Opinion

Op-Ed

Selling a Convenient Untruth

Venezuela's bridge to democracy hasn't fallen down by implosion; it has been dismantled since 1999, beam after beam, nut by nut.

How original is the idea of the socialism of the 21st century?

Parties representing the extreme Left are prone to have an oligarchic structure, becoming organizations that were denounced by Robespierre in the 18th century, and Rosa Luxembourg and Trotsky in the 19th century for being used as tools which replace the society, a central committee that replaces the party and a secretary-general who replaces the central committee.

The result is known: powerful dictators, as Stalin, Lenin, Mao Tse Tung, and many other less known, who are responsible for millions of death of their own people. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been following their path, albeit slowly and very carefully, so as not to "sully" his democratic veneer. He has proclaimed that only his new Socialist Party is revolutionary, blurring distinction between the party and the revolution, the revolution with the state and those who aren't members of the party are catalogued as members of the opposition, i.e. enemies of the people.

In this respect I can see parallels with what happened in the USSR, when Lenin eliminated Mensheviks from the power structure. (Mensheviks were members of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' party, who advocated more gradual development of the socialist system, and were opposing the Bolsheviks' extremist views). All these similarities indicate that one can clearly see that this isn't any socialism of the 21st century, but rather a rehash of the 20th century socialism.

Clear examples: The United Socialist party of Venezuela and The United Socialist Party of the DDR (Eastern Germany). The Minister of the People's Power of .... (in Cuba), the Minister of the People's Power of ... (in Venezuela), the slogan "Fatherland, socialism or death" (in Cuba), "Fatherland, socialism or death (in Venezuela).

The Second Driving Force — Constitutional Reform

The constitutional reform, the second of the driving forces (in Spanish, "motores") of the Bolivarian and, from now on, socialist revolution, will be the most important political item this year.

Immediately after being promulgated by the Constituent Assembly, the 1999 Constitution implemented the gradual concentration of public branches in Chávez's hands. He gradually took hold of the two branches, and the electoral council, and decided to remain in office forever. The municipal autonomy was wiped out. The political and administrative decentralization under the 1961 Constitution was stifled.

The Constitution put the State and the military above the individuals and their right to free development and growth. It has turned individuals into the servants of the constituted authority. It has become the voice of the official single way of thinking — the ideology supposedly espoused by Simón Bolívar. The constitutional reform has been directed toward the building of the socialist State and society. Beyond that, according to Chávez, there will be no room for dialogue with the opposition.

The contents of the 21st century socialism have been brewing in Chávez's mind for decades. "We cast no doubt about where we were going, and the way to get there, either by peaceful means or by force. This has been a matter of discussion for several years," Chávez conceded in 2004 while introducing La Nueva Etapa: El Mapa Estratégico de la Revolución Bolivariana (The New Stage — The Strategic Map of the Bolivarian Revolution).

That time, he recalled that the three strategic maps outlined until then — started with the first version, drafted in 1994, while he was in Yare prison —"are an evolution of the same map." The centerpiece of the revolutionary model, according to him is "to transcend the capitalist model." His other utterance is also memorable, "No statement about communism … it would be insane at the present time. I am not saying that people mulling over this possibility are insane, but it's just not the timing."

The strategy is clear. "For the time being" continues to be the tactic. In short, Chávez is clinging to a fantasy version of socialism. Venezuela's bridge to democracy hasn't fallen down by implosion; it has been dismantled since 1999, beam after beam, nut by nut.

It would be worthwhile to revise some regulations in the Constitution and "cross-reference" and match them with the conceptual or speech elements, and with the specific objectives and the tools listed in La Nueva Etapa. This would help understand the progressive nature and the ultimate end that substantiate, in Chávez's opinion, the driving forces of his revolution and the upcoming constitutional reform.

In terms of State and society organization, the Constitution envisages a republican model of separate public branches. However, it delimits their traditional autonomy. Most important, political parties — instrumental in the relationship between the civil society and the political society — aren't silenced. Further, public funding of associations "for political purposes" is banned. La Nueva Etapa heads toward a single party and overhaul of both state and society.

The "new grassroots structure" will be consolidated. The community power and community councils will engage in political and production matters, as well as citizen-initiated audits of State institutions. Also, it will join a new public administration schedule where the "missions" system (social welfare programs) imported from Havana will prevail.

The Constitution, along with its overwhelming nominalism in human rights issues, entrusted the State — not the individual — with the duty and responsibility of developing the human being. (Nominalism, in Medieval philosophy, was the doctrine that general or abstract words don't stand for objectively existing entities and that universals are no more than names assigned to them). Ahead of the 21st century socialism and according to La Nueva Etapa, "rather than facts and the surface, the man needs to be transformed." The target is a Bolivarian educational system, which means both the reform of the educational system and "education and identification of people with the values, ethics and ideology of the Bolivarian Revolution." This is the "third driving force."

Democratic pluralism gives in gradually between the Constitution and the statements of La Nueva Etapa. The interpretation by the Constitutional Court, Supreme Tribunal of Justice, as appears from Directives 1013 and 1942, which restrict freedom of thought and expression, acts as the middleman and provides a rationale for the constitutional reform. This is the case of the amendment to the criminal code, aimed at punishing the dissent, and the Radio and Television Social Responsibility Law, known as the "Gag Law."

As disclosed by Chávez in La Nueva Etapa, "There is need to prevent them [the opposition] from reorganizing, militarily speaking. Should they reorganize, there's need to rail on them and harass them restlessly." And he conceded to have only one ally, "Our allied media," i.e., his own media instead of others. Therefore, the target, in accordance with the initial 1999 blueprint, will be "to reinforce the public media and enhance the state communications capabilities."

Electoral management has been "unpartisan" since the 1999 Constitution. In the meantime, La Nueva Etapa provided for reinforcement of the axes that influence the information technology related to balloting. Such axes are 'Mission Identity' and the digital register of voters, input of the political parties' data — Tascón and Maisanta voting rolls — and refining of the "geo-referential map." In this way, the whereabouts of every Venezuelan and their political trends will be made known.

The economic system, confirmed under the 1999 Constitution by free competition and respect for private property, makes room for "collective property." In accordance with La Nueva Etapa, it will go to co-management, people's economy, self-employment, and new values of "solidarity production and consumption," in the context of centralized planning and endogenous development.

Foreign policy and national defense, based on the constitutional postulates of absolute sovereignty and structuring of the whole fundamental ruling order around the concept of national security and army preeminence, find in La Nueva Etapa the aims of open confrontation with the United States; export of the Bolivarian revolution; a new military mindset; development of militias; people's obedience and military discipline; as well as establishment of think tanks, communication experts and intellectuals for the purposes of lobbying worldwide for the process.

To sum it up, in the event of enforcing the 21st century socialism — the core of the constitutional reform that has been implemented steadily since 1999, by means of a constitutional "democratic" negotiation — an old experience will be reedited in Venezuela. Chávez is a prophet who seems to preach that reaching Genesis goes through Apocalypses.

Communitarian Monetary System

On April 22, Chávez insisted on his proposal of a "communitarian monetary system" to facilitate the product interchange between the poor communities organized in the country and to end the "dependency of Capitalism." It's supposed to be "a currency that, perhaps, has value only in a determined geographic area ... and for a limited time ... as an idea not to continue depending on the capitalist model."

Chávez spoke for the first time about "the communitarian monetary system" on March 29, when he asked minister of People's Economy, Pedro Morejón, "to define a date" for its establishment. He said then that that system could operate within the framework approved by the presidential decree giving him special powers, that was promulgated in February and which will last until the middle of 2008.

The reasons behind the constant food shortages in Venezuela:

The "model of endogenous development" proposed by the 21st century socialism has been transformed to a scheme of national impoverishment and waste of oil resources. In order to prevent acute shortages of foodstuffs the government uses its abundant monetary resources and resorts to importation: meat, sugar, corn, milk, beans, among other items.

The oil wealth isn't used as a lever to fortify local economy; instead it's strengthening the production of other countries. What's ironic is that the government imports from the countries with market economies, where the price of those goods aren't regulated by the state, the countries where supply and demand play an important role. On the other hand, not even sugar (or any other item) is imported from Cuba, the country that represents an example Chávez wants to follow.

The importance of having a solid food security policy, so much heralded in his discourse, which depends on a high investment and the principle of the comparative advantages of private entrepreneurs, is, paradoxically, being vilified by him, because he claims they want to get rich fast. The Venezuelan government should wonder why in Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay, from where meat is imported, there's no shortage of that item.

Could that be explained by the fact that perhaps the ranchers there have an incentive to produce that is lacking in Venezuela? Can one explain that the meat abounds in those countries, where without neglecting the internal demand; there are enough heads of cattle for export, lies in the fact that they have government support, so much missing in Venezuela? Or, is it because cattle dealers, owners of meat packing plants and butchers aren't harassed or criminalized by the state; likewise, the authorities in other countries of South America aren't threatening them with expropriation of their businesses.

If the government would really like to find out in which countries there are food shortages, it would "discover" that it happens only in those where the intrusion of the State exacerbate and corners free initiative, where private property is threatened with takeovers, and where there are no market forces of supply and demand acting freely. In capitalist societies, be it in the U.S. or in Europe, nobody hears about speculation or hoarding. In Spain, Chile, Norway or Sweden, who have socialist governments, people never hear about speculation and hoarding either. Truly, these practices have occurred during the wars, or natural disasters, but never under normal circumstances.

Alice in Wonderland

The Venezuelan economy is booming, the unemployment rate in non-existent and there's need to bring in foreign workers. There are no shortages of certain basic foodstuffs, like sugar, oil, milk, cheese, eggs, beans, beef, chicken. The shelves of the stores are bursting both in Mercal and supermarkets. There's no inflation: The prices have remained unchanged since 1999 and there are abundant supplies and discounts in foods, medicines, clothes, footwear, cleaning products and items for personal hygiene. The oil income fattens ordinary Venezuelans' pockets, allowing them to go shopping and fill to the brim the market carts, with luxuries like sugar (from Cuba, of course), oil, meat, chicken, even beans. In spite of all this, Chávez has hinted that he would prefer to have some barter trade introduced soon to replace the evil tools of capitalism: money.

There's no unemployment: the State generates employment through innumerable national and foreign investments that have successfully produced unheard of economic growth, placing Venezuela among the first places in the world. Both agriculture and ranching are superbly developed activities under excellent conditions, with modern technological resources and complete security. Cattle rustling have been completely eliminated; it's now mentioned only in history books about discredited Fourth Republic. The dream of every rural Venezuelan of living in a house, raising hens in horizontal chicken coops, and cultivating beautiful orchards, has come true. In addition to self-sufficiency in produces there's a thriving export business.

Corruption and nepotism don't exist in Venezuela. Chávez is preaching poverty, as one of the pillars of his socialist state. His often reiterated Biblical quotation is "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle, then for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God," thus showing that he is equally comfortable with Biblical and Marxist discourse.

I would add that his personal motto should be "I worked my way up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty". This precept is followed by the members of the ruling elite. For example, the governor of a Venezuelan state, Gen. Acosta Carles, (By the way, he is the only military in the governing nomenklatura) bought a "Hummer". When questioned he explained he didn't understand why the journalist asked about that (cheap) car. He could have added that, after all, he didn't buy a Rolls Royce, the car he deserves.

There's no housing problem. The enormous number of housing units promised and constructed totally satisfies the necessities, both as homestead and as vacation villas. Therefore, there's not a single Venezuelan without a suitable place to live, no gray economy, and no poverty. Actually, due to an extremely high income poverty is now only mentioned when talking about the wicked capitalist, neo-liberal system that used to exist in the Fourth Republic. There's no criminality: The police stations have been converted into firemen stations and the morgues became endogenous day-care centers. There are no kidnappings: The country is violence-free; there are very few jails and they are almost empty, because since the majority studies and works, thugs, thieves, petty robbers, kidnappers and assassins are mentioned only in connection with the previous regimes. That's why the houses, or even the upper floors of the buildings, have no iron bars on the windows, and the cars have no padlocks and alarms. The only cause of death is the natural one, and it usually happens when the people are in their ninth decade, thanks to an extraordinary health/hospital system, staffed by efficient Cuban doctors and miracle drugs brought by them. The health system is admired and envied by the whole world.

The arrival of Cubans, and other extreme leftist, anti imperialist elements became necessary for the revolutionary stew seasoning. People are especially proud of their socialist consciousness and their vocation for solidarity and sacrifice, not only for their fellow countrymen, but also selflessly helping Cuban and Bolivian brethren, as well as poverty-stricken Londoners, and even Americans. This is done under the aegis of Chávez, who is the great helmsman sailing the patriotic ship toward the sea of happiness. The drive to form a unique socialist party is under way. The party will be "the largest in South America" (as explained by Chávez) and the most democratic. It will finally bring about socialism of the 21st century, a blissful situation, similar to the paradisiacal condition existing in Cuba.

The government is changing the educational model to herald in a new revolutionary man; the old colonial model lagged behind in every aspect. A new system has emerged as a powerful force making resolutely its way towards educational revolution. Students must be the vanguard in spreading socialist (read Communist) ideology. In order to achieve this government has successfully trained teachers for a few months and now they are able to pass that knowledge to students to think like real socialists. This is indispensable to achieve people's true independence. It's essential to secure consolidation of Venezuela's Socialist Republic, the Fifth Republic.

Unfortunately, there are some reactionary journalists who spew venom informing about political and human rights restrictions, crimes, and food shortages, thus scaring people, only to destabilize the government. Luckily, the regime is slowly succeeding in stopping the flow of news that reports the real truth about the situation. The problem Chávez has is that the people don't watch regime-operated TV stations. Minister of Propaganda, oops information, Lara, admitted recently: "We aren't going to be dumb [to allow] the new 'Channel 2' to become a copy of other government channels."

Thanks to a democratic order, Radio Caracas TV (RCTV) is going to be closed on May 27. The opposition pretends the closure is a judicial problem, although it is obvious that the government is imposing a political decision. The government pretends the new TV station — Teves — will be like the BBC, although it will be another copy of the existing government channels, i.e. a boring propaganda machine. What is sure is that Teves will know how to convince people that it's not true what they see and experience, the station will transmit only auspicious news; no complaint about food shortages, poor government work, crime …

Finally, the Venezuelan people won't be traumatized any more by negative news items, and will be able to experience Alice in Wonderland feeling. As an absolute owner of the country's wealth, the State can extend its domination and subordinate the society to a total submission.

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