Dear Alejandro,

On April 29th, 2000, I was a rookie reporter in Caracas trying to figure out the economics beat. As May Day drew near, speculation was rife about the looming minimum wage hike. Company budgets for the following year hinged on that decision, as did much of the public sector financial outlook so, just like every year, the number was all anyone was talking about in my world.

Law and longstanding custom had it that the president would decide the minimum wage hike on May 1st after a formal consultation with business and labour leaders. Breaking with precedent, though, the year-old government hadn’t convened the so-called “tripartite commission”. The president was on good terms with neither the business federation nor the labour unions. He’d taken to calling the old forum the “trimaldita” — the thrice damned — and was visibly gearing up to make the decision all on his own.

They didn’t have YouTube back in 2000, so I can’t find the clip of that night’s cadena. But I don’t need to: I remember it like it was yesterday. Chávez launched into his hotly anticipated speech flanked by his economics team: his ministers, his advisors, and his head of the National Budget Office, ONAPRE.

In what was, back then, still a shocking breach of the firewall between military and civilian roles, Chávez had put ONAPRE in the hands of an active service military officer, Brigadier General Guaicaipuro Lameda (army). A huge, menacing figure with an egg-shaped head and a reputation as a fiercely competent technocrat, General Lameda had been in the hotseat when the decision on the Minimum Wage hike had to be made. His staff was tasked with figuring out the economic and fiscal impact of different hikes. So as the president went to announce the number, the camera was pointed at Lameda’s face, not Chávez’s.

That made what followed impossible to hide: Lameda’s eyes just about popped out of his head as Chávez announced…a 20% hike in the minimum wage. It took Lameda a split second to regain his composure. Too late. It was a remarkable moment of live TV.

I interviewed Lameda a couple of years later, and he confirmed everyone’s suspicions. For months ahead of that speech, his office had been working on the Minimum Wage hike, running econometric models and budget simulations and liaising with spending ministries to come up with a technically sound recommendation. After detailed analysis, ONAPRE had recommended a 15% wage hike, and the president had accepted it…or so Lameda thought.

But then, live on the air, Chávez just changed his mind. Maybe 15% le sonaba pichirre. For whatever reason, the first time the Director of the National Budget Office heard the minimum wage was going up 20% was during the cadena that made it official.

For me, Guaicaipuro Lameda’s stunned look as the number was read out was the moment the penny dropped: however much trouble we’d thought we might be in, we were in way worse trouble than that.

The episode didn’t quite rise to the level of scandal. A few political junkies noted it, but there was no real outlet for concern over episodes like this to express itself as organized opposition.

We were naïve. So naïve that Chávez’s unwillingness to sit around the negotiating table with Fedecamaras and CTV still had the power to jolt. For me, Guaicaipuro Lameda’s stunned look as the number was read out was the moment the penny dropped: however much trouble we’d thought we might be in, we were in way worse trouble than that.

Thinking back, those early Chávez years really were a strange time: we were all still tentatively feeling our way around the new ground rules, and these were revealed only gradually. The idea that Chávez wouldn’t discuss important decisions with adversaries was worrying enough. But that wasn’t the half of it: he wouldn’t discuss big decisions with anyone, not even his staff.

Bring anyone to mind?

I imagine younger readers will have a hard time imagining what that era felt like. We’re so used to thinking in terms of government-and-opposition, it’s strange to realize Chávez didn’t really face an opposition back then. At all.

A few guys sniping at him from the opinion pages of El Universal? Sure.

An organized political movement? It just wasn’t there.

The era of polarization, of street protests and marches and coups and Plaza Altamira generals, all of that came later. For three long years, from the time he was inaugurated in early 1999 to the end of 2001, Chávez effectively ran the country unopposed.

How? For the most part, by using the process of drafting a new constitution as a ruse to take over more and more control over of the state.

Hágamos memoria. Chávez was elected in December 1998 and inaugurated on February 2nd, 1999. He called for a Constituent Assembly and, even though the then-in-force constitution had no-such-mechanism, the old Corte Suprema rolled and let him do it, “committing suicide to avoid being assassinated.” 

On April 25th, 1999 a referendum on whether to hold a Constituent Assembly was overwhelmingly approved. Next, in July, the Constituent Assembly’s members had to be elected, and Chávez tapped a young, then unknown whiz-kid mathematician by the name of Nelson Merentes to rig up a “proportional” system that would allow him to walk off with 92% of the seats on the basis of 65% of the votes.

With this crushing majority secured, he insisted the Assembly be considered “supra-constitutional” — able to overrule all previously constituted powers — and then used it to write a new constitution, dissolve the elected Congres, the old Supreme Court and the old Consejo Supremo Electoral.

What’s hard to wrap your head around now is that he did all this virtually unopposed.

As a parting shot, the Constituent Assembly appointed — with no elections — a short-lived National Legislative Commission, which came to be known as the “congresillo”, again fully dominated by his partisans. It was the first time, I think, since the 19th century that legislative power had been vested in a body that didn’t even pretend to have been elected by the people. (The congresillo, as it happens, was very much in power at the time of that April 29th, 2000 minimum wage hike announcement.) For the cherry on top, Chávez had a hardcore partisan, Manuel Quijada, appointed commissar over the judicial system, firing hundreds of judges with no semblance of due process or right of defense, and replacing with pliable “temporary judges” that could be removed at will.

What’s hard to wrap your head around now is that he did all this virtually unopposed: with 70-80% approval in the polls, a disorganized, demoralized and demobilized rump AD as the biggest opposition party and virtually no organized pushback from anyone.

We were still struggling to decode Chávez’s discourse of radical popular empowerment. In public statements, the president was at pains to stress the participatory, protagonic nature of his new model of democracy — but moments like the 2000 minimum wage hike gave us glimpses at just how divorced from actual governing practice the discourse was. In the years since, we’ve become so inured to chavista doublespeak it’s easy to forget how bewildering this all was at first.

But  the signs of authoritarian drift and the decay of the rule of law were clear from the very start. There are dozens of examples, but FIEM always comes to mind first, because gutting it did so much damage later on. Chávez’s Constituent Assembly had granted Constitutional status to the Fondo de Inversión para la Estabilización Macroeconómica — a fund designed to store some of the surplus during high oil years so they could be spend when oil prices went down. Nobody forced Chávez to double down on the FIEM law, he chose to put it in the constitution of his own accord. Under the rules Chávez enshrined, as oil prices began to recover in 2000 and 2001, the first payments into the fund ought to have been triggered. Chávez just refused to make them…just because.

Later, his handpicked Supreme Tribunal would refuse to hear the lawsuit brought to try to hold him accountable for this. It’s easy to dismiss this as technocratic nitpicking, but sixteen years on, as we face an economic catastrophe born of the need to adjust to an oil bust under a pile of new debt and without any stabilization funds to tide us over, it’s hard not to wonder how much of today’s hunger is the direct legacy of yesteryear’s institutional devastation.

Primero Justicia hadn’t been founded as a political party yet, much less VP, which later split off from it.

In July 2000, the voters renewed Chávez’s mandate for a 6 year term under the new 1999 constitution. That day also saw elections for all the new constitutional offices, including the National Assembly.

Primero Justicia hadn’t been founded as a political party yet, much less VP, which later split off from it. UNT was but a glimmer in Omar Barboza’s eye. The rump AD, Copei, Proyecto Venezuela and Causa R still put up candidates for the National Assembly later that year, but were whipped (though, at 66 deputies out of 165, the 2000 opposition still got more seats than PSUV did last year!)

With 92 seats in the Assembly and an opposition so weak and demoralized it could be picked off almost at will, Chávez’s MVR could pass pretty much any law it wanted. Which is why what came next was so hard to make sense of: in November 2000, the Assembly moved to give Chávez special powers to legislate by decree for a year through a “Ley Habilitante” (Enabling Law).

I remember my confusion at the time. It’s not as though the huge chavista majority in the Assembly was going to push back on any given bill the president sent down. Why, then?

And…was this really a reasonable way to use enabling powers?

The old constitution, and established custom, limited the use of enabling powers to financial emergencies. The habilitante was a safety valve to ensure the government could move swiftly when the fiscal roof was about to cave in.

More than enabling the president to respond to an emergency, the assembly seem to be forfeiting its basic constitutional function altogether.

But the November 2000 enabling law was cast much wider than that. It was approved for a longer period, and extended to matters nobody thought of as emergencies. More than enabling the president to respond to an emergency, the assembly seem to be forfeiting its basic constitutional function altogether.

The wherefores for this were all terribly murky right up until November 13th, 2001: the very last day of the Enabling Law’s term. It’s a date that marked the effective end of Chávez’s extraordinarily long period of unopposed rule.

On that day — at the very last minute — the president published an extraordinary raft of decree-laws (‘decretos con valor y fuerza de ley’): 49 of them, to be exact, remaking Venezuela’s legal landscape overnight.

Public opinion was stunned.

By waiting until literally the very last day of his enabling powers, Chávez closed off the possibility for any type of public discussion on laws that redrew the rules over huge swathes of public life: fishing, banking, ports, railroads, maritime commerce, identification, police, agricultural credit, insurance, land ownership, tourism, cajas de ahorro, FIEM, even the Ley de Hidrocarburos — which is virtually Venezuela’s second constitution, so central is it to the economic life of the nation. 

Not surprisingly, fishermen, bankers, port-users, railroad builders, sailors, ID-companies, cops, farmers, insurance companies, landowners, tourism operators and oilmen…these people felt maybe a heads up might’ve been polite. A consultation even. A chance to review bills and give feedback.

What had crystallized for me watching that April 29th, 2000 cadena on the minimum wage would begin to crystallize for the nascent opposition on November 13th the following year: that “participatory democracy” was a giant sham, a historic bait-and-switch aimed squarely at accumulating power in a single person.

It’s easy to forget the opposition barely existed as an organized force on November 12th.

It’s easy to forget now that the crisis that built into the April 2002 coup began in earnest in with this event. It’s easy to forget the opposition barely existed as an organized force on November 12th. And it’s easier still to forget that for much of December 2001-February 2002, the heart of the case against the new measures was that these were “leyes inconsultas” — laws that had never been consulted with anyone, that had been sprung on the country as an 11th hour surprise, despite the fact that both the constitution and official rhetoric elevated “participation” to a central place in the new political imaginary.

Some of us actually took seriously the language in the constitution’s Article 299 about how, in economic policy-making, the state would pursueuna planificación estratégica democrática participativa y de consulta abierta,” (“strategic planning that is democratic and participatory, following open consultation.”)

People actually held out some hope that if we protested the imposition of these laws, Chávez might think again and sit down at the table to hash issues out with interested parties. (And why wouldn’t we think that? The guy had championed a constitution that bound him to do just that, kept it in his pocket, used to call it “the best in the world” again and again…)

Long story short, the protest that escalated into an out-of-control constitutional crisis began as an entirely reasonable, eminently moderate, constitutionally grounded demand for consultation.

Long story short, the protest that escalated into an out-of-control constitutional crisis began as an entirely reasonable, eminently moderate, constitutionally grounded demand for consultation. And it’s easy to forget the fuel to that escalation was Chávez’s narcissistic rage, the way he reacted to all pushback with furious hyperbollic denunciations, shrill attacks designed not just to provoke and to escalate but, ultimately, to deny all but his unconditional supporters the right to participate in public life at all.

This, at any rate, is the history that came to mind, Alejandro, as I read your recent, aggressively tendentious Facebook post:

And here’s the deeper, more perverse, truth behind the cottage industry of Chavez/Trump comparisons. They’re purposely deceptive. By focusing on surface level comparisons of style and cherry-picking similarities of substance, what they elide are the powerful ways in the which Trump and Trumpism in fact resembles Venezuela’s opposition, especially in its early years – when long before Chavez said anything about socialism or commanded the institutional control he eventually did – their zero-sum strategy echoed nothing so much as what Trump and co are now calling for, in advance: if elected, it’s rigged; and even if it isn’t, we will shut down anything Clinton attempts, regardless of process, law, or order. For a long time the strategy has been to wash (or perhaps wish) away those years as some sort of irrational fluke, as the thing that Chavismo drove us to if only it hadn’t been itself so anti-democratic and irrational. Yes, we orchestrated a coup, paralyzed the vital oil industry, used the media as an open political weapon, celebrated when the courts refused to call April 2002 a coup, cried fraud without evidence, and boycotted elections that gave Chavez legitimate, constitutional control over the legislature, which in turn helped pave the way for consolidation of power and erosion of checks and balances. But that wasn’t us, you see. That was him, and them. If only they’d been more rational and democratic, we would have been, too. The reason why that’s not just false but dangerously so is the same reason why these Trump/Chavez comparisons are so wrong: they seek not so much to explain political phenomena than to evade responsibility. By dismissing process and context, they can write themselves entirely out of the narrative, they can escape any and all responsibility for their own irresponsibility. It’s not silencing, it’s not even mis-remembering. It’s a willful and deliberate red-herring. Don’t fall for it.

As a historian I think it’s fair for us to expect you to be especially attuned to issues of chronology. What happened first and what happened after matters.

Those of us who remember these years understand that attributing Chávez’s increasing authoritarianism after 2002 to the virulence of the opposition he faced is putting the cart a very long way before the horse. Chávez’s authoritarian drift was in full display even when he faced virtually no organized opposition at all. If you don’t believe me, go ask Guaicaipuro Lameda.

It had become entirely clear that Chávez was actively hostile to any limit on his power.

On November 14th, 2001, society began to react. After three long years. And rightly so. By then, it had become entirely clear that Chávez was actively hostile to any limit on his power. That he insisted on making decisions unilaterally even when there was no upside to doing so. That he perceived power as a zero-sum game, a dominance-submission drama. That he refused to be hemmed in by any person, custom, law or institution, even the ones he had created, even the ones that answered directly to him. That he was openly disdainful and determined to humiliate those who stood in his way, lashing out in narcissistic rage of terrifying virulence.

If you can’t see the parallels with Trump…bueno, what can I say.

I find it amazing that you don’t seem to realize that in blaming the opposition to Chávez’s authoritarianism for Chávez’s authoritarianism, you’re engaged in the mirror image of the two-bit revisionism that’s seen some U.S. conservatives blame Paul Krugman for the rise of Trump. I’m sure when they do it, you find it easy to recognize this as sophistry: a last ditch attempt to shirk responsibility for the authoritarian engendro their ideology has spawned. 

Here’s the thing: it’s the same thing when you do it, chamo. And it worries me for the same reason: I don’t think the U.S. can have a stable political system until sensible right-wingers stop shirking blame and start taking stock of the authoritarian nightmare their movement is on the cusp of imposing on the country. And I don’t think Venezuela is going to be stable until the left stops this sort of pathetic buck-passing and recogen su gallo muerto, either.

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  1. Quite interesting. I have to read it again, slower, but this is an important history to remember.

    I interviewed Gen. Lameda, and there are many other such interesting stories about early Chavez extra-democratic excesses – both domestic and in international relations. HC really had little respect for democratic process and institutions, legal norms, etc. However, that’s not to say that there wasn’t plenty rotten in the old regime, else he would never have had the support he did.

    And, none of Chavez’ early excesses, of course, excuse the incredible undemocratic hubris of Fedacamaras and Gen. Lameda for their parts in hijacking the anti-chavez demonstrations to implement their coup, and not just against Chavez, but the constitution’s processes. These were a tremendous setback to democratic opposition.

    Although what you say of earlier history is true, there is also truth to the fact Chavez changed his approach after the coup, and changed his ideological frame as well. The approach to economic policy is a particularly important change that resulted. it is difficult to be very enthusiastic about either side, as far as the leaderships, at that point in history.

  2. After the coup Chavez dared go further because people who secretly opposed him in the army had been identified and defeated , he could turn on the throtell in the knowldge that he would not be toppled , even then in the inmediate aftermath he begun using a very conciliatory language , promising that he would never repeat his past excesses etc..

  3. The only ones that blame the opposition for everything wrong that Chávez did are hardcore chavistas and complete imbeciles who still have their brains nailed by the stupid “blame-the-victim” brain infection that’s rotten so many venezuelan heads.

  4. In the beginning Chavez was viewed as a savior, just like Adolph HItler, and he commanded the same awe-filled reverence and blind obedience that Hitler got. Then the “savior” ran Germany off a cliff into a mass grave because he had the absolute power to do so. The Chavistas seem to have the same blind obedience to their ridiculous, failed revolution and to the communist ideology that drives it, and, like Hitler, they are trying to make sure no one can oppose them even to the point of massacre by starvation if necessary.

  5. I didn’t know early Chavez, but when I started getting to know Chavez in his middle years, just after the events you described, I know that feeling of surprise or disbelief, even having read up pretty quickly on what had come earlier. It was like watching Trump in a debate, but every weekend, and the shit that he said would then actually happen, because Chavez was in a position to do it.

    Chavez was always a little surprising for many people, even for people who knew what he tended to do and say, because of the natural inclination of people – including me- to presume the normalcy of others. We expect that other people have the same motivations and sensibilities that we have, and therefore, we read those expectations into other peoples’ behavior.

    One thing I think normal people generally have is an innate and fairly reliable sense of fairness. We learn this at an early age in playgrounds. There is always the bully, and then there is everyone else -the skilled, the diligent, the team players, the workers- all playing together, according to their strengths.

    But these other people, these men, are rare birds. They are not normal. Psychologists explain them in terms of the narcissistic personality/sociopath spectrum. When they rise to power, political scientists and historians recognize them as strongmen, caudillos, autocrats.

    They exist also in everyday life, and thankfully they are rare enough that I think most people do not have the displeasure of actually having to interact with them, unless they work in particular areas that these people disproportionally inhabit: i.e. the courts (because they have a propensity to want to sue everyone), social workers (because they wreak havoc with peoples’ personal lives), human resources (because they have a propensity to wreck workplaces), the criminal justice system (because these people are at bottom predators), and high risk areas of finance and business (areas that disproportionately reward opportunism, short cutting and predatory behavior).

    These men have a whole set of fairly well defined characteristics. They tend not to have a circle of close or long term friends. They are emotionally isolated people, but unlike normal people, they do not suffer from that isolation.Their relationships, to the extent they have any, are with advisors and subordinate enablers, and these relationships inevitably blow up when the advisor or enabler meets them with opposition or contrary advice. They work on their obsessions late into the night, alone. I think women experience these people in a direct and personal way more than men, for reasons that probably need no elaboration. They can be charming and carry a dinner conversation, but turn out to be something else entirely, when alone in a confined space, etc.

    So these guys are rare birds and most people don’t recognize them from people they see in their normal lives.

    I also think people suffer disbelief and don’t recognize these men, because of a line of mistaken thinking that autocratic behavior is necessarily tied to a particular ideology.

    People on the left widely did not believe Chavez was a dictator at heart, because they assumed that dictators were by nature extreme right wingers, necessarily linked to right wing ideology. Some on the right make the same mistake in this election cycle: the guy can’t be an autocrat, because he does not espouse the leftist doctrine of autocrats (like Chavez or Castro).

    But that is a fundamental mistake, which defies a proper understanding of history (autocrats come from all ideological bents) and of the psychology of these men and these movements. They are fundamentally opportunistic. Their ideology is fundamentally a cloak for their narcissistic, power abusing tendencies. They read their audience, and they string together a narrative of grievance and resentment for that audience, whether from the left, or the right.

    Reading this post, it has to be said for causal or relatively new readers, that Caracas Chronicles had Chavez pegged as dangerous and as an authoritarian long before public opinion was settled on that issue. It has diligently chronicled the abuses of power, the step by step disappearance of the independent press, the pathological lying and deceit. You were not like folks who heard Chavez, had a moment of surprise or disbelief perhaps, but whose instinct was to presume all was basically normal and would pass. You understood the threat early on. When I stumbled on this site for the first time, it was like meeting people who understood that my mental disturbance over Chavez was not some sort of insanity or the bias of a privileged outsider. Coming from the liberal left, widely deep in denial during the Chavez period, I almost fricking cried.

    You do a service, telling this story- the story of Chavez- to the English speaking world at this time.

    It may turn out to be people with ties to Latin America, who recognize this guy, who know what he is all about, and also frankly women- who again, are disproportionally affected by this rare bird when it appears in everyday life- who save American democracy. No shit.

    In which case, we have unfolding before us, illustrated by your thoughts in this post, an impressive example of how being a nation of immigrants has made the USA the strong, resilient and successful country that we know and generally, deep down, have always admired.

    • Pathological narcissists are not rare! They are not 1% of the population. You really have to know this subject meaning you have to know narcs or narcopaths first hand and then you have to be knowledgable. I learned first hand from many. I was victimized. Nice to see Quico mention narcissistic rage several times. This is about mental disorder and the percentage is higher than we think. Chavez was full blown sociopathic narcissist IMO. Most in government are. Easy to figure once you know the illness but few know or understand the illness. Trump has brought this front and center for America and then you realize how prevalent it is.

      The young Chavez story about being spurned by woman then leaving severed donkey head at her door is earliest tale of mental disorder.

      • I don’t know how we could know because these are not generally people who go to the doctor to get diagnosed and treated, unless say, they have a selfish motive to do so i.e. they get a friendlier disposition in divorce or criminal proceedings if they undertake to see a shrink on a regular basis.

        I don’t think there are many of these types around in the general population. There may be criminal sub-groups where they are common- although I think your description might also include psychopaths. I think Chavez and Trump are evil characters, but the nature of their evil is not to, say, personally dismember people and eat them. (Well, Chavez did have that exhumation of Bolivar going on and I had my doubts for a time, but even if he did eat a piece of Bolivar, he didn’t harm the guy in the process… )

  6. Chavez was a piece of dirt and a liar, from day 1:

    “But the signs of authoritarian drift and the decay of the rule of law were clear from the very start”

    No. He weaseled his way into power by Lying.

    • No, as I recall, Chavez came to popular consciousness while attempting to overthrow a democratically elected government by force. That was the *thing* that should have tipped people off to the fact that he was not a good bet for custodian of the highest public office.

      You see, the thing about people like him, is that they do not actually disguise themselves in a sustained way. They are incapable of sustained pretending to be something they are not. They can be charming, but they reveal themselves as soon as they are contradicted, or slighted in the most trivial way. But people choose not to understand them. Or they don’t believe that what the guy is saying he actually means. Or they think he can be controlled. Or they see in him, an opportunity opening up, and dismiss the risk.

  7. The writers and editors of Caracas Chronicles remind me of Chavez in that they seek to label, vilify, marginalize and disenfranchise those who disagree with them.

  8. Now that CC has established that Venezuela has long been a dictatorship, they are working on a strategy to remove Maduro. Apparently it does involve elections but rather some kind of civil unrest. They are going to call it “LA SALIDA”.

    • Bejamin, all Venezuelans want is elections, our government clearly used all his powers (CNE, TSJ) to not let it happen this year and maybe next year also. So tell me, what is the right thing to do when the government denies the rights of his own people?

      I really hope there is no bloody fight between Venezuelans, and i think MUD hopes the same as they cancel the march to miraflores last 3rd of november. Social explosion may be not far away, thats why our government denies to make any logical and necessary economic adjustment, well it will turn the mayority of Venezuelans present living nightmare into an even worse one.

  9. It the govt sabotages the RR elections thru the unlawful use of its control of the judiciary , the TSJ and the CNE , then it can only be treated as a dictatorship , and it would be legitimate for it to be overthrown by any means available ……If on the other hand it allows the RR elections to be conducted freely then it should not be treated as a full fledged dictatorship (although it clearly acts like one in most respects) and it should simply be voted out of power.. . !!

    It is not a dictatorship because CC calls it so but because it acts as a dictartorship in all respects that matter ……..!!

  10. wow, impresionante el cuento de la cadena y el aumento del 20%, clara evidencia del populismo que siempre caracterizo a Chavez. siempre me he preguntado si yo hubiera sido chavista en los comienzos de Chavez, pues era un niño en aquellos tiempos, pero leyendo esto, se hace evidente que Chavez no perdió tiempo alguno para acumular poder por si solo. Una constitución propia con una asamblea con diputados que no le digan ni shito era todo lo que necesitaba, despues de ahi, el dinero y las armas hablaron por si solo. Cuesta entender la falta de oposición en esos tiempos, cuando por ejemplo, Venezuela de contar con periodos presidenciales de 5 años maximos, pasaron a 6 años con reelección, ya eso eran indicios de lo que se venia.

  11. You guys didn’t get the joke. CC was against La Salida because they foolishly thought the Chavistas would follow some kind of democratic norms. Now they are exasperated that some are not sufficiently militant enough to back civil unrest. Being intellectually dishonest, they also have no problem claiming that they knew all along that the Chavistas would never surrender power merely because they can no longer win elections.

    Of course I agree that the citizens should revolt.

    • I think asking for what’s essentially a copilation of articles in a blog like fashion by different people to be totally homogenous in opinion is dumb, the same way i think that a newspaper shouldn’t publish only things that follow a certain narrative and censor or paint in a different light any kind of event, no use for free speech if you’re only breeding echo chambers, i support people expressing their opinion and being open to discussion, you know basic necessities for cohabitation.

      However there come times where you must sacrifice certain things such as Political Correctness or letting people express and unite people under banners and slogans that are just corruption, rethoric, populism and time stalling techniques.

      On a basis of lies, democracy does not work, on a basis of lies and corruption due process doesn’t exist. However this had to be proven, as much as it hurts to say, for the world and most people who like to be “political” but just want to seem informed or just due to the whole semblance of due procces this goverment managed to make way too many people buy into, we only reached that point when the RR was called of. That was our tipping point or off seas political recognition, and then the MUD backed off.

      It’ s a lot more complex than what you’re trying to put it, and the over simplification, while pissing me off in ways i can’t even begin to describe, hurts in more ways than one because you’re over simplifying everything that came because of it.

      Also, fuck you Benjamin.

      • On the topic of the US election, I actually see a disturbing uniformity of thought from the writers here. There are many reasonable people who would consider Hillary Clinton to be the populist candidate. It is not a difficult case to make. The populist candidate is the one promising to solve all societal ills through government and to do it without raising taxes on the middle class.

        • There are many reasonable people who would consider Hillary Clinton to be the populist candidate. It is not a difficult case to make.

          Cool story bro…

          • Why did you cut off the last sentence from the quote? You see, your lot are a lot more like the Chavistas than you could ever admit.

  12. I rejected Chávez since the bloody coup he organized. I – like a few others- actually was sure such a coup was going to happen about that time – there were already some other attempts earlier on-. I despised him from day 1.

    I remember I wrote a letter to El Nacional where I warned about him and I lamented not being able to vote because at that moment I was abroad and had lost my cédula…Venezuelans cannot vote with their passport, which is completely stupid.

    I remember how Jorge Olavarría gave that long speech in congress in 1999.
    For me it is amazing people considered his speech “prophetic”:

    I was actually shocked Olavarría, being a historian, supported that miserable thug.

    If you were Venezuelan and knew a tiny bit of general history AND – this is important – were not ideologically high – you had to see it coming.

  13. Thank you for this historical text, Quico! At the time here in Brazil only we had news about the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly, but I had no idea things like this scabrous ‘congresilo’.

  14. Can’t wait for a ‘Washington Chronicles’ blog that chronicling the US entering Venezuelan territory. CC could be behind that blog too, since you guys have the know-how about documenting dystopias better than anyone, and Emiliana is in Venezuela and Quico is in Canada, so you guys are relatively safe from Trump’s ‘SEBIN’.

    I just hope, given Quico’s recent growing despair with the possible negative outcome in the US elections, that he doesn’t form a guerrilla group and try to ‘save democracy from itself’ by deposing Trump through force, like Chavez tried in 1992. It would be very noble of his part, but just too dangerous, and we still need him until the hell going on in Venezuela is over. Thanks.

    • I like to keep abreast of what is happening in places like Zimbabwe and Venezuela so I can better understand what our future (in the USA) will be like. Of course, I am assuming the continuation of the status quo is what is going to take us there and not an insurgent candidate like Trump.

      • Most Americans feel like you do, the polls say it. That’s why there’s a real chance of Trump winning and Quico is, consequently, kind of passive-aggressive in his post.

        • If most Americans feel that way, why is Obama’s approval rate over the last month averaging at 55%? Hardly a sign people think the ‘status quo” is going to lead to Zimbabwe.

          The status quo was abandoned when, from before the day he took office, the Republicans decided on a strategy of complete obstruction on every issue. And they don’t even deny it, they even said it in public.

          “Our number one priority is making sure Obama is a one term President.”

          They indulged or failed to negate the formerly fringe rhetoric and wild claims of the right wing echo chamber in order to gain votes after Bush’s disastrous two terms discredited much of their elites. Now, here we are, with a truly dangerous candidate who has already done serious damage to democratic institutions, and a Senate who has refused to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee for 10 months now (completely unprecedented). They are even talking openly of not hearing any of Hillary’s nominees, when she is elected. A coup of sorts, essentially.

          • “If most Americans feel that way, why is Obama’s approval rate over the last month averaging at 55%?”

            I have no idea, but my bet would be the pro-Obama media.

            The pressure is just too much. Have you already seen the Newsweek cover with Hillary as president? The elections haven’t even started yet, but she’s already the winner for Newsweek. It’s hard to contest the mainstream media, what they say becomes true at some point solely due to exhaustion of the audience.

            In my previous comment above I had put links to six or seven polls showing that Americans believe that their country is going downhill, but the comment never showed up, so I did the same comment without the links, and voilà.

            Some of them were:

            “Poll Says Many Americans Think Healthcare Is Worse Now”

            “CNN/ORC poll: 57% pessimistic about U.S. future, highest in 2 years”

            “Poll: Majority of Americans think race relations are getting worse”

            “Majority in U.S. Still Say Moral Values Getting Worse”

            There were more polls, but I guessthat you have already got the picture.

            “the Republicans decided on a strategy of complete obstruction on every issue. And they don’t even deny it, they even said it in public.”

            Oh, yes, blame the opposition for Obama’s bad government. Where have I heard that before? “La guerra económica”!

            And you are a bit dishonest in your comment about the Supreme Court judge appointment, because you know that a lame-duck president to nominate a Supreme Court judge in his last year of term is something controversial. Lyndon Johnson tried the to appoint Abe Fortas as Chief Justice in 1968 and it didn’t end well for them either. So, it’s not that ‘unprecedented’. Couldn’t Obama show a little of good faith and let his successor choose the new judge? No, he couldn’t. He likes to add fuel to the fire.

            And Hillary and Obama have been testing the US institutions to the limits, Hillary will probably end up impeached. She can’t receive carte blanche to do whatever she wants just because we like her ideology. Well, unless the US is really becoming Venezuela.

          • Yes, many Americans are concerned about the future, no doubt due to this exhausting and depressing debate, and our gridlocked political system, and our very polarized country.

            Oh, yes, blame the opposition for Obama’s bad government. Where have I heard that before? “La guerra económica”!

            No one is blaming them for his ‘bad government’, let alone anything like the Economic War propaganda. But it can’t be ignored in any analysis. This is not some made up propaganda. With the country losing 800K jobs a month, the Republican leadership in the Senate and House main goal was to obstruct Obama at every turn and ensure he didn’t win a second term. This gridlock, due mainly to obstructionism, is one important reason many Americans are losing faith in our republic’s ability to solve problems. It’s one reason I stopped voting Republican.

            As for his record, it’s mixed. Some good, some bad, but all must be take into account the polarization and obstructionism of the time period.

            LBJ attempted an appointment in June 1968, well in the main election season. And the Senate filibustered him. The court never went below 9 members, because Warren was still alive and was going to continue until a replacement had been picked.
            Scalia, died in January, almost a full year before Obama’s term was up. Never before has a body refused to hold hearings on a President’s proposed justice when the President has a year left in office. As for it being about the election, or letting the people have a voice.
            1. They had a voice in 2012 when they elected Obama to a 4 year term.
            2. Senators have openly said they may confirm Garland in the lame duck period if Clinton wins, so obviously the part about “letting the people” have a voice was just BS.
            3. Several Senators have said they would not ever consider any of Hillary’s choices for Supreme Court. That is completely indefensible.

  15. Long story short, the protest that escalated into an out-of-control constitutional crisis began as an entirely reasonable, eminently moderate, constitutionally grounded demand for consultation. And it’s easy to forget the fuel to that escalation was Chávez’s narcissistic rage, the way he reacted to all pushback with furious hyperbollic denunciations, shrill attacks designed not just to provoke and to escalate but, ultimately, to deny all but his unconditional supporters the right to participate in public life at all.

    That mindset eventually became part of the Chavismo DNA, which is why it’s hard to imagine the pending talks involving any concessions from the reds. We might as well be expecting a pig to fly. They can’t, no matter who is there encouraging them to try.

    • But they don’t even hide this fact. They have openly stated, many times throughout the years, that this is a revolution and they will never hand power back to the “escualidos”, no matter what. Even if they lose elections. How is this in any way surprising? That’s the part I really don’t get. They’ve openly stated it, at the highest levels, for years now. People don’t say those things if they respect democratic ideals.

  16. Trump and Chavez are similar in that they both tapped into a strong current of populist discontent, but that is about as far as the resemblance. They represent very different parts of the political spectrum, of course.

    But they are also different operationally. Chavez attacked the legitimacy of the Fourth Republic for many years, even attempting to overthrow it by violence. In his and his followers’ view, the Republic itself was the corrupt vehicle of the corrupt elite. Their grip was publicly expressed in puntofijismo.The whole rotten mess had to go. The Republic had only 40 years of institutional history when he took it over.

    Trump (AFAIK) does not attack the U.S. Constitution. He has not started his own political party with the explicit intent of destroying the existing parties. He has reached his present position by exploiting the open procedures of one party. If elected, he will not be joined in power by a landslide majority of his followers, nor does he expect to be. The existing parties will remain in control of Congress and the states.

    And there is one other enormous difference, though not one Trump has chosen: a large part of his vote in the coming election will come from people who dislike him a lot, but loathe Clinton. If he wins, then barring a surprise landslide he will have no “mandate” for radical change, and very little political capital for overriding institutional resistance.

    His authoritarian impulses may pose a danger to the constitutional order, but IMO much less danger than the pervasive corruption of Clintonism, with its legions of enablers in the mass media, academy, and Deep State.

      • No need to shout anyone down…Consider, every living former president, every living former sec of state, 71 of the 72 most circulated newspapers and magazines*, dozens of republican congressman and senators, much of the right wing intellectuals, our allies, all of them have repudiated Trump. This is completely unprecedented, and it is because Trump is by far the worst candidate ever to be a nominee. He’s a danger to our country, openly contemptuous of democratic norms and liberal democracy, not to mention completely unfit to hold and wield such power.

        *Many who have either never previously endorsed a candidate or previously endorsed a non-republican.

        Go ahead and support Trump. I cannot fathom it. I’ve only voted Democratic once in my life before, but this election there has never been an easier choice for me. #NeverTrump

        • Rory, the fact that the power elites are all arrayed against Trump is why I like him. The Republicans, the Democrats, the media, academia, foreign governments, international corporations, Wall Street banks, the Catholic Church, all of them are terrified of a Trump presidency. IMO, this is a terrific sign. The corrupt status quo is intolerable. Our Leviathan of a Federal Government has contempt for the electorate, and even worse, for the Constitution. This will make you laugh I am sure, but from my viewpoint Trump is the only candidate standing up for the voiceless, powerless and disenfranchised. Why else would the world’s power elites be so terrified? We have exactly opposite viewpoints in this regard but I am pretty sure I am not insane nor a Nazi.

          • “This will make you laugh I am sure, but from my viewpoint Trump is the only candidate standing up for the voiceless, powerless and disenfranchised.”

            It did not make me laugh. It is distressing and depressing, there is nothing to laugh about. If there is anything in his life, any attribute of his, that indicates he is someone who cares about the voiceless, powerless, and disenfranchised, please let me know.

            Among others who are terrified of his presidency, are those who work with the poor, those who work with the vulnerable, those who already see the results of his rhetoric in their classrooms, those who are concerned what will happen when he is unable to deliver on his promises and then turns the masses onto scapegoats far and wide. Most of all, those who know history and how fragile democracies truly are, are terrified of him and the damage he will do to our Republic. And just as important, most people who know him or have done business with him know his character and are scared shirtless.

            If you are comfortable voting for someone who praises people like Putin for their “strenght”, someone who brings wild conspiracy theories from the fringes into daily life, someone who has no qualms about attacking the legitimacy of the vote when polls showing him losing, someone who regularly shows ignorance on so many world and domestic issues, etc, then go for it.

  17. As I stated before. Any one wanting to have a rational discourse of the US presidential candidates needs to go somewhere else.
    The only resemblance between Chavez and Trump is that they were both created by the political elites who refused to listen to the streets.
    Obama actaully resembles Chavez in his ignoring laws that he does not like, rewarding his donors and refusing to prosecute those who he does not wish to.
    But, it does not matter Trump is the devil to the staff of CC.

  18. Rory, there is no reply button under your response so I’ll just reply here. Just the fact he is running shows he cares. I accept he is a jerk, a bit of a buffoon and a thin skinned narcissist. I watched a couple seasons of Apprentice and never liked him. But this guy could have just stayed in his ivory tower, hobnobbing directly with Bill and Hillary Clinton (they were at his wedding, used to say terrific things about him, etc.). They are among the people who “used to do business with him”. Instead he, and his business interests, are taking the full brunt of the wrath of the world’s power elite. Why? I am sure narcissism is involved somehow but clearly he has decided to stand up for something. If he weren’t a bit crazy, there is no way he would be doing this. If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t be doing this either. He is paying a severe price, a price that as a billionaire in our corrupt country he never had to pay.

    My wife is an immigrant from South America and is also a social worker. She works directly with illegal immigrants. I don’t think you can just seize that mantle, like Hillary supporters are good people, out there in the trenches ministering to the poor and downtrodden. And Trump supporters are just a bunch of clueless, angry hicks or something? I don’t think it is like that at all.

    Certainly people whose livelihoods/profit margins depend on a wide open border and big government are largely for Hillary. I really don’t think it is because they are so moral though. Take this pope for an example. One candidate supports partial birth abortion. The church doctrine is very clear on what this represents – the murder of a child. The other supports the rule of law, enforcing existing immigration laws, work visas rather than undocumented workers and the extension of fences already built by Clinton, Bush and Obama. Who did the pope attack as being un-Christian? Did he do it because he is so righteous or because the Catholic Church has a huge power and profit motive for an open border? I see this pope as both cowardly and morally reprehensible. There is no chance he would dare to call Hillary Clinton un-Christian due to her support of partial birth abortion – no chance. That would put him at odds with the world’s power elite. He’s attacking Trump though, which is the easy road and the low road. Again, I don’t think his attacks have anything to do with morals – quite the opposite. If they had to do with defending the voiceless, why wouldn’t he comment on Hillary and abortion? It only makes sense when you assume, far from being morally righteous, he is a cowardly liar and phony.

    I have not agreed with Trump’s comments on Putin, but overall I am way more comfortable with the foreign policy he has outlined. Hillary is just more of the status quo – American troops based in Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Australia, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Central Asia… I mean, you get the idea. It’s all designed to benefit the power elite, not our Republic.

    Regarding his comments that the election is rigged, I think this is fair given that the Democrats were caught red handed rigging both the primaries and the debates. The head of the DNC had to step down as a result and her replacement has now been caught red handed as well. In a normal situation she would be removed immediately but it just wouldn’t look right for the DNC to have to boot two chairwomen in a matter of months. The election is more important to them than morals or fairness. The media has been caught colluding directly with the Clinton campaign. I have seen them spread pure lies and propaganda designed to damage Trump (the Latin networks are really bad too, but I don’t think anyone watching can realize it because there is no alternate news source). I could go on for hours about how rigged this whole process has been. There is also strong evidence of voter fraud and of non-citizens voting in our elections. The Democrats are against simple laws to keep illegals from voting by requiring some sort of proof of citizenship because such laws are “racist”.

    In addition, Bill and Hillary Clinton said that George Bush stole the election in 2000. It took Al Gore a month to concede. Even at that time, Bill Clinton advised him not to. Neither the Democrats nor the media were claiming that this charge that Bush stole the election was doing damage to our Republic. Not surprisingly, there is an incredible double standard here.

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree on Trump. I would like to hear your thoughts on Hillary though. If she is elected, do you think she will do what her constituents want or what her paymasters want? For example, does she block TPP or does she make a few fake tweaks and then announce she has changed her mind again and it is good to go.

  19. Why all the frivolous concern about US politics when our skin is on fire here IN VENEZUELA , why the attempt at deviating attention at what really is not part of our daily tragedy …….!! Is this something a troll might want to do ?? focus our attention in the US and not in what is happening in our home ……..!! Lets get REAL , lets get SERIOUS …..!!

  20. To be clear, who are you labeling a troll? If it’s me, it’s not my choice to focus on the USA election. For reasons that are as mystifying to me as they appear to be to you, CC keeps writing about Trump and how tens of millions of Americans are falling for the appeal of this guy who is supposedly just like Hugo Chavez.

    Maybe you meant Francisco Toro is the troll? That would make more sense because I come to this blog for information on what is happening in Venezuela but instead find ramblings about Trump. I have no idea why they are producing these articles, but you shouldn’t blame me. I was going to mention that I do feel bad writing about the problems we are having in the USA considering Venezuela is now a slow motion train wreck, but I figured didn’t have to since it was the comments section.

    Yes, you have it way worse in Venezuela. Yes, you have way more important things to worry about than who wins the elections in the USA. It’s not even clear to me why the Venezuelan opposition would be so excited about a Clinton presidency, considering how Obama allowed himself to get steamrolled by the pro-Cuba voices in the organizations like the OAS. But if they focus this blog on Trump, you can expect some discussion of it in the comments section.

  21. I met and talked with Hugo Chavez in 2000 in Washington, DC.. He still appeared democratic but accusations of him becoming a dictator were surfacing frequently. Mi suegro was a Venezuelan Colonel who supported Chavez because of his military background. Mi suegro changed his mind a few years later.

    The conservation lasted about 2 minutes when we passed each other in a hall way in the National Press Club. I was impressed with Chavez politicking skills. He was very cordial and very sharp with his responses. He asked about my family and invited me to come to Venezuela more. Not a single sign of how much of a bastard he would become.

    The bottom line is that to this day, I always wash my right hand extra hard after shaking hands with him just once 16 years ago.

  22. Your post is extremely interesting, Quico. Now, our vzlan opposition has been very very bad but that someone can blame the opposition for Chavez authoritarism amazes me. A dog is a dog is a dog. A putchist is a putchist is a putchist. The guy was NEVER a democrat.

  23. Tremendo articulo Francisco, aqui en USA no se han dado cuenta el terrible error que cometieron, recuerden que esta eleccion en USA se perdio por 25,000 votos en Winsconsin y cerca de 300,000 votos en Pennsylvania. En el voto popular Clinton le lleva cerca de un millon de votos. En el 1998 Chaves gano con cerca de que 60% de los votos? El cuento que Trump representa los sectores que claman por un cambio y todo ese tipo de paja, es simplemente un intento por normal lo que no es normalizable. Pero ya veras cuando cambian las leyes de imigracion en USA, y lo dificil de conseguir visas de turistas, y comience con toda sus locuras. Compara a Trump con Chaves es una manera facil de hacer periodismo, es como los que comparan el futbol de chicas y chicos, o para los futboleros el famoso virus FIFA.


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