Posts tagged Humberto Decarli

Translation of Caracas, 15-F: Impressions from the street (Humberto Decarli, in El Libertario)

A lot of folks have been trying to follow what is going on in Venezuela; unfortunately, much of the discussion in U.S. radical Left and anti-war media has been heavily dependent on reports from government-controlled media, or limited to information from the English-language press; and commentary has been far too much dominated by simplistic binary narratives that present U.S.-supported politicos and the Bolivarian revolutionary government as the only alternatives. Over the next few days, I hope to translate and post some of the news and commentary being put out by Venezuelan anarchists. This article is a short commentary by Humberto Decarli, published in the Venezuelan anarchist newspaper EL LIBERT@RIO. Inline links and editorial notes in footnotes are added by me. Because of the rapid development of events in Venezuela, you should be aware that I’m trying to produce these translations relatively quickly, and while I read Spanish fluently, what I’ve studied has usually been either Castilian or North American Spanish; so I’ve tried to consult friends who are native speakers from South America where I was unsure about what seemed to be idioms or local references peculiar to Venezuela. I apologize in advance for any mistakes or mangling of local idioms, which are of course solely my own responsibility. (If you notice any ambiguities or mistakes in the translation, please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments, and I’ll attach a note or a correction to the text here.)

Caracas, 15-F: Impressions from the street

15-F, 9 p.m.: repression of the protesters in Plaza Altamira

Humberto Decarli

I was in the Plaza Altamira today, February 15, until about seven[1] thirty p.m. I observed that, it being a Saturday at that hour there were many students, youths and motorizados, from about the Hotel Caracas Pálace up to a quarter south of the Torre Británica in Altamira Sur. There was an atmosphere of combatividad but without organization. No flyers, few banners, few papers and hardly any agitation. The few chants were: “Este gobierno va a caer,” sung (“This government is going to fall”); “No me da la gana, es una dictadura igualita a la cubana” (“I don’t want it, it’s a dictatorship exactly like the one in Cuba”); “El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido” (“The people, united, will never be defeated”); “El pueblo, arrecho, reclama a sus derechos” (“The people, arising, are taking back their rights”) (these last have been around since my student days against the Acción Democrática / COPEI governments.)

They are students without experience in politics or the struggle in the streets but all the same they have come out to challenge the bullets of the government’s “tontons macoutes-C.D.R.”[2] The National Guard is ready to intervene and every second they are making feints to frighten the people that runs but also comes back. What also sticks out, interestingly, is the non-existence of manipulation by the political parties or national leaders, which is highly satisfying. Neither, fortunately, are there electoral slogans, because there’s no election-carnival this year. There is initiatve because folks feel indignation at the scarcity, shortages, inflation, insecurity and frightening repression exercised by the “patriotas de los colectivos,”[3] a type of gang of thugs financed and armed by the government’s politico-military committee.

It pleases me to see the capacity for mobilization, but the question is, can it last? Are we in the presence of another Arab Spring? Is this the awakening of the Venezuelan people? It would be aprioritical to answer at this moment. What’s certain is the continuation of inflation, repression, scarcity, shortages, insecurity, etc. And the State’s got no answer because, being an import economy, it has no hard currency, because they arranged for dollars to come in bypassing the Central Bank; when the foreign currency that entered the country and was liquidated through CADIVI,[4] the government’s cronies carried off a third in their briefcases[5] — Giordani[6] dixit — without anyone, no matter how low on the totem pole, facing justice for it. To make matters worse, Iran has made an arrangement for its conflict with the West, to accept supervision of its nuclear program, and they are now dismantling the economic sanctions, and will go ahead with exporting 1.6 million barrels daily for the month of may, which will knock the market off its bench. Difficult moments for the militarist regime in Venezuela. All they have left is the exercise of force, appealing to what Foucault called the disciplinary power, or direct enforceability.

— Translation of Caracas, 15-F: Impresiones desde la calle by Humberto Decarli. Translated by Charles W. Johnson, with some extremely helpful assistance from Sergio Méndez.

  1. [1] [six: originally mis-written as six, due to my careless error. Thanks to Joe in the comments below for the catch. —CJ 22.Feb.2014]
  2. [2] Tonton Macoute, an infamous force of paramilitary death squads formed by the Haitian dictator François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, which murdered more than 60,000 Haitians from 1959-1986. CDR, Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, a Cuban network of Communist paramilitary/neighborhood snitch organizations initiated by Fidel Castro in 1960 to monitor and suppress “counter-revolutionary” activity.
  3. [3] Patriots of the collectives.
  4. [4] The Comisión de Administración de Divisas, “Commission for the Administration of Currency Exchange”), the agency in charge of legal foreign currency exchanges in Venezuela.
  5. [5] Literally, “una tercera parte se las llevaron las empresas de maletín.” “Empresas de maletín,” lit. “briefcase enterprises,” are politically connected firms, which typically get government contracts by means of political preference or corruption. They are often “ghost” enterprises, which snag the government contract and then subcontract all the work to other companies.
  6. [6] Jorge Antonio Giordani Cordero (b. 1940), the current Minister of the People’s Power for Central Planning in Venezuela, responsible for most of Venezuela’s monetary policy during the current crisis.

Que se vayan todos

If you have the time to set aside, I’d strongly encourage you to read Socialism to the Highest Bidder, written by Nachie of the Red & Anarchist Action Network (2006-07-11). I mention the If because the time involved could be considerable; it’s a long and detailed essay, but rewarding if you’re interested in the topic. Here are some of the things that I took away from reading it.

When organized oil workers went on strike in 2003, Chávez and his revolutionary bureaucracy took the opportunity to fire 18,000 workers, to hire scabs and political favorites to cross the picket lines and replace them, and to create a new yellow-dog union federation that would support the official line of the government and the government-owned oil company:

The most important effect of the lockout was that it allowed Chávez to fire 18,000 PDVSA employees for walking off the job, including most of its technical staff of geologists, geophysicists and reservoir engineers, and then refill those posts with political supporters (this is the point at which the new PDVSA became the people’s). In this process all forms of budding worker’s self-management were quickly rolled back under the assurance that PDVSA now belonged to the people. Workers also managed to reoccupy a handful of other small factories, which are now being absorbed by the state and tokenized as symbols of co-management and glorious revolution. … The much-vaunted officialist UNT, (National Union of Workers) which was set up in April of 2003 in response to the collaboration of the old CTV (Confederation of Workers of Venezuela) with the bosses’ lockout, is certainly doing the bulk of the labor organizing in the country, but even their efforts are limited in scope and have stalled over infighting, negotiations dealing with how exactly to make the union as participative as possible, and a lack of follow-through on the militant tactics such as factory occupations that they were supposedly to be advancing.

— Nachie, Red & Anarchist Action Network (2006-07-11): Venezuela, Socialism to the Highest Bidder

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

This massive campaign of strike-breaking, union scabbing, and union-busting, which would have done Frick or Carnegie proud, is passed off today by compliant State Socialists in the U.S. as if it were a triumph for the working class. Meanwhile, in Argentina and then increasingly throughout South America, workers began to reclaim abandoned factories, and to run them under participatory, rotating worker self-management (autogestión); when Chávez and his revolutionary bureaucracy took notice of the trend, they started to heavily promote their own favored alternative: government expropriation of factories and the institution of co-management (cogestión), in which workers’ associations pay for the government’s help by ceding a substantial share of ownership (often up to 51%) and management (often filled by political appointees) to the Venezuelan government. The excuse for this gutting of worker management in favor of state bossism is that by putting the factory partly under government command, co-management ensures that it will produce in the interests of the public or the nation — as those interests are defined by detached government bureaucrats, rather than by the actual members of the public or the nation who happen to be engaged in doing all the work of making, buying, or using the factory’s products.

When Chávez, former leader of a military coup d’etat, rose to power, he took it upon himself to send out the military in virtually every one of his government welfare projects, and rather than altering, containing, or abolishing the existing military and the state security forces, he and his bureaucracy have taken deliberate efforts to militarize the civilian police forces and integrate paramilitary training and discipline throughout the government schooling system that they have been so assiduously expanding and remaking in their own Bolivarian image:

There has been absolutely no real judicial reform in the Fifth Republic, and as long as Chávez himself refuses to address this issue the rest of the government, for whom politics is merely a balancing act in which you do your best to appear in complete agreement with anything the president says, will continue to do nothing. In fact the Bolivarian Revolution has given the state a softer, friendlier image, which has encouraged an unprecedented rise in urban crime by those who expect to be able to get away with more. This has in turn been used by the government as a justification for the strengthening of the pre-existing repressive apparatus, which in April culminated in the chief of Caracas’ police being replaced with a FAN brigadier general.

For all the talk of tribunals against impunity to investigate state repression, these bodies have been completely stacked with members of the National Guard and political armed forces. On January 30th in Barquisimeto, a committee of the victims and families of police abuse released a communiqué condemning the tribunals; these people guarantee the social peace, generate justice, and therefore the state cannot dismantle its own gang, it will never judge, much less condemn, itself. The continuation of police abuse is one of the most underplayed aspects of the Bolivarian Government, especially considering the lack of responses to it. In March, 21 year old Iván Padilla Alliot was severely beaten by the DISP and told that he was going to be disappeared after he ran in front of a government convoy while crossing through Caracas’ hectic traffic. Only when it was discovered that he was the son of the Vice Minister of Culture was he released. If such a mistake is possible, one can only guess as to what happens when the pigs grab someone who’s father is not a politician.

While Chávez speaks almost endlessly about his plans to benignly integrate the armed forces into society, in practice it is Venezuelan society that is forced to take on the nature of the armed forces. Although Article 61 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience, Articles 130 and 134 then declare it obligatory to defend the patria. Among the largest changes we now see the country undergoing is the implementation of obligatory pre-military programs in all schools, which seek to indoctrinate the youth with a bizarre blend of nationalism and socialism (sound familiar?). These programs will of course be complimented by a wide variety of centrally planned — and approved — education initiatives, especially through the new Bolivarian University. This institution, which Chávez claims now hosts more students than all the independent ones put together, is rigorously controlled by the state so that all activism, cultural activities, and studies undertaken by the students fit into the prefabricated mold of Bolivarian Socialism (Alan Woods, for example, being a typical guest speaker). As a result one can expect to see significant deterioration in the quality and autonomy of student struggle, which had previously characterized the universities as traditional points of resistance throughout all of the past regimes. Meanwhile, like so many other vertically-implemented projects of the state, the Bolivarian University has been failing to live up to it’s promise: the professor’s union has publicly said that student desertion is at over 40%, and attendance statistics have been manipulated by the government. The curriculum has also had to be completely redesigned three times in the past four years.

— Nachie, Red & Anarchist Action Network (2006-07-11): Venezuela, Socialism to the Highest Bidder

In summary:

The Bolivarian Revolution and Chávez as a personality are increasingly intolerant of criticism, and even more so of projects that fall outside of their control. The much-lauded and incredibly tiny urban garden projects in Caracas, which were deliberately dressed up with things like premium fertilizer to look more impressive in the run-up to the FSM, actually predate the government but have been turned into clients of the state with the promise of funding. This has happened to untold numbers of community projects and autonomous organizations, with those who refuse to collaborate inevitably being called golpistas. As Humberto Decarli explained to me, Chávez’ interest in Cuba is not so much an ideological common ground as it is an admiration for the raw efficiency of the repressive mechanisms that have allowed Castro to remain in power for so long, and a key part of this is the absorption or dismantling of all institutions and movements outside of the state.

— Nachie, Red & Anarchist Action Network (2006-07-11): Venezuela, Socialism to the Highest Bidder

Or, in other words, under the name and banner of a socialist and revolutionary movement, the emerging Boli-bureaucracy has used subsidy, co-optation, conversion, and violent repression to devour any and every independent project or association, whenever, wherever, and however it could get them into its ravenous maw. All too many Potemkin-tour Progressives and authoritarian Leftists have deluded themselves into believing that this process of the endlessly self-aggrandizing State bureaucracy engorging itself on the living remains of industrial and civil society, is something that Leftist, grassroots, and populist tendencies ought for some reason to support; the Libertarian Left — i.e., the real, anarchistic Left, unencumbered by the reactionary apparatus of Authority — knows better than that.

Government! Ah! we shall still have enough of it, and to spare. Know well that there is nothing more counter-revolutionary than the Government. Whatever liberalism it pretends, whatever name it assumes, the Revolution repudiates it: its fate is to be absorbed in the industrial organization.

— Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1851), Reaction Causes Revolution, General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century