Doubts and certainties about the Bolivarian Republic

By Ricardo Angoso (for Safe Democracy)

Chavism has achieved certain successes (for some undeniable, for others disputable), but has failed in other aspects, and runs the risk of leaning toward a semi-authoritarianism wrapped in a plebiscitary democracy, according to the author.

Ricardo Angoso is a journalist specializing in international affairs and the general coordinator of the NGO Dialogo Europeo in Madrid.

THE PRESIDENT OF BOLIVARIAN VENEZUELA, Huge Chavez, has decided to gamble on a new model for his country. Once the former system was surpassed, a system considered dysfunctional, negligent, dried up and unable to generate a better distribution of the national wealth, the bases on which the new political model would be constructed, born from the victory of Chavez in the 1998 elections, all announced that a path to a new era for Venezuela would open, although few were able to predict the clout and depth that the Chavist project had for Venezuela.

The denominating Socialism for the 21st century, that is no more than a Chavist conception of the political universe, tries to conciliate a system of participative development, with some militarist courts, all must be said, with a better distribution of the national wealth. The chavism, despite what its detractors argue, has achieved some successes, as the analist Ana Maria San Juan argued, in a recent article published in Le Monde Diplomatique, which cites literally: Among the most important advances achieved by the Bolivarian revolution can be found political inclusion, recuperation of dignity and visibility of the excluded, petroleum policy to make viable economic and social democracy, the recuperation of the State as a post central to the national life and exterior politics. Also to be noted are the significant achievements in education and health, something even the anti-Chavists recognize.

Despite all these advances, that for some are undeniable, for others disputable, Chavism has also failed in other aspects. It has not been able to integrate the political opposition in the system and the regime could lean toward a semi-authoritarianism covered by a plebiscitary democracy; the political process is characterized by the exaggerated personalism of the maximum leader, which is his strength but also weakness; the social advances have been significant, as much in the growth of the economy with the increase of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but they have not been able to reduce extreme poverty from approximately 40 percent of the population, and, lastly, the Venezuelan State continues to be very weak, inefficient, scarcely structured, low functioning and unable to attend to the social and economic demands of a battered and withered population after decades of crisis and frustration. Finally, though marking the mild advances in some aspects, the system lifted by Chavez continues stressing by the worst vices of the past and gambling on a form of acting on all orders that have more to do with improvisation that with the development of a true political and economic agenda for Venezuela.

The crisis of the Venezuelan State, that starts from the 1980’s and 90’s, when the government of processed Carlos Andres Perez answered with the brutal violence of the caracazo (nearly one thousand deaths, let’s not forget) to the demands of a population that ordered a social and political change, it sharpened before the arrival of Chavez in government and continues present in the life of the country. To the characteristic inefficiency, that above all is perceived in the services of the State, in social assistance, in education and health, it comes to unite the traditional corruption, nepotism, a rigid but useless bureaucratization, an extreme inefficiency and an accused clientelism.

In this context, and perhaps as fruits of the fact that the maximum leader is conscious that he must institutionalize his system and address it from an appropriate political frame, the recent constitutional reform has been presented, already approved in part and without opposition of a legislative monochord.

Among the most controversial aspects, the economic aspects must be signaled: Chavez tries to formalize a form of socialism that previews a great interventionism of the State in all aspects of the economy, controlling all forms of property and propitiating, perhaps in a capricious way, the forceful expropriation of all those goods, properties and industries that for national interest should be placed in the hands of the public good, which without a doubt will scare away foreign capital and generate controversial all kinds of future controversies. Historical experience demonstrates that the economic interventionism provokes great distortions in the market economy and distances foreign investments.

In the political order, a presidential system is being established, with broad powers for the maximum Venezuelan leader, where the classic right of the State in Europe and other latitudes remains dissipated over a series of doubtfully useful contra powers (popular power, for example) and a rigid bureaucratism is being established that will surely suffocate the scarce local autonomy of which local Venezuelan entities already enjoy, for which starting now, they will become cities and the provinces will enjoy a greater preeminence in the political order.

On the other hand, the national or executive power will enjoy broad powers and abilities to carry out its programs. Maybe President Chavez instead of having embarked on a new constitutional project of uncertain results, as he is doing, should have started first with a reform of his old, opaque and corrupt public administration. Would he be able, with a similar public administration, to set in motion such an ambitious project for his country with so many demands on all orders? Very simply, I doubt it. I do not believe that the rhetoric and formalization of a vague project in a constitutional text could be the answer to the problems of Venezuela today.

Nor does his affinity for perpetuating in power, in the style of his admirer Castro, appear to be the best of paths for finding real solutions.

When almost ten years have passed since Hugo Chavez reached power, what have been the greatest challenges to those who face such a peculiar regime? In the first place, the regime has made very little of trying to normalize political life in the country, which is very polarized and with levels of rejecting the new power reaching to almost 40 percent of the population; as a second element to be noted, is the scarce confidence Venezuela generate in the international economic markets, above all due, all things said, to the excessive rhetoric of its leader and to the announcement, already official in the new constitutional reform, that the State could intervene, in an almost arbitrary way, in the economy and even realize expropriations in function of a national assumption; the third element regarding the democratic nature of the new political system, as serious doubts begin to stir about the evolution toward a type of semi-authoritarianism and a reduction of liberties; and, last, but not least, if the Bolivarian Revolution is not able to raise the social and economic levels of the population in the next years, propitiating a better distribution of the wealth and eradicating the immense poverty levels, a disenchantment will grow and more than likely the popularity of the Bolivarian Revolution will enter in a definite crisis of uncertain political consequences.

Finally, and this is a personal appreciation, the influence of the Cuban revolution on the new system that tries to institutionalize President Chavez as very high and, in sight of the political, social and economic results of the revolutionary process on the Caribbean island, is a preview of the identical consequences in Venezuela; moreover the alliances established by Venezuelan diplomacy, with members as disputable as Belarus, Iran and Syria, arouse fear that the political model attempted by the Venezuelan leader is moving closer to the one-party regimes and dictator cartel that to formal democracies and multi-partied in the style of those known to us in Europe and a great part of the world.