Watching the Soviet movie backwards

June 17, 2007

I have not been able to use the
Internet much since I left, so that I only know superficial facts about
events since my departure. Interesting that after not allowing the students
to march a couple of times before their appearance in front of the National
Assembly because of “law and order”, the authorities allowed pro-Chavez
supporters not only to surround the Capitol building, but many of them
happened to be heavily armed, in another display of how there is a double
standard today and two class of citizens in Venezuela and how the students
calling for everyone to be treated the same is so valid.

But since I
have not kept up with events in Venezuela in the last eight or nine days,
it would be difficult for me to write about my own country. However, having
visited a couple of former communist countries in the last few days, I
can’t help but see the dozens of analogies that I have witnessed in the
last week to the so called Chavista revolution, except that I get this
feeling that I am watching the same movie backwards in the countries of the
former Soviet Union, where I am.

The similarities are uncanny, even
if the Chavez revolution is unfolding in slow motion, compared to the speed
that transformed these countries into Communism. And somehow, while the
Soviet regime failed, it was able to show more successful experiences than
our tropical Dictator, despite the fact that he has had extraordinary
resources, but has very little to show for it in terms of the well being of
the people he claims to care so much for.

But the stories I heard
this week are quite similar. State planning that simply stifled private
initiative, producing shortages and making everyone equally poor. The rise
of a new rich oligarchy closely associated not only to power, but also to
the alliance between the military and the politicians. The use of State
resources to support party activities without checks and balances. Nepotism
all over the place. The exaltation of personalities. The leader who cannot
be questioned. Control of the media. Expropriation of property and
facilities which then proceed to deteriorate very fast. Allowance of
“dissent” to show that there were liberties, but mayor “dissenters” were
jailed or sometimes worse. Rotation of Government officials from one
position to the other, independent of competence in the area. Of course,
things got much worse at times than what we have witnessed so far, but we
should not forget the Chavez story is still unfolding.

I met nobody
who expressed nostalgia for the Soviets, even if not everything is fine in
these Republics these days. But they are still some around, those that
benefited from state populism and who did little and long for those days.
But in general, there is this thriving new economy, where people are happy,
not only because they have private property rights, but also because they
have freedom to do and say what they want. The young have particularly
embraced these values the strongest. Despite decades of communism, there is
a religious revival. Someone told me that Putin’s popularity arises in part
from the fact that he is the first President they have had who goes to
church and is a practicing orthodox.

But the biggest changes are in
the economy even if they have yet to be all ironed out. Traffic is a mess,
but gas is not cheap like in Venezuela, as more and more people can afford
cars. There is more construction and dock activity that I have seen
anywhere in recent years, including other European ports and Singapore. In
fact, the main gripe I heard is not about poverty or availability of goods,
but surprisingly, illegal immigration and how it is straining state
resources as immigrants from other former republics and Asia are coming in
droves to benefit form the economic resurgence.

You still see the
remnants for the Soviet era in many attitudes. You see many state employees
that do nothing, or the use of authority to deny something. I saw a tour
guide back down when she was told she could not do something, but I saw
another one get away with what she wanted just by being more forceful than
the other person.

I could write lots more, but being here these
last few days makes me wonder how anyone can think that these autocratic,
authoritarian regimes with planed economies can survive, least of all in
our countries, where disorganization, corruption and inefficiency are the
norm. History should teach people a lesson, but there are still people who
refuse to understand such economic realities.

All in all, a very
clear reminder of why Venezuela has taken the wrong path and why I felt I
was sort of watching the same movie, but backwards. Venezuela does indeed
seem to be the country where downside is up, and logic has given the way to
idiotic ideology.

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