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Comandante: Hugo Chávez's Venezuela by Rory…

Comandante: Hugo Chávez's Venezuela (edition 2013)

by Rory Carroll (Author)

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481373,361 (4)2
An exploration of Chávez's life and career, pondering such questions as "How did a charismatic autocrat seduce not just a nation but a significant part of world opinion? How did he make people laugh, weep, and applaud as if on command? And how does he continue to stay in power despite the crumbling of Venezuela?"--Dust jacket flap.… (more)
Title:Comandante: Hugo Chávez's Venezuela
Authors:Rory Carroll (Author)
Info:Penguin Press (2013), Edition: First Edition, 320 pages
Collections:Your library, Books
Tags:Books, Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, Political Sciences, Politics, Latin American Politics, Marxism & Utopian Thought, Chavism & Totalitarian Thought

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Comandante: Hugo Chávez's Venezuela by Rory Carroll



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Another entry in my “trying to understand Trump” reading. Chávez comes off as a brilliant clown with an actual interest in ideology, and not just in comparison to Trump—he’s an actual reader, or was at the beginning, and went to jail briefly in service of his beliefs. In power, he acted arbitrarily because arbitrariness helped him be the only source of authority; he’d order a row of stores expropriated on national TV just to show off. Doing that on TV made his rule look transparent, too. But what the TV didn’t show was the weeks of government officials sniffing around the stores, asking questions and taking pictures, or the way that store owners snuck into their stores after the cameras left to remove everything of value, or the way that a year later the expropriated stores were boarded up, “the architectural and historic projects [promised by Chávez] yet to begin, possibly forgotten.” He dominated the media, taking up everyone’s thoughts, making people feel nervous if they were away from the news because of what might’ve happened in the interim.

Chávez used oil wealth to buy loyalty with large groups benefited with health care and other subsidies—electricity, phones, cars, houses; even when the health clinics faltered (especially after groups of Cuban doctors stopped becoming available), there were few alternatives. Gas subsidies were such that in 2011 a person could fill an SUV’s tank for under a dollar. Chávez also pushed through a law that was used to bankrupt human rights watchdogs, prison welfare groups, and other anti-government irritants. Crime exploded; police killed between 500-1000 people a year; the prisons were hellholes; Chávez avoided blame for the gangs and the rampant kidnappings and murders by simply not talking about it at all, letting Venezuelans blame local authorities. At the same time, education subsidies let people go to college who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get any education at all. Rolling electricity blackouts in 2010 required Chávez to decide between the subsidies that kept him popular or the industrial heartland of Ciudad Guayana that made aluminum; this was no choice at all. Because Chávez shut it down the smelters so fast, entire plants were ruined. Unmaintained roads fell apart. Chávez seized and redistributed a million hectares of privately owned land to cooperatives, 90% of which failed, in part because there were no financial controls and people could just abscond with money, in part because there was no training or infrastructure. Chávez did another round of expropriation, which scared private farmers who stopped investing. Coops didn’t fill the gap, and so food imports increased. The “oil curse” thus helped destroy Venezuelan agriculture.

Still, the oil money flowed. Chávez promised homes for everyone, and millions registered for the homes, giving them a perceived stake in the continuation of the regime—and creating a valuable electoral database for Chávez.

The powerful hatred felt by elites for him spurred an equal and opposite love in the poor (also with an element of racial antagonism, since Chávez was embraced by groups who tended to be darker-skinned than the elites, and refreshingly when he took over the TV stations Venezuelans finally saw more of themselves both as reporters and reported-on). He was obsessed with surveillance, constantly monitoring both enemies and allies and strategically releasing information to discredit either as needed; the result among politicians and government officials was widespread (justified) paranoia about being monitored. Because of how personalized Chávez made politics, influence and corruption ruled. Officials high and low were terrified to resist because he could destroy their reputations, or at least take their jobs, and they needed to eat and they needed to think they were doing some good, so they just kept going, doing the daily work that kept protest atomized and the regime in power. Repression involved very little in the way of direct physical coercion, just “threats, fines, and jail terms.” Mostly, the book concludes, Chávez’s story is a story of waste—wasted potential, wasted resources. So, you know, parallels and not. ( )
1 vote rivkat | Apr 12, 2017 |
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