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A Simplistic Narrative Which Makes Excuses For Neoliberalism
on March 31, 2012
As the neoliberal, "free market" model which became the global craze of the 1990s now stands sick with disease in a wasteland of economic chaos and financial meltdowns, the prophets of the market are scrambling to make excuses for their miscalculations while condemning anyone who decides to take a different course. Years before the 2008 collapse Latin America had already experienced the disastrous aftershocks of neoliberal "reforms," the most glaring case being the Argentine catastrophe of 2001 so well documented in Naomi Klein's documentary "The Take." The Hugo Chavez government in Venezuela has stood out as the most radical, revolutionary rejection of the old models in South America, proclaiming a vision of socialism for the 21st century which dumps old, decayed Stalinist trends and attempts to rediscover thinkers like Rosa Luxemburg. Javier Corrales and Michael Penfold's "Dragon In The Tropics" is the latest attempt by status quo writers to both make excuses for a failed model and to offer a simplistic, reassuring explanation for the rise of Chavez. It pales in comparison to the excellent works of scholarship like "Changing Venezuela By Taking Power" by Gregory Wilpert and "Pirates Of The Caribbean" by Tariq Ali, two books you should most certainly read instead of this shallow attempt at political analysis.
Corrales and Penfold really do see Chavez as some sort of dragon emerging out of the southern jungle lands, a fiery-tongued fluke who took advantage of the lack of checks and balances within the Venezuelan system. It is no secret that indeed Venezuela, like most of Latin America and especially neighboring Colombia, has suffered from deep corruption and a lack of oversight, but in this book it is simply a convenient excuse used to propogate the illusion that Chavez is some sort of old-school caudillo. Like most baffled neoliberals, the authors try to claim that ultra-capitalist reforms aren't bad, they simply weren't applied the right way or were themselves the victims of Venezuela's corrupt system. Of course the authors shy away from explaining why most of South America has suffered the same ills and why left-wing, populist leaderships in diverse forms have taken power in almost every Southern Cone country. In the late 80s and early 90s neoliberal economic reforms produced mass unemployment, a massive spike in fuel prices and eventually riots, what smashes the authors' thesis is the current reality in which the exact same reforms are producing the exact same results in advanced, disciplined Europe. The streets have even burned in London and the cradle of democracy, Greece, could soon produce a revolutionary eruption even greater than what is being seen in Venezuela today. Of course Corrales and Penfold would invent some other excuse, claiming reforms were simply not handled well even in Thatcher's old hunting grounds.
Astoundingly enough, Corrales and Penfold claim that TOO MUCH power was centralized precisely in the era when DECENTRALIZATION of economic policy was producing mass chaos, if the neoliberal era was too centralized for these gentlemen, then one wonders exactly how much cutting and slashing they see as acceptable for a modern society. One need only to take a stroll through today's Athens and taste the despair to see the future the authors envision for Caracas. For Corrales and Penfold the Chavez government's control over oil resources and the use of those resources for social programs is a negative development. According to their religion of the golden calf, it's best for the majority working class and poor to depend on charity and slave away like drones, this is progress while mutual aid is a perversion.
One of the great claims of the right-wing and radical capitalists is that Venezuela has become a dictatorship, sure they have elections, but according to Corrales and Penfold it's all fine but we still shouldn't give Venezuela a pass because their economic model is different. This is indeed a curious point of view considering Venezuela's parliament is almost evenly split between Chavez's PSUV party and the right-wing opposition. The current opposition candidate Capriles Radonski comes from a family which owns some of the biggest TV, newspaper and even cinema outlets in the country, but somehow Chavez has centralized and taken over too much. The authors claim Venezuela's current system is "semi-authoritarian," a bizarre play of words which theoretically could be applied to any state or institution, not least the IMF and World Bank. And Chavez's critics cannot explain why they remain silent over the nations which do continue to implement neoliberal economics, such as Honduras and Colombia, where the region's worst human rights abuses take place (do a quick search of how many activists and journalists have been assassinated in Honduras since the 2009 military coup).
"Dragon In The Tropics" is not as insane as other anti-Chavez books which accuse the man of nearly every ill in the Western hemisphere, spinning plots straight out of a James Bond film, instead it is not even so much about Chavez as it is about justifying a failed economic model and immunizing you from any alternatives being offered. It is a book that cannot survive against the rising tides of a changing world. For those who want some more detailed, clear-headed analysis I again recommend "Changing Venezuela By Taking Power" by Gregory Wilpert, "Pirates Of The Caribbean" by Tariq Ali, "The Chavez Code" by Eva Golinger and "Hugo" by Bart Jones.