Shock doctrine in Venezuela, Colombia, Chile

Disasters are awful useful. In Venezuela and Colombia, presidents have used flooding as a pretext for implementing 18 months of decree power. While this is usually portrayed as absolute dictatorial power, as I understand it’s essentially a fast-track authority, allowing the executive to write laws and present them for an up-or-down vote in the legislature, rather than going through the usual parliamentary process. In Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez’s PSUV party will have a majority of the seats in the new legislature taking over in January, that effectively means that the president’s ideas will become law for 18 months. In Colombia, the decree power lasts for a month, according to the always-useful Hemispheric Briefs. (Unsurprisingly I hadn’t even read about Colombia going to decree power except on that blog. O Vennietrans o Vennietrans, how tempting are thy snarkfests.)

To me, the most surprising use of a natural disaster to justify a head of government’s ideology is the one revealed today in Chile, where the government wants to sell off the public sector’s remaining shares in the country’s water companies to raise money for earthquake relief. Now, this justification may sound reasonable, but you have to wonder — if Chile needs to sell off infrastructure to pay for disaster repairs now, with copper at its highest price since the time of the Inca, imagine what it would be like with copper at $3, or $2, or $1 a pound.

UPDATE: I was thinking about how Chile supposedly has this huge “rainy day fund” in case of emergency. For some reason, that reminded me of this.

30 thoughts on “Shock doctrine in Venezuela, Colombia, Chile

  1. Juan Cristobal

    Are you kidding me? You highlight recent policy decisions in Colombia, Venezuela, and Chile, and you scold … Chile? For selling some stock?

    Furthermore, “In Venezuela and Colombia, presidents have used flooding as a pretext for implementing 18 months of decree power” is directly contradicted by your text below, where you specify that Chavez has 18 months of powers whereas Santos has a single month. Not equivalent, as you suggest.

    Maybe the world in the Southern Hemisphere *is* upside down after all.

  2. sapitosetty Post author

    I think they are all pretty wack, with the Colombia one being by far the most justifiable. I just say the Chile one is surprising because Hugo is past surprising me. Certainly Chile’s move is nowhere near as brazen.

    1. Juan Cristobal

      Could have fooled me. The text makes it sound like you think the Colombia and Venezuela laws are practically the same, but Chile is the more outrageous policy choice.

  3. rene

    Agree with Juan Cristobal!
    Are you aware of the rape of the constitution by Chavez in these past days? I am amazed that you say that Chile is the worst of the three! Chavez is radicalizing at an impressive speed, we are going the way of Cuba quicker than most people thought. Wake up Setty!

      1. Kepler


        You may dismiss this as “oh, these oppo friends, they really are reading what is not there, they are sooo much into it, they see a threat everywhere” etc.
        But really, even if I am absolute oppo, I do sometimes try to read things thinking “what does this article tell to someone who is just a foreign observer? Let’s be honest”. And you certainly meant what you tell us know, but Juan and the others here and me honestly think that is not the impression you give to outsiders.
        And the details you left behind.
        The changes in Venezuela are big. It’s true we have no Cuba and no communism. We still have the transformation of a democratically sanctioned autocracy into a clear dictatorship (remember Russia and remember Belarus of these days, not Chile of Pinochet and pre-Internet)

        Chavez’s proposals will turn into laws automatically now (which was not the case had he not have the Enabling law). Deputies trying to differ will simply be changed in a second for deputies who do vote as the PSUV says. And here come the Councils (Russian: Soviety). With telling you Council means Soviet I am not telling you we will have what Russia had in the early XX century. But the general mechanism of thugs shutting down people in the Consejos, PSUV people controlling those Consejos will be the same.

  4. Lemmy Caution

    Anyway the need for cash for the earthquake relief is a bogus argument. Chile is one of the few countries on this planet with nearly no debts at all, it has a still AND again well filled copper fond and last year they placed a bond paying a little more than 3% in interest so financing isn’t too expensive.
    Regarding basic services they have more a regulation problem than a private/public. Cobro injustificado happens in many private and public basic services companies. Look here:
    I guess that most readers here would agree that to compare most Governments with the blunt madness that is Venezuela under Chávez is to low a yardstick. I can’t imagine that citizens of Eastern European countries with a similar GDP/capita as Chile receive a similar amount of surprise bills from their basic services providers. Way more serious effort to better the rules of the game would make Chile a more convincing example for others to follow their course.

    1. Kepler


      Interesting points. But then: what does the average Chilean (or Venezuelan or Colombian) knows about what is the norm in developed nations or those seriously wanting to be one? One of the little things we can do is tell as many people we can who can become vectors what to expect, what is normal elsewhere, what alternatives there are out there
      Most Latin Americans have never been outside Latin America and that is something the vast majority of our top leaders seem to forget.

      1. Lemmy Caution


        I like your positive opinion about Europe ;-) , but I am not sure how much latinamerican states needs Europe. The average chilean knows very well that not few of the basic services companies keep robbing them from time to time.
        And there allready is quite some integration established. Take another problem that hounts a lot of average chilean, which is predatory lending. Just another manifestation of what might be called the al-final-yo-lo-pagé-calladito syndrome. Now the european Banco Santander is quite big in Chile and their credit contracts aren’t any way less opaque than those of the chilean banks and financieras (state owned or private btw.).
        Still, I believe, that consumer protection is slowly getting better. And Piñera commits himself to in a way kind of verifiable goals like “become like Portugal in 2018” instead of much more vague revolucionary promises of Chávez.
        Furthermore the german state itself has huge problems to set up efective regulations for our electrical power supply.

        1. Kepler


          It is not about Europe. It is about comparing a bit the whole picture. See: the US has a lot of things it can teach as well. Spanish Americans could benefit to have a better view of ideas and notions in different parts of the world.
          Mind: there are lots of things the governments in Europe are managing very very bad. I criticize them all the time, although I do so when I talk mostly to Europeans because they know what I am talking about: energy, some reserved professions (Middle Age stuff) etc.
          But there are other things.
          Take books for children, as I mentioned earlier.
          That is a GIVEN in Texas. That is actually a given in all the US states. That is good and that is not a big favour of a president, but something that is normal. That is the case in most countries in Western Europe as well (albeit not in every Bundesland in Germany, to my surprise).
          I have talked to Latinos about this and they say: qué? Libros así, sin pagar? (it’s taxes, but well employed) El estado no puede darlo todo.
          !! But that is precisely one of the things the state should provide for, not petrol for free or universities for nothing.

          Take the debate culture in Germany. That is a good thing we can learn from, it helps to push down big leaders as everybody gets grilled from time to time.

          When I go to vote here as an EU citizen, I do not see a single bloody milico. I don’t even see policemen but in the capital or so. Everything goes on fine. I sent pictures of that to Venezuela and several Chavistas became extremely furious and others were impressed. I think it was not bad to do that. One starts to think: what if we take that from there? Why do we have to have all these milicos here? (of course, the danger is that people would just want to go to those countries thinking they are paradise)

          There are other things we can teach to Europeans or to gringos, but other levels. What I am pleading for is to promote the information flow and transparency.

          Take look at VTV in Venezuela. It seems the only thing that happens in Europe or North America are natural catastrophes and protests and the like.

        2. Lemmy Caution

          I understand you better now, I think.
          I allways found your nice words about europe a wee bit exagerated.
          Started to write about to prefer regional stuff against global stuff. But I’ve hit a wall.
          In Chile books for public schools are free. In private schools at least in primer básico they exchange 3 or 4 pages per book and sell them to parents that allready pay school fees anyway. So books are free for public schools. Why not take the closer Chile as an example?
          This line of arguments has one big problem. In most European countries most kids go to public schools. Chilean parents who can afford pay private schools because of quality problems of the public schools. Schools are more than books. And teachers who hasn’t been remunerated decently for generations…

        3. Kepler

          Well, I try to talk about what I know or what I can grasp from reading some data. I was asking several Latin Americans about books and they told me the situation was similar to Venezuela, so I did not know there was an example like Chile, but I will mention that now. I have talked about the level of debates in Colombia and Chile as compared to the total lack of that in Venezuela because that I do know.

          I am very aware it is not about books. If you check out the label “education” in my blog you will see I have spoken about teachers’ salaries, about transparency in education, about public libraries and more.

        4. setty southam

          The situation in much of the U.S. is the same as in the best of Latin America. There are minimal public schools for the masses of gammas and deltas, and various types of private school for the alphas and betas.

          It is very sad that Venezuela continues to charge students for Mi Jardin (the first reading textbook) and doesn’t charge anyone for gasoline.

          I think that the goal for the U.S. and Latin America both should be a public sector powerful and wealthy enough to provide quality education for all, and audited enough that the money doesn’t all just get stolen.

        5. Kepler


          I agree. The US has, when it comes to basic education, big issues and they may be worsening…still, the US and the best of Latin America is way over Venezuela. Nosotros tenemos petróleo, petróleo y nada más que petróleo. And as we are no longer just 8 million people, we are sitting on a time bomb.

    1. Kepler

      Setty, give him the password.
      Lemmy, take over. Remember to thank Setty for all his efforts.

      Wee joke, wee joke. Your posts are great…there are just some days lately, tiene que ser el ron navideño

        1. Kepler

          Well, the one about” I like the Moon” was good and previous ones.

          I think I am pretty sarcastic but I did not get yours about the hydrogen and this one listing Chile’s and Colombia’s failings at the same level as Venezuela’s was – at least for us all- disturbing.

          And about Piñera: actually, I find that about la caquita a brilliant idea. I read a museum for science and technology in London uses visitors’ faeces to generate electricity. That’s the way to go ;-)

  5. otto

    Welcome to OilWarsCommentsSection II: The sequel.

    I would just like to add at this point that I like pie.

  6. Francisco Toro


    Everybody took you to task for the wrong thing. It’s not your first or second sentence that’s the problem, the whopper’s in your third sentence!

    I dunno about Colombia or Chile, but in Venezuela Enabling powers are nothing like fast-track powers: they are powers for Chávez to literally dictate the law.

    Specifically, the Enabling Law grants Chávez power to issue “Decretos con Fuerza y Rango de Ley” – Decrees with the Force and Rank of Laws – which the media often short-hands as “Decretos-Ley”. And they do very much what it says on the tin.

    We’re not talking about some expedited mechanism that nonetheless preserves some sort of abridged space for parliamentary scrutiny, we’re talking about a way to sidestep the elected parliament altogether.

    1. sapitosetty Post author

      OK, I’m not a lawyer etc etc, but all I know is that in the last Habilitante, the Asamblea still had to vote for these decree-laws. Of course they voted in favor. But if I’m right, then Chavez can’t dictate a new organic law, which would require a 66% majority vote in the Assembly, unless some of the non-PSUV parliamentarians vote in favor. This is, then, exactly “some sort of abridged space for parliamentary scrutiny.” Am I wrong about this? Is this Habilitante different?

      1. Francisco Toro


        I think you’re confused about this, Setty. It’s pretty straight forward: the AN delegates, the president decrees:

        Article 203: “Son leyes habilitantes las sancionadas por la Asamblea Nacional por las tres quintas partes de sus integrantes, a fin de establecer las directrices, propósitos y el marco de las materias que se delegan al Presidente o Presidenta de la República, con rango y valor de ley. Las leyes de base deben fijar el plazo de su ejercicio.”

        Article 236. Son atribuciones y obligaciones del Presidente o Presidenta de la República:

        8. Dictar, previa autorización por una ley habilitante, decretos con fuerza de ley.


        The asamblea never gets a second bite of that cherry…

      2. Francisco Toro

        Think back to the crisis 2001-2002. The whole train of events that led up to the coup started on November 12th, 2001 when Chávez waited until the very last day of the 1-year Habilitante the AN had granted him in November 2000 to publish a set of 49 decree-laws. They immediately went into force.

        It’s funny to think back on it now but, in late 2001, the big talking point for then Fedecamaras-head Pedro Carmona was precisely that the decrees were “inconsultas y aprobadas sin ninguna discusión”. That’s exactly what’s so screwed up about the Enabling Law system – laws get drafted in total opacity and published one day. You don’t know who wrote them, or why, or how, you’re shut out entirely from any insight into the law-making process, let alone any chance to participate on them, and – in Chávez’s case – you often first hear about a new law once it’s published and already in force!

        In the 1961 constitution the Habilitante mechanism was restricted to laws dealing with Economic Financial issues (art. 190 – “Son atribuciones y deberes del Presidente de la República… Dictar medidas extraordinarias en materia económica o financiera cuando así lo requiera el interés público y haya sido autorizado para ellos por ley especial”). This makes good sense to me. If you have a drawn out, public parliamentary debate on what to do about an ongoing bank-run, you make things worse. There was an unspoken rule back then that you only asked for enabling powers on matters where delay could cost you.

        It’s the willy-nilly expansion of enabling powers to every aspect of decision-making that makes the habilitante powers so galling…

    2. NicaCat

      @sapitosetty: yes, you should stick to writing about energy. However, don’t STOP writing, ’cause I read you every day, even though I don’t necessarily agree with you re politics.

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