Venezuela nowadays is undoubtedly a crucial point of world’s left network, and Hugo Chavez is one of the brightest left leaders. He is well-known for speaking out the stuff that is usually reserved for inner circles by his more «civilized» colleagues, like Cristina Kirchner, Holland or Bachelet. Latino-American press, which is mostly left, keeps trumpeting Chavez «successes», and Russian propaganda tries to boost a second Fidel Castro out of him.
I won’t disparage Comandante’s personality — he was an outstanding achiever and a really good public speaker. But in order to explore the reasons of his so-called «achievements» we must look about 50 years back into Venezuelan history, into the time of Betancourt and Gallegos presidencies, and the dictatorship of Perez Jimenez.
Romulo Betancourt was a moderately left politician, disappointed in the classical Marxism. He was one of the founders of the Democratic Action Party, which came to power in 1945 after Isaias Angarita’s regime was overthrown. Betancourt’s political concept is best referred to as moderately left Third Way doctrine. In foreign policy he was a strong opponent of the right political regimes. For instance, under his government Venezuela broke the diplomatic relations with Franco’s Spain and with Trujillo’s Dominican Republic. His vision of Latin America was a political block united by «pink» ideas, opposing the United States by means of cautious cooperation with Europe and the Soviet Union. The taxes rose under the government of Democratic Action. For example, the excess profit tax of 6 to 20 percent was levied, and eventually every profit of more than 28 million bolivars had become subject to 26 percent tax. In 1948 the decision was made not to grant any concessions to the foreign companies. All those measures certainly led to a decrease of income and gave rise of poverty. Betancourt’s successor in 1948, Romulo Gallegos, decided to unravel all the complex of problems by imposing an additional 50% tax on the oil industry. This step was preceded by a mighty propaganda campaign. This is how it was formulated by a Democratic Action representative: «Total purification of Venezuelan oil industry, its ritual purgation, will remain impossible unless the proper compensations are paid by the oil companies to our country». Government’s inaptness and incompetence became overwhelming, and the industrialists, the senior army officers and the conservative leaders delivered a counter-strike.
On November 24, 1948 the military junta led by Colonel Perez Jimenez seized power in Venezuela. His governance, unofficially called «cesarism», is recalled by many as a Venezuelan Golden Age — there are even musical projects chanting his deeds. And no wonder — all the subsequent Venezuelan rulers mostly exploited his projects and squandered his heritage.
Among the first steps of Jimenez’ government were tax reductions, allowing concessions and general alleviation of foreign capital access on Venezuelan market. The American investments skyrocketed from 993 to 2570 million dollars. The distinctive feature of that junta was a rare for those days policy of noninterference in the citizens’ private life and a stimulation of consumerism. American and European goods were abundant in Venezuela. Good relations were established with right-governed states in Latin America, while the diplomatic relations with Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia were broken. The country supported anticommunist initiatives on the continent, but with no great fervor. For example, the Venezuelan Communist Party was fully legal, and distributed the the illegal «Tribuna Popula» (calling to kill the policemen, commit industrial sabotage, and act according to the principle «the worse, the better») side by side with the official newspaper, «Noticias de Venezuela». The authors of “Tribuna Popula” mourned the Motherland being sold to Rothschilds, Rockfellers and all the rest of the «elders of Zion». Perhaps such a tolerant attitude of junta to the communists was a predisposing factor to the success of its overthrow in 1958 by the forces of red terrorists, the trade union mafia and the «revolutionary students».
One of the first steps of the «bloodsucking» policy of the military junta towards the working class was its massive construction of complete blocks of apartments for the poorest families and the unskilled workers. The country’s economy was in a state of chaos due to the Democratic Action’s activities. The infrastructure of the country was badly undeveloped. Under such conditions there was no hope for the «free market self-regulation», and the junta was forced to allocate substantial resources to lay a foundation to Venezuelan future.
Despite the long array of previous leaders whose purpose was a «developed state of universal well-being», Venezuela suffered from rather shameful issues. There were towns and regions without supply of electricity. Mining and metal industry used obsolete technologies, approaching a bankruptcy. The Jimenez government solved the problem of electrification by erecting a gigantic hydroelectric power plant on Caroni river. Lots of new enterprises were established, and many Venezuelans were sent to improve their qualification in the USA and Europe. Simultaneously, the American and European specialists were recruited to Venezuela. This and many other issues was the junta’s solution to the Venezuelan traditional tardiness.
In less than 10 years the problems of logistics were solved. The country was covered by the network of roads, among them the most important and extremely complicated Caracas-La Guaira highway. The mere possibility of accomplishing such a project for developing country was under a constant doubt. Thus, it was a real sensation when the highway was opened. It is sometimes referred as the second biggest structure in Latin America after the Panama channel. It was after completion of that highway that the regime was first called «caesarist», for the scale of its projects.
It is an important aside thought that all the «dictatorships» on the continent, from Trujillo to Pinochet, were forced to address urgent logistical problems. For some reason, their left predecessors could not solve that problem, despite collecting taxes on almost everything.
The problem of nepotism and corruption was solved by the imprisonment of the bribe-takers. It set a good example for the future Singaporean government. The private property was inalienable.
Beside the stimulation of consumption of goods, the industry of entertainment was also developed. The big resort Los Caracas was built, which included one more «cesarean» project — the Pearl of Caracas, a beautiful aquapark. In the early 2000’s the need in maintenance became too apparent to be ignored. Chavez’s government assigned 30 billion bolivars on the park reconstruction. The park was pompously reopened, alas, in the same bad condition. Chavez’s «engineers» were unable to deal with the technologies of the 1950’s, but instead proved to be extremely apt in the field of looting everything they could reach.
General deterioration of the level of technology may be illustrated by the fact that even Chavez’s books are printed in Argentina. No single printing house of the appropriate level remaines in Venezuela.
Thus, on the «positive balance» of Perez Jimenez one can add development of the market, improving the image of Venezuela in the region and the world, a huge technological leap, electrification and solution of very complicated logistical problems — and all that was performed under one of the most liberal regimes. No political opponents were imprisoned, opposition newspapers, even the explicitly terrorist ones, continued to be issued freely. It is his heritage that is being plundered methodically up until now.
Now let us look closely at the achievements of Hugo Chavez. As regards the foreign policy, the relationships with a lot of countries were deteriorated. Moreover, twice the country stood on the edge of war (with Colombia and Honduras). Venezuela may boast the highest murder rate on the continent, beating Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. Carrying weapons became illegal for civilians. Given that murders are almost never committed by «legal» weapons, this may serve as a good illustration of the Comandante’s analytic abilities. As a result of the Venezuelan- Russian friendship, substantial amounts of new «Kalashnikovs» flooded the region — from Mexico to Argentina. Criminals and ultra-left young militants (nurtured by Chavez) are armed much better now, and murders are committed by these arms and people. And the president deprived his citizens of the last means of self-defense. That is how almost everything works in Venezuela under Chavez’ rule.
Halloween and the computer games were banned. The trade of foreign currency was severely restricted, so that one must be extremely careful purchasing goods via the Internet.
Prices are growing steeply — the result of «cheap gas» fetish and the boosting of bolivar.
Oil, metal and mining industries are holding on but only by means of the resources accumulated by Jimenez government and the foreign investors. All the rest was made by the «oil boom».
Kitty Sanders, 2012