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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brothers don’t go to war with brothers

Published: November 13, 2009
Section: Opinions

In the famous novel 1984 by George Orwell, we are introduced to a totalitarian society where everyone is brainwashed to believe everything their master tells them. One of the many things they believe is that they are in a constant state of war. Why? Because in a constant state of war the citizens become fearful and it becomes easier for the government to expand—even more—their powers, raise nationalism and most importantly to distract the population from the problems at home. This may be some of the reasons why the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has once again sent troops to the border with Colombia.

Colombia is a stone in the shoe of Chávez’s revolutionary project for Latin America in many ways: They fight constantly against the FARC (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia), which has been proven to receive funds from Venezuela; they are pro-capitalism; they have excellent relations with Israel (Venezuela with Iran, and they no longer have an Israeli embassy); they refuse to join the group of countries for the “Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas;” they returned their ambassador to Honduras (where Mr. Zelaya, a follower of Chávez ideals was ousted). The list goes on. Nevertheless, the history of these two countries goes back to Bolívar and beyond, these two countries were, are, and will remain brothers…and brothers do not go to war. According to recent polls 79.9 percent of Venezuelans disapprove of Chávez’s threats of war, despite a 40 percent approval rate of the government policies.

Of course, the diplomatic excuse from the Venezuelan government on this latest friction is the recent military agreement between Bogotá and Washington. For those of you living in a cave, the August negotiations took place on a deal that will give Washington a 10-year lease access to at least seven Colombian bases–three air force, two naval and two army—not only to continue the counter-narcotic operations on the region and to fill-in the gaps left by the eventual cutting of military aid to Colombia, but also to replace the recently closed military base in Manta, Ecuador. Although Chávez and his allies were the most vocal opponents of this deal, most of the region was also against the agreement, a fact that has certainly hurt the Obama administration’s credibility in the region in attempts to set a new path on U.S.–Latin America relations.

But this diplomatic excuse is worthless when taking into account the friction that began before this deal. Furthermore, the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said there was no intention to expand the number of permanent personnel beyond the maximum permitted by Congress: 800 military and 600 civilian contractors. My main argument remains. Threats of war are a political strategy to divert attention from the national problems. However, not all threats should be taken lightly. Last year Chávez promised to bring bi-national commerce to zero, and this year trade is half of what it was from last year. And although nothing may happen, military expenditure has increased substantially, slowly gearing the region for an arms race.

The scariest reality, however, is not the friction between Colombia and Venezuela, but rather, what Chávez is trying to hide back home. Years of lack of infrastructure investments and planning in the water company (Hidrocapital) has led to water rationing in this tropical-country with one of the mightiest hydroelectric systems in the world. The same is true for electricity, with power failures plaguing the country and forcing the government to control electricity consumption in certain regions, limit imports of air-conditioners (high-energy consumption) and other economic measures. Such measures are a consequence of the lack of responsibility and rampant corruption from the officials. Instead of assuming responsibility, Chávez prefers to appear as an environmentalist by mocking the lifestyle of the Venezuelan people, especially the opposition. But this also is far from the truth, because energy-renewable projects are stagnant after the government decided to nationalize, and in turn doom, the few that were in process on a country with large solar and wind potential. Even more absurd is that one of the houses of the Minister of Electric Energy was photographed clearly showing how it steals electricity from the cables on the street. I do not know if I should laugh or cry.

In addition, poverty is increasing under this so-called socialist government. As a consequence, crime is rampant and corruption is insurance for criminals. Kidnappings happen daily, they are called “kidnap-express,” in which the victim gets kidnapped and released in a couple days after the ransom is paid. The amount of crime is such that one of the chief organizers of “Safe Caracas” was murdered by criminals who stole his weapon and vehicle while he was heading to work on the project to keep Caracas safe.

I do believe that there are some great projects that Chávez has done to help the poor and improve the social welfare. Sadly though, his government is filled with corruption and most of the projects end-up bankrupt, inefficient, or in some cases never materialize. This week, we remembered the fall of the Berlin wall. What we should learn from this is that a totalitarian state that attempts to control most of the economy will fail. Instead of raising fears of war or pointing fingers at others, Chávez should accept responsibility and concentrate on the actual problems that Venezuela is facing.