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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Beatrice Rangel: On Donald Trump, Hugo Chavez and Their Respective Elites
Former Venezuela Presidential Chief of Staff Beatrice Rangel and Carlos Rangel discuss the similarities and synchronicities between the populism and perils of Hugo Chavez and Donald Trump.

By Beatrice E. Rangel
& Carlos A. Rangel

As the "Rocky Horror Show" (AKA American Presidential Election according to a British nobleman) draws to a close, one too many are trying to understand how could this ordeal happened.

Indeed, far beyond the character resemblance between Donald Trump and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, key to the triumphant emergence of his leadership is elite behavior in the U.S. Like their Venezuelan peers, elites in the US treated Trump as an isolated event bearing no roots to domestic political sentiment and henceforth temporary. They regarded Trump a ripple in the ocean of political content with democracy that would not even leave the most minuscule blemish in the face of history.

But like Venezuela, U.S. democracy had been under untenable stress for over a decade. Economic restructuring which is key to continued middle class growth and ancillary aggregate demand growth had to be postponed under the false pretense that the end history had arrived and the U.S. would reign as a solitary power forever.

Add to the mix the sense of unsubstantiated optimism in the transformational properties of technology and you get a complacent elite unable to take brave decisions or to offer any sacrifice to the altar of progress. And while in Venezuela the roots of complacency where based on a pervasive rent-based culture tied to oil riches, the results in terms of democratic erosion were similar.

From 1958 through 1998 Venezuela was deemed to be a beacon of progress and prosperity, being a fast-growing economy from the 1920s till the late 1970s and one of the few democratic nations in the Americas.

But then along came the first oil bonanza and hence the first major economic mismanagement, which caused a decade of serial recessions, output collapses, devaluations and massive impoverishment throughout the 80s.

The political institutions nesting Venezuela's democracy could not provide the necessary treatment to this economic malaise. The corporatists model created by the Spaniards was not dissembled by Betancourt, the father of the democratic period.

On the contrary, corporatism was deepened as interest aggregation and dispute resolution were left to the elite commanding heights. Elites would decide who, when, and how oil rent was to be extracted and distributed.

The system was thus ineffective to enact economic adjustment and political reform. As oil rent proved to be too small to feed the growing needs of a thriving democracy -- notably economic diversification and political empowerment of emerging groups -- a disgruntled citizenry began to reject and grow emetic of the status quo.

This somehow mirrors -- albeit not exactly -- the situation in the U.S.

To be sure, the end of the 20th century was marked by the rising sea of technology's first wave.

Information and digitalization began to transform economic activity as well as everyday life. Political organizations, education systems and training facilities have failed to run at the same speed of the technology rise.

We thus have less people unemployed; much more people tending to multiple small jobs; schooling that fails to prepare for the workplace and overall economic stagnation. These are the perfect ingredients to brew a successful populist regime. Preventing such an outcome takes elite quality.
In Venezuela elites chose to seize the emergence of an outsider to continue rent extraction. Without an ensuing plan to set the foundations of a diversified economy, oil rent -- once again -- proved to be too small to cover the needs of 34 million people who aspired to live by U.S. middle class standards.

Catastrophe was written on the wall as the Bolivarian regime continued the rent extraction model increasing public expenditures to the point of bankrupting the country thereby setting the foundations for the current humanitarian crises.

In the U.S., economic prosperity and the First Technology Wave created a "cognitive elite", who are twenty times richer than the national average, educated together at IVY League universities, marry each other, work together and live together in exclusive gated communities in cities like Belair, Malibu, Santa Monica, Silicon Valley, Manhattan and Boston. They are Ùber satisfied with democracy and believe the rest of the population should feel accordingly.

On the opposite side of the population spectrum lies the majority of white America.

They have no college degree; have been unemployed for over a decade; are victims of drug abuse; send children to foster care and eat junk food when they can. They are enraged with the system and appalled by the Washington gridlock. They will show up in droves to vote for Trump.

But in contrast with elites' demeanor in Venezuela with Hugo Chavez, salient GOP leaders, scholars, business leaders, former military generals among others have condemn and rejected Mr. Trump's bigotry, misogynist and populist stance, fearing that his presidency might debase America's democracy.

In February of 1992, Hugo the savior made his insertion in Venezuela's politics with his famous words that he and his coup colleagues had failed "por ahora!" (for now) TV remark, after his failed coup-attempt against Carlos Andres Perez.

Instead of reproaching the lieutenant colonel's transgression against the Rule of Law and the Institutional framework that prevailed in Venezuela since 1958, salient members of the nation's elite saw in Chavez and opportunity to get at the top of rent extraction and sack the value creating economic rules that were being imposed by the Perez Administration.

Implicitly or explicitly, the elite in general supported Hugo Chavez and his assailing of the status quo and established institutions.

Without the support from diverse factions of the Venezuelan elite Chavez could have not installed the rabidly destructive strain of populism that has destroyed the economy and all freedoms in Venezuela.

Should Mr. Trump win on November the 8th, America may feel some ignominy and its days may turn darker instead of brighter over the next four years, but they won't become as gloomy as those of current Venezuela, mainly because Venezuela lacks the freedom creating platform that the U.S. has built since the arrival of the Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock.

This explains why populism in America which thrived at the turn of the 19th century did reduce trade, restricted emigration and raised high the nationalism flag, but failed to create new governments or overthrow the U.S. constitution. Because in the U.S., the law of the land and not rent extraction is still the flame of citizenship.

Beatrice Rangel is President & CEO of the AMLA Consulting Group, which provides growth and partnership opportunities in US and Hispanic markets. AMLA identifies the best potential partner for businesses which are eager to exploit the growing buying power of the US Hispanic market and for US Corporations seeking to find investment partners in Latin America. Previously, she was Chief of Staff for Venezuela President Carlos Andres Perez as well as Chief Strategist for the Cisneros Group of Companies.

For her work throughout Latin America, Rangel has been honored with the Order of Merit of May from Argentina, the Condor of the Andes Order from Bolivia, the Bernardo O'Higgins Order by Chile, the Order of Boyaca from Colombia, and the National Order of Jose Matías Delgado from El Salvador.

You can follow her on twitter @BEPA2009 or contact her directly at BRangel@amlaconsulting.com.

Also by Beatrice Rangel in her Latin America from 35,000 Feet series

Beatrice Rangel: Rio -- Demystifying the Olympic Games

Beatrice Rangel: The Luddite Syndrome in the Americas

Beatrice Rangel: Venezuela's Unexpected Transition

Beatrice Rangel: We Now Have a Wider Canal But Has Our Wisdom Expanded???

Beatrice Rangel: From Brexit to Tesla, Progress is Made by Leaders!!!

Beatrice Rangel: As the World Goes Latin, Latin America Gets Logical

Beatrice Rangel: On the Difficulties of Fighting Barbarism in Latin America

Beatrice Rangel: The Impending Age of Housekeeping!!!!

Beatrice Rangel: What Happened to All Those Rosy Forecasts for Latin America?

Beatrice Rangel: On Dialogue and the Rules of Geopolitics in Latin America

Beatrice Rangel: The Ides of Wisdom in Venezuela

Beatrice Rangel: On the Discreet Charm of Populism

Beatrice Rangel: Three Ladies in Distress

Beatrice Rangel: Trump, Lula, Kirchner and the Last Tupi-Guaranis

Beatrice Rangel: Time for Departures in the Americas

Beatrice Rangel: A Contrarian View on the Panama Papers

Beatrice Rangel: Brazil's Lady in Her Labyrinth

Beatrice Rangel: Back to a Divided Home!!!

Beatrice Rangel: A Historical Take-Off in the Americas??

Beatrice Rangel: A Skipped Journey, a Reaffirmation and a Clearing of Path in the Americas

Beatrice Rangel: The Demise of Civility in the Americas!!

Beatrice Rangel: The Americas from Boutros Boutros-Ghali to Ban Ki Moon

Beatrice Rangel: The Pope's Difficult Stopover in the Americas

Beatrice Rangel: Farewell to The “Diplomacy of Reason”

Beatrice Rangel: 2 Diseases in Latin America -- Different Prescriptions, Very Different Outcomes

Beatrice Rangel: On Health Alerts and the Long Arm of Justice in the Americas

Beatrice Rangel: When Crime Meets Glory

Beatrice Rangel: Playing Hansel and Gretel in the Americas

Beatrice Rangel: Good News/Bad News Starts The Monkey Leap Year

Beatrice Rangel: The Gifts of Christmas!!!!!!

Beatrice Rangel: Crying Wolf in Venezuela

Beatrice Rangel: A 21st Century Tale of Two Cities

Beatrice Rangel: Are the Americas Ready for President Trump?

Beatrice Rangel: On Predictions of War & Global Confusion

Beatrice Rangel: Paris and the Return of Fear

Beatrice Rangel: Marijuana & Latin America's Next Trade Corridor

Beatrice Rangel: Of Burning Airplanes & Argentinean Tsunamis

Beatrice Rangel: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in the Americas!!

Beatrice Rangel: Buena Vista's Magic Covers the Americas

Beatrice Rangel: Pride and Perjury in the Americas

Beatrice Rangel: Trompe L’oeils Proliferate in the Americas

Beatrice Rangel: The Economic Consequences of Peace in Latin America

Beatrice Rangel: Colombia, the FARC & the Makings of Gangland in Latin America

Beatrice Rangel: When Extreme Weather Meets Extreme Politics Calamities are Bound to Happen

Beatrice Rangel: When Ladies Hit 70

Beatrice Rangel: About Uninformed Elites and Gullible Leaders

Beatrice Rangel: On US-Engineered Soft Landings in Cuba and Venezuela

Beatrice Rangel: On the Many Ways Cecil Matters

Beatrice Rangel: Blue Moons Lead to Extraordinary Happenings in the Americas

Beatrice Rangel: On Why Embassy Openings Do Not Necessarily Herald Different Policies

Beatrice Rangel: When Jupiter meets Venus

Beatrice Rangel: When Markets and Manners Crash

Beatrice Rangel: From Grexit to Exit, Contagion is in the Air

Beatrice Rangel: An Infuriated God & An Environmental Crusader Mark the Summer Solstice

Beatrice Rangel: Between Ionesco & the Falklands Syndrome

Beatrice Rangel: The Ugly Americas

Beatrice Rangel: How FIFA Corrupted the Beautiful Game in the Americas and World

Beatrice Rangel: Could the US RICO Act Be Applied to Latin America?

Beatrice Rangel: On the Discreet Charm of Commodities for Latin America

Beatrice Rangel: The End of the Chinese Free Lunch in the Americas!!

Beatrice Rangel: The Crooked Twig of Democracy in the Americas

Beatrice Rangel: Of a White Knight for Three Latin American Ladies in Distress

Beatrice Rangel: Withdrawal Symptoms?

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Beatrice Rangel: Easter Miracles in Latin America and the World

Beatrice Rangel: Two Islands, Two Legacies & One Challenge - Modernity

Beatrice Rangel: Killing Me Softly -- the Obama Administration’s Legacy in Latin America

Beatrice Rangel: Of Upcoming Dynasties and Exhausted Ideas in Latin America

Beatrice Rangel: Of Thunderous Silences, Quiet Noises and Flash Backs in Latin America

Beatrice Rangel: Latin America's Dangerous Exports to Europe & the Demise of an Old Fox

Beatrice Rangel: Of Sweet Deals, Sugar Daddies, Direct Mail & Obama’s Care

Beatrice Rangel: Of Latin American Singing Birds, Femme Fatales & Empty Shelves

Beatrice Rangel: When Flying Dragons & Rage Infusions Turn Against Their Latin American Masters

Beatrice Rangel: Holy Haberdashery!!! Is Fire Building Under the Surface in the Americas??

Beatrice Rangel: 2015 -- A Year for Balance in the Americas???

Beatrice Rangel: Pope Francis Looks at the Americas In His Christmas Remarks

Beatrice Rangel: The Paint Brush Hanging from the Wall in Latin America

Beatrice Rangel: A Future for the Americas??

Beatrice Rangel: Going Forward, Going Backward -- It's the Americas!!

Beatrice Rangel: An Eerily Familiar Week in the Americas

Beatrice Rangel: Tale of Two Walls

Beatrice Rangel: Across the Americas, We the PEOPLE

Beatrice Rangel: Across Latin America, The Populist Beat Goes On!!

Beatrice Rangel: Oh My, The Patron of the Eternal Feminine Has Left Us!!!

Beatrice Rangel: Communism from China to Cuba Finds Corruption!!!

Beatrice Rangel: From Rio to Hong Kong Discontent Taps the East to Find a New Way

Beatrice Rangel: Will Latin America Miss the Broadband Development Target?

Beatrice Rangel: Kissinger’s World Order and Latin America

Beatrice Rangel: The Third Attempt -- Will Modernity Prevail in Latin America?

Rangel: While US is Away, Latin America Rethinks Development Paths

Rangel: In the Midst of Riots, a Star is Born in Brazil

Rangel: In Mexico Cinderella Gets to the Ball while Colombia Gets a Chance at Peace


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