Venezuela’s ALBA: A Reflection 7 Years On

Seven years ago, as a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, I wrote my (and perhaps the…?) hallmark book on the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas: Hugo Chavez’s grand plan. At the time I received a lot of push-back, including from people I respected, saying I “Would be sorry!” for my opposition to Chavez. This backlash led me to write the following “Authors Note” at the end; explaining why I would not be “comparing infant mortality rates or UNFAO awards” between Chavez’s dictatorships and the free world; why those were an improper metric for an analysis of ALBA; that any gains, if there in fact were any, would be ephemeral. As it turns out history favors the rational mind, and my critics have since quieted and moved on, and most of the ALBAs defenders in the region have come to their senses (Honduras, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador to name a few), while my reflections seem more prescient. But there are still those who want to talk about “Revolution” and “Socialism of the XXIst” century, desperately hoping that nobody knows what they are really talking about. That we have seen this play before, and it did not end well!! And so I’m printing below again that note, as a reminder – the planners might find desktop exercises exciting over donuts in their ivory towers; but we are dealing with real lives of real people here, and for that reason we cannot suffer fools lightly.

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Inside Venezuela’s Bolivarian Alliance: Author’s Note

The hallmark of western democratic governance is the principle that the individuals within society surrender the right to use force, the right to sit in judgment and the authority to use coercive methods based upon an act of willful consent; this is called the consent of the governed.

This consent is not static; it changes, morphs, as the governments that sit above society become more or less representative of the people they are chosen to lead. It is for this reason that transparency, accountability and good faith are important in the acts of governing. When governments use populist pandering and authoritarian maneuvering to secure electoral victories that allow them to radically socially engineer their societies, they lose the consent of an increasingly large portion of their societies. And in this process they break the social contract they signed with their citizens: to govern for the wellbeing of the majority with the careful protection of the minorities.

The ALBA has violated these fundamental rules. In their attempts to build authoritarian states that guarantee the permanence of the ruling elite and the ruling elite’s ability to build their partisan, illegal and dangerous political project, they have dismantled the democratic institutions that have been so carefully crafted and painstakingly protected. This has been done with the complicity of the Organization of American States and the west.  This book has served to highlight the political project of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas, as well as its philosophical foundations and its desired end state. Research for this project was long and arduous, and involved travel to a half dozen countries of the region and interviews with hundreds of people, as well as the review of hundreds of documents, articles and studies.

The constitution of Venezuela clearly states that the purpose of that magna carta is to “establish a democratic society (…) which consolidates the values of liberty, independence, peace, solidarity, the common good, territorial integrity, peaceful coexistence and the empire of the law.” It is for those who come after to decide whether the political project of Hugo Chavez and his ALBA live up to those lofty ideals.

I fought with myself quite a bit while researching and writing this book, about how far I should go in attempting to demonstrate some of the abuses and dangers represented by the ALBA countries. I was repeatedly urged by the left—and people I greatly respect—to be intellectually honest with my research and demonstrate some of the benefits brought by the ALBA to the world. Yet as I thought about these requests, I realized these are the same people who consistently refuse to condemn Fidel Castro as he is perched in luxury atop his island gulag. They refuse to condemn Hugo Chavez as he wraps the frayed fabric of a society ever tighter around his widening shoulders. And, they are the people who say Morales should be able to get away with blatant abuses of power represented by illegitimate constitutions written by excluding opposition from deliberations. Yet I watch the political prisoners rot in Venezuelan jails and I see mass political discrimination across the continent. I watch violence, drug trafficking and criminality wrack the foundations of these societies and the morgues fill up with the brutalized bodies of people who had no power to control their fate and their future. I chat online with my friends who have had their farms seized, or with human-rights colleagues on trial for treason. And for those of us who have friends exiled from the ALBA because of political beliefs—we listen to stories of secret cemeteries wherein the buried bodies of the ALBA’s foes lie. As we hear stories about tortures and drug battles between gangs controlled by government ministers seeking to seize the lucrative trade to West Africa, as loved ones are forced to repeat the empty epithets of the revolution to find work, as the tales become more sordid, of beautiful Miami penthouse apartments for revolutionary leaders, of whiskey and parties, of intrigue and sex and drugs, I am slapped with a stunning reality.

The reality is, more than the revolutionary leaders enjoy the power their pilfering provided, they crave the legitimacy of their model. While the lights burn late into the night within the revolution’s most sacred watering holes, these leaders’ best defense comes from the uninformed. And it is a dastardly scheme. While the brutality continues without end, those of us attempting to shine a light on the bloodbath are told by the apologists for 21st Century Socialism that we must discuss the merits of their project. They press us into semantic discussions on words of democracy, or of freedom. They force us to carry out surveys ad infinitum, using, of course, their official statistics collected by revolutionary bureaucrats to demonstrate the benefit in the lives of the poor. Denying within their own countries the freedom that allows them to pontificate in ours, we are cajoled by the overwhelming weight of their propaganda.

Then it came to me, this is what the Bolivarians are counting on. The ALBA and their minions abroad wish us to argue about maternal mortality rates, about global acute malnutrition and income inequality until we are all exhausted. Meanwhile, they deepen their power and control over their abused societies. If they ensure that the discussion remains on supposed social well-being instead of fundamental freedoms, they can keep their paid foot soldiers working in manipulation of the global discussion. But our principles are not and cannot be for sale. We must not allow ourselves to be caught in their twisted logic, and thereby legitimize a plan that has as its end dictatorship and suffering. Theirs is not the path toward freedom—as the data above present more clearly than I ever could. And this is not the path toward well-being—as is argued, if unwillingly, by even the United Nation’s own figures. And I must reiterate now, once again, the fundamental tenets that have always brought about improved well-being in countries that have decided to work in honesty and principled discipline within the agreed-upon bounds of a free society.

We do not owe dictatorship the benefit of the doubt. And for my friends who think that tearing a hole in representative democracy for the stated intention of improving well-being, of allowing the 21st Century Socialists of the world to dismantle the basic freedoms set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in hopes that in doing so they will more quickly reduce hunger or illiteracy, I remind you of the truths we all continue to hold self-evident. The exclusion of representative democracy will never increase well-being. The curtailing of individual freedoms will always bring misery.

This book, therefore, is not about an analysis of the different economic models, a debate between 21st Century Socialism and capitalism—as most apologists of revolution so desperately wish. I have no desire to mock the tried and true ideals of liberal democracy. In doing such, I would be no better than the dictators themselves as I compare, on a level playing field, the benefits of good versus evil. I instead want to present with clarity of mind what I believe is an actual, current danger growing like a cancer in the hemisphere.

I want to thank you for accompanying me through this tedious process. I have tried in the previous lines, and in my year’s study, work and research, to understand what the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) is doing in the hemisphere, to unravel their plan, to tease out their intentions, and to shine a light into the dark corners of their Bolivarian Revolution. During my research and interviews I met many men and women of good faith, people who love their countries and want to build a better tomorrow for their children. They see in the ideals of solidarity, of complementarity, and of compassion a greater, less predatory nation where they will be able to at long last cast aside the chains of poverty and bondage and live up to their full potential.

That, my friends, is what makes this so sad. As I hope you have had the courage to see, the Bolivarians of bad faith use the work of the poor in their countries to install a system that seeks not their benefit, but their control. They use the right language to befuddle the weak of mind across the world, and they use powerful propaganda and mechanisms of internal control to sell their project. They use their loud voices screaming the right words at the tops of their lungs to hide a more devious, more dastardly scheme. It is for this reason that the Bolivarian Alliance’s result will be only more slavery, more suffering, and more death. As it expands its lecherous grasp across a continent, the United States and the lovers of freedom sit back and watch with indifference. Worse than that, those of a particular political ideology in fact applaud as the institutions they so freely enjoy in their own countries are rived asunder for the personal, populist project of a group of powerful men.

Now that you know the truth, I welcome you to share it with others. Don’t shy away from a controversial challenge, but embrace the debate with enthusiasm and a sense of privilege and honor. We who promote freedom and democracy are a lucky few, lucky to be in the place at the time when we can make a difference. Yet, we are few because a decreasing number are able to clearly identify, articulate and defend the truths we all hold as self-evident; that man was created to enjoy his own life, his own liberty and his own happiness. So to honor that vision, we must always stay true and boldly reject the dictators’ visions of “fatherland, socialism or death.”


The Alba: Inside Venezuela’s Bolivarian Alliance by Joel D Hirst https://www.amazon.com/dp/1477497625/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_U_x_jmIFCbH956ZBE via @amazon

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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