Quico hits the New York Times Op-Ed page

A love letter to Brazil

As millions of Brazilians rose into the middle class, Mr. Chávez’s autocratic excesses came to look unnecessary and inexcusable to Venezuelans. Mr. da Silva and his successor, Dilma Rousseff, have shown that a country does not need to stack the courts, purge the army and politicize the central bank to fight poverty. Brazil proves that point, quietly, day in and day out.

53 thoughts on “Quico hits the New York Times Op-Ed page

  1. Fine article. One quibble: Guate moved to the other column last year (the right wing, ex military, dubious past column).

    • Time will tell, but I believe Perez Molina may belong in the same “camp” as Lula/Dilma and Mujica. He just came there from the other side of the spectrum. For example, his predecessor (really, his predecessor’s wife) started Misiones-like programs such as cash transfers and food giveaways (with evidence that it was tied to political affiliation to get votes, though not to the degree of Venezuela), and Perez seems to be continuing those. There may well be cuts in those programs, but Guatemala is not blessed with a major cash cow, but rather the lowest tax collection in the hemisphere (unless Haiti fell back behind again – but it’s at least very close). If they don’t cut back, they will end up in the debt cycle seen in the hemisphere in the 1980s (Guatemala was an exception then).

      I think all three leaders are shedding the ideological baggage of their predecessors and finding a new way forward. Which is something I hope Capriles will do, and one thing Chavez is utterly incapable of.

  2. That’s a good piece. But sadly they didn’t give you a comments section for those sophisticated NYT readers to call you out as an enemy of true democratic socialism… from the safety of their Manhattan flats.

    I kid, I kid. Will share the article.

  3. Since last Sunday I have been reaching out to my US friends to explain to them the incresingly dire situation Venezuela has been living under Chavez, how critical tomorrow’s elections are and, last but not least, asking them to “pay attention” (OK, and prayers and good vibes, too). This pm, the last update before the big day; a link to Quico’s article will be “de rigueur”! : ) Gracias Quico! PD: Y antes que se me pase (de nuevo) MUCHAS GRACIAS a JC, Quico, Geha, y a todos los otros colaboradores de este blog… el trabajo que uds han venido haciendo ha traves del tiempo ha sido critico en muchos aspectos; entre ellos mantener viva la llama de la esperanza, esa que hoy tiene nombre y apellido!

  4. This is one of the best articles I have read so far about the elections, the current LATAM situation and specially its connection with Chávez radicalism. Its not about left or right, but which left – that summarizes the reality of the continent and in particular of Venezuela’s election sunday : Progress or Radicalism?

  5. There’s something I’ve been mulling for quite some time:

    “Venezuela’s traditional dependence on oil exports has deepened, with 96 percent of export revenue now coming from the oil industry, up from 67 percent just before Mr. Chávez took office”

    Isn’t that increase from 67 to 96% a direct consequence of the rise of oil prices? The oil prices are nowadays 3-8 times bigger than before. Therefore, the non-oil exports should have increased also 3-8 times to keep pace with oil revenue. Even with a decrease in oil output of 30%, Venezuela would have required an increase of 2-5 times to keep the 2:1 ratio. I dunno…

    • I agree that that’s the likely case for the ratio variation, but I don’t think that’s the point of Quico’s mentioning it. The point is that such a massive jump in oil revenues could have been used to diversify the economy, but the government is content with living off petrodollars with no forethought. And with oil around $100 a barrel, there’s no incentive to do so. Venezuela is like a star athlete getting paid millions per season, and spending it like they’ll always be young and fit. Middle age is gonna hit the country hard if measures aren’t taken now. And even if we start now, the impact will still be felt, much like that hypothetical athlete only starting to save money in the twilight of his career.

      • I think we all agree that we need to diversify our economy. But I was a bit more interested this time on the facts behind the numbers. I believe that the 50% drop in non-oil revenues is even more shocking than the change in ratio.

    • True enough, though non-oil imports really are down by more than half in the same period – $5.53 billion in the first half of 1998 vs. $2.18 billion in the first half of 2012.

  6. Hi quico and juan congrats!
    Have a question what r the odds this elections will get stolen like in the past? I see people being so optimistic but I personally don’t see why wouldn’t they will stole it as usual.

  7. There’s an electronic voting system WITH a publicly audited paper-trail. (The voting machine prints out a paper ballot after you cast your electronic vote, and the paper print-outs are hand-counted after the end of voting.) There are opposition witnesses at all voting centers, and a very carefully worked out plan to count the ballots.

    Does that make fraud totally impossible? It doesn’t.

    But it makes it totally impossible to successfully hide the fraud. If the official announcement doesn’t match the table-by-table paper trail audits, everybody will know.

    • I agree fraud would be hard to conceal.The only way I can fathom fraud is if a person voted Capriles and the ballot printed as Capriles but the machine recorded the vote as chavez. They audit – match machine printout and printed ballots- for 54% of the machines. If the audit is truly random then they cannot hide this fraud. They would have to control the audit selection process to cover it up. If there is a great difference between the results of the audited and unaudited machines then that would be evidence of fraud.

  8. Thank you for illuminating the world outside of Venezuela to the truth about Chavez.
    (Chavez will certainly not be remembered as a hero like Bolivar.)

  9. yes, Brazil’s model is a good example, but I will never forgive them for their cynical pandering of chavismo… without brazil’s support this insanity could have ended sooner

      • Brazil is fundamental player in the region and they could have put pressure on Venezuela in many ways. The US repeatedly asked Brazil to do just that. At the very least Lula could have played a role similar to what he did with Humala in Peru.

        • Why would they do that? we need to get rid of Thugo ourselves, stop counting on 3rd parties for our duty.

    • Pandering to Thugo helped increase Brazil’s exports to Venezuela. Paying lip service to a “nationalize them all” autocrat helped increase sales of Brazilian businesses. A cynical, but effective strategy.

      Very well done NYT article, Quico.

  10. Here’s the real cool thing: a gringa friend of mine in Philly forwarded the article to me, rather than the other way around. Congrats!

  11. FT, weren’t you fired from NYT back then due to Chavista pressure? If so, sweet vindication on the eve of Chavez’ downfall. Te felicito.

    • He wasn’t fired, he quit due to a potential conflict of interest. Yes they did point out the conflict but Fransisco wasn’t hiding it or anything. At the time he was openly activist. The real vindication is that being an activist shouldn’t completely preclude one from being a journalist. FT’s actions were just pure class.

      • Within traditional journalism, the Chinese Wall between opinion columnists and actual reporters is sacrosanct: a reporter has a professional duty to give readers facts and analysis, untainted by his opinions. An opinion writer has the duty to express his opinions, grounded in facts and analysis. The two roles really aren’t compatible.

        As a young writer back in 2002 I was briefly – about 6 weeks, as I recall – on both sides of that divide. When the conflict between those two roles was pointed out to me I immediately chose to discontinue my role as reporter in order to focus my role as analyst and opinion writer. (I do note that in the two or three articles I reported back then, I never got a fact wrong, and never had to run a correction.)

        Nonetheless, I’m glad to get this chance to come back to the NYT on the right side of the divide.

  12. Great article. Although i do feel you could have expanded a bit on that part about adult literacy mentioning how programs such as mision robinson have failed as it has been discussed in this blog… But in general it’s pretty awesome.

  13. I just shelled out $2,50 at my neighborhood Starbucks to buy the hard copy. The article + picture take half a page! Well done Quico.

  14. Sigh. You still don’t get Brazil and Lula.

    Brazil’s economy grew (and thus poverty indexes improved) despite that nine-finger gangster, not because of him. Thanks to reforms carried out during the two presidential terms before him, Brazil was able to surf -as Venezuela did- on the Chinese-propelled world economy growth. While you KNOW the Venezuelan economy grew during that particular period despite Chavez, you fail to see the same in Brazil. Lula just took credit for what was done before.

    I invite you to check on Brazil’s economy results in 2011 and the forecast for 2012 and 2013. The country is last placed among the BRICs. The economy is stalling because Lula and Dilma have not carried out further necessary reforms to keep up the pace. Thanks to changes in their standards, the Brazilian gov’t now claims that if you make between 150 and 400 USD then you’re middle class. You can’t live anywhere in São Paulo with less than US$ 800 a month just to cover the very basics.

    Last but not least, Lula has tried to undermine Brazilian democratic institutions from the day he took office until today, opening his mouth to either support Chavez or put pressure on the Brazilian Supreme Court, which is judging his PT companheiros as I write this.

    • You know, I think there is definitely something to what you say, that Lula’s predecessors deserve credit. But I would note one thing: poverty was falling in Venezuela before Chavez (and before the oil boom), and he didn’t exactly keep the ball rolling. So you can argue that Brazil might not be the perfect example, but you have to accept, I think, that Venezuela would have been better off doing things the Lula way than the Chavez way.

  15. I think that was a great article but I also think that it constitutes a timely ‘shot across the bows’ at against a widespread terminological shortcoming, namely, a blithe, lock-stock-and-barrel packaging of ‘left’and ‘right’, by posing that deceptively simple question, “which left?” The world has traveled far beyond that simplistic labeling protocol, for instance, how would we assign a ‘left’or ‘right’ qualifier to a cleric, say, who was firmly anti-abortion (right), robustly pro social responsibility at official and corporate level (left), firmly anti gay marriage (right) and firmly pro individual dignity (left)? The individual I have in mind is JPII who managed to sail effortlessly way out beyond the limiting banks of the channel between ‘left’ and ‘right’ to free himself up in open sea WHERE rigid political pigeon-holing simply “does not apply”. In a clearer semantic ambiance, it is easier to describe political players without the rigidity of old-style ‘left’ and ‘right’. For that heads-up alone, with Brazilian illustrations, the article’s worth reading, apart from admirably the succinct packaging of the rest of the material.

    The time may be ripe to distinguish – with suitable terminology – between a socially and democratically responsible left left, and those “further over” who merely use ‘left’ to obscure true intentions, á la Fidel, Russia’s WWII “Uncle Joe”, and our very own “local friendly autocrat”: none of the regime’s discourse has been other than hate-driven and personality pandering (the ‘great leader): none of the programs initiated ongoingly benefitted any social group (boliburgeses maybe?) – not so Lula’s, admitteldy not ‘all his own work’ either, so why is the extreme wacko/narcissistist camp innocently depicted as a more radical option of the democratic left camp, thereby endowing it with some air of respectability? From this respectability arise (other ones, á la Rory Carrol) articles written as though these guys EVER intended social change “pro bono populo”.

    • The time is over ripe for a new terminology to describe political ideology. The one dimensional “left-right” model is far too simplistic. This need has been around for a long time now, and was addressed back as far as the early 60′s. See:

      Pournelle Chart: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pournelle_chart


      Nolan Chart: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nolan_Chart

      Of the two, I like the Pournelle chart a little better, from a descriptive perspective, but the Nolan chart has its rationale as well. It is just a bit “drier”. They both describe essentially the same phenomenon, and provide a two dimensional model as opposed to the overly simplistic one-dimensional one.

      It may well be that a third dimension is needed to combine the qualities: Level of Personal Freedom, and Level of Economic Freedom, and Level of Statism in an overall sense with regard to engagement in strategic state planning for defense and positioning in the geo-political sphere (i.e.: Isolationist, or Globally Engaged).

  16. Great article in the NYT! I especially enjoyed your memorable phrase “Chávez’s outdated radicalism and chronic incompetence”. That pretty much sums it up.

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