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PostIn Praise of Nacho Soler's "Nineteen Keys" (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA, 12/12/18 3:51 am)
Gary Moore writes:
José Ignacio Soler's magnificent itemization (December 11) of the doom factors that led to ruin in his native Venezuela--during just 20 years of chavismo--is surely a landmark, rightly bannered by JE on the WAIS homepage.
Credit also goes to John's moderator wizardry in shepherding this subject to succinct summary, like a fire bell for the world, and especially for Latin America: Don't do it this way! Nigel Jones started this much-needed autopsy thread by flagging The Guardian's brilliant Dec. 6 anniversary story on the 20-year disaster (Hugo Chávez came to power on Dec. 6, 1998). And Cameron Sawyer's fact-packed counter-itemization, on Scandinavia's alternative way via judicious economic freedom, drives home the solemnity.
There is so much in Nacho's list of 19 points that I'm going to need some time to understand each one, because they peer into the obscure heart of political disaster: economics and personal psychology--the great unknown lands that post-Enlightenment inquiry has only thought it had systematized. The list uses the only linguistic tools we have: "personal charisma," "in reality he was a bully, a swindler, pretentious and megalomaniac," while pointing out that "charisma" fits well with the term "con man."
Did Venezuela meet its pie-in-the-sky Bernie Madoff--with questions to be debated ever afterward about the precise mix of sincere generosity, bewildering power hunger, grandiose denial and sociopathy? Our almost-superstitious psychological terms mix still more elusively with Nacho's other lexicon: balance of payments, currency controls, productivity--and "Socialism for the 21st Century."
Just here, in this detailed post-mortem, is the tantalizing cautionary roadmap for Latin America's future. But the paths lie jumbled by our limited knowledge in a jigsaw maze (though Chile, Colombia, and Costa Rica might say they've figured it out). As globalization careens forward into the unknown (in technology, climate, population, competition, and bursts of rage), each insightful answer like Nacho Soler's becomes indispensable as a further doorway, its answers now aiding us to at least phrase the deeper questions, which stand right before us, but somehow still leave us in the dark.
JE comments: The more I think about it, the more I see parallels between Chávez and Perón. Both were charismatic military officers who came to power with massive popular support. Both made great progress in eliminating poverty until the national cookie jar ran out. Both channeled populist rage against a vaguely defined "oligarchy." And Chávez became a martyr of sorts, like Evita.
What conclusions can we draw from this? Chavismo, like Peronismo in Argentina, will forever be a "movement" within Venezuela, although (happily for the Venezuelans), the chavistas will also have to learn to give up power from time to time.
Did you miss Nacho Soler's Nineteen Keys? If you did, shame on you. Visit the WAIS homepage (waisworld.org), and click on the top banner.
Comparing Hungary 1956 and Venezuela 2018
(Istvan Simon, USA
12/13/18 2:48 AM)
I agree with Gary Moore that José Ignacio Soler's analysis of Venezuela's descent into total economic ruin from a relatively prosperous country in 20 years, together with the Guardian article of December 6th, are cautionary tales of what not to do.
I'd like to add a few thoughts on this subject.
A while back I argued on WAIS that the fate of Maduro should be dangling from a lamp-post, as was the fate of secret police officers who shot unarmed people protesting communism during the Hungarian revolution which I witnessed as a child. (I did not witness the actual hangings--I witnessed the revolution.)
I observed that the conditions in Venezuela are much worse than they were in 1956 Hungary. Venezuela is experiencing hunger, with a total collapse of everything, no medicine in hospitals, people not being paid for months. In any case, there is little difference between no pay and being paid with money that is worth less than soiled toilet paper, because of hyperinflation predicted to soon reach a million percent a year. None of these conditions were present in the Hungarian revolution. The protests that started the Hungarian revolution were due not to such extreme economic ruin but a suffocating lack of freedom, a regime of slogans and lies coupled with arbitrary arrests, political persecution and repression, political murder. These same conditions are present in Venezuela--and I might add, in every communist country. In Venezuela they are aggravated by the economic collapse caused by total incompetence and mismanagement of the Chávez-Maduro governments.
So, from my point of view, the relevant question is why this has not yet happened in Venezuela? The Guardian article gives a glimpse into this, with the "opinions" of die-hard supporters of Chávez who apparently continue to believe Maduro's slogans and lies, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary in front of their eyes. These people are apparently completely immune to logic, and seem to lack even minimum critical thinking skills. The same happened in Cuba, where Fidel survived despite a similar collapse of the Cuban economy when the Soviet Union's demise eliminated the subsidies that were sustaining Fidel's horrible regime. Why is it that the same constant propaganda did not turn the Hungarians' brains into mush, who were able to see through all the lies?
Another factor sustaining Maduro's corrupt and incompetent regime is paradoxically the 10% of Venezuela's population who voted with their feet and left the country as refugees. They send money to their relatives left behind, and this in turn helps the Maduro government remain in power, by making the economic collapse a little more bearable by the recipients of their aid.
Cameron Sawyer called the democratic socialism of the Scandinavian countries a myth. I think that a myth is the wrong word to use for these countries. Cameron is right that there is economic freedom and capitalism in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland, which he included in the same group, even though Finland is not Scandinavian. But he also acknowledged the socialism that he had called a myth. The welfare state of socialized medicine, education, and myriad other state-provided high quality services that genuinely help the lives of all, rich and poor, in exchange for high taxes. We might as well call this the good socialism, to distinguish it from bad socialism or communism of Cuba, Venezuela, Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Albania, Yugoslavia, Pol Pot's Cambodia, Allende's Chile, Ho Chi Minh's Vietnam, Mao's China, and North Korea.
I contend that the crucial difference between bad socialism and good socialism is genuine democracy, free elections which are respected, in which there is more than one candidate to vote for, and in which the results are respected. Lula and others have argued that Venezuela had democracy because there were elections during Chavismo. But elections by themselves are insufficient for having a genuine true democracy. Chavismo was a fake democracy, in which the results of elections were not respected.
When Chávez lost the referendum to the opposition, he called it una victoria de mierda (a shit victory), and refused to abide by it. He simply increased the bribery of his electorate by giving away refrigerators, TVs, etc, to the "poor" and repeated the very same referendum until the result was what he had wanted. Vote-buying should not be confused with genuine democracy.
Chávez treated oil, this gift of enormous national wealth and resource, that had always sustained Venezuela, as if it were his personal wealth to distribute any way he saw fit. He gave subsidies to Cuba, and other Latin American countries to buy regional influence. He bought votes from the "poor" to sustain his megalomania. And of course he was corrupt and enriched himself and his family as well.
People called Chávez charismatic, which seems completely inappropriate to describe his antics. I called him the clown of Latin America, a lightweight demagogue, with boring interminable hours-long ideological garbage monologues, spewed weekly on his unhappy listeners, broadcast by state-owned media. This garbage he borrowed and perfected from Fidel Castro's interminable speeches of likewise ideological verborrheic ruminations.
Back to José Ignacio Soler's analysis. All his points are well taken, but I would like to add that they are not independent. Most are just inevitable consequences of the root cause of all the rot, which is dictatorship. The concentration of power in the hands of one man, the lack of an independent judiciary, the lack of free press, state-owned media, inevitably lead to all the rest.
A dictator surrounds himself with sycophants, in which all opposition is demonized and suppressed, and once this happens, the result over time is inevitable catastrophe. When bad news happens, the sycophants are afraid to tell the bad news to the dictator. Data is falsified, bad news presented as good news, the truth masked in euphemisms. It is obviously impossible to act in a competent way if all the sensors feed false data and a fantasy to the man at the helm. Though dictators are rarely benevolent to begin with, even if they were benevolent, they cannot possibly take sound decisions if the data they are fed is false. I claim that this phenomenon occurred in Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union, Mao's China, in the Chávez-Maduro disintegration of Venezuela, and in many other examples.
JE comments: How long does it take to turn your brain to mush? The Hungarians in 1956 were rebelling against a system in power for barely 11 years, although the pre-1945 system wasn't any better (just different). José Ignacio Soler made the convincing argument that 20 years of chavismo have created a new privileged class, which will do everything it can to maintain its privileges.
It would be interesting to contrast Venezuela and Cuba. The latter nation, despite its crushing poverty, has safe streets and virtually no inflation. Tomorrow morning, by the way, I'll be waking up in Cuba. Look for an instructional post today on how to reach me, but be sure to direct your WAIS correspondence to the following e-mails: [email protected] or [email protected]