Happy Death of Chavez Day
Venezuela commemorated the late 'Commandante' Hugo Chavez on Wednesday – as is so often the case, the fact that the dear leader of the revolution is no longer among the quick probably helped with a good bit of nostalgic transmogrification.
One feels reminded of the many crying babushkas in the streets of Moscow when news of Stalin's departure from this earthly plane hit, even while his former colleagues in the party probably got ready for a week of vodka-drenched partying to celebrate the psychopathic tyrant's demise. No longer did they have to worry about who was going to be purged next.
Chavez was of course no Stalin (not by a long shot), we merely want to highlight that no matter how bad a ruler, once he goes to his eternal reward, many of those left behind begin to see him in a better light than he probably deserves. Chavez did of course shower some of Venezuela's oil riches on the poor, and they loved him for it. However, he incidentally ran the country's oil industry into the ground, so it was a decidedly mixed blessing, by dint of being completely unsustainable and leaving everybody poorer in the end.
Anyway, there may be a subtle subconscious message in the fact that the rulers of Venezuela have decided to commemorate Chavez's death rather than his birth. Just saying.
As it happens, the timing was fortuitous from president Maduro's perspective, as he has an ongoing counter-revolution problem on his hands. He used the opportunity to try to imitate the dear departed “Commandante” by declaring Panama a lapdog of the capitalist enemy deserving to be banned from polite socialist company. Chavez' cousin meanwhile spontaneously dispensed some valuable advice to Maduro.
“Followers of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez flooded the streets of Venezuela on Wednesday for the anniversary of his death, an emotional but welcome distraction for his successor from violent protests raging for the last month.
A year after Chavez succumbed to cancer, his self-proclaimed "son," President Nicolas Maduro, faces the biggest challenge to his rule from an explosion of anti-government demonstrations that have led to 18 deaths since February.
Though the protests do not appear likely to topple Maduro, neither do they seem to be going away. A hard core of students are determined to maintain street barricades and militant opposition leaders organize daily rallies around Venezuela. Wednesday's military parade and other events to honor "El Comandante" gave Maduro, 51, an opportunity to reclaim the streets and show that he too can mobilize his supporters.
"This anniversary is enormously sad. There's not a single day I don't remember Hugo," Chavez's cousin, Guillermo Frias, 60, said from Los Rastrojos village in rural Barinas state, where the pair used to play baseball as kids.
"He changed Venezuela forever, and we cannot go back. Maduro also is a poor man, like us. He's handling things fine. Perhaps he just needs a stronger hand," he told Reuters.
Tens of thousands of red-clad "Chavistas" gathered for rallies in Caracas and elsewhere in honor of Chavez, whose 14-year rule won him the adoration of many of Venezuela's poorest, while alienating the middle and upper classes. Cannon-shots marked the precise time of his death, 4:25 p.m.
Maduro used the occasion to announce the breaking of diplomatic and commercial ties with Panama, whose conservative government he accused of joining the United States in "open conspiracy" against him.
"We're not going to let anyone get away with interfering with our fatherland, you despicable lackey, president of Panama," Maduro said in fiery language reminiscent of Chavez.”
Poor Maduro just 'needs a stronger hand'. Doesn't every good leader? Well, he sure showed that 'despicable lackey', the president of Panama. We have no idea what the latter actually did to become the target of such opprobrium. However, Panama reportedly has a great deal more economic freedom than either Venezuela or the US. You may therefore regard us as part of the despicable lackey's fan club.
Meanwhile, although there seems to be widespread agreement that Maduro cannot be toppled by the protests, the demonstrations actually seem bigger than those seen in Kiev recently (judging just from a quick glance at the pictures, mind). The Kiev protests were probably only more visually arresting due to the constant Molotov cocktail throwing. Here is a picture from an anti-government march in Caracas last Saturday:
A tiny handful of counter-revolutionary malcontents disturbs traffic in Caracas last Saturday. Yes, Maduro may need a 'stronger hand'.
(Photo by Juan Barretto / Getty Images)
Elsewhere, currency traders on the black market seemed to celebrate Chavez' death day as well, by temporarily pushing the bolivar's true exchange rate higher:
The 'parallel' bolivar strengthens to 79,50 to the dollar from its recent record low of about 90.
We have little doubt it is a selling opportunity, given that Maduro is demonstrably utterly clueless about matters economic.
For all its faults, Venezuela still has a stock market though, which gives those with assets to protect a chance to escape the effects of the inflation of the currency. Recently, the index was subject of a cosmetic 1000:1 split (an index value of 2,700 looks more credible than one of 2,700,000):
A bubbly decade on the Caracas Stock Exchange. A similar stock market boom occurred in Zimbabwe, in spite of the economy imploding completely, with formal economy unemployment reportedly soaring to 80%. As Kyle Bass remarked about that particular boom: 'In the end, you could buy three eggs with your gains' – click to enlarge.
El Commandante Didn't Die – He 'Multiplied'
The celebrations were apparently not exactly lacking in unintentional comedy either:
“Maduro presided over a parade in the capital before leading crowds up to the hilltop military museum where Chavez led a 1992 coup attempt that launched his political career. His remains have been laid to rest in a marble sarcophagus there.
"Hugo Chavez passed into history as the redeemer of the poor," the president said, comparing his mentor to both Jesus and South American independence hero Simon Bolivar.
Prominent leftist allies including Cuban President Raul Castro joined the lavish ceremonies in Caracas.
State media have rolled out round-the-clock hagiographical coverage of the late president. Some Chavez loyalists seem barely able to use the word "death," preferring euphemisms such as his "physical disappearance" or "sowing in the sky."
"Chavez didn't die; he multiplied!" said state TV.
Well, if he is comparable to Jesus, then it is presumably no wonder that he 'multiplied'. Look at it as a kind of Chavista selfie version of the luxury miracle at the Wedding of Cana.
What is less funny is that so far, 18 people have died in the protests. The government meanwhile tried to take the edge off the demonstrations by declaring a 6 day-long carnival holiday. As one protester remarked:
“A long six-day national holiday for Carnival and now the anniversary of Chavez's death have taken some wind out of the protests, but a rump of demonstrators stay out daily.
"Various presidents are here and we want to show them that Venezuela is sick," said Silvana Lezama, a 20-year-old student, standing in front of a Venezuelan flag as she stood guard at a barricade in the upscale El Cafetal district of Caracas.
"We're not insulting Chavez, but when he died last year there was a week of mourning. Now we have 18 people dead from protests and they declared five days of Carnival holiday."
Evidently, not everybody feels like there is a good reason for celebrations at this time.
A Chicken in Every Pot Becomes a Plasma TV in Every Home
One wonders what the malcontents are complaining about. After all, Maduro promises the provision of endless material delights, the establishment of the long promised socialist Land of Cockaigne in our lifetime:
In order to combat the country's massive inflation of over 50 percent, Maduro has introduced price controls. Shops that demand prices that he believes are too high are simply occupied. "We will guarantee everyone has a plasma television," the president has said, and has forced stores to sell them cheaply.
"It is plundering under the aegis of the state," says Diego Arria, formerly Venezuela's UN ambassador. "Maduro is destroying the private sector."
Many shops are empty, with even corn flour, milk and toilet paper subject to shortages. Lines like those seen in Cuba have become common and people are desperately trying to get their hands on dollars. "A perfect storm is brewing in Venezuela," says Arria.
The government has been having difficulties supplying even the basics in the slums of Caracas. In the vast quarter of "23 de enero," people stand in long lines in front of the state-run supermarket; they are issued numbers on strips of cardboard. Chavistas control entry to the store and glorify Maduro and the revolution to shoppers. Most of those waiting remain silent. Every three days, they mumble quietly when the guards aren't paying attention, their food coupons will get them chicken from Brazil and two kilograms of flour, but nothing more.
No wonder Arria is a 'former' ambassador, he obviously doesn't properly grasp the wisdom of supplying everybody with a Plasma TV with a wave of the presidential magic wand (but not, apparently, with toilet paper and other staples). Those silent shoppers who only “mumble quietly when their guards aren't paying attention” would make us nervous if we were a guard…
Here is a recent photograph of a store in Maracaibo:
Maracaibo, Super Lider store. Image via @orlandobuesomir: Empty shelves in a PDVAL store in Venezuela.
Maracaibo! In the early days of personal computing we regularly conquered its fortress as one of the freebooters in Sid Meyer's 'Pirates' game. Don't worry, it was all legal, we had a letter of marque. Moreover, we managed to win the hand of the governor's daughter after convincing her of our dancing prowess (it was a simple, but really funny game).
For some reason not all Venezuelans seem equipped with Plasma TVs yet, so something has apparently gone wrong. Could it be the fault of global warming? After all, it was just identified as being responsible for the budding 'guacamole crisis', among approximately 5,000 other things it is held to be the cause of. So why not the appalling lack of Plasma TV saturation in Venezuela? Makes more sense than the old 'socialism just doesn't work' canard, right?
We can however confidently state that Maduro is not completely without cunning. He sure knows whom he needs to keep on his side, even it that is allegedly not really working out the way it was supposed to either:
“Venezuela's military has more power under Maduro, a civilian, than it did under the former officer Chávez. Maduro has handed out senior jobs to some 2,000 soldiers and the military now occupies key positions in business and controls entire companies. Late last week, Maduro sent a parachute battalion to Táchira to curtail the protests there.
But even in the military, dissatisfaction is spreading. "The soldiers just haven't yet had the courage to open their mouths," says one administrative employee who works in Fuerte Tiuna, a military base on the outskirts of Caracas.
Even Chávez had begun to realize that the enemy was within. He had officers and a former defense minister who had been critical of him arrested and imprisoned on charges of corruption. Some of them remain locked up in the Ramo Verde military prison not far from Caracas — just a few cells away from Leopoldo López.”
Still, buying off the military by handing its leaders 'senior jobs' and letting them occupy key positions in business is a strategy that has e.g. worked extremely well in Egypt, where the military controls 40% of the economy and in spite of a temporary setback continues to rule as if Mubarak had never gone away.
Policemen during protests in Caracas. So far, they are being hit with stuff that looks a lot more harmless than the Molotov cocktails thrown in Kiev.
(Photo by Juan Barretto / Getty Images)
As one Chavista told reporters (also dispensing advice to the hapless Maduro, so that he may 'find his own voice' one day):
“Maduro's had it tough. He has to find his own path, his own ideas, his own speech. He's not Chavez. The commander is gone; we can't mourn him permanently. There's so much work to do, errors to correct," said Marisol Aponte, a diehard "Chavista" and community activist from a poor zone of west Caracas.
She urged Maduro to purge his cabinet and modernize Chavez-era social programs.”
There you go! A good, old-fashioned purge! Even if Chavez failed at this task, Maduro has an opportunity to one-up him that he only needs to firmly grasp, by ruthlessly employing that 'strong hand' Chavez' cousin is pining for. Can he perhaps become like Stalin?
Naah. Not with that attire:
Nicolas Maduro, wearing a landing pad for errant birds.
(Photo via Reuters)
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One Response to “Meanwhile, in Venezuela …”
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