Why Venezuela is Entering a Dangerous New Phase

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Endogenous Innovation
Endogenous Innovation
Endogenous Innovation

Here’s the thing to keep in mind about the escalating protests in Venezuela and, especially, the very heavy-handed repression they’re being met with: this never would’ve happened when Hugo Chávez was still in charge.

Let’s be clear: I’m no fan of Chávez, and on this blog I spent 11 years harshly questioning his rule. But Hugo Chávez had a clear strategy for keeping Venezuela under his personal control, one that mixed a repetitive, violent, eliminationist discourse against opponents with a relatively light and selective use of actual physical violence.

It was a strange mix, one based on his particular brand of charismatic rhetoric. And in its way, it worked.

Yes, Chávez had his political prisoners, but for much of his tenure you could count them with your fingers. Yes demonstrations were repressed, sometimes harshly. But Chávez had an instinctive feel for how he could achieve much that others achieve through violence by other means: via persuasion, again using his powerful oratory and ability to connect with an adoring base, and then through the pocketbook, by showering Venezuela’s inexhaustible supply of petrodollars on his followers.

Maduro has none of these advantages. A famously gaffe-prone speaker, he’s much more likely to bore his audience to sleep than to stir them into acts of revolutionary self-denial. And years of bone-headed economic mismanagement have left the state teetering on the brink of insolvency – the old trick of just spending a few million to keep whichever constituency needed to be pacified pacified is now strictly off limits.

Even before Chávez passed, it was clear to me that Maduro would tend to make up for the twin charisma-and-cash deficits through the barrel of a gun. It’s logic. Chávez’s constant, harsh, dehumanizing rhetoric has already primed his followers to hate dissenters. Chavista followers have always been willing, even eager, to fuck up the little fascist punks across town. Primed by years of harsh, constant state propaganda, they’ve been chumping at the bit.

Now they’re getting free rein.

The old tension between extremist rhetoric and relatively mild repression is ending, and it’s not ending by toning the rhetoric down to bring it to the level of the action. Just the opposite, it’s ending by ratcheting the violence up to the level where the rhetoric has been for years.

Which is why tonight Venezuelans have reason to be afraid. Very afraid.

1 COMMENT

  1. It’s mostly the economy, stupid.

    The charisma problem is really only a problem because of the shortages and inflation.

    And boy are Chavistas happy to see those topics move from above-the-fold to below.

      • It’s a taboo that’s been present on the venezuelan’s idiosincracy for years to treat most of the dead as “good people” or event to raise them to the levels of saints, because it’s an accepted idea that doing that helps you to “connect” on an emotional level to some group of people, or just because it was considered as some sort of bullying to “mess up with the dead because they can’t defend themselves”

        It happened with people that clearly were hateful and enjoyed being hated such as Lina Ron, after she died of a heart attack, everybody accross the country were almost to the brink of tears for her, who in life was, more or less, just an asshole bully, or at least that was the image she wanted to cast on the dissidents on Venezuela, with many people, not just chavistas, jumping ferociously to the throat of anybody who “dared to celebrate her passing”.

        Then it happened again with a couple more of infamous chavistas that kicked the bucket too, such as William Lara or even Luis Tascón, and after that it came with full force when Chavez himself bit the dust in fishy circumstances between La Habana and Venezuela, basically they wanted to convey the idea that “nobody was allowed to celebrate or even smile for such a disgrace, because that would mean you were just a misery-filled douchebag”

        The “alas poor Chavez” line of thought is used today because that “all the dead were good people” idea is supposed to help non-chavista politicians to get closer to that “adoring chavista base” and “insatisfied chavistas” that could at any moment vote against some chump like Maduro.

        PS: Sorry for the awful english there, not fluent on that.

    • I don’t think that’s what the article is trying to say. Chávez may very well have had to deal with this if he had lived long enough to see the full effects of 14 years of failed policy. How would he have dealt with it? No way to tell but in any case the argument places the responsibility for current events squarely on him.

    • There’s a part of me that thinks that Chávez chose Maduro as a self destruct mechanism, so that nobody would ever overshadow him. That part of me grows louder everyday

  2. Well, we can argue about what Chavez would have done in this situation. He was an ever-changing man, and could easily reverse his positions when he wanted to. But it seems to me this was always the objective of his incendiary rhetoric: Not only to gain votes from a side of the population, but to also fervently pit them against the other when a situation like this one arrived.

  3. Someone has a site/source confirming the deaths recorded in the 2 videos of yesterday? The videos are of low quality, and there are comments on facebook/twitter which (without denying the brutality of the actions) deny the deaths themselves, stating that those guns had no live ammunition but instead perdigones, that the persons were not death but wounded, etc.

  4. Ukraine is completely something else. Lets hope that venezuela will get an independent government. I dont like the opposition guy. He is too good in putting himself in scene. One of the protesters should take the role and lead venezuela to a free and wealthy country without giving away all its ressources for free to shell/standard/bp.

    • If memory serves, not only being in the scene but at the forefront of the scene is by definition a leader. Geesh.

      Re giving away resources, the only giveaway is to Cuba, along with deep discounts, “loans”, etc. to other assorted sycophantic countries (and Joe Kennedy) who serve the regime’s (and Cuba’s) purpose.

    • Yeah, this whole socialism revolution thing completely failed so lets reset and give it another go. Shell/Standard/BP are NOT your enemies.

  5. The time for Venezuelans to be afraid is over. Just like it happened in 1958, it is time to finish this regime dictatorial and start steering to a new direction. If Venezuelans get afraid tonight, the suffering and horror will be hunting them for many years to come.

  6. Chavez had three things going for him beside his Personal Charisma :

    1. Plenty of money with which to water the tree of his popularity to lush tropical propportions .

    2. An opposition which felt defeated and broken after so many electoral defeats (which the results of the april elections reversed) .and

    3. A very ugly financial situation which was not yet showing its face quite as openly as now.

    That allowed him more leeway in holding control of things without having to resort to measures of extreme repressive violence.

    Things are different now and crass repressive measures have become necessary for a weakened regime to hold itself up. !!.

    The protests might subdise for a while but they are going to return again and again , each time stronger as people become more and more incensed at the govts clear failure to handle the economy .and as the image of the govt gets trounced again and again by more defeats in its popularity ..

  7. It Is a pity that the consequences of his “reign” are showing one year after “pelo el gajo” . It will have been nice to see if his charismatic ways works as well ,without money and completely bankrupt. I doubt it.

  8. Chávez is personally responsible for what is going on right now. He was the one that created and funded the militias. He was the one that created hate among venezuelans and stir it over and over for 15 years. He did anything to insure his power.

    He was carismatic and politically lucky, he lived the beginning of the oil bonanza and did not have to pay the price of his mistakes.

    Maduro is uncarismatic and unlucky: he is paying the price for the economic disaster created by his predecesor.

    • Chavez is not responsible. The people that elected him are. Maduro is not responsible either, the idiots that stayed home and did not vote against him are responsible. The f…g assholes in congress are not responsible for all this, Those that decided to stay home during the 2006 elections are responsible. Bruni, these are all self inflicted wounds.

        • Who votes for a guy who was in prison after being responsible for a coup and many deaths? Who keeps voting for this guy after he destroys the country? Who decides to stay home on election day after 13 years of this shit. Yes, they do!

    • “Chávez is personally responsible for what is going on right now. He was the one that created and funded the militias.”

      Exactly. My feelings as well. It’s kinda like Hitler having to deal with the SA and Ernst Roehm. He, Hitler, was responsible for its creation, but had him quietly killed-off in 1934. The ‘Collectivos,’ however, are still running wild. A very dangerous situation.

  9. Hey Quico, you forgot a little detail: Chavez had oil going from $10 to $120, almost nonstop. Maduro, on the other hand, has to deal with a $100 oil barrel (give or take), bummer! No doubt if oil was $150 by now, Maduro would be as charismatic, ego maniach prick, as Chavez was

  10. Sadly I also believe that tonight will be a repeat of last night. The fact that no one in the national government even talked this morning about what happened last night shows that they probably wanted it to happen. I have a cousin who was with his wife on the floor of their apartment last night with the GNB and other random psychopaths shooting at their building. They live in El Paraiso in Caracas but there were countless other instances like this all over the country. My cousin told me there were even idiots on twitter today talking about how happy they were that there was so little traffic, seemingly without realizing that there were lots of people who were still too afraid to go outside.

  11. The economic breakdown will herald the end of this dictatorship. Its only a matter of time before the sector with the lowest income joins the fight, if the protest hold long enough for that to happen, then it will definetly end Maduro’s regime. Perhaps the protest dont even need to hold, it is known that “Los cerros” are ultimately the ones who decide whos stays and who goes, and the rest follows.

    Until then, we must remain strong.

  12. el verdadero responsable de los asesinatos y abusos es diosdado cabello
    maduro es solo el bufon que da la cara ante el pueblo

  13. The real question – what will make ‘the cerrros’ join? This will not be decided by the students alone. Without the support of ‘the rest of Venezuela’ this is a sad and painful exercise.

  14. History repeats itself. I hope the people of Venezuela learn.
    From Gulag Archipelago Aleksandr L Solzhenitsyn:

    ” 5. And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family?
    Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?
    After all, you knew ahead of time that those bluecaps were out at night for no good purpose.
    And you could be sure ahead of time that you’d be cracking the skull of a cutthroat.
    Or what about the Black Maria sitting out there on the street with one lonely chauffeur — what if it had been driven off or its tires spiked?
    The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!
    If . . . if . . . We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more — we had no awareness of the real situation.
    We spent ourselves in one unrestrained outburst in 1917, and then we hurried to submit.
    We submitted with pleasure! …”

  15. Saying this didn’t happen while Chavez was alive is pretty much like being in a relationship where there other person was verbally abusing you and now being in a new relationship where you´re getting bruises every day, it´s abuse! don’t fool yourself!

    Let´s not be naive, this violence will not stop, This is the final crossroad for our nation, Cuba or Change!

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