Don’t Stand In The Middle, Just Duck

I don’t think this is ‘getting shot from both sides’ material, I think this is a question of post, and pull up a chair (or per llogar-hi cadires as we say in Catalan). When the loony right meets the looney left. Robertson vs Chavez. I don’t even need to write a post, since Tim Worstall has done a pretty accomplished job already. Basically the Guardian article Tim links to says it all in the first para:

America’s leading televangelist appeared to take Christian fundamentalism into uncharted territory yesterday when he called for the assassination of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Ch?vez.”

Taking Christian evangelism into uncharted territory, that just about gets to it.

I do have one reasonably important difference with Tim on the deontological level I think: political assasination. I do not favour this, and recent US history in Latin America is not a happy one in this regard to say the least. Maybe my perspective is coloured regionally, but little as I like Chavez, I regard Vladimir Putin as a much worse global menace, and he has nuclear weapons, but no, I don’t want anyone to ‘take him out for me’, not in this lifetime thank you very much.

Update: One commenter has just reminded me of a source on this that I forgot to mention, Venezuelan blogger Miguel Octavio, and his Devil’s Excrement blog.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

29 thoughts on “Don’t Stand In The Middle, Just Duck

  1. Just to explain this: “per llogar-hi cadires as we say in Catalan”

    We in Catalonia have an untirely unmerited fame in Spain for being mean, we are also regarded as pretty astute business people (not me). This national refrain relates to that image, while the natural inclination is to sit down and enjoy, the Catalan phrase literally says for *renting* chairs: ie it’s a good business opportunity as well as a spectacle.

  2. Far from being the Looney Left,Chavez is carrying out a profound socialist revolution,which given time will have conseguences right across Latin America. What’s “loney ” about carring out a massive change in land-ownership,abour spending lots on money(oil money!) on health,housing and education.Of course the Republican Party hhacks like Roberston hate this!!.they have had their foot on the neck of Latin America they can’t cope with the fact that increasiungly Latin Ameirica is standing up Roberston is thingking of the pastr when troubles some leaders lkike Allende could be killed or overthrow..No More. While Bush is bogged down in the Middle East,Latin America in in revolt. Recently I saw people in a Mexican restaurant cheer wildly TV set ,showing the News,showed shots of a UWS tank being blown u. Have no doubt where their sympathies lie in any struggle involving the US.Chavez has won EVERY election he has contested with votes of over 60%. Chevez is here to stay. Get Used to it Pat Roberson!!Oh and by the way I hope Bush and Blair have Roberston on their “terrorist “list,and duly arrest him,for that’s what these people are.

  3. So in a way we have found a positive side-effect of the Iraq-misery.
    But seriously. The really horrible thing about it is the way the bushist NOT react. There is no reference to Chavez being chosen. That is of no importance to them.

  4. Instead of calling Ch?vez the ?looney left? and stupidly comparing him to the looney right represented by Pat Robertson, you should probably get better informed about what?s happening in Venezuela. I guess that?s what getting your news from ?El Pa?s? and “The Economist” will do to you.

    Seriously, using the words ?global menace? in a paragraph, and omitting any mention of the neocon American administration while focusing on Ch?vez is ridiculous. If your remarks are typical of a European progressive then the “Western World” left is deeply screwed.

  5. Edward:

    I regularly read Miguel Octavio’s blog. You’ll never read anything positive about Ch?vez from him. He’s a shill for the right and the comments of some readers of his blogs are risible.
    Unfortunately, most Chavistas are poor enough and don’t have Internet access, much less blogs. I know of a couple of sites in Spanish, though. And I am Venezuelan-raised (not born), so I think I am somewhat qualified to talk about it.

  6. Hey, now I come to think about it, if chavez is looney left, and Robertson is looney right, doesn’t that make me……. looney centre, oh, oh.


    “most Chavistas are poor enough”

    I’m sure this is true. I think like with Peron you have to distinguish between the man and his followers. I have a lot of sympathy with the plight of the old Peronists and the new Chavists, I just think they’ve got stuck behind an ideology that won’t help them. Like with Mugabe, and for that matter Castro, this one is going to end badly.

  7. Jeez Edward…

    Seriously, comparing Chavez to Mugabe casts some doubts on your analytical and critical abilities.
    The only way I see this ending badly is an American intervention (they’re trying to turn Chavez into another Noriega, watch it) or an actual attempt to assasinate him (the possibility of which is not negligible, no matter what Rumsfeld might say).
    Naysayers from the “developed world” should actually be more skeptical of their own stuffy and ethnocentric worldview. I wonder when Baltazar Garzon is finally gonna stop looking into Argentinian military crimes (a commendable concern, don’t get me wrong) and start looking at Franco’s cronies own terrible record at home. So far, he seems to be unwilling to stir his country’s own shit. Very civilized, indeed.

  8. Jos?, Garz?n can’t open an investigation without someone else denounce. Then they must have proofs that can withstand judicial process. While I do believe that there crimes that could be prosecuted today, most of the main perpetrators are dead. For those surviving, it is hard to gets hard links of guilt.

    As for Ch?vez, me I distrust that he is a military, not that military act always badly, but military mindset is at the foundation of modern fascism.


  9. “So far, he seems to be unwilling to stir his country’s own shit”.

    Oh no, not at all, his unflagging pursuit of the political wing of Eta has been crucial in bring everybody round a table, and at considearble personal risk to his own life, if I may say so. So maybe, like Chavez, you are a little to swift to shoot off about things you don’t really know sufficient about.

    “The only way I see this ending badly..”

    No, I’m thinking about a collapse in the general business environment, increasing impoversishment of the majority of the population (think Cuba), and especially if the oil price bursts for a while. It’s the whole model that doesn’t work.

    Funny, the ‘looney right’ doesn’t seem to have shown up for the meet. Where are all the Robertson supporters?

  10. Antoni:

    The unwillingness of the general population to denounce such atrocious acts is what worries me. Surely there must be some perpetrators still alive, don’t forget that Franco’s regime ended in the 70’s. Having visited Spain myself I can just attest to the fact that some admiration for Franco still survives among some, not necessarily the skinhead crowd.

    Myself, I never thought that I would be saying anything in defense of the military, but let me just point out that the Venezuelan military is different from, say, the Chilean or Peruvian military in the fact that its hierarchic structure is more “democratic” than in those countries: not necessarily based on race or social status. In Peru, where I was born, until recently it was still unthinkable that a “cholo” (a mixed-race individual) or an indian could ever become a general. Not so in Venezuela.

  11. “So maybe, like Chavez, you are a little to swift to shoot off about things you don’t really know sufficient about.”

    Not unlike you, Edward, about Chavez and Venezuela. And ETA is an easy target. What about the Franquistas?

  12. “Funny, the ‘looney right’ doesn’t seem to have shown up for the meet. Where are all the Robertson supporters?”

    I don’t think the “looney right” reads your blog, Edward, it being about Europe and all. Too French and ungodly for their taste, I guess. If you want to meet some of them, just check out Free Republic.

    And those people are nuts. My wife’s father works for Pat Robertson in NY, so just imagine the ordeal I have gone through.

  13. “I don’t think the “looney right” reads your blog”

    Oooh, I don’t know about that, you should see the comments that appear here when there is an Iraq post, or a French one for that matter. Actually about half Afoe readers come from the US.

    “My wife’s father works for Pat Robertson in NY, so just imagine the ordeal I have gone through”.

    Well on this certainly you have my sympathy.

    “The unwillingness of the general population to denounce such atrocious acts is what worries me.”

    I don’t know where you get this kind of information from, maybe Canal Sur? Anyway for your information the vast majority of the Spanish population is roundly, but roundly, anti Franco and condemn completely things like the indiscrimante killings and forced labour. I wouldn’t be against demanding justice, even at this late stage, but like Antoni I think your looking at the wrong guy when you have a go at Garzon.

  14. Jos?, while you’re about, I know you aren’t a great fan of Miguel Octavio, but can you comment on this:

    “Chavez in his spiritual evolution during the last seven years actually went through an evangelist phase, which took everyone by surprise, but lasted only a few months until he declared himself a catholic, right before he said he was a Maoist. He is, of course, now a XXIst Century Socialist, which even the coiner of that term now questions. Although they claim being a XXIst Century Socialist is not akin to being an evangelist or a Catholic, but I really have to wonder.”

    Which of these is the real Chavez?

    And these censorship reports from Andreina

    and Rodolpho

    seem to raise important issues. How do you square them from your perspective. Or this one Miguel recounts:

    “In her own words as I learned from Ventehinker’s webiste (rated R), she had a sexologist regularly in her radio program and ever since the the gag law came into effect, they began being more careful about what they talked about. Three weeks ago, she decided to give up that section of her program to be on the safe side, which is obviously not the same as being on the side of safer sex. Despite this, she got this week a notice that she was fined US$ 280, under the gag law, for the comments about sex in her program. As she says in her post, if she does not use the word condom on the air, will there be fewer unwanted pregnancies in Venezuela?”

    I mean Spain we understand here a little, but why don’t you explain to us about what is happening in Venezuela?

  15. I don’t know what Canal Sur is, maybe you are referring to Telesur? I can’t get Telesur here in NY. All I can tell is that your bias is evident. Surely CNN international, with its implicit pro-American slant is better suited to inform on the realities of Latin America?

    I know that most of the population of Spain is Anti-Franco, but there is still a sizeable amount of Spaniards that adore him, those that would rally around a statue of El General?simo to preserve it, against the wishes of the majority of the population. I actually like Garz?n and what he?s doing, I just chose him as an example of not doing enough and pointing the finger at your neighbor?s house when yours is on fire.

  16. All of those is Ch?vez, Edward. All of those. Surprised? Is his syncretism too much to understand? Does he have to fall squarely in one of those little, neatly-labeled boxes ?the West? has prepared for him? He?s taking what he thinks is the best of every system and creating what you would probably call an ?impossible creature? and what Venezuelans would call ?un arroz con mango?. Will it work? I surely wish so, although I don?t know.

    Have you ever read a Venezuelan private newspaper? Have you ever wondered about what happens in a country in which virtually all the media is gripped by a collective hysteria, printing outright lies, openly calling for a coup d?etat? I am all for freedom of expression, but Venezuela is a special case in which the privately-owned media (property of big capital, not some little struggling journalists bravely trying to bring down a tyrannical government) used that freedom of expression to disseminate shrill anti-government propaganda. The day after the coup, while throngs of Chavistas came down from the hills to demand that their President be reinstated, the media decided unanimously to not show any images of the protests and show Tom and Jerry reruns instead. They violated the right that the Venezuelan people had to receive information. They decided to keep their country in the dark. They refused to honor their responsibilities.

    Sure I think the ?Gag Law? is somewhat silly and even potentially dangerous (!), but you shouldn?t take things out of context, and this is all about context, my friend. Context also tells you that before Chavez, the government routinely censored the media in Venezuela. Newspapers even showed blank spaces in some pages of their daily editions, to signify that an article that should occupy that space had been censored by the government. There was much more of a gag on journalists before Ch?vez than now.

    A good pro-Chavez site (in English) is

  17. Well, someone concerned about countries growing old before they grow rich might cut Chavez some slack. From 1991 to 2000, Venezuelan TFR dropped from 3.4 to 2.5, but since then, its further decline has reached only 2.25.

    If the plan is to turn the urban poor into (presumably more fertile) smallhold farmers, perhaps Venezuela will grow neither old nor rich.

  18. Why don’t you stop using these childish and pathetic arguments Jos?. You are almost managing to make Edward look like an intelligent commentator, and this isn’t an easy thing to do.

  19. “If the plan is to turn the urban poor into (presumably more fertile) smallhold farmers, perhaps Venezuela will grow neither old nor rich.”

    This I think is just the point. The whole model would be flawed even if Chavez wasn’t a demagogic looney. This is just going to sink Venezuela into the permant LDC mode. Lots of bright young Venezuelans are now showing up in Spain looking for work. I imagine things are similar in the US. Jose – even though he was born in Peru – might be just one of these.

    This is why I mentioned Mugabe, not simply because the two of them would be pet hates of Pat Robertson (although Pat has now apologised, maybe like Miguel Octavia suggests they would make good bedfellows, but they’d better not visit Cuba together if Reinaldo Arenas is to be believed). This – the model – issue deserves more serious attention than this kind of ‘light’ post can allow. But fortunately we do not live in a bi-polar world where these are the only available options.

    Jos?, thank you for trying to defend what many would consider to be the indefensible. I’m sorry, I’m not convinced. I’ll stick with my original view: he and Robertson are fruitcakes, and dangerous ones at that.

  20. If someone doesn’t shut Chavez up soon, not only will Europe be ‘Eurabia’ there is a danger that the US will become ‘chololandia’.

  21. I see. I like the convincing way you demolish somebody else’s argument, Edward. “I’m sorry but no. He’s a meanie, and that’s it. A commie-populist indefensible crazy meanie and his economics policies will fail, no matter what.” You certainly give eloquence a new meaning.

    As for Rupert:…nah, what’s the point?

  22. “You certainly give eloquence a new meaning.”

    Glad to be of service Jose, glad to be of service. We do our best :).

    “you demolish somebody else’s argument”

    I haven’t demolished anyone’s argument. I haven’t really been arguing. I’ve listened to your views. I don’t agree with them. That’s life.

    As I said at the start:

    “I don?t think this is ?getting shot from both sides? material, I think this is a question of post, and pull up a chair”

    I’m happy to let the looney left and the looney right battle this one out. As I think must be clear, I’m not a Venezuela specialist, or even a Latin America one come to that. I clearly don’t have the on the ground experience in Venezuela you do. But I am flattered by your persistence and proselytising attempts to convince me. Thank you for that.

    One person who does seem to claim to know something about emerging markets and their stability is Morris Goldstein at the International Institute for Economics. He has just published a paper entitled “what might the next emerging market financial crisis look like”?

    Goldstein studies five transmission channels for financial shocks, and presents vulnerability rankings for each. He concludes:

    “In terms of frequency of appearance ..Venezuala tops the hit parade, appearing in four of the five vulnerability channels; next in line are Turkey and Hungary, which each appear in three of the five channels. The next tier of vulnerability is represented by Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Russia, which each appear in two of the five transmission channels. If the criterion were instead the number of appearances in the top-three vulnerability positions, then Turkey tops the list ..followed by Argentina and Brazil.”

    The problem is that Chavez gets all the ‘glory’, but it is the ordinary people of Venezuela who will have to pay for the broken plates.

  23. Edward I am really surprised by your appoach here.
    My problem with this right-wing vs left-wing loonies here is that at one hand you have this televangelist who once proposed to nuke the foreign office of the USA and who is supported by a very nasty and relatively powerful but still rather small group and on the other hand you have a democraticaly elected president making stupid mistakes and especially making the wrong enemies.
    Now compare Venezuala with Iraq. Chavez should then be compared with Al-Sistani a man who thinks that playing chess is against the will of his god. Too bad that Al-Sistani is our best hope for Iraq but he most certainly is in my opinion. (I wrote several posts on that subject). We certainly have to abide his position. We should not extensively be discussing his wrongs. And absolutely not call him a nutcase or Looney.

    I think the coup against Chavez, maybe not inspired or organized by US actors but very much welcomed, did not really help to convince the group around Chavez to acknowledge his wrongs…

    Too easily you dismiss Jose’s remark on the Tom and Jerry approach of the Venezualan media.

  24. @ Frans

    “I am really surprised by your appoach here.”

    Well, I’m not claiming I’ve put anything very clearly, but I’ll stick by the approach. The charge I would own up to would probably be one of being too cavalier.

    “My problem with this right-wing vs left-wing loonies here is that at one hand you have this televangelist who once proposed to nuke the foreign office of the USA and who is supported by a very nasty and relatively powerful but still rather small group”

    Well on this part we have no real differences of opinion. The problem would be here:

    “you have a democraticaly elected president making stupid mistakes and especially making the wrong enemies.”

    Well I think it is rather more serious than that Frans, I think these are more than stupid mistakes and I think a leader who wants really to advance the interests of the people who elect him needs to think about how to best handle the question of who you quarrel with.

    I think the US led Iraq invasion was hugely unpopular across Latin America, but it is only Chavez who has managed to put relations on code red about this.

    Karl Marx once said that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

    I have seen some criticisms of ‘Diarios de Motocycleta’ on the grounds that it romanticises Che. Maybe it does a little, but Che Guevara was a pretty romantic figure, and I’m sure he had the relatively idealistic views portrayed in the film before the realities of political power engulfed him.

    Or the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Whatever the rights and wrongs, these people were idealists.

    Not so, in my opinion Chavez. You say he is a democratically elected president, and you are right, but democracy has been a recent discovery for Chavez, and as Antonio says his origins are in the military and he was a ‘golpista’. A good – and it seems to me relatively fair – account of Chavez trajectory and reality can be found in wikipedia here:

    Basically I think he is a demagogue and a publicity seeker. It is a diservice to the memory of previous Democratic leaders of change in Latin America like Salvador Allende, to mention Chavez in even the same breath.

    The point is radical leaders of LA in the past like Allende may have been right or they may have been wrong *at the time* but that was then, and this is now. We have learnt some things.

    Responsible democratic leaders in LA like Lula in Brazil or Ricardo Lagos Escobar in Chile, are not exactly uncritical admirers of the current US regime, but they are quietly working away to try and make things better for the poor and underpriviledged in their country.

    Chavez is not. The point about Morris Goldstein and the International Institute for Economics is not incidental, the IEE is pretty much a democrat leaning institution – a long way at any rate from the neo-cons – and their finding that Venezuela’s risk level tops the international hit parade is very important I would say. Chavez is putting the entire country at risk.

    Of course none of this is to justify the policy of the current US administration towards Chavez (or towards Castro for that matter). Obviously I don’t think there is any justification for US threats towards Venezuela, nor would there have been any justification for their participation in an un-democratic attempt to overthrow him, if in fact they were.

    But two wrongs don’t make a right. Because the situation was bad in the Venezualan media before he arrived doesn’t justify attempts to intimidate journalists today.

    I repeat what I said at the start: this is going to end badly, and not because of any ‘possible’ US intervention.

  25. Frans:

    A few more points. Perhaps using the expression “looney ….” is what was a little out of character for me. But I think it clarifies something. There is not a lot of debate here about whether or not we should give serious consideration to Robertson’s ideas. Everyone is agreed: he’s a nut. Well in the same vein, why should we take Chavez seriously?

    If we’re in the centre, we’re in the centre, and we should give even-handed treatment to those on either side of us, which means giving serious consideration to ideas coming from the serious right, and dismissing the looney left, well, you know…..

    Of course if everyone who claimed to be well-intentioned was, then we’d all be on a much nicer planet.

    I have tried to situate Chavez in Latin America because I think that is where he can be best understood. But if we go further afield, how about Slobodan Milosevic? He evolved quite rapidly from party machine politician to radical Serb left-wing nationalist. Some on the left took him very seriously at the time. We can now see not only that he was mad, but that his underlying trajectory was – as Antonio suggests – fascistic.

    It’s a pity you don’t follow Chavez in Spanish. Historically the nearest TV personality to him I have seen was Ida Amin ‘dada’. Amin also exploited a local variety of anti-colonialism, but his objectives were far from benign. There is no evidence of any atrocities in Venezuela to date, but just give this guy time, just give him time.

    “Chavez should then be compared with Al-Sistani…”

    I really am not happy transfering events from one theatre to another. Actually (and I’m not pointing the finger at you) this is often associated with the simplistic policies of people like George Bush. Nevertheless, with this caveat:

    With Sistani…… or with Al Sadr? I think there is an important difference between them. Sistani is a moderate theologian – maybe nearer in relative cultural terms to our present Pope it’s just that, unlike our Pope, in Iraq theologians still influence politics – and Al Sadr a fiery madman, who mixes a cocktail of arab nationalism, religion and left wing anti imperialist rhetoric, just like Chavez.

    How often have you seen Sistani on TV?

    I agree that the best hope for Iraq may be Sistani (from this distance it is really hard to judge, really), but events in recent days are making me seriously preoccupied about the extent to which the Al Badr (not Al Sadr) militias are using him as a cover to advance their pro-Iranian ambitions. I think now more than ever we need to follow events in Iraq very closely.

  26. The discussions started wrong not just judging Chavez but comparing him with Robertson. My comparison with Al-Sistani was not very clear I see now. What I was trying to say is that talking about Robertson hardly any strategical consideration i snecessary. With Chavez (Like Mugabe, Putin or Al-Sistani yo name a few) there are.
    Immediately after the remarks of Robertson I read some headlines suggesting that the support for Chavez would grow because of it.

  27. And in the process of the local “public” supporting Chavez is making the economic situation even worse. From all the accounts Venezuela is suffering from critical case of the “Dutch Disease”, an exploding internal debt (despite the oil windfalls Venezuela is borrowing more than it earns) and a serious case of stateplanning grandeur going by Chavez’s “a revolution within the revolution” phrase.

    In April 2005 “the Nation” had an article about the political situation in Venezuela: “Hugo Ch?vez and Petro Populism”

    “Garcia also has some very concrete criticisms. He says that the current economic boom is a chimera based on oil prices. In 2004 government spending jumped 47 percent, much of which went to pay for healthcare and education–the missions. But despite the oil windfall, the government has had to borrow heavily. Instead of turning to international financiers, it has increased its internal debt to Venezuelan banks.

    Garcia says that in the past four years this internal debt has gone from $2 billion to more than $27 billion. The Finance Ministry confirms these figures and says that 60 percent of this debt is held in government bonds.

    “But what makes this really crazy,” says Garcia, “is that the government is depositing all its oil revenue in the same banks at about 5 percent, then borrowing it back at 14 percent. It’s a very easy way for bankers to make money. That’s why I say this is a government for the rich.”

    (Miguel Octavio also has some extensive posts about this on his blog)

    The article tries to end on a hopeful note and that Venezuela can somehow make the shift from a “rentier”-culture to a modern economy. Ideals are fine but with Chavez in the driving seat this “revolution” is going to end in tears. He is simply not the type person to do this.

  28. Frans

    There is news tonight that Venezuela now plans legal action against Pat Robertson. I can only wish them luck, since as you indicate the US administration has been lamentably silent.

    This does put me in mind of one additional detail: if the new crime of ‘incitement to terrorism’ is approved in the UK, Robertson would probably face deportation should he ever try to enter. Well, well, well….

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