In the mail box of Venezuela News
By Daniel Duquenal | Venezuela News and Views
16.10.05 | Since it is Sunday and I have no inspiration, or rather, too much as the news are abundant, I am avoiding duty by choosing to write on some mail and comments I keep getting.
The first item is on an article of sorts by Justin Delacour that was sent to me by a reader. Justin has already made a name by associating himself tightly with the bolibananarian revolution. If memory serves me well he was even named by Chavez once. And he reached consecration when he engaged directly in a discussion with El Universal. This article is rather dismal though I felt that maybe some reply was needed, just to criticize the lack of intellectual input in it. But I remembered that Francisco Toro used to have Justin as a regular visitor. So, as a way to try to bring Quico out of retirement I did ask him to write a response and publish it in my blog. He refused but his reply to me was so long that at the end he realized that he had replied and just authorized me to post his letter. Thus it goes below. Note 1: The correspondence with Quico can be either in Spanish or English, so do not think it weird that he replies to me in Spanish. Besides, his computer probably has no accents and it is a pain to put them one by one… Note 2: the title of Quico letter was Justin Delolast which I am sure some of you will get as I prefer not translate it.
Yeah, I read Justin Delacour's article, or, well, as much of it as I could stomach. I think it's pretty much a waste of time to try to refute it point-by-point: only people who know exceedingly little about Venezuela could be taken in by his brand of rose-tinted disinformation. And lets face it: people who know exceedingly little about Venezuela don't read your blog, or VCrisis.
I do think Justin is savvy to latch on to the charge of censorship as a central part of his argument, because what we've seen so far in Venezuela is a particularly subtle kind of pressure on the press that translates into lots of self-censorship, rather than any kind of open-ended, mass scale suppression of dissident voices, let alone formal censorship. From an outsiders' point of view - and notice that Justin was originally writing for a purely gringo academic audience - it must be a pretty hard dynamic to appreciate, so it's a promising issue for someone bent on muddying the waters.
He's obviously on much shakier ground on the authoritarianism stuff, but, again, his points are obviously meant for a pretty under informed foreign audience. Even now, and hard though it may be for us to accept, the Chavez government has kept enough ambiguity in its approach to governance to make the authoritarianism charge quite confusing for outsiders to evaluate. It's true that the opposition is still allowed to protest, and faces minor harassment rather than long prison sentences for its efforts. The veil of legality is so thin it's not likely to fool anyone in Venezuela - even chavistas long ago accepted that Chavez's whims trump the law - but internationally things aren't nearly so clear-cut. And Justin is pretty good at manipulating this confusion to his rhetorical end. Insofar as his role in all this is that of the propagandist hack, I'd say that's to his credit.
Living in Europe, I've come to the conclusion that the reason pap of the sort Delacour puts out is so effective is that people who live in countries where institutions are robust and independent have a really hard time appreciating just how frail Venezuelan institutions are. Of course, Venezuelan institutions have always been weak - that's one constant in the 180 years since we booted out the Spanish. But there's "weak" and then there's "totally ravaged", and foreigners, understandably, find it hard to grasp.
I say "understandably" because nothing in a North American's or European's political experience prepares him to evaluate the kind of reality Venezuela is living. In a first world context, if an institution is nominally independent, then it's fair to assume it really is independent. Naturally, this kind of "political common sense" gets transferred to their evaluation of the Venezuelan situation - a context where it's totally unsuited.
This, to my mind, is the basic confusion Justin continuously exploits, and quite skillfully.
For instance, you and I (and 25 million Venezuelans) can only laugh when Justin writes that the expansion of the Supreme Tribunal was perfectly kosher because the elected National Assembly voted it. But that's because years of watching these clowns operate has made it abundantly clear to us that the Asambleistas are basically a collection of utterly spineless yes-men (erm, yes-people) who are totally in awe of Chavez. You and I know that if, tomorrow, Chavez decreed that the sky is green and the sun rises from the west, the next day 167 chavistas in the National Assembly would line up to approve a resolution swearing it's so. But that painfully obvious (to us) fact is anything but obvious...to them.
Once - but only once - you get an outsider to grasp the fantastic debasement of Venezuela's institutions do our charges of authoritarianism start to make sense to him. The prosecutions against Sumate leaders don't strike foreigners as particularly authoritarian, until they're made aware of the way the courts and the Prosecutor's Office have been purged of all but the hardest of hardcore chavistas. The land expropriations will even appeal to a number of leftish minded foreigners, until they're walked through the gaping illegalities involved and the impossibility of using the courts for redress. None of the standard opposition complaints really make much sense to an outsider, unless first you equip him with a grasp of the devastation of the country's institutional fabric.
Which is why I think that, tactically, it's important for dissident voices to keep hammering away on the topic of Venezuela's ravaged institutions. Human Rights Watch's statement on the demise of judicial authority really should get wide play. So should Cofavic's statement on the pressure human rights activists find themselves under. What foreigners find it hardest to grasp is the extent of the onslaught against our institutions, the sheer gutting of the CNE, of the Attorney General's Office, of the Contraloria and the Defensoria, the Central Bank, all the courts, really of every nominally independent part of the state. You and I know that only hardcore chavistas remain in these institutions, you and I know that the dynamics of chavismo are such that they will never in a million years contradict Chavez. But they don't. So it's important to keep reminding them.
Still, no matter how hard we work at it, people who live in institutionally-functional countries will always find it hard to intuit just how far the debasement of our institutions goes. It challenges their political common sense, it goes against their experience of politics generally, and it's impossible to reconcile with the ostensibly non-authoritarian aspects of chavismo that Justin is so keen to point out.
Regrettably, only a very few non-Venezuelans have the interest or the attention span to actually think through what it might mean to live in a formally democratic society where, none the less, every decision from every institution is subjected to the autocrat's discretion. So, my very sad conclusion is that these are arguments Justin and his ilk are bound to keep "winning" in the eyes of international public opinion, no matter how wrong we may know they are. That may be incredibly frustrating, I know (trust me I know!), but true none the less.
Well, I started off saying I wouldn't refute Justin's piece, and I guess in the end that's just what I did. So, if you want to publish this little screed on your site, go ahead.
Of course, there is nothing to add to it but my assent. It is indeed true that people who live in a semi functional country, where the government cannot get away with even moderate lies, cannot comprehend the state of outright permanent distortion and outright lies that come from official sources in Venezuela. With the aggravation that the people have no means to confront the perpetrators. The press shouts, and shouts, and only on occasion the government backs some, only to charge back a few months later.
Indeed, it is easy for the Delacour of the world to take advantage of this situation, and when eventually confrontation come, they will probably claim innocence as "they could not detect well what was really going on in Venezuela". But they will be safe at home and in Venezuela we will be screwed.
However there is some small consolation. Many of these Delacour type spend an inordinate amount of time harassing anti Chavez sites. To his credit Justin is not one of them, perhaps because he has some dignity or perhaps because he deems himself above the fray. But many keep going on and on, repeating and repeating the worn out clichés that are skillfully relayed through Venezuelan embassies and the numerous web sites working for Chavez.
And this brings me to the second item, the amazing number of pro Chavez web sites, most of them paid for it seems. Descifrado in this week print edition published a study on the Chavez media. From the air waves to the print editions going through the web. The media is covered by 4 national networks and a few local ones. The radio has RNV, the only one that will soon reach every corner of Venezuela. Plus a bunch of local ones. The print edition has progressed a lot. The list does not include the papers favorable to Chavez who predate him such as Maracaibo's Panorama and, up to a point, Ultimas Noticias. The web? Descifrado counts more than 70 sites!!!! And all is just starting as Descifrado reveals many more additions to that arsenal on the way, including forcing cable TV to drop a few of their broadcasts to accommodate for free that governmental onslaught.
The question is of course: does it pay off? Descifrado not only does not think so but predicts that it will not work as the line reported in the official media is just too different from the reality lived by the people in the street, even those supporting Chavez. This one seems to have adopted a strategy of drowning the people in news instead of only allowing for one TV, one radio and one paper, Cuba style. Awash in petro-dollars he can risk it, but I agree with Descifrado prediction. Further more two items convince me that it is already happening. For example, chavistas are going more and more to Globovision for their complaints as they are not received by the media set up by Chavez sycophants. But even at my modest blog level, the comment section of this blog is a great witness on how unsatisfactory the pro Chavez web pages as chavistas keep coming back instead of having fun in their own sites. Am I such a threat or are their sites so boring?
PS: and I take advantage of this post to welcome back Francisco Toro to his revamped blog. He seems bent on writing less and shorter articles but to write again regularly for a while. This leaves me as the only long winded English language blogger. But I suspect that before long Quico will go back to the dissertation mode?
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