Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The salami tactics of Hugo Chavez

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In the first episode of the great Yes, Prime Minister, "The Grand Design," new PM Jim Hacker meets with the government's chief scientific advisor to discuss defence policy. The advisor, a hawkish Austrian, argues that the Soviet Union would use "salami tactics" to take over Europe, that is, a "slice-by-slice" plan with no one slice so grave as to compel the West (or the U.K., in this case) to respond militarily. (The 16 YPM episodes originally aired on the BBC from 1986-88.) At each slice/stage of the scenario, he presses Hacker -- What would it take for him to act? An incursion into West Berlin? Or would the Soviets have to go so far as to take over the Reform Club, one of London's old political establishments? Would he ever respond with nuclear weapons? Probably not.

My point here is not to make a case for military action against Venezuela, but it is clear that Hugo Chavez is using salami tactics in his drive to establish so-called "Bolivarean" socialism -- that is, his own national-socialist autocratic rule -- in that country. I wrote about this last week: "Sometimes revolution can be achieved without sudden, dramatic bloodletting." There are a number of different prongs to Chavez's continuing revolution, a number of slices. They may be examined individually, but they are best understood as variations of the same, as components of a single overarching plan. The nationalization of industry, the seizure of private property, repression of dissent and opposition, control of the media, one-party rule, rule by decree, and, soon, the removal of constitutional impediments to the permanent and perpetual rule of the leader himself.

The pattern is clear. One slice, then another, and another, and another, with no one slice so grave as to compel anyone to act (although there are courageous opponents of Chavez's tyranny in Venezuela, and there was a coup, if not one worthy of much admiration, in 2002). And there has been another, as the AP is reporting:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened on Monday to close or take over any private school that refuses to submit to the oversight of his socialist government as it develops a new curriculum and textbooks.

"Society cannot allow the private sector to do whatever it wants," said Chavez, speaking on the first day of classes.

All schools, public and private, must admit state inspectors and submit to the government's new educational system, or be closed and nationalized, with the state taking responsibility for the education of their children, Chavez said.

A new curriculum will be ready by the end of this school year, and new textbooks are being developed to help educate "the new citizen," said Chavez's brother and education minister Adan Chavez...

This is a serious slice, and there is a lot here: the submission of the private to the public, a leader speaking for "society," a new (re-)educational system, propaganda, threats of nationalization and state control, the concept of a "new citizen," nepotism. This could be 1984. There may not yet be any killing fields -- none that we know of -- but the rest is beginning to look a lot like the tyrannies, the totalitarian tyrannies, of the last century. Pol Pot, meet Hugo Chavez.

Some will accuse me of exaggeration, of misrepresentation. But therein lies the problem: Chavez is a smart guy, and he knows what he's doing, and he's doing it in such a way as to minimize suspicion and criticism, to come across as a man of the people, not the people's oppressor. He's not rolling into Caracas with tanks and death squads, but he doesn't need them. Not yet. Not with his salami tactics, grabbing slice after slice.

From populist to demagogue to tyrant, all with a bright red shirt, a huge smile, and some rousing anti-American rhetoric -- and with many in his own country and around the world giving him the benefit of the doubt. But all you have to do is put the slices back together to see what he's really up to.

And it isn't all fun and games.

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