Recommended reading on Venezuela

Of course the usual suspects will find fault, but for those truly interested in what is happening in Venezuela, I recommend this piece by the excellent Mexican journalist Alma Guillermoprieto from the October 20 New York Review of Books.

While Guillermoprieto notes “the regime’s corruption, its autocratic use of public funds, and Chávez’s determined assault on the institutions that make representative democracy possible,” she also acknowledges that Chavez’s social programs in the barrios have “brought a sense of joyful hope to a great many of Venezuela’s poor—people who failed to see a future for themselves before his advent.” And she is critical of hysterical and racist elements of the opposition to Chavez.

Guillermoprieto interviews the leftist opposition newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff, whose answers to questions from me I recently posted.

Because he is nothing if not independent-minded, and, at the age of seventy-three, still almost garishly blue-eyed, quick-witted, and remarkably hale, Petkoff is interviewed a lot, and appears often on television. He is bemused to find himself emerging as the centrist of the hour for the sector of the opposition that neither supported the coup against Chávez three years ago nor identifies with the current leadership. One of his conservative political foes from the old days even showed up at a launch for his most recent book of essays. “He came up to me and said, ‘We must be really fucked if someone like me is here with someone like you,'” Petkoff recalled wryly. People ask him all the time what he plans to do with his newfound status, because the obvious option would be to run against Chávez, who is up for reelection next year. I asked him if he would, and Petkoff paused while he pondered the cost. He would not, of course, win. And hale or not, he is not young. He would face a merciless smear campaign. But he is a politician, after all, and the whole thing could be fun. Should he run again?

For the moment, he is on the sidelines. “Chávez has two pedals,” he said: “One is formal democracy and the other is authoritarianism, and he steps on one or the other as circumstances dictate. At every election, the results are close to being evenly divided [for and against him], and he knows how to read and weigh those results correctly. Aside from everything else, the sector that is against him is the most dynamic [of the economy]. And if he were to crush this sector he would have to do it a sangre y fuego—with blood and fire. But if Chávez sees that the 40 percent that is against him is growing weaker, he will step again on the authoritarian pedal.”

Guillermoprieto’s review of four books about Chavez is also worth reading.