viernes, 5 de diciembre de 2003

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez: The cornered narcissist
Analysis by Francisco Toro*
[04.12.03] - If you're looking for insight into Venezuela's seemingly never-ending political crisis, section 301.81 of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) would be an excellent place to start. The entry reads eerily like a brief character sketch of Venezuela's embattled president, Hugo Chavez: "Has a grandiose sense of self-importance; is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance; requires excessive admiration; has unreasonable expectations of automatic compliance with his expectations; shows arrogant behaviors or attitudes, etc." Actually, it's the DSM-IV's diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

Venezuelan psychiatrists long ago pegged Chavez as a textbook example of NPD. According to the DSM-IV, a patient has NPD if he meets five of the nine diagnostic criteria. But Dr. Alvaro Requena, a respected Venezuelan psychiatrist, says Chavez "meets all nine of the diagnostic criteria." Dr. Arturo Rodriguez Milliet, a colleague, finds "a striking consensus on that diagnosis" among Caracas psychiatrists. Not that it really takes an expert: you only need to watch Chavez's constant "cadena" broadcasts, where the president blusters, badgers, sings, reports, lectures, recalls and issues orders live on every TV channel and every radio station in the country, carrying presidential speeches that can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 4 hours, one never knows ahead of time.

Of course, lots of politicians have some narcissistic traits - Washington, D.C. is notorious for the size of its egos. NPD, however, is what happens when those traits run amok, impairing sufferer's ability to interact with the world in a normal way. People with NPD are so intimately convinced of the crushing weight of their historical significance that they lose the ability to interact with the world in anything like a way that most people would recognize as normal.

Narcissism and political power make an explosive combination. As Dr. Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited, puts it, "the narcissist's grandiose self delusions and fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience are exacerbated by real life authority." President Chavez has amassed more real life authority than anyone in Venezuela's contemporary history. When his considerable charisma and oratory ability are added to this mix, the already volatile cocktail described above becomes positively explosive.

Because in the mind of a pathological narcissist, grandiose self-delusion often masking deep insecurities and a fragile sense of ultimate self-worth. The two tendencies co-exist in a sort of uneasy truce. As Dr. Vaknin writes, "the narcissist's personality is so precariously balanced that he cannot tolerate even a hint of criticism and disagreement."

In Venezuela, over the last five years, Chavez's narcissism has led to a systematic winnowing of the his pool of truly trusted advisors and confidants (other than Fidel Castro, the one voice Chavez does seem to listen to.) People with views that differ even slightly from the comandante's fall out of favor quickly, often brutally.

At worst, those who come to disagree openly with the president are openly demonized, humiliated and threatened in "cadenas" in full view of the whole country. Coming from a man with several paramilitary groups at his command, these must be taken as serious threats.

Total loyalty to the cult of personality is demanded, and total loyalty to the cult of personality is obtained. More than evidently, only rank sycophants and yes-men can survive in an inner circle where such dynamics are at work. Also, clearly, no real policy debate can take place: politicies will not be the result of a process of genuine give and take. Instead, they will consist in a series of military style orders that are mutually incoherent, and very often wildly impracticable.

Thus, at different times, we've been promised at least three mutually inconsistent futures for the "camastron" (the 70s era Boeing 737 Chavez inherited and promptly, man of the people that he is, replaced with a much larger $86 million dollar airbus.) According to which side of the bed the president woke up on this morning, the plane will either ferry poor Venezuelans so they can visit the natural wonders of the Canaima flat-top mountains, or it will be the first in a fleet of planes for a future Vene-Caribean airline that will eventually penetrate foreign markets, or it will be used to ferry Venezuelan patients to Cuba for various operation, or none of these, or all of these at the same time. None of these plans appears financially viable for a state that is broke, but in combination, they present a kind of burlesque of presidential narcissism at work.

What's most perverse about Chavez's narcissism is that some people close to him have clearly learned to manipulate it for their personal purposes. Once you've caught on that feeding the president's narcissism is the way to get ahead in palace politics, what's the reasonable response? Feeding the president's narcissism, of course.

Over a period of years, this dynamic has left Chavez worryingly isolated. It's probably been months or years now since the president has been brought face to face with ideas different than his own, with versions of reality that don't conform to his own sense of grandeur, (except for when he is conversing with foreign leaders, of course.)

Under those circumstances, anyone's sense of reality would suffer. But if you've started out with narcissistic tendencies, that level of isolation is liable to push you over the edge altogether. With no critical thinkers around anymore, no one willing to sit him down and tell him the awful truth, there are no checks left on his pathological relationship with reality.

To a pathological narcissist, reality is little more than a hindrance. This is the heart of the chavista mania for calling what is real virtual and what is virtual real. As Dr. Rodriguez Milliet points out, "Chavez's discourse might be dissonant with reality, but internally it's scrupulously coherent." Chavez's only concern is to preserve his romantic vision of himself as a fearless leader of the downtrodden in their fight against an evil oligarchy. If the facts don't happen to fit that narrative structure, then that's too bad for the facts.

So it's not that Chavez lies, per se. It's that he's locked up within a small, tight circle of confidants that feed an aberrant relationship with reality. To lie is to knowingly deceive. Chavez doesn't lie.

He invents the truth
Obviously, there are more than a few inconveniences to having a pathological narcissist as president. For instance, it's almost impossible for narcissists to admit to past mistakes and make amends. The narcissist's chief, overriding psychological goal is to preserve his grandiose self-image, his sense of being a larger-than-life world historical force for good and justice. Honestly admitting any mistake, no matter how banal, requires a level of self awareness and a sense for one's own limitations that runs directly counter to the forces that drive a narcissist's personality. Chavez cannot, never has, and never will sincerely accept his own fallibility. It's just beyond him. And it's impossible for the movement he's created to question him.

Once you have a basic understanding of how their pathological personality structures drive the behavior of people with NPD, Hugo Chavez is an open book. Lots of little puzzles about the way the president behaves are suddenly cleared up.

For instance, you start to understand why Chavez sees no adversaries around him, only enemies. It makes sense: the more he becomes preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power and brilliance the harder it is for him to accept that anyone might have an honest disagreement with him. Chavez is a man in rebellion against his own fallibility. "As far as he can see," explains Dr. Requena, "if anyone disagrees with him, that can only be because they are wrong, and maliciously wrong."

People with NPD are strongly sensitive to what psychiatrists call "narcissist injury" The psychic discombobulation that comes from any input that undermines or negates the fantasies that dominate their mindscape. Chavez clearly experiences disagreement and dissent as narcissist injury, and as any psychiatrist can tell you, an injured narcissist is liable to lash out with virulent rage.

This pattern fits Chavez frighteningly, if only on the rhetorical level. 95% of his political reasoning is made up of ad hominem attacks on those who dare questioning, along with the paranoid preocupation with plots all around him, a kind of conspiracy mentality the fringier parts of the first world left eat up with relish.

So I wonder. If only. If only those first world sympathizers could sit own and hear him talk, and hear him, and hear him like we Venezuelans have heard him, and heard him, and heard him for hundreds of hours of "cadenas" spanning back 5 years. If they could know the character like we know the character, after hundreds of hours of forced intimacy through the "cadena" system. Often, his slurs and insults are almost comically overstated. He insists on describing Venezuela's huge, diverse, and mostly democratic opposition movement as a "conspiracy" led by a tiny cabal of "coup-plotters, saboteurs and terrorists." These attacks not only demonstrate the tragic extent of his disconnect with reality, they have also thoroughly poisoned the political atmosphere in Caracas, creating what's been described as a "cold civil war."

If only they could hear him the way we've heard many of them would earnestly consider someone like Chavez fit to rule their own countries? 3%? More? How many pro-autocracy lefties are there left in Europe?

But we, we have heard him. We've been forced to hear him, we've been obligated to participate in the cult of personality through our state funded TV station and those hundreds of hours of "cadenas". So yes, in Venezuela we know the character well by now.

This is precisely his problem: too many of us know too much about him, about the way he thinks and the way he leads to accept his brand of leadership silently.

Chavez's brand of intellectual intolerance has turned the Venezuelan state into the most autocratic in the Americas short of the one led by his hero, Fidel Castro. It's no coincidence. In Dr. Milliet's view, "narcissism leads directly to an autocratic approach to power." Access to state jobs - a key source of livelihood for millions of Venezuelans -is now openly dependent on civil servant's acceptance of political blackmail. The regime no longer even hides it. Anything is fair when it comes to protecting the narcissist-in-chief's self-image.

The other facts are well known, but they are worth re-hashing one-more time for readers who don't follow all the ins and outs of the democratic process here like we do.

President Chavez has systematically placed diehard loyalists in key posts throughout the state apparatus. When you come to understand his behavior in terms of NPD, that's not at all surprising: someone who understands the world as a struggle between people who agree with everything he says and does vs. evil will obviously do everything in his power to place unconditional allies in every position of power.

The case of the Attorney General is especially worrying. With nothing like a special counsel statute and no state criminal jurisdiction, the A.G. must approve every single criminal investigation and prosecution in Venezuela. Control this post, and you have total veto power over the entire penal system. For this reason, the A.G. is not a cabinet position in Venezuela like it is in the US. Because of its key role in fighting corruption and keeping watch over the legality of the government's actions, the A.G. is set up as a fully independent, apolitical office in the Venezuelan constitution. But that clearly wouldn't do for Chavez. For this most sensitive of offices, Chavez tapped perhaps his most unconditional ally, a doggedly loyal chavista fresh from a stint as vicepresident of the republic. It's like having Karl Rove as attorney general, and no independent council statute!

Not surprisingly, not a single pro-Chavez official has been convicted of anything, ever, despite numerous and well-documented allegations of serious corruption, and a mountain of evidence to suggest the government has organized its civilian supporters into armed militias. The bargain is simple: in return for unrestricted political support, the government remunerates the corrupt and the criminal with total immunity from criminal prosecution. It's quite that simple. The only real requisite for admission into the protection afforded by their control of the state is total submission to the leader's cult of personality. Not surprisingly, many take the bargain.

This dynamic can rise to almost incredible heights. Recently, a former student activist with a murky criminal history and credibly linked with no other than Iraq's Ba'ath Party, for God's sake, was recently named to head an important office at the National Identification Directorate! Can you imagine that? If this is the "model of democracy" Chavez has in mind, he will doubtlessly win the referendum with 100% of the vote and 100% turnout!

And indeed, today, every nominally independent watchdog institution in the state, from the Supreme Court to the Auditor General's office, is run by a presidential crony. With the National Assembly operating like a branch office of the presidential palace, the formal checks-and-balances written into the constitution have become a farce.

Only CNE retains a measure of independent credibility from both sides. Nothing will be possible unless both sides solemnly pledge to accept CNEs eventual decision. They should do this right now.

The reality is that CNE has become a beacon of hope in Venezuelan society. On the verge of the presidential recall, CNE stands as the sole exception, the sole entity of the state that Hugo Chavez cannot control at his pleasure, and my feeling is that, despite, must we recall, it's roughly 3-2 nominal chavista majority, a genuinely independent CNE is the biggest problem in Hugo Chavez's immediate future. All five members of CNE must be uniformly lauded for putting legality ahead of party loyalty so far - a precedent that could serve as the seed for a true democratic awakening in the post-Chavez period.

"Some may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"

The goal of a new, more dynamic, more participative and much, much more inclusive Venezuela is now within striking distance. The country need not be dominated by a pathological narcissist much longer.

*Much more analysis from Francisco Toro is available at his Caracas Chronicles blog

Venezuela's recall: Ode to Francisco Diez and the style of diplomacy he represents
By Francisco Toro, Caracas Chronicles (

You know something is seriously twisted in this cosmos when the news you read in serious newspapers start to echo the flip comments you'd read on this site a few hours earlier.

Not 12 hours ago I was guffawing about Chavez's impossible predicament now that the Organization of American States has said they see no reason to suspect fraud over the weekend. What's Chavez gonna do now, argue the oligarchs paid off Cesar Gaviria?!!?

Erm...uh...eeeh...actually, yeah! According to Reuter's, that's precisely what he's gonna do!

"Dr. Gaviria said he saw nothing abnormal. ... I think you overstepped the mark, Dr Gaviria," said Chavez, who also complained that the OAS Secretary General failed to seek a meeting with him during his stay.

Chavez, who has ruled the world's No. 5 oil exporter since 1998, questioned the OAS chief's impartiality, commenting that he "spent a lot of time with the opposition."

Now, several of you have written in to say this is all a giant sprawling conspiracy by the government to stop the referendum. Chavez won't change because Chavez is psychiatrically unable to change...he will never give up, yaddi yaddi yadda.

Now, I don't doubt that you're right, in the narrow sense that Chavez is crazy enough that any rhetorical line is imaginable coming out of him, even one as silly and hare-brained as questioning the integrity of perhaps the best respected diplomat in Western Hemispheric affairs. But it's perfectly clear to me that his room for maneuver is closing down dramatically and quickly. What Chavez intends to do is more and more beside the point.

The contribution the Carter Center and the OAS have made to this state of affairs is hard to overstate. (Yes, I'll admit, I was once quite skeptical myself...mea culpa!) Yet, I know from your emails a lot of you passionately detest the brand of international engagement symbolized by Jimmy Carter and followed closely by Gaviria and OAS. But just think how far we've come by following their comeflor path, think how screwed the government is now, and realize how important Carter/Gaviria style softly-softly diplomacy has been in getting us this far.

Over the weekend, Carter Center and OAS were at their understated best. If you read the Venezuelan press reports closely, for instance, you'll see that Francisco Diez, the Carter Center's main guy for Venezuela, was everywhere, going from one minor flashpoint to another, all day, putting out tiny little fires before they could spread. His intervention was crucial, especially in the nervy first few hours of the drive.

On Friday, when the chavista and the opposition witnesses at the signature gathering center in Parque Central started to beat each other up, Diez was there literally within minutes to do a bit of impromptu mediation and calm nerves down. Later, when a small mob of chavistas attacked Juan Fernandez as he tried to sign in the Carapita Metro station, Diez again was there within minutes to snuff out the violence before it could escalate. Either of these incidents, or any of a number of others (like the idiotic airport shutdown) could have escalated into a major crisis threatening to derail the entire recall process if no one had been there to deal with them in an efficient and professional way.

So add me to Francisco Diez's fan club. Sure, he didn't give any high sounding speeches to the cameras. In fact, if you weren't paying particular attention, it would have been easy to overlook his contribution altogether. He studiously shies away from cameras, as a diplomat should - if you don't believe me, try finding a picture of him on google.

In his own quiet way, Francisco Diez rendered a huge, indeed heroic, service to Venezuela this weekend. The nation will really owe a debt of gratitude to him and his colleagues. Of course it was not only Diez - though one has the feeling his fireman-for-a-weekend assignment was the toughest of the lot. It's also Gaviria himself, and Congressman Ballanger and Congresswoman Watson and Jennifer McCoy and Fernando Jaramillo, and the hundreds on unsung heroes from the OAS/Carter Center observation mission...the quiet people who saved us from our own worst tendencies.

To my mind, when this is all said and done, we're going to have to re-name a couple of prominent Caracas avenues. Avenida Presidente Carter and Avenida Presidente Gaviria - he'd be the first Colombian prez to get his own avenue in Caracas, if I am not mistaken. I like the ring of it already.

martes, 2 de diciembre de 2003

This is an article published on Caracas-based english newspaper "The Daily Journal". Are we going to see Chavez speaking about this? I think NOT!


Venezuela's recall petition: Paid not to play!

Caracas (22-23 November) - In a country where at least 20 percent of the
population is unemployed and even those who have a job are struggling with
the reduced buying power of a bolivar that has devalued to a third of what
it was a year-and-a-half ago, the government of Hugo Chávez Frías has a new
jobs program, one that involves paving people for their signatures in the
recall referendum, showing up for marches and for not signing the petition
seeking to put an end to Chavez's rule.

The Daily Journal investigative news team uncovered government job sites
springing up in many of the poorer sections of Caracas offering jobs. Long
lines of people have been turning up and applying as the word of mouth about
the sites spreads. Candidates fill out an application asking what they would
like to earn and what, they would like to do. They are then called back and
offered 'jobs" - of not signing the petition calling for a referendum on
Hugo Chávez and paid cold, hard cash for the promise.

Searching through the want ads of Ultimas Noticias, we came across an
advertisement on November 10, calling for "Urgent help wanted. 100 young
people, either sex, to attend clients in stores, supervise and provide
information, Immediate work-."

Many of the help wanted ads that have been appearing use similar language
and some even have the same phone numbers. When you call the number, asking
what is required to apply you are told to go to Parque Cerntral and fill out
an application. When arriving at Parque Central, you are directed toward a
basement where there are tables and lots of people filling out applications.

When I went in, 1 was surprised at how crowded the room was. "Is everybody
here applying for this job?" I asked the attendant who handed me my
application. 'Yes. And everybody is going lo get to work- in this company,"
came the answer with a knowing smile.

I began filling out the application form, which looked like a sheet from the
census. In addition to the standard, name, cédula, address and telephone
number, it asked: "Do you live in an apartment, house or rancho? How many
people live in your house? How many brothers and sisters live in your house?
How many rooms does your house have? How many televisions and refrigerators
are in your house? Have you worked in public or private companies?" The
application bore the MINFRA logo and seal at the bottom.

MINFRA is the Ministry of Infrastructure, headed by Diosdado Cabello, who
has been with Chávez since they both participated in the 1992 coup attempt.
One of Chávez' most trusted lieutenants, Cabello has also served as vice
president, chief of staff, and head of the telecommunications regulatory
agency, Conatel, which raided Globovisión last month, seizing equipment.

My application was numbered in the 1500s, giving some indication as to how
many people have been applying - and receiving these jobs. 'We will call
you," they promised me, after I turned in my completed application. Nine
days later, on Wednesday, November l9th, 1 got my call short1y after 10:00
a.m, saying that they would like to see me, that my application number was
1532 and that 1 should go and have an interview at, 4.15 p.m. at Parque
Central, Edificio Caroata, Floor 18.

When I arrived in the lobby of Caroata Tower at Parque Central, I was asked
for my application number. The guards verified it and then escorted me up to
the l8th floor, a place with long halls that was crowded with lots of
people. I was told to take a number. When my number was called, I went to an
office, where a nicely dressed, executive lady told me "You have been
selected for the job. The only requirement is that you cannot sign the
Reafirmazo on November 28."

At this point, I diplomatically assured my executive recruiter that I do not
approve of this. "Oh no my signature is very valuable," I told her. My
executive recruiter got very serious and said, "Oh, no, no, no, this is not
a game. You cannot sign on November 28. You wrote here you want Bs. 200,000.
It is okay, we will give you in advance, the 200,000. The money is here with
us. But you cannot sign the recall referendum."

"I am not here for political reasons," I say. "I am here because I came to
apply for a job. Bs. 200,000 is not going to buy me a house." At this point
my recruiter is getting somewhat distressed. She calls a "Deputy Tascón".

Congressman Tascón, we are having a little problem here because this young
man does not want lo sign the contract and put his fingerprint on it says my

Congressman Luis Tascón, a leading member of Chávez' Fifth Republic
Movement, is well-known in the barrios because he has a Web site that
publishes all the names and cédulas of the people that signed the first
Firmazo. lt is obviously an attempt at intimidation. However, the gentleman,
that she was addressing was NOT that Luis Tascón.

My stem "Congressman Tascón" wrinkles his face and squints his eyes: "Look,
this is not a game. We know exactly where you live and we know exactly your
phone number. This conversation cannot be taken out of this room, This
cannot be mentioned to anybody." Escorting me out, he says "We just want to
get that marico (faggot) Peña and that marico (faggot) Mendoza out."

I see lots of people are taking the money and agreeing not to sign. While
there, I saw receipts for people paid as little as Bs. 80,000. But I
overheard another conversation. Another woman there, obviously equally
distressed with this behavior, says "I can't believe you people do this.
Paying us to do such a thing. How can you do such a low thing? To pay
people, to buy people."

Meanwhile, Rogelio Salazar, a MAS director in Bolívar state alleged that in
a number of villages, Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) officials had handed out
hard cash and bags of food to citizens that signed in favor of the
government's push to revoke that states opposition legislator, Nelson
Rampersad. Salazar said the government had distributed Bs. 16,000 per person
for signing a petition, and that National Guard (GN) trucks had transported
and distributed bags of food to those that signed.

Next week, apparently, you can go to Parque Central, Edificio San Martín,
Nivel Oficina Uno, Office 129 and 120, and get such a job too.

But the Chávez supporters' plans don't end with trying to buy people's
non-signatures. Apparently, they intend lo pay people to attend a march
during the Chávez petition period, in hopes of dissuading or making it
difficult for the opposition to get to the signature places. In El Silencio,
diagonal to Bolívar Avenue, across from the Hotel Conde, you can find José
Venod, in the office of Inmobiliaria y Raíces or by telephone at 861-6461.
On Friday, 21 November, he informed one member of our investigative team
that "We are going to pay you Bs. 30,000 per person to attend a march on
November 28. This includes the food, drinks, beer, shirts and hats. We are
also renting some vans on the night of the 27th to take groups of people out
of Caracas and then bring them back in big buses the next day."

The idea is to apparently look like there is huge support, for President
Chávez from around the country.

The Daily Journal Investigative News Team will be bringing News scoops
whether from within the government or the opposition, in the future. Our
sole commitment is to fair, unbiased journalism that reports the truth.