TCS Daily

What Made Chavez Possible?

By Alvaro Vargas Llosa - September 27, 2007 12:00 AM

What made Hugo Chavez possible? How does a country let a man whose credentials are those of a coup leader who tried to topple a legitimate government become the unbridled ruler of the nation? What kind of people applaud a president who would replace the republican institutions with a system -- socialism -- that was so discredited in the 20th century?

Some of the answers to these troubling questions can be found in a paper written by professor Hugo Faria and sponsored by the Institute of Superior Administration Studies and Monteavila University in Caracas -- "Hugo Chavez Against the Backdrop of Venezuelan Economic and Political History." This is not a purely academic exercise.

Latin America's history shows that populist strongmen keep appearing with astonishing frequency. Understanding why Chavez came to power almost a decade ago and is now poised through a constitutional amendment to become president-for-life is a necessary step in trying to halt the emergence of future populist strongmen.

In the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela had a relatively free economy even though its political system was undemocratic. Far from giving rise to a typical state-run economy dependent on its natural resources, the discovery of oil in 1918 gave impetus to a free-market system that led to impressive results. Manufacturing and services, in addition to oil, expanded at rates greater than the economy as a whole.

The Central Bank was autonomous, the marginal income tax rate was 12 percent, the public sector absorbed no more than one-fifth of the nation's production and the government ran surpluses every year. By 1960, the average Venezuela worker earned 84 cents for every dollar made by the average American worker.

But then something went wrong. It started under the dictatorial government of the 1950s and gathered pace when democracy came to Venezuela in 1958. Venezuelans went from being mostly self-relying entrepreneurs to depending on a government that began to grow -- and grow. Professor Faria thinks that economic success led to a desire for political participation -- i.e., democratic government, which in turn generated all sorts of pressures on a new political elite bent on pandering to the people's instincts for dependency rather than hard work.

"The inception of democracy," Faria says, "brought more redistributionist policies and a greater influence of rent-seeking groups that had the effect of undermining the economic freedoms." The results were high fiscal spending, limits on foreign investment, a wave of nationalizations and the politicization of the currency and the judiciary. Between 1960 and 1997, the year before Chavez gained power, Venezuela's real income per capita shrank by an average annual rate of 0.13 percent.

I would add another explanation to the one given by Faria for the move toward big government after the establishment of democracy in Venezuela -- the political culture of the Latin American elites. They were profoundly influenced by the nationalist ideas in vogue at the time -- that development was only possible by breaking away from the international centers of power and the creation of domestic markets through government protection. The policies associated with these ideas -- import substitution, nationalizations, currency manipulation, price controls -- were deeply ingrained in the political mind of Latin America.

By the time Chavez campaigned for an end to the "Punto Fijo" system -- the name by which the four decades of democratic rule between 1958 and 1998 are known in Venezuela -- the people had no faith in their republican institutions. They had no memory of the small-government days and they associated the Venezuelan economy with free-market exploitation because a few groups close to the state seemed to prosper at the expense of everyone else.

Tragically, Venezuelans inadvertently put their faith in a man who guaranteed that a system that had impoverished the country would be perpetuated. Nothing Chavez has done -- handouts, nationalizations, land expropriations, price controls, taxes -- is new. Under the governments of Romulo Betancourt, Raul Leoni, Rafael Caldera (twice), Carlos Andres Perez (twice), Luis Herrera and Jaime Lusinchi, those policies were also implemented in different degrees and mixes. The price of oil was not as high as it is today, so the shortcomings were less easily concealed than they are in present-day Venezuela.

The immense responsibility of previous democratic governments in Chavez's rise is one that Latin Americans should never forget. It was not liberal democracy as such but leaders acting under its mantle that made Chavez the man who is seeking "indefinite" re-election today. What a sad story.


Roman Catholic Church
Why are the countries settled by Spain so prone to corruption and a desire for 'strong man' leaders?

I have been tole it is because of the influence of the RCC.

Nothern Europe had its Reformation. The Spanish Catholics did not.


If the issue IS RCC, then they could do much to change the situation.

Then Explain
The parts of Europe where the "strong man" is various commissions or other "duly appointed" bureacrats, who have meetings and other legalities, but are just as oppressive as any Chavez.

Sweden and Holland long ago embraced the "reformation", but are hotbeds of socialism.

Nearby, Mexico is a cesspool of corruption, and widely considered "Catholic" but there's a long list of dead clerics that attest to the fact that any attentiveness to faith by the population is not shared by the ruling class.

This is a popular canard, but is the pop history of bigots masquerading as diligent policy theorists. Its popular to think of Luther as man of principle, but in fact, he was influenced very much by politics and counseled murder in his later years.

You might know that the fusion of government and religion was perfected by "reformers", England being the prime example. In Sweden, one needed the permission of a Lutheran Mininster to marry, even if one was another protestant.

I am just trying to understand why those that adopted the culture of Spain seem to have problems with corruption, embrace dictators and don't appreciate individuality.

Maybe religion has nothing to do with it. Maybe it is climate.

But explain why most former colonies of Britain have more general prosperity and stability than the former colonies of Spain?

But you have to admit the RCC did a wonderful job of indoctrinating the indiginous populations of Central and South America into the RCC. With all its rigid, non-democratic government. Maybe they are just emulating their perception the RCC government?

Who is the 'strong man' socialist leader in Sweeden and Netherlands?

No Subject
For some reasons, northern Europeans are still able to function with democratic governments, but even they are slowly falling behind due to socialism. I think it most likely lies in the philisophical commitment to the individual and the respect for private property, two cultural values difficult to trasmit.

On the other side are countries in Asia and the Middle East that did very well economically with no or partial democracy for a long time: China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan pre-1945, UAE, Turkey, Taiwan, South Korea, etc.

blind spot
French colonies aren't doing to well, and while the RCC was influential in France, it was not the major player.

German colonies aren't doing to well. The RCC had only the tiniest of roles in Germany after the reformation.

The truth of the matter is that of all the countries that held colonies, the only ones that did well in the post colonial era have been the British ones.

If you want to find out why, look to the British political and social culture. (Which was very different from the Continental political and social culture.)

Your insistence on looking at only one difference, to the exclusion of all others, does not add to your otherwise sterling reputation.

I asked a friend...
who's wife was from Mexico and he was from El Paso from Spanish descent.

I asked him why Mexico was so corrupt and he said "RCC".

Seems like a rational answer considering how the Church and State were entertwined.

How many non-African colonies did Germany have? As for African colonies, now that Amin in gone, Uganda is doing pretty well.

But I don't disagree with the UK colonies. Unless, of course, you want to explore the Engllish, Irish, Scottish bits. It could be argued it was the influence of the Scots and the Irish (the Celts) on England that probably did more to shape the concept of liberty. Where was Adam Smith from?

What's his secret?
Fana's thesis about Latin caudillos (strong men) doesn't really apply, other than possibly to Chavez's first electoral victory. Since then he has won an additional six electoral victories-- each by an increasing percentage of the popular vote. So I would suggest that the secret to his success lies instead simply in his giving the voters what they want.

I might also correct the author's comment that Chavez "is now poised through a constitutional amendment to become president-for-life". Yes, he is sliding toward autocracy-- but let's not paint it as being worse than it is. What he's removing is term limits. He would still have to win subsequent elections in order to extend his term(s) in office.

Now then. What is the real secret to his success? That's easy. Poverty. Under the succession of pro-American oligarchs that have always led Venezuela, per capita incomes fell to the second lowest in South America-- superior only to resource-poor Bolivia. Such a thing was an embarrassment-- sixty percent poverty rates in South America's richest nation.

In fact it proved the need for some degree of social equity, having so amply proven the bankruptcy of the purely capitalistic vision of neo-liberalism in creating the best of all worlds.

Is the current government of Venezuela the best one possible for that country? Who knows? As the author infers, the high price of oil can cover a host of sins and errors. But one thing is for certain: the current government is the most popular one they've ever had.

Perhaps because the Spanish words for "earn" and "win" are the same? "hope" and "wait", too.

It's a bit simplistic and silly, I admit, but one would never hear an English speaker say "I earned the lottery" or "I won my paycheck".

Which is why the USA is a republic
The tryanny of the masses have destroyed many countries.

we did!
there is, alas, a movement that is anti_)American (anti USA) in many parts of South America and this is in large measure because of our inteference and bullying and CIAing that area of the world. This is a reaction to our history there.Not by chance that nutters merely have to be strong opposed to the USA to get large support from their electorate.

No Subject
Chavez was made possible by (a) oil money and (b) democracy. Tourqueville said it over 200 years ago: "Democracies last until the People realize they can vote themselves money out of the Treasury. Then the whole scheme falls apart."

When Venezuela was poor there was little incentive for "the People" to vote in people like Chavez because there wasn't much he could really do for them: They ignored him. But once the country started getting oil money he had an angle to work: "Vote for me and I'll spend all this money making your lives better!" Once in power, he gained more power by making more promises. He's finally gained enough power to tear up their constitution and make himself El Presidente' for Life.

Oh, and none of the promises he's made have been kept or will be kept. "The People" mostly have short memories and those that don't have been disarmed and maginalized.

The United States is a Republic. Political change is glacially slow and so it would be much harder to do that here. They make a mess when they even get *close* to the reins of power so they get bounced out quickly but that doesn't stop them from trying.

Mexico and the Church
Following the revolution of 1910, the triumphant Mexican leadership specifically singled out the Catholic Church as an "enemy of the state" and passed numerous laws and restrictions aimed at reducing the influence of the Church. To blame the Catholic Church for the problems in Latin America is, in my view, off the mark. As stated by others above, it is the so-called "Anglo-Sphere" that has championed individual rights, the rule of law, property rights, democracy and capitalism. The rest of the world either missed the train on these vital rights or have evolved a pale imitation of them.

Opposing Marxists south of the border was wrong?
Maybe the CIA could have done a better job, but they did have to cover the entire world.

What happens when the money is gone?
That's why Chavez has to make himself dictator for life before he takes all the money.

no secret
You said he's giving them want they want. He is in the manner of buying enough votes. In addition to that, the manipulation of the electoral process, then voila you get in! But I realize that left wingers actually like places like Venizuela and Cuba, and still wonder whether it's a better system than those of say, Chile, Costa Rica, Norway, etc.

I know
He buys votes and rigs the voting system.

Pro- or anti-american has nothing to do with it.
"Under the succession of pro-American oligarchs that have always led Venezuela, per capita incomes fell to the second lowest in South America-- superior only to resource-poor Bolivia. Such a thing was an embarrassment-- sixty percent poverty rates in South America's richest nation."

Correct. But the fact that the oligarchs were pro-American had nothing to do with it. It was their internal socialistic economic policies that destroyed the economy. Did you actually read the article before you mounted your hobbyhorse? Do you finally admit that Chavez has not been a good thing for Venezuela after defending him so strongly in the past (assuming your previous screen name here started with a small m)?

Patronage Death Spiral
I don't know if I would call Venezuela prior to the 60's free-market, I think it had more to do with the simple lack of an effective central government. People fell back on their own local resources and alliance networks but I don't see any indication of rule of law or strong property rights that make a country a real free-market economy.

I think the major problem with Latin America and many other developing countries is the cultural reliance on patronage networks to accomplish almost anything, Property, taxes, judgments of the courts, government regulation etc all depend on an individual's interpersonal connections.

Revolutionary groups start out with weak patronage networks but the need to reward one's friends causes them to shrink until only a tiny minority of the population actually benefits from the ruling network. At that point the current regime fails and the cycle starts all over again.

I don't think that many people in Latin America even really understand that a different system is even possible. They seem to believe that the economies of the developed world work on some kind of patronage system as well. The idea that individual might be able to succeed without direct personal connections to the ruling political structure seems very alien to them.

I think they might gravitate towards socialism as a kind of super-patronage network that will reward people based on the political parties they support. From their perspective, since all economic decisions are ultimately arbitrary political decisions that benefit one group or the other based on mere power, they might as well create a system based on transferring wealth from the rich to the poor.

Excellent Analysis
Thank you.

Measuring the man
Whether or not Chavismo has been a good thing for Venezuela is a question for the Venezuelans to decide. And every time they have a new election they decide again, resoubndingly, in his favor. So yes, I am inclined to believe the quite specific information coming out of that country describing the manner in which he and his policies have turned V's widespread and previously intractable poverty around.

Employment and wages have improved. Access to education has markedly improved, with free universities for indigent students able to pass the entrance exams. Health care has greatly improved. And assistance to the poorest has improved as well-- a condition that must be especially aggravating to the gang here. :)

At the same time inflation has been hard to turn around. It would seem to be difficult to solve the economic puzzle for every value at once. As it is here, where we have to ask our Fed to choose between inflation or recession for us.

On the bright side, the bolsa seems to be very healthy indeed-- a condition one would not anticipate in a horribly evil and mismanaged socialist state. The bolsa, by the way, is their stock market.

And on the down side, since his re-election at the start of this year there has been a disturbing trend for Mr Chavez to concentrate all power into his own hands. Oddly (in our way of thinking) this has been a popular move, and very much akin to Mr Putin's like concentration of power into his own hands. Both these gents come out being more wildly popular than ever among their own people. Who can figure?

In both cases, note that a compacent legislature has voiced the appropriate approval. So if these are revolutions, they are ones where power is gained by democratic processes and not by the firing squad.

I await further developments in either country. Both have access to nearly unlimited funds, both derived from a vast wealth of hydrocarbons. So it would seem hard for either state to fail to deliver some measure of prosperity to their people.

I also find it encouraging that they show no signs of descending into idiotic kleptocracies, like Mobutu's Zaire and so many of our own historic protege states. Corruption for personal gain seems in either case (V. and Russia) to be fairly limited.

Let's continue watching, and see how they do. Personally, the man Chavez is not to my taste. He's bombastic, full of himself and not well educated. But the crowds love him-- so who am I to say?

Our memories differ
This seems to me an odd exchange:

Me: "Under the succession of pro-American oligarchs that have always led Venezuela, per capita incomes fell to the second lowest in South America-- superior only to resource-poor Bolivia. Such a thing was an embarrassment-- sixty percent poverty rates in South America's richest nation."

And you: "Correct. But the fact that the oligarchs were pro-American had nothing to do with it. It was their internal socialistic economic policies that destroyed the economy."

I think the Venezuelans may have a longer memory for old events than you. I suppose you don't recall that fifty and sixty years ago, Venezuela was being run by Nelson Rockefeller as a subsidiary of his Standard Oil? As memory serves, it was in 1957 that he went down to visit the plantation on a business/ diplomatic trip, only to be lucky to get out alive as the crowd recognized him and pummeled his car.

You'll have to refresh my memory as to those crippling socialistic practises the Rockefeller governments put into place-- I don't seem to recall anything like that. What I saw was an all too familiar sight in Latin America-- government and commerce being run for the exclusive benefit of a very small number of highly influential families. Surrounded, of course, by a sea of destitute peasants.

Wouldn't it have been nice if they had been inclined to bow and scrape forever, whenever massa drove past in the limo? But in Venezuela, it seems that they didn't.

As it did in Europe seven centuries earlier, feudalism fell. And whatever came after has been seen with our hindsight to be something of an improvement.

"As it did in Europe seven centuries earlier, feudalism fell."
Why has feudalism not fallen in Central and South America?

I return to the way Spain 'developed' its colonies: massive plantations and Dons (barons). What has changed?

What are the roots of patronage?


Holy Roman Empire?

Why did the rule of law develop in England or any where else?

I asked my wife
who is from Mexico, and she says that you and your friend have **** for brains.

The idea that the church and state are entertwined in Mexico flies strongly in the face of reality.

The Mexican constitution has stronger church state seperations than does the US constitution. Priests can't even run for office. I'm not sure if they can even vote.

Why the differentiation between African and non-African colonies? Are you arguing that there is some basic difference between Africans and the rest of the world?

Africa is a mess, agreed. However, Britain had very few colonies in that continent. Nigeria is one, and it's done fairly well. I can't think of another British colony in Africa off the top of my head. (S. Africa??)

Some of the interference preceeded Marx.
Compared to most other countries at the time, the interference by the US was mild and quite limited.

Unfortunately, the US was never good at the propaganda game. So these interventions have been blown all out of proportion in Latin American hearts and minds.

you actually believe that the elections are fair?
Funny thing. The international observers disagree with you. Except for Jimmy Carter, but then again, Jimmy Carter has a thing about supporting anti-American dictators.

I'm guessing that you think that elections in Cuba are free and open as well.

in roy's world
any time a country or a people does something that roy disagrees with, it's because they are being controlled by someone.

That someone is almost always American, and always a capitalist.

(Remember that roy's definition of capitalism is anything that isn't communism.)

You're kidding, right?
"Britain had very few colonies in that continent."

Other than Nigeria and (yes) South Africa, the obvious ones are Zimbabwe (not doing so well, I hear), Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia, Sudan and Uganda. Lesser known ones are The Seychelles, Lesotho, Zanzibar, British Somalialand, Swaziland, Tanganyika/Tanzania, Botswana.

All in all, much of the continent then.

Origins of the Rule of Law
That is a matter hotly debated among historians.

My own personal hypothesis is that northern Europe had a unique blend of politically diverse people made interdependent by sea trade. For such trading to work, local political systems had to provide some surety that people outside the local patronage networks could get their contracts enforced and their goods protected in transit. That created the rule of law; a system in which an individual's personal relationship to the enforcement powers played a relatively small role in settling disputes.

Over the centuries a survival necessity became culture. Following "the law", an abstract set of rules attached to no specific human beings, became second nature.

Cultures with little history or dependence on trade with foreigners never developed a critical short term dependency on the rule of law. They now find it difficult to abandon the more natural patronage system for the the abstract rule of law with which they have no individual or cultural experience.

That's not my call
I wasn't there, so I can't say. But the European Union sends an election commission over there to take alook every time there's an election. Here's one of their Summaries of Findings:

Check it out, and look also for anything from any other international observers you can find. The elections they've monitored all pass the test for fairness and transparency.

Here's the executive summary for the 2006 election:

1. The electoral process complied in general with international standards and with
national legislation as regards the management of the electoral administration and
the electronic voting system. The high turnout in the Presidential Elections, and the
peaceful environment in which they were held, together with the candidates’
acceptance of results, open the way forward to improvements in the confidence that
the general public has in the electoral processes, as well as their quality, and to
dialogue between the main institutional and political stakeholders in the country.
2. The EU EOM applauds the efforts made by the new Board of Directors of the
Consejo Nacional Electoral , appointed in April 2006, the political parties, and civil
society movements, in creating sufficient conditions to hold elections that are
acceptable to all stakeholders, factually demonstrating their desire to reach
agreements on crucial aspects of the electoral process.
3. However, the EU EOM, has observed persistent problems during the campaign,
such as the widespread institutional propaganda in favour of the President, and
candidate, Hugo Chavez, and, to a far lesser extent, in favour of the Governor of the
State of Zulia, and candidate, Manuel Rosales. Similarly, the Mission has noted an
imbalance in the political coverage offered by the media, both public or private, and
the CNE’s inactivity in attempting to redress the situation; as well as the
participation of public officials in campaign activities for the incumbent candidate,
be it of their own free will, or due to pressure from third parties.
4. The electronic voting system established in Venezuela is efficient, secure, and
auditable, and the competence of its technical experts is consistent with its advanced
technological level.
5. The use of fingerprint readers (captahuellas) neither violates the secrecy of the vote,
nor is a source of fraud. On the other hand, they are not directly relevant in the
exercise of the right to vote; furthermore, they are not nor trusted by a significant part
of the electorate, and in certain cases, they led to unnecessary queuing during
Election Day.
6. EU EOM observers evaluated the quality of the electoral process positively in 85% of
the polling stations visited on Election Day. Similarly, the appraisal of polling station
officials, regarding their knowledge of electoral procedures, was positive in 76% of
cases, which leaves a margin for improvement in the management of the electoral
process. No major problems were detected regarding the audit of closing, the random
selection of polling stations, and the subsequent counting of voting receipts. The
correct number of ballot boxes was audited in all visited polling stations.


Note in item 3 that they complain of how President Chavez tends to use his position as a bully pulpit. Naturally our own president would never do anything like that... would he?

Cuba is just one of your red herrings. Do they even have elections in Cuba?

A good question
You ask "Why has feudalism not fallen in Central and South America?"

That would be due to the diligent efforts of the United States, under such intrepid soldiers as the Dulles brothers, in stopping every movement for social equity they could find affot in Latin America. With limitlessly deep pockets behind their efforts, and a complete failure of any effective Congressional oversight, they have overthrown governments for the past century, in very nearly every republic south of Mexico. From the DR, Nicaragua and Guatemala down across the Southern Cone, we have kept feudalism in power, enforced by American arms, American training and American diplomatic support of the security forces that keep innumerable fascist states in power.

It has only been with the general failure of neoliberal policies, in the 1990s, that these states have begun to revolt and search for alternate methods of organizing their economies. So to the degree that one system fails, the other will succeed... in the hearts and minds of the peoples of those nations.

Officially sanctioned graft
Shannon-- I'm sort of shocked to find comment on these pages that's both intelligent and informed.

But I'm not at a loss for words. I've been interested in exactly the same question. Chavez's political base is in the armed forces... and Venezuela has seen a number of instances of graft, kickbacks, bribery and the like coming to the surface from within army circles. So let's see how those cases are being treated.

Fortunately Google casts a wider net than do the pages of our local daily papers, and such information is being made available to us. We should be asking ourselves whether such instances are being brought to light without official murk being cast over them? And are they being prosecuted conscientiously, by impartial judges?

Even though Chavez holds effective control of the media now, and certainly must have some serious influence on the thinking of the courts there, I would offer that so far the answer seems to be that the government is in no one's pocket.

Is that what you're seeing?

Secondly, I would also offer that so far Chavez has been conscientious in rewarding his base-- the poor-- without killing the fatted calf. Capitalism does appear to still be alive and well there. At least, if you believe the reports coming from Bloomberg on the health of their stock exchange.

if you had taken the entire quote, it would have had a different meaning.
but then, being accurate has never been your strong suit, or even your goal.

It contains the exact same meaning. Now you can't understand what you write!
I refrained from insulting you personally, just because I feel sorry for you but you just can't resist the temptation to draw attention to your own inadequacies can you?

Here's you full quote:

"Africa is a mess, agreed. However, Britain had very few colonies in that continent. Nigeria is one, and it's done fairly well. I can't think of another British colony in Africa off the top of my head. (S. Africa??)"

Jeez! Now we can all see how pig-ignorant you are. You can't actually think of one other colony other than Nigeria?! Jesus! Oh but wait - South Africa. Maybe that was one once huh? Well, take a bow. You guessed right. Here's a nice gold star for coming top of the 'History for Eeejits' class.

In case you missed it, my quote began with "Other than Nigeria and (yes) South Africa ...". Hence, I acknowledged you'd said those two. So now you're saying I have to quote everything you say? Point out how I've taken your quote out of context. That is, before I whupped your behind with some elementary history.

But you think that Britain had "very few colonies". Haha! You've never heard of the Scramble for Africa have you? No, I thought not. Too busy shooting your mouth off. Get back to class, you fraudulent numbnut.

your desperation to show your own inadequacy is duly noted.
I quite clearly stated that I was going from memory, and admitted that I could be mistaken.

The fact that you are so desperate to show me up does not speak well of you, or your limited intellectual abilities.

The fact that you spend so much time trolling my posts looking for something that you can disagree with does me honor. I never thought I would be worth so much of your precious time.

Your narcissism in extremis
From someone with the moniker 'MarkTheGreat' we all know who the one with the ego-problem is.

If my aim was to correct your obvious inadequacies, I'd be here all day. As it is, I suppose your post is the nearest anyone will get to an apology. Your lack of historical knowledge has been duly noted.

"I quite clearly stated that I was going from memory, and admitted that I could be mistaken."

Off the top of your empty head, that's true. Nowhere did you state you could be mistaken. You stated it as fact - "Britain had very few colonies."

Ah, but you want the full quote again:

"Africa is a mess, agreed. However, Britain had very few colonies in that continent. Nigeria is one, and it's done fairly well. I can't think of another British colony in Africa off the top of my head. (S. Africa??)"

Anyone would think you stated it as fact. Yes, you were mistaken, which begs the question 'why contribute on a subject you know sod all about?'

Accuracy and honesty have never been your forte though, has it?

Next time, why not use the words 'I think' or 'I could be wrong but ...' before exposing the holes in your knowledge. Then we might give you the time of day. Better still, why not keep your mouth shut on subjects you have not the faintest acquaintance with.

Law is the Exception

I actually don't know the fine details of how Chavez runs his regime. . I think the problem is a cultural one that becomes a self fulling belief. People don't believe in the rule of law because people back their patronage networks first. Since rule of law doesn't work, people must rely on their patronage networks. The long term pattern of revolution followed by a steady decline into utterly dysfunctional cronyism and corruption dates back to the 1800s when Latin America freed itself from its mother nations in Europe. Most of the rest of the world's culture face the same problem.

As a crypto-communist, Chevez might be able to slow the spiral somewhat by substituting ideological loyalty for simple patronage but even that has a high price. From what I can tell he has been replacing the technocrats who manage the oil resources with the less adept ideologically reliable. Eventually, that will back fire.

The ugly truth is that the Rule of Law is the exception and not the, well. rule, in human affairs. Cultures that did not evolve the rule of law over many generations have a hard time making it work. I think many may turn to socialistic bureaucracy in desperation.

If I'm right, Chevez will eventually fall when his need to reward his inner circle causes him to short shift the poor. At that point, he will be replaced with someone else with a different ideology who will never the less follow the same basic path.

May I ask:
What made Bush's second term possible???

Disrupting the patronage networks
You're refreshingly honest when you say "I actually don't know the fine details of how Chavez runs his regime".

I haven't been there, but I do follow it closely in the available media... so I have some feel for how things are unfolding there.

Venezuela, like the rest of Latin America, has run on patronage from time immemorial. Of course, times change. In places like Brazil and Argentina, this long tradition of friendly graft among "friends of the government" is no longer being tolerated. The voters vote the varmints out of office now.

And much the same thing is happening in Venezuela. For the past few years, when you find blatant gift-giving going on-- principally in the higher levels of the armed services-- you're seeing indictments now, and trials, and you're even starting to see a few convictions.

That's something new. So I don't think the old wisdom quite holds nowadays.

In the US, of course, we handle it differently. When huge sums of misappropriated money come to light-- let's say the billions wasted and overspent in military procurement-- a great whoop and holler arises, with commissions being appointed to investigate, and all that jazz.

Then nothing happens. As a people, we have a short attention span. And they assume (quite rightly) that the voters will forget about it the next time some celebrity kills his girl friend (or her boy friend).

In the long slow crawl toward an actual rule of law, there are setbacks and occasional small gains. So far I'm heartened by what's happening in Latin America. Ask me again in ten years and it might be a different situation there.

What made Bush's second term possible???
You'd have to ask that of the American voter.

My guess, for one thing, is that in perceived times of trouble, the sheep crowd around the shepherd for protection. Leaders of nations rarely lose an election once they've taken their countries into a war.

Italy under Mussolini was an exception to that general rule.

Rhodesia did pretty well.
That's a great example of what socialism does to rule of law.

Roman Law => Spanish Law
"Spain, for example, had codified Roman law already in the thirteenth century and supplemented these rules periodically with imperial ordinances. However, Spain did not develop the legal principles that gave rise to the modern business corporation or an elaborate system of property rights based on the (political) recognition of the right to ownership. This also implies that Latin
America, which received Spanish law in the 16th century, was exposed to Roman legal heritage, not,
however, to the development of the private law, which formed the core of the formal legal orders that
emerged in Europe in the nineteenth century. There is no definite time limit to distinguish a distant legal
heritage from a more recently shared common legal history. From our discussion of law as a cognitive
institution, it follows that the common history must still be recognizable in legal practice at the time when
the foreign law is transplanted."

This is an interesting paper.

As for the claim that the RCC has had strong influence on Latin American corruption, what does the 'R' stand for? Rome.

Remember, the Holy Roman Empire ruled Europe for a few centuries.
So the influence of the RCC was more significant in its organization than its religious doctrine.

Alien culture
If those in Latin America don't understand rule of law and private property, how can the US teach them in a few decades?

Just say no. How about all that corruption in NJ?
Patronage starts at the barrio level and works its way up.

If the local barrios refuse to tolerate corrupt barrio captains or corrupt police, that would be a good start.

But when people run for office so they can get their turn at the graft, then there is much more work to do.

Funny how so much corruption is tolerated among 'liberals' such as in NJ and with unions. I guess they are just expressing their 'tolerance'.

"The arrests are the latest example of how the state’s roster of elected and appointed officials has come, at times, to resemble a police blotter. Two powerful Democratic veterans — Sharpe James, the former mayor of Newark, and Wayne R. Bryant, a state senator from Camden — were indicted earlier this year, and State Senator Joseph Coniglio, a Democrat of Bergen County, has been notified by prosecutors that he is the target of a corruption investigation."

To Chavez lovers (and Bush haters)
I don't see how Chavez will be any different than any other dictator that came before him.

Now he is buying votes by aiding the poor. Aiding the poor is a good thing, don't get me wrong. But is he creating a dependent class or and independent class of people? What does Chavez want do you think?

There are are examples of leaders who have not been treated the best by past US policies. They have exerted there independence from the US, but they have not attacked the US.

The US may be using Chavez as a boogy man, but Chavez is doing no less with the USA. Who looses the most with this policy? The USA or the people of Venezuela?

For you Bush haters, supporting Chavez and Iran because you hate Bush is irrational.

Tolerance of corruption
Your charges are stirring, but a bit empty of substance. Please give some examples-- specifically, of instances where Chavez and/or his cronies have profited personally from their positions as guardians of the publc pocket-- and have found their transgressions go unpunished.

What I'm finding is isolated instances of corruption, followed by steps toward prosecution. I find no systematic pattern of tolerance.

Also demonstrate how the corruption to be found in parts of the Democrat Party differ substantially from those found, for instance, in the antics of a Duke Cunningham or a Tom DeLay. Are they different in quality? In quantity?

Next, please give actual examples of corruption being tolerated among liberals in excess of the toleration to be found among conservatives.

You can deplore corruption, and you will find me right there beside you. But if you only use it as a club to beat one party, while ignoring the comparable sins of the other, we're no longer talking about corruption. We're only engaging in amoral and cynical partisanship.

How long will it take?
Chavez is already setting the stage to be in power for the rest of his life.

How long will it be before corruption settles in, it not already?

The best president the USA has EVER had was its first because he stepped down.

Will Chavez ever step down?

Chavez: Mugabe, JR.
Is Zimbabwe Venezuela in 20 years?

"But Mugabe did not "morph" into "a caricature of the African Big Man." He has been one since he took power in 1980 -- and he displayed unmistakable authoritarian traits well before that. Those who were watching at the time should have known what kind of man Mugabe was, and the fact that so many today persist in the contention that Mugabe was a once-benign ruler speaks much about liberal illusions of African nationalism."

"Mugabe was clear about his preference for authoritarian rule. Years before taking office, asked what sort of political future he envisioned for Zimbabwe, Mugabe expressed his belief that "the multiparty system . . . is a luxury" and that if Zimbabweans did not like Marxism, "then we will have to re-educate them.""

"Yet, even in the midst of these various crimes, Mugabe never lost his fan base in the West. In 1986, the University of Massachusetts Amherst bestowed on Mugabe an honorary doctorate of laws just as he was completing his genocide against the Ndebele. In April of this year, as the campus debated revoking the degree it ought never have given him, African American studies professor Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, who had been in favor of honoring Mugabe two decades ago, told the Boston Globe: "They gave it to the Robert Mugabe of the past, who was an inspiring and hopeful figure and a humane political leader at the time." Similarly, in 1984, the University of Edinburgh gave Mugabe an honorary doctorate (revoked in July of this year), and in 1994, Mugabe was inexplicably given an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II."

"But a fully honest accounting also would have recognized Mugabe to be, whatever his virtues, an authoritarian thug hellbent on acquiring -- and attaining -- power at all costs. Mugabe's destructive behavior over the last seven years has not been "an aberration" but is perfectly consistent with the way he has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980.

"Lewis, and everyone else who ever feted Mugabe, was not just proved wrong about the despot "at least over time." They were wrong the minute they endorsed him.",0,3297629.story?coll=la-opinion-center

Why is Chavez any different?

Rhodesia's rule of law?
Ah yes! You're referring to colonial plunder, the respect for property rights that saw black Africans thrown off their land, discrimination against the majority population in civil, political and economic affirs, all backed up by the use of force?

A great example of good, old fashioned, libertarian capitalist rule of law.

You see, the rule of law was ignored or cynically manipulated by the empire-builders more often than it was respected. But you'll tell me that that wasn't really capitalism huh?

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