When Unity Becomes a Wedge Issue

Can you tell the chavistas apart from the escuacas in this pic?

The lazy point to make about La Vino Tinto’s exhilarating run at the Copa América this year is that it’s a rare, exciting moment of National Unity – fútbol as the one last bastion of non-polarization in a politically fractured nation.

But there’s an odd paradox surrounding that line: celebrating the “unity” La Vino Tinto has brought about has become a partisan talking point: only the opposition goes there, the government never does!

Which isn’t that surprising: when you’ve built so much of your political raison d’etre around the notion that some Venezuelans are good and others are bad and the government is about boosting the good ones and keeping the bad ones under control, any social event that tends to flatten those differences is a threat to you. There’s nothing more threatening to chavismo than having Venezuelans cheer viscerally, from the gut, and as one over something meaningless but fun.

There’s a spark of mass tribal self-identification implicit in all that where class differences recede and political narratives of division seem viscerally out-of-place. Unity is our thing – the government knows it, and fears it.

Tonight, as the whole nation sits down together to cheer on La Vino Tinto, the very non-partisanship of the whole affair will quietly undermine the entire narrative structure the regime has spent 12 years painstakingly trying to built. Which is reason enough, even if you don’t give a toss about the match, to cheer the boys on tonight.