Monday, January 25, 2010

It's amazing what you can say... once Chavez has said it. 

It's been the opinion of this blogger for the past two or three years that the biggest failing of the Chavez project, whatever it is, is its lack of internal democracy, internal debate, the cultivation of new leadership, and a pretty obvious cult of personality around one person.

This, more than anything, dooms the movement to failure. And in large part the problems that I have spent the last 3 years harping on, the waste, inefficiency, self defeating economic policies, etc, really result from this one fundamental failing.

Certainly, this is a problem created by one person - Hugo Chavez. Anyone who watches the video from the previous post can clearly see that.

But there is a flip side to this problem. And that is the servility of so many so called "Chavistas" and "revolutionaries".

It was once famously said that the three qualities a revolutionary needs to have are "audacity, audacity, and more audacity".

But in the Venezuelan "revolution" the people we see calling themselves "revolutionaries" are obsequious, more obsequious, and still more obsequious.

On one level, this is just sad. Although the opposition likes to tar Chavez supporters as dumb and incompetent in reality there are quite a few who are intelligent, well educated, and competent. It's just that they don't dare risk saying anything that might not meet with approval from the big guy who is, after all, not simply a person but rather "the people" and who as such demands discipline and loyalty to the people (read: him).

But there is another level to this, one that is even worse, which is exemplified by this:

Currency Adjustment: Necessary, but is it Socialist?

January 22nd 2010, by Gregory Wilpert - Correo del Orinoco International

There is little doubt, even among some opposition leaders (who normally oppose just about anything the government does), that the recent currency adjustment of the bolivar was economically necessary. It is a matter of basic math to realize that if inflation averaged 22% between 2005 and 2009 and each bolivar thereby lost about 72% of its purchasing power since the last currency adjustment, then maintaining the exchange rate at the same level during this entire period means imports become ever cheaper and Venezuelan-produced exports become ever more expensive in the rest of the world. As a result, unsubsidized domestic production was slowly being killed off and exports could not compete on international markets. The low exchange rate was also unnecessarily subsidizing innumerable imports for the middle and upper classes.

In other words, if Venezuela wants to diversify its economy and export other products besides oil, an adjustment of the currency’s exchange rate was absolutely necessary. The accompanying economic measures that create funds for subsidizing production will greatly help the import substitution effort. [for the rest of the article follow the link]

What could be wrong with that article - doesn't it make some of the very same points I have been asserting for some time?

Yes it does. But that is not the problem. In fact, the article itself is not the problem at all. Sure, I disagree with parts of it but in the main it is a good and thoughtful article which serves as an excellent starting point for informed, necessary, and ultimately very helpful discussion.

Problem is, where was it a year ago? Two years ago? Three years ago?

Not once, in all the reading that I do regarding Venezuela, had I seen one person in the government, in the government media, or simply any person who supported Chavez make any of those points. In fact, they generally went to great lengths to deny all of the above (the sole exception being Marc Wiesbrot who lives outside Venezuela and who probably has nothing to lose even if he does piss off the big guy, er the "people") and denigrated those who did make them.

Yet now, these points are freely made by people in the government and by others such as Greg Wilpert who write about Venezuela from a pro-Chavez point of view. Why? Why now? Why not before?

To put it simply, why couldn't some of the very basic and obvious points in the first two paragraphs of his article have been openly stated before and why couldn't a very fruitful discussion have been had as to what the best economic policies would have been?

As much as it pains me to say this, as I really do respect some of these people, the only reason I can think of is that in everything they say and write these people self-edit by asking "would Chavez approve of this?" and only when the answer is yes do they say it.

Hence, Wilpert could freely say this now because Chavez had said the same just a week or so earlier. So the coast was clear to discuss this!! No way was Wilpert going to say this two months ago - when the "basic math" was presumably equally basic and simple. No, that would have risked being tarred a counter revolutionary and being forever banned.

But now, after Chavez himself apparently came to understand the "simple math" and made these very points, the coast was clear for Greg Wilpert to write this.

To take this further note that there is no discussion in the pro-Chavez media about raising the gasoline prices. The reason for that is simple - Chavez hasn't mentioned it, much less said he approves of it, so the subject is taboo.

Therein lies what in my opinion is the dynamic that most clearly foreshadows doom for true socialism and true progress in Venezuela: one person is allowed to think and have ideas - everyone else either just follows along or gets cast aside.

And even if Chavez were the most selfless, intelligent, wise, hard working, knowledgeable and capable leader it would still be a terrible way to do things. For there to be true and sustainable progress there has to be open and frank discussion across the entire movement and many people capable of exercising leadership.

The value of a leadership of many is that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. No one has a monopoly on good ideas or what the right policies are. That is why open debate across the breath of the entire movement, on not limited to isolated tiny think tanks, is so important.

And the lack of this within "Chavismo" is why its failure is pretty much assured.


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