Venezuela: Maduro Digs In / Ivan Garcia

The PSUV (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela) brothers have divided the country into two trenches. Their followers — in petrocasas (mass-produced small houses) and medical practices painted in red and white with images of Chavez hanging from the roof — if they show absolute loyalty, gain the right to a position as a minor official, where they can earn thousands of bolivars extra.

Those who are against — half the Venezuelan population — are treated as enemies. Nicolás Maduro is governing in virtually a state of siege. The army in the streets. And his comrades turn up in Parliament with gauntlets hidden in their pockets in case they need to hit their opponents.

Maduro has drawn the short straw. The man has a short fuse. He has little room to manoeuvre. As a statesman, he leaves a lot to be desired. His public speaking is a disaster.

He pulls three or four phrases out of the drawer and repeats them to the point of tedium about his love for Hugo Chávez . It doesn’t look as if the old Caracas bus driver is able to more Venezuela forward with his government drawn from the street, where only his own followers turn up.

A country is not a party. You should govern for everybody. Listen to the others. And respect their opinions in the parliament. Many people believe that the advice that Fidel Castro is whispering from Havana is seeking to polarise and radicalise a Bolivarian revolution which is deflating.

That’s how Castro governed in Cuba. The bearded guerilla humiliated the priests and any religion which was not Marxist. He nationalised all property. And provided an air bridge which allowed his enemies and the middle class to flee to Miami. But that was in the time of the cold war.

In the 21st century, to put together an almost scientific autocracy, with a parliament in the Cuban style in which they vote unanimously, is impossible. Following Castro’s strategies is the shortest route for the PSUV to dig its political grave. For many reasons. One of them: Castro’s government is a monument to inefficiency.

It survives on exile dollars and passing the collection box in Venezuela. Productivity is at rock bottom. Salaries are laughable. The infrastructure is dysfunctional. Even the much-trumpeted successes of the revolution in public health, education and sport are going backwards.

Politically, guaranteeing basic rights and employment while sacrificing liberties will never be worthwhile. Those rights and duties which a modern state must fulfil. Without asking for votes in exchange.

Maduro isn’t Chávez. The man from Barinas had charisma. Ability to manoeuvre, and, in spite of his major screw-ups, with his oratory he was able to convince his supporters.

Maduro creates distrust even in typical Chavistas. The position of President is too big for him. Rushing forward is not the right decision.

Whipping up the political differences between Venezuelans is putting out a fire with gasoline. Entrenching himself in institutions which respond to the interests of his party is not the correct solution.

He should offer political breathing room and participation to the opposition. It represents 50% of the electorate. It’s not a small thing. If you could grade Maduro’s performance in his first month of government on a scale of one to ten, he would get a zero.

As President he has not been up to scratch.

Iván García

Translated by GH

4 June 2013