Between the stunned and gloomy silence of Harry’s Place and an excited trio of triumphalist posts on Socialist Unity, followed up by a tribute to Che for good measure, there are, if not 50, quite a few shades of grey to be found in the blogosphere’s responses to the elections in Venezuela.
Andrew Coates supported Chavez reasonably unambiguously, but not without noting significant reservations. Owen Jones offers a rather warmer endorsement, praising the impressive 80% turnout for example, though he too identifies some problems with regard to issues such as crime and links with repressive regimes.
On Left Foot Forward we get two rather different responses. Rob Marchant made some sharp criticisms of the way democratic processes, he would argue, have been compromised in Venezuela. Carl Packman is more ambivalent. His post was written before the results were known, and he presents a gloomy choice between dubious neoliberalism, from Capriles, and a regime which is tainted by, amongst other problems, antisemitism.
Antagonism towards Jews is not new. Nobody should accuse Chavez himself of being anti-Semitic, but problems arose when Chavez was either ignoring, or acceptant of, the blatant anti-Semitism of colleagues Martín Sánchez of the Venezuelan Consul General in San Francisco and Gonzalo Gómez, an active member of the governing PSUV party, whose website aporrea.org is awash with anti-Semitic, and historical revisionism.
It’s interesting to note the response of the Guardian’s Jonathan Glennie to these concerns. In response both to this post, and to Carl Packman’s observation that abortion is still illegal in Venezuela, Glennie brushes aside such silly shibboleths:
@CarlRaincoat abortion, antisemitism – these are distractions – overturning hundreds of years of exploitation, that is the issue
You can learn a surprising amount about someone from 140 characters.
Gene adds: Fracisco Toro has a thoughtful explanation for Chavez’s victory at The New York Times.
The argument about how difficult it is to dislodge a populist leader when oil prices are in the triple digits is straightforward. Petrostates aren’t like normal countries, where governments depend on the people and the companies they tax to ensure a reasonable funding stream. Instead, they depend on the black goo they pump out of the ground, and in turn the people and the companies depend on them. The basic balance of power between the state and the individual is upended.
The related political economy is simple: the black goo goes out of the country in tankers, and finished goods come in in container ships. Since the black goo belongs to the state, so do the imported goods. And when the state controls the distribution of finished goods in an economy, it becomes hyper-empowered; it gets to control many levers that are easy enough to turn into votes. That huge amounts of money are squandered, wasted or stolen in the process is neither here nor there: the sums involved are astronomical — certainly great enough to afford both runaway populism and hardcore graft.
To the average Venezuelan voter, access to the basics of a decent life means access to his or her little parcel of the petrostate pie, and supporting Chávez is the smart way to do that. That this ends up giving the incumbent carte blanche to pursue policies that are wasteful, corrupt, authoritarian and sporadically downright criminal doesn’t necessarily register. The abstractions of constitutional government are distant indeed when you feel you owe the guy in power everything that makes your life bearable.
Sarah adds Jonathan Glennie added a comment after the thread had dropped off the front page:
Dear all, if you get down this far you might salvage yourselves from a misunderstanding. I can think of nothing more important than women’s rights, racism and anti-semitism. What I meant in my tweet conversation with Carl was that in the context of this particular election the issues of abortion and anti-semitism are irrelevant, a distraction from the key issues Venezuelans are deciding on. Or do you prefer the Venezuelan right wing’s policies on these issues? I was criticizing Carl’s piece for elevating them to relevant electoral issues in this particular context.
You may not have seen another of my tweet’s to Carl which said: “@CarlRaincoat Having said that, raising the flag against anti-semitism in the left in Latin America is worth doing, i see it a lot…” Last time I heard a left-winger say something nasty about Jews I threatened to leave the table, but she flew into a rage and left instead.
Sorry to puncture your outrage. I know it is more fun to despise people, but it is rarely that simple! This is a good lesson in the problems in twitterati debates. All the best, I often agree with blogs and comments on this site, believe it or not, although I find the tendency to fly into a rage a little bit lame sometimes! I have learnt over the years to listen hard and respectfully to other points of view, even when they seem jarring, in fact especially then. Jonathan