March 15, 2003

Please direct all anguished rants, appalled tirades, horrified lectures and mentadas de madre to the email address on the right.

It's perfect

Carlos Ortega, the country's top labor leader and the brain-behind-the-national-strike, has chosen exile over jail (can't blame him.) Carlos Fernández, his business federation buddy, sits under house arrest. Two days ago, Ibéyise Pacheco, the firebreathing antichavista muckraking journalist, was nearly arrested by the State Security Police (Disip) and went into semi-hiding. The government crack-down appears comprehensive and likely to get's great!

Yeah, yeah, I know, the onslaught is an appalling, deep and flagrant violation of all sorts of basic democratic principles, an afront to human dignity and civil rights, yaddi yadda, all that. But from a brutally detached, real politik type outlook, it's a godsend for moderates in the opposition camp.

First off, because it's having a deeply negative impact on perceptions of the government abroad. I mean, you know and I know that Carlos Ortega is nearly as narcissistic and authoritarian as Hugo Chávez, but the foreign press is still bound by certain standards of professional ethics to treat him as a proper opposition leader, persecuted for his convictions. You and I know that Carlos Ortega led the entire opposition movement up the garden path, diving headlong into a mad general strike that was never part of a proper plan for getting rid of the government. You and I know that Carlos Ortega is responsible for driving hundreds of businesses into bankruptcy and tens of thousands of workers into unemployment, that he never had a plan B, never thought beyond fomenting chaos, disorder, and economic collapse and hoping all of that would lead someone, somewhere, somehow to shove the government out of power. But as far as international public opinion is concerned, he'll now be retroactively portrayed as a brave, embattled pro-democracy leader persecuted for his beliefs. So it's perfect: this dangerous lunatic is taken out of action, shoved well away from the center of opposition decision-making (where he never should've been in the first place) and, on top of that, we get international sympathy and support too.

Something similar happens with Ibéyise Pacheco - the dean of antichavista extremism in the Caracas newspaper world. Journalists here know all about how the sausage is made over at Asi es la noticia - the embarrasingly bad, El Nacional-owned tabloid rag she "edits." For years Pacheco has been shoving her appalling brand of pseudojournalism down the throats of unsuspecting readers. Her insufferably prima donnaish persona, her galling willingness to stretch, distort or invent to damage her political enemies, and the shrill, near-hysterical tone of her antichavismo have probably done as much damage to the practice of decent journalism in this country as any number of lunatic rants against the press by Chávez. Now, with this travesty of journalism on the run, readers are spared, Pacheco is disempowered, and decent journalism wins that much more space. Meanwhile, foreign governments will be horrified to hear about the prosecution of a "dissident journalist" (such a noble-sounding moniker!) and the government will see one more bit of plaster fall from its democratic façade. It's a godsend!

Though Carlos Fernández, the Fedecamaras house-arrestee, is not as objectionable as these two other characters, you can certainly argue that moving against him the government has freed the business federation of an especially ineffective and unimaginative leader, only to leave Fedecamaras in the hands of his one-time right-hand woman - Albis Muñoz, who's far brighter, more articulate, and more promising as a leader. She's been so dashing in her post-arrest press appearances, some people are starting to think of her as "presidentiable." She probably never would've reached that position were it not for her boss's arrest - yet another unforeseen benefit of this latest wave of repression.

Am I the only one who sees a pattern here? Though it's obvious that only rank authoritarianism motivates the government to move against these opposition radicals, the upshot is that the crack-down is clearing all kinds of dead wood from the opposition deck. The best you could say about the people being persecuted now is that they had clearly failed; the worst, that in their mindless radicalism and immediatism they replicate much of what they decry in the government. Though these radicals were clearly setting back the struggle to unseat the lunatic president, moderate opposition activists had no way to get rid of them. Now, in a delicious own-goal, the government does it for them, in the process not only improving the quality of the opposition's leadership but also giving itself a big, bad, black eye in terms of international standing.

It's perfect.