[Marxism] Bulletproof BMW And A Voe for Chavez (WSJ)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Dec 5 16:05:48 MST 2006

This was written before the election on Sunday and helps explain some
of the many complexities of the Venezuelan political situation today.
There are clearly some members of the capitalist class in Venezuela
who are doing well under Chavez, better, indeed, than the masses of
workers and peasants are doing. Of course, the masses of both workers
and peasants are ALSO doing better under Chavez, which helps explain
why the Venezuelan people voted to re-elect Chavez by a more than 6-4
majority in Sunday's election. This may also be aa contributing reason 
why the dominant sections of the capitalist class of Venezuela, the 
Cisneros-types, weren't able to organize a majority for their candidate, 
Rosales, who was decisively trounced.

Clearly there are more than one element within the Chavez camp, a
broad national alliance with diverse and in some ways conflicting
interests. Nationalist movements and struggles are composed of just
such broad and diverse elements. These are some of the ideas Mike
Lebowitz was addressing in his new book BUILD IT NOW, where he takes
up and distinguishes between those forces who are backing Chavismo
but could live without the talk of socialism and on the other hand,
the forces who favor socialism are less enthusiastic about Hugo
Chavez. The various ultraleftists fall into this latter category,
some of whom post materials to this list from time to time.

The fall of the Godless International World-Wide Communist Conspiracy
as a convenient boogie-person in response to whom we should all drop
quickly to our knees under our desks because of the fear of
thermo-nuclear war has made life somewhat more complicated for
Washington. In a way, the fall of the Soviet Union and the countries
associated with it turned out to be rather inconvenient for Washington. 
Now they have to work hard to re-train everyone to fight against 
an oddly-named enemy, like "Bolivarianism", whatever that might be.

Well, Bolivarianism turns out to be rather dissimilar from Godless
International KKKomunism since they have capitalistic elections, no
one is in jail for taking money from foreign governments, and the
capitalist controlled media attacks the government whose leader
praises God regularly. Oh, and the dictator who's constantly elected
provides low-priced home heating oil for the poor and under-served
citizens of the United States while providing free medical care for
Venezuelans with Kastro's Kommunist Doctors who only leave
smiles and no bills in the barrios where they live and work.

This really has to be rather confusing for some people, especially if
they're working with an exact cookie-cutter model which defines terms
as different as "capitalism" and "socialism" as absolute categories
not capable of variation from the exact norm, and good for all times
and places. I think we can get a sense of the thriving intellectual
and political environment which exists in Venezuela today if we take
a careful look at the material in the report from THE MILITANT on the
Caracas Book Fair.

Check it out:

Don't we wish we had such a thriving kind of intellectual and political 
culture here in the United States of Absolute Perfection these days?

Walter Lippmann
Los Angeles, California

December 1, 2006

Venezuelan High Life:
Bulletproof BMW
And a Vote for Chavez
Oil Tycoon Ruperti Supports
Socialist's Re-Election;
Gift of Bolivar's Pistols
December 1, 2006; Page A1

ARACAS, Venezuela -- Most of Hugo Chavez's supporters live in
shantytowns and count on subsidies from the government. Most of his
opponents live in middle-class apartment buildings and mansions in
leafy neighborhoods and are horrified by the likelihood of a Chavez
victory in Sunday's presidential election.

Then there are people like shipping tycoon Wilmer Ruperti, who tools
around town in a chauffeur-driven bulletproof BMW and who owes much
of his fortune to the Chavez government. Along with other,
well-connected businessmen, known as Boliburgueses -- Bolivarian
bourgeoisie -- Mr. Ruperti is rooting for Chavez's re-election.

At his office a few days ago, the 46-year-old Mr. Ruperti, a
gregarious, bearlike man with thinning, red-tinted hair and a thick
gold chain, pored over a poll he says he commissioned for about
$60,000 that showed Mr. Chavez winning comfortably. "I agree with the
president," said Mr. Ruperti. "He is the only person who has
identified himself with the poor."

As an oil trader, Mr. Ruperti hit the big time in 2003 when he came
to the rescue of Mr. Chavez's government, which was then fighting to
survive a strike that had shut down the state-owned oil company,
Petr?leos de Venezuela SA. With the country running out of gasoline,
Mr. Ruperti used his fleet of tankers to unload fuel oil in
Venezuelan ports, showing frightened insurers that they were secure.
That opened the way for other tankers to bring in gasoline, which Mr.
Ruperti bought and then resold to PDVSA, breaking the back of the
strike. A grateful Mr. Chavez decorated Mr. Ruperti with the army's
Star of Carabobo medal.

Now Mr. Ruperti embodies the contradictions of Chavez-era Venezuela
-- a country that is dedicated to socialist redistribution of wealth,
but which is also enjoying an oil-backed capitalist boom that is
further dividing rich and poor. Eighteen-year-old whiskeys are the
rage, and Hummers and top-of-the-line SUVs clog the streets of
Caracas, while four out of 10 Venezuelans survive on $2 a day or

These days, Mr. Ruperti, whose father, an Italian immigrant who
worked as a chef in restaurants here, cuts a wide swath in Caracas
society. Last year, he sponsored the event of the season -- a charity
concert by tenor Luciano Pavarotti, which succeeded in bringing
together the Boliburgueses and the anti-Chavez grand dames of Caracas
society. A year earlier, he paid $1.7 million at a New York auction
for a pair of ornate French pistols made by Napoleon's gunsmith in
1804 for Sim?n Bol?var, Venezuela's independence hero. Caracas gossip
had it that Mr. Ruperti planned to present the pistols to Mr. Chavez,
who is so enamored of Bol?var that he changed Venezuela's name to the
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to honor his hero.

"Those pistols had to be in the hands of Venezuelans," says Mr.
Ruperti, who says he plans to leave them to his children. "We have to
rescue the Venezuelan-ness of our people."

His critics hold up Mr. Ruperti's business practices as an example of
what has gone wrong in the country. This year, Transparency
International, the anticorruption watchdog, lists Venezuela as No.
141 out of 163 countries it surveys in its ranking of "perceived
levels of corruption."

Last year, a congressional commission dominated by members of Mr.
Chavez's party looked into allegations that Mr. Ruperti made millions
from double-billing the state oil company for gasoline shipments
during the strike at PDVSA when the company's accounting system broke
down. The commission also investigated whether Mr. Ruperti received
sweetheart contracts to ship asphalt with PDVSA's Citgo subsidiary in
the U.S. The commission cleared the oil trader. "Ruperti performed
vital services for PDVSA, and he was paid for them," says Jes?s
Alberto Garc?a, the panel's president.

But the saga continues. Earlier this year, Mr. Chavez's office sent a
letter to Congress asking lawmakers to take another look at the
controversy. Among the issues the president's office wants
investigated: whether PDVSA lost $30 million due to double billing
and bogus invoices by Mr. Ruperti, and whether he used "company names
without their knowledge for the fraudulent acquisition of fuel." Mr.
Ruperti denies any wrongdoing.

So far, the controversy hasn't had much effect on his business. He
now runs a 19-ship tanker fleet and says he plans to start a maritime
bank. Mr. Ruperti is also investing $26 million in a cable-television
station he wants to turn into a 24-hour news operation. "I'm going to
call it Channel I, I for intelligence, impartiality and information,"
he says, as the small TV screen in his BMW, tuned to the government
station, silently shows President Chavez exuberantly speaking to

But earlier this year, Venezuela's revolutionary contradictions took
a bad bounce for Mr. Ruperti, an avid golfer, when Caracas's Chavista
mayor started legal procedures to seize the Caracas Country Club's
golf course and replace it with public housing. The matter is still
in court. "My heart tells me I don't agree with that," says Mr.
Ruperti, who has founded a golf school for children from the city's

For many Venezuelans, Caracas's Dolce Vita of premium wines, premium
whiskeys and premium cars brings to mind Venezuela's first big oil
boom during the 1970s, a time remembered as the years of "Saudi

Then, President Carlos Andres Perez, who nationalized foreign oil
companies to create PDVSA in 1976, favored a clique of friends, known
as the "12 Apostles," who made enormous fortunes through government
contracts. Now, says Ben Ami Fihman, the editor of a magazine called
"Exceso," or Excess, "the 12 Apostles have become the 40 thieves."

Today Caracas is as divided as it was during the days of the oil
strike. Mr. Ruperti's name heads the list of "collaborators of the
regime" posted on the Internet by "Democratic Soldiers," an
organization of anti-Chavez officers purged from the armed forces.
"Keep the names ... and remember them for when it becomes necessary,"
the list says, adding information about Mr. Ruperti's residence,
friends, business dealings, and where his private jet is parked.

"A lot of people think I'm a devil, but it's not true," says Mr.
Ruperti. "I sleep easily at night and morally I'm satisfied."
Nevertheless, Mr. Ruperti takes no chances. He rides in Caracas's
traffic-choked streets in his armor-plated car, accompanied by two
South Korean bodyguards, Yong Lee and Rim Paek. Mr. Ruperti says the
Koreans are tae kwon do masters who can brain an assailant with a
butter knife at a distance of 20 meters.

"If one of my enemies comes in here tonight, I'll have them show
you," he joked before sitting down to dinner at the best Italian
restaurant in Caracas. After dinner, he left the restaurant through a
back door. "For safety's sake," he said.


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