December 7th 2015: Do not despair – there is, eventually, an end to despotism…in Venezuela’s case, it may have just happened. The fall of Maduro has been announced. But will he accept the election result? Click here for a European view. Click here for how the Russian state media are reporting it.
Simon Bolivar's idea was to create a single country that would occupy the whole of central America. At its foundation in 1819, Gran Colombia included all of what is now Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Panama, as well as the north of Peru, the west of Guyana and the north-west of Brazil. At its collapse just twelve years later, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela emerged as independent countries, with Panama at that time still part of Colombia. Why did it collapse is a question that needs to be complemented by "why did it come into being in the first place", because the answer to both questions is the same, and provides one of the most important lessons of history that we should have learned a thousand times by now, but instead are still repeating.
The conflict between giant supermarkets and family-owned village stores, between federalism and regional autonomy, between the European Union and Andorra, between Alexander the Great and you surely get my point by now. Some people want to own and control everything, and spend their lives gathering up as much as they can under their personal hegemony, and argue that big is best, and become so powerful that the counter-argument can simply be bought off. So there are online retailers who would like to control the means of distribution of every product that can be purchased in the world, just as there are engineering firms who are trying to buy up every other engineering firm and entertainment industry companies that annually acquire more bits of the global entertainment industry, and political institutions (Russia, China, the EU etc) which are trying to bring more and more countries within their sphere of influence, and they claim that it's in the best interest of the economy (which it isn't; it actually damages the economy), and politically sensible too (which it isn't; it's politically divisive precisely because it tries to unify what is too large to be unified and therefore has no choice but to homogenise and impose), and good for profit (which it is, but only for the elite who own and run the show; for everybody else it's a disaster); and all of these mitigations are just a cover anyway, ask Hugo Chavez. What we want is power. Power for me. Power over as much of the world as I can get. Power is a form of psychological illness (megalomania) for which there is a cure, but we in the civilised world suffer from a different psychological illness (sentimentality) and also an ingrained condition (passivity), which generally prevents us from applying the remedy (see my thoughts on the Arab Spring for the evidence of this: Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt). Or, as I say, ask Hugo Chavez.
Gran Colombia was the megalomaniacal fantasy of Simon Bolivar, the man who theoretically liberated Central America from Spanish domination (theoretically, because Spanish is still the official language in every Central American country, Catholicism is still the religion, Flamenco music etc etc…). Bolivar's Vice-President Francisco de Paula Santander was the "Second-in-Command" who I had in mind when I wrote my tale of that name, in "The Captive Bride", the one who understood that men who fight for liberty are heroes, but that men who win that fight, and then become the government themselves, usually turn into the very men they fought against, and have to be resisted too – history provides far too many examples of this to even need to list them, but again look at my thoughts on the Arab Spring. A centralised Central America, one vast country under one President, Santander foresaw, would quickly become an autocracy, because countries on that scale contain too many ethnic differences, too many economic and religious and social and intellectual and cultural differences, and so are bound to become autocracies, or oligarchies, or tyrannies of some other kind, because people have to be governed, and how else do you guarantee order and stability? Better to have lots of small countries, even if they war against each other occasionally, for in times of peace they have the capacity to become manageable without tyranny.
The latter theory doesn't always work, of course, but at least it has a better chance of working, as the United States have demonstrated with their careful balance of federalism and autonomous states, as the EU is trying to prove, as India is trying to prove, in much the same way; though these three are sadly historical exceptions, as evidenced today by China and Russia, and all three are sadly doomed to failure. And indeed as Central America since Gran Colombia appears to be proving, though several of the countries that emerged from Gran Colombia have themselves become autocratic dictatorships. Ask Hugo Chavez.
In fact you cannot ask Hugo Chavez, because he died in 2013, but his successor, Nicolas Maduro, is doing his utmost to maintain the so-called socialist revolution, which is to say the autocratic hold on power through which the elite are able to purloin the vast oil wealth into their personal bank accounts while most Venezuelans (all of whom are active and committed "chavistas" without needing to be persuaded) live in dire poverty, inflation is running at 50%, unemployment at around 60%, and even those members of the middle class who once benefited from the oil wealth (and the coal, iron ore, bauxite and gold as well) which made Venezuela one of the richest countries on Earth while also being per capita one of the poorest, even they have plummeted back into poverty in the last few years, leaving Venezuela's black market economy even larger than its official one, and thousands of middle class refugees, which is itself quite an achievement, because usually it is the poor who flee.
On the other hand, you could argue that Venezuela is a superb example of socialism in government at a national level. When I say "you" I don't really mean you personally. I mean "one". The one I am mostly thinking of on this occasion is Fidel Castro.
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Marks against: dozens
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