Tuesday, July 21, 2009

State Ruled by Crime and Chávez Family

"This is what anarchy looks like, at least the type of anarchy where the family of Chávez accumulates wealth and power," said Ángel Santamaría, a Barinas cattleman whose 8-year-old son, Kusto, was held for ransom for 29 days.

This is a side that anti-imperialist foreigners who sympathize with and support the Chávez regime don't see because they are drunk with the headiness of the rhetoric of sovereignty and anti-imperialism.

Stretching over vast cattle estates at the foothills of the Andes, Barinas is known for two things: as the bastion of the family of President Hugo Chávez and as the setting for a terrifying surge in abductions, making it a contender for Latin America’s most likely place to get kidnapped. An intensifying nationwide crime wave over the past decade has pushed the kidnapping rate in Venezuela past Colombia’s and Mexico’s, with about 2 abductions per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Interior Ministry.

But nowhere in Venezuela comes close in abductions to Barinas, with 7.2 kidnappings per 100,000 inhabitants, as armed gangs thrive off the disarray here while Mr. Chávez’s family tightens its grip on the state. Seizures of cattle ranches and crumbling infrastructure also contribute to the sense of low-intensity chaos.

While Hugo Chávez is busy building a parallel government to the existing bureaucracy, he is undermining the stability of the society, and using that instability to establish and perpetuate his power.

Barinas offers a unique microcosm of Mr. Chávez’s rule. Many poor residents still revere the president, born here into poverty in 1954. But polarization in Barinas is growing more severe, with others chafing at his newly prosperous parents and siblings, who have governed the state since the 1990s. While Barinas is a laboratory for projects like land reform, urgent problems like violent crime go unmentioned in the many billboards here extolling the Chávez family’s ascendancy.

A familiar tale: born to poverty, no longer poor, his family's rise to affluence a parallel to his rise to power.

The governor of Barinas, Adán Chávez, the president’s eldest brother and a former ambassador to Cuba, said this month that many of the kidnappings might have been a result of destabilization efforts by the opposition or so-called self-kidnappings: orchestrated abductions to reveal weaknesses among security forces, or to extort money from one’s own family.

O, right, it is the opposition that is destabilizing society. Of course. Claro. And they kidnap themselves; how devious are the imperialists.

Barinas is the home region of the family of Hugo Chávez.

In an election last year marred by accusations of fraud, Adán Chávez succeeded his own father, Hugo de los Reyes Chávez, a former schoolteacher who had governed Barinas for a decade with the president’s brother, Argenis, the former secretary of state in Barinas.

And there's more: Another brother, Aníbal, is mayor of nearby Sabaneta, and another brother, Adelis, is a top banker at Banco Sofitasa, which does business with Adán’s government. Yet another brother, Narciso, was put in charge of cooperation projects with Cuba. The president’s cousin Asdrúbal holds a top post at the national oil company.

But they are serving the people, of course, waging an anti-imperialist campaign to defend the sovereignty of Venezuela.

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