February 11, 2009

Punked by a Pebble

Quico says: Readers may be shocked to learn I don't really keep up with the ins-and-outs of the weird and wonderful world of gun-toting para-revolutionary chavistoid vigilante street gangs-cum-rebel community activists in el 23 de Enero. I always get confused somewhere between Colectivo Alexis Vive, the Tupas, the Coordinadora Simón Bolívar, the Fuerzas Bolivarianas de Liberación, the Vega Warriors, and these Pebble people. Who can keep up?

The whole scene is baffling and vaguely upsetting. In a way, it reminds me of nothing so much as this classic bit from Monty Python's Life of Brian:

If anything, our home-grown paras are even more bizarrely self-parodying than this lot: at least the People's Front of Judea had the decency to be against the government of the day. The whole concept of a pro-government guerrilla makes zero sense to me...if you want to take up guns to defend the revolution, why don't you just join the army?

In the ideological grab bag that is the ultra de la ultra de la ultra de la ultra, flavor of the month is obviously La Piedrita (lit: "the pebble") a group that, whether due to uncommon bravado or excess stupidity, seems to have gone too far even for Chávez. In effect, La Piedrita broke the cardinal rule of chavismo: thou shalt not get too specific when talking about the illegal shit thou gets up to.

In talking openly about La Piedrita's various attacks and threats against opposition activists to Quinto Día, their leader Valentín Santana - who apparently has had an arrest warrant out for murder for over a year - broke the unspoken agreement that sustains chavismo's entire relationship with its own para-police arm: "you pretend not to attack our enemies, we pretend not to know you're attacking our enemies."

If he'd taken 10 minutes to read my handy How-To Guide, he would've known that chavismo needs to keep this sort of thing tacit. What Santana did, when you get down to it, is admit that he'd punched Marcel Granier in the face, and - worse - that he would do it again. Rookie mistake! Nothing destabilizes chavismo like unplanned truth-telling.

Chávez couldn't let it stand. For the sake of the dominance hierarchy, he had to send an unambiguous message: nobody's threatening anybody around here unless it's me! La Piedrita had to be brought into line.

But how? Santana isn't going down without a fight, and the last thing Chávez needs five days before a referendum is to send soldiers into what is supposed to be his biggest stronghold to pick up some glorified street thug whose underlings have better weapons than the police.

I really disagree with those who think this is a calculated electoral ploy, a repositioning to the center ahead of Sunday's referendum. I think Santana forced Chávez's hand with a spectacularly mistimed interview that left Chávez in an impossible situation: having to spend the final week of a critical campaign running around trying to convince people that the CIA pays people to try to kill Marcel Granier, looking weak if he can't catch the traitors, but having to send out all the wrong signals to his own hard core of supporters if he really does want to catch him.

I mean, picture it: Soldiers. In el 23. Running around trying to catch...a chavista. Madness!

This is not the Chávez who, alone, can safeguard the peace. This does not cast him in the role of sole guarantor of stability he's been so keen to claim for himself. This is a Chávez who's getting punked by a two-bit para who, para colmo, is chavista!

I just can't see how any of this can be good news for him. All it does is stink, this story.