Commandante Catastrophe

Ivan Aristeguieta and five friends, part of the ever-growing Venezuelan Diaspora, drove all the way from Adelaide to Canberra on the weekend in the vain hope of helping to vote out Hugo Chávez. It was not be. El Comandante has secured another term in office by “winning” one million votes more than his rival, Henrique Capriles, although the real figure is anybody’s guess.

Aristeguieta, a 33-year-old stand-up comedian, does not see anything funny about his country falling into the abyss: “Chávez is going to be there for another six years – that makes 20 years, like most dictators in history! I cannot express how bad I feel with this result. I see Venezuela becoming an even more violent, ignorant and impoverished place, ruled over by a King-God." 

A week before the election, Chavez declared that if he were a citizen of the US he would vote for Obama and if the situation were reversed Obama would vote for him. No doubt Chavez was exercising his excellent sense of humour, and yet a truth lies at the heart of such mirth: both the Comandante and the POTUS have been fixated on redistributing the economic pie rather than making the pie bigger. Investment rates in Venezuela, for instance, have collapsed during Chavez’s tenure, so much so that even the gas and oil industry has been in decline, despite the country possessing more proven oil and gas reserves than Saudi Arabia. Only two segments of the economy have seen growth in jobs over the past 14 years: a highly politicised government bureaucracy and the private security industry.

It is not just the Venezuelan economy that has been dying. Since Chávez was first elected in 1998 the annual homicide figures have more than trebled. Last year 19,000 people were murdered. Caracas’ homicide ratio of 200/100,000 makes St Paulo – largest city in South America and a murder ratio of a “mere” 14/100,000 – seem like a veritable Disneyland. Not even Mexico, in the midst of a full-scale drug war, can compete with the kidnappings and killings that plague modern-day Venezuela. 

El Comandante, his speeches laden with violence, insolence and obscenities, tacitly encourages anti-social brutes to wage their own personal war on the middle class. Paradoxically, the lethal criminality inspired by the self-styled Bolivarian Revolution targets the poor as much as the wealthy, if for no other reason than the rich are able to hire armed guards and install comprehensive security systems to protect themselves. These days a Venezuelan with a good job employs a private bodyguard in much the same way an Australian hires a fitness coach.

Capriles’ only chance of victory was a serious proportion of Venezuela’s state-subsidized poor finally realising that Chávez’s “socialism of the twenty-first century” was a terrible idea for all of Venezuela – including them. There were expectations that el Comandante would not make a make a clean sweep of the nation’s impoverished towns and neighbourhoods in this election, but that was probably wishful thinking. The regime’s largesse entails heavily-subsidized alcohol, petrol, state-run supermarkets selling inflation-proof fare, an annual give-away of tens of thousands of state-provided apartments, and bouts of “cash splash” that make our own progressive government in Australia seem almost – but not quite – parsimonious. 

Venezuela’s new electronic voting system might in itself have been enough to hold the line. Capriles spent a lot of the election campaign trying to assure the country’s almost 19 million voters that the identity of those who cast an anti-government ballot would not be traceable after the election. Such is the state of fear and paranoia in Venezuela’s socialist paradise. 

Chávez’s “socialism of the twenty-first century” is beginning to look a lot like the socialism of the twentieth century. There is even a civil militia for the young. After the last election el Comandante closed the nation’s oldest television station and over 20 radio stations. In their stead the regime opened four so-called "social" televisions stations and a load of "social-popular" radio stations, all them churning out 24/7 propaganda for the glorious Bolivarian Revolution.

The personality cult is everywhere. For years the country has been flooded with Chávez’s likeness and the colour red: banners, posters, graffiti, paintings and photographs. “Chavez is the heart of the people!” “Venezuela is Red!” “They will never come back!” The Cuban flag and Fidel Castro are often lurking in these images to complete the retro feel. Socialism of the twenty-first century has the flavour of Havana circa 1960 – except for one thing. Fidel Castro is no antisemite and has always recognised Israel’s right to exist.

Chávez is a close ally of Syria’s Bashar Assad, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah. He understands that anti-Zionism – “Israel is a cursed, terrorist murderer” – is the glue that binds his self-styled Axis of Hope to Islamist Iran and its unsavoury antisemitism. Naturally, the presidential campaign kicked off with pointed reminders from pro-government media outlets that Henrique Capriles has Jewish ancestry (his grandmother was a Holocaust survivor). Many on the anti-Zionist Left at least try to mask their antisemitism but not Chávez.

An article in Reuters by Andrew Cawthorne reported on the kind of invective Capriles has endured. Here is an example from Venezuela’s National Radio website: “In October, there are two clear proposals for Venezuela: the Bolivarian Revolution defending the unity of Latin American and interests of the people, or international Zionism, threatening the destruction of our planet.” Throughout the presidential campaign Chávez referred to his opponents as “fascists” and “neo-Nazis” and Capriles, specifically, as “the squalid one” and “the pig”.

The Bolivarian Revolution, with its own special blend of class struggle and antisemitism, might not be so retro after all. Maybe we are witnessing our own future: a time when those dependent on the state’s beneficence begin to outnumber everybody else, and a despotic populist is committed to encouraging and exploiting that fact for all it’s worth, even at the price of society’s moral fabric unravelling. Fourteen years ago, recalls Ivan Aristeguieta, Venezuela was “corrupt, poor, but safe”. Now there are more than fifty new homicide victims every single day of the year. The results of Sunday’s presidential election are in, and the nightmare continues.

Daryl McCann blogs at http://darylmccann.blogspot.com.au

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