Before there was Twitter, there was Embassy Spouse:

prague-0prague-1prague-2prague-3prague-4[Hat tip: Canuckle]

22 COMMENTS

  1. un interesante documento y es un acierto publicarlo aquí… estos días estoy viendo “Faith of the Century: A History of Communism” y queda bien claro que el comunismo trabaja del mismo modo en todas partes… (por cierto, hoy también tuve una comida sana y nutritiva, gracias una vez más por el interés)

  2. Mr Toro,

    I understand the optimism that drives you to continually reference back to events in Eastern Europe (this post and your numerous references to Ceaușescu). However, these posts are nothing more than political agitation, rather than considered analysis and opinion.

    The similarities between Venezuela and Eastern European culture and society are just not there. It is my view that the closest scenario I see playing out in Venezuela is one similar to Mousavi in Iran. Thus I fear there will come a moment when the government (read as all wings of Chavismo) will fire upon the protesting population and at that point the moment of truth will arrive.

    The question of course is which movie will be made in the future to tell of these events and I for one hope it isn’t the one made by Hana Makhmalbaf.

    Hopefully the revolt and disgust at the innocent slaughter will be enough to change the motivation of the whole country to bring down the government, but that will be the moment of truth.

    Please note that the parallels between the Iran state apparatus and the Venezuelan ‘Chavismo’ apparatus are most clearly evidenced through the use of aligned militias, the deployment through the use of motorcycles and the willingness to confront unarmed protesters with indiscriminate violence and weapons.

    Furthermore, please don’t overlook the significance of Ahmadinejad at Chavez’s funeral and the wider ties those two generated between the two countries during both their stays in power. And lastly, the availability of a vast natural resource to allow for maximum population control for the least amount of human resource requirements to fund their agendas.

    Limey

    P.S. CGP Grey has just released a very informative new video about ‘The Rules for Rulers’ which is worth viewing for an excellent and simple explanation of the various ways rulers maintain their power bases. Link is here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rStL7niR7gs

    • so, Mr. Toro is for you a political agitator, not a journalist… I wonder what he has to say about your breakfast today… He never tried to compare the Czech republic with Venezuela, he just wanted to highlight the obvious parallelisms.

    • Limey,

      As a person who was out looking for food on this particular morning in Prague, and myself and some others trying to find out what was going on, I have to disagree. Firstly, you should disabuse yourself of any notion that the situation at that time was completely peaceful and the regime benign. While it is called the Velvet Revolution, state backed gangs and security forces had been out terrorizing people in the streets prior to these days. There were arrests, people were shot in the streets, and small makeshift shrines had started appearing for people- many students- who had been shot or arrested. On this particular day, there were soldiers in the streets, there were tanks around Prague, and all indications were that the regime would use them, as they had so brutally before. People fully expected that the protests could be met with violence and then (as the reference to photos indicates) waves of arrests and disappearances.

      People gathering in Wenceslas Square that day were not naive. They did not have better odds because they were European and civilized. They faced a state apparatus of repression second to none. They controlled every aspect of peoples’ lives – down to the very conversations people had- in ways that Venezuelans, despite the huge problems they face, cannot yet imagine.

      The strike was called the next day after Embassy Spouse was walking around. This form of rebellion, the general strike, has been a critical tool in toppling regimes who are fully prepared to use violence and intimidation because, as the lady here says: they can’t fire all of us. Venezuela depends still on productive labour. It is what still builds the castles in which the Chavez family live, and their cronies. It is what extends the lines of credit. It is absolutely essential to the survival of Nicolas Maduro in power. And it is in the hands of the people.They control the means by which this regime survives.They are probably about to come to that collective awakening.

      Nobody can predict how things will turn out. But the people Embassy Spouse was talking about were not themselves naive, and they were not special in the sense that their culture was somehow less inclined to inflict barbarities on protesters. I don’t know if you ever visited communist Europe. I have spent a lot of time in Venezuela, and I have never seen barbarity on the scale that european communism built.

      Venezuela confronts a great evil, and brave Venezuelans are facing down that evil knowing the potential consequences. They are not naive. They know the potential consequences. And yet they have decided, like these folks in Prague, to move forward. It is useful for people to know that Venezuelans now have a plan that has worked. There is, I would venture, no other plan that works that can bring down Maduro and his regime, and put in place something better.

      So godspeed to Venezuelans. This is something that will happen, whether me or anyone else like me or you thinks it is a good idea or not. The people have reached a point where they are going to try to move this regime on mass. Nobody can predict what will happen. It is like childbirth. Sometimes it works out very badly. It is elating and terrifying at the same time. The alternative to action I think for most people, like the people Embassy Spouse saw, is no longer tolerable.

      I would simply say that I experienced what nobody could predict would happen, and I saw the means by which it was done. Venezuelans are using those same tools now. They have the full arsenal of non violent rebellion in their hands. Yes, I am a hopeful person- probably because I saw this event in Prague. And when I read the reports from yesterday in Caracas- here and elsewhere- this feels like that week in Prague. It is that same moment.

      • Canucklehead,

        I was not at that moment in Czechoslovakia but I was getting lots of letters from Czech and Slovak friends since 1981, when I was a young teenager…and from friends in Bulgaria and Russia. I was trying to get as much information as I could from every mean: old refugees living in Venezuela, my friends, the radios, reading between lines from the newspapers I could get from the embassies and zamisdat. I was not focused on one of those countries but was observing several of them.

        Yes, these events cannot be fully predicted but the biggest error people can make is to keep trying to equate events like “this is going to be like X” and completely ignore the many differences and do not take the measures they need in their case.

        I hope this is the moment but I really ask people to stop saying “this is our Velvet Revolution” or whatever they want to link this process with.

        Even then, as a teenager, I knew what happened in Czechoslovakia would not be quite the same in Romania or the USSR. Their conditions were so different.

        Let’s just consider a few points to consider between Venezuela and Czechoslovakia.

        1- back then Czechoslovakia had not seen open violence since 1968. Actually: it could no longer be tolerated. In Venezuela cops thugs are used to getting the hidden sniper killed a couple of people…we have seen that since 2002 at least every second year.
        There was constant repression, but it was not the tear and wear thing we have seen for decades now. The element of uniqueness is not present here.

        2- The process that took place in Czechoslovakia was very much fueled by what was happening in East Germany and by Gorbachev’s Soviet Union. We can very much say those were processes that were influencing each other. We are mostly alone on this.

        I still remember how my friends, teenagers themselves, were so excited and confused about the mood that was going through their “brother countries” of the COMECOM, where they could travel.

        4- The movement in Czechoslovakia was led by intellectuals among which there were a few with real rhetorical power and people who were not associated with anything other than a cultural elite, with cultural achievements, not one that had a higher proportion of people who “studied abroad”. I do not think Capriles has read a single book that was not linked to whatever he had to study nor did he learn at least story telling the way Llaneros do.

        5- last but not least: the people who were in power were mostly people with some privileges but not people with huge fortunes from stolen wealth and the security apparatus was made up of people who could be very dark figures but who had lived based on state wages…in Venezuela a huge amount of cops and military officers are simply gangsters. I am not talking about the humble soldier, but the Czech officer had much less to lose than the Venezuelan officer.

        Next week I will meet one of those Czech friends who helped me see a little bit of what was happening there. I am curious about how she sees what is happening in Venezuela now.

        • Interesting points Kepler. I’d just point out, Capriles is a master communicator, particularly compared to Vaclav Havel. Havel as you know was an absurdist playwright, who at his strongest moments, was plagued with doubts, insecurities, and spoke in a series of half-ironic and qualified phrases, not unlike a lawyer or a particularly irritating professor. He’s a guy whose writing I found amusing, which means most people would think he was a little strange and distasteful, probably.

          Havel wrote well, few people who marched probably actually read him, and as your friend can probably tell you, notwithstanding that he was a great leader of a movement, he was also a terrible mumbler, and looked like shit. Czech ex-pats like Kundera implicitly or openly mocked him and his type, as naïve, self-involved dreamers and “idiots”. That tone changed a little I think, after November 1989.

          I beg to differ on the question of open violence in Prague leading up to this demonstration. The people in Wencelas Square rallied around a large, candle covered makeshift shrine to the victims of violence, replete with their photos, and there were others throughout the city. I took photos of that! The threat of violence was felt deeply. At the height of the protests, people motioned for me to put my camera away while I was standing on top of a kiosk for a view. They didn’t do that out of modesty.

          If you want another version of the scenario described here, look at Romania. That was the birth of a democracy that did not at all go well. There were marches, strikes and brutal repression for an extended period. Romanians would not accept that they are less civilized than Czechs, I would think. Romanians knew as much about what was going on in other areas of Europe as Czechs, I would think. Which to be clear, was still generally not a lot- hell, the US State Department apparently was getting its advice from the spouse of an Embassy employee!

          I don’t know what the officer class in Prague earned. There certainly was not conspicuous consumption by the elite that you see in Venezuela. But people knew. People knew the more you bought into the system, the better your chances for a very, very good life. If that meant chocolate bars, blue jeans and a good hospital for their kid, so be it. They had important privileges to lose.

          If your friend is not somewhat insulted by the comparison with Venezuela, and suggests that Czechs proudly marched to inevitable progress, boosted by their culture of freedom, and largely unobstructed by what Havel called the “cunning shits” among them (none of us likes to think that our fellow countrymen are composed of large numbers of opportunistic shits), then she is not laboring under the current ideology that is gripping her region, and that is a good thing.

          • On the contrary, I disagree Czechs marched proudly to inevitable progress. Quite the contrary: because they assumed it was not inevitable, they had more chances. Because they were careful about how privatization had to be carried out they did not experience what Russians and others did. Because their wealth was basically generated by their hands and minds and not some commodity, they were a bit more careful and any strike was bound to have a bigger impact.

            Well, things have been improving quite some in Romania lately, but if you have some proof these are quite different countries, you just have to see the amount of prisoners of Romanian origin in Belgian, Dutch, German or Austrian prisons. The ratio – ratio – is way way higher than that of Czechs.Things were bound to be more brutal, more painful.

            Please, go to the World Bank data and compare the GDP of the Czech Republic, Romania and Albania. Also, bear in mind Venezuela’s ups an downs are highly dependent on oil prices.

            In part that has to do with the utterly feudal ways Romania and Albania had, as opposed to Czechoslovakia. And in that sense we are closer to Romania or Albania…and again, with the problem that we are not part of a big movement across the region.
            Macri’s win is not really a revolution, for all that that can help us.

            The worst we can do is try to get carried away trying to thing what we have in place right now is just like in Czechoslovakia or even in Romania or whatever.

            Remember the so-called Arab spring.

            And as I said: don’t forget what the Czechs were experiencing with what was happening in Hungary, with the thousands of East Germans getting into the West Germanyt’s embassy and so on.

            We can learn from other movements and times, but let’s stop telling ourselves “this is our Prague time” or “this is our Leipizig march” or “our Gdansk moment”.

    • “The similarities between Venezuela and Eastern European culture and society are just not there. It is my view that the closest scenario I see playing out in Venezuela is one similar to Mousavi in Iran.”

      Your point about Iran’s and the Venezuelan government exchanging know-how on how to oppress people is very important, notice that even the pattern about shooting protesters in the eyes is an Iranian thing. To surround people with a mob of “police” and just take them away while beating them up was widely seen in Iran recently too. But you can’t extrapolate the similarities between the two governments to the societies like you implied. If “the similarities between Venezuela and Eastern European culture and society are just not there”, what to say about Venezuelan culture and society and Iran’s? It just doesn’t make any sense to say something like that.

      • Exactly. Or just take Iran. We know the repression that goes on now, but we also know that in recent history Iranians successfully toppled a brutal dictator. Why is that not the comparator?

        Tiananmen Square closely pre-dated these events in Prague. The problem, as I see it, with Tiananmen Square is that the movement had not yet harnessed the country’s productive forces. It presented no threat except its moral force, and these regimes are not moved by moral force. Moral force may be the organizing principle of the people, but it is not the lever that moves these regimes. These regimes are sociopathic- they do not give way to anything except an imminent and credible threat to their material interests.

        My one further observation to Limey is that there is nothing new under the sun. The regimes in eastern Europe learned their techniques of repression at the schools of Stalin and Hitler, really the best of their kind that (in)humanity has ever known. The tradition has been passed down- to Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, to name a few, with variations and degrees, but the basic methods have not changed. Paramilitary forces (or criminal gangs allied with the regime), arbitrary detention, arrests, torture, control of access to food and employment, provocateurs of violence, surveillance, misinformation, inducements, intimidation, propaganda, demonization of an “other”, capture of institutions. Even the Wikileaks dumps- before the computer was even an idea, there were the same techniques.

        What is Caracas Chronicles? Journalism, essays, considered opinion, analysis, samizdat literature, humour, venting…Chronicle. It seems to me to be all those things, not infrequently with flashes of brilliance.

        I’ll go back to sniping at Quico like everybody else now…

  3. Hungary and Czechslovaquia tried to get out by rebellion in the 50s and 60s but the soviets rolled their tanks on their capitals to bring them back to line, once Gorbie told the Warsaw Pact nations they were on their own, most burocrats and military found no reason to keep oppressing their peoples pretending they were communists, when that happened, the politburos lost control and were forced out. Sooner or later something like that will have to happen here, military middle ranks and chavista burocrats rebelling against their bosses in the face of massive demonstrations, those are the guys MUD should be negotiating with, not with Ceaucescu and Erich Honecker

    • “…once Gorbie told the Warsaw Pact nations they were on their own, most burocrats and military found no reason to keep oppressing their peoples pretending they were communists, when that happened, the politburos lost control and were forced out.”

      The parallel equivalence to Venezuela is the control that the Castros have over Maduro. The Castros placed Maduro in power and he will not disobey them. Cut the Cuba connection, toss out the Cubans in SEBIN and Maduro’s body guards. Then the probability of a Maduro departure increases.

      • Cuban domination of Venezuela is kind of a mith, Cuba doesn’t have tanks or enough soldiers to subjugate Venezuela, they’re more like an useful accesory for the goverment to facilitate corruption. In Venezuela there is no foreign element that is keeping the goverment in power like the SU was to the Eastern Bloc.

  4. I have doubts about the value of any comparisons to previous revolutions. Every instance of revolution is a very unique set of circumstances. In addition, the people managing these enterprises are always amateurs and, as such, are prone to amateurish errors. Every revolution is a roll of the dice. It is because of this, that revolutions occur out of desperation; the existing conditions being so bad that the desperate chances being taken are preferable to the status quo.

    • Violence occurs out of desperation. It is a sign of desperation. Look at who is inflicting the violence in Venezuela. That could change, but on which side the balance of desperation lies right now is very clear. Violence and a fricking pay raise. That’s desperation. That’s bargaining.

      I’m chock full of pretentious thoughts this week, but I have to say, anyway: non violent rebellion is a choice, it is a particularly unusual and human choice, and it is perhaps the highest expression of the human condition in the circumstances we see right now, these days, in Venezuela.

      The end result is highly uncertain. That is why what we are seeing is essentially an expression of moral force -not necessarily logic or rationality, because there are still compelling arguments to do nothing and sit at home- and this is something – perhaps the essential thing- that separates us from what would otherwise be the law of the jungle.

  5. As far as I know, none of the the Eastern European countries, or in Iran or wherever, had this large amount highly armed malandros roving around, had areas where violent criminality was almost unchecked, areas where the power of the state did not hold sway, nor did they have the drug money and oil rent that had little to do with the productive labor of the citizens.

    Rather than some sort of messy revolution, couldn’t the country also fall into a chaotic, barbaric, failed state? Is that too far fetched?

    • A comparator, a petro state complete with roving bands of armed malandros co-opted by the dominant political class, is Mexico. And then the Mexicans overthrew the “perfect dictatorship” by peaceful means. They faced decades of censorship (much of it self-censorship), co-opting of the press, political intimidation and assassinations, ruinous economic mismanagement. There was Tlatelolco. A dive in oil prices helped move the process of change along, gross incompetence arising from the 1985 earthquake helped, but there was a strong, committed, brave democracy movement that overcame a very powerful force in Mexico and had significant, initial success.

      Areas of Mexico feel like a first world country. Areas may be like Syria at times. I think if we are prognosticating, “success” in Venezuela will take some form like that, for a time. I will be the first to admit, that is not a rosy picture. There’s a lot of work to do, obviously.

      I agree, there are compelling arguments that Venezuela is doomed to failed statehood, and that this is its natural condition. But people have to admit the consequences of those conclusions. Those conclusions favour doing nothing, they favour the status quo, they favour joining the PSUV and becoming a party militant, they favour being indifferent in the face of injustices, poverty and abuse of power, participating in the systematic wrecking of lives, the environment and the economy as a means of getting ahead. That’s the corollary of the pessimist’s convictions.

  6. I agree with Roy, comparisons with previous revolutions have little value as each revolution is moved along by a unique set of circumstances; not least the tolerance to pain of the population. The driving force in Venezuela now is HUNGER, not political repression like Iran or Eastern Europe. If you want to compare then look at the French revolution of 1789 although I admit there are vast political and social differences. As mentioned the whole set of circumstances for each revolution is unique.

    However things have come to a head in Venezuela. The shortage of food, medicine and consumer goods are so severe that something must break. The economy has ceased to function and the country moves closer to default with deleterious effect on oil production. The Maduro regime cannot survive. He is desperately trying to buy time with a so-called Vatican mediated dialogue with the Opposition. Cancellation of the recall process turned out to be a bad mistake as it blocked a crucial relief vent for the population.

    The incompetent Maduro will be pulled down. It is only a matter of time The only alternative is an abrupt transition to a North Korean style regime with micro-control and where famines are taken as a matter of course. Is the Venezuelan army up to it? In a word, “No”.

Leave a Reply