Venezuela: Sound Bites From the Disunited Bolivarian Socialist Front

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“Exit polls give victory to Chávez in referendum”: The
Folha de S. Paulo front page on the day after. Also: “Corininthians [football club] banished to the second-division.” Only one of which was actually a reliable, and, we believe, regrettable, fact.

You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free your mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow

–Klaatu

“Al presidente le ha venido muy bien el conflicto con Colombia”: El PAÍS (Spain) interviews a dissident Bolivarian lawmaker from Venezuela on Uncle Hugo and the great Bolivarian Bellowing Match of 2008 with neighboring Colombia last week.

Dissidence in the Chavist ranks, reflecting the “ni-ni” (“neither-nor”) sentiment of the silent majority, has been credibly invoked to explain Uncle Hugo’s loss in last year’s constitutional referendum.

See also

If you read O Globo, of course, or other major Brazilian newspapers, you might not be aware that Chávez lost that referendum. See

Ecce Globo.

El diputado chavista Luis Tascón, de 39 años, se hizo famoso en 2004 cuando publicó una lista con los nombres de los cuatro millones de venezolanos que habían firmado la solicitud de un referéndum revocatorio para expulsar a Hugo Chávez de la presidencia. La oposición denunció que la denominada “Lista Tascón” se usó para tomar represalias contra funcionarios que la habían firmado. “Y la verdad es que hubo represalias. Pero desde los dos bandos. Porque en los Estados donde gobierna la oposición también se actuó contra los funcionarios que no habían firmado. Yo no sabía entonces que iba a haber venganzas contra nadie. Lo único que pretendía era denunciar un fraude, denunciar que la oposición había usado los nombres de miles de personas que estaban muertas. Y lo conseguí”.

The pro-Chávez lawmaker Luis Tascón, 39, became famous in 2004 after publishing a list with the names of 4 million Venezuelans who had signed the petition for a referendum on Chávez’s presidential mandate. The opposition charged that the so-called “Tascón List” was used to carry out reprisals against government officials that had signed it. “And the fact is that there were reprisals. But on both sides. Because in states governed by the opposition actions were also taken against public servants who had failed to sign. I did not know at the time there would be reprisals against anyone. The only think I meant to do was point out a fraud, showing that the opposition had used the names of thousands of dead persons [on the petition.] And I succeeded.”

Han pasado cuatro años desde entonces. Tascón sigue siendo un referente para muchos chavistas. Pero hace dos semanas el diputado denunció un supuesto caso de corrupción donde podría estar involucrado el hermano de Diosdado Cabello, gobernador del Estado de Táchira, y una de las personas más cercanas a Chávez. El presidente venezolano salió entonces en defensa de Cabello y pidió la expulsión de Tascón del Partido Socialista Unificado de Venezuela (PSUV), que ayer celebró elecciones internas para elegir a su dirección.

Four years have now passed. Tascón continues to serve as a rallying point for many Chavists. But two weeks ago the deputy made charges about an alleged corruption scheme involving the brother of Diosdado Cabello, governor of Táchira and one of the persons closest to Chávez. The president came out in defense of Cabello and asked that Tascón be expelled from the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela, which yesterday held internal elections for party leadership.

The brother was infrastructure minister and now heads the national tax administration.

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Augusto Pinochet, by Estado de S. Paulo editorial cartoonist Leo Martins — a treasure, this guy. I wanted to show you the caricature he did of Chávez as a galo de rinha last week, but he has not posted it to his blog yet.

The actual casus belli here sounds fairly trivial on the face of it: Questions about credits for procuring more official vehicles for the Bolivarian tax man to drive around in while on the job, at a price above market value or something.

How legitimate is the complaint? You got me.

I have yet to find a reasonably calm and objective source of news on the People’s Republic of the Bolivarian Blowhard, except maybe for Cynara Menezes of CartaCapital, whose dispatches from Hugoland are enlightening — and too infrequent.  If I bought two copies a week, would CC be able to afford to assign a permanent correspondent? I’d do it, too.

Tascón le pidió al presidente en público que lo respetara y que no mancillara su nombre. “Me acusó de formar parte de la mafia del SENIAT. Y yo le dije que si tenía pruebas contra mí, que me llevara a la fiscalía. Y le pedí respeto. A la gente le gustó mi actitud, porque la gente está harta de aduladores, quieren ver a dirigentes que le digan las cosas en la cara al presidente”, afirma el diputado.

Tascón publicly asked the president to respect him and not drag his name through the mud. “They accused me of being part of the SENIAT mafia. And I said if they had evidence against me, they should formally charge me. And I asked for respect. People liked my attitude, because the people are sick of the cult of personalilty, they want to see leaders who tell it like it is, straight to the president’s face,” the lawmaker says. 

SENIAT is sort of the Bolivarian IRS, Venezuela’s “unified tax administration,” which I gather includes the tax authority and customs.

Even Bolivarians have to count the beans.

“Hasta ese momento”, explica Tascón, “Chávez no había tomado partido tan claramente por Cabello, que es el líder de lo que nosotros denominamos la derecha endógena del chavismo, el hombre más poderoso en el país después de Chávez. Por eso cuando me preguntan cómo me siento les digo que igual que Bruce Lee: rodeado de ocho matones que quieren matarme a golpes y yo soltando patadas por todos lados”.

“To that point,” Tascón, “Chávez had not clearly taken the side of Cabello, who is the leader of what we call the endogenous right wing of Chavism, the most powerful man in the country next to the president. For that reason, when they ask me how I feel, I say I feel like Bruce: Surrounded by eight assassins trying to beat me to death and throwing kicks on all sides.”

Including Lew Alcindor as the capoeira champion of Africa, as Bruce fights his way to the top of the pagoda of death, if I remember my Bruce Lee movies correctly.

Tascón cree que las elecciones que celebró ayer el PSUV han sido excluyentes y restrictivas. “Cuando creó el PSUV Chávez dijo que iba a ser el partido más democrático del mundo. Pero es falso”. Tascón ha apoyado a Chávez cuando anunció el envío de los batallones de tanques a la frontera con Colombia, pero asume que el conflicto ha apagado temporalmente la campaña por la transparencia y la participación. “Chávez ha tenido mucha suerte con el conflicto colombiano. De repente, nadie ha hablado de las elecciones del PSUV. Pero esto no acaba aquí. Hay mucha gente de base descontenta”. El diputado está convencido de que a él no le va a pasar lo que a otros destacados chavistas, que se enfrentaron al líder y hoy son acusados de traidores.

Tascón believes the PSUV elections yesterday were exclusive and restricted. “When he created the PSUV, Chávez said this was going to be the most democratic party in the world. But that is not true.” Tascón supported Chávez when he sent battalions to the Colombian border, but admits the conflict has temporarily eclipsed the campaign for transparency and democratic participation. “Chávez was lucky with the Colombian conflict. Suddenly, no one is talking about the PSUV elections. But this does not end here. They are a lot of people in the party base who are discontent.” The lawmaker is convinced he is not going to suffer the fate of other prominent Chavists who confronted the leader and are now accused of being traitors.

The World Wrestling Federation rhetorical death match between Chávez and Uribe does tend to strike you as a mutually beneficial arrangement between two leaders who both sorely need to change the subject by claiming the exigent circumstances of a permanent crisis, whether real or perceived.

Hence the tanks rushing to the border, and on the other side these bizarre — and incredible — claims that “Raúl Reyes” sought the “dirty bomb” with Hugovian petroeuros, and so forth.

How do you rein in a leader who claims the need to rule under a permanent state of emergency? Empty out the argument — call off your E. Howard Hunts and gabbling fascists in exile — so the guy has to start dealing with gritty details like making the buses run on time and creating full employment.

I bet you if we had made Osama bin Laden mayor of Kabul back in the day he’d be retired by now, permanently demoralized by his failure to get the promised monorail running.

This is my crackpot theory, at any rate. But again, as a political pundit, I am a rank amateur. So please: no wagering.

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