November 10, 2009

The Universal Yawn

Quico says: The really remarkable thing about the reaction to Chávez's latest obscene little warriorist hissy fit against Colombia is the sheer universality of the disinterest it elicited. You'd think that when the head of state of a country that's just come out of a five year weapons buying orgy openly announces imminent war on his neighbor people would worry, at least a little bit. What's bizarre and, in a way, heartening, is the extent to which that didn't happen following Sunday's loon-a-thon.

With the exception of this alarmist little rant from no-less-discredited-a-figure than former president Carlos Andrés Pérez (still, remarkably enough, alive and kickin'...his foot into his mouth) reaction to the war that-exists-only-in-Chávez's-head has been remarkably clear-eyed: the equivalent of a national roll-of-the-eyes, swiftly followed by speculation that the guy must be really hurtin' for a way to rally the faithful if we've entered the Rhetorical Galtieri phase already.

This is certainly Teodoro's reading, and the main vibe I get from scanning oppo responses. Nobody seems to be in any doubt that this is a smoke-curtain: what passes for an official response to the overlapping water/electricity/crime crises now buffeting the country.

The whole narrative about a virtual US occupation of Colombia and the imminent threat of gringo-prodded invasion is too weird, too unhinged to take at face value. This may, indeed, come to be remembered as one of the most catastrophic misreadings of a declared presidential intention in the Chávez era, but I really don't think so.

Instead, what I'd say to my Colombian friends is this: Hugo Chávez has decided to cast you in the role of villain.

He's been pushed into it for lack of a better alternative: Barack Obama doesn't really make a credible bogeyman, and the Venezuelan opposition is too disjointed and threadbare to really work in that role anymore. That's a real problem for Chavismo. By its nature, chavismo needs an enemy: an external threat it can vilify and rail against and use to justify any and every authoritarian excess at home. (How long until protesting students are arrested on suspicions of working for DAS?)

Chavismo's internal logic demands an enemy: a totally evil other to put flesh on the bones of the little Manichaean melodrama inside Huguito's head. And now, you're it.

It's not a pleasant fact, but it's a fact.

For Chávez, it's not important that an enemy be real, or recognize itself as an enemy, or even be much interested in what happens in Venezuela at all. The only thing really required of you in this role is that you be - that you exist long enough and semi-plausibly enough to play Dr. Moriarty to his Sherlock least in his supporters' eyes.

As we in the Venezuelan opposition can certainly tell you, it's not a nice role to be cast in. And yet, it's a role. He can't force you to really inhabit it, and the only way you can lose is if you take the bait. So try to grasp the dynamic at work here, and take a deep breath. A very deep breath. In fact, for your own sake, my advice is to join the universal yawn.