By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — I’m not going to deny the fact that I thought it was an exciting and hopeful time when Hugo Chavez won the presidency of Venezuela back in 1998; and he swore before the Constitution, which he called “dying”, to fight for a new Venezuela: a more equal and prosperous Venezuela.
The neoliberal system was in times of crisis not only in our hemisphere but across the world; and it still hasn’t recovered completely yet. The ravages of the Chicago School of Economics made already fragile economies in the region a lot more fragile and social expenditures ended up being the weakest side of the rope, like they always do in capital led democracies.
It was the Left’s golden opportunity to step out of the shadows, which it has historically been pushed into out of popular mistrust and by established media hostility; not to mention repression and persecution. Tired of trying their luck with right-wing and center-right governments, the people gave their vote of confidence to the self-proclaimed “progressives”.
Venezuela was the trigger with Chavez (1998); Brazil with Lula (2003) followed by Dilma (2010); then Argentina with the Kirchners (starting 2003); Uruguay with Tabare Vazquez and Mujica (since 2005); Honduras with Zelaya (2006); Bolivia with Evo (since 2006); Nicaragua with Ortega (since 2007); Ecuador with Correa (since 2007); and Paraguay with Lugo (2008).
I am only mentioning the most prominent and distinct figures of the Left; but the victory was much greater generally-speaking and the Left won unprecendented leading roles in parliaments and other elective bodies. Other leaders with Leftist discourse shifted their position more to the center, after the victory; but they reached their positions under this trend’s hopeful wave.
A great challenge was put on the table: move away from mistakes in the past and take advantage of the opportunity to show that the Left not only knows how to criticize the Right, but that it is also capable of governing a country better than them. Of course, governing a country better isn’t the equivalent of cheap populism. It’s not enough to reveal your intention to have a greater social investment policy; you also have to create the economic foundations which make it sustainable too. In Venezuela’s case, a classic case, they also wasted a boom which stemmed from sky-high oil prices over an extended period of time.
It’s a very good thing to invest resources in the people’s wellbeing; but if this isn’t done properly, making benefits longlasting, then all you’re doing is cheap politicking.
From the very beginning, Chavez should have created trust within the private sector, far from threatening them and showing such a marked admiration for the radical-tyrannical-Socialist system in our contagious island.
His devotion for Fidel transformed him and his political movement into a potential danger for Venezuelan democracy. Everything was just a suspicion and seed while the oil bonus allowed them to give the Venezuelan people “bread and circus” without earning it, just for having been born in a privileged land. Their vote was secured.
But now, under Maduro, when the ability to maintain the giveaways lessened and oil, which is still too expensive, doesn’t permit yesterday’s squandering, the sand castle has come tumbling down. The economy is on the floor, adapted to magic money, not worked hard for, nor the result of efficient economic management.
If Chavism had done less politicking and had invested in other sectors, such as tourism and agriculture with the help of the private sector, at the same time it increased social expenditure, never disproportionately, things would have been different. If Chavez’s government had made the most out of the oil boom to encourage and finance small and medium-size companies; if it had strengthened mixed companies, between the State as the financier, the national private sector and foreign capital, creating special development zones, industrial parks and free trade zones; always supporting and encouraging the private sector, history would have turned out differently. China does this and there is more socialism there than there is in Venezuela, where it’s just a name.
And it’s not that they didn’t try to develop the country, they just didn’t make it their priority and they did it while they put down the business sector, opting for the Socialist State utopia. The message was frightening, always running the risk of the government intervening and nationalizing companies. The vast majority of the private sector saw the government as their enemy; they then conspired against it and put up obstacles whenever they could.
And those businesses who cooperated with the government didn’t do this because they believed in Chavism, but because of pay offs and corruption. Chavez’s great idea turned into this; just like the great idea of the Cuban Revolution and all of its lofty purposes did, because they were wrong in the way they chose to achieve them. Now it’s easy to put all of the blame on the political enemy, which will always exist, without analyzing your own mistakes.
Other Leftist projects weren’t so wrong, but they were or will be similarly wiped out by populism; or finally by the absence of a social pact which makes them sustainable or not allowing the necessary institutions, political culture and democracy to exist to maintain them.
It was a beautiful opportunity to make a difference but we are now leaving it behind and we are still damaged by the burdens which continue to stigmatize it in a negative fashion. What Chavism is doing today to remain in power no matter what the cost, without even getting results or opportunities to obtain them; violating and destroying the very democracy which made it all possible; makes them the same as the people from Pedro Carmona’s coup group (2002), who were impotent in the past and they wanted to win what they couldn’t with a popular vote, with force.
They are only causing more damage to the global Left, to the socialist ideal and to the noble intention of creating a more equal world. They are causing more damage than all of the malicious and manipulative media power which basically serves Capitalism.
Chavism would win a lot more if they respected laws and the people’s right to choose, even to make mistakes and then rectify them, if that were the case. If they lose fairly, then they can win again; but they will only lose and they insist on getting their hands dirty before they do. Forcing a nation to do something which will never be a good path for any political movement.
Maduro and his associates look really bad right now and they’ve really stuck their foot right in it. All they do is kick like a man being strangled and the worse thing is that they don’t even do this with dignity. Having a polarized country, poor and in chaos, isn’t a good legacy to continue on with and build on in the future. You have to know how to lose and to avoid the nickname of tyrant.
This Chavist attempt to entrench themselves in power is drowning them in a political sense and is causing great harm to the Left on the whole; and meanwhile it’s the Venezuelan people who are unnecessarily suffering the consequences.