January 13, 2007

Chávez Unchained

Quico says: After all the dread, after the slow, protracted, build-up of the last eight years, the denouement that began this week comes almost as a relief. Finally, after all the smoke and mirrors of the "transition period," the government finds itself with no reasons to hold back anymore. With power centralized absolutely, with no more institutional restraints in place, without even a looming election to impose a modicum of caution, we finally get to see chavismo the way Chávez wanted it all along: free to implement all of his utopian fantasies with utter, gleeful abandon.

On the one hand, yes, it's true. We're utterly, utterly screwed. All of the barely concealed autocratic tendencies that have been building up since 1999 have bloomed into a no-longer-really-hidden authoritarianism. The transition to autocracy is now complete; the delirious utopianism of our new governing class has nothing to hold it back anymore. Those of us who dissent have exactly zero cards left to play. Our dissent makes us enemies of the state, and the state no longer has any reason to cut its enemies any slack. After all, 63% of Venezuelans have voted for a government that openly sees the remaining 37% as enemies. Any objections we raise will be dismissed, at best - at worst, our elected dictatorship will turn them against us, use them as evidence of our treason.

On the other hand, it's been clear that this moment was coming, and it's been years since we've had a realistic prospect of avoiding it. We all knew that it was going to happen. At least the dread of the wait is pretty much over. At least we're finally finding out how far Chavez was really planning to go. At last the government realizes the time has come to show its hand. By the end of this year, we'll know how much space for independent action we'll really be allowed. It's not pretty. But, with Chávez unchained, we'll at least get a degree of certainty about what the country will be like for the duration of his rule.

We can take comfort - minor comfort - from the fact that, with oil prices now dropping to still-high-but-no-longer-quite-stratospheric levels, the government will at least have to face some resource constraints in implementing its delirium. And we can be assured that when the chickens come home to roost, it'll be clear to everyone whose home they're going back to.

Still, there is no sugar-coating it: with an extremist autocrat fully in control of every instrument of power, the next few years will be very dark ones for our country.