Crisis in Venezuela: Is this the end for Chavez?

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Venezuela is about to burn.

Several converging events are leading to what looks to be one of the biggest crisis’ for Hugo Chavez’s 11 year government. They are as follows:

1. Violent crime. This seems like an the umbrella gripe of the Venezuelan people because it overshadows almost every aspect of daily life.

2.A power crisis that has forced the Venezuelan government to mandate rolling blackouts         throughout the country(except Caracas) to prevent complete system collapse.

3. A financial crisis which has forced the Venezuelan government to devalue its currency, the Bolivar. I am not wise in the ways of economics, so I direct you here to get a legitimate analysis. From what I understand, the devaluing means there will be more and more inflation and as a result many Venezuelans will not be able to buy as much as they were able to in the past.(this point will not be discussed below because I can’t add anything new to the current body of news/blogs on the subject).

4.The Venezuelan government’s forced shutdown of an anti-Chavez television station, RCTV, which has, most likely in conjunction with #1, #2 and #3,  led to several days of massive student protests, in which two students have been killed.

Lights Out

Venezuela obtains a majority of its energy for electricity through hydroelectric power(i.e. a Dam). It also derives energy from thermoelectric plants. According to the Hugo Chavez, any blame to be apportioned for the  current shortfall of electricity can not be placed on his shoulders, but on the climate phenomenon “El Nino” and the government that was in power 11 years prior to his administration.

The alleged reasoning behind it being “El Nino’s” fault is that  the central dam, which produces the majority of Venezuela’s energy, cannot produce enough electricity because of low water levels on the river which powers it. The low levels, according to Chavez, are due to a  severe drought caused by El Nino.

As to pre-Chavez administration’s role in the electricity crisis, Chavez had this to say:

“The fourth republic committed an error in making the country 80% dependent on energy coming from the Caroni river and the plan that they had when we arrived 11 years ago was to make four more dams and we said this was madness”(original Spanish text here)

Sounds reasonable enough, right?  Not really, if you direct one blast of rational thought at Chavez’s words. The critical part of the quote is the “11 years”. Chavez implicitly admits that his government has not corrected the alleged previous dependence on electricity provided by the Caroni River. Worse, there is a substantial body of evidence that Chavez’s government has not only done nothing to improve and expand the electricity grid’s infrastructure, but has, through neglect, made a significant direct contribution to today’s electricity crisis. A chart I found, first shown to me by http://www.devilsexcrement.com, and originally provided  to them by Venezuela’s electricity company, shows the actual electricity output and capacity output of all of the country’s thermoelectric plants:

Miguel Octavio puts it best:

“As you can see, of the total generation capacity of 4,507 MW installed, barely 941 MW or 20.9 % of the installed capacity, demonstrating that the problems we are having have little to do with the level of the Guri dam or the atmospheric phenomenon El Niño, but have  more to do with the sheer incompetence and the lack of investment in maintenance of “Er Niño Chávez” and the people he has surrounded himself with, mostly mediocre military who can not tell the difference between a MW and a MHz.”

The Streets Run Red

Three principal influences have led me to believe Venezuela has a serious violent crime problem: 1) the time I spent in Venezuela this summer; 2) Hugo Chavez’s own words; and 3) various media/blog outlets. To start: Before I even arrived in Venezuela, I knew something was wrong when the cab company, which was picking us up from the airport, refused to take us to a hostel in a certain neighborhood in Caracas. I learned that only a select few neighborhoods were safe enough to go to. Furthermore, out of the several Venezuelans I asked, all said that their # 1 concern was security i.e. there was no security against crimes being committed in Venezuela.

This is what Chavez had to say about Crime as a problem for Venezuela:

“Crime and violence is a political problem and one of the greatest enemies of the Bolivarian revolution. I have no doubt that the crime and many of those criminal bands are trained, financed and backed by the counterrevolutionary bourgeois, the Yankee empire and its lackeys”

This allegation by Chavez is great for those that love conspiracy theories, but I have my doubts, mainly because there is no proof provided by the person making the allegation and the alternative, more logical conclusion: almost all of Latin America has serious crime issues due to, in large part, endemic poverty. Left alone(i.e. neglect by the government in crime prevention), that crime is likely to grow as wide as a Labrador Retriever would if it had 1000 easter baskets at its disposal.

In a recent article by the A.P., the seriousness of Venezuela’s crime problem is shown with concrete numbers:

“A crime rate so alarming that police no longer release complete murder statistics, even as Venezuelans consistently deem crime their No. 1 concern. The government reported 12,257 homicides in the first 11 months of 2009, putting Venezuela among Latin America’s most violent countries.”

That is a lot of homicides for a country with a population of roughly 27 million. As the AP notes, this is what Venezuelans consider their #1 concern, and rightly so: there are few sane individuals that prefer to live in a perpetual state of fear, and this is a principal, if not the central, contributor to the trouble Chavez finds himself in now.

Silencing Dissent: the Tipping Point

This past week, RCTV, a Venezuelan television station critical of Hugo Chavez ,was forced off the air by the Venezuelan government. According to the Associated Press, and various other sources, RCTV was taken down  on January 24th because it refused to comply with a new law that required them to broadcast Hugo Chavez’s daily speeches. In response, students took to the streets to protest.

The reports on the severity of these protests are mixed, but apparently they are important enough to cause concern for Hugo, which is evident from his response to the protests,  “I call on all the governors and mayors to apply authority, I don’t mean repression, but authority, because [the violent opposition] are groups that are looking to cause chaos.” If Chavez was so concerned with preventing violence, he should not have shut down RCTV, which was the precipitating event that caused the protests.

The impact of these protests on the (in)stability of Chavez’s hold on power can be discerned from yet another instance of media censorship: In this article, written by Laureano Marquez on January 30th for the Tal Cual, a newspaper critical of Chavez, Marquez wrote, basically, about how great life in Venezuela would be without “Esteban”, which I assume is a nickname for Hugo.

The government’s response to the piece done by Marquez can be characterized as a mix of anger/concern. The minister of communication and information stated:

“This(the text) is an invitation to a coup plan, genocide, and terrorism, which is masked through humor. Nevertheless, it was published on the front page of this editorial, in a place dedicated to editorials. All of this is added to the permanent criminalization that the coupster media executes against the security agencies of the State, as a strategy to incite violence and incite war”

The ministry announced that  they would open up an investigation and possibly mete out punishment against Tal Cual for publishing this article. One can sense that something is amiss if the government is officially investigating some words imprinted upon a piece of paper.

On the Ropes

Hugo Chavez and his government are, to use a boxing phrase, on the ropes. While student protests at first glance seem relatively innocuous(they are just students), history has told us that many times the students are but the vanguard of more powerful forces of change. Just look at the violent government crackdown on students at Tianenem  Square or a similar instance in Mexico right before they hosted the olympics. Those crackdowns were not just  brutal acts committed by the government; they were strategically made to stem a serious threat to the government’s hold on power. The vibrant, youthful resistance of students can, any may in Venezuela, instill more confidence and a sense of rightness in individuals with real power, in terms of money or guns, to join in resistance against a force that is destroying a country.

This is not to say that a change in government at this moment is something to be desired. If power changed hands through a process other than elections, severe violence can be expected, which could permanently retard any type of  progress Venezuela’s future or, shock, implement a government worse than the current one. It’s up to them, though.

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6 Responses to “Crisis in Venezuela: Is this the end for Chavez?”

  1. uberVU - social comments Says:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bstephjo: Freshly written: http://bryanjohnsonblog.com/2010/02/02/crisis-in-venezuela-is-this-the-end-for-chavez/

  2. Hector Najera Says:

    Hey– I found your link on VivirLatino. This is a great post. I certainly agree with you assessment of Chavez’ inability to govern effectively. He has portrayed himself as a victim for too long, perhaps it is time for him to face the music at the ballot box.

    Anyway, great job here.

  3. bjohns15 Says:

    Thanks, Hector. Let’s hope that if he does lose power, it is in a manner in which innocents don’t have to suffer(i.e. like you said, through the ballot box).

  4. Rey Lopez-Calderon Says:

    I think this is a good expose on the power problem, but I think it misses the deeper issues that are behind the protests.

    I wonder if “Esteban” is code for the communist ideology. Remember, Hugo was brought up under the wing of revolutionary communist Jose Esteban Ruiz Guevara. Another issue that set off the protesters was Chavez’s decision to bring in yet another Cuban functionary to supposedly solve the energy crisis. Many accused Ramiro Valdes of being a state censor as he was also a communications mister in Cuba. These facts point to dissatisfaction above and beyond the government’s ability to provide security or electricity. There is an ideological issue being fought out in public.

    To be sure, students are often catalyst for revolution and I’m sure anti-communist groups are capitalizing on the general discontent, yet as you also point out, it’s not clear how much of the general population is ready to kick out Chavez right now–only time will tell.

    Personally, I alternate between liking Chavez for being feisty and defiant on the world stage and being creeped out by him and his authoritarian crap, especially when he equates any attack on him as an attack against the “people.”

    • bjohns15 Says:

      Good points. I think I wrote this post on or before the Cuban minister came in. I can’t remember for sure.

      I can’t bring myself to like Chavez because, although he may appear to be feisty and defiant, I think it is completely fraudulent. But can’t be sure.

      Whatever doubts I had on my opinion of him were dispelled when I went to Venezuela this summer. The giant billboard with Chavez’s face plastered on it along with the giant emblazoned letters “socialism or death” was the nail in the coffin.

      • Rey Lopez-Calderon Says:

        I didn’t need to go to Venezuela for that kind of creepiness. I attended a gala fro the Venezuelan consulate a while back and they were handing out posters that said “Against Chavez? Against the people!” That was enough to make me worry about him.

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