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Chavez, Venezuela and the future of socialist government

Published: January 29, 2010
Section: Opinions

The president of Venezuela, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, has played his cards well for the past 11 years. He knows that Venezuelans tend to forget history quite fast, and even faster once the government does a “revolutionary project” here and there. The devaluation of the Bolívar (Venezuela’s currency) on Jan. 8 – which will be remembered in Venezuela’s history as the “Red Friday”– caused the Venezuelan population to lose half of its well-earned savings, and they will now have to deal with a mounting inflation (the highest in Latin America). The “strong bolívar” ended up being the “weak bolívar,” making the devaluation just another lie and failure from Chávez’s so-called revolutionary government.

Then, while the citizen was still trying to figure out his financial life, another surprise came. Four days after the devaluation, the country was to be divided into zones: Each one would have no electricity for four hours, every two days. So if you had a store and the electricity cut was during the day on that zone, then you would have four hours less of business; and if you had a school you would teach four hours less.

When would the measure begin? Tomorrow, just five days after you lost your money. No time to plan ahead of time, sorry.

Can you imagine this? Oh, and don’t forget to add to your visual image the picture of hundreds of Venezuelans in line in front of the electronic stores in order to get electronic appliances at the old price, before it gets adjusted…sounds like Cuba to me.

But the economic measure will be helpful for the government in two ways Chávez said: It will reduce the spending and consumption (imports), and it will allow the government to squeeze more bolívares from the petrodollar revenues and continue the irresponsible spending–meanwhile,the country is literally under candle light.

This irresponsible investments and spending decision will be executed near the electoral date, with the hope of erasing the chaos that is about to set in from the Venezuelan mind. I say irresponsible spending, because this government only spends on populist projects, which in the majority tend to be filled with corruption and finish as failures–if they are finished.

If they were finished, of course, the government revenue would be well spent and there would be no electricity outages, which are the consequence of lack of maintenance and investment. To be specific, the current energy outages investment in the Guri dam, one of the largest in the world, supplying around 70 percent of the energy in Venezuela. This dam has never been in such a critical state as it is today.

It sounds logical then that the government will take the necessary difficult measures the farther they can from the electoral date, and then make a party and pretend everything is perfect when the date draws close, right? Not so easy: These measures are really a risky play for Chávez. Lack of money + inflation + energy outages = explosive 2010 equation. Nevertheless, we must not forget the factor of the naivete of millions of Venezuelans, who still believe the lies of this incredible demagogue; and the projects and propaganda near the electoral date to create the show of “socialism of the 21st century” will only reinforce this factor.

Less than one month has passed since the measure to forcefully reduce energy spending was taken. It is important to note that the government first tried to shut down every shopping mall, restaurant, bar, etc in Caracas by 9 p.m. Obviously, this measure was not liked by the public and was removed almost immediately, and then it was substituted by the “4×2” by plan. Well…not really, this measure did not last more than two days either! Chávez then said that he understood the Venezuelan people, and that was why he was firing the minister who had the idea of the “4×2.” He was saved in the short-term by cutting some heads. But what does this mean for Chávez and his supposed revolution?

The government is no longer feeling all-powerful and popular, they are losing the pulse on the country, and they are beginning to see distrust within their own. True, this is not the first time the government promises to do something only to back off soon after; but it is the first time it will have future consequences. Fear of the people is preventing Chávez from playing his cards “rationally.” If energy consumption is not reduced, then Chávez will not lose popularity in the short-term. But it is very possible that this will create a huge energy shortage in the coming months, and that will change the entire game. Whichever option the government decides to take, it seems like there will be more cons than pros. The universe has left the “socialism of the 21st century” in check.

Chávez can go tell someone else that the devaluation of the currency is to motivate the domestic industry and exports, because it was only last year that he was speaking proudly about how the strong bolívar was not affected by the crisis because this was a strong revolution, a strong economy…who’s talking now?

So, there are two options for this year:

1) Maybe I am wrong; they say that in Venezuela all the economists have gone bankrupt because it is a sui generis case.

That is, no matter what socialism, shortages, rain or storm, the people always seem to find new ways to take advantage of the situation and carry on. People will make jokes about the inefficiency of the government and the problems affecting the country and pretend the situation is not so desperate. So who knows? Maybe even after 11 years of a corrupt and inefficient government, Chávez will still be able to blame all his troubles on imperialism and capitalism, and blame the energy shortages on El Niño… many will still believe, many will still not care and others will prefer to laugh.

2) Maybe, just maybe, something may actually happen this year, like the coup d’etat Newsweek predicted at the end of last year. Students are protesting at all the baseball championship series matches being played right now “1 2 3, Chávez you struck out” referring to the insecurity, inflation and energy shortages. Shouts are not the only thing happening, peaceful protest and manifestations all over the country are taking place by the student movement as well.

And the prime minister (who is also the minister of defense), together with his wife (environment minister), and the president of the bank of Venezuela have quit their jobs… are they trying to save their necks before the ship sinks? Only time will tell.