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The Hugo Chávez Revolution: Failure or Fraud?

By Gustavo Coronel

July 29, 2004 - There is a difference between failure and fraud. A decent and honest person can fail at reaching his or her well-intentioned goals. Athletes, artists, businessmen, fail every day trying to do something good, something noble. Their failure is not something to be ashamed of. In fact, humans who succeed have almost always failed in previous attempts. Entire societies can fail to attain their growth or development goals. Collective failures often turn into magnificent achievements, provided that proper and timely corrections are made.

Fraud is something entirely different. Almost invariably it leads to failure but its motivations are never honest. The runner who gets cramps in the final stretch and loses can be said to fail but remains the object of respect in his/her world. The runner who takes stimulants and "wins" is always caught at the end and becomes the object of universal rejection.

The self-defined revolution by Hugo Chávez has been a complex and tragic six year process. It was originated by a legitimate electoral event which gave the current Venezuelan President a mandate to govern for six years, a mandate which was based on the electoral promises made by the candidate: Employment, honesty in government, end of social and political exclusion among Venezuelans, participatory democracy, true concern for the poor, abandonment of traditional partisan politics in favor of an all-inclusive style of government, instant attention to the plight of street children. These were the main themes of the Chávez electoral campaign. They captured the imagination of the majorities and, because of them, he won the presidency.

Once an election is won, on the basis of a set of promises, then it is time to deliver. Six years later the reality of our Venezuelan society is worse than it was at the time of Chávez's election as President: Employment is down, corruption is at an all time high, inflation is the highest in Latin America, the Venezuelan middle class and the business and professional sectors are totally excluded from decision making, participatory democracy remains a political slogan since only the "leader" of the revolution decides and informs the country after the fact, the poor are much poorer, partisan politics have reached new heights and the street children are more numerous than ever. These are the main characteristics of the current government, characteristics that have been fully documented. They represent the very opposites of the electoral promises made by Chávez six years ago. The question is: Is this a case of well intentioned but massive failure or is this a case of massive fraud? It could be argued that this is an academic distinction since what is important is the disastrous situation the country is in. If the patient is dying, what does it matter if it is due to a failed diagnosis or to murder? I firmly believe that it is all-important to make a distinction between the well-meant failures and the frauds that led to disaster.

I do not believe Chávez was a fraud to start with. He came to power with the genuine desire to convert the poor in "rich," something that has been the dream of many political leaders in Venezuela and elsewhere. The problem is how you do this. In Venezuela, 40 years of democracy had produced significant improvement in Venezuelan society but still quite short of what could have been accomplished. Although Venezuelan indices of human development (United Nations Ranks) had the country in place 45 in 1999 among 173 nations, it was felt that the size of our petroleum income was great enough to have produced a much better level of social progress. I was a strong critic of the pre-Chávez democratic governments. When Chávez came to power I would have certainly supported his drive along the lines of his electoral promises, if he had been true to those promises. After his inauguration, however, he started talking about a "revolution" that had not appeared among his electoral promises. In fact, the new Constitution, passed by his totally controlled National Assembly, talked about a democratic government guided by the rule of law, not about a "revolutionary" government ruled by an authoritarian and undemocratic caudillo. Chávez started to utilize compulsory TV and radio hookups, in which he would announce to the nation, on the spur of the moment, what he wanted done. These abuses of power became a style of ruling. As he became conscious of his inability to convert the poor in rich by his strategy of "redistributing" wealth and only succeeded in converting the middle class into the new poor, he began to replace his well-intentioned failures with massive fraud, as the only means to stay in power.

The strategies used by Chávez which have led to massive fraud almost invariably include an initial promise, followed by much populist rhetoric and by a modest amount of activity related to this promise. This would suggest to the hopeful people that something is being done. The modest activity or front would be followed by a set of claims, which are practically impossible to validate. This is what Chávez has done in cases like the Land Reform, the Literacy program, the diverse "Missions" that he has dreamed up, the "conversion" of PDVSA into a company finally owned by the people and many other instances of massive fraud. In the case of the land reform he started out by announcing it as his main strategy to insure food self-sufficiency and justice for the abandoned rural population. He passed a new law, created an institute "to do the job" and put his own brother at the head of the effort. For some two years he kept land reform in the headlines of the newspapers, mostly through the frequent invasions of private farms by squatters acting under the protection of the National Guard. There were deaths on both sides. Squatters installed themselves in the private property; they built shacks and planted Venezuelan flags next to them or a big poster with a Chávez photograph. This is as far as the farce went since these people had no equipment, no technical assistance of any kind. They were being used by Chávez to advertise his intentions to punish the "wealthy" oligarchs. After a few weeks or months the squatters would silently dissolve back into their urban habitat. Chávez, however, was claiming impossible statistics related to this fraud. His brother, more realistic, started asking to be removed from the position as head of the fraud. He was finally sent to Cuba, as Ambassador. Have you heard anything about the Chávez Land Reform in the last year or so? Even the invasions have stopped, because they cannot find volunteers to go into the countryside to act out the fraud. The land reform of Chávez is dead.

The same applies to the literacy program conducted by the Cubans. The Cubans did come, many of them more intent in solving their problems of economic survival than in solving a problem of illiteracy, which Venezuela does not have. In the statistics on literacy by countries kept by the United Nations, Venezuela appears in 2000 with almost 93% literacy, not too far below Cuba, although the difference in population is significant. In Venezuela the organization "Fe y Alegria" has conducted for many years now an excellent program of literacy. In fact, so excellent that it has been adopted by many other Latin American countries as the standard program. "Fe y Alegria" is present in at least ten Latin American countries with their program. In Venezuela, however, Chávez felt that it would be catchier, sexier, to import a few thousands of Cubans to do the job and, in parallel, teach Venezuelans the excellences of the Cuban revolution. As in the case of the land reform, the ballyhoo about this Mission Robinson kept the Venezuelan people believing that there was a "revolution" going on. Chávez claimed that over a million Venezuelans had been taught how to write in the first months of the program. Once you did the numbers this claim meant that some 10 Venezuelans per minute were being taught how to write by the Cubans. Have you heard much about this program lately? The attention of Venezuelans keeps turning to ever-new programs created by Chávez in his Sunday monologues. None of them have any substance and are reaching only a very small segment of the population, as all polls seem to indicate. This massive fraud serves, however, to justify the diversion of enormous amounts of money from the Venezuelan, state-owned petroleum company directly into the hands of Chávez and his immediate collaborators. This group or gang is using this money for his or her own, politically related objectives, without any accountability. This huge diversion of national funds takes place with total impunity. The officers who should be investigating this massive fraud: the Attorney general, the General Comptroller and the Ombudsman were put there by Chavez and obey only his orders. This lack of checks and balances in the current regime constitutes another massive fraud that derived from claiming that Venezuela is a Democracy. A political system in which there are no checks and balances and in which the main powers (legislative, judicial, moral and executive) are not autonomous or independent, but are totally under the control of one man, cannot be defined as a democracy, even if it has a genuine democratic origin. Democratic legitimacy has two main components: origin and performance. The origin is a democratic election and that the Chávez regime had. The performance should adhere to electoral promises and should be characterized by the respect of political dissenters, by an all-inclusive style of government, by the transparency and accountability of all government actions and by the proper use of national resources and assets. The performance of Chávez has been the total opposite of these requirements and this is factual.

Chávez should be ousted before he destroys our country completely. If he had been just a well-intentioned, inept president, the results would still be disastrous and he should go. A country should not be ruled by the inept and the ignorant, even if well intentioned. Venezuela has had more that her share of those leaders and the results have been tragic. But the case of Chávez is worse. This man is not only inept and ignorant but a fraud. He claims to be what he is not. He claims to be a messianic leader when he is only a throwback to the Venezuelan 19th century, a period of caudillo rule and senseless civil strife disguised as a "revolution." He has no excuse or justification. His crimes against the country deserve not only immediate ousting but also punishment within the law.

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