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October 07, 2012

Comments

Alex

The problem with assuming anyone who hates the Americans is necessarily good becomes obvious when you think of some of the monsters who the Americans supported because they assumed anyone who hates the Soviet Union must be good.

dsquared

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.

a lot of this is just clownish winding-up-the-Yanks though. I don't think Chavez' support really matters at all to Lukashenko or Mugabe or Ken Livingstone; he's an order of magnitude less relevant than in Ecuador or Bolivia.

I also think, on consideration, that this counterfactual:

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.

is a little more difficult than it looks at first blush - certainly Chavez is an egomaniac, and it's indicative that he shares a strain of Castro fanboyism with Morales but not with Lula. But it also has to be recognised that the stakes are very different - the opposition in Brazil are soft-left technocrats while the opposition in Venezuela are American-backed coup artists who still haven't really disassociated themselves from the whole demonstrator-murdering thing.

This was the debate I always used to have with Marc Cooper - that an awful lot of the criticism of Chavez is valid, but nearly all of it is much more valid as a criticism of any of the alternatives. And a lot of the unpleasant behaviour that you can observe in Chavez is at least partly provoked - winding someone up until they crack, and then using their reaction as a pretext for mercilessly pounding them is a tactic familiar with any of us that have been to school, and it works just as well at the geopolitical level.

dsquared

(or to put it succinctly, the gap between Chavez and the anti-chavistas is a lot bigger than that between Romney and Obama, so lesser-evilism makes a lot more sense in Venezuela than it does in America).

ajay

I don't think Chavez' support really matters at all to Lukashenko or Mugabe or Ken Livingstone; he's an order of magnitude less relevant than in Ecuador or Bolivia.

Venezuela is a massive oil exporter. Under Chavez, PDVSA has been supplying oil to Belarus, Syria, Cuba etc either at mates' rates or in exchange for goods and services. (Though reports are that the exports to Belarus are to stop; more of a bargaining tool for AL to use against Putin.)

That is why Chavez' support is relevant to Lukashenko, Asad, Castro and the rest. Potentially to Mugabe in particular; you may remember that he used to get a lot of very cheap oil from his mate the late Colonel Gaddafi, last seen dead in a ditch in Cyrenaica. As far as I know, Iran stepped in to replace him. But, given current events, that's not a terribly reliable source either.

Cian

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.

You see that's a legitimate criticism that I also happen to agree with. I also think that due to his centralizing/egotistical tendencies, his reforms have been a lot less successful than they should have been.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the forces against him, I suspect that a 'better' leftist would currently be in exile, in a jail cell, or dead. Something liberal critics (in the US) largely ignore, assuming they're even aware of it.

Cian

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

Or the USA.

The problem with assuming anyone who hates the Americans is necessarily good

Indeed. Who is arguing this?

Cian

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.

I think the bigger problem is the environmental one. Venezuela has firmly positioned itself on the cook the earth until it boils side of the debate. Understandable given their economic situation perhaps, but disturbing for those of us who would like their children to live in a world that doesn't resemble hell.

bert

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.

Otto Reich's job title in the Reagan administration was "Office of Public Diplomacy". In actual fact he reported to Ollie North.

Alex

Cian: if you want a more general formulation, "my enemy's enemy is my friend" means that your enemy gets to pick your friends.

nick s

If you look at the people who've challenged Chavez over the years, I think it's fairly clear that when the designer-eyewear types in Venezuela do get one of their own back in power, that person is going to be a lot less awful than the elite's standard bearers a decade ago. I also think that a good test of Chavez's legacy will be the effort (or otherwise) that goes into preparing the ground for his eventual successors.

(I see that Reuters has been taking the pulse of Venezuela at its big toe -- the expats in the US.)

dsquared

The Belarussian oil imports from Venezuela definitely weren't at mates rates - they were roughly twice as expensive as Russian oil would have been and were done really just to demonstrate that an alternative supply was possible. I don't think the Zimbabwean ones were ever large enough to make a difference either. Most of the rest of them are either gesture politics (like the subsidised shipments to London or to Native reservations), or just a case of Chavez' general tendency to not respect US-led and UN sanctions (like the Syrian shipments, albeit that these are obviously a genuine foreign policy negative).

alle

Cian — Yes, I noticed your point there, and it's a good one. Takes a bastard to beat the bastards.

The thing is that that works both ways. A kind-hearted leftist reformer couldn't challenge the entrenched order and survive, it took a power-hungry populist thug like Chavez to push the old elites out. But it's also not very likely that a coalition of tender-hearted liberals will be able to turn Chavez out of power after 13 years by playing nice. Worth remembering when looking at the Venezuelan opposition - some of the people in there are really unforgiveably nasty, and some are good but desperate guys.

dsquared

But it's also not very likely that a coalition of tender-hearted liberals will be able to turn Chavez out of power after 13 years by playing nice.

Don't underestimate coalitions of tender-hearted liberals; that's pretty much a definition of the MDC in Zimbabwe for example. Coalitions of tender-hearted liberals actually have a surprisingly good track record vs authoritarian megalomaniacs of all stripes, and much less of a tendency to blow up within minutes of taking power.

Chris Williams

So, here's hoping that El Presidente gets in a few more years of education and keeps the Gini nailed down, before a series of semi-fortunate events necessitate a transition to the Nice People.

alle

Don't underestimate coalitions of tender-hearted liberals; that's pretty much a definition of the MDC in Zimbabwe for example.

Well, a more exact definition of the MDC would be "tender-hearted liberals seemingly condemned to stay forever in opposition and/or prison". Which is admirable, but I don't think that's where most Venezuelan foes of Chavez want to end up.

bert

Aren't they in government?
Tsvangirai was prime minister last time I looked.
Albeit with a Clegg-like level of heft.

Cian

Alex - I understand the formulation, just not sure who you're arguing against.

Cian

Coalitions of tender-hearted liberals actually have a surprisingly good track record vs authoritarian megalomaniacs of all stripes, and much less of a tendency to blow up within minutes of taking power.

Is this true? Because try as I might I find myself thinking of the ANC and the transition of the Eastern Block.

I think people would be better off accepting that change/progress is really hard, and somebody will suffer no matter the outcome.

dsquared

"tender-hearted liberals seemingly condemned to stay forever in opposition and/or prison"

I don't think that's really all that fair as a description of MDC's successes - they have not been 100% effective in keeping Mugabe under control, but they've been a lot less ineffective in coalition government than, say, the Liberal Democrats. Finance Minister Biti has done a very good job in trying circumstances and even the land reform seems to be working better than anyone expected. And that's with the drag factor of having Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF to deal with, plus the additional drag factor of having seen the party split into two.

Cian

I see that Reuters has been taking the pulse of Venezuela at its big toe -- the expats in the US.

I was lectured recently by a guy from Venezuela on how Chavez had stolen everything from him. Given that he was driving a nice Merc, had a rather expensive suit on, etc - this may have been an exaggeration.

alle

OK, I'm not going to sit here and pretend to know anything about Zimbabwe...

Cian

It's where my parents met doing teacher training. Apparently even then you could kind of see where Mugabe would end up.

bert

Well, this was two hours wasted.

Chris williams

Not wasted. I can't get the resolution to check, buy I hope you gave Owen Jones the scriptwriting credit.

Martin Wisse

Coalitions of tender-hearted liberals actually have a surprisingly good track record

of being ruthless in power to protect their own interests while dismantling the welfare state?

If the socalled "nice guys" get in power in Venezuela you may not have mass disappearances, but you will have the dismantling of all those "expensive" social programmes Chavez has set up to support the poor.

Chavez in general is a good example of how much rightwing, ruling class violence is seen as legitime or not even recognised as such, but leftwing defenses are seen as wrong and immoral.

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