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October 07, 2012

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Alex

"Afghani" is an example of negative learning. I remember that the papers and the broadcasters got it right in 2001. I don't remember it being used until 2005 or so.

bert

With elections today, I rewatched "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" last night. It's the film on the 2002 anti-Chavez coup, made by a couple of Irish documentary-makers who lucked out and got terrific footage from inside the presidential palace. Excellent stuff.

There's references throughout to US involvement, and the oil-related strategic context, but no proof. Reading it up, I see Elliott Abrams' name keeps coming up, often linking back to this Observer piece. All denied of course, but given what we know about the Bush administration, you'd have to be a particularly trusting soul to swallow the official line.

Anyone know of anything more? Seems like, seen in proper perspective, it's one of the first skirmishes of the GWOT. Unsurprisingly it was a complete botch.

Chris williams

Do they mention Denis Macshane's infamous comparison of Chavez to Mussolini during the coup? We had all the evidence there that whatever the Decents really wanted, it wasn't democracy.

a3t

We do have a Chavez here in Europe, it's Hungary's Orban, who doesn't have any oil, and so is a lot more ludicrous.

But given that the next elections there in 2014 will be held with Belorussian levels of fairness, you have to wonder what the appropriate response is. What would be a democratic response, given that the fate of an EU member is our problem in the way Venezuela isn't.

a3t

(Sorry - that was completely off topic, I noticed on emerging from my trance. Just something that preoccupies me.)

john b

It seems highly unfair on Chavez to equate him with the Fidesz bastards.

bert

Chavez was off topic too if it comes to that.
Otto Reich is another name that keeps coming up. And what an excellent name.

Part of the reason that film is worth seeing is that it allows Chavez to reveal his character. And part of that character is a buffoonish strongman. I remember the Latin American studies people used to distinguish between popular authoritarian (like Peron) and bureaucratic authoritarian (like Pinochet). Chavez fits the former. But the film also shows him working the crowds, and he has a terrific common touch. And it shows pretty convincingly that it was that popular connection that saved him and turned back the coup.

Apparently they regularly show the film on state TV. There's been repeated attempts to debunk the claims it makes, and none of them have stuck.
Anyway, recommended.

cian

chavez known to accept elections not going his way.

his opponents on the other hand...

bert

Here's how he got his start in politics.
Since then he's stuck to the constitution, and that's more than you can say for the opposition, as you say.
He's made successive attempts to change the constitution though, using referenda. At first successfully, most recently not.

News just through: he's won. Massive turnout, and it seems like it wasn't actually that close in the end: 55 to 45.

Martin Wisse

I must be dense today, why is "afghanistanis" incorrect/insulting again?

People always underestimate Chavez, largely because the only time he pops up in the news outside of Venezuela it's because he has said something dumb or anti-American. (I wonder btw how many of these statements are actually intended as serious rather than as a sort of reaffirmation of non-conformatism, for both domestic and foreign consumption.)

chris y

AFAIK, 'Afghanistanis' would be like rigidly insisting on referring to citizens of the USA as 'Citizens of the USA', or to citizens of Great Britain as 'Britishers'. If you want to sound as you know what you're talking about you say 'Americans' or 'the British' - at a pinch, 'Britons'.

Calling people Afghanis on the other hand is like calling them Dollars or Euros.

Leinad

The demonym is Afghans, like the Whigs.

Alex

Thanks to whom, I never made the mistake.

Cian

He's made successive attempts to change the constitution though, using referenda.

And, despite what desperate liberal types claim, there's nothing wrong with that.

Guano

"From Thomas Ricks' review of Kurt Eichenwald's 500 days, which considers the time between 9/11 and the Iraq invasion as a kind of fever dream."

Indeed, and a quick look at the press archives or Hansard from that period shows how much that fever crossed over to the UK. Was it impossible for Blair (and the UK political class in general) to step and away and say "This is madness and we want nothing to do with it"?

ajay

And, despite what desperate liberal types claim, there's nothing wrong with that.

Yes, there is. Trying to get the power to do illiberal things is wrong whether or not 50.1% of the population agree with you. This is actually one of the cases in which talking about What Hitler Did is entirely apposite and relevant.

Most of what Chavez tried to get in 2007 (and all of what he got in 2009) was not particularly illiberal, though much of it appeared intended not so much to improve the lives of the average Venezuelan as to improve the career prospects of one H. Chavez.

Some of the stuff he tried to get in 2007 - and which didn't reappear in 2009 - was downright laudable. Some of it was slightly dodgy.

bert

He's got his good points and his bad points, just like every political figure there's ever been.
I'm glad he won, Cian, both today and in '02.
Forgive me for banging on about this film, but one of the strongest sequences shows the coup's usurping Attorney General mounting a podium to abolish the institutions of government one by one (the Representative Assembly, the Supreme Court, etc, etc) in front of a hysterically hyped up crowd. He comes across as a sinister bully, a fanatic and a streak of shit. Later, when fortunes have switched around, and with the Chavez people still struggling to reassert control, we see him locked up in the basement of the Presidential Palace, along with some of the other plotters. The reinstated, legitimate Attorney General comes down to visit the prisoners, and tells them that their rights as Venezuelan citizens will be respected.

Cian

Trying to get the power to do illiberal things is wrong whether or not 50.1% of the population agree with you.

Try as I might, I cannot actually see where I wrote any such thing.

This is actually one of the cases in which talking about What Hitler Did is entirely apposite and relevant.

That would be Hitler who lost the 1932 election, and used the power of the state to crush political opponents prior to the 'Enabling Act'. Not really seeing the connection.

Most of what Chavez tried to get in 2007 (and all of what he got in 2009) was not particularly illiberal, though much of it appeared intended not so much to improve the lives of the average Venezuelan as to improve the career prospects of one H. Chavez.

Some was, some was designed to change a system that was designed to entrench the power of Venezuela's loathesome elite. Regardless - Chavez lost, and accepted that fact. Something that never seems to be mentioned by any of his critics.

Some of the stuff he tried to get in 2007 - and which didn't reappear in 2009 - was downright laudable. Some of it was slightly dodgy.

Which would make him a politician? By the standards of much of the British elite, let alone the US political elites, this is pretty weak stuff. I mean the US Republican party (and some state Democrats) practicised voter suppression and even high tech ballot stuffing on an epic scale in the last three elections. And Chavez is the monster? The US president has claimed the right to lock up and kill people without trial.

As Bert says, he has a number of bad points. But he's a saint compared to some of his critics.

bert

For comparison, Spain 1981.
An actual case of a Bourbon monarch doing good.
(Earlier this year the Germans took a piss in the sangria.)

Paul Mason's latest on Spain is excellent, as usual. He should blog more and waste less time on fucking Twitter.

nick s

People always underestimate Chavez, largely because the only time he pops up in the news outside of Venezuela it's because he has said something dumb or anti-American.

And because the Venezuelans interviewed by the English-language press (and especially the US press) are usually the ones in designer gear in the nice parts of Caracas who really, really hate Chavez.

ajay

Cian, you wrote: "He's made successive attempts to change the constitution though, using referenda. And, despite what desperate liberal types claim, there's nothing wrong with that."

I would argue that there is something wrong with that if you are changing the constitution in an illiberal way. The connection that you are missing with Hitler is that it is possible to act entirely within the constraints of law and electoral democracy and still achieve illiberal results.

the US Republican party (and some state Democrats) practicised voter suppression and even high tech ballot stuffing on an epic scale in the last three elections. And Chavez is the monster? The US president has claimed the right to lock up and kill people without trial

Please, this is mere whataboutery. Stop it. I never said that Chavez was a monster, or even that he was worse than the US Republican Party.

bert

Ah, a slightly link-heavy comment on the 1981 Tejero coup seems to have got dumped into moderation.
Never mind. Teach me to wander off topic again.

Barry Freed

Teach me to wander off topic again

Oh no, please do. I've added that film to my queue (I'm just sorry I'll have to watch it on youtube as I can't find a library in the my region that carries it). It was your 2:06 PM that really sold it.

dsquared

I would argue that there is something wrong with that if you are changing the constitution in an illiberal way.

Might be helpful to switch the comparison to De Gaulle (also fond of his coups and plebiscites) rather than Hitler.

ajay

It's just a bit worrying that changing the constitution in order to maintain himself in power - not maintain his policies or even his party - seems to be such a priority for Chavez. That's rarely a good sign in presidents.

Cian

The connection that you are missing with Hitler is that it is possible to act entirely within the constraints of law and electoral democracy and still achieve illiberal results.

And this is true of any form of legislation. Either your point is so banal as to not need making, or I'm missing your point. Yes, bad illiberal legislation is bad.

Liberals here in the US, and to a lesser degree the UK, treat his attempts to change the constitution as BAD. Not because of what he's proposing, but because somehow changing a constitution means you're illiberal.

I never said that Chavez was a monster, or even that he was worse than the US Republican Party.

No, but an awful lot of pundits here and in the UK do. He regularly gets desribed as a dictator in the US. That's the point, and why a lot of people are loathe to critize him because the rhetoric about him is so crazy. Almost all the politicians who criticise him in the US are worse than he is. Much worse.

And god forbid anyone point out that Allende operates as a terrible warning to any politician in South America who wants to play by the rules.

Cian

That's rarely a good sign in presidents.

Well it's one of his priorities. But no, I think there are many aspects about him that are worrying. On the other hand, these are also the qualities that probably kept him alive, and have kept in power. And the opposition are much much worse, and far more illiberal. As they've demonstrated repeatedly.

ajay

And god forbid anyone point out that Allende operates as a terrible warning to any politician in South America who wants to play by the rules.

Oh, good grief. That was thirty-nine years ago. There's a former guerrilla and avowed socialist running Brazil right now - she took over from her old boss, a former trade union leader and likewise socialist - and they managed it by "playing by the rules". If Dilma Rousseff is cowering in fear of the nasty CIA mounting a coup, she's hiding it well.

bert

YouTube's much better than it used to be, Barry. As long as you never go anywhere near the comments. And as long as whoever uploaded it didn't overcompress it.
As for the missing post, if there's one link in there that's worth following, it's to Paul Mason's piece on Spain's Civil War hangover. They've been giving him the hosting job on Newsnight recently. I hope he'll be leader in the post-Paxman succession.

Cian

If Dilma Rousseff is cowering in fear of the nasty CIA mounting a coup, she's hiding it well.

So the attempted coup in Venezuela, or the very successful coup in Paraguay don't count?

And Lulu didn't so much play by the rules, as become nonthreatening to the entrenched elites in Brazil. Maybe that's a more successful approach in the long run (hard to say - Brazil is not Venezuela), but its hardly an approach without problems.

Cian

Actually scratch that. The elites in Venezuela tried to have a fucking coup. Chavez survived in part because he's a maverick populist.

Allende died (by his own hand) because he refused to compromise on democracy. Admirable no doubt, but hardly successful in Chile.

Barry Freed

There was also that coup in Honduras in 2009.

Barry Freed

Allende died (by his own hand)

Right, shot himself in the back some twenty-odd times - as the old joke had it - pausing only twice to reload.

Chris Williams

'maverick populist _with a company of loyal paras in the basement_'. <-fixed that for you.

Chavez's caudillismo is worrying, as his kneejerk support for anyone who is anti-American. On the other hand, under him the Gini index has moved significantly in the right direction, (from 'utterly crap' to the same as the UK, ie 'really horrible') which is something of a first for Venezuela, and tells you all you need to know about Venezuelan elites. Sod 'em and their designer eyewear.

Phil

Barry - for what it's worth, James Dunkerley reckons Allende did kill himself, and I trust his judgment in that area.

Cian

Chavez's caudillismo is worrying, as his kneejerk support for anyone who is anti-American.

Oh I quite agree. But its the caudillismo which allowed him to survive.

Chavez has also strengthened the hand of the left in the S. American continent considerably. Which is no small thing.

dsquared

Chavez has also strengthened the hand of the left in the S. American continent considerably. Which is no small thing.

that's true. without Chavez, no Morales. More arguably, without Chavez, no Lula.

Strategist

And without Lula, no Dilma

Martin Wisse

his kneejerk support for anyone who is anti-American

Ehh. The world could do with a bit more focused anti-Americanism. If only New Labour had been more anti-American they'd still be in power and not had had the country dragged into Iraq.

ajay

So the attempted coup in Venezuela, or the very successful coup in Paraguay don't count?

Mounted by the CIA, of course? Any political leader in Latin America is always going to be worried about coups. But there's a big stride from that to your suggestion that every politician in the continent knows that if she doesn't turn herself into a caudillo, she'll be shot by the CIA.

without Chavez, no Morales. More arguably, without Chavez, no Lula.

Oh, please. Morales was running the rural/indig movement when Chavez was still in prison for trying to take power from the elected president of his country in a military coup. Lula was in politics when Chavez was just a lieutenant (plotting coups even then) and was running for president in 1989. You can't say that they rose to power on Chavez's coattails.

ajay

The difference between Chavez on the one hand and Morales and Lula and Rousseff on the other hand is that their careers are those of people who are worried about causes, and Chavez's is the career of a man who wants to be in power. Lula was quite happy to hand over to Rousseff because he knew she'd be a good person to support the causes that he supported himself. Chavez, on the other hand, has made ensuring that he never has to hand over to anyone a major priority, because his cause is mainly Chavez.

bert

One more film club recommendation: Our Brand Is Crisis, which shows Greenberg Carville Shrum pulling off a win for the Washington Consensus in the 2002 Bolivian elections. Evo is the losing candidate, by a margin of around 40 thousand votes.

Thanks to Wikipedia, news that a remake is planned in the form of a George Clooney comedy:
http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117963585?refCatId=13.
Morales will be played by Dustin Hoffman. Chavez by Meryl Streep.

Cian

But there's a big stride from that to your suggestion that every politician in the continent knows that if she doesn't turn herself into a caudillo, she'll be shot by the CIA.

Not my suggestion, not my argument and kind of a ludicrous response on your part given that Chavez was the victim of a coup attempt, and that the elites in Venezuela have never stopped trying to undermine him. Given this 'debate' is going nowhere I'll stop.

Bert - thanks for the film recommendation.

bert

I just noticed, on the link I gave for Our Brand Is Crisis the English is subtitled but the Spanish isn't, which may be a problem.
There's a good copy on pirate bay, though.

dsquared

You can't say that they rose to power on Chavez's coattails.

Wouldn't want to, although they did both first get elected after him which isn't clear from your paragraph. But the way in which the world dealt with them (particularly Morales) was very much shaped by the experience of dealing with Chavez, and Kirchner in Argentina.

Guano

In my youth, the default option for governments in Latin America was dictatorship with (often) US support. In 1982 the UK found itself at war with a Latin American dictatorship supported by the USA and had to work very hard to gain US support. Since then things have changed, and those of us who campaigned against Latin American dictatorships should recognise that we won that campaign.

However the US public has been convinced that democracies will be friendly with the USA and be eager to trade with the USA. That isn't always true, and the US political system has difficulty coming to terms with the fact that democracies may want to reduce their links with the USA. One way of coming to terms with that is to somehow suggest that these countries are not democracies. The 1984 elections in Nicaragua have been wiped from memory because they do not fit with the idea that the USA has always been spreading democracy. Saying that an elected leader is a dictator is another way of dealing with that.

Will it lead to the overthrow of elected governments? I don't know, but it is worrying how easily spin like "Chavez is a dictator" gets taken up. To come back to 2002/3, where this thread started: it's interesting how easily some people take up the spin that the invasion of Iraq was about spreading democracy and forget that democracy wasn't even mentioned until well after the invasion when things were going badly and the USA had failed to instal Chilabi.

alle

Well, whatever you think of him, you have to admit that Chavez cleared the way for the Latin American leftist wave. Had he not already muscled out the Venezuelan establishment, Lula would have faced an awful lot more resistance both from Brazilian elites and internationally. Chavez was Lula's Bad Cop.

Still, I think you have to be wilfully blind not to see his anti-democratic tendencies. No, he's not a dictator, but watch out or he will be. The comparison with Orban struck me as totally on the mark.

Alex

also, "has elections" isn't a sufficient criterion of democracy. see: Russia.

Chris Williams

Re anti-Americanism - I'm partial to a bit of this myself, where appropriate. But kneejerk support for anyone who proclaims their anti-Americanity is bad - even though Nick Cohen says it is. What I was alluding to in my comment was Chavez's support of characters like Lukashenko who may be anti-American, but are also evil. I don't want to record any support for the effects of Chavez's policies without also noting that there are foreign policy caveats as well as domestic policy ones.

Guano

""Has elections" isn't a sufficient criterion of democracy."

I quite agree, though it is the criterion used in most popular discourse and is the criterion used by many of those who call Chavez a dictator. I'm all in favour of institution-building but I'm not sure that Chavez's critics understand what that is.

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