Sunday, April 15, 2007

Opposition Games

An interesting op-ed appeared in Mexico’s La Jornada by José Steinsleger earlier this week (on the 11th, to be exact) on the most recent moves by the Venezuelan opposition against Chávez to be approved by the US State Department. [The folks at ZNet were kind enough to translate the article, which is attached below.]

Here are some of my favorite moments:

...Manuel Rosales, presidential candidate of the briefly unified opposition in the 2006 presidential elections, open supporter of the 2002 coup, and current governor of Zulia State has been ensconced as the Jefferson Davis of a separatist movement known as Rumbo Propio (RP).

(Zulia's on the far western side of the country, sandwiched by Lake Maracaibo and Colombia)

...Among RP’s goals for the zulian patriots are:
- the all but complete disintegration of the Venezuelan republic into its constituent states – staunching the centralization of power in Caracas and allowing for local elites (e.g., Rosales, Carmona, et al) to start the long and nasty work of counter revolution
- the reorientation of state policy, placing primacy on the market and international trade (with some commentators going so far as to imagine the capital of Zulia, Maracaibo, second largest city of Venezuela, as “Latin America’s Hong Kong.”)
- finally, if not surprisingly, the opening of new and more robust diplomatic and military ties with the United States, with US ambassador William Bromfield going so far as to suggest the forging of direct bilateral relations between Washington and Maracaibo.

This all of course, as the op-ed fails to mention (though I’m sure, due to no malice on the author's part), rings a troublingly familiar echo to the gestures towards ‘autonomy’ by the natural gas rich state of Santa Cruz in Bolivia since the election of Evo Morales. In both cases, old money elites with the blessing of allies to the north have attempted to stir regionalist passions in their campaigns against attempts by the national government’s redistributive projects. Both cases – the zulianos as well as the separatists of Bolivia’s half moon states – allow Washington to hedge its bets in the international energy trade, ostensibly shaken by the gestures of Chávez and Morales, and to maintain influence in the so-called ‘war on drugs.’ (As the Steinsleger article points out, Zulia borders three Colombian states key to the US military campaign in the region; in the Bolivian case the Santa Cruz separatists buffer the major coca growing departments in Bolivia).

The cynical deployment of ‘decentralization’ and ‘autonomy’ by RP and the Santa Cruz separatists ought to highlight for observers the (at best) ambivalence of 90’s ‘horizontalism’ and obsession with ‘civil society.’ That is, rather than an inherently democratic sphere of free association, these arenas of political activity allow more precisely for the reemergence with force of the personalistic strong man politics of old.

The original, en íngles:

ZNet | Venezuela

Stoking Separatism in Venezuela

by José Steinsleger; La Jornada; April 13, 2007
After failing in the different options of delegitimising the government of President Hugo Chavez (coup d’état, media war, petroleum sabotage, assassination, disregarding electoral results), some sectors of Venezuela’s “democratic” opposition have started to unfurl the cause of Zulia (Venezuelan province with most of the oil deposits).
Before a widespread sentiment of “Zulia-ness” has taken root, it is being nourished by Rumbio Propio (Own Course), a movement of super-democratic folk who are trying, as they say, to make the petroleum-rich state of (with Maracaibo, the second city of the country, as the capital) into “the Hong Kong of Latin America”.

Rumbo is hardly “original”: it believes in “true, classical liberalism”, understands the Right as the “political side that defends and listens to human rights and liberties, individual and economic” and is (it goes without saying) “… against totalitarianism of any sort and side”.

In the presidential elections last November, Rumbo supported the state governor, Manuel Rosales, who in April 2002 openly supported the coup by the businessman, Pedro Carmona. In his campaign team, Rosales counted on the help of two figures: Commissioner Henry López Sisco (CIA agent responsible for various massacres during the government of Jaime Lusinchi 1984-88) and the pathetic Teodoro Petkoff, former guerrilla who claims to be misunderstood by “leftists and rightists”.

The separatist climate of Rumbo and the “Zulia patriots” is expressed in billboards, tee shirts showing maps of the “independent republic”, Press articles, web pages and confused declarations of academics selected to manipulate the history of the region.

The writer Luis Britto García remembers that during the coup of April 2002, the commentator, Victor Manuel García (a firm supporter of “globalisation”) shouted on television: “Why not? Bolívar, independent! Cojedes (Venezuelan region), Independent! Zulia, Independent!”

On October 26, 2003, the anti-Chavez newspaper, La Verdad (The Truth), interviewed Julio Portillo, head of the School of Political Science at the private Rafael Urdaneta University. In the text, the professor supported the idea of a “region autonomous before independence”; later he contradicted it and underscored the “resemblance” of Zulia with Quebec and Panama. Finally, Portillo proposed a consultative referendum on independence with the “argument” that Zulia would be a nation “… because of its riches”.

In 2005, the head of Political Science at Zulia University, Lucrecia Morales, urged the delinking of the state from “this government (of Chavez) and to do it through the route of “definitive emancipation”. And the geniuses of Washington keep on hoping, thinking that “Zulia-ness” could drive to an independence of the type in Panama (1903) without having learnt anything, it seems, from the defeat at Bay of the Pigs (Cuba, 1961).

Exploiting the mean spirit of the nationalists, Washington’s Ambassador in Caracas, William Bromfield, embarked on a series of visits to governor Rosales. In Maraicabo, he said: "Twenty-five years ago I lived for two years in the ‘independent western republic of Zulia’ and know perfectly what it means to be in a heated climate”.

A little before the elections, Bromfield spoke of opening a consulate and of the possible signing by Zulia of a bilateral (sic) agreement with the United States. The declaration of someone who is seen as the head of the “democratic opposition” in Venezuela led to widespread denunciation among the Deputies and politicians. The newspaper VEA of Caracas hinted at a possible plan “… to create artificial frontiers that would lead to a State without a country between Venezuela and Colombia, whose mission is to take hostage Zulia and bestow on it a euphemistic independence by the agents of the White House…”

Bromfield, in any case, was not wrongfooting it: lapped by the waters of the Maracaibo lake, three rich Venezuelan states (Zulia, Mérida and Trujillo) border three strategic departments of neighbouring Colombia: Guajira, César and North Santander, points in Pentagon’s counterinsurgency warfare.

Separatism in Zulia should be taken seriously. There are precedent: in 1928, the American financier William Buckley promoted a conspiracy by oil producers to separate Zulia; in 1916, the governor Venancio Pérez Soto defeated an attempted secessionism promoted by the United States petroleum companies; in 1869, governor Venancio Pulgar derecognised the President, José Ruperto Monagas, was defeated and ended up taking refuge in a British warship that was “by chance” observing the insurrection.

Separatism in Zulia is a real story of pirates entrusted with liquidating the Bolivarian project of Chavez. The possible political independence of Zulia would lead to a crisis of unpredictable levels, civil war included. How many Latin American governments would be disposed to support this separatist adventure?

Well, none to start with…

Translated from Spanish by Supriyo Chatterjee

This article was published in La Jornada, Mexico, on April 11, 2007.

No comments: