“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Will Hugo Chavez Lose His Constituency?

Probably not. This is Hugo country. Other than the doctrinaire lefties, these are the neighborhoods that are his base of power. Rob from Pedro to pay Pablo and you will always get Pablo's vote, and he does. Chavez is an embarrassment to many, but there are more neighborhoods like this in Latin America than is healthy. Without those sprawling tin roofs there would be no Hugo Chavez.

What happens in Latin America matters.

Old Allies Abandon Chávez as Constitution Vote Nears

By Juan Forero
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 29, 2007; Page A01

CUMANA, Venezuela -- Few associates had been as loyal to President Hugo Chávez as the governor of the coastal state of Sucre, Ramón Martínez. And few are now more determined to defeat Chávez as he campaigns for constitutional changes that, if approved by voters on Sunday, could extend his presidency for life.

Chávez, 53 and in his ninth tumultuous year in office, was until recently predicted to win a referendum that would permit him to run for 8office indefinitely, appoint governors to federal districts he would create, and control the purse strings of one of the world's major oil-producing countries.

But Martínezand a handful of others who once were prominent pillars in the Chávez machine, have defected, saying approval of 69 constitutional changes would effectively turn Venezuela into a dictatorship run at the whim of one man. They have been derided by Chávez as traitors, but their unimpeachable leftist credentials have given momentum to a movement that pollsters say may deliver Chávez his first electoral defeat...

Chavez vows no ties with Colombia BBC

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez says he will have "no type of relationship" with the Colombian government while it is headed by President Alvaro Uribe.
"I could not, out of dignity," Mr Chavez told supporters in the town of Tachira in western Venezuela.

The Venezuelan government announced on Tuesday it was withdrawing its ambassador to Colombia.

The feud between neighbours and trading partners began when Mr Uribe stopped Mr Chavez mediating with Colombian rebels.

In response, Mr Chavez said he would freeze Venezuela's bilateral ties with its neighbour and close trading partner.

'Barefaced lies'

Speaking to supporters on Wednesday, Mr Chavez was forthright in his criticism of his Colombian counterpart.

"While President Uribe is president of Colombia I will have no type of relationship with him or with the government in Colombia," he said.

Mr Uribe was a president "capable of such barefaced lies, [who] disrespects another president that he has called a friend, one that he called on for help".

Mr Chavez accused Mr Uribe - a close US ally - of being a "pawn of the empire".

Relations between the two men seemed close in August - despite their apparent ideological differences - when Mr Uribe enlisted Mr Chavez's help in trying to arrange an exchange of prisoners with rebel-held hostages.

But last week Mr Uribe ended Mr Chavez's involvement, saying it was because the Venezuelan leader had directly contacted Colombia's army chief despite being told not to do so.

Earlier, Mr Uribe appeared to try to calm the situation, saying presidents should put aside their "angers" and "vanities" to get on with their work.


  1. At least Hugo has enough oil revenues that corruption is irrelevant. In the Philippines, there is a numbers racket called Jueting that pervades the country and pays off politicians (which just moves money around but doesn't generate wealth) and every other President is an action movie star like Schwarzenegger (only without brains). I'm not saying Hugo has brains, but he is rolling SOME of that oil money back into the barrios, hence his confidence over the referendum.

  2. At the LATimes

    ... President Bush is again in legacy mode. His White House "czar" on Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, explained that the administration intends to reach a final agreement between the two countries by July 31, 2008. In describing the negotiations, he made a remarkable suggestion: Only the Iraqi parliament, not the U.S. Congress, needs to formally approve the agreement. ...

    Mr Ackerman goes on to say that Mr Bush cannot unilaterally sign such an agreement with Iraq.
    To which I agree.

    But check the date, 31Jul08.
    The Victory Agreement will be ready

    Mr Ackerman could get his way, a Sentate vote, on the Iraq Peace Treaty, in September or October of 2008.

    Dominate the news cycle, it could.

    Johnnie be marching home, a winner.

    Just in time for the Election, come November.

  3. Other than the US could have done much the same, sooner, in Iraq. It does seem as if Team43 has got some stage management skills left in their tool bag...

    They're getting the timing right, to influence the US electorate, at the "right" time.

  4. Other oil producers, they are not as vocal with their rhetoric, but could be a greater threat, to US, regardless.

    Readers of these columns might recall in particular Abu Dhabi's adventures in Beltway banking. It was Sheik Zayed, the father of the current ruler of Abu Dhabi, who owned the infamous Bank of Credit and Commerce International, or BCCI, whose fraudulent tentacles spanned the globe, including the highest levels of Washington politics a decade and a half ago.

    The current emir, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, is not his father--who always maintained that he was a victim of the BCCI fraud himself. And Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan District Attorney who investigated BCCI, tells us that Abu Dhabi "has been responsible" since BCCI.

    On the other hand, the bank was forced to settle for hundreds of millions of dollars after lying to evade American banking laws. Mr. Morgenthau also recounted that the elder Sheik Zayed once called to inform the State Department that, if Mr. Morgenthau indicted anyone in the royal family over the scandal, he would pull his billions out of the U.S. and make no further investments here.

    Mr. Morgenthau says this message was passed to him via the Justice Department. His reply: "Tell them that you don't control that cranky S.O.B. in New York." As a long-time New York DA, Mr. Morgenthau could stand up to such political pressure the way the Justice Department might not. In certain corners of the world, large investments come with political expectations.

    Perhaps the Abu Dhabi of today has moved beyond such threats. The United Arab Emirates have helped us in the war on terror, and the U.S. is the ultimate defense for the oil-rich emirates on the edge of the Arabian peninsula. One can argue that investments like Abu Dhabi's draw both sides more closely to each other, and so are mutually beneficial.

    Yet everyone should also admit that this investment means that Arab interests will now have inordinate sway over America's largest bank. Abu Dhabi's 4.9% stake combined with the 3.9% stake of Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal makes them the bank's dominant shareholders, and who knows how many other smaller holdings are in Middle Eastern hands. The small Gulf states may be governed separately from Saudi Arabia, but they are closely linked by geography, family ties, and national interests. For purposes of political influence, they often behave as part of the same tribe.

    In that regard, the 4.9% gambit looks all the more troubling as a way to avoid Fed scrutiny. If the investors' motives are merely commercial, why go to such lengths?

    The wire-transfer system is crucial in the war on terror, and at a minimum the Fed and U.S. Treasury need to know that Citigroup will continue to cooperate in sanctions against terror states and tracking terror financing. Citigroup's enforcement unit should be given a thorough scrubbing.

  5. "Price controls on staples have made eggs unavailable. This week, you can’t find chickens. Chávez’s socialism delivers subsidized gasoline and glittering malls but no milk."


  6. Stopped by to see what was echoing in the echo chamber and found this post that I could not pass on. Having traveled throughout and interacted with business, academic and cultural leaders in all but a few Latin American countries, I can tell you what any well educated, pro-capitalist Latin American will also tell you regarding the continual failure of those countries' politico-economic-social systems to generate real wealth and a rising standard of living. It is simply and fundamentally due to their culture's inability to sustain a trustworthy and reliable legal system, or, more simply put, dishonesty and corruption. And I have heard from numerous direct descendants of Spanish bloodline that this cultural character flaw comes straight from the Islamic traditions of the Moors who invaded and, for awhile, inhabited Spain, and embedded many of their bedoin "traditions" into Spanish culture. These internally damning characterizations of Latin culture came came 18-24 months prior to 9/11, so they were in no way reactive to those events. Hugo Chavez is but the latest in a long line of incompetent and dysfunctional "leaders" elected by a perenially dysfunctional and incompetent culture, which shows not the least sign of changing for the next century or two.