July 1, 2006

Caracas Chronicles on Restorative Hiatus

Well, you must have noticed that I've moved more or less permanently to the Futbol Blog. I can't help it - ever since España '82 my life has been running on a four-year cycle: 47 months feverishly awaiting the next World Cup followed by one month of total, fanatical immersion in the tournament.

I've gotten an inordinate amount of crap in my inbox about this. Typical emails run something like "while you're off watching grown men chasing a little ball like monkeys, Chavez is doing X, Y and Z under cover of mundial, finally enslaving all Venezuelans." I tend to roll my eyes at this sort of message: as if Chavez was going to slow down if we paid more attention. As if he gave a toss about scrutiny. As if we could actually do something about it.

We can't. And I think it's important for us to come to grips with the fact that we can't. From 1999 to 2004 we fought the good fight, and we lost. At this point, we can act as observers, as scrutinizers, as commenters. But not really as activists. Not meaningfully. Not anymore.

Yes, yes, I know. What is happening in Venezuela is unacceptable. The cruel thing is: we have to accept it. Accept its reality.

To my mind, learning to cohabit with the reality of Chavez in power is not just a sign of maturity, but actually a pre-requisite for staying sane. Getting stuck on the ongoing affront to basic decency represented by his regime does nothing beyond raising our blood pressure. Folks, if our principled anger could change the reality on the ground, Chavez would be long gone.

Faced with a reality we can't accept but have to accept, it becomes imperative to find some way to keep our wits about us. To find some joy all the same. This is why I don't apologize for a second for obsessing over futbol: the World Cup is something that gives me immense pleasure, something to hang on to faced with a reality I can neither accept nor change.

We all need our little coping strategies here. I've found mine. I strongly advice you find yours.

Trust me, I'm not happy that it's come to this. But it has.

So, all together now, y sin complejos: GO BRAZIL! God I hope Parreira sees the light and leaves Adriano on the bench...

June 28, 2006

Vcrisis on hiatus

Katy says: Catching up on the blog posts I may have missed due to an increased workload, I was surprised to see that Vcrisis, Alek Boyd's hard-hitting website, has gone on a temporary hiatus. Alek has never struck me as someone who minces his words, yet his parting editorial, while clearly heartfelt, is strangely vague.

Love him or hate him, Alek always had an opinion, and his website occupied an important role in the opposition blogosphere. Let's hope that whatever funk prompted Alek to shut down is only temporary. Even though I often didn't agree with his views or his language, his no-nonsense, investigative blog was a must-read for me. He will be sorely missed.

June 25, 2006

The colors of the new power - Part 2

The second instalment of my translation of Juan Carlos Zapata's dynamite piece in this week's Descifrado en la Calle:

What is happening with Chavez? He faces down traditional capitalists, he faces down multinational capitalists, and he won't allow new capitalists to emerge freely. The newcomers are scared. They haven't quite emerged yet. There are some new names, but the old names are still bigger players.

Chavez is an autocrat, and the state he's trying to build is not a democratic state. He fears capitalist values, but his collaborators don't. Quite a problem. Quite a problem for Tobías Nóbrega. For Wilmer Ruperti. For Omar Sarría. For Ricardo Fernández. For Pedro Torres Ciliberto. For Carlos Batisttini. For Rafael Satría. For Arturo Sarmiento.

On April 11th, a confluence of business, the church and the armed forces tossed Chavez out of power. And if Chavez returned it;s because the elites that failed in the final years of representative democracy showed their political clumsiness once again. They showed their lack of leadership, of a vision for the country, to the point that they were unable to put together a minimal plan to ensure governability. They betrayed one another, showing themselves incapable of dealing with the imponderables of power. With that mise-en-scene, they confirmed one final time why the old model was exhausted by 1998 and why Chavez won.

However, today, the problem for Chavez is worse than on April 11th. Because:
1-He doesn't have the Church's backing
2-He's still fighting with the business class
3-More than half the country doesn't accept him
4-Emerging capitalists don't trust him for the long haul
5-The most important government leaders are starting to see him as a necessary evil, but still an evil
6-The armed forces will tilt wherever events are leading.

Why do I say the situation is worse? Because Chavez has alienated small and mid-sized businessmen, small and mid-sized agricultural producers, the traditional land-owners, the people who've traditionally struck deals with the government, old and new contractors who have no long-term guarantees that they will be recognized, and old and new capitalists who once helped him make it through the oil strike and the distribution strike in 2002-03.

When the government takes a factory by assault, when the Armed Forces take-over lands, the government's financial allies, or those who simply do business with the government, reach into their pockets, look at their check books, and rule out bringing back any dollars they have abroad. Those businessmen know that cordial relations between business and the government have not been re-established. Everyone negotiates, but everyone understands that it can't be an open and transparent interchange, because they know that within the Chavista government three currents co-exist:

1-Those who want nothing to do with business, not even as a temporary ally. This current knows they are fair-weather friends, but not partners for the future. This is the current that thinks, like Chávez, that capitalism is a virus and the market a disease. It's the most cohesive current, in terms of its plans for power.

2-The capitalist current. The one that understands the necessary alliance between various social forces, including business, as a way to buoy up the economy and guarantee social and economic progress. This force is not as powerful as the first, though it has more people in it.

3-The parasite current. The one that tilts whichever way the wind is blowing, but because of its inefficiency paralizes the state, and in so doing, works in favor of the first current, which for convenience tends to protect it and keep it as an ally.

It's not a comfortable situation for Chávez's power. It's not easy or simple. Nonetheless, he is favored by the dispersion of the capitalists, who have no unity of purpose. And yet, this could happen sooner rather than later, given how aggressive Chávez's for now inhibited plans seem to be.

What will Rafael Sarría do when someone decides to investigate his companies? How will Carlos Kaufman react when they ask him to disclose Venoco's real partners? What will Wilmer Ruperti do when they try to rope him into a congressional hearing again? What will Ricardo Fernández do when Mercal stops dealing with him? What will the Khalil brothers do if they tell them that Eveba's production is only for social purposes? What will Parmigiani and governor Rodriguez do in Vargas? What will all the cooperatives do when they are forced to give away their production because they have received Chavez's money? What will the Chávez brothers do in Barinas? Will they just take it if someone tries to give away what they've accumulated? What will Mercal's private sector intermediaries do when the government tells them they've become too powerful in the distribution chain and so they've become dangerous agents infected with the virus of capitalism? What will Orlando Castro, who has been reborn as a Chavez-era businessman, do? How will Alito Uzcátegui and the Empresarios por Venezuela do when they're told to quit being capitalists? And what will Alberto Cudemus, the pork sector guru, when opportunities start to close for him? What will Luis Felipe Acosta Carles do with Carlos Batisttini and Jorge Motta? What's going to happen with Diosdado Cabello, who says that to develop the country today we need the help of private enterprise and businessmen? What's going to happen with someone who says outright that his model businessman is Oswaldo Cisneros? What will happen to his friend, Omar Camero? What might happen with him and Sarría, who at the right time saved Banesco and Juan Carlos Escotet from Chávez's wrath? And what will happen to José Vielma Mora, who says he is no communist, is a friend of Lorenzo Mendoza, and that Polar is a company that does the country good, while Chávez and the radicals set their sights on Polar? And what about Wilmar Castro Soteldo, the minister who understands the importance of private investment? And what will Acosta Carles's destiny be, given his close link with Carabobo and Caracas businessmen? And what's going to happen with all those who, from the government, help their friends, and their friends' friends, to do business with the government? And what will happen with the friends Luis Velásquez Alvaray left behind? And what's going to happen with the military officers who think only about hoarding money and stashing it away in hard currency, land, and real estate? And what ever happened to José Vicente Rangel, whose family loves the high life? What ever happened with José Vicente Rangel, Pedro Torres Ciliberto's personal friend? And what about Ismael García y the business people clustered around his party, Podemos? And when did we last hear of Alí Rodríguez, who's left the whole Utopian Socialist stage well behind him? And what about the business buddies of Monagas governor José Gregorio Briceño? And how will governor Eduardo Manuitt react, being a businessman and independent farmer by nature? And what will happen with Juan Barreto and his coterie of capitalist friends like Alex del Nogal, Ruperti, Humberto Petricca? And what will happen with former Finance Minister Jesús Bermúdez's many, many friends? And what is going to happen with the crony bankers protected by Finance Minister Nelson Merentes? And what's going to happen when Tobías Nóbregas's network of protected friends is made public? Does Alejandro Dopazo sleep easy at night in New York? And what ever happened to the former Agriculture Minister Albarrán? And what about the Cadivi intermediaries? And what about Nicolás Maduro's friends, and Pedro Carreño's, and Francisco Ameliach's? And how about those involved with Jesse Chacón, the ones incriminated by the evidence Velásquez Alvaray has?

Zapata is a serious researcher, with un-frikkin'-believable contacts in the government. He's putting a lot of names out there - now if someone would just investigate them!