CARACAS, Saturday November 10, 2012 | Update
INTERVIEW | Moisés Naim, global affairs analyst

"Amongst heads of state, Chávez leads in doing as he pleases"

"He has much more freedom in his country and abroad than the president of the United States" "Obama is subject to more constraints and would never even think of using state resources for his own political campaign"

Moisés Naim believes that Chávez faces three different threats: his health, waning oil income and reduced capacity to undertake debt (Handout photo)
Saturday November 10, 2012  12:00 AM
Countless lines would be needed to list Moisés Naim's extensive background; therefore, we would simply like to point out that he is one of the most universal Venezuelans of our time. No social, political or economic phenomenon is beyond his incisive insight, published in journals throughout the Americas and Europe and broadcasted on his television program. Even though he does not currently live in Venezuela, his words exude unique passion and continuity that neither time nor distance has managed to undermine.

- After the October 7 elections, will there be a comeback of 20th Century totalitarianism brought about by Chávez's neo-totalitarian formula?

- I have no idea what you view as neo-totalitarianism. It is evident, however, that room for freedom in Venezuela is increasingly becoming narrow: the freedom to be enterprising, to communicate and to spread information, but also the freedom to move about in the streets, hindered in this case by criminals.

- For this 7th of October, just like for previous elections and ballots, it was said that the time had come; if Chávez won, democracy was doomed. But the truth of the matter is that 14 years have gone by and Chávez has yet to fulfill his supreme goal: total domination of society.       

- Allow me to put this question into perspective. Give me clear examples of initiatives and issues that Chávez has wanted to fulfill but has not been able to.

-Initially, there was a set of laws that was rejected by most of the population. Then, the Education Law...

- I expected that response from you, but other than the Education Law, I would like you to provide different examples. He did not manage to get those laws passed, but I am not implying that he can do everything that crosses his mind. The king of Saudi Arabia cannot always do what he wants; the same applies to Vladimir Putin in Russia or Lukashenko (Europe's last tyrant). Not even Ahmadinejad gets his way all the time. Maybe in North Korea things are different.

- It could very well be true, but what I mean is a trend to...

- That is abstract, atmospheric. Things must be seen from a practical perspective.

- 14 years ago, Chávez talked about the Third Way and claimed that he would abide by market laws; he never mentioned or even suggested the term Socialism. People did not vote for Chávez believing that he would do what he has now set out to do. Ultimately, this is a different country, very different from the one in 1998.

- The one who has changed over these 14 years is none other than Chávez, and the country increasingly mimics what he has become. Much of Chávez's ideology, personality and preferences are reflected in the nation itself.

- A radical change has taken place, and the notion of power has been accepted by the people, even by those who oppose Chávez, as irreparable. Chávez proposes Communal Power and goes on to win the elections with the support of 8 million voters.

- You have just answered your own question. I have already replied by saying that spaces are narrowing for freedom, and there are only a few things that the president wants to do but he cannot fulfill.

- But, why can he not do those things if he has all powers under his grip?

- In today's world, except for North Korea, no head of state can do everything he or she wants. But, amongst heads of state, Hugo Chávez leads in doing as he pleases.

- Then, despite obvious differences, Chávez might just be more powerful than the president of the United States.

- It is interesting to compare the campaigns of Obama and Chávez. Obama faced huge limitations. He could not use the resources available to him as head of state to go on the campaign trail. In addition, everything he does is under tight scrutiny, and it would be catastrophic if he were found to have used public resources to fund his campaign.

- In addition, Chávez controls the powers that are supposed to bind him.

- President Chávez has more freedom within his own country and abroad than the president of the United States. The latter is bound by Congress, the media and financial limitations. A game of democratic balance and counter balance comes into play, one that in Venezuela does not...

- Does not exist.

- Power is utterly controlled by President Chávez.                    

- How can someone who does not conduct himself within the confines of democracy be faced democratically?

- Facing Chávez in non-democratic ways is unacceptable and would spell failure. That is something that I object and oppose to. With regards to the results of the elections, the glass can be half empty or half full. Yet, there is much to rejoice about. No one could have imagined that a candidate like Henrique Capriles would carry out a campaign like the one he did. Highly efficient, the campaign posed a challenge unlike any other faced by Chávez since being in power.  Capriles reached out to and created excitement within sectors that had remained untouched by the official sector's pitch.

- In winning the elections, Chávez hands over to himself a political and economic model ratified on October 7. Bearing in mind that he is the cause of those ailments and assuming that he will carry on in the same direction, would a breaking point be reached at any time?

- Chávez's model relies heavily on his personality and presence, combined with nearly endless oil revenues and high capacity to undertake debt. These elements are under threat, as well as the president's health. It causes great concern that oil-production capacity has been diminishing, a situation that would certainly affect the waves of revenues currently attained. Those two pillars, Chávez and oil revenues, are under great stress at present.

- What consequences would be faced if those threats were fulfilled?

- It is very difficult to predict. Venezuela is undergoing great opacity. We do not know what goes on within its government or how its power is structured. We are clueless as to the dynamics and rivalries amongst Chávez's possible successors. Also, we cannot foresee what alliances, support and resources would be available. Everything turns into speculation, starting with the main issue, the president's actual health.

- Nonetheless, it is evident that autocracy prevails. Could a Chávez-inspired government be sustainable without Chávez?

- If the president, for any reason, ceases to be the head of state, a complex process of rivalries amongst possible successors would take place, even if he were to favor someone specifically. One of the essential factors of Chávez's government style is that power is shared with no one. It is not shared with the opposition, who is denied the right to exist and deprived of its legitimacy, or with anyone else within the government itself. The president's collaborators are temporary. This is one of the cabinets with the highest turnover rate in Latin America.

Translated by Félix Rojas Alva
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