Monday, December 03, 2007

Taking the arrogance out of the revolution (or getting rid of the Chavista echo chamber) 

Last nights photo finish election result certainly didn't lack for drama. But fortunately the outcome is not in dispute and President Chavez himself gave a lesson in how one accepts adversity.

The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that this is a very real defeat, but not a major defeat. Chavez still has five years on his term and won't see his current powers weakened in any way. Further, the notion that we now know he will definitely have to leave in 2012 is silly. Surely if Venezuela does well going foward and Chavez is popular this will be revisited. In fact, if this had been 2011 instead of 2008 and people were facing the immenent loss of Chavez (who lets remember is still VERY popular) these reforms would almost certainly have sailed through.

Also, it bares noting that although many, including this blogger, believed all along these reforms had major defficiencies they ALMOST passed. That Chavez played a losing hand so well confirms how popular he is. Further, as Chavez himself said, a narrow defeat is better than a narrow victory.

Finally, as someone who never thought much of these proposed reforms I'm certainly not losing any sleep over their defeat.

To me the really important part starts ... NOW.

The most important thing was for Chavismo to accept this defeat. That they did.

The second, almost equally important thing, is they can't run away from this defeat. They can't ignore it, or block it out of their minds, or claim it was just a bad day. Rather, they need to spend the next few months analyzing it completely and objectively, with everything on the table and no sacred cows.

Chavismo needs to take a good look in the mirror and of course this needs to start at the top with Chavez himself.

Over the past months many of the things that Chavez will see, if he is honest with himself, have been discussed here in this blog. Just to point out a few:

1) There are still very significant domestic problems that the Chavez has been unwilling to address - the issue of crime being front and center. There is a bloodbath on the streets of Venezuela and ignoring it or pretending it isn't that bad, which has been the strategy up until now, won't work and won't stop it from eating into his support. The issue of crime needs to be addressed without delay.

2) Spending half your time on foriegn affairs when your own country has so many pressing needs and unresolved problems probably isn't a good idea. Saving the rest of Latin America would be great and most all of us are for that. But to truly help others you first have to help yourself. An economically prosperous and powerfull Venezuela will be of much assistance to the rest of South America. A poor and underdeveleped Venezuela can't even help itself.

3) Fawning over tyrants and then not expecting people to be nervous when you do things like extend term lengths and make recall referendums more diffic is a little unrealistic. As we saw yesterday, it even makes a good chunck of your own political base nervous.

4) People who question your proposals are not necessarily traitors. I didn't like the role PODEMOS and Baduel ultimately played either. But think about it, did Chavez really give them much choice? When they raised their hands with questions and objections he branded them traitors, and worse. But were they really triators? Or simply canaries in the coal mine? Chavez needs to ask himself that question and answer it honestly.

5) And last (but not least, in fact, probably the biggest point) is you don't help yourself nor your movement when you surround yourself by people who are little more than sycophants. The level of subservience around Chavez and the unwillingness of people to stand up and say what THEY believe, rather than simply what they think Chavez and their other friends in the movement want to hear, is appalling. I can remember when I was happy that Jorge Rodriguez replaced Rangel as Vice-President - "Good" I thought "now there is someone energetic and hopefully with new ideas". Little did I know that he would spend all his time and energy trying to out Chavez Chavez. (and lets not even talk about Mario Silva who I can barely watch anymore).

Worse, this is not only among people who are in Chavez's inner circle or hold government positions. Amazingly it has spread to his supporters who at least in theory are free to speak their minds.

With out naming names it has shocked me over the past year to watch people who are very intelligent and whom I respect tremendously fall into a trance over Chavez. The worst profess to have absolutely no doubts over anything Chavez does, as if they were witnessing the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Others do acknowledge issues, but them over time become less concerned with them most likely because they surround themselves almost exclusively with other pro-Chavez which ensures they will only be swayed in one direction.

Some time ago someone coined the term "the opposition echo chamber" to refer to the Venezuelan opposition which listened only to itself and was therefore completely clueless as Venezuelan's kept rejecting it.

Now it would appear that Chavismo has its own little echo chamber. This is not entirely its fault. The fact that the opposition is so radical and that Venezuela is so polarized makes it difficult for many to listen to the other side. But you must always listen to the other side and see things from other perspectives. Otherwise you become inbred, arrogant, complacent, and overconfident.

And that it is somewhat understandable in no way makes it acceptable. Either Chavismo does away with its own little echo chamber, or that echo chamber will be the undoing of Chavismo.

As has been famously said - "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger".

This defeat by no means mortally weakens Chavez. In fact, it can make him and his movement much stronger. But only if he spends the next period analyzing this defeat, taking a good look in the mirror, and making the appropriate changes. That is not a painless process and no-one likes to go through it (which is probably why the Venezuelan opposition has NEVER done it).

But if Chavez walks the walk on this both he and Venezuela will emerge much better for it.


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