Friday, June 29, 2007

Up and Coming Crises Redux

About a month ago, I posted an entry on some pending problems and situations facing the Bolivarian Revolution. Here is an update.

1. The “Closing” of RCTV

Channel 2 remains the domain of TVES (Televisión Venezolana Social), on which I’ve been watching the Copa América. The issue has yet to split the Bolivarian base, as hoped for by the opposition, but it has witnessed the ostensible emergence of the children of the escuálidos as a “new” political force in the country (for the critique of the notion of ‘the’ student movement as ‘new’ see previous posts). The opposition has repeatedly emphasized the autonomy of the ‘students’ and claimed that the students represent a new pole in the fight against petro-fascism or whatever. This claim holds even less water now than it did in the past, especially after the scripted temper-tantrum by Oppo students on 17 June in the Assemblea Nacional (AN).

(I’ve written about this before, but the quick recap is that the students showed up when the president of the AN called their bluff and gave them the floor for a battle of ideas with Chavista student groups. The opposition students, in a moment of haute political theater, delivered one speech, changed from red to white shirts, and left the building, claiming that the battle of ideas’ proper place was in the streets, barrios, and universities – never mind the fact that if these kids showed up to most barrios in Caracas, they’d get eaten alive, and never mind the fact that they repeatedly explicitly asked for access to the AN. The death blow to opposition claims that ‘the student movement’ is autonomous from state department-funded parties like Primero Justicia arrived alongside the end of the symbolic currency of a student vanguard. After the escuáliditos left the building on national television, Bolivarian student Hector Rodríguez took the podium, thanked the assembled deputies, the television audience [the event was being carried on every station in the nation, by order of the government, further evidence that the government is stifling dissent…] and asked permission to read something. He then proceeded to read, word for word, the speech of the escualidito, including the cues as to when the speaker should do X symbolic gesture, and when to leave the AN. He then pointed out that the script he read had been left by the oppos, and that it was printed on the letterhead of ARS publicidad – a business within the empire of Globovisión, the 24-hour explicitly anti-Chavista news network.)

Now, the important thing to keep in mind here, is that this is the opposition we’re talking about, the Venezuelan opposition. In other words, we have left logic-landia. The opposition and their student wing continue to claim to be battling for ‘freedom of expression,’ continue to claim they are being repressed, and continue to look abroad for the support they lack at home. What is more – much like the Puente Llaguno massacre in the lead up to the coup of April 11, 2002 – many escuálidos refuse to admit these things happen.

In other words, while the daily intensity of the RCTVista students has certainly diminished, the (still failing) strategy behind them has yet to adapt to the reality on the ground. Rather, the students have become a sort of umbrella symbol for what the opposition wishes to be (mobilized), while in fact it only really points to what it is and was – rich, white, and stupid.

1.5 “Misión Vida” – or whatever

Julio “if you close RCTV blood will flow like borscht through the streets” Borges, director of Primero Justicia (PJ), has been trying to manipulate the ostensible ‘violence’ during the RCTVista student protests into a new campaign for his US-funded band of merry men.

(Brief history: Chávez was elected amidst the ashes of puntofijismo, the traditional two-party power sharing agreement which ruled Venezuela after the fall of Peréz-Jimenéz. The entirety of the existing political class was discredited, and Chávez, an outsider seeking to represent the historically-excluded majority of Venezuelans, faced all but no united opposition [even though it should be noted, traditional 'enemies' like AD, COPEI and MAS soon joined forces to fight the Bolivarians, which says something about the 'pluralism' and 'diversity' of Fourth Republic Democracy]. The opposition-void was quickly filled by the privately-owned media and by the US National Endowment for Democracy, which started pumping millions of dollars into 'citizen and voter education' Non-Governmental Organizations which eventually led to the founding of political parties such as Primero Justicia and the 2004 Recall Referendum umbrella group Súmate. However, the unity of the opposition has often been left wanting, with constant splinterings and offshoot parties forming [example: 2006 presidential candidate Manuel Rosales founded a new party, Un Nuevo Tiempo, which took away many key legislators, governors, and mayors -- including the mayor of Chacao (a bastion of Anti-Chavismo in Eastern Caracas -- Leopoldo López]. In the years since his first election, US intervention via funding, training and tactical support as well as the opposition's lack of unity and Chávez's increasingly majority support have remained the norm here)

EVEN THOUGH there have been more police officers wounded in the RCTVista protests than escuáliditos, Borges is arguing that the president is mis-using the already scant resources of the repressive state apparatus against the wrong people. PJ is attempting to rewrite the idea of ‘social justice’ by tapping into a very serious problem in Venezuela: the murder rate. To paraphrase a recent editorial, Borges claims that the police Chávez and his ilk are putting in the streets to repress the students SHOULD be used to do something about rampant crime.

However, rather than posing a serious counter proposal, PJ ‘proposes’ “Misión Vida,” a play on the Misiones of the Bolivarian Revolution that they yet to define. Apparently for PJ, ‘Misión Vida’ would not include the food, health care, education, or housing initiatives currently included in the Misiones but would rather include a massive increase in the number of police on the streets of Caracas and the other major cities of Venezuela.

As a few others have pointed out, this is shaping up to be yet another missed opportunity for the opposition. Many analysts argue that the reason (2006 presidential candidate) Manuel Rosales did as well as he did is an increasing popular concern over crime rates. For example, during the weekend, as in two days and Friday night, 55 people were murdered. The metropolitan police haven't recieved a raise in eight years, and in most parts of Caracas, even long time residents tell you the streets aren't safe after 9 or 10 o'clock. A semi-final match for the Copa América was moved from Caracas to Maricaibo due to 'safety concerns' (though, since no one has given me a satisfactory explanation for this, I still blame Guaky).

However, to just issue a snarky name in place of a ‘proposal’ with no sustenance WHILE opposing social programs which address the root causes of crime is ineffective at best and, well…par for the course.

1.5a (sorry for all these subsections) On Freedom of Speech

The entire discourse around murder and responses thereto is actually an interesting place to enter a discussion on the status of freedom of speech and expression in Venezuela today.

The Venezuelan media – and by this I mean the few but increasing number of media outlets which can’t be considered proxies for any actual opposition political party – regularly point out the failings of the government. Newspapers carry stories of barrios left untouched by the Bolivarian Revolution, publish denunciations by people who have been promised x, y or z development project or microloan but have yet to see the money, AND air the opinions of folks who regularly liken Chávez to the anti-christ and Chavistas to various racist caricatures. Eleazar Díaz Rangel, who has been a journalist for decades, wrote on Wednesday (27 June), the national day of the journalist:

“Those who speak of a lack of freedom of the press, who ask for the press’ liberty, ignore Venezuelan history and don’t know what censorship and restriction of this freedom actually is…”

He goes on to point out that under the Pérez Jiménez dictatorship (from 1952-1958), during which he began his career, news outlets were regularly shut down for failure to toe the official line. Numerous journalists were thrown in jail, persecuted and exiled for publishing unauthorized information, even and especially for failure to break such journalistic norms such as the sanctity of anonymous sources. Rangel also points out that during the puntofijismo years – the ‘democratic’ decades which followed the fall of Pérez Jiménez – any explicitly or implicitly leftist media outlet was severely restricted.

Aside from the fact that opposition claims of persecution are increasingly the South American equivalent of this scene from the Holy Grail:

concerns around freedom of expression from Eastern Caracas and Washington are furthered belied by the fact that the media here regularly – and substantively – criticizes the government. For example, Últimas Noticias daily publishes accounts of holes in government programs: inadequacies in Misión Hipolite’s staff (who works with homeless persons and drug addicts), the continuing fracas around the ‘Ojo de Agua’ relocation (a community promised ‘dignified housing’ by the government that remains stranded despite a few forced relocations), and the problems of El Ciprés (a rancho that is completely off the Caracas infrastructural and social-safety-net grid whose representatives were denied the opportunity to address Chávez about their problems by his guard.
[This story is especially telling in that Úlitimas Noticias published the story on a Sunday, and later that day Chávez brought it up during Álo Presidente, promising to send representatives there the following day to see what could be done to improve conditions in the area. The paper covered the arrival of the functionaries and, more importantly, the failure of promised doctors to travel to the area a few days later.
How do I know all this?
I read it in the bloody newspaper.
It seems to me that this sort of thing is far more damning criticism of a government – especially this government – than the racist taunts of the ‘opposition press.’
This is, also, precisely what would have not made it through the censors in the puntofijismo years AND, if you really still want to see racist cartoons of Chávez and his followers as well as gross misrepresentations of what is going on, there is still Globovisión…an attention they’ve been relishing.

(Globovisión Advertisment seen around Caracas and in newspapers. Globovisión has also taken to airing disclaimers before and/or after government sponsored commercials, claiming they are airing the government adverts under duress and in violation of the constitution)

2. “The food crisis”

Venezuela is in the midst of a food shortage. Kinda. The price of the basic food basket is increasing (as is the price of everything except for gas. A colleague fills his Range Rover for 4,000 Bolivars – or just under US $2.00) as is the scarcity of many items. Or so I keep hearing – I haven’t had much in the way of trouble, but I’m shopping for one. Hamburgers are still sold on every other street corner for about the price of a tank of gas (local) and the whiskey continues to flow (for some depressing, colonially-logical reason whiskey is more popular than rum among many many Venezuelans).

But here’s the kicker. Reports issued today indeed back up concerns around the availability and security of the ‘Cesta Basica’ but prove that the relative scarcity of certain staple items has more to do with a 30-40% increase in consumption than it does with the evil deeds of the government.

Unless you consider feeding more people an evil deed.

This nifty perspectival shift, however, doesn’t get us past the real stress food prices are causing. Nor will government plans to increase importation of various basic foodstuffs. Rather, the only thing that will avert the deepening of the food crisis is the establishment of food sovereignty. Without self-sufficiency, which Venezuela has been far from for decades before Chávez, the country will remain ever on the brink of a potentially major food crisis. The problem with this is that it is a long term, capital intensive development project that flies in the face of basically every global trend from urbanization to petrol-consumption by emerging powers. The government has repeatedly acknowledged this threat and this necessity, but also knows that the interim leaves it wide open to attacks from domestic opposition as well as the Empire.

3. Nationalization of the Orinco and the US

For a long time I’ve maintained that the likelihood of a US-Venezuelan war is rather low – especially if we’re talking about an Iraq-Afghanistan style invasion. There has certainly been an ongoing ‘soft’ conflict between the two, as the US has basically constructed the current Venezuelan opposition from the ashes of puntofijismo with NED money and been behind or just to the right of every attempt to derail the revolution to date, but the likelihood of an invasion has always seemed small. Too much trade money. And besides, the US has oil company embedded in Venezuela and Venezuela has Citgo in the states, right?

Well. Perhaps not any more.

Conoco and Exxon-Mobil have pulled out of their interests in the Orinco delta, unhappy with the renegotion offered to them by the Venezuelan government, just after the country’s heavy crude reserves were listed as among the most massive in the world. (interesting aside: The BBC’s coverage of the story was headlined “Venezuela oil loss put at $4.5bn” -- read on and you find that the story is about the loses to the companies and fail to point out that anyone might actually BENEFIT from a redistribution of oil money. Crazy, enit?)

Immediately thereafter, the US announced it is taking Citgo – the representative of PDVSA (the state-owned oil company) – to court for failure to comply with ENVIRONMENTAL regulations!

Is it just me, or is the idea of the Bush administration suddenly taking an interest in enforcing environmental regulations a bit dubious?

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