The Dilemma


The debate over whether rank-and-file Chávez voters deserve any share of responsibility for the myriad outrages of the Chávez era has produced more heat than light so far – probably due to the use of some colorful but over-blown hyperbole in the original post’s headline. But I want to touch on it just one more time before moving on.

To me, the matter turns on your attitude towards citizenship: to deny voters any responsibility at all for the outrages of the governments they elect is to fail to treat them as citizens in the first place, in particular where those outrages are an easily predictable outcome of their decision at the voting booth.

You can argue, of course, that the political economy of the petrostate leaves Venezuelans – especially poorer Venezuelans – in such a state of asymmetric dependence on the state that they lack the tools they’d need to deliberate coherently on its actions and come to an independent judgment on it.

But we need to be clear on where that argument actually leads: if you really don’t believe that people can rise above the subservient position within the petrostate, you have to be consequent with that position and renounce democracy as a mechanism for choosing the country’s leaders.

If you really believe that people are too X to share responsibility for the extremely well-documented human rights outrages of the government they persistently elect, you can’t logically also believe that it’s a good idea for those same people to have the right to vote, whether you let that “X” stand for poor, dependent, uninformed, feckless, uneducated, or something else.

If I take the opposite stand it’s because I refuse to go over that crypto-authoritarian cliff edge.

I think Venezuela is a country where even people who face the state from a position of extreme economic dependence have spaces left for contestation, room for independent reflection, and access to enough information to get a basic sense of what’s going on.

I don’t think there’s anyone in a Venezuelan barrio under any illusion about the state of the country’s jails, or the arbitrary nature of the central government’s power. I think to respect the full personhood of the people we entrust to pick our leaders is to demand of them that they respond for the consequences of their actions.

It’s only because I think that that I also think elections are a reasonable way of selecting our leaders.

The alternative, for me, is far more grave: the more-or-less open rejection of democratic governance that inevitably flows from the moment your shake your head and think “well, terrible things happened as a consequence of their decision, but pobrecitos, they can’t be blamed.”

Or, to put it another way, fifty years from now, when the grandchildren of the 18-23 year olds who voted for the first time last month walk up to them and ask them, “grandpa, grandma, so who did you support in 2012?” they will be asking an entirely fair question.

And those kids will be more than justified to be hard, very hard, on 8,191,132 of them.

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  1. Sorry to interject ideology in this debate, but to me, this sort of attitude is a natural offspring of socialist-minded thinking that pervades our public sphere.

    The belief of the inability of citizens/consumers/individuals to discern the consequences of their actions and to be rational has driven many a public policy. Whether it’s the automatic satanization of public vouchers for education (“no, people can’t choose what school to send their kids to, Lord knows what they will choose! Let a bureaucracy handle that”) or excessive regulation of health care (“insurance policies must cover X, Y, and Z, we should never let the consumer decide what he or she wants covered in their policy”) or even conditional cash transfers (“give people cash? Why, they will spend it all in beer!”), the fact remains that a lot of people simply don’t believe in the beauty of freedom, of letting people act like rational human beings … and be held accountable as such.

    • Oh, I agree with that, but I think the first of your illustrations is way off base – the case for regulating insurance coverage has nothing to do with thinking particular people are stupid and everything to do with adverse selection – but boy, we’re two comments in and already way off topic…

      • Yes, there is adverse selection in insurance markets, and there are market failures. There is also a lack of belief in the power of individual choice… There are regulations, and regulations.

  2. Even though I’ve facebooked and tweeted on the matter (and send links to your articles over there), I believe there are is also a bit of an authoritarian slippery-slope in the “guilt” argument.

    Not to say that people should be mindless, but propaganda and constant dehumanisation of others do this to you: Most Venezuelans are shown an alternate reality through State media (especially egregious in radio stations), which is either convincing or leaves them out of the public sphere (“I love these sausages! How are they made? They told me not to ask…”). And that’s the majority of voters, in any case. However, if every person who was State dependant or socially disadvantaged was to be of this opinion, how is it that 6.5 millions voted against the official worldview? The can’t all be “rich”.

    Furthermore, I see a graver silence from the “educated echelons” of society (“The betrayal of the best”, as Mario Briceño Iragorry put it, back in 1953): the middle and upper classes go on our shopping sprees and our little problems, and have turned a blind eye to most problems. We do not want to create problems: politics should take care of business (they won’t be able to do so alone, and we’ll bicker and swear going off politics)). We do not organise, but entrench ourselves in our suburbs and our CCTV’s and fears. We have much to lose -subsides, lifestyle, gas prices, any seeming liberty- so we don’t rock the boat.

    As you say, it will go on as with the people who supported Juan Vicente Gomez’ crimes and horrors (which should have been unsettlieng even in a more crude and violent society, like early XXth Century Venezuela was…): “why didn’t you do anything?” -my grandfather asked as a boy to a grand-grand-uncle of mine back in the day-… “I had a family. I was afraid”.

    • “Most Venezuelans are shown an alternate reality through State media (especially egregious in radio stations), which is either convincing or leaves them out of the public sphere (“I love these sausages! How are they made? They told me not to ask…”). ”

      Tal como “el desconocimiento de la ley no excusa de su cumplimiento,” creo que el desconocimiento de las barbaridades del chavismo no excusa de su apoyo al mismo.

    • Most Venezuelans are shown an alternate reality through State media (especially egregious in radio stations), which is either convincing or leaves them out of the public sphere (“I love these sausages! How are they made? They told me not to ask…”). And that’s the majority of voters, in any case. However, if every person who was State dependant or socially disadvantaged was to be of this opinion, how is it that 6.5 millions voted against the official worldview? The can’t all be “rich”.

      Of course, it’s a matter of degree and a matter of judgment. As a thought experiment we could ask what would happen if a “free” (in the sense of No-Numerical-Fraud) but not fair election was held in North Korea between Kim Jong Un and a dissident with zero access to a state media that villifies him mercilessly. North Koreans would surely re-elect Kim by a wide margin, and it would seem insane to hold them morally responsible for the crimes that follow. It *is* possible for a Public Sphere to be so fucked up as to relieve the voters of their responsibilities.

      Venezuela’s public sphere is, as you note, also fucked up in many ways. And I’m ready to accept that fucked-upedness as a mitigating factor in assigning moral responsibility to rank-and-file Chávez supporters. But Venezuela is not North Korea – it’s not even Cuba. It’s a place where even now information about many chavista outrages is easily available to anyone who wants it, is widely discussed, and is far from secret. Which, as you note, is why 6.5 million were able to vote against the official worldview.

      In some ways, that number only heaps further opprobium on the 8.2 million who went the other way. They can’t very well mount a North Korean defense. They most likely have friends, co-workers, and relatives who went the other way. The plea of necessity is suspect in these circumstances.

      • Granted: it is not North Korea. And even though we all have someone who was a prisoner of Gomez or Perez Jimenez, we also have relatives who were happy to go along to get along…

    • We did try this around 2001-2002, and now they are called reactionaries and fascists… The only way back, short of a deus ex machina moment tied with the comandante’s trip to Cuba, the only way out is through a massive and peaceful civil society movement out in the streets.

  3. OK, back to Afiuni. Of course, the title was an attention-grabber. I tried to get at the concept of deal-breakers.

    Sometimes you tolerate things in a government because you weigh the positives and the negatives. For example, I voted for Capriles even though there were some things in his plan that I thought were a mistake, and that if he implemented it fully, I would have disagreed with. However, the positives outweighed the negatives, so I voted for him.

    However, there are (should be) deal breakers, issues so important, so thoroughly radical to who we are as a society, that nothing can outweigh them.

    The fact that chavista voters decided to go “meh!” at the obvious human rights violations in the Afiuni case just because… they got a free dishwasher, or they like the Misiones, or the liked the “Chavez es otro Beta campaign” … simply shows a deeply confused, tragically flawed morality.

    Their love for the Comandante is so screwed up, there are no deal breakers, there is nothing he can do to sever their ties to him. They have lost their capacity to discern the good and the bad.

    This is not the case of “he said (in cadena), she said.” This woman is clearly innocent, her life has been senselessly destroyed, just because … In the end, we don’t even KNOW why Chávez ganged up on her, we just know he did. And someone who does that to an innocent bystander will do it to you some day.

    Like it or not, there are moral absolutes in life. Putting people in jail out of a whim, and ordering them tortured and raped (or putting them in a position where this sort of stuff is bound to happen and turning a blind eye, same difference) is wrong. Empowering the guy who does that is also wrong.

    Chavistas are free to make their choice, but they have to live with the consequences of their choices.

    • “… simply shows a deeply confused, tragically flawed morality”

      Exactly. Again, this is a problem of: “As long as I have my loaf of bread in my table”. This is the same problem, but in a deeply moral matter, as a lot of Venezuelans fail to understand that the security of the nation is the responsibility of the government. I heard from a LOT of friends that campaign in the barrios with Capriles hearing statements like: “This barrio has always been dangerous, the government can do nothing about it”. And so on… Unfortunately, Venezuela’s moral degradation (That sounds so “derecha rancia” I apologize) is amazingly high that people just don’t care about the things that don’t have consequences to them.

      I completely agree with Juan, this is a deal breaker. I don’t vote for Chavez just because he killed Venezuelans and tried to take over a constitutional elected government, even if it was a failed one. That has been my deal breaker from the beginning, and again… Chavistas love to call oposition members “golpistas” :/

  4. The word “accomplice” is somewhat harsh. It’s not like 8 million voters are accomplices to every single crime committed in the country at the eyes of Chavismo.

    What you can’t hide is that a significant majority voted for Chavez and all the crap he represents. Of that figure, a very significant part allowed itself to be bribed with washing machines or never-to-be-fulfilled promises.

    The problem is that after 14 years, the government and its intentions are more than unveiled. This includes the very OBVIOUS fact that Chavez has legitimized problems like crime and rampant corruption by avoiding to deal with them in first place. Those who voted for Chavez accept or admire his model – including the allowance of crime and corruption – or at least are so indifferent to it as to be easily bribed.

    So maybe they are not accomplices, but you can’t deny they are supporters. Unfortunately, they are majority.

    • they are accomplices. no other way to see it. accomplices even against themselves. they paid their price for receiving their “fish” instead of working and learning how to… so yes, sorry, but they are inside the same pants as the rapist.

  5. I want to put some perspective here:

    I couple years ago, the government’s CTPJ (maybe unawarely) published some figures about the percentage of firm convictions on homicides cases: 2%… 1 out of 50… Government official figures.

    Therefore, someone may become a mass murderer, kill 25 people, and just face a fifty-fifty chance of going to jail… not bad odds at all for a sociopathic mind with lots to gain from this behavior.

    And that’s for homicide, the worst of the offences, the one that draws the most and best resources to fight it. Then, what could the conviction rate be for other crimes?: Kidnapping (1 out of 200?), rape (1 out of 500?), child sexual abuse, … all the way down to corruption, violation of health codes, drunk driving, you name it.

    How could Judge Afiuni NOT have been raped, if the safety of a common, free Venezuelan woman (chavista or not) is far from being guaranteed?.

    With these levels of crime and impunity, the Venezuelan State is just a fleeting illusion, the reflection of the moonlight on a muddy pond.

    Venezuela is the worth country of Miss Venezuela: Everything is just an illusion: Social security, health system, unemployment insurance, justice… everything is just skin deep…

    Venezuela LOOKS like a country, but it is not: It is a shit hole.

    So there is no need to put blame: Every person living in Venezuela, chavista or not, is right now harvesting the results of 14 years of chavernment, plus the 18 previous years of AD-Copei+others mismanagement. No one is innocent in Venezuela. No one is safe.

    So, we maybe should start to assess if Venezuela is going to follow the long and painful decomposition of Nigeria, or the sudden implosion of Somalia, or a mix in between… and how are we going to handle it and reconstruct from there.

    In my case, I think that right now that’s the only question that matters to answer to my future grandchildren.

  6. I have no idea what fraction of Venezuelans even recognize the name Affiuni. So, I am leery of the premise that an entire nation should be enraged about the Affiuni affair. If we should take issue, let’s do it with those who are influential–intellectuals, journalists, However, let’s make this a more general issue. Elections are about a calculus of options for voters, which includes indeed (albeit tacitly) moral choices. The premise in Juan’s and Quico’s post thus far has been: Chavez’s government is deeply immoral, so how could anyone vote for such government? Worse: How could a majority of Venezuelans vote for it? Answer: Because they think the alternative is worse. And this calculus may not be any more immoral than yours. That is: If the majority of voters are not convinced that the alternative is going to look after their civil rights, nor their pockets, then why vote for that alternative? So, the voters choose (in their minds) the lesser of two evils. Consider this the null hypothesis to be falsified, instead of the one espoused in CC that those who voted for Chavez condone the immorality of the regime. Now, why voters may not see the alternative to Chavez as a better option is a different story altogether, and one the opposition must understand if they ever want to win another presidential election.

    • We’re not going to win any Presidential election as long as Chávez is around, so right there we begin to disagree.

      • But you ignore the substance of my argument, which is epistemological in nature. if you can’t falsify my null hypothesis, you have no business arguing an additional moral burden on those who voted for Chavez. You and Quico are social scientists. You should at least consider alternative hypotheses to bring to the table. As for winning any elections while Chavez is around, unless we start seeing the electorate oin a different way, then you fulfill your own prophecy.

    • hgdam,

      1.People who vote for Chavez( a large percentage of them) are not choosing – they are behaving fearfully and or passively.They are giving up their vote.

      2. If people do not know anything about the Affiuni Affair it is their responsibility to find out.Even if they do not, there are a myriad example of blatant injustice going on in Venezuela every second of the day.I am sure they stumble upon it continuously but either turn a blind eye or make excuses or other similar acts of denial or repudiation.

      • Did you read my post? Can you actually comment on the notion that I posited; namely, that those who voted for Chavez did consider the moral issue and decided that the alternative was no better; so in their mind, they chose the lesser of two evils? For instance, the last memory voters have of a major violation of human rights prior to Chavez was El Caracazo, with almost all victims belonging to the poor. The Chavez government has done a tremendous job of keeping this massacre alive and in the consciousness of voters. Now, here is unequivocal, bloody evidence of violence by the government on the people. For all its ills, nothing remotely like this has happened during the Chavernment (yes, crime is out of control, but most voters don’t blame the Chavernment for it). So, is it conceivable that voters might have thought they did not want to go back to a government that massacred the poor and that might also take away the social benefits that they have acquired in the Chavernment? This is a thought experiment designed to move us away from the ridiculous notion that those who don’t agree with our point of view are less moral than we are. Am I getting to you?

        • Your ideas are very reasonable. Yes, the opposition parties are not credible when it comes to human rights. Judge Afiuni, Franklin Brito (a pet cause of mine that was never mentioned here in CC) and General Uson are the poster boys of human right violations, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. What about the other female prisoners in INOF that are sexually abused as judge Afiuni was? What about the coliseos in other Venezuela prisons? What about the death squads that exist in Venezuela since the 80s (or probably earlier)?

          Yes, the human rights track record of chavismo is awful, but as hgdam points out, that was always awful in the slums. There has never been such thing as human rights in the slums. Then, why bother about that? That’s not gonna change for them regardless of who’s in Miraflores. Even more, the opposition does not seem to have a plan to deal with it. And if they had one, I never heard about it.

          Unfortunately everybody is too busy embracing their confirmation biases and falling to hysterical attacks to even consider that. Which is politically stupid, to say the least. Wanna know how FUBAR our public sphere is? Just look at the last three post here in CC…

          • Mr. Barreda: indeed, there were important human right violations, but we also had a semblance of division of powers, and those violations were immediately denounced by the press, investigated in Congress by opposition and government deputies alike, and prosecuted by the State in many cases.

            I do not recall -from history, in any case- a time since 1958 when a government official did not only put someone behind bars for political reasons, and justified egregious human rights violations: the cases of political persecution during the Guerrilla warfare era have been mostly settled (why is it that no remembrance law and no new prosecutions have been advanced by the current government?).

          • Indeed, and the opposition should be talking openly about those cases. Somebody should write about that. But still, there were many things that amiss back in pre-Chavez era. How long did it take to the 27-F victims to find justice? They even had to go to the ICHR to get some response. And that’s the most famous case.

            In the slums human rights violations are a common thing. We only listen about the most blatant cases. Police brutality and corruption were (and still are) common not only in the slums, but everywhere. Human rights are not only about political prisoners. Is also about common citizens. Why should Juan Bimba bother about the human rights of someone else when the same person does not care about his?

    • The null hypothesis is the crux, but not necessarily because they thought the alternative was worse, but because they weren’t convinced (or were coerced into not being convinced) that the alternative (Capriles) was a guaranteed better alternative. And, it’s more about their pockets than civil rights. The intellectuals (most of those) on this Blog with their basic needs (food/work/housing/healthcare/education) comfortably covered can take the moral high ground and ponder how many Afiunis can fit on the head of a pin, but unfortunately they are light years away from the typical Chavista voter who has none of these basic needs even remotely covered, and for whom Afiuni-type morality issues are way down on his/her list of day-to-day priorities, if they are even present at all (and, yes, insecurity is at the top of the list, but when compared to economic survival, it quickly falls behind).

      • OK, your argument is “mas vale diablo conocido que diablo por conocer.” It is still instructive for our CC bloggers to elaborate a little. A powerful driver in human relations i is the rule of reciprocity: “That shall not take without giving something in return.” To the middle class and others better off, reciprocity is based on the rule of law–you give me the rule of law and I will give you my vote. The rule of law is a luxury for those whom the first priority is to meet basic needs for housing, food, etc. So, are these people less moral than we are? Nope, they are keeping their social contract. Again, their previous government was no better at guaranteeing their human rights, and under this government they are better off. The calculus is simple enough.

        • “I am a soldier, so my son can be a farmer, so his son can be a poet.”

          Another version:

          “I must study Politicks and War that my Sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My Sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, Natural History, Naval Architecture, Navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.”

          Commenters on this blog come from the two latter categories: farmer, poet or philosophers and poets.

          Those who vote for Chavez, belong in the first category, to them is like:

          “I must survive, so my son can be X, so his son can ponder on Afiuni-like issues.”

          There are a few generations between the philosophical concerns of CC readers, and rank and file, disenfranchised, utterly poor, largely ignorant chavistas. It is that simple, IMO.

      • Thank you for the reality, NET, for the shades of grey which blind the self-righteous, even those who pontificate on their grand experiences with or in barrios (…)

        As JCN notes, too, the choice of a candidate is never straightforward, is never black and white, but rather, revolves around a pragmatic choice. More so, when one is relatively uneducated, poorly informed or easily swayed, hungry and trying to make ends meet for one’s family.

  7. I think it all goes beyond…

    Venezuela has inhabitants, but very few citizens. Venezuela is not alone in this, but it is the topic of our discussion.

    Across all sectors, people is not informed. Indeed, ignorance doesn’t justify any of these. But even among some “highly educated” middle class friends, they ignore completely what’s happening in the “public sphere”, because it is truly not that public as you may think. Most of the people are completely oblivious of things like Econoinvest trial, Afiuni, Aban Pearl, etc. On the other hand, people is perfectly aware of who won the last baseball match, something that I ignore completely.

    I don’t know why is this. I don’t know how can one get people more engage. Sometimes I try to justify them saying that they also have too much in their minds. Or just the idea of having to do something is too damn exhausting. This is all excuses at the end.

    I think both your articles are to the point. But just one thing, they are those who voted for Chavez and believe that the beast can be changed from within and do work hard to do so, but face incredible bureaucracy. They are those that voted against Chavez and do nothing about it. The first breed is a rare animal but it does exist, and the second is a very common one.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to pull the trigger on all those that voted for Chavez.

    • Linares,

      Using the phrase” pulling the trigger is misleading”. Holding accountable would be more accurate.If you don’t believe that others should be held accountable then I would assume you do not hold yourself accountable as well?

      Holding ourselves accountable for what we do, how we think, how we vote, and how we respond to events, is the foundation of a Democracy, which if we wish to have,we must cultivate the ideas and attitudes that sustain it.

      • “they are those who voted for Chavez and believe that the beast can be changed from within and do work hard to do so, but face incredible bureaucracy. They are those that voted against Chavez and do nothing about it. The first breed is a rare animal but it does exist, and the second is a very common one.”

        Hmm … where are those chavsta voters who are outraged at the treatment of Judge Afiuni? Why are they not demanding the government release her and punish the perpetrators?

        • They exist, they do demand her release, perhaps they don’t do it in such a public way because that would be less strategic.

          The fact that you don’t know them does not deny their existence.

          Do you think that she was transferred from prison to home arrest because of the public outcry? Or was there actually behind scenes making it happen?

          The justice system and the public sphere are so f’up like FT says that it is up to a few influential men and women to achieve these things. The public sphere has very little to do on what chaverment does.

          And as Afiuni herself said, some of those perpetrators are 6 feet under today. Not by her request, but through the twisted and vile justice system that we have today.

          • There are many studies put there that show political affiliation to be more emotional than intellectual and more biased than objective.Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”
            Chavistas are not likely to change their minds because of the facts.They are more likely to continue to believe what they have already chosen largely due to emotional affiliations.Do
            you see Chavistas who frequent these blogs changing their minds? No,and they are not
            likely to either.

          • The percentage of voters that voted for the opposition increased dramatically even with very high participation levels, which means that some chavistas (over a million) switched sides.

            And that’s a fact… But no one is arguing this point any way.

      • FP,
        We all are to be held accountable for our actions and thoughts. Of course. And I agree with the argument presented in the article. Afiuni, and many other less public figures suffer great injustices in Venezuela, within jails and outside of them. All of them are an outrage.

        Not all the actions are seen in the public sphere. That’s all. Are you aware of the injustices in the world? Are you somewhat responsible of any of them? From voting for Chavez, to owning a blood diamond, to cobalt in your cellphone that came from african mines, to mass produced coffee that exploit workers in south america , to iPhones produced in cruel factories in China. Where do you draw the line between ignorance and not caring?

  8. Hgdam brings good point: how many people know of Afiuni? That’s a good question. But also you have to think how many people believe Afiuni?. There is really no proof as far as I know, but I believe her because it makes sense to believe her. Because the history of her situation, the unfairness of it all, and because we understand the context of what is happening in this country makes it so I believe what she denouncing.

    Unfortunately many probably don’t. People may believe this is another smear tactic by the opposition. We have fallen many times for distortions and exaggerations that now strains our credibility (“Chavez has two months to live” ). Legitimate complaints and denouncements are treated with suspicion by a large segment of the population

    Chavez has been successful about this.

    • But ECG: You don’t have to “believe” her. This is not a act of faith or proof of trust.

      Whether we like it or not, both Afiuni and every person in jail but waiting for trial is NOT guilty until the State conclusively proves otherwise.

      The burden of proof ALWAYS lies on the accuser, don’t ever forget that!. That’s the cornerstone of a free and normal country.

      • Dago,

        You are correct. I was focusing on the issues of rape and torture. In regards to the length of her unjustified incarceration, there are no issues. This is clearly a violation of her human rights and is plainly visible and obvious.

        • Afiuni was impregnated while in prison. She had a miscarriage eleven months later. Forensic analysis of that miscarriage could exclude every single prison staffer. If the authorities, who have absolute control over Afiuni, failed to secure this evidence, they are in essence admitting they don’t care if the rape occurred or not. And if this pregnancy really were not the product of a rape, surely the father would have stepped forward by now, since, supposedly, he did nothing wrong.

    • ECG,This is why speculation on his death has been so damaging and wasteful.I was always against this wasteful and damaging rumor mongering.

      As for the your other points:

      Chavistas will always discard any criticism of Chavez,but that does not take away their responsibility for Chavez’s actions.

      • Firepigette: Allow us the democracy of discussing whatever we want, for however long we want, for the country in which you do not have an active participative voice. As such, your repeated opinions are wasteful, and where they are blanket statements such as all Venezuelans are naive, they are insulting.

        • Syd,You do not own Venezuela, and my voice is as valid as yours, and even if I were not a citizen, my voice is probably more illuminating than your status quo one, because it is people like you have have kept Venezuela in the same ol’ ,same ol’ for years.Maybe it is because you do not have a child still living there like I do or maybe without the experience of living in barrios, there is a slanted view that is hard for you to overcome.

          • Adding:

            Your speculation on Chavez’s death, together with others, has been immeasurable damaging to the power of the opposition.You have all been wrong, and you have shown a linited view about the meaning, the origins and the future of Chavismo.

  9. 1. Most 2012 polls -if not all- show Venezuelans place crime as the nation’s most significant problem. One may conclude people are clearly aware -if not affected- by the ever-worsening crime situation.

    2. The government is quite indifferent to crime and in many ways has been its promoter.

    3. Chavez still won. Obviously voters subordinated -what they know to be- the worst problem of the nation to the revolution and the petro-state.

    4. Conclusion: this is the same line of thought by which people legitimize cruel regimes in light of all sorts of atrocities and violations of human rights. The unconscious belief in the notion that means justify the end.

    • IF
      Most 2012 polls -if not all- show Venezuelans place crime as the nation’s most significant problem. And IF this has been the case for over a decade (and you know it has),
      not only are those who voted for Chávez responsible for this state of affairs, but those who chose not to vote for the opposition, the abstainers in elections and referendums of years prior, are equally responsible for the crime-laden state of Venezuela, today.


  10. I have found myself doing the same type of reflections and have arrived to similar conclusions. I have a couple of points to add to the discussion:
    1. The “beacon of democracy and freedom in the world” doesn’t have a direct voting system. Instead they give the responsibility to elect the president and vice-president to the electoral colleges. They also have a winner take all system in most states, not quite a fair representation of minorities there. It is obvious that they understand the risks of too much democracy and despite all the pressures they have decided not to mess with the system that has allowed Democrats and Republicans to alternate in power for… well forever.
    2. Lance Armstrong. He was a hero, adored by millions of people until he fell into disgrace. It turns out he was always a bully and almost a criminal. He threatened and intimidated people around him and created a mob-like network that shielded him from any attacks. Crowds believed him and loved him for his charity work (Livestrong) and his incredible achievements as an athlete and his personal fight against cancer. Where is the analogy here? For most people his heroics as an athlete and his amazingly successful charity organization clearly trumped any of his wrongdoings. Now that he has fallen into disgrace, people have started to talk about the real Lance Armstrong. I must say that I knew all along that he cheated by using steroids and other banned substances, but I was in the dark like most people about his mob-like antics and his bully personality. The message is: in this day and age it is still easy to fool the masses.
    3. When you have time look for the case of Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford. This is the most incompetent politician I have ever seen in my life, and I have seen a few in my lifetime. He is a bigot, a racist and ultimately a very unfit person for the position. If you are wondering how he managed to win the election for the mayoral position in the largest and most important city in Canada (a developed country with arguably one of the highest levels of education among its citizens, much more so in a sophisticated and culturally rich city like Toronto) the key is in this four words: stop the gravy train. The message is: a catchy phrase can take you very far in life.

  11. 1) The argument is not about whether chavez voters deserve any share of responsibility; nobody is claiming they don’t have “any responsibility at all”. The argument is whether they are to blame, and by consequence whether the non chavez voters share in the responsibility, too.

    2) Regarding citizenship, versus supplicants, (i.e., asymmetric dependents), no on is arguing that they can’t make an independent judgement on the state’s actions; the argument is whether their choice, despite their judgement, is justifiable.

    3) Believing that people cannot rise above a subservient position within a petrostate, does not mean one has to renounce democracy as a mechanism out. That lack of thinking is as short sighted as the patent office closing thinking that everything that was worth inventing had already been invented. For example, unconditional cash transfers is an alternative within the democratic mechanism with the potential to get those in subservient positions to rise above within a petrostate. (There are other alternatives, too, so don’t counter against UCT just because that’s the example I used).

    4) One can logically believe that people are too X to share responsibility –and I’m glad you said “share”– for outrages of the government they elect and still believe that they have the right to vote because the vote is not chavez, versus no chavez, or outrage X, versus no outrage X. The vote is chavez, versus Capriles. What is illogical is knowing that polls consistently show people liking chavez and disliking the government and still thinking that the people are associating the name with the government’s outrages. What is illogical is knowing that polls consistently showing the lack of link between president and government that people would think that changing chavez to Capriles would change the government very much, especially when you know how much people think that chavez is doing what he can to reduce injustices and yet government outrages are still there. In other words, what is illogical is to think that people are aware of the power of their vote, and of the power of the president to change the outrages, but especially that the power of Capriles is any better than the power of chavez — oh, wait, to them the power of Capriles to change anything will be LESS!

    5) I think to respect the full personhood of the people we entrust to pick our leaders is to demand of them that they respond for the consequences of their actions. Agreed, but your wording is mislead. I respect the full personhood of the people, but acknowledge their different perspectives and the limitations of some. Like I’ve said before, you cannot claim the value of education in critical thinking to then turn around and expect critical thinking from those with lousy education. Also, no one is arguing against *responding* to consequences for electing this government; the argument is against *blaming* them for all outrages. They most clearly did not vote in favor of the outrages. They chose chavez over Capriles. And using my critical thinking I can imagine a myriad of perspectives from where chavez seems like a better option than Capriles. What is illogical is how much analysis has been produced in this very blog explaining those perspectives, to now make radical statements as if there is no way those perspectives are justified in any way. Didn’t we learn anything getting here?

    6) “The alternative, for me, is far more grave” perhaps because you’re thinking that there is only one alternative. You are acting as if your perspective is the only correct one. Read up on Kohlberg’s moral development studies. As I asked before, from the perspective of someone who’s been seeing judicial injustice from up close, say someone who spent time in prison for 3 years with no charges, does Eligio Cedeño’s case seem to him like an example of Afiuni being just, or does it seem like one more example of the injustice towards the unpriviledged in the system? And wasn’t Capriles associating himself with more of that, as opposed to chavez who is “demonstrating” his efforts against such priviledged justice?

    Funny, how you talk about being repectful of full personhood for those whom you wish to blame for chavez, but by telling us that it is illogical to believe what we do it doesn’t seem like you show much respect for the full personhood for those here who think differently than you. Go figure.

    7) As to the kids from the future, firstly, you seem, again, to make the mistake about assuming a certain level of critical thinking and a sharing of your priviledged perspective in those kids’ judgements, despite the likelihood of very different environments and schooling and family units growing up. Secondly, I think the kids of the other millions who voted can ask of the non 8,191,132, how did leaders pre chavez ever let the lives of so many ever reach the levels that got chavez to float to the top?

    While we’re thinking future, imagine the future that I see, one with UTC for decades and all the social benefits that such an economy would entail. The kids of such a Venezuela could ask you: why didn’t you support such an economic platform in the elections against chavez if it had a greater chance of winning than the platforms that simply maintained the petrostate model status quo? I mean, didn’t you SEE the OUTRAGES of chavez’s government to REALIZE you needed to go ALL OUT to BEAT him DEMOCRATICALLY?!

    Stop the us versus them mentality. Taoist thought: Living in the past robs from the present, ignoring the past robs from the future. So, let’s stop the blame game and let’s start working with what we got.

  12. exTorres,

    “The argument is whether they are to blame, and by consequence whether the non chavez voters share in the responsibility, too.”

    I agree here with you.We are all to ” blame”, though I prefer the word” responsible” to the word blame.

    In my opinion electing Capriles was a mistake because he did not confront reality in as honest a way as I would like.The opposition has made many mistakes.

    S.S.Dalai Lama ” Nuestro futuro depende enteramente de nosotros”. Not on a few, but on all of us.

  13. As others have pointed out, there is a troubling amount of historical amnesia and selective outrage underlying this discussion (,HRW,,VEN,3ae6a7df0,0.html). Without getting into the particulars of the Afiuni case, let me just note that the petro-state is not a creation of the Venezuelan masses; it is the brainchild of the Venezuelan cultural, political, and economic elite. (Please, don’t read “masses” and “elite” as some sort of code for marxist dogma; if you accept Coronil’s argument about oil and culture in Venezuela, then you understand what I mean here.) It also predates the advent of democracy, though democracy certainly has sharpened its contradictions. It seems important to keep this in mind, given the way generalizations are flying over who votes for Chavez and why, and their attendant complicity in the institutional unaccountability that at the end of the day is the hallmark of a petro-state. It might also be important to remember, again in the context of attributing culpability in the social/political form that enables prison conditions in Venezuela, that Capriles in no way challenged the logic of the petro-state in his campaign – if anything he doubled down on it. Granted it may have been for electoral purposes, but that’s counter-factual stuff that goes nowhere in reasoned debate.

    • Alejandro, This is the best post that I have seen in all three threads regarding this issue. I usually disagree with many of the posters in CC, but your post is spot-on. Cheers!

  14. There is definitely an abdication. But it is not by the average Venezuelan voter.

    The vast majority of voters are “low-information”. Very few people have the time, energy, and ability to collect process all the information required to make informed voting decisions. They rely on signals from the better informed: from political parties, from activist groups, from news media endorsements. Those signals are explicit. But there is also a mass of implicit signalling. For instance, women’s magazines in the U.S. run frequent flattering articles about Michelle Obama and her husband. These articles endorsed Obama by implication. Another aspect is the association of a politician with celebrities, both entertainment-type and intellectual-type. Non-intellectual voters don’t actually follow the reasoning of intellectual-type celebrities, but they are still aware of them. It’s in some ways a layer-to-layer process: lower-information follow the cues of higher-information acquaintances who follow higher-information celebrities or media.

    Another form of signalling is by silence. The average voter knows relatively little about national politicians, and suspects (reasonably) that they are mostly hacks, and that some are outright villains, but he doesn’t know which. He expects to be signalled when a politician does wrong. If the people whose signals he relies on are silent, he doesn’t know there is a problem.

    There is in every healthy society a cohort of people who are interested in the general good, not just personal or clan good. These are “progressives”, “reformers”, “civic activists”, “corruption fighters”. The Left has traditionally claimed to be of this cohort – or to embody this cohort completely (only the Left has the general good in mind). And in fact the Left has constituted a large part of this cohort. Intellectuals also figure in this cohort, especially Left intellectuals.

    In a constitutional democracy, this cohort should be loyal to the fundamental principles of constitutional democracy – civil liberties, rule of law, fair elections, honesty and impartiality in office. These principles are fundamental – any violation of them is an attack on constitutional democracy, which is the essential process by which government is made good and not oppressive, and defeating violators must be the first priority of the “good government” cohort. When a political figure is such a violator, the entire cohort should signal that he is bad, regardless of affiliation. (Note: gross incompetence in office is also a sort of violation.)

    But in present-day Venezuela, Left intellectuals have abdicated this responsibility. They know that Chavez and his minions are corrupt and incompetent, ignore the law, violate civil liberties, and abuse their powers of office. They don’t care. They refuse to signal anything negative about the Chavernment, however obvious and bad, and make an implied positive signal by serving in the Chavernment.

    These are people who have plenty of information, and who by their professed beliefs should be signaling by word and deed that Chavismo is bad. But they don’t.

    • Smart post, Rich. The trouble is that there aren’t any incentives in a context of polarization to signal that a political figure is a violator “regardless of affiliation.” Chavismo is a violator. But if the standard is “good governance” – so are many in the opposition, at one time or another, who have held or aspired to office. Supporters of UNT in Zulia or the Salas clan in Carabobo or other regional and local caudillos elsewhere motivated by securing their spaces of power operate under the same principle of silence and abdication that some exclusively ascribe to “the left.” Of course, I’m not suggesting there’s a power equivalency between chavismo and these local brokers. But if you’re advancing an abstract idea of moral outrage regardless of origin or consequence, then it doesn’t matter whether one is supremely powerful or only somewhat powerful. The net effect is a general dilution of the idea that anyone is accountable to an independent standard of good governance, which is I think your key point.

  15. i don’t care what happened before with gómez or any of the rest of the “undertaker presidents” we’ve had since. in this era of twitter and social media and press and radio even if the pran mayor has them all in his fist, it does not excuse the people that went and voted for him of not knowing what is going on in this country. everywhere… not only in the coliseos and prisons. and they went ahead and did so… so el 55% votó por esto. ERGO, they ARE not only responsible IMO. but silent accomplices… he dicho.

  16. This is Tea Party/secessionist logic.
    There is no causal nexus between voting for a universal, and a particular action.
    We didn’t hold a referendum on Afiuni on the 7O.
    Plus, according to “democracy” governments represent *all* the people, not just a fraction of it. We’re *all* citizens, not just the 8 million.
    Listen, I voted against Chávez and I am also horrified with Afiuni’s account.
    But, since I am a Venezuelan citizen, and a registered voter, *I am responsible*.
    So are you.
    Like it or not, you can’t disengage responsability (as per democratic representation theory) by simply holding a tantrum and saying you voted for the other guy.
    We’re ALL responsible for Afiuni. If you want to disengage responsability, get another nationality, don’t vote, and read about Venezuela as a curious addendum to your local newspaper.
    When your kids ask you in 50 years what happened, answering, “don’t look at me, I voted for the other guy!”, is plain childish. “Yeah, I voted for the other guy, but I lost, Chávez won, and I did all I could to fight for what I thought was right. I lost each time, and had to live with the knowledge of the Afiuni case” -that’s the right answer.

  17. I can’t waste my moral outrage on the “pawns in their game.” Rather, I think that condemning pawns for a moral stance they didn’t even consciously take is a good way to make them double down and become active adherents. Those who voted for Chávez (or Obama, or Romney) because they can’t imagine a different world won’t change because you tell them they are murderers and rapists. Rather they will more likely develop a mental defense to justify murder (but they’re terrorists) and rape (but they’re counterrevolutionaries). Yes, be morally clear. No, don’t hold pawns to the same standard — or consequences — as kings and queens.

  18. Blog “logic”

    0) 8M persons all know that person Y was raped
    1) 8M persons all know that person Y has been unjustly imprisoned for a while
    2) 8M persons all know that person X ordered the imprisonment
    3) 8M persons all know that person X has ordered many other injustices
    4) 8M persons all know voting for person X empowers him to continue ordering such injustices
    5) 8M persons all understand that their vote = support for things like rape of anyone person X doesn’t like
    6) 8M persons all know that the only alternative was to vote for Capriles, vote null, or abstain
    7) 8M persons are therefore responsible for such rapes
    8) anyone disagreeing with the above is morally dry and demonstrates why Venezuela is FUBAR
    9) all grandkids will not think like the 8M persons, nor like those who disagree with the above.

  19. And by the way, most of the people in the barrios do know who Chavez is , do know about the injustices in general but are more concerned about keeping their freebies than about injustices.These are the famous inverted values so talked about in the past.Actually there are also many people in the opposition who are just the same way, but happen to dislike Chavez.

    Injustice has always been in the forefront in Venezuela, and we are all responsible for this, in greater or lesser ways which cannot be determined with exactness by any given person, and is not necessary for understanding the basic principle here which is:

    Why bother voting if it is meaningless to do so or if we are not responsible ??Are we just voting fro someone to decide for us ?? If we all don’t make a difference then we are doomed.We can’t be relying on just a few elite, it has to be a group effort and each individual must play his part in the outcome.

    Am I as responsible as Chavez? Maybe not , but where does that get me?

  20. “You can argue, of course, that the political economy of the petrostate leaves Venezuelans – especially poorer Venezuelans – in such a state of asymmetric dependence on the state that they lack the tools they’d need to deliberate coherently on its actions and come to an independent judgment on it.”… There are several arguments

    • Se me fue anticipadamente… A lo que iba. Quico, there is more than one argument in favor of the not-so-crypto authoritarianism that would say that if you can’t take full responsibility for your political actions, you should not have the right to take them … I would maybe say that we lack a proper definition of “Citizenship” that has become a synonym with “National”… and maybe that a rethink of Democracy should include some of the best elements of what made ancient Republics lasts centuries … mandatory military service was one, and was eliminated, some of the few people who actually have to give something back to the State that educates them currently in the country are Physicians, most of whom go to the boondocks for a couple of years on their pasantías to take care of the poor and the discriminated against, like our indigenous communities… But I would just go with the legal principle that says “el desconocimiento de la ley no excusa de su cumplimiento” that people so often “forget” … Nobody can say “I didn’t know” or “I didn’t mean it” as an excuse for their personal actions. I real life las intenciones NO son lo que cuenta.

      • no law was broken. In fact, to claim any cause effect between voting for chavez and Afiuni’s rape breaks the innocent until proven guilty and the right to defense concepts more than the ignorance of the law thing. What’s worse is that the only other voting alternative was Capriles, so one would also have the onus of proving that a vote for Capriles was a cause with the effect of eliminating events such as Afiuni’s rape.

        • No laws were broken, you are right, I was just making a parallelism between that legal principle and daily life. When my brother was really young, he got hold of my dad’s lighter and decided it was a really cool thing to play with… He burned the curtains on my sister’s room and her mattress … His youth (7 years old) and his lack of information about the consequences (he’d never seen a house on fire before) did not protect him from the effects of his decisions and beyond having all of his toys confiscated, he was not trusted again around fire until he was in college.

          • Tom, you’re supporting my point. Your brother caused the fire. He’s guilty of at least that. Let’s suppose your brother is now 18 and he votes for a president that rapes an assistant. Is he guilty of rape? No. Let’s suppose he votes for a president that had repeatedly raped his assistants before the election. Is he guilty of rape? I don’t think so, but this seems to be the point of the blog. Let’s suppose now that the only other candidate was also guilty of raping several assistants before election. Is your brother guilty of rape regardless of for whom he votes? No, and it should be the turning argument. Capriles did not guarantee the change of status quo: petrostate abuses.

            Again, not only is your brother innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, where he has a chance to defend himself, and where ignorance of the law will not excuse of any action for which he is guilty, but the onus is on you to prove that his voting for the only other alternative candidate was equivalent to preventing that and any other crime.

            In other words, I’m not disagreeing with the principle of ignorance not being an excuse, I’m emphasizing that it’s not the only principle that applies, which seems to be the simplistic minded moral skyscraper from where the bloggers are writing.

            Let me turn this on you. If you supported Capriles, aren’t you guilty of any petrostate abuses that ensue regardless of the winner, since both candidates represent continuation of petrostate abuses?

          • By the way, tom, his youth and ignorance did protect him from the effects of his decisions; had he been 18 he may have gone to trial for arson.

    • If you were to get really honest about it Tom, there are a myriad of reasons why you or I could disqualify almost any individual from having the tools to vote properly:

      personality disorders, greed, mental dullness, sociopathy , hatred, lack of a college degree, etc etc.

      This kind of elitism, would pretty much argue for an Dictatorship of the Elite, not a Democracy.

      Now if we pretend to have a Democracy we must at least acknowledge and respect the power of the individuals vote regardless of your or my opinion of it.

      • Firecochinita, I am not arguing for the restriction of the right to vote, just mentioning that some of the societies modern democracy sees as forebearers (the Roman Republic, mostly) had different definitions… so it is not that clear cut and definitive… But beyond that, my main point is that personal responsibility and civic duty seem to have been swept under the populist rug for several decades now.

      • To only vote and then to go about one’s day evading taxes and bribing public officers for business is a poor excuse for citizenship.


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