“There’s something happening here,
What it is ain’t exactly clear,
There’s a man with a gun over there,
Telling me I got to beware….”
After stoking political violence for weeks, President Hugo Chavez changed course abruptly on 7 February and started to sermonize about peace, democracy and why can’t we all just get along…
Overnight, the president who constantly threatens to visit mayhem on his real and imaginary enemies started to condemn the violence perpetrated by his followers. For example:
*Chavez reiterated he is not anti-Semitic and promised that the individuals who attacked the Synagogue in Mariperez will be arrested and punished.
As of 9 February, eleven people including seven police officers (PM, Policaracas and CICPC) have been arrested for allegedly taking part in the desecration of the synagogue. Chavez said on 8 February that eight police officers were implicated, including a former security escort to the Synagogue’s Rabbi and a private security guard who “cut” the internal security’s systems cables.
*Chavez publicly condemned the violent acts and rhetoric of armed civilian groups like La Piedrita and Lina Ron’s thugs.
After senior chavistas including Aristobulo Isturiz, Libertador district Mayor Jorge Rodriguez and others defended La Piedrita in public remarks to reporters, President Chavez suddenly turned against these groups, deploring their violence as illegal and ordering the arrest of La Piedrita’s leader.
The president’s condemnation came as a very unpleasant surprise to his Bolivarian gunslingers and also many of his close advisers. Chavez’s abrupt transition from beating rhetorical war drums to condemning the violence of some of his followers also left senior chavistas including Aristobulo Isturiz and Libertador district Mayor Jorge Rodriguez looking like fools for publicly defending La Piedrita in recent weeks.
Rafael Poleo, one of the wise elder wolves of Venezuela’s rough-and-tumble politics, speculates in the 9 February edition of El Nuevo Pais that it appears President Chavez had a revelation similar to Saul’s blinding encounter with God on the road to Damascus. Link here: Algo Grave Esta Pasando.
Caracas Gringo thinks Chavez changed his rhetoric and donned his sheep’s disguise on 7 February for the following reasons:
*All of the polls done in the past month, including polls commissioned by the regime, show that the president’s campaign to intimidate and frighten voters by encouraging his street thugs to attack institutions and individuals associated with the political opposition is backfiring badly against Chavez. A month ago many polls showed Chavez had a slim chance of winning his 15 February referendum on perpetual re-election. But daily tracking polls done in the past week show that Chavez would lose the referendum if it were held today. With only six days left before 15 February, the polling data has Chavez worried.
*Over 1 million people showed up at the 7 February opposition march against the president’s bid to reform the constitution so he can run for re-election indefinitely rule Venezuela for the next 25-30 years. Venezuelans are not scared of President Chavez’s menacing rhetoric and the violent actions of his thugs. The turnout for Saturday’s opposition march also was massively greater than any of the street demonstrations organized by the Chavez regime and PSUV in recent weeks.
And, significantly, Saturday’s opposition march was voluntary, whereas the chavista demonstrations are mandatory attendance for all government employees who must report to “coordinators” who have lists of the names and cedula numbers of the government workers. Those who do not show up risk being fired from their jobs.
*The student movement has demonstrated repeatedly over the past five weeks that they will not be cowed or frightened by the regime. Instead, the student protests have grown in size, and spread across the country, as the Chavez regime has escalated National Guard and police repression against the protesters. If the regime’s armed thugs start to kill and maim student protesters, it likely will enrage other sectors and the result could be massive protests and possibly violent confrontations between regime security forces and unarmed civilians.
*However, President Chavez knows he cannot count on his generals and admirals to obey presidential orders to deploy troops to crush opposition street protests. If the president were to issue such orders, there’s a good chance that 1) no one would obey the orders, and 2) a military revolt probably would erupt in which the entire current high command of the armed forces would be arrested or killed.
To be perfectly clear: without any exceptions, ALL of the the generals and admirals who now lick the president’s boots are loyal to the revolution because their careers have advanced. Some may be committed ideologically, but mostly they are opportunists. ALL of them also belong to “el montoncito,” a word used within the army to describe mediocre officers who graduated near the bottom of their respective classes in the Military Academy. They are not proven warriors or tested leaders of men, and none can count on the loyalty of the troops they supposedly command.
*Chavez knows the economy will implode in a few weeks, or perhaps even days. And the last thing he needs as the economy crumples is an escalating political confrontation with over half of the populace. Petroleos de Venezuela is broke. Pdvsa isn’t paying its debts to its workers or to the oil services companes. The companies haven’t been paid in six months, and for the past eight weeks, thousands of workers have been paid with checks that were bounced by the banks “porque no hay fondos en la cuenta” (i.e. no money in the accounts on which the checks were drawn).
Chavez knows he is toast if the oil unions turn against him and shut down the oil industry, and if they are joined by other public sector unions (basic industries, health and education, etc.).
But even if Chavez keeps the oil unions under control, Venezuela’s economy is already in freefall without a parachute, though most Venezuelans are only dimly aware of the coming crash.
Venezuela imported over $50 billion of consumer and intermediate goods in 2008, but the Central Bank currently has under $30 billion of hard currency reserves. After ten years of Chavez misrule, Venezuela’s non-oil economy is ruined. The country has to import practically everything it consumes because Chavez has destroyed local agriculture, manufacturing and other sectors. Inflation in 2008 reached almost 31%, but will spike to well over 50% in 2009 amid what likely will be the worst shortage of food and other goods that Venezuelans have ever suffered before.
President Chavez has a good chance of staying in power until 2013 if he can get through the next 12-18 months of very low oil prices, combined with acute economic, social and political tensions in Venezuela. But if he screws up by, say, deploying troops to kill students, or letting his armed street thugs murder prominent citizens, it would trigger street protests and conflicts the regime may be unable to contain.
And if a civil-military revolt erupts again as it did in April 2002, this time Chavez easily could wind up looking down at the world like Benito Mussolini.