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Chavez, Another Cold War Strongman / Miguel Iturria Savon

March 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Although I do not often think of Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, Castro or other Latin American caudillos, I confess that the tragicomic saga taking place in Venezuela after the death of President Chávez causes me embarrassment mixed with revulsion. Perhaps I have been conditioned by having grown up under Castro-ism, a rich nutritional source for new populist patriarchs who, after coming to power, impose measures in favor of the dispossessed, whom they use as shock troops against the rest of society, thus facilitating the exclusion of some to the detriment of others.

This binary concept of friends and enemies is as old as society itself and can be illustrated with examples put into practice during the decades of the Cold War. It is what led Hugo Chávez to adopt Fidel Castro as a patron and the Cuban dictatorship as a social model.

The red wave of Chavistas, the interminable line to the coffin, the media campaign and the attempt to sanctify the deceased – mummified like Lenin – by the governing elite causes feelings more of sorrow than embarrassment. Sorrow because of the factions created by the leader and by the stupidity of the masses, who applaud him in exchange for bread and promises, unable to think through the consequences of their actions or of the hostage status to which they will be relegated by a caudillo who promotes hatred and discord in order to carry out his plans for reform.

Chavism is but the latest chapter in the Cold War. It is another attempt at absolute domination by the machinery of the state. Chávez was a hybrid between the tradition of the Latin strongman and Soviet ministerialism. He, like his Cuban mentors, followed the same outline as the former Soviet Union. Though he was not able to fully apply them, he showed himself to be an excellent apprentice of the essential precepts of a model that ran aground decades ago, and which survives only in Cuba and North Korea.

One could talk at length – especially nowadays when Latin American analysts are trying to discern every facet of Chavism – about the intersection of a Venezuela facing the future and the helplessness of its allies in the wake of the passing of the Bolivarian Caesar, who so revered the Comandante from the dilapidated island in the Caribbean that he even inherited the old guru’s cancer. And what about the people who believed in the new redeemer? They will remain in limbo, much like those elderly people in Cuba, who make withdrawals from their much devalued checking accounts and at times, only at times, speak of the horrors they committed in the name of the revolution and the leader, who left them hanging from a diving board of misery.

9 March 2013

Barcenas, Conspirator in a Melodrama?

March 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Two of my independent journalism colleagues asked me from Havana about corruption in Spain and in particular the cases of Iñaki Urdangarin, son-in-law of King Juan Carlos, and Luis Barcenas, former treasurer of the Peoples Party and former senator from that political group, which seems to be in jeopardy after the discovery of their Swiss bank accounts.

Both colleagues explain to me that the official press in Cuba is highlighting the Barcenas case as a symbol of corruption of the governing party which, according to them, shows the cynicism of the Island mandarins, who have spread corruption and poverty as a way of life and their domination over the island they alone have governed since 1959.

As I already said to these friends, I just said that Barcenas and Urdangarin are two examples of a phenomenon that comes from Spain’s past and seems to multiply with the economic, social and ethical crisis. In the area of the politics of budget cuts, the millions of unemployed, the public protests and the expressions of uncertainty aired in the press to report with precision the more than 200 directors processed by the courts for defrauding their electors in four districts in the country. At bottom there are the structural problems that threaten democracy and the need for reforms to lead the nation toward a state of social well-being.

They are investigating the King’s son-in-law for appropriating money obtained from promoting sporting events in Palma de Mallorca. Luis Barcenas, who admitted having 38 million euros in Switzerland, on charges of bribery, tax evasion, and defrauding the public treasury. The judge is looking for the origin of so much money and the patronage implications of this conspirator in a melodrama that, along with stealing from the party, is in the public eye.

I made it clear to my friends that Spain has problems and is a difficult country to govern, like others in the European Mediterranean basin. In Spain, however, they air their dirty laundry and expose the politicians who forget their commitments to the voters and focus on their personal enrichment. Luis Barcenas, alias “the bastard,” is one example.

March 4 2013