May 14, 2004

Happy Birthday, Andrés!

Cardinale turns 41 today!...I propose a comments debate about how to cheer him up...

(Incidentally, no more blogging from me until next week - too much schoolwork!)

Before leaving, though, I'll put up one last thing: the masterful Editorial from yesterday's TalCual:

Castro and Chavez

Yesterday during his televised speech, Chavez recalled El "Mocho" Hernandez, a general from our 19th century civil wars who, though he was an enemy of then president Cipriano Castro, nevertheless joined with him when German and Italian navy ships attacked Venezuelan ports, in 1903, with the pretext of collecting on overdue debts. Chavez said he wished he had an opposition like that, able to close ranks with the government when an external threat to our sovereignty arises.

In his peculiar way of interpreting our past, Chavez forgot a "little detail": when the foreign ships started to shell Maracaibo and Puerto Cabello, President Castro (Cipriano, of course), didn't rush out to accuse "Mocho" Hernandez of siding with the aggressors. Instead, he called for the whole nation to unite to face down that rank imperialist operation.

But what did Chavez do? Exactly the opposite. They had not even finished jailing the Colombian mercenaries and already he, (Infrastructure Minister) Diosdado Cabello, (congressmen) Barreto, Tarek and Lara and any number of other government opinion peddlers, as well as the state TV channel, rushed to blame the Coordinadora Democratica. Unlike Cipriano Castro, Chavez made the incident a new chapter in his confrontation with those who oppose him and, faced with such an obscene manipulation, it was not hard to conclude that the whole episode had been a frame-up to obstruct, or even stop the reparos process and the organization of a recall vote. If the government treated with such levity a matter so obviously grave, if Chavez thinks that confronting the Coordinadora is more important than the presence of the "insolent boot of the foreigner", why should the democratic opposition take on the matter ignoring the abusive attacks it has been subjected to?

It has been the government itself that's made a mockery of this matter. Not just because it didn't provide a single official, detailed account of the facts and the way the arrests were carried out, but because of its spokespeople explained the events in a way that inevitably called up the sturdy jokester spirit of this nation. When the ineffable Lucas Rincon considers that some cachitos are an important clue, whose presence from Chacao and Baruta bakeries make them suspicious, how could Venezuelan humor fail to christen the whole episode "Bay of Cachitos" [Bahia de los Cachitos - a play on the Bay of Pigs - "Bahia de los Cochinos"]? How can Chavez expect to be taken seriously when Rangel affirms, with his best poker face, that the fact that the Metropolitan Police was on the spot merely hints at some kind of stitch-up with the mercenaries? They left so many loose ends that, fully justifiably, skepticism took hold of the country. So much so that they made doubters even out of those of us who barely doubt that ultra right-wing sectors in Venezuela are capable of hatching such demented and stupid plots involving foreign mercenaries.

Meanwhile, a curious and significant detail: the investigations and raids continue, but not precisely on Coordinadora targets. Will the government apologize for the baseless attacks it launched against it?

One addendum: In 1903, when Venezuela was blockaded and shelled by European powers, it was the United States that stepped in to assert the Monroe Doctrine and kick the Europeans out. Similarly, in 1899, it was the US that pressured the Court of Arbitration in Paris to allow Venezuela to keep El Callao and the navigation rights to the Orinoco River during the arbitration dispute over El Esequibo - which contrary to popular belief was a draw between the UK and Venezuela, not a British drubbing (because we kept those two key strategic assets - El Callao with its gold, and control over the mouth of the Orinoco.)

This is what used to be called "Venezuelan Exceptionalism" - almost alone in Latin America, Venezuela has never been invaded by the US, never seen a US-led military operation on home soil, and when the US has intervened (1899, 1903, 1960-61) it has been to help Venezuelan governments deal with outside threats. I think this is an important reason why US-bashing is such a barren strategy in Venezuela. We're not Guatemala, or Haiti or Colombia - people are not viscerally anti-yankee simply because the gringos have never screwed us in the way they've screwed some of our neighbors.