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Old 02-16-2004, 12:05   #1
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I recently began following the events in Venezuela. The Caracas Chronicles pointed me to this article, which was written in response to Chavez's Public Accountability speech.

Would you classify the opposition to Chavez's government as an insurgency?


Right, left, revolutionaries and other Venezuelan political mislabels
By Gustavo Coronel
February 16, 2004

Venezuelan politicians and intellectuals were defined, for many years, as belonging to the "right" or to the "left." These definitions used to carry meanings that went beyond politics. In the Venezuela from 1940 to 1990 the "left" was considered to be largely brilliant, their members liked to drink, many did not marry but lived together and their speech was usually full of bad words. Moreover, they were often atheists and wrote many more poems than prose. The "right" was rather dull, were never seen drunk in public, lived all their lives with their spouses, never swore, went to mass every Sunday and wrote more essays than poems. In Venezuela no intellectual or aspiring politician wanted to be defined as belonging to the right. Everybody wanted to be a" leftist." In my family, on my mother's side, I was seen as an outcast because I was a "rightist" while on my father's side I was considered a "leftist." As a result I rapidly became resentful of these rather arbitrary definitions, which could make or break people.

Most Venezuelans wanted to be "leftist" because they liked to be irreverent, to drink and to write poems. In fact, being labeled a "rightist" was largely demeaning. After all, most of the great Venezuelan intellectuals and humorists were members of the "left." The few conservative intellectuals such as Mario Briceno Iragorry, Mariano Picon Salas and Alejandro Garcia Maldonado were very respected but not popular. This rather naïve distinction prevailed for many years in the country. The left was considered to be progressive while the right "opposed" change. The left embraced revolutionary measures while the right preferred evolutionary progress.

Today, these two concepts have lost much of their original meaning. We have a government, which calls itself revolutionary while most of the well-known Venezuelan leftists are in clear opposition to that "revolution." At the same time, conservative strongholds such as the top military brass, those generals gone to fat and full of medals won in tournaments of adulation, are supporting the government. Today the Catholic Church, very conservative in nature, rejects the government and the labor unions, progressive and leftist in nature, reject the government as well. The business sector, a traditional member of the right, is opposing the government and the same applies to the university students, usually considered to be leftist. The rightist communist party led by the old Stalin followers, intellectually obsolete and politically fossilized, is very much a part of the government, but the most valuable intellectuals of the left: Zapata, Miguel Henrique Otero, Manuel Caballero, Americo Martin, Pompeyo Marquez, Teodoro Petkoff, among others, are firmly opposed to Chávez.

For all practical purposes the political "rice with mangoes" which the Chávez government has concocted in Venezuela has ended with all traditional political labels. The new labels being applied do not have much logic either. For example, referring to this government as the champion of the poor is a misnomer, since all indices and statistics show that the Venezuelan poor have never been so many and so poor as they are under this government. Claiming that this government has been trying to end social exclusion does not resist the most cursory analysis since we have never had a more exclusive government. Today, the middle class, the labor unions, university students, the church, the media, the diverse business sectors, the big farmers and cattlemen are all excluded from the Venezuela made to the order of Chávez. To argue that this is a government of Afro-Venezuelans, according to the new term coined by the government, is plainly racist as Venezuelan society is made up of a blend of races.

Perhaps calling Chávez a revolutionary leader is the greatest misnomer of all. Chávez is a populist demagogue in the worst tradition of the Latin American caudillos of the last 100 years: Rosas and Peron in Argentina, Gomez and Guzman Blanco in Venezuela, Velasco Ibarra and Bucaram in Ecuador, Pinochet in Chile. Although these had diverse political ideologies, they all shared an authoritarian and egocentric trait, the same one that now characterizes Chávez. These men thought they were above the law of the land, that "they" were the law. They used political institutions as their personal tools and rapidly became narcissistic in the exercise of power. The speech by Gomez to the Venezuelan National Congress in 1919, where he started to say that he wanted to retire while all congressmen shouted: No . . . please, stay . . . do not go, was clearly the inspiration for those Chávez speeches where he says: "if you do not want me anymore, I'll go," while his followers cry and plead with him not to go. Peron used this little trick often but the great master of deceit was Velasco Ibarra, the Ecuadorian who was president several times. He kept saying: "Give me a balcony and I will be president again." Chávez is one of this species, not a true revolutionary but a grotesque parody of one. A true revolutionary in Latin America would be the anti-caudillo, not one more undistinguished name in the long list of caudillos. A true revolutionary would conduct a government respectful of the minorities, including all citizens in his vision of government, sincerely dedicated to the educational upgrading of the population, surrounding him, herself with the best and the brightest and not with dumb bullies. A true revolutionary would end with the ridiculous military parades and replace them with civic parades. In short, a true revolutionary would govern without pomp and with the simplicity, dignity and civic manners that we remember with pleasure from President Medina Angarita (1940's), President Gallegos (1940's) and President Leoni (1960's).

Political labeling in Venezuela has lost all meaning. What remain are the age-tested divisions between the honest and the dishonest, the decent and the louts, the dignified and the brigands.
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