May 14, 2009


Quico says: My guess now is that when the historians of the future come to periodize the Chávez era, they'll settle on something like:
December 1998 - November 2001: Ascendent Chavismo
January 2002 - August 2004: Acute Polarization
August 2004 - February 2009: Competitive Authoritarianism
from March 2009 : The Chávez Dictatorship

Comments worth reading

Quico says: One of the great joys of blogging is when a post sets off a really good debate. The comments thread following my previous post was one of those: substantive, serious, and by turns heartfelt and piercingly insightful. Thanks to all who've been taking part.

May 12, 2009

The Barrage

There are missiles coming from every direction. In just a few weeks, it was the comisarios, the ports and airports, Rosales, Ledezma, the Miranda clinics, the oil service companies, farm expropiations, laws challenging private property, el Ateneo, Globovision and the list goes on. After the February referendum they suddenly went into over drive, with the government shooting in every direction. It's impossible to have a proper response to any particular attack. Sitting abroad you are left stunned every time you venture into the Venezuelan news-sites. And, I imagine, if you are inside the country you'd be exhausted even before you wake up. That is Chavez's tactic, to stun you into submission.
Quico says: That thought by LaLucca in the comments section struck me as especially apt. The reality is that, when I sit down to blog, my standard operating procedure is to look through the news sites for an especially revealing item of news and then try to write some not-too-cliched comment about it. But that methodology has its own drawbacks, and they're especially visible in the current climate.

The one-topic-at-a-time approach misses what's felt most distinctive about the Venezuelan political scene since the February referendum: the barrage. Not this attack or that attack, but the whole heady mix of 'em; the sense that, by the time you've worked through the implications of any one of the things they're doing, they've run off and done three more, each more alarming than the last.

What we've seen these last few months is Chavez on full attack mode on all fronts. Newly reassured that he can keep on seeking re-election indefinitely, the audacity, speed and scope of the government's authoritarian offensive is just unprecedented.

The guy's doing it all at once, taking on the challenge of creating a country safe for his lifelong rule with a gusto and determination that leaves any attempt to resist simply gasping for air.

What we have now is the worst case scenario. Even a couple of months back, I really couldn't believe that the descent into traditional dictatorship could unfold at the pace we're now seeing.

Denying Plausible Deniability

Quico says: What I find most significant about Chavez's announcement that he has decided to shut down Globovision is, precisely, that he announced it.

Think about it: if the guy was at all concerned to maintain even a minimal kind of legal window dressing in place, he easily could have. Nothing was stopping Chavez from preserving at least a bare-bones plausibility to the inevitable subsequent claims that the decision to close down the station had nothing to do with him. He could've just given the order to Conatel, or the Supreme Tribunal, or whatever, then claimed the decision had been theirs all along.

Granted, nobody with the slightest sense for the way power flows through Venezuelan society these days would've bought it. Still, doing it that way would've shown that Chavez remains minimally aware that he is, at least theoretically, supposed to be the constitutional leader of a legally constituted republic rather than the owner of an hacienda.

No such luck. Just as with the RCTV shutdown and the decision to throw the book at Manuel Rosales, Chavez wasn't content merely to piss all over the rule of law...instead, he made a point of putting himself on theatrical display, exuberantly pissing all over the rule of law under neon lights, live on national TV...just to make extra-special sure nobody is left in any doubt about who has this particular chupetin by the palito.

Which strikes me as being as much the story here as the actual decision to shut down of a key dissident opinion outlet: not just the illegality of it all, the rampant intolerance of it all, the blatant authoritarian meanness of it all - that stuff is periodico de ayer - but the sheer, morbid refusal even to pay lip service to the notion that the 1999 constitution is ontologically distinct from toilet paper.