Sunday, January 22, 2006

Stella Says…This is a Worthy Discussion for all of Guyana, Bisessar (Part I)

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 22 Jan 2006)

Rajendra Bisessar has taken me to task yet again, this time for applying the “C” word (communism) to describe certain actions of the PPP in 2005. I concede (slightly) that I did indeed push the envelope when I said it had been difficult to stave off the communist whip last year, however, at the same time, I believe there is merit to a discussion that explores this line of thought.

In fact, I believe an open discussion like this one is long overdue, Bisessar, and would like to thank you for broaching the subject. Still, I do not think it is specifically the ideology of communism that warrants so much time and attention, but rather the imposition of an autocratic government on a democratic state.

For example, surely no one can deny that a vile autocracy reached into the UG in 2005 and ripped away that institution’s autonomy in one fell swoop. Even this past week, Guyana’s sitting government has attempted to control yet one more vital part of society – the trade unions.

In order to understand what it is the PPP is doing, little by little so as to not to alarm the nation, perhaps we should take a look at what Hugo Chavez has done in Venezuela over the last decade. No argument can be made to counter the fact that Chavez is indeed a democratically elected official, much like the PPP. Still, it seems as if Venezuela’s president has cunningly found ways to control more and more of the nation, whilst maintaining an appearance of democracy.

Chavez is no ordinary authoritarian leader. On the surface level, civil society has remained intact and there are no obvious signs of state-sponsored terror. Even more, Venezuela has an active and raucous opposition party. These aspects alone certainly will make one think twice before calling this president a dictator.

Yet there are other pesky little factors that should also be considered when evaluating the level of democracy in Venezuela. It seems Chavez has found a way to circumvent those nasty details of a democratic state. He contrived a new constitution that reduced the nation’s bi-cameral legislature to a single chamber and required only a limited majority to pass major legislation, rather than two-thirds, to secure the necessary changes to control more and more of the country.

He expanded the Supreme Court from 20 to 32 justices and made sure he filled the new positions with buddies who were loyal to him. There is now no congressional oversight of military affairs; Chavez is the head honcho of everything. This includes the nation’s largest state-owned oil company, PDVSA, which according to an article in the January/February issue of Foreign Policy brought in an estimated $84 billion in sales for 2005.

Ideally in a socialist country, Bisessar, this $84 billion would have been distributed to the good citizens of Venezuela. However, that has not been the case. Instead, the money goes to Chavez’s loyalists, which does not include the opposition party.

Speaking of the opposition party, Chavez has found a way to keep them sufficiently antagonised enough to give the appearance of a democracy, while removing every avenue by which the opposition can effectively challenge him. He uses this situation to polarise the nation. It becomes the wealthy and middle-class against the poor. Then in a Robinhood-type move, he has changed the laws to allow him to snatch up the land of those who oppose him.

Therefore, the poor will believe he is their champion even though they have seen very little of the money that is pouring into the country. The wealth is not distributed to each according to their need, as Marx would have liked, but according to their political utility. He further secures the devotion of the people by allowing chaos to prevail so as to promote constant insecurity for the citizens. To this end, he has implemented a Hobbesian philosophy, which states that the more bestial a populace is allowed to become, the more it will tolerate – yea, earnestly desire – state intervention into almost every aspect of society to control the volatile elements.

Instead of spending money on maintaining a functioning infrastructure, Chavez allows the nation’s crumbling infrastructure to enhance the state of chaos and instead trickles money into social services such as run down clinics. Instead of using that big wad of money to alleviate poverty, he subsidises the prices of neighbourhood grocery stores. Therefore, when the poor start to feel overwhelmed in their situation, Chavez helps out by handing out money here and there to soften their plight.

Does any of this sound familiar, Bisessar? This is the new type of autocratic government that is being peddled today. It is essential to the spirit of this discussion, to examine these traits exhibited by Chavez to determine 1) if democracy is still indeed intact in Venezuela 2) if this is truly what Marx intended for those who claim to be socialists, and 3) whether any of these traits found in Chavez’s administration can be applied to Guyana’s ruling government.

Firstly, in a democratic state – or rather a representational republic – the people are the ones who determine those who will decide their fate in life. If the elected government does something that is opposed by the people, the people have the responsibility and the right to protest and subsequently remove the sitting government. However, I maintain that if the sitting government imposes roadblocks that make it difficult for the people to remove it from power, whether through legislature or by extreme polarisation of the voters that will ensure loyalty to the sitting government, then democracy in its truest form has been denied. So I would say that democracy is therefore on shaky grounds in Venezuela.

Secondly, to be true to the intent of Marx’s ideology, then distribution of wealth should be according to need and not according to utility. In such a society, the citizens, regardless of their occupation, would enjoy a relatively similar lifestyle. There would be no chasm of disparity in housing, forms of transportation, food, clothing, etc. As such, it can only be said that Chavez’s form of socialism/communism is not in fact the same as the definition intended by Marx, a definition you explained quite well in your column, Bisessar.

Thirdly, we are now obligated to examine the extent to which this evolved form of socialism has infiltrated Guyana. Therefore, it is necessary to see if it is possible to draw any correlations between the Venezuelan government and the government in Guyana.

I have so much more yet to say on this subject, Bisessar, and intend to resume this discourse in my column on Tuesday at which time we will examine the chart I have created and discuss its implications. I do hope others will contribute to this discussion since it is of utmost importance to the understanding of where Guyana’s future will go should it allow the sitting government back in power for another five years.

Click here for Part II

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