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The Hallaca Effect: Chavez's Undoing

By Aleksander Boyd

New York 15.12.07 - The Devil was right. Throughout the last few years I have had many great debates with my fellow bloggers. My line of thinking vis-a-vis the reasons that would bring Chavez down have always been related to his ability/inability to spread money around. In that sense I tended to believe that decreasing oil prices was never going to be the caudillo's undoing, as he has mastered the art of rattling energy markets whenever he feels like it via outrageous remarks or nationalization antics. No, in my view it depended on the, now official, ever decreasing output of PDVSA coupled with the ever increasing size of not only the company but the Venezuelan State. Less production meant less money; less money meant that whatever available only would last for a limited number of projects, handouts, presidential-suitcase jobs, etc. More leeches less blood sort of analogy.

And then walking around New York the other day the Hallaca effect struck me. See Hallaca is as Venezuelan as Venezuelan gets. It is such a part of our tradition and idiosyncrasy that no wet revolutionary dream can mess about with it. In colonial times slaves used to get left overs from the masters tables; they would then mix it up with spices, lay it a thin bed of corn dough, wrap it in banana leaves and have it cooked for a few hours to then enjoy it in the company of beloved ones. Hallacas represent more than a traditional Christmas dish, it is true reflection of our nature: read get from life whatever's available and try and make something delicious with it.

So let's look at chavismo's repercussions in hallacas. Despite the country being in the middle of an unprecedented boom caused by high oil prices and despite the fact that the government has given out money like never before, through handouts and other populist measures, like there's no tomorrow, Venezuelans go to supermarkets, whether private of government owned and subsidized, and can't buy hallaca ingredients. There's no meat, there's no pork, there's no chicken, there's no milk, the quality of available corn flour is below acceptable standards, there's no sugar, there's no capers, there's no chickpeas, there's no bacon, and annatto and banana leaves on their own serve no purposes. So Venezuelans, rich or poor, educated or not, city or countryside dwelling asked themselves, in the solitude of their thoughts, how come we're not having hallacas this year? Why we can't buy, even if we wanted to, hallaca ingredients this year? What the hell is going on here? As electoral results would have it scarcity of food means scarcity of voters and Hugo found himself in the same situation of millions of Venezuelans: having all that money and not being able to buy what's wanted.

Miguel on the other hand has maintained all along that economic forces will eventually catch up with the stubborn and ignorant paratrooper. He's told me in different occasions that whatever goes up comes down, and seems certain that oil prices will come down. He's also said that inflation will beat whatever Chavez throws at it for the underlying problems, far from being addressed, are exacerbated by idiotic economic and fiscal policies designed by half wits who know nothing about economics.

So pondering about the reasons of Chavez's first and last electoral defeat, which means that he has to vacate the presidential palace in 2013 come rain or shine, I concluded that his effect on our traditions, idiosyncrasy, nature and way of life, ultimately his direct responsibility for the scarcity of hallaca ingredients and his incapacity to deal with economic issues caught up with him, as Miguel predicted. Chavez has thrown money to every Venezuelan social class: handouts and communal councils to the poor, CADIVI to the middle class and government bonds, oil trading opportunities and contracts to the mega rich. Political dividends stopped short though: the bulk of his supporters stayed home, his political hacks refused to mobilize the people and forced him to concede. Instead of admonishing the opposition administer wisely the rest of your time in office Hugo, for you are the sole responsible of the demise of your project. I guess that's the consequence of your wanton disregard for efficiency, knowledge, probity and critical thinking.

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