Part of me can’t help but be impressed with Maduro and Diosdado this week: the sheer chutzpah, the titanium-plated cojones you need to take a fairly standard campaign of repression against political dissidents and dress it up proudly as an anti-corruption drive is breathtaking. In a way, today’s government march is a testament to Hugo Chávez: he knew enough to leave in charge people willing and able to carry forth his legacy of aggressively sectarian, borderline dadaist illogic masquerading as leftist ideology. Chapeau.
Today’s government march also stands as a monument to Communicational Hegemony. Not for the first time, I found myself thinking that Andres Izarra is a visionary. He saw clearly what lesser men could only dimly intuit: that a government bent on building propaganda lines out of sheer gobbledygook couldn’t be stable if alternative voices were allowed to challenge it in mass media. A government like this one needs communicational hegemony like you and I need air to breathe: only in a world of off-the-air RCTVs, co-opted Venevisions, bought-off Globovisions and a thousand cowed radio stations could the government get away with telling us, with a straight face, that it was “cracking down on corruption” by…inconstitutionally stripping elected dissidents of their parliamentary immunity.
It may be that, at this point, the blindingly obvious merits re-stating, if only because Communicational Hegemony itself ensures that perfectly self-evident facts are rarely stated in public anymore: the whole notion that the heart of Venezuela’s corruption problem is in the opposition is utterly non-sensical.
A continuously hounded, spied on, persecuted and cash-starved opposition can’t steal very much, not even because they’re more ethical than chavistas, but simply because they lack the opportunity for serious graft. The entire notion that a young politico interested chiefly in lining his pockets would choose to be part of an opposition political party when he could just as easily join a movement awash in petrodollars, allergic to auditing, protected by friendly judges, prosecutors and cops, to say nothing of the aforementioned communicational hegemonic state media, is one so aggressively devoid of minimal sense as to be barely worth discussing. (Again, it’s because the argument is so flimsy, so patently incapable of withstanding any kind of critical scrutiny that you wouldn’t really think of putting it forth unless you could be sure it would go unanswered, as far as most media consumers were concerned.)
But perhaps the real message of the day is getting lost in the smoke and mirrors of a kleptocracy accusing its victims of doing what it itself specializes in:
Say you’re a chavista on the make. Say you have a nice guiso going, skimming petrodollars off the budget of any of the umpteen-hundred ministries, state owned firms, institutos autonomos, quasi-NGOs, comunas, cooperativas, militias, barracks, misiones, embassies, consulates, notarías, registros, tribunals, universities, gobernaciones or alcaldías now graced with the adjective “bolivarianas”.
What do you think you learned as you watched TV today?
You learned that as long as you keep wearing those red T-Shirts and showing up to those marches, you are a-ok. You learned that corruption, your type of corruption, is going to be tolerated indefinitely, as long as you’re smart enough to keep your loyalties straight. You learned that dissent is the road to prison, and loyalty the road to sustaining a lifestyle you probably never dreamed you’d have access to before you started stealing from the state.
And let’s be clear: in structuring their “clampdown on corruption” around a dissident witch-hunt, Nicolás Maduro and Diosdado Cabello knew exactly what they were doing. This message was clearly delivered by people perfectly cognizant of how it would be received. They’ve done their sums, and they’ve come to their conclusion: as a worsening economic situation rocks the social basis for the regime’s stability, the unconditional support of the society of accomplices becomes increasingly critical to sustaining their power. Chávez liked to deceive himself into thinking he was practicing statecraft, Maduro and Diosdado own their racketeering.