Pity poor Wyre Davies. Having spent a few years as a BBC Heroic Palestinians vs. Jew-Nazis Middle East correspondent, where he must have felt like he was walking on eggshells stacked precariously on top of eggshells, he’s now back to his area of university study, Latin America. Except now he’s clearly having to, as they say, file with his editor in mind and give Venezuela’s descent into Pol Pot territory the soft touch.
The inspiration for his report is the coming local and regional elections in Venezuela. Davies does lay out the basics that the election will be viewed as a referendum on President Maduro’s extremist policies. We get a statement from one of the opposition candidates and are told that critics feel Maduro’s policies will harm the country. He dutifully balances the critics with a pro-Government voice, and lays blame for the heated environment evenly on both sides. Fortunately, this isn’t Israel vs. Palestinians, so Davies can be a bit more forthcoming about how bad the Left’s favored side really is.
In more ways than one these are difficult days in Venezuela as the government and the opposition accuse each other of trying to systematically undermine the country’s economy.
It is quite common these days to see queues outside shops where there has been a fresh delivery of milk or toilet paper – basic goods that many Venezuelans no longer take for granted.
The left-wing popularist government tries to offset the notion of a crisis by running heavily discounted food and produce markets – counteracting, it says, the actions of profit-hungry private companies.
Good enough so far. Davies then goes on to mention that Maduro’s extremist economic noise is more than just “rehtoric”:
Two weeks ago, President Maduro ordered a chain of electronic stores called Daka to slash their prices, accusing it of defrauding ordinary people.
The allegation was that businesses were taking advantage of the huge discrepancy between the official, controlled rate for US dollars and what it is possible to get on the black market.
What Davies doesn’t mention in this report is that Maduro has gone much further than this. Presumably that’s because Maduro made the announcement the day after Davies filed his report, so he wouldn’t know about it. Except this plan was already known, and the President was asking for support for it two weeks ago. There have apparently been a lot of protests against the policy from ordinary people, so it’s not just political rhetoric from the opposition party. It’s a real shame Davies doesn’t read the news in his new beat. It’s either that or he and his editor simply didn’t want you to know how bad it was getting. Surely it can’t be that, can it?
In any case, Maduro’s claimed that 99% of businesses his crew has investigated are gouging customers in pursuit of evil profits (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?), and that yesterday (Saturday, Nov. 30), he launched a new round of even stricter inspections to root out the “capitalist parasites”. It’s not just a few electronics stores now: it’s going to be thousands of businesses. And there will be an election on top of it, which should be fun.
Even Davies, still reality-based for the moment, is allowed by his editor to gently, softly admit that “it is difficult to see what such policies do for business confidence.” Only without knowing that Maduro has just taken it up a couple of notches, you don’t get the full picture of what’s going on. After this, we stray into the realm of Left-wing fantasy.
It’s now the point in these BBC reports where they wheel out a vox pops for that local human touch. And so Davies finds one. The topic is whether or not Hugo Chavez’s legacy of heroic wealth redistribution helped the poorest and most vulnerable. You already know the answer to that, so I’ll just let Davies set up the background story:
Critics say Venezuela is now becoming ungovernable. One stark example is the Tower of David.
This oil-rich country once had plans to build Wall Street in the heart of Caracas.
But in 2007, homeless squatters invaded an unfinished financial centre and more than 1,000 families now live in the Tower of David.
The residents pay a basic form of rent to keep the building running.
So the government owned it, and allowed a bunch of squatters to take over. No rent is charged, just some maintenance fee, which means the building itself is a gift. Which is why the building is unfinished. No evil profits means no completing the stairs or fixing anything if it breaks. But you’re not meant to think about that. I suppose it’s irrelevant since no other contractors wanted to take it over many years ago when the government was trying to auction it off, and Chavez apparently had better things to do with his oil wealth in the end. The BBC even sent a camera crew to do a nice video report on the wonders of this communal adventure.
To be fair, Davies doesn’t present it as any kind of paradise. Indeed he introduces it as a sign of dashed hopes and dreams. But without blame, of course, and the real ugliness is somewhat sanitized. If this existed under a nominally Right-wing government, you can bet the BBC would have some ominous music playing in the background. We can’t blame Socialism. However, he goes on to say that the squatters moved in due to “pressures on social housing elsewhere”. Sounds familiar, no? In other words, no matter how many people you drive into poverty because you’ve run your country into the ground, you must still magically provide housing for them all. Davies uses the language of the Left to describe the circumstances. That’s probably in the BBC style guide.
One has to respect the residents, though, as they’ve somehow managed to set up a church and school on the premises. There a bunch of shops, and there’s even a motorbike taxi service to take people around the complex. Hey, free market capitalism helping people get along! Don’t worry, Davies doesn’t describe it like that. It’s probably banned in the BBC style guide. Instead, it’s presented as one element of the quasi-normal lifestyle they’ve magically set up for themselves. (In case anyone is wondering how motorcycles carry people upstairs, here’s a good set of photos of the interior. You can get a real sense of the communal paradise the BBC isn’t quite showing you. It’s a tale of the success of the socialist communal lifestyle, remember.)
The reality of the building is somewhat uglier. It was originally started by the usual sort of wealthy financier back in the early 90s. Then Venezuela’s banking crisis hit, and the money ran out. It wasn’t recent, part of the global financial crisis the rest of the world has been dealing with, nor is it even Chavez’s fault, as this happened before his time. But we’re not told that. All we hear from the BBC is that this is the result of some vaguely-known crisis, once upon a time. Which dream was dashed, exactly? The one where an oil-rich, productive country with a thriving middle class was going to continue to build great things, or the extreme Socialist dream of Chavez and the BBC? And who dashed which one, eh? You don’t need to worry about that. All you need to know is that the government must look after the poor, no matter how many of them it creates.
Chavez got elected riding the wave of populist resentment about that 90s crash, so this Tower of David can actually be viewed as a symbol of his utter failure to truly help the poor. Note to Leftoids: “maintain at the lowest level in perpetuity” isn’t really “help”. All the tales of heroic redistribution and reducing income inequality we’ve been fed over the years are a load of nonsense. Instead of finishing this building when his government took it over and providing marvelous social housing for the poorest among them, Chavez funded FARC, set up that publicity stunt of an orchestra music program, and died a billionaire. A billionaire, for heaven’s sake. And Davies can’t even mention that.
But to the BBC, this is all just a sign of dreams dashed by fate, or something. You’re given only the vaguest background, and at no time are you told who or what really failed here. The BBC will have to be dragged into the horrible reality of their beloved Socialism kicking and screaming. As usual with Venezuela fail stories, the BBC doesn’t think it’s worth quoting an actual independent economist like they do with certain other countries’ economic policies. The only voices you hear can be dismissed as partisan.
Now for the vox pops. One of the residents tells his tale.
Among the residents is Wilmer Angel. He runs a small business, making metal moulds, from the room in which he lives with his wife and four children.
Wilmer’s outlook is positive and he is certainly not looking to anyone else for help.
“No government has ever done anything for us,” he tells me with an ironic laugh. “Yes, I’m a Chavista because at least under that government no-one stopped us taking over this place, but what we’ve got here we built for ourselves.”
And there you have it. He lives in a building the government let him have because it didn’t actually give a damn, is allowed to run his private, free market business without government interference, and has a US-style attitude towards personal improvement and industry. Again, BBC journalists wouldn’t dream of presenting it that way. But the cult of personality is strong, and he’s a Chavista in spite of reality. So he’s the perfect voice for the BBC. They’re probably all Chavistas there, not knowing any better (at the Torre David, I mean. Draw your own conclusions about the BBC). Magical thinking is hard to change.
Davies concludes his piece by mentioning the endemic corruption and the delusional Chavista voice is balanced out by another opponent of the government. Then he says this:
Nicolas Maduro says he is governing for all Venezuelans and for the national good, but as each day progresses the country feels even more divided.
You can tell this isn’t a story about the US because the BBC journalist isn’t blaming racism or an evil opposition for it. He’s actually blaming this President for divisive rhetoric. If only this honesty could be transported to the BBC’s US bureau.
Pity poor Wyre Davies. He knows what’s going on, but has to tread on eggshells when it comes to blaming the policies which has created the nightmare he’s witnessing, and to play down just how bad it’s become. Why? He must feel very foolish for what his editor has ordered him to do.