Hugo Chávez and Petro Populism
The organized opposition to Chávez is rather thin on the ground these days, having been largely discredited by the right-wing extremism of their coup and the economic devastation caused by their oil strike. So I visit the offices of the right-wing tabloid Así Es la Noticia, owned by one of Venezuela's top-circulation dailies, El Nacional.
"Look, Chávez won the referendum. People have to accept that," says the editor, Albor Rodriguez. She is in her early 30s, an escuálido all the way, but she respects the facts.
Standing erect at her desk, one black-clad shoulder tipped forward, she takes long drags on her cigarette between comments. "There is no 'Castro communist' here. That's ridiculous. They say there are Cubans in the government and the security. But there is no proof. However, does Chávez have autocratic tendencies? Yes! He comes from the military. Does his government, or he himself, know what they are doing? No! His head is a mix--a marmalade of notions and slogans. He speaks without thinking. He makes innuendoes about Condoleezza Rice being in love with him. That's insane. He's totally erratic."
Albor, to my surprise, is almost as harsh on the opposition: "They lost because Chávez has a deep emotional connection with the people, and they have no connection with the people. Also, he has spent a lot of money on the barrios. He pours money into the barrios."
She explains that when her paper reported on the real work of the missions, some readers accused her of lying and "having gone to the moon to find these things." She explains: "The opposition lied to itself. They were deluded and now they are smashed." With that rather definitive summation, she puts out her cigarette and invites me to lunch.
There are some in the opposition whose critique focuses less on Chávez's supposed abuses of power and more on the government's alleged mismanagement and left-wing economic tomfoolery. Oscar Garcia Mendoza is president of Banco Venezolano de Credito, a very old and conservative bank. He's what Chávez would call an "oligarch," the official enemy: a capitalist financier. But when I meet him in his beautiful corner office on the ninth floor of a Modernist highrise, he is beaming. He wears a dark blue suit, his gray hair is cropped stylishly short and he has that healthy look that seems to come from being rich and relaxed.
Classical music filters out from speakers in the ceiling; on the table are fine Cuban cigars. We sit in bent plywood and leather Herman Miller chairs, and gaze out across the city through a glass wall lined with thick green plants.
"Business has never been better," says Garcia. "This government is totally incompetent. They have no idea what they are doing. The head of their land reform, Eliezer Otaiza, is a former male stripper. And did you see they just appointed Carlos Lanz, a former terrorist kidnapper, a communist, as head of Alcasa, our largest aluminum company?" Through it all, Garcia wears a slightly suppressed grin as if he thinks the whole thing is hilarious. "I mean, can you imagine that?"
In a way, Lanz's appointment is not so outrageous: Another former guerrilla, Ali Rodriguez Araque, once minister of mining and energy, then head of OPEC, is now foreign minister and widely respected as a level-headed negotiator.