PSUV's Mobilization Not So Militarized After All

Not coming to knock on your door any time soon: the Milicia Bolivariana
Not coming to knock on your door any time soon: the Milicia Bolivariana

So, that story on PSUV’s voter mobilization plans stuck on my mind. At the end of the story, the site – which seems to have cornered the market for juicy government leaks to the point of allegedly being firewalled off by CANTV – published hundreds of phone numbers PSUV’s front-line get out the vote activists: 86 excel spreadsheets covering Miranda State, the Distrito Capital and Vargas State. (This is what they look like.)

So, with the help of a volunteer, I spent Friday afternoon chatting these guys up on Skype.

Remarkably, upon receiving a weird phone call from some incomprehensible skype number and hearing a foreign-accented guy (my volunteer is from Bogotá) ask them questions, not a single one of them slammed the phone down!

Everyone knows how lengua floja Venezuelans are, but after all the propaganda about plots and spies and saboteurs, I found this remarkable. Out of a dozen calls, only two chavista front-line operatives even expressed any curiosity as to who we may be or where we might have gotten their numbers – and one pivotted directly from expressing suspicion to offering the mystery caller a ticket to come visit Venezuela and bask in the glories of the revolution!

The Analisis24 leak looked damning because it seemed to indicate the PSUV, the Consejos Comunales, the Milicia Bolivariana, and the National Guard are just one big undifferentiated stew of chavismo. People from all these institutions are listed in the same contact sheets, just incestuously mixed in with one another.

Our key goal, then, was to confirm the allegation that the military – and specifically, the Milicia – would effectively be used as PSUV’s get out the vote machine.

We found no evidence of that.

The milicianos we spoke to were clear: their role that day is strictly Plan República (i.e., providing security at polling stations) and does not involve any element of coordination with Comando Hugo Chávez or with the PSUV.

This clip shows it clearly – from 0:42 in particular:

This next militia respondent, is very much on the same page:

Some Consejo Comunal spokespeople who told us that while they are members of the militia, their role on election day has nothing to do with the militias. “Una cosa no guarda relación con la otra”:

I tend to believe them – these weren’t sleazy media-savvy Caracas politicos we were talking to; they were neighborhood activists heartbreakingly flattered to be “interviewed” by an interested outsider. Their stories were consistent with one another’s and if anything disarmingly forthright.

Some of these grassroots chavistas break your heart. There’s still a share of proper community organizers out there, guys who want to do right by their communities and are still barking up the wrong tree hoping against hope. This interview with a guy in deepest rural Barlovento, for instance, broke my heart – we couldn’t get him off the phone!

It’s of course possible to overstate the separation between the Militia and the more political civilian part of PSUV. One lady told us that yes, last time (on October 7th) she’d worked on the Militia looking after her voting center’s security, but this time they’d asked her to work on the mobilization side:

There seems to be an awful lot of overlap in terms of the actual people involved in both organization, but it also seems like there’s still a functional differentiation: chavista activists, at least at this level, retain the common-sense understanding that it’s not proper for uniformed people to proselytize on election day.

Everyone we spoke to said that their mobilization plan for April 14th is essentially unchanged from last October (and last December). So Defense Minister Diego Molero’s vow to make Maduro’s victory a mission for the armed forces seems to me more like a bit of posturing (or plain braggadocio) rather than a statement of new policy. At least, if that’s what it is, it doesn’t seem to have filtered down to front-line activists.

Of course, whether Civilian or Military, PSUV’s mobilization plan is still built around the massive abuse of state resources to bring governing party supporters to vote. The forthrightness with which people described their plans to lean on PDVSA to pay for the buses and cars they’ll need to mobilize people would’ve been tender were it not so openly illegal.

It left me thinking. If you go by this impressive El Nacional piece, Defense Minister Molero’s statement may have been just a red herring. The state institution that’s now at the center of PSUV’s get out the vote drive isn’t the Armed Forces; it’s PDVSA.