April 15, 2004

Primer on the Bizarre World of the Signature Repairs

Much of the point of this blog is to provide an explanation of Venezuelan politics to foreigners. But as I sit to try to write about the signature "repairs process", I realize that by now the country is so far gone, so decisively lost down the rabbit hole, that there's really no way to render the story intelligible to an outsider. Even Venezuelans can't make sense of it anymore...

To start with, the Supreme Tribunal's Electoral Chamber has already ruled that the Elections' authorities reparo procedures are unconstitutional. CNE, however, simply refuses to follow the court order, while government grandees assure us that the Electoral Chamber has no jurisdiction over Referendum matters. So the opposition decides to negotiate with a now openly partisan CNE, implicitly also disowning the Electoral Chamber, except the opposition negotiators are, in fact, fully convinced that there will be no referendum, and see the negotiations as part of a strategy to force the government to eventually cheat openly, and finally delegitimate itself.

For this reason, the opposition is willing to compromise on just about every point - even, absurdly, to the point of accepting conditions that openly violate CNE's own rules. For instance, the rules published before the signature gathering drive say explicitly that the reparo process must last 5 days - but CNE interprets that to mean that there should be one day to set up the reparo centers and one day to take them down, leaving just 3 days for actual reparos. It's idiotic, but who can say no to them? Who can stop them? No one can...

Yesterday, CNE announced the "final" reparo procedures, except two thirds of the details were left undefined, including minor matters like, oh, how many signatures would need to be "repaired", and which ones, precisely. The opposition is therefore put in a position of having to either agree or disagree with an openly illegal, unconstitutional procedure that already has a Supreme Court decision standing against it, without having any idea what exactly it is they're being asked to accept because, well, it's been 5 months since the original signature collection drive and CNE still has not decided which signatures need repairing. (The Electoral law says they had 30 days to come up with a number once they'd received the signature forms...nice rule, but who can enforce it?)

The entire thing has burst through the threshold of the illegal, careened past the domain of the farcical, powered on past the land of bureaucratic obfuscation and settled comfortably into a kind of surrealist twilight zone of muscular illegality and willful subversion of the basic tenets of aristotelian logic.

It's not an exageration. Aristotle, if I remember correctly, starts off from the axiom that a statement and its opposite cannot both be true at the same time. If X is true, not-X cannot also be true. But in recent days, Venezuelans have seen Supreme Court Constitutional (i.e. Chavista) Chamber decisions that say, in so many words, that a decision that is temporary is, at the same time, final. Temporary means, of course, not-final. But for Chavismo, such piddling concerns are of little consequence. Don't you know there's a revolution on? If it suits Chavez's cronies to say that a decision is both not-final and final at the same time, they have no compunction about declaring it so.

This is the state of the nation these days. A government that no longer feels bound to any standard of rational argumentation whatsoever facing an opposition that has no institutional mechanisms at its disposal to force it to act reasonably.

I agree with Teodoro Petkoff that to diagnose this as a dictatorship is to miss the point. What Venezuela is dealing with is more like a nonsenseocracy, a government that, while not openly dictatorial, refuses to reason, refuses to submit to the norms of logic in argumentation that have served as the cornerstone of western culture for 24 centuries now. Chavismo systematically asserts the primacy of political ideology over standard rationality. Having dismantled all institutions that might provide checks or balances against abuses of power, Chavez and his backers are starting to realize that the ultimate perk of absolute power is that it relieves you from the obligation to make sense.

Cardinale chips in

The problem with Aristotleian logic is that it is, well, too Aristotleian, or Apollonian, if you want. There are other gods, other ways of "reasoning"...

Power has its own logic, it always had, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with reason. It's a matter of faith. Once you accept, for instance, that Jesus is the son of god, and not just a man with a beautiful and convincing discourse, and who counts with an avant la lettre Miquilena (St. Paul) to "organize" the mechanics of the "party" or "religion," the rest unfolds by itself. There is a logic in that, though it isn't Aristotleian at all.

Why, Quico, would you worry about things fitting logical patterns if you have "truth," "beauty" and "good" on your side? If you have them, you don't need to prove them or make them work reasonably. You just exercise them.

More to the point: it's a form of madness. The Greeks recognized four kinds of divine madness. Poetic madness, prophetic madness, telestic madness and love madness. When you fall in love (and as a madness that's surely a big "fall") you stop reasoning like Aristotles. To put it in Plato's terms, you just obey your daemons, which act outside "reasonable reason," and follow your madness.

What took Chávez to power? Wasn't it a certain "falling in love" with the character for many, or with the ideas for others, or even with the idea of making money fast for the likes of Barreto? The problem is that, once he got most of the power and, predictably, many fell out love, there was no way to "break up" reasonably... Think of it: the man won't accept that the "people" divorced him, and won't accept a decision of the court...

Andrés Cardinale