The Invisible Hugo & the worst of both worlds

Having turned up on the balcony on Monday, Hugo Chavez is back to staying behind closed doors.

The Miami Herald calls his illness The Worst of Both Worlds,

It’s impossible to guess what’s next for Venezuela. Mr. Chávez’s illness casts a cloud of uncertainty and doubt over the nation’s future. For this, as with so much else that burdens Venezuela, the blame rests squarely with Mr. Chávez. Little is left of the democracy he inherited except on paper.

• Over the years, he has destroyed Venezuela’s independent institutions like the legislature and the courts. Both are now stacked in his favor and respond to his commands.

• He has done everything in his power to muzzle independent news reporting, with the recently announced probe of the TV network Globovision being the latest example of his bullying.

• The entrepreneurial sector, the heart of Venezuela’s economy, has been drained of its vitality by repeated efforts to squeeze private enterprise into a mold shaped by the government. Bureaucratic demands have replaced market forces as drivers of the economy. The result has been one of the highest inflation rates in the world, averaging 29.1 percent in 2010, and the squandering of the nation’s petrochemical wealth.

• Like his mentor and idol, Fidel Castro, Mr. Chávez’s ruling style has left no room for others to share the spotlight. In the fashion of traditional Latin American strongmen ( caudillos), he has surrounded himself with a clique of slavish admirers who lack popular support of their own. They don’t have the authority — or demonstrated ability — to lead the nation, especially in a time of trouble.

Slavish admirers, and 60,000 Cubans; clearly, Venezuela Needs De-Cubanization
The longer the Cubans stay, the greater the chance of serious friction in the military and other institutions.

the strategic relationship between Cuba and Venezuela goes well beyond oil and health care. In addition to sending doctors, the Castros have also dispatched senior military personnel to help train and manage Venezuelan security forces. Back in February 2010, for example, General Ramiro Valdés (an architect of Cuba’s notorious G2 spy agency) came to Venezuela, supposedly to work as an “energy consultant,” but really to assist Chávez in the consolidation of a Cuban-style dictatorship. Indeed, Chávez has actively sought to “Cubanize” the Venezuelan military, police, and intelligence services.

Cubans “are helping to run Venezuela’s ports, telecommunications, police training, the issuing of identity documents and the business registry,” the Economist reported around this same time (February 2010). “In some ministries, such as health and agriculture, Cuban advisers appear to wield more power than Venezuelan officials. The health ministry is often unable to provide statistics—on primary health-care or epidemiology for instance — because the information is sent back to Havana instead.” Meanwhile, “Trade unions, particularly in the oil and construction industries, have complained of ill-treatment by the Cubans.”

Carlos Alberto Montaner writes (in Spanish) on the end of Chavez and the Cuban government: Chavez is currently propping up Cuba’s regime by sending 100,000 barrels of oil daily. Lacking that, the collapse of the Cuban economy would be worse than after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Hence, Fidel and Raul Castro have a lot to fear, if, following next year’s elections, Chavismo is defeated by the opposition, which would surely end the oil subsidy. Additionally (my translation: if you use this please link to this post and credit me)

There are in Venezuela some 60,000 Cuban operatives. If Chavismo falls from power, they would have to be repatriated quickly, and they fear that a large percentage intend to stay in Venezuela. There are contingency plans to evacuate them through any means in a sort of Caribbean Dunkirk if the situation becomes critical, but before that, Raul Castro’s government will do anything to maintain its juicy colony.

Montaner concludes by stating that Russian satellites were parasites of Russia, while Venezuela is a parasite of its satellite. It’s unlikely that the existing Cuba-Venezuela relationship will continue.

The wild cards? The Chavista militias, and ties between the Venezuelan military and the drug cartels,

Senior members of the Venezuelan armed forces — including Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, the country’s “general in chief,” and Gen. Hugo Carvajal, director of military intelligence — are heavily involved in the global drug trade. In 2009, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that cocaine traffic through Venezuela had increased “significantly.” Between 2006 and 2008, Venezuela was the departure point for more than half of all maritime drug shipments from South America to Europe, according to the United Nations. The Wall Street Journal reports that imprisoned Venezuelan drug trafficker Walid Makled, who was captured in Colombia last August and extradited to Venezuela in May, has admitted to having “as many as 40 Venezuelan generals and top officials on his payroll to provide security and distribution, among other things.” One can only assume that these generals and officials will seek to protect their drug profits and resist sharing or giving up the spoils.

Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommitte Congressman Connie Mack raises the question of whether Chavez’s likely designated successor may have close ties to drug trafficking.

It’s going to get really interesting really soon.

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