the web of graft has caught one of the most revered figures among Latin America’s 21st-century leftists: the former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The “pink tide” is ebbing. Why has this happened now? And what can the left learn as it recedes from power?

Read it all.

30 COMMENTS

    • I’d like to help screw them, but I’m nowhere nearly as good at it as they are. People who say health care is a right make me ill. What gives anyone the right to another man’s work?

  1. Castañeda concludes: “The best thing to happen to Latin America in recent times has been the clamor for integrity in government; next time around, the left should take up this banner, instead of neglecting it.”

    Does he really think that any political set, which counts on ‘stardust and unicorns’ in its platform and its electorate will ever (be able to) take up/deliver the banner of transparency and integrity?

  2. The broad strokes in the article probably result from the fact that the editors wanted a broadly-informative piece for general readers. Venezuela is still an extreme outlier, which would have been evident if he had contrasted, rather than compared.

  3. Venezuela is not exceptional but it is the extreme example.

    He says Latin American countries are not going to diversify their economies any time soon. But is that not tied to the corruption problem? Are governments going to be less corrupt through good intentions? I wonder if weak institutions and lack of long range policy making are attributable to economies with high levels of inequality and tied to commodity cycles.

  4. Populist Socialism (really refried communism running on the usual class hatred, ridiculous false promises, and anti-colonialism hysteria) fails again. What a surprise! When you do everything that Castro says, you end up just like Cuba-a destitute police state where millions have fled. There is just no embargo to blame for your failures this time around and only the Chinese rapacious enough to loan you money. As Cuba slowly morphs back into the tourist destination it was before Hurricane Castro hit it in 1959 thanks to Obama, the current crop of left-wing crooks like the Castros, Lula, Rousseff, Kirchner, Correa, et al., will never have to face the same murderous kangaroo courts that the henchman Che presided over where your death was just a formality and the verdict was predetermined.

  5. The radical left is wedded to certain beliefs , which are the cause of much of the social and econommic havoc they cause .
    1. Companies and people who are sucessful at creating and accummulating wealth are fiends who exploit the common people and abuse their power to keep them in a state of poverty and helplessness , robbing them of their dignity and future. They are also traitors who sell a countries riches to international capitalist interests whose countries support them in their depredations…
    2. Where it not for these companies and people and the wicked institutional structures they form ,an enlightened revolutionary govt would be able to expropiate them , take control of their wealth and use it to improve the lot of the common people as a matter of social justice , these fiends deserve to be punished and persecuted for their social crimes. Rescuing the national dignity of the common people demands that a revolutionary govt treat those foreing govts and interests as enemies.
    3. Managing and producing wealth is something that anyone can do if inspired by the right ideological passions , loyalty to the revolution makes people into great economic miracle workers.
    4. the institutional and legal infrastructure of capitalism is formalistic and corrupt and should be ignored and sabotaged by ideologically inspired revolutionaries , it represent an unjust order and should be substituted by another one which allows the persecution and punishment of the wicked interests and the monopolization of power in the hands of those representing progress and the interests of the masses.
    5. The creation of wealth is secondary , the distribution of wealth among the masses is the one big priority …….changing a capitalist govt by a people loving govt which ‘releases; their revolutionary energies by itself is enough to cause a country to become prosperous . People are naturally competent if freed from the capitalist obstructions to their flowering as naturally productive human beings.
    6. good revolutionaries and the common people are incapable of engaging in corruption , if exceptionally some do , one cant allow it to be known because of the harm that can do to the revoultionary image , better to keep it quiet , lest the counterevolutionaries use it to discredit the noble saintly aims of the revolution.
    7. Same rule applies to any failure or fracass resulting from the waste and mismanagement by revolutionary imcompetence …!! Mum is the word…!! any corruption o waste is justified by the good which a revolutionary govt does for the people….!!

    • Amen! And the US and Europe are full of these brainwashed idiots now. Let’s also not forget the multicultural, politically correct “destroy them with immigration” ploy that the leftists have incorporated into their deranged fantasy. How many more Paris and Brussels incidents? How many more rapes in Sweden? The destruction of the traditional white Christian culture is now at the top of the to do list. The European Union is looking more and more like a suicidal Jim Jones cult drinking the marxist Kool-Aid as the whole thing collapses.

  6. Corruption is not a cause.

    Btw, what’s the plan for this here corruption free leftism?

    Closest thing I can figure is the slow work of institution building Bill Bass keeps talking about, but Ill cut a finger off the day a leftist government, elected on the principle that we need solutions NOW and anything slow is dandy rich man’s passtime, actually begins any such work.

    And dont even get me started on the other side of the spectrum, which insists morality is a perfectly ovjective, fine and realistic measure to govern by, with their subconscious (or often not subconscious but disingenuous) religiosity. Like the flame of God Itself will wipe out the unrighteous by their agency. Please…

    But it would really be hard for anyone to begin that work in a perennialy hungry voter pool.

    Best we can hope for, and even that may be too much, is a gvt that keeps the gears of the world economy greased in our corner of the world and learns a little introspection (who am I to tell people how to do things?).

  7. Gee, Castaneda discovered lukewarm water: If you want a functioning society, have a transparent and efficient administration, avoid corruption, and save for a rainy day. But of course, you can’t save for a rainy day when graft is part of the culture (this happens whether the right or left governs in Latin America).

    I get it that the point of Castaneda’s piece was not to single out whether any country was particularly bad. I wonder, however, if Venezuela is really not exceptional, or at least a far outlier. Did the other Latin countries engage to the same degree in the political apartheid evident in Venezuela? (I say no). Did they have similar windfalls? (Unlikely, given the oil boom). Did the other nations destroy separation of powers to the same degree as Venezuela? Did the other nations have an electoral power submissive to the government? These are bit a few questions that could focus the discussion.

  8. Three things made Venezuela a blatant outlier, the worst case example.

    1. Massive, timely oil boom: Without the massive windfall in oil profits, Chavez would not have been able to so completely destroy the separation of powers and other institutions of constitutional government so thoroughly.
    2. A particularly feckless and incompetent opposition in the early days.
    3. Chavez himself: A megalomaniac full of crackpot ideas and void of the most basic of macroeconomic sense. And being a powerful seducer of the ignorant with simple, grandiose messages..

  9. I do think that Venezuela is exceptional, but only in that the leftist government could never have lasted so long without the oil boom. Without Chavez´s “generosity”, the entire regional movement would have died out quickly following the collapse of the Castro government in Cuba.

  10. Yes, Castaneda’s take is interesting. I am struck by the parallel to arguments I’ve heard to the effect that the Soviets were as much an iteration of longstanding Russian attitudes and practices as a deviation from them. Do you think that Castaneda has a point or not really?

  11. Corruption has always existed , maybe its embeded to the ethos of almost all but a few people , but the exorbitant scale, spread and corrosive character of the corruption which characterizes the Chavista Regime is really exceptional ………, never before have we known such corruption .

    Gomez for example was himself corrupt as were some of his closest friends but the ministers on the whole were not corrupt , nor was corruption anywhere as spread during the regimes of Lopez and Medina or Betancourt .

    There has always been within the circle of the most powerful some who enjoyed the priviledge of engaging in corruption but most ordinary people either did not engage in it or only engaged in it on a very small scale ……..

    The Picaro mentality does a lot to foster corruption , moreover to celebrate it , being corrupt means being a vivo, someone smart who gets away with some easy money thru his bold unscrupuous misdeeds…….the problem arises when corruption become a ‘way of life’ for a whole society, when it represents normalcy, when people cease to take umbrage at it …..!! When not being corrupt casts the persons who doesnt indulge in it as something of a fool , The Picaro mentality has deep roots in slavery , in the mentality of the impish squoundrel so dear to medioeval mediterranean culture.

    • Honestly, this was kind of what kind of stunned me at first as a gringo living in Latin America – not just the normality of corruption but the idea that if you have the opportunity to take advantage of a situation and choose not to, there must be something wrong with you (“¿Es que usted es bruto, o que?”).

      Everyone curses the corruption…until the corruption blesses them. No one wants to be left out.

      And my own country is getting worse in that regard every day…

    • I dont buy that picaro mentaty stuff. It would negate the thesis that corruption got much worse with chavismo, and we know it did.

      Corruption is a consequence, the only sane way to deal with poorly thought-out institutions.

      This is why 1st world countries have less corruption, they have better thought out institutions, but still have it, so not THAT well thought out.

      Case in point: our police are the embodyment of corruption because they get paid a penny. Are they less corrupt when they get decent salaries? Yes, better thought out. Are they still corrupt? Yes, maybe the whole police force idea is not the pest thought out idea in the world.

      So while rightists might get us less corruption, they do miss the point that that doesnt make them right. It makes them less wrong, but certainly not right.

  12. Corruption has many contributing factors , some cultural , some economic, some resulting from the lack or deterioration of functional institutions , some having to do with the way people are raised , how their personality is formed , The Picaro Mentality is one of them , but there are others ……….., Just spent the holidays reading Venezuelan history , amazing how corruption is so ingrained in so many periods of our historical life. Poverty is seen as legitimizing corruption but there are so many people from well to do origins who have incurred in corruption of the grossest kind ………, that plain poverty just doesnt work as a complete explanation ……

    • Its not about poverty, its about the available routes to make wealth.

      In the end, we probably all agree that the war of independence was more about available routes to make wealth than some of the great victories it brought like the abolition of slavery.

      Pride and gain of wealth are closely tied. Many people note, seemingly baffled, how the poor actually got more assistance under the Cuarta than with Chavez, but Chavez knew to make those wellfare routes include people rather than numbers.

      If a man or a woman is not allowed a route that gives pride, the only sane reaction is to be picaro about it: “I am taking your money, but not because I am the useless sack of rocks you imply I am. I take it because I am smart enough to take it where I can get it.”

      If the way I get wealth is not tied to my own abilities then I dont trust it. I prefer having my own abilities as a factor, even if the only ones that register with existing institutions are the ability to cheat. This is why communism ultimately becomes so corrupt and unworkable: nobody wants to be a cog in a machine.

      • According to Pbro Alejandro Moreno gangland activity in the barrios has as one of its main causes the emotional need of young men ‘damaged’ in their basic self esteem by the abandonment or neglect of their parent and by their poverty to make up for it by engaging in flagrant deeds of violence and abuse which they feel give them ‘self respect’……… Its not just about the things they steal but about being able to show the world that they are strong and can make other men submit to their will , the more they humiliate others the more vindicated they feel in their own claim to primitive manly dignity.

        the acquisition of wealth thru deceit and abuse is not the object but the means whereby a person affirms his own sense of superior self worth , among the most emotionally intoxicating emotions known to men !! This human instinct predates modern ideologies although some of these use social resentments as a means to enhance their enhanced conceit …….’not only am I cleverer and stronger than you are but I am motivated by glamorous passions of social justice or racial purity !!

        One of the ravages of poverty is that it makes its victims feel worthless in the eyes of society , deeply injuring their self esteem , so they feel angry at their own worthlessness and find remedy to their frustrations by venting their anger against a fictional enemy , the well to do , or the powerful who command wealth and luxury , or those pols that dont flatter them enough …..!!

        • sure, but this “Pícaro mentality” stuff is not inherent, correlation does not equal causation, I see it more as a side effect that has been expressed in countries other than Venezuela as well, relating to having to adapt and survive in less than normal circumstances.

          engaging in criminality and deceit and whatnot really does generally have the objective of amassing wealth, which doesn’t necessarily mean that the self-worth aspect you are mentioning is not a factor AS WELL, even you clearly state yourself that this Moreno person concluded that the “emotional need” of young men is “ONE of the main causes” (meaning one amongst possibly many others) resulting in barrio gang activity, at least according to the ONE study??/Theory??/ educated guess?? that you have cited…

          I agree with the notion that it is related to the existing ways of achieving wealth –

          How about: I am cutting corners, cheating, being and all-round “pícaro” because that is the only way for me to get x or y or z??

          People could think of you as “bruto” for not using the only existing means that are available for reaching this or doing this or that –

          not that I am excusing it or supporting it – I just reject the condemnation of a whole culture, the generalization

          • The Picaro mentality exists in many places , but the degree to which the culture celebrates the Picaro or Vivo in Venezuela is really exceptional . In Venezuela it has two origins , one its part of the mental legacy of slavery , slaves who are constantly mistreated and humiliated by their masters find pleasure in using their wits and chicanery to get back at them ,as a way of restoring their ravaged self esteem . then there is the Picaro tradition in medioeval spain itself ….much stronger than in the rest of Europe, just look at the examples of Picaro literature in pre modern Spain.

            People who came here from spain where for the most part adventurers, humble origin people who wanted to get rich quick without having to exert themselves , in spirit they were picaros , they scorned and ridiculed authority, formality, rules and were enthralled by the short cut , by the chance of looting other more fortunate peoples riches thru the use of wit and chicanery .

            Hard Working Agricultural Settlors who founded families and made fortunes by their own hard work were few. Venezuela was a poor backwater place in Colonial times , social fabric was not very dense outside the mantuano and isleño class , prosmicuity was rife as was the customs of living by your wits , the bureaucracy of Spanish officialdom was shoe string and fell in with the local custom of enriching one self without too great consideration for the monarchs interests. Contraband was popular and profitable ……!!

            A telling story , Alex Capriles gave a talk to a group of Venezuelan executives and later to a group of Mexican executives , after the talk he did a little quiz which included questions about how each group viewed Picaros . In Venezuela the response was one of admiration , being a picaro was smart . In Mexico being a picaro was baad , picaros were the scum of the earth , people to be shunned ……

            As Orwell once wrote ´we are all equal but there are some of us which are more equal than others’….

            The picaro mentality is most spread among people who are hapless in a society which scorns them , who are humiliated and cannot get back easily at those that torment them , at people whose self pride is always getting pummeled by others who do things to them or which simply make them realize how inferior they are in the social scheme of things ……..!! They may not be the sole cause of peoples corrupt conduct but they are a strong contributing factor to such conduct!!

  13. In South America corruption, graft and “pajaro vivismo” have been the standards by which politicians have measured their political success. Its ingrained in the DNA of the”political class”. It’s origin from the colonial days when officials and bureaucrats endured hardships in the Colony to eventually return to Spain and (pretend to) live like kings. The “next” left will have to take a hard look at its greatest weakness and confront its greatest challenge: how to make it’s society productive before it starts distributing the goodies.

  14. The Bolivars were not particularly wealthy compared to other mantuanos , their main source of wealth were the sugar cane plantations in San Mateo, but the cane sugar there produced a rum which didn’t taste great so it never fetched high prices . The family fortune was made by bolivars father, a thorough squoundrel by any measure , there are records that he was a serial rapist of women of low station ( letters survive of women who complained to the authorities that if they allowed him to continue they would commit suicide) .

    He made his fortune when he was appointed custom master in charge of assessing the import duty from every vessel coming to the port , mantuanos were addicted to the fine hams and delicacies brought from spain , would pay anything to get them , of course those delicacies paid very high duties . Bolivars father struck a deal with some local merchants , he would asses those delicacies as sailors hardtack ( which paid no duties) , the merchants would sell them to the ultra rich mantuanos at very high prices and they would give a cut out of every sale to the Custom Master ………

    The richest mantuanos bought titles of nobility for hard cash , the bolivars only became rich enough to start the buying process after Bolivars father had made his fortune , when the father died early , his eldest son was in negotiation for the purchase of one such title and had to travel to spain to advance the purchase …that’s what gave young Simon a chance to travel to the metropolis accompanying his brother in his teens (something very unusual at the time) . Corruption has a venerable tradition in Venezuelan history.

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