Thugocracy in crisis: mystery disease and cancelled summits for Chavez

Whatever is going on with Hugo Chavez, it is not going very well.  The latest installment of the saga is the cancellation of the Latin American summit in Margarita Island which was to be the crowing achievement of the bicentennial celebration of Venezuela next July 5th, to the glory of our local caudillo, of course.  In fact, although most people assume that one way or the other Chavez will appear for the July 5th celebrations, if partially only, the delicate situation and dangerous implications are now unavoidable for all: the regime is in crisis.

On a day to day basis nothing changes, with or without Chavez at home: food scarcity, electric blackouts, crime, unemployment, infrastructure degradation, health care worker strikes, etc, keep their steady progression.  This is what happens in a thugocracy, this novel variant of autocracy that is been revealed to us this June.  Indeed, for all the adjectives we were applying to describe the Chavez regime the one that fitted it best was the government of thugs, by thugs, for thugs, or thugocracy.

How does a thugocracy functions?  Well, we have the extreme example at how the Rodeo jails are organized, where the "new man" created by the glorious revolution is nothing less but the "pran" (dixit Ecarri).  The "pran" if you will recall, is the top of the food chain at Venezuelan jails, the convict that establishes his power base ruling a portion or all of the prison where he is at.  Through his power he rules over drugs, sex, allocations, and more, not forgetting weaponry strong enough to keep in check the Venezuelan army for at least 2 weeks.

The system reproduces itself at the top although with less crass means but much higher financial numbers. Since Chavez is the "pran maximo", until now the situation was not as obvious for the casual observers.  Then again, hardened chavismo watchers like yours truly already knew that the multiplicity of scandals that get unpunished (Pudreval, the 800,000 USD suit case to Argentina, the Sugar mill in Barinas, the "el rey de la cabilla", etc, etc...) were in large part gang business where one gang lost against another for its influence.  The punishment was rarely jail, always loss of access to public monies.

In other words, the art of government was how to split the loot, making sure that enough did percolate to the bases so as to keep them in check, just as the jail pran satisfies the needs of all jail mates authorizing conjugal visits for those he is happy with.

But now when we see chavismo already having internecine warfare even though Chavez is not yet 6 feet under, you know that we had a bona fide thugocracy all of these years.  Right now the main contenders for new "pran supremo" are:
  • Adan Chavez, the brother, the one in charge of all the famiglia business; 
  • Diosdado Cabello, former vice president and governor of Miranda who was such a bad governor that all the cheating in the world was not able to save his chair in 2008.  Disodado is rumored to have one the largest new fortunes in Venezuela (his brother has occupied several "income producing" postions such as the Venezuelan IRS and Caracas Airport).  Yet in spite of a recent disfavor with Chavez Diosdado has been able to place enough supporters in the National Assembly last year that he can control what happens there even if has 0 charisma, 0 oratory skills but enough bitter bad blood for the resale;
  • The military.  They have benefited too much from the regime which is for all practical purposes a military regime without the coup d'etat.  That is, Chavez surrendered to the army the basic controls of the country allowing many generals and colonels to become obscenely rich.  The thing is that we do not know how divided might be the army, and we also know that apparently a not insignificant fraction is close to Diosdado.
  • The Cubans who after the army are the more ubiquitous profiteers of the regime (outside of the monthly allowance that Venezuela sends to Cuba).  Although we could speculate anything, including a fusion of Venezuela and Cuba, it is enough to know for certain that Cuba will not lose its life line from Venezuela and that the thousand of Cuban agents inside Venezuela are working full time at deciding who should be the successor of Chavez if worse comes to worse.
There are plenty of minor ambitions but they should not be ruled out as they can be used as a cover by the Cubans or the army as needed to edge out Diosdado or Adan.  This is another characteristic of thugocracies: the chosen ones can have a meteoric rise to the top if financial interests are well served.

Of course, at this point, the educated reader will have observed that in the picking of a successor for Chavez no constitutional means are seriously considered: the law of the strongest shall prevail, doing the legal adjustments as they are needed.  This is the main characteristic of a thugocracy: act first, legislate later if time allows.