The future of El Socialismo Bolivariano after Chavez
Only in Caracas did I ever see moto-taxis. You hail one, put on the spare helmet, sit behind the driver and watch him sail you through the heavily congested traffic. That, at least, is what it was like a few years ago: Large American cars and congested roads.
Venezuela suffers from bad infrastructure and petroleum prices are heavily subsidized. That will happen in a petroleum-producing country without democracy. Norway is also oil-rich, but the petroleum revenues are saved in a pension fund for the sake of future generations.
I was in Venezuela in 2009. That was the 10th year of Chavez’s presidency and he was busy changing the Constitution to get rid of the two-consecutive-term limit set for the presidency. Throughout his life, El Presidente was so busy defending the revolution that he just could not find any time to make a real one. Was he genuine in his political struggles? Beats me. What I see is an ordinary populist enjoying power and doing everything to preserve it.
Why such strong feelings against Chavez? There are two types of oil-producing countries in the world: those that have reasonable domestic prices and those that don’t. If a country gives its citizens a free ride at the pump, there is definitely a problem in its governance structure. Oil subsidies are bribes to cover for social injustice. Think about oil subsidies in terms of social policy: it’s a cash transfer to car owners. Cash transfer for those wealthy enough to own a large, American SUV. Cash transfer to those shivering in air-conditioned hotel rooms in the summer. That is bad social policy. I did not see the fruits of social revolution with Chavez at its 10th year as president. How did he manage to stay in power so long? He had a large network of rent distribution kept alive by favorable oil prices and political coercion. There is nothing magical to it, and certainly nothing revolutionary. Anyone who steps out of the party line is cut off from the rent distribution network. Come to Turkey to see how our populists have been doing just the same right after the 1950’s until today.
I just read an article about the price of political opposition in Venezuela. A group of researchers tracked the demise of several million voters who signed a petition to remove Chavez from office. After two failed attempts, the third petition succeeded in getting a recall election. Chavez duly won the election and the names of the signatories were fed into a user-friendly software program known as Maisanta. The program was allegedly distributed throughout the public sector an a year after it was distributed, the researchers found that Chavez opponents experienced a 5 percent drop in earnings and a 1.3 percent drop in employment rates. These are ordinary occurrences in our part of the world, too. It may change on the face of it, but corruption festers where the rule of law is weak. El Presidente is gone, but people will soon do the same in the name of another god.