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Venezuela in State of Suspended Animation

By Derek Monroe | OhMyNews International

25.05.05 | For six years now, Venezuela has been run by the self-proclaimed father of the Bolivarian Revolution, Hugo Chavez. Chavez came to power in 1999 with a resume that included a long stint in the Venezuelan army and a failed 1992 coup that landed him in prison.

His electoral victory, aided by the platform of "Venezuela para todo" (Venezuela for everybody), gave him a mandate to run the country with the strange hybrid of semi-Marxist and semi-populist ideology of bringing the power to the masses, referred to as the Bolivarian Revolution. The identity of Latin American liberator Simón Bolívar was therefore used as propagator of social and political change not unlike Lenin or Marx.

The Bolivarian Revolution's primary spin is to return the country to the majority of the people on the principle of democratic participation. Having long made up over 60 percent of the population, the poor were disfranchised from the country's political system until Chavez came to power. He soon embarked on the social policies of dealing with the country's ills such as illiteracy, poverty and homelessness, and providing medical care for those who never had it.

This endeared him to the majority of the poor population, since the previous governments of Venezuela often regarded the poor as a non-political and social entity, resulting in a rift between the haves and have-nots. Therefore, the social unrest and discontent in Venezuela created the space for Chavez to take control of the government and create his own brand of social revolution. Although he was elected, Chavez's base of power is based on three major factors:

1) Effective propaganda and marketing through grass-roots groups and government departments

The grass-roots network of neighborhood groups known as the Bolivarian Circles is based on the Cuban-style organization of revolution supporters. They are a driving force in organizing pro-Chavez rallies and are often used as a force of intimidation. The government departments are also run by educated and enthusiastic believers in the cause, often at the expense of professional and technocratic experience. In addition, recent limitations on the press, which is critical of Chavez's policies, are instrumental in the extension of his control in so-called Bolivarian democracy, turning it into a de-facto semi-dictatorship.

2) Support of the military

Coming from military ranks, Chavez well understands that his power is not guaranteed by popular support but by the power of the military. Frequent changes in the top military brass as well as very generous payments ensure that his support in the barracks is high.

3) High oil prices

The most interesting and contentious form of the revolution is being conducted as a "Bolivarian" experiment. When reviewing the Bolivarian ideas on the economy, one cannot help but notice a certain degree of creating a planned economy by state involvement in the most profitable sectors. At the same time, capitalism is being practiced, with a large presence of multinationals despite the 20-percent unemployment rate and continuing interference in business in the form of ever-changing regulations or fiscal policy.

The presence of foreign multinationals is serving as an alibi for Venezuela's experiment, creating the impression that business is conducted within the parameters of economic and political normalcy and predictability. The contradictions of the current situation are, however, muted by the record revenues of the state-owned PDVSA oil company. Its revenues not only guarantee the continuation of Chavez's rule but also provide a never-ending stream of petro dollars that keep the economy and social system from total collapse.

New "Old" Political Philosphy

The Chavez popular base is the large portion of the population that has never been educated or cared for by any previous government. The inequality that resulted in the society's drifting apart guarantees Chavez support and political ammunition in the near future. He is portrayed as the messiah of the poor, filling the void wrought by decades of political and social resentment.

By creating the Bolivarian Circles and with strong influence over the country's educational curriculum, the government is in the process of devising of a new class of citizen, a la "Homo Sovieticus," that would embrace the direction the Bolivarian Revolution is taking, no matter what the cost.

In the international arena, Chavez decided to go back in time by creating divisions based on the Cold War rhetoric of the Soviet camp. His close alliance with Fidel Castro's Cuba as well the recent announcement of a purchase of a large quantity of arms from Russia, make him look like a leader who does not understand or acknowledge the realities of global politics and economy. The television has become Chavez's de facto propaganda tool, transmitting his speeches for hours on end. While setting limits for the opposition, it is blaming all the evils of society and misfortunes on American imperialism and its Venezuelan collaborators: the rich.

The Future

The hybrid socialist and capitalist economy with contradicting laws and crumbling social infrastructure is an experiment bound to fail. In addition, the heavily eroded limitations of the executive power by the courts or legislature is creating another Caudillo-type figure, so prevalent in the history of the region. Fed by a daily dosage of populism and propaganda, the most educated portion of the population, trained to be the country's technocratic and intellectual core, is leaving in droves.

Despite huge social spending, the economy offers its population near poverty-line wages, further exacerbating the frustration of the poorer citizens with promised fruits of the revolution, and leading to the further instability of the state and the society. The opposition also presents a fractious picture of division without any coherent plan to put society on the right track. If it returned to power, it would further exploit the poorer sectors of society and ignore the conditions that made Chavez popular in the first place.

This promises to produce a change of the government that will most likely be initiated by the military, unhappy with the malaise and seeing its own payoffs as the oil revenue dries out due to the fall in world prices or production cuts. The end result will be a lost decade for Venezuela, not to mention the bloodshed that is likely to follow.

Derek Monroe is an international business consultant/installation artist based in Chicagoland, USA.

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