Quico says: Well, the new year is here, and with it a classic Chavez mixed message. On the one hand, we can only celebrate the exit from high office of Vice-president José Vicente Rangel, possibly the only regime figure able to give Chavez himself a run for his money in the opposition loathing stakes. It's difficult to overstate the influence JVR has had in Venezuela in the last five years, and nearly as hard to overstate how insidious that influence has been. Essentially, his has been the only voice outside Havana Chavez has actually listened to since 2002. A man of deep cunning and flat-out pathological perversity, Rangel was the mastermind of Chavez's unique brand of Goldilocks authoritarianism: not-so-hot as to call forth unambiguous international repudiation, not-so-cold as to allow for any meaningful avenues of dissent.
Rangel's "achievements" were considerable. His was the brain behind the Chavez-Los-Tiene-Locos strategy. He was the man with the unique political foresight to bait every key section of the opposition (dissident military officers, PDVSA managers, and eventually every last one of our parliamentary representatives) into saving Chavez the trouble of purging them by getting them to purge themselves. For eight years he's been baiting us, for eight years we've been falling for it. He's beat us up one side of the street and down the other time and time again, and I for one am genuinely relieved to see the back of him. Thank god.
Nobody, I would argue, could really fill JVR's shockingly Macchiavellian shoes. The one regime operative who comes closest is, predictably enough, the one who got the nod. Jorge Rodriguez got his start in chavista lackeying as Rangel's protege, which tells you nearly as much as you need to know about him. A psychiatrist in the same sense Mengele was a doctor, Rodríguez cut his teeth running the electoral arm of the Chavez-los-tiene-locos strategy with sublime effectiveness. Certainly a member of the top five as far as toxic regime personalities go, Rodríguez in the vicepresidency will be no bed of roses. I'm confident, though, that nobody but nobody could match Rangel's evil genius. One for the record books, really.
Also note: From this month, JayDee is moving on to bigger and better things - I for one will miss this contribution. Also note that this blog will run without a comments section for at least a trial period. This has been a tough decision to take, but one made necessary by the totally unwieldy amount of time needed to patrol the comments section: none of you seem to believe it, but Katy and I really do have day jobs.
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