Spoiler Alert

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Some time I picked to stop blogging about Venezuela, right? Yeesh! OK, so call this the first of a series of – hopefully rare – Ilan Chester-style guest posts from the other side of retirement.


Maybe exposure to tear gas causes learning difficulties.

There’s a lot of ferment right now, a lot of excitement, as a brand new generation of kids relearning, en cabeza propia all kinds of things that nobody ever learns en cabeza ajena.

Like Juan, I’ve seen this movie before. And so I sort of know how it ends. So – SPOILER ALERT – here are the seven lessons that today’s students are eventually going to figure out, but not before a huge amount of heartache and, well, just plain normal ache:

  1. The one thing chavismo can’t do without is an enemy, preferably one that its followers can feel good about hating, a convincingly menacing yet objectively powerless enemy that helps mobilize grassroots support while presenting no real challenge to the governing elite’s power
  2. You are the perfect enemy Seriously, you tick all the boxes.
  3. They’re not repressing you because they’re scared of you, they’re repressing you because they have a long-term plan to build a fully authoritarian state and society. From their point of view, any event that gives them a pretext to advance that agenda is a feature, not a bug.
  4. Nicolás Maduro can’t believe his luck that you started to guarimbear just when his mismanagement of the economy had gotten so bad it was starting to threaten the cohesion of the chavista coalition.
  5. Anything that makes a protest in Antímano less likely makes the government stronger because the only thing the government really fears, the only thing that actually threatens the governing clique’s control of the state and its rents, is dissent in its natural base of support.
  6. A guarimba in Altamira makes a protest in Antímano less likely, because it reinforces the Us vs. Them, el pueblo vs. la oligarquía framing that’s at the center of chavismo’s ultimate claim to legitimacy.

All of which brings us to the terrible realization people of my generation had towards the end of January, 2003, and which people of your generation are going to have in February or March of 2014:

Middle class protests in middle class areas on middle class themes by middle class people are not a challenge to the chavista power system, they’re part of the chavista power system.

This is really painful, but figuring it out is crucial. Chavismo doesn’t thrive despite this type of protest, it thrives because of it.

It will break your heart. It broke mine. But it’s important to see it clearly because, tragically, some people never do piece it together.