El honor no se divisa

In uniform

On one of my recent trips to Caracas, my bags took about two hours to get from the plane to the baggage belt. I asked the folks from the airline about it, and they simply shrugged, saying, “the National Guard has to look through every bag.” My fellow passengers and I simply sighed, bewildered at the primitiveness of it all.

The National Guard is one of the five components of our Armed Forces. The others are the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and Chávez’s private Citizens Militia. The GN’s motto is “el honor es su divisa,” or “honor is their currency.” But, deep down, we know their currency is the greenback. In a country where everything is rotten to the core, the National Guard stands out as one of the most corrupt institutions.

Imagine: the National Guard is in charge of the borders, public “order,” of making sure our roads are safe, and of caring for the nation’s prisons. Where do I even begin?

One of the main achievements of the National Guard – and I apologize to all the exceptions out there – is the absolute chaos that reigns in our border areas. The GN has always been in on the lucrative business of contraband, making sure that all illegal trade making its way through our pourous frontiers leaves a little somethin’ somethin’ for them. But in the last few years, their involvement in everything from gas smuggling to drug trafficking is simply too obscene to ignore.

And what does Chávez do a mere few days after he’s re-elected? He names a National Guard General to be Interior Minister. General Néstor Reverol, our new Interior Minister, is coming off a hugely successful run as head of the Venezuelan Anti-Narcotics Office. Why, Venezuela is now a beacon in the fight against illegal drug trade! I guess the Interior Ministry is not rotten enough, they had to bring in a GN to see what was the matter with them.

Now the nation’s police forces and investigators will have to answer to the military, one that comes from one of the most corrupt institutions in the Venezuelan state – and boy, that’s like being the most murderous pran in Yare.  Instead of asserting civilian control over the military, we have increased military control over civilian life. That’s what Chávez promised, and it’s what the majority wants.

The sad part is that nobody in the opposition talks about this.

Instead of denouncing the National Guard as what it is – a cancer in the heart of the Venezuelan State – we promise the Armed Forces tons of goodies. Instead of speaking straight to the Venezuelan people about the dangers of the increased militarization of our society, we go ahead and promise that our Defense Minister will be an active general, something that has come to be seen as downright anachronistic in our hemisphere.

Let’s face it, in a post-Chávez Venezuela, the National Guard will be one of those institutions that will have to be audited, re-defined, and perhaps, anhilated altogether, but you’ll never hear any of our politicians say these things.

As long as we believe we are somehow electable, we will continue pandering and pretending everything is A-OK with our Armed Forces … instead of leveling with the Venezuelan people by offering them real solutions.

46 thoughts on “El honor no se divisa

  1. Points 99 to 107 of the MUD 2012 platform deal with the matter directly, and so does the longer document on “Las grandes áreas de acción del Gobierno de Unidad Nacional”:

    “La reconstrucción y fortalecimiento de la soberanía. Practicaremos una política exterior que
    atienda a los intereses del país democrático que somos y enfrentaremos mediante enérgicas
    políticas específicas los factores de todo tipo que hoy condicionan y amenazan nuestra soberanía
    real: la enorme deuda pública, la vulnerabilidad alimentaria, el carácter mono exportador de
    nuestra economía, la inaceptable influencia extranjera en nuestras decisiones políticas más
    íntimas, importantes y decisivas, el debilitamiento institucional de nuestra Fuerza Armada, la
    lenidad y la complicidad con el narcotráfico, una política exterior que nos conduce a alianzas
    antidemocráticas y peligrosas para Venezuela.”

    This was put a tad more succintly in Henrique Capriles shorter program, and he addressed the Armed Forces through the media back in July (which, according to Rocio San Miguel -who is not a dove-, was “well received”) with a much longer set of measures. As you might know, all of the sections of the “Linamientos” had a number of immediate measures to be taken regarding top priority measures and changes in positions “de confianza” in government.

    Moreover, naming an active general as possible Defence Minister was aimed to a crucial challenge particular to the Capriles’ government: the possibility being ousted by a coup by PSUV loyalists. All civilian experts in military policy and affairs agreed this was a real threat. There were advances on that front, and there were opportunities for dialogue with important officers in the Armed Forces.

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  2. As for “increased military control over civilian life”, it is not the case: this is not a government by the Armed Forces (a la MPJ) but a government of a Party which subdues and dominates other areas from the State (and, then, of society).

    Pretorianism is different from Socialist rule, even thought they might both be authoritarian.

    And, of course, Reverol is more than a cause for concern.

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      • It is very hard not to get it… My point is that JC didn’t say “The word divisa can be understood to either mean emblem or currency…”, he asserted categorically that it means currency, leading me to think he really believes that’s what the GN motto means. Anyway, I am sure most people inside the GN really do believe that the word divisa in their motto refers to $$

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          • I think he means divisa, as in the verb divisar which means to perceive. The point is that honor is their emblem, but you cannot really perceive anything remotely honorable about the Guardia.

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            • cacr210,well put. I figured out the same by reverting to Google Translate, as “divisa” was beyond my command of Spanish. It’s a rather clever play on words. Sos listo, Juan Cristóbal.

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    • divisa
      1 s.f. Señal o marca exterior para diferenciar personas, grados u otras cosas.
      SINÓNIMO: mueca, señal
      2 ECONOMÍA Moneda, billete o efecto mercantil de cualquier país extranjero que dispone un país.
      SINÓNIMO: moneda
      3 Lema que se expresa con palabras o con figuras .
      EJEMPLO: su divisa es «divide y vencerás».
      SINÓNIMO: emblema, lema

      diccionario.com

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  3. Hi Juan,

    Sorry if this is already answered in the comments of your previous post. You mention that we (opposition) don’t have to care about been “electable” as an option to Chavez because we are anyway not making it until he weakens (by dead or oil prices or whatever). My feeling is that even in that case, if there is any unity left, the CaracasChroniclesCandidate (an hypothetical character I’ll call CCC, and arbitrarily assume female) will have to go through many compromises with socialist or downright populist parties of the coalition. If there is no unity (which I can imagine once there is a clear option for anyone to win), the CCC will have it even harder on winning the popular vote against everyone else.
    Even taking aside the election, CCC would have to look for a way to implement her policies without getting the country on fire caracazo-style, getting a coup d’etat from the corrupt NG, and without the long lasting consequences for the public perception of her political project (including things like a new Chavez coming to power).

    So, even while I agree in most of CCC’s pragmatic view of what good policies and bad policies are, I would enjoy some pragmatic discussion on a realistic way CCC can get them implemented. Without making value judgements, is it possible to just run a campaign on the technocrat platform and hope that the chavista debacle will have shown voters (and the military) that CCC is the way to go? Is it more realistic to lye in the campaign and then take a turn once elected? Is repression an (the) option? Maybe (and I guess this was the HCR approach) start in a compromise with what-is-in-there and people already like (whatever it is that people still like in the next election) and slowly demonstrate and introduce the more radical ideas (perhaps failing in the process due to the inherent faults of the status quo)? Should CCC just wait like the Partido Comunista until their idea becomes more palatable, maybe in 6 years or maybe in 20?

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    • Pablo, did you read the article in El Universal that came out about how the PSUV party machinery got the vote out?

      Before deciding on who the candidate is, whether Male or Female, named CCC or BBB or whatever, you tell me how the opposition is going to either match that machinery or nullify it.

      At the same time, given the CNE we have, you are going to need to defend the vote to fight fraud. We had 250,000 people to do just that, defend the vote, and zero people fetching voters.

      Lastly, you are going to have to come up with a way, a language, something, to counter the “you may win the lottery” strategy that the Chavernment employed to both secure votes and to serve as a reliable database for their get out the vote program.

      I do not see any of that being countered by the opposition today, and not because they don’t want to, but because it takes a shitload of money, which they do not have.

      All that the PSUV needs to do from here on out is to put up a semi inteligent, semi charismatic candidate each time and they will trounce the opposition.

      I very much mean to sound negative here, which is counter to my usual self. I have always been an optimist, but when it comes to Venezuela I am going to be a sourpuss, negative hijo de la gran you know what. It’s the only way to try to wake certain people up.

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  4. Reminds me of when Sandra Mondolfi interviewed on TV about 20 years ago an about ten years old boy and asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.

    “A Guardia Nacional!” the boy immediately replied, and on the follow up “why?” answered “To ask for papers and such things”

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  5. On the one hand, I agree that this post does a much better job of explaining your position than the post you wrote explaining your posiiton! Chamo, había que empezar por aquí…

    On the other hand, it just seems to me that your call for Opposition Leadership to take on this kind of uncompromising stance misunderstands what a leadership’s role is.

    Leaders have to talk to many audiences at once, understanding how their words will sound to each one. Leaders need to intuitively grasp that even within something like the National Guard there are many audiences: from the top-ranking choros, to the mid-level officer class that includes a good many serious, committed, professional officers, to the reclutas and young troops who are more like hostages in this entire situation, to the families of officers that depend on those salaries, to the people who the guardia interacts with day-in and day-out.

    Our leadership needs to talk to ALL those people – just lumping everyone in with the hyper-corrupt element is neither fair nor good politics. This is why the MUD’s official position, while obviously a lot less fun than yours, seems to me like the sort of thing we need our leaders to say.

    In fact, writing provocative categorical declarations of the need to possibly “annihilate” the National Guard – acabar con toesamierda!! – seems to me like the job not of political leaders but of…bloggers!

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    • Well, that’s pretty much what the next plan de gobierno should be, this one phrase: acabar con toesamierda! jejejej.

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    • Yes, leaders have to speak to all audiences. That’s why lunatics that say things like “acabar con la burguesía” or “ser rico es malo” or “patria, socialismo o muerte” … are going nowhere! What a bunch of losers those guys are.

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      • C’mon, are you going to make me dig up those clips of Chavez interviews in 1998!?

        Once you’re safely ensconced behind the wall of petrodollars, you can run your mouth as bizarrely as you want. But the out-party can never afford that.

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      • The way I see it Chavez IS speaking to all audiences when he says those lines. His premise is DIVIDE AND CONQUER and so far it’s worked wonders.

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    • You say: ‘writing provocative categorical declarations of the need to possibly “annihilate” the National Guard – acabar con toesamierda!! – seems to me like the job not of political leaders but of…bloggers!’

      I say: C’mon, you’re not a politician. You’re A BLOGGER! Gracias a Dios, as they all now say in Godforsaken Venezuela.

      So what ails you, FT? I mean, isn’t Caracas chronicles a Blog? And a brilliant one at that?

      Don’t fall for MUD’s moods. By the bye: 4 yrs ago, when this political Kumbaya got started, I remember telling a couple of original MUDers that their acronym was a bird of ill omen. I mean, mud. Like in ‘stick-in-the-mud’.

      Get over it. Juan already did it, and brilliantly too. And apparently also our dear CC guaro.

      You’re a blogger, today’s shorthand for freelance political analyst. So go and stop whining and do your thing.

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  6. Estoy de acuerdo con usted y su anterior post según el cual por espejismos electorales no se dice lo que se debe decir pero en lugar de expresar negativamente “los políticos nunca dicen” formulemos: “los políticos deben decir”; parece un matiz insignificante pero quizá tendríamos más acogida o, por lo menos evitaríamos ocasionales injusticias

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  7. El Universal reported yesterday (La maquinaria Roja cumplió) the close cooperation of the Armed Force and PDVSA with the chavista electoral machine. The title of the piece is already pretty sad since it sounds like a compliment, but the contents are tragic. They descibe in details the degree of complicity of our institutions with the regime. In a country with dignified citizens this would be ample cause for an open rebellion or, at least, for calling fr the anullment of the election.
    Here, what the newspapr reports is seen as just a show of “efficiency” on the part of the Chavistas. Our leaderhip has a duty to take a strong stand against the current situation. Nos jurungan el fundillo y nos quedamos tranquilos.

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    • I agree, and feel, as with Roberto N. above, that Capriles’ loss was much less caused by his very-much-needed populist reassurance message, than it was by the election-day get-out-the-vote Chavista machinery/State institution complicity, coupled with the pre-election illegal massive State propaganda/threats/intimidation/coercion. All of the aforementioned=fraud, and, if not countered effectively, will mean an uphill battle for the Oppo to win any National election. “Efficiency” in Venezuela means viveza/ventajismo/ilegalidad para los enchufados, but under Chavez it has been lowered to the new depths of malandrismo Criollo/Comunismo Cubano.

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  8. Good post, JC. One thing to consider is the role of the GN with the expansion of the National Police across the country. Could some tensions appear between both forces, as the PNB start assuming tasks currently held by the National Guard? Will the GN colaborate or start putting obstacles in the process?

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  9. “The GN has always been in on the lucrative business of counterfeit…”

    Being a little picky… The verb “to counterfeit” is very specific and means printing fake money or forging official documents (not as common, it can also be used for fake art or artifacts). The adjective “counterfeit” refers to the fake money or documents, “The money they found was counterfeit.”

    I think the general word you are looking for, which includes all forms of smuggling, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, etc., is “contraband”, which can be used as an adjective or a noun.

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  10. Not withstanding my minor correction of your word selection above, I do think you have it right. If the Opposition could not win with this campaign, it can never win against Chavez. What the Opposition need to do is to start re-educating the population. I am reminded of Colombia, where a strange looking politician with the unlikely name of Antanas Mockus ran for president (unsuccessfully), but in the process raised the level of debate and discourse of an entire country.

    Venezuela needs a philosopher / professor / teacher to start educating the population and raising the bar on public discourse. We cannot out-populist Chavez, but we can be a consistent voice of truth and reason.

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  11. Although this is not the substance of this thread, I do have a question for Juan: Did it really take two hours for you to get your luggage? I am asking because the last time that I came in on an international flight, which was in July, I was amazed at how quickly my luggage made it to the baggage carousel. And this was during a “peak” time when four flights came into Maiquetia in very short order.

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  12. After the recent election, I came home and when my suitcase arrived, the lock was gone, the zipper was open, a strap I place on my suitcase was open and a little bag with my toothbrush and toiletries was open. When I complained to the airline they said that it had to happen leaving Venezuela when the “authorities” checked my luggage. I guess I was lucky that I was only carrying dirty underwear, socks and a few clean shirts. It used to be they would call you can check the luggage in front of you. But hey! Six more years!

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  13. What a great post, JC!
    The only bit that kinda bothered me was the “that’s what the majority wants” statement. Perhaps it’s just me but it doesn’t come across well knowing (as we all know) that many people were simply forced to vote for Chávez. That makes them victims as well as executioners of our electoral fate.

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