Brian Holmes on Mon, 8 Mar 2004 23:24:57 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Venezuela: reply to Ricardo Bello

Hi Ricardo,

Thanks for your answer. I'm sorry to presume to know the faintest 
thing about Venezuela where I've never been, but then again, to live 
politically in this world it's necessary to to read and exchange 
about distant events. And there are lots of sources, extremely 
polarized in this case. So I appreciate your response and what I 
really hope is that your country can avoid violence and civil war in 
the next weeks and months, as it generally has done over the past 
five years.

First, Chavez is not my dream. I can't idealize a country run by a 
guy straight out of the military, with a strong connection to Castro 
and a political style like Juan Peron. And I gotta say I almost gave 
up reading Le Monde Diplomatique, because I'm not crazy about Ramonet 
either (still, the journal is not reducible to him). But anyway we 
agree, the central issue is dealing with poverty. And in Venezuelan 
society, as far as I can tell, the awareness of that centrality is 
the work of the Chavez government, or better, of the majority that 
elected it.

What I've read about the former cutting-the-cake deal between the 
established parties, called Punto Fijo - literally "fixed point," a 
way of fixing the division of electoral spoils - is the story of a 
representational system that doesn't work, and has been unravelling 
everywhere since the late eighties. The problem is the non-inclusion 
of whole classes of people. I've read about the "Caracazo" or 
"Sacudon" in Venezuela in February of 1989, when neoliberal 
adjustments and cuts of social services led to a general uprising, 
sparked off by student movements and people protesting over hikes in 
bus fares. The police were on strike, so constitutional guarantees 
wre suspended and army recruits, many of them 17 or 18 years old, 
were called in to restore the peace with assualt rifles, with the 
result of some three hundred deaths officially, and unknown numbers 
in mass graves (for an account see: 
Caracazo%20case.pdf). All that happened because poverty had become 
extreme, reaching the 70% level I mentioned before. That's the 
background of Chavismo, as you must know very well. It directly 
motivated Chavez's coup attempt of 1992, followed by the shift to 
what has been a legal and democratic strategy since 1998 - a vastly 
better strategy, and probably the only one with any chance of 
success, since in these matters, you can hardly consider civil war or 
coups and dictatorships to be a success.

Today, I can't judge the exact conduct of the Chavez administration, 
and the whole thing is so polarized that it's hard to say what 
reports like yours really mean: that is, when you describe your 
experiences of intimidation by the army, we would have to know what 
kind of illegal tactics other members of the opposition have been 
deploying in the whole referendum process; and though I've read about 
that, I don't consider what I've read to be trustworthy. One can 
observe that in 2002 there was a failed coup led by a man from the 
business elites - which I recall you applauding pretty 
enthusiastically at the time - then a crippling shutdown of the oil 
industry by its managers, conceived to bankrupt the state and force a 
regime change (it was billed as a workers' strike: pretty easy to 
obtain when you lock the doors of the production facilities). I was 
watching CNN on the day of the coup, and there were 5 minutes of 
reporting from Caracas with great excitement over the end of 
Chavismo, then 15 minutes from the business specialists who gloated 
(literally, there's no other word) over how soon the oil would be 
flowing again and how quick the US was going to emerge from its 

My opinion at that level is pretty clear and was stated well enough 
in my last post: there's a structural collusion between the elites of 
countries like Venezuela and those in the rich northern countries, 
which leads to a dual economy cutting out a majority of the people in 
the subordinated countries. The result is a class divide where people 
see things very differently, because they do not live in the same 
world. That's what I would call a fact, and it makes me look with 
great interest on any attempt to change that dualizing structure 
which I consider deeply unjust and dangerous. The unfortunate thing 
in Venezuela has been to see the privileged classes - in their 
eternal cooperation with the US government and corporations - make 
what seemed a very promising attempt head towards possible failure. 
But nothing is over yet, and neither side should be demonized either.

You write:

>Most Venezuelans do not want war and do not posses weapons, but
>after five long years with Chavez the economy is 17% down from
>1998, the year he took office. Thats the main reason why millions
>want an election, its not only an ideological argument.

The Venezualan economy is down? Have you looked around what's 
happening in the world and especially in the South, since the 
beginnings of the world recession in mid-2000? And what about the oil 
strike - did that help the economy, by halting production of the 
major product? The currency devaluations are basically an attempt to 
put up a kind of trade barrier, so as to favor national agriculatural 
and industrial production, and make it easier to export. That's been 
done in Brazil and more recently in Argentina. But it's a very 
limited strategy, and it comes on top of a situation where local 
elites who have access to transnational capital flows are the 
privileged agents of a process which consists in exploiting the high 
interests rates that endebted countries - like Venezuala, despite all 
that oil - must offer in order to borrow the money to service their 
debt, whose sheer size makes any further loan from abroad be 
considered "risky." The difference between low interest rates abroad 
and high ones at home means that the people in between - the local 
transnational class - can make a fortune pumping foreign money 
through the local economy, which is progressively paralyzed by those 
high interest rates. Almost all of Latin America, as far as I can 
tell, is struggling with versions of this trap, which is also 
something like the best of all possible worlds for the elites. Until 
the day the poor people come knocking at the door. On that day (the 
last time was 5 years ago, for Venezuela) the question arises: will 
the class conflict ultimately lead to a transformation of the 
society? Or to violence and new waves of repression? The question is 
current in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, and tomorrow 
it's likely to become current in Brazil, if the PT is unable to 
change any of the structural inequalities that are in force there. My 
perception, really, is that so far, only in Venezuela has there been 
a substantial attempt - though an ambiguous attempt - to make 
structural changes. But let's see what happens everywhere else.

>The thing is, last Friday February 27th we wanted to hand to
>foreign journalist and the few Heads of State that came to Caracas
>for the G15 meeting (12 out of 19 declined the invitation), a
>letter, much like the message signed by 300 writers and artist,
>but implicitly signed by 3.5 millions people. We faced a repression
>I had not ever dream of. I was there. People died, hundreds were
>wounded by gun shot or are still missing.

There is never any excuse for assassinations, political 
imprisonments, police or military repression, even in the face of 
provocation and gunfire from civilians. Unfortunately, the accusation 
or reality of all of these things has also become part of the dirty 
war of information, which is raging around Venezuela. The encouraging 
thing is that the opposition itself seems to be rallying toward a 
democratic solution. The website that you submitted is important in 
that sense, worth looking at for anyone who reads Spanish:

The website shows the middle classes calling for a strictly 
non-violent process of opposition. This is undoubtedly because people 
have been through the whole civil unrest-coup-dictatorship process 
before, and some of them have learned from it. That's encouraging - 
it's not a simple illusion, as he hard-core knee-jerk Marxist 
everything-is-fucked crowd would claim. Lots of people are 
undoubtedly hoping to save their democracy, whatever their perception 
of it may be. And when there's a change of government (as there will 
eventually be, one way or the other), it is possible, within the 
whole climate of urgency now prevailing, that there will be some 
attempt to quit just servicing personal and class interests.

Actually, it's strange that the Chavez government even resists the 
referendum (again, from the outside one can't judge whether the 3.4 
millions signatures are partially the result of fraud, or not). The 
opposition would have to get 60% of the vote, for a single candidate, 
to top Chavez's score in the last election - that's how the 
referendum law is written. In terms of Chavez's support base, the 
most interesting thing I've read so far on the issue is a political 
analysis from a Quebecois website. The author compares the 
neopopulism of Chavez to that of Fujimoro in Peru, and Menem in 
Argentina, both in the mid-nineties:

"Like Fujimoro and Menem, Chavez addresses the marginalized elements 
of society, which are no longer, as in the 40s and 50s, organized 
workers, but instead workers from the informal sector of the economy. 
In Venezuela in June 2002, this sector represented 52.1% of the 
country's active population.

"Yet unlike Fujimoro and Menem, Chavez can count on a popular support 
base much broader than that enjoyed by the ex-presidents of Peru and 
Argentina. The latter, after campaigning against the neoliberal 
measures, set neoliberal programs into operation once elected, while 
financing social programs with the money from the privatizations. 
When the privatization money dried up, the social programs directed 
toward the popular sectors deteriorated, along with the support of 
those sectors for the heads of state. ... This situation doesn't 
apply in Venezuela [because levels of social spending have been 
maintained despite the economic downturn, as the author previously 
shows], and in this sense, Chavez comes closer to the classical 
populism of Peron, which could count on  solid social base. What's 
more, one must not neglect Chavez's origins when trying to explain 
his popular support. Indeed, through his biography and his physical 
features, he is closely associated with the populations living in 
poverty in Venezuela." 

Is a majority really ready to vote for a return to the Punto Fijo 
parties? Or have the middle classes come up with a new political 
offer (or a new populist rhetoric) that can mount a real challenge to 
Peronist nationalism a la Chavez? It would be interesting to hear 
more about that (also interesting to hear more about the alternatives 
to leftist Peronism, which is currently the political horizon in 
Argentina, and which I don't think is viable either, but that's a 
different story). Another paranoid Philip K. Dick scenario is to 
imagine a process of destabilization that radicalizes the non-violent 
middle classes over a failed attempt at a referendum. To see a 
version of this scenario, check the narconews blog at (article 
posted by Martin Hardie in this thread). The manipulation of civil 
society organizations would be nothing new - it happens in Europe and 
the USA all the time. But let's hope that such nightmares remain in 
their cardboard boxes. The important thing is to invent and institute 
new models of social development which redress the gross inequalities 
that have accumulated over the past thirty years. I think it's a 
matter for everyone to be concerned about, wherever they live, which 
is why I have taken it up here. I am extremely aware of the role 
played by the USA, where I was born, in the affairs of Venezuela as 
of so much of the world.

best to all,

Brian Holmes

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: