All Roads Lead to Repression


110818_madrid_represion_marcha_antipapa_01Here’s a thought someone put in my inbox – and a good one.

The major paradox of the Chávez era is what you might call the Case of the Missing Repression: governments as authoritarian as Chávez’s, with an eliminationist rhetoric towards opponents and all state power consolidated under a single leader are normally far, far more violent and repressive than Chávez’s has been.

Now, what accounts for the missing repression? Why are there no gulags? Why are there dozens of political prisoners rather than hundreds, or thousands? Basically, because Chávez has been able to substitute three things for repression:

  1. Charisma
  2. Petrodollars
  3. Personal authority

His charisma did much to keep his base in line, even as the government failed to deliver across a range of issues. The petrochequera allowed him to co-opt opponents wholesale, be it via the populist spending binge or, say, the extraordinary profits it made available to groups such as the banking industry. And his personal authority within revolutionary ranks served as an effective mechanism for settling internal disputes: fights couldn’t fester, because Chávez’s word was final.

Now, as Chávez exits the scene, one thing is clear: the next government will have none of these available. Which strongly suggests that the first post-Chávez government will be more – and possibly much more – authoritarian than Chávez’s: the era of charming people into submission, or buying them into submission or badgering them into submission is coming to an end, and all that leaves is the era of beating people into submission.

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  1. Top-Down versus Grassroots Change has always been a tradition in Venezuela and easily accepted by the people.One of the newer rationales has been the failure of the 4th Republic who supposedly neglected the poor and was riddled with corruption.

    It doesn’t take that much charisma to convince people of what has been trending among the people all along.When seen in this light very little violent repression is needed to convince the people of the need for an authoritarian government.

    • This gets to what’s missing in this analysis and that is the profound ability of el Pueblo to accept what life brings them, regardless of whether its wrong, should be changed, is unacceptable, is repressive ect. So yes, Chavez wooed the people, but the people have a tremendous ability to allow themselves to be wooed.

  2. The problem with this theory is that, in order to pull off repression, you need:
    a) somebody willing to maintain power at all costs; and
    b) a State apparatus that will obey orders to repress.

    Do we have that in Venezuela? Is Maduro the second coming of Pinochet or Fidel? If he is, will the Armed Forces respond to his orders to repress? And if he wavers in his commitment to repression, if he shows a loose grip somehow, how do we know somebody really repressive won’t shove him aside in order to “save the Revolution”?

    • “And if he wavers in his commitment to repression, if he shows a loose grip somehow, how do we know somebody really repressive won’t shove him aside in order to “save the Revolution”?”

      Notice that in the original post I never mention Maduro. This isn’t an argument about any one leader, but about the structural requirements of maintaining power given the coming alignment of social and political forces. Whether it’s Maduro or the guy who shoves him aside is immaterial – it’s just what it takes to keep the country from falling apart in the conditions Chávez is bequeathing.

      And if the people called on to implement it balk – which I really don’t see any evidence to think will happen – then you have a road to chaos and state failure.

  3. I think they will try, either the extreme chavistas or someone on the extreme right, but will fail.

    Pérez Jimenez lost the touch when he empowered the SN.

  4. In other words, Quico and gang try to figure out why a government that they’ve convinced themselves is “repressive” isn’t actually, erm, uh, you know…. repressive…

      • Actually, it was November 12 2002, when the blog was less than 3 months old:

        What made Stalin Stalin is that state-lies held a monopoly of the information available to common people in Russia. His aggressive convolution of reality was paired with a willingness to use as much violence as it took to crush anyone who questioned the state line. Stalinism wasn’t just about routinely making up impossibly far-fetched lies; it was about making it compulsory to believe them. It was about routinely using impossible lies as the justification for putting bullets in people’s heads, or sending them for long sojourns in Siberia.

        Chávez won’t go all the way, which explains why the Chávez era has been one-part-tragedy, two-parts-farce.

        Without total control over people’s access to information, twisted state lies are laid bare before the end of the day, becoming a farcical joke rather than a source of deep terror. Not only is it not compulsory to believe the crap the government peddles, but making fun of various chavista lies has become a kind of pass-time for the middle classes.

        To make a proper totalitarian leader, you have to balance off your willingness to mangle the truth with an equal dose of cruelty and violence – Chávez just can’t strike that balance, because he’s just not comfortable enough using violence to achieve political ends.

        • This is a hilarious piece Toro, really. I’d never seen it before. To summarize: “Chavez is almost like Stalin, except he’s not as violent.” hee, hee!!

          • This is why this blog is popular with reds. Toro standing philosophically head and shoulders above his flock who can barely rub two stones together. All uniformly deluded however. Education doesn’t come bundled with wisdom unfortunately.

      • And what’s crazy is you’re still asking yourself the same question. Here we are in 2013 and you’re still making the same bone-headed predictions about the government being on the verge of “beating people into submission”.

        • Whhat? Easy Get a clue, don’t tell me you haven’t noticed how the Chavistas are violent…or you think Venezuela is very peaceful. The strategy has been just let the malandros deal with it… and because Chavistas are malandros too… it’s all in the family, so they think. They thought they were killing two (or even 3 if we take the international community) birds at the same time, not taking care of the violence and that way intimidate the “rich” which in reality is everybody. Because everybody is subject to violence. No need of gulags. The problem with this is that as Juan and Quico mentioned, there is a moment that the game won’t work for them since they have become the “establishment” and the “rich” now. They are no longer the Robin Hoods of the people and the malandros know. And since the talking clown is off to hell… well… hard to keep the people in control without his lunatic charisma.

        • Have you ever read an entire comment, let a lone a book, all the way through?

          “Chávez won’t go all the way, which explains why the Chávez era has been one-part-tragedy, two-parts-farce.”

          I know it’s hard to get past the first sentence of a post one your Chavista rage sets in, but you really should try.

  5. For the sake of being contrary I dispute that Chavez has much charisma by Venezuelan standards. You take any person off the street in San Fernando or Barinitas, give them a blank cheque, and pretty soon they’ll be doing 5 hour cadenas and think they’re the reincarnation of Bolivar. People like Barbara Walters think this is charisma. I know a ten year old kid from Apure being raised by his grandparents, like Chavez was, and he has this same ‘charisma’ and there’s plenty more where that came from, no thanks to the bolivarian robolucion.

    • That’s an interesting thought. It is true that Venezuelans tend to have a lot of charisma, but then how do you explain that there doesn’t seem to be a single person among the opposition with much charisma? Capriles is perhaps the best they’ve got, and you have to admit the guy doesn’t hold a flame to Chavez when it comes to charisma, or oratory skills.

      • I think Capriles is the real deal, GAC. And he’s a RICH lawyer. I have his poster on my wall and I reflect on it when I am not out exploiting people.

        • suggest you put his picture in your wallet. I mean, Capriles’, not GAC’s. You’ll soon be rolling in the stuff, and may need to build an extra room, just to house the extra dough.

      • Again oratory is ot talking for 5 hours, and aranhitas…and recite poems…and yes HCR has no oratory skills, the same with chavez

  6. What should be even more frightening is the thought that perhaps one day soon the Chavistas will find themselves out of power. The drama unfolding in Venezuela over the next few months could make an election loss a likely scenario. What then? The violence unleashed on the general population will be staggering, beyond belief. It will continue unabated throughout the term of any new presidency. Therefore, if the above post proves accurate, whichever new direction Venezuela chooses for its future in the near term, there can be little done to prevent the outbreak of severe civil disorder. Frightening. Why? This is all the ‘direct’ result of the words and actions of a vicious thug who achieved and maintained political power by insulting and threatening his political opponents. The future shedding of blood in Venezuela, …will be mostly on his hands.

  7. This might be relevant
    Venezuela: PDI (Power): 81, IDV (Individual Self-Reliance): 12, MAS (Winner oriented): 73, UAI (Uncertainty avoidance): 76 (es posible comparar con otros paises)
    At a score of 12 Venezuela is amongst the lowest individualistic scores; in other words, it lies amongst the most collectivistic cultures in the world, beaten only by Ecuador, Panama and Guatemala.
    Since the Venezuelans are a highly collectivistic people, belonging to an in-group and aligning yourself with that group’s opinion is very important. Combined with the high scores in PDI, this means that groups often have their strong identities tied to class distinctions. Loyalty to such groups is paramount and often it is through “corporative” groups that people obtain privileges and benefits which are not to be found in other cultures. At the same time, conflict is avoided, in order to maintain group harmony and to save face. There have been many struggles for power among different political factions and between unions and employers, but seldom have such conflicts become really as violent as what has been observed in other countries in Latin America.
    Relationships are more important than attending to the task at hand, and when a group of people holds an opinion on an issue, they will be joined by all who feel part of that group. This may result in the task being completed quickly through cooperative effort, or it may result in the task being totally abandoned (if that is the opinion of the initial group articulating an opinion). Of course, this is also linked to PDI, so power holders can more easily get a group formed around them, rather than people who are perceived as having less power.
    Venezuelans will often go out of their way to help you if they feel there is enough attention given to developing a relationship, or if they perceive an “in-group” connection of some sort, however thin. However, those perceived as “outsiders” can easily be excluded or considered as “enemies”.
    Venezuelans are competitive and status-oriented (not too motivated by caring for others or quality of life), yet collectivistic rather than individualistic. This means that competition is directed towards members of other groups (or social classes), not towards those who are perceived as members of your own in-group.
    The combination of high UAI with the scores on the previous four dimensions means that it is difficult to change the status quo, unless a figure of authority is able to amass a large group of people and lead them towards change.

  8. Repression has been ever present but of a more subtle nature. Intimidation, tolerance of street crime, promoting a sense of uncertainty and insecurity, absence of any rule of law, etc. Chavez has succeeded in bringing the opposition to its knees through these subtle tactics.

    • I agree with you, Chavez has not needed heavy handed repression tactics to control Venezuela. But if you run afoul of the state you can be certain that retribution will be forthcoming. “Para muestra un botton”. What happened to the ex-PDVSA employees was repression, What still happens to the members of the Tascon List is repression. The fear opposition voters have of voting is repression. If one day that does not work then you will see the great grandchild of Guasina show up. Until then, why use a cannon when a flyswatter will do?

    • Power and Strenght are most dramatically made manifest by deeds of violence , so people who idolize Power , specially absolute Power get a narcicistic kick from the flagrant use of violence against their opponents, makes then feel like a roaring King Kong. thumping his chest . Violence however is not only phisical, it can take many forms such as threats, insults, virulent disparagement of others dignity or reputation , coercive acts of closure or confiscation , arbitrary fines and sanctions , dismissal from public employment or that of contractors working for the government (lista tascon) , the indictment and imprisonment of opposition figures on trumped up charges , etc etc In a country like venezuela where every one depends one way or the other on the Goverment the means of coercion open to a tyranical regime are almost endless . Add to that the capacity of a cash rich Regime to bribe people with gifts and hand outs or corrupt business opportunities and its power to coerce or bribe gets scary!!

  9. Great post. I’ve always thought a repressive regime will follow Ch’s demise. That it succeeds is another matter. Personally I don’t think it can in a post-1958 Venezuela. Call me optimistic…

  10. The Venezuelan case of missing repression is applicable to most of Latin America today and quite unsurprising. In the Cold War days of yore governments could get away with violently manhandling and killing citizens because no one was going to tell them any different. Nowadays a government can lose a lot of credibility by practicing state violence.

    The Venezuelan case has come about because Chavez never has had any serious threats to his power apart from 2002, when violence was used. Most people are kept in a state of clientelistic satisfaction and with political opposition virtually shut out of power he really never had to get violent. Could this change under a Maduro regime? Depends if his hold on power ever became tenuous. Point is you can have an authoritarian, non-violent regime. If you erode separation of powers you are authoritarian. If you greet opponents with violent discourse and veiled threats you’re authoritarian. If an opposition electoral victory is considered unacceptable and put on par with the end of the world, you’re authoritarian. Simple as that.

  11. Another thing: (This post really interests me) Most Latin American governments have followed a populistic approach to achieving popular support, even the ones we consider to be autocratic. The Somoza regime in Nicaragua, particularly Tacho Sr., held onto power mainly through non-violent means. Violence was practiced occasionally but he mostly kept power because the economy was good and most people were satisfied enough with their lives that living under an autocrat was just not seen as a problem until the late 70s. The same goes for a host of other regimes that did not practice wholesale butchery (the Southern Cone being the most glaring exception) You catch more flies with honey than you do with a nightstick and beating the population into submission has always been the last resort of doomed regimes.

  12. Both Hoftedes and McClelland comparative world wide cultural value studies ( as they relate to Venezuela) were the subject of Alberto Leals book ‘La Variable Independiente¨’which is recomended reading to any one interested in these subjects. Some care must be taken with the way some of the terms are translated from mid 60’s American or Dutch vernacular to Venezuelan realities . for example ‘collectivist’ translates into what might be better termed ‘clique oriented’ and refer to those phenomena we in Venezuela call ‘compadrazgos’, ‘nepotismos’, ‘macollas’ . In venezuela relationships are more personal and tribal than impersonally social or functional but personal relationships are not as hindered by formal social barriers as in many other countries and people welcome intimacy and openness in many contexts which would not be allowed in other cultures. A Chilean lady, long resident in Venezuela has taken up local ways and is an embarrassment to her sisters whenever she visits them in Chile for her ‘unbecoming ways’ with strangers and ‘people of humble status’.
    People are probably more accepting of inequality because its greased with warm relaxed habits of social intercourse whatever the social distance between people of different ranks . Haughty formality is frown upon at all levels . A Venezuelan who worked for a time in Mexico was shocked by the Cold Impersonal tone Bosses would use with their underlings .
    Two things which I remember from Leals book is how Venezuelans outside their personal clique are so distrustful of each other and how bessoted with the importance of Power they were , much more than with the values of ‘achievement’ and how at the time they ranked 4th in their fascination with Power and its manifestations as compared to other countries!!

  13. ElJefe @January 31, 2013 at 11:41 am says: In the Cold War days of yore governments could get away with violently manhandling and killing citizens because no one was going to tell them any different. Nowadays a government can lose a lot of credibility by practicing state violence.

    Actually the opposite is true. In the past, a government which openly used political violence or other gross violations of constitutional democratic norms was immediately in deep trouble. That regime would meet one of three fates.

    First, it could apologize, retreat, and sacrifice some scapegoats (which might include the chief).

    Second, it could use violence to suppress absolutely all political opposition and dissent. This would include rigging elections and imprisoning political opposition.

    Third, it could fall to popular rejection. This might take the form of a coup d’état by a dissenting faction of the armed forces or a successful guerrilla rebellion. If the regime held an un-rigged election (some have, not realizing the depth of opposition), it would be completely defeated.

    This last result would happen when all (or nearly all) of the opinion leaders of the country signaled that the regime had committed intolerable crimes, but the regime did not follow options 1 or 2.

    But in recent years, it has become possible for a government to commit gross violations. allow opposition political forces to operate, and still win substantially un-rigged elections. That is because in these countries, a large portion of the opinion leader class now tolerates gross violations by the regime if they are of its political or tribal faction.

    This is the case in Zimbabwe and Russia, Another case of semi-dictatorship is Iran, where the regime holds the fealty of security forces, despite massive popular rejection. (Soldiers and police usually desert a discredited regime,)

    Some regimes manage to excuse their violations by claims that anti-regime forces are intolerably dangerous – Fujimori in Peru during the Sendero Luminoso rebellion, Algera versus the Islamist GIA, Turkey’s AKP versus “Ergenekon”. (Peru and Algeria were, arguably, right. There is enough historical background for AKP’s claim to appear plausible.)

    In some countries (Pakistan, Thailand), every faction is to some degree guilty of gross violations, and general rejection of a violator becomes impossible.

    Venezuela is a mix. Chavista intellectuals and journalists are loyal, despite crimes against their non-Chavista colleagues and blatant corrruption of the regime. The corruption of the IV Republic and the 2002 coup attempt provide a historical excuse. This (plus petromoney) keeps a majority of the voters in line, and that (plus graft) keeps the soldiers and police in line.

  14. Personally, I find that Chávez’ charisma was an obfuscation, or the cloudy ink that a squid shoots to deflect its direction from its enemies. During 14 years of charisma and buffoonery, coupled with threatening rhetoric that kept the polarized population under control, Cuban apparatchiks encroached on the Vzlan government. It was difficult see, though many people were marginally aware of it. Now with the charisma out of the way, the people’s sense of fatalism comes into play. They are more likely to put up with Cuban encroachment without much resistance. Aggression can now take center stage. Or it can exert more pressure from the sidelines.

  15. The repression is in the form of condoning generalized violent crimes that keeps the masses home and targeted censorship that leads to self-censorship. There are different types of violence. The government has used economic violence to force dissenters to emigrate. They’ve used political violence when they arbitrarily decide who can run for office and eliminated proportional representation. There have been more violent deaths in Venezuela in the last 15 years than deaths from the Israeli-Palestine Conflict in over 90 years.

  16. Juan Bimba and others are right on the money! Represion 2.0 could be a tiltle for a follow up post Quico. Lista Tascon come to my mind as the most pervasive….A true “david’s cross” sewn into the public sphere for all too know. (CD quemaditos un FFAA street vendor’s).

    Economic, ideological and yes, physical violence has been present but bery well managed and with demonstrative effect. Why all the picking with Alfiuni, Simonovis, The turncoat military, etc…

    Why the “welcoming back to double traitors like the Zulia governor and the Petare major hopeful?

    All pieces of a clear cut leadership building plan: com migo todo, en contra de mi nada…

    Very well excecuted if you ask me.

    There is no need for Gulags when Pranismo is state policy and the way to maiquetia is left open for anyone who does not like the way it is….

    • What?? You must be stupid or more likely brain dead to write such garbage.

      Missing repression – what a load of nonsense and a non subject. It would be better for your guys to discuss the missing votes you so badly need to harvest.

      • I think they need another 10-point defeat to remind themselves that the only “repression” in 13 years has been a few water cannons and some tear gas on politically-illiterate teenagers.

        Perhaps these people still wake up every morning forgetting that Zulia is now Chavista.

  17. Cases such as Afiuni’s do the work of fifty thousand beatings, since it terrorized the entire judiciary into submission, and allowed the President’s office to begin to decide any legal cases of interest, without, you know, evidence. While the level of repression is nowhere near that of Stalin or Kim Jong Il, I wouldn’t characterize it as missing, either. Cases like the mass slaughter of prisoners, such as occurred last Friday, would lead to murder charges in any civilized country.

  18. When I visit family in Venezuela, most of whom are firmly in the opposition and have been since 99, they are far less concerned with any real or hypothetical political repression than they are with the constant threat of getting violently mugged, robbed, carjacked, kidnapped, or even killed (all of which have happened in the extended family over the past 6 years). Whatever happens politically, the rampant culture of criminal violence will not get any better anytime soon. Any new regime leader of the PSUV will surely be afraid to take on the malandros. After all, they are a powerful part of their base.

    God forbid the price of oil ever drops again, Venezuela will truly be entering the 7th circle of hell.


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