London - A propos of a recent event in London's Frontline Club, in which Jon Lee Anderson, Richard Lapper and Rory Carroll took turns at explaining what has gone on in our country since Hugo Chavez arrived in power in 1999, and what will his legacy be, I thought I could venture my own views about it. Unlike the consensus among Anderson, Carroll and Lapper, of Hugo Chavez being this somewhat benign guy, who had his heart in the right place but couldn't overcome what I will call "Venezuelanness", read a people with a pretty anarchic outlook and general disregard for rule of law, order, and authority, my assessment, after 14 years of Chavez's "revolution", is nowhere near as sympathetic as that of the three gentlemen mentioned.
For me Chavez has been an utter and absolute failure. A disaster to an otherwise semi-dysfunctional democracy. I could bore readers with statistics on the economy, crime, prison deaths, and so on, but I won't. Chavez's legacy, the one with which 29 million of us will have to deal with for generations to come despite any statistic, is one of hatred. Hatred that just was not there. Hatred that was incited, as a state policy, from the highest office. Hatred among Venezuelans, that was not seen, or experienced, since the times of the independence war, when Bolivar and Boves were battling each other to extermination.
All else remains irrelevant, mere side shows. It is inaccurate to say, as many now do, that Chavez brought health care to poor people. It is untenable to argue that Venezuela is an "illiteracy free" territory. It is preposterous to praise community groups in barrios as a sign of enlightened empowerment of the disenfranchised, when the rights of the minority, in this case the opposition, are systematically trampled as a matter of state policy. It is ignorant, in the extreme, to contend that since Chavez has won many elections, and that since there's lack of evidence of ballot stuffing, elections in Venezuela are free and fair.
Chavez, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez clairvoyantly said, was a man who had the chance of changing our country for the better, and decided instead to gallop like the deranged and resentful megalomaniac he is in the complete opposite direction. And after 14 years and the largest income that our petro state has ever seen, Ronald Reagan's poignant question becomes all too relevant: are Venezuelans better off today than they were 14 years ago? The answer is: absolutely not. There's more crime, there's more violence, there's hardly an institution capable of dispensing justice, there are no places to go get redress, there are fewer businesses so finding work is much more difficult, the country's infrastructure is crumbling, the state is heavily indebted, the value of our currency is lower, the inflation is out of control, the country is perilously dependent on imports as local businesses have been persecuted to the point of near extinction, there are thousands of Cubans in strategic positions, drug dealing has permeated the top echelons of military power, our country under Chavez has but broken relations with every democratic and advanced state and has forged instead relations with pariah states and leaders whose relationships with have cost us billions, in sum, for every positive thing Chavez may have done, there are dozens of negative actions that leaves us in the red. Had Chavez not taken over PDVSA it would be producing in excess of 3.3 MBD with about 40,000 employees. Instead, it is producing less than 2.5 MBD and its staff has increased to over 100,000 employees, ergo less money to get out from the hole.
Our country was never a model of democracy, but among other Latin American nations ravaged by successive and continuous military coups in the second half of the XX century, it was an example. Our country, let me remind you readers, was centre stage in suspending from OAS both Trujillo's hard right dictatorship and Fidel Castro's hard left one. Our country's diplomats were key in liberating political prisoners from Pinochet's Chile. Our country was a net recipient of immigrants, not only those who were running away from the Second World War but also those escaping brutal dictatorships in the region. Who emigrates to Venezuela nowadays? Who sets up businesses and risks it going now? I'll tell you who: thugs from Iran, Zimbabwe, Libya, Sudan, Bolivia, Nicaragua, fucking Cuba, that's who. Our country received a bunch of Basque terrorists after an agreement between Carlos Andres Perez and Spanish Premier Felipe Gonzalez, that were, for years, kept monitored and on check. Nowadays they work in the highest offices, are protected by the Chavez regime, and have even been naturalised. The US spends billions helping Colombia struggle with FARC's narco terrorism, while Chavez gives them money, sanctuary, and support. That's what we have become, a gangsters' paradise. In the words of former Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN, Diego Arria, Chavez put early on a big neon sign that read: Venezuela is open for business, all criminals welcome.
No amount of Barrio Adentro hyperbole is going to mask the destitute state of affairs brought about by chavismo. Equally, no amount of make believe "disenfranchised empowerment" humbug will change the fact that within chavismo democracy is, quite simply, non existent. It is Chavez who decides all relevant matters. It is Chavez who appoints, recycles, empowers and demotes. No one else. Not even "the people". The fact that his movement has not produced one single figure head capable of taking his mantle is the biggest testament to the failure of chavismo's authoritarian personality cult.
Thus, going back to Chavez's legacy, I know what will it be. My poor countrymen will probably feel that Chavez spoke for them, felt for them, and tried to improve their lot. They will certainly say that only Chavez treated them as equals and wanted to give them, rightfully, their place in our society. But that will not make the legacy any less negative. Devolving dignity to the poor will fly in the face of supporting the FARC. Poverty alleviation populist programs will fly in the face of near absolute infrastructure collapse, diminished industrial capacity, and increased indebtedness. Chavez's trademark anti American rhetoric will fly in the face of the fact that he kept during all his rule a de-facto trade agreement with the USA, in whose market most of our oil is sold and whose resulting income funded his desires of a Bolivarian revolution of global proportions. All talk against capitalism as the root of all evil will fly in the face of stories of Boli-bourgeoisie, a class of thugs styled on Russia's oligarchs who became wealthy beyond measure thanks to the rampant corruption of Hugo Chavez and officials of his regime. All talk about socialism will fly in the face of his militarism and weapons acquisitions. All talk about his "humanitarian intentions" will fly in the face of a prison system ruled by pranes and legal cases such as that of Maria Afiuni. All talk of sovereignty and independence, after what's gone on in Havana, well that'll be indefensible.