Friday, November 26, 2004

Deinstitutionalisation

I've just been reading in Groves' contribution to Leemans' "The Management of Change in Government" (1976) and came across the following statement (page 102):
On the whole, leader-dominant, personalistic regimes have not contributed much to political development as we have defined it. Whether one talks of a Sukarno, Nasser, Peron or Nkrumah there is little to suggest that this type of regime has been very conducive to the establishment of vigorous political institutions. In Huntington's view this is explained by the tendency of dominant leaders to view institutionalisation as a potential threat. They distrust institutions for they consider them to be inhibiting on personal prerogative and discretion, a rival (at least in potential) to their personal control. Such leaders sometimes urge the creation of new political structures but characteristically remain suspicious of their intentions. As such they generally turn later to frustrating their development or irradicating even the slightest evidence of independence.
This observation makes perfect sense when applied to Venezuela. The government there is undoubtedly "leader-dominant, personalistic"; so much so that its supporting political movement is not named by its goals or ideals, but rather referred to through its leader: chavismo, chavistas, chavista. And just as the above excerpt predicts, Chávez is deeply suspicious of all state institutions and has subverted them to his own ends: by packing the courts (including the Supreme Court) with his followers, by installing an obedient Electoral Commission that manipulates voting left, right, and centre, by taking control of the state oil company PDVSA through an instant firing of 14,000 employees (Daniel's excellent blog defines this as a new meaning of the expression "privatisation": PDVSA is now Chávez's private property, grim, but true cum grano salis), and by gagging the media by means of a new law that was passed today and that has already been criticised by Human Rights Watch for its potential to curtail freedom of expression in Venezuela.

The damage that Chávez's consolidation of institutional powers is causing in Venezuela is incalculable; it corresponds in type to Hitler's "Gleichschaltung" of all state institutions after his taking power in 1933. The fact that Chávez is buying new fighter aircraft and wants to start producing Kalashnikovs in Venezuela does not exactly inspire confidence under these circumstances. Exactly as George Orwell described in "Animal Farm", Chávez has sought and will continue to seek or invent internal or external enemies in order to justify his repression of dissidence and to consolidate his supporters. The increasing polarisation of society unfortunately also reduces the likelihood of finding a non-violent solution to the conflict. The fact that the Venezuelan nation will outlive Chávez and his nightmarish efforts provides only slim comfort for those who have to live with the consequences in the short to medium term.

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