Monday, September 10, 2007

Darkness at Noon 

For the past six years one of the principal political parties in president Chavez’s ruling coalition has been called PODEMOS. It was formerly part of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) party which other, more conservative, people like Teodoro Petkoff belonged to. It essentially split over the Chavez government with MAS becoming part of the opposition to the Chavez and PODEMOS becoming part of the pro-Chavez ruling coalition.

Currently it has 15 deputies in the National Assembly, numerous state and local offices, and got about 750,000 votes as part of the Chavez ticket in the 2006 presidential elections. In other words, PODEMOS supporters constituted about 10% of Chavez supporters overall.

Unfortunately this small political party has come in for quite a tongue lashing in recent days. The reason? It had the temerity to think for itself. You see one of its principal leaders, A.N. deputy Ismael Garcia, has expressed qualms about the proposed constitutional reforms. Specifically, he is concerned that a number of the reforms take power away from the people and concentrate them in the president. Having looked at the reforms, I would say this fear is not totally unfounded.
Yet for simply having expressed reservations and wanting a full national debate (not even outright opposing the reform as I advocate) Garcia has been subjected to this:

“PODEMOS Is A Party Of Ingrates” screams the headline.

Actually the person saying that PODEMOS were ingrates was the Vice-minister of Finance, Rafael Isea who said:

After taking advantage of the leadership of Hugo Chavez to become governors, deputies and mayors, they now they assume a ambigious position where they say they are with Chavez but they aren’t.

Their crime which shows they are against Chavez? That they oppose some of the Consitutional reforms? No, it isn't that because they haven't even said they oppose anything - they just have reservations about some of the proposals and want honest and full discussion of them. In other words instead of blindly following along they seem to actually be reading the proposed reforms and thinking about them.

Thinking for themselves?!?!?!?! Well then, of course they must be ingrates. After all, Chavez has stayed up, night after night, thinking about everything precisely so that others don’t have to think… and yet these ingrates go ahead and think for themselves anyways! Definitely sounds ungrateful to me. In fact, this thinking about things which "El Commendante" has already thought about seems to be slap in Chavez's face. Are these PODEMOS people so arrogant that they think they have the ability to think of something that Chavez maybe overlooked?

If so, they are due for a comeuppance, which came in part from the governor of Miranda who said:

Ismael is involved in something that he doesn’t understand; what does Ismael know that the rest of Venezuelans don’t know; who has spoken to Ismael that knows something the rest of Venezuelans don’t know.

Personally, I think Cabello was a little imprecise: it isn't what does Ismael know that the rest of Venezuela doesn't know; it is what does Ismael know that Chavez doesn't know. After all it isn't just Ismael's ideas that don't count for anything, no one elses count either - not Cabello's, not Jorge Rodriguez's, not Francisco Ameliach's, not the 4 million people that signed up with the PSUV, not anyones. All opinions come from you know who and everyone else either agrees with them in their totality or else they become part of the opposition. That certainly seems to be the message of the past week.

Think that is being a bit extreme? Well check out what the big guy himself had to say yesterday:

Some parties that at one time supported the revolution, it appears that some of their leaders got tired and some took off their mask; and they walk about talking loudly and they are afraid to say they are against Chavez… stop the non-sense and say it once and for all that you are against me.

So lets see - if Chavez says Venezuela should have 50 million people and you say that is too many, then you are against Chavez. If Chavez says there is no need for a devaluation and you say the Bolivar is overvalued then you against Chavez. If Chavez says crime is a creation of the media and you say it is a real problem then you are against Chavez. If Chavez wants to nationalize the phone company and you think the money should be used instead to create new industries then you are against Chavez... I think you get the idea.

Everyone knows that up to this point Chavez has personified the "revolution". He has no peers within this movement. And the ride into Caracas from the airport should be enough to show the budding cult of personality that comes with that.

However, this new way of thinking is much worse and much more dangerous than any of that. Lets remember who the above is being said of. These are not the people who led the April coup. Nor the people who tried to destroy PDVSA. Nor the people who who have been rioting in the streets and lying every day in the media trying to destroy this government.

No, this group think is being demanded of people who have supported this government with blood, sweat and tears and who share its aim of making Venezuela a better country for ALL its citizens. But because they won't be party to group think they are now the enemy.

Don't confuse this criticism, no matter how harsh it may seem, with the infantile assertions of the opposition - that Chavez is a dictator or at least an autocrat; that there is no freedom of speech or that he doesn't tolerate dissent. The Venezuelan people have time and again freely chosen him as their president. Those millions of votes give him the right to form alliances with whom ever he pleases - or form no alliances at all if he so chooses. So if he wants to tell PODEMOS or anyone else to take a hike he is well within his rights to do so. It certainly is a legitimate choice - even if it is dead wrong.

Acclimating people to having others think for them is not a way to build a better society. Cutting yourself off from people who might occasionally have other ideas is not a way to minimize errors and govern successfully. The "your with us or against us" mentality sure didn't work out too well for the people up north so why does Chavez now seem to think it will work for him?

Chavez is a great leader who has accomplished tremendous things for Venezuela. It should come as no surprise that the great majority of Venezuelans - no matter what ideology they may have, if they even have one - want him to continue as their leader. But if he tries to put an ideological straightjacket on all who would follow him he will only isolate his movement and weaken it, leading this to end in tears for his followers and all of Venezuela.

Moreover, if Chavez continues down this path along which he has taken the first tentative steps he will wind up in a place foretold by Arthur Koestler.


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