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In Venezuela, the kettle is close to boiling

By Gustavo Coronel

February 10, 2004 - Political scientists are fond of mentioning the story about frogs in a tank. As the water in the tank is slowly heated, the frogs will remain in it and, eventually, end up cooked. But if the water is heated abruptly, the frogs will jump out of the tank. The Venezuelan tank has been heating up slowly for the last five years and most members of society have felt uncomfortable but not to the point of jumping out. In fact, being rational, Venezuelans have taken steps to insure that the temperature of the water keeps under reasonable control. This civic behavior has angered and frustrated the heating agent, the so-called "bolivarian" revolution. There are indications that they are now resorting to an accelerated heating of the water, hoping to create a violent reaction from citizens that will justify all out repression.

One of the most grotesque examples of this new wave of aggression is the event in which Mrs. Lina Ron, a basilisk in skirts, announced the creation of her political party. Ministers and other high officials of the government of Hugo Chávez attended this event. In her speech, Mrs. Ron claimed that her party "would be made up of the most radical members of the revolution and that they would not allow the celebration of a presidential referendum". She added that they "had the right to be violent", echoing her idol, Chávez, who had also claimed that violence was the weapon of those "who are right." In the same event Minister Diosdado Cabello said that "they would cancel 2 million signatures related to the presidential referendum, if they had to" and added that he "did not give a s*** about international public opinion." The aggressive stance of Ron, combined with the "elegance" of Cabello, served to suddenly raise the Venezuelan political water temperature close to the boiling point. In promoting the creation of these anarchic forces the government could be losing control of the situation.

We have arived at this dangerous stage because the President has been told by his people inside the CNE that the opposition has the required amount of signatures to call for a referendum to revoke him and that there is no way to hide this fact. All the maneuvers that the government has attempted so far have failed, due to the alert action on the part of international organizations placed as observers, the OAS and the Carter Center. The political maneuver by which the Supreme Tribunal will fall in the hands of Chávez (the passing of the new Law on this body by the chavista National Assembly), still is a few weeks away from giving fruit. In spite of the immense power in the hands of Chávez, things are simply not happening entirely as he wishes. This is driving him to the edge of violence and he is now unleashing his most militant followers, Lina Ron's new party, the popular "army," the Tupamaros, Ministers Cabello and Chacon and other assorted fire eaters to promote all out aggression against the opposition.

In so doing he has a chance to extend his days in power. He has enormous financial resources at his disposal and has created a paramilitary force made up of army reserves and Cuban nationals posing as Venezuelans, a group theoretically stronger than the unarmed and peaceful population. Such a strategy, however, could turn the Venezuelan domestic crisis into an international conflict, an undesirable development which could convert Chávez into a political martyr, the only way he would find a place in history. At the least, such a development would almost certainly trigger the application by the OAS of the Interamerican Charter and lead to diplomatic, political and commercial actions against the Chávez government. However, this type of measures are not always as effective as desired and could even serve to strengthen the hold of Chávez over the population. We would have a Cuba all over again.

Different from Cuba, however, the Venezuelan political process of the last five years has shown that there cannot be a "revolution" in our country. The attempts made by Chávez to install a Cuban type revolutionary dictatorship in Venezuela have failed. They were stopped by a civic movement of highly spontaneous nature, somewhat disorganized, but clearly reasserting our clear desire for democracy. The original ideological elements of Chávez's revolution, all his nonsense about "the tree of the three roots," (Bolivar, Zamora and Simon Rodriguez), that is gone from his rhetoric. He is now reduced to political survival, having to improvise continuously to face almost daily new situations. Chávez is politically on the run and has to contend today with a Venezuela made up of stubborn adversaries and pretty much starving followers. These followers are no longer interested in his promises of a long-term socialist paradise. They want bread, employment and better chances of surviving the criminal gangs, which control the streets of Venezuela. He has been forced to change his tactics, desperately flooding the country with money handouts and promoting the idea that his government is one of blacks against whites. He is being more successful with the first tactic than with the second one. Money has always been an effective political tool in Venezuela but racial hate is something that leaves most Venezuelans cold. To further weaken this tactic, Chávez choice of "champions" for the black cause has been unfortunate because Don is no Martin Luther.

I think that this underlying aspect of the Venezuelan political situation has largely gone unnoticed. The pretensions by Chávez of installing a "revolution" in Venezuela have been defeated. They simply did not take roots in the hearts and minds of the Venezuelan people. Chávez still maintains a respectable following but not even the most ignorant of those followers will accompany him in his absurd ideas of becoming another Fidel Castro. Democratic sentiments live well and strong in Venezuela. They are the product of almost uninterrupted democratic life for more than 60 years. While all Cubans 40 or more years of age have been born in political slavery, all Venezuelans of the same age have been born free and have lived in freedom, except for the decade of the Perez Jimenez dictatorship. This is not to say that Venezuelans are better than Cubans but, simply, that they have had a different political education.

The kettle is close to boiling in Venezuela. I am currently reading a science fiction story that, surprisingly, describes an atmosphere very similar to that which exists within the present Venezuelan government ranks: "Thieves and murderers are in the streets and no house is safe . . . there is little food to be had either for copper or silver. Mutterings are giving way to open talk of rebellion in the market. Loyalties are not trusted any more. There are still some good men around but most are brutes, sots, craven and traitors. They are half trained and undisciplined and what loyalty they have is to their own skins. If it comes to battle, they will not hold permanently. . . ." ("A Storm of Swords," George R. R. Martin). This is what we have now in Venezuela, a government having to rely, more and more, in the likes of Lina Ron, Jessie Chacon and Diosdado Cabello.

It is hard to believe that we are writing of the same country where Arturo Uslar Pietri was born and lived most of his illustrious life.

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