Learned pessimism


calvin-and-hobbesAs a new year dawns, we can all agree that things are looking dour for Venezuela. The economic outlook is ghastly, and the political one is not brighter. It takes enormous energy to will oneself out of a pessimistic mood.

And that’s exactly how the government wants it.

For many in the opposition’s rank-and-file, everything the government does, or fails to do, leaves them bewildered and downtrodden. What. Can. We. Do?

The sadness many of us feel for not being able to see a light at the end of the tunnel is understandable. And you know what it does? It paralyzes us.

Over the holidays, one of the things I read was The Optimistic Child, a book by the noted psychologist, Prof. Martin Seligman. In it, the author talks about the depression epidemic in the world, but not by talking about how to “cure” it, but by looking at its early signs, the patterns of development that lead to it.

Seligman convinced me that the roots of depression are planted in childhood, and particularly in the outlook on life that we develop as children.

Kids can be optimistic or pessimistic. For example, “I did badly on this test because I’m not good at anything” is a sign of a pessimistic child, one who exaggerates flaws or mistakes and makes sweeping generalizations about his behavior or the world. On the contrary, “I did badly on this test, so I should probably study more in order to do better next time” is something a more optimistic child would say or think – the judgment on her performance is limited to the task at hand, and it offers up a positive agenda for improvement.

Selgiman quotes extensive research that points to pessimism as being the seed of depression. A pessimistic child will grow up thinking there is nothing he can do to improve his situation because of who he “is” or what his general “abilites” are. After all, if you think you are “stupid,” or “bad at everything,” then there is no point in trying. Depression is but the natural extension of helplessness, of a learned inability to change your circumstances.

An optimistic child will grow up to be more pro-active. She will recognize her flaws without making broad character generalizations. Sure, some things are harder than others for some people, but there is always a place for hard work and good luck.

Seligman recommends techniques for parents to try to change a child from a pessimistic outlook to a more optimistic one. If you can change a child’s pattern of behavior – of how she judges herself – early on, you may prevent depression later in life.

Much of what chavismo does or says has to do with making us “pessimistic children.” Think about it – every catch phrase, every statement about the opposition points to our incapacity to change our fate. We are “squalid” and “majunche.” We “won’t return” (“no volverán”). We are “crazy because of Chávez.” Only chavistas “can handle the crisis.” The revolution “advances to a winner’s march.” We need to march towards “communicational hegemony.”

They do whatever they want with the Constitution, and we can’t do anything about it. They constantly badger us with their successes, and our inabilities. Sadness leads to depression, and that leads to demobilization.

It’s all part of a script. As we begin a new year, it would be useful to come to grips with this cycle and break it.

The pattern through which we buy into broad statements about ourselves needs to stop if we are to have a chance. We need to start looking at things as they are, and not as chavismo wants us to.

Things look difficult, but not impossible.

The economic crisis is overwhelming, but countries have overcome far worse situations than this with vastly inferior resources.

Our opposition leadership is disappointing, but there are good, brave, natural leaders in it.

Winning an election under chavismo’s total grip on institutions is difficult, but not impossible.

The media landscape in Venezuela is unfair, but it’s still not totalitarian.

We can’t change the institutions in one sweep, but we can try winning the few spaces we can.

Chavismo has never been weaker, both financially, and in terms of popular support.

These are not cliches. They are not self-help quotes picked out to help us feel better about ourselves. This … is the truth.

Optimism is a choice, but not one based on false premises, or on a fake rosy outlook. It is based on a grounded view of reality, one that fairly assesses limitations and possibilities, one that sees opportunities even if they are dim.

The pattern through which chavistas teach us to be pessimists has to stop, and I hope to use the blog to focus on the positives. We need to recognize unhelpful behavior, and do our best to change it. We need to fairly assess our strengths and weaknesses without making sweeping, demobilizing generalizations. This year, I will try to use the blog as an instrument in that battle.

Call it Caracas Chronicles’ new year’s resolution.

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  1. Good piece! The core truth is that Chavismo has never been weaker. Yesterday, the New York Times had an article about the change in government in Ukraine last year. At a tipping point, support for the old regime “melted away”. Demonstrators were “flabbergasted” to find no one preventing them from entering and controlling government buildings. The Western powers were “caught flat footed” by the suddenness of the regime’s collapse.

    That’s coming to Venezuela, sooner than we think.


  2. Good luck with that resolution and I hope Jeffry is right. Changes need a lot of time but when they take place, they are fast. However, Cuba has been a dysfunctional country for decades and no political change is on sight. Why should Venezuela be different when you have a government that doesn’t care about separation of powers, legal rights, the most basic rules of economic management…?

    • Ramón, your comment is Exhibit A of what I was trying to convey re. pessimism. It’s understandable, but it’s not productive.

      • OK, Juan Cristobal but I think you sometimes confuse realism with pessimism. Optimism without realism leads to frustration. Besides, optimism is the best fuel for action, no doubt about that but if you are able to work with gasolina de 91 and not only with the gasolina de 95 that you want for this new year, you will run longer. This also may be important for this blog. Chavismo is really weak now, that’s for sure but the day one of this blog you guys criticized and condemned some of the same things that you criticize and condemn 12 years later. You can call it pessimism, I call it a fact.

        I am not trying to say that Venezuela is going to be Cuba for decades, just that the future is open and that is a possibility to bear in mind. Chavismo is so inept and destructive that it can disappear as fast as next February (“Siempre es así: 15 días de enero anestesiados por la Navidad, ya sin bollos, la gente entiende el peo en el que estamos” said a neighbour of the journalist Naky Soto) but it could stay around another decade or two. Realism will then come in handy

          • Nobody can disagree with you, Rodrigo. Statements with a 100% rate of approval are usually empty and meaningless.

          • Sorry… to elaborate a bit more so you can disagree with me.

            Effort towards achieving a certain goal can change the odds. The effort is only possible if you acknowledge the possibility of reaching the goal and that the efforts leads to a larger probability of success.

            I do think that if an effort is made, the chances of succeeding are increased. And that’s the key in JC’s argument. If you take a passive stance and just watch then the odds are going to remain the same (supposing that chavismo does nothing either, but they will do something)

          • “The effort is only possible if you acknowledge the possibility of reaching the goal”
            I think this is true in some cases but false in many others. Life is full of goal-less efforts. Living is in fact a huge one of them

            Your second paragraph only repeats self-evident truths. Nobody is having a passive stand here. After 12 years writing here nobody can accuse Juan Cristóbal of that. If what you mean and what he wrote was just an encouragement for non-readers of CC, then we all agree and… fin de la conversación.

        • The problem is statements like these

          “However, Cuba has been a dysfunctional country for decades and no political change is on sight. Why should Venezuela be different when you have a government that doesn’t care about separation of powers, legal rights, the most basic rules of economic management…?”

          are, by definition, pessimistic.

          Allow me to answer your question: Venezuela could be different because we still enjoy certain freedoms that Cubans do not enjoy. Our people are used to certain standards of living. We have opposition political parties. We still have relatively free internet. We have a civil society that is up in arms, and we have leaders. All those things are important, they could even determine the fate of Venezuela. Cubans don’t have any of that.

          Optimism has to be based on reality, but your pessimism by definition is *not* based on reality – it ignores all the things I just pointed out!

          You’re free to see the glass as half empty. I’m free to do otherwise.

          • What if I told you that, since 1810, many tyrants have fallen, and people have cheered optimistically, only to let the same vices ruin everything again?

            Think about 1958. Gracia Marquez said it was the happiest moment he had ever seen: people celebrating the end of tyranny, united, optimistic. What did we do with the democracy that followed?

            There are issues we need to identify and tackle, if we do not want to repeat our history (AGAIN!).

          • It is true, Juan Cristóbal, Venezuela is not Cuba and you have explained it clearly but you still have a government that doesn’t care if dozens of students die during the protests, whose former vicepresident talks about the disappearance of billions of dolars and nobody provides an explanation, that controls the main institutions of the country and most of the media, with an economy in tatters… These are facts too and you can build a good case if what you want is to be pessimistic about the future of your country. I don’t think we have to be so anyway. A more realistic attitude would be more practical, less prone to frustration, still open to the joys of the changes for the better…

            When so many bad things are happening during so many years every sensible person must REALLY want a change in Venezuela but if you let that wish to tell your brain what’s going to be the near future of the country you may have to deal with many disappointments that you could have avoided.

          • Aparte de todo esto, dejo aquí una idea para un posible guest post. Soy español y estoy de veras interesado en lo que ocurre en Venezuela. Mientras en el resto del mundo se opta por lo razonable y, por tanto, aburrido, allí ustedes viven “tiempos interesantes”(*). En estos meses y gracias a la enorme cantidad de información disponible en internet me he convertido en buena medida en mi propio periodista y me he dado cuenta de, por ejemplo la escasa información que recibimos aquí sobre tal cantidad de sucesos. Quizás tenga interés para otros hablar de toda esta experiencia, de cómo se ve Venezuela a través de los ojos de un europeo que nunca visitó su país, de en qué lugar quedan ustedes, los periodistas, ahora que nosotros también podemos serlo…

            (*)”Los chinos, cuando querían maldecir a alguien, le soltaban: “Ojalá vivas en una época interesante”.Jacobo Siruela

            (debo añadir que he preguntado a amigos chinos por esta expresión y no saben nada de ella ni a qué se refiere este editor. En cualquier caso, me sigue gustando)

          • Tu interes tiene algo que ver con Podemos y los Monedero’s Boys?
            Estoy de acuerdo contigo: Aqui en Europa se recibe muy poca informacion sobre Venezuela, y la poca que se recibe es generealmente tendenciosa e incompleta
            En Venezuela hay bastantes problemas, pero creo y espero que estos “tiempos interesantes” resulten en un mejor pais pero sobretodo una sociedad madura que comprenda su rol actual y deje de vivir de supuestas glorias pasadas y presentes. Pocos Venezolanos nos damos cuenta que la prepotencia y la arrogancia son la principal causa de nuestros problemas

          • No tengo nada que ver con podemos y desde luego no les votaré. Respecto a lo demás, estoy completamente de acuerdo

          • Disculpa Ramon, no me explique bien: es claro por tus comentarios que Podemos, Izquierda Anticapitalista o IU no son your cup of tea como dicen por aqui

      • I don’t see much usefullness in being optimistic neither, I think we can all agree that as a normal citizen there is little you can do if you don’t want to risk to be killed or get on jail, other than voting and convincing red people to wake up there is very little to do to fix the macropeo, maybe one day the opportunity to go to streets and do something useful (burning our own neighbourhoods is not useful in my opinion) will present itself, let’s just hope that we are ready to take the chance, I’m certainly sure that that time is yet to come.

  3. Exactly!

    Chavismo acts as the director of a sad movie: not only they write the script, they also guide the actors (opposition included) on how to act to this script. It’s as if the Venezuelan people (opposition included) were puppets, Chavismo the puppeteers.

    So yeah, cut the strings, don’t accept their agenda, don’t accept being guided, ignore this mad “squalid persona” Chavismo tries to project on you.

    It may look paradoxical, but the Venezuelan opposition must forget Chavismo in order to defeat it: to find its own agenda and play by its own rules.

  4. Very good! Kudos.
    Much better than the “We are unelectable” or “There is nothing we can do” of the past.

    Como dicen: “Pa’lante es pa’lla”

  5. Todo eso es un calentamiento para en una artículos más adelante decirnos “dejen el pesimismo, hay que votar”

    Cuanto apostamos

      • Tan efectivo es votar que con 48% de los votos, el chavismo es mayoria calificada (2/3) via decreto saltamontes sobre mayoría simple. Esta asamblea nacional es incluso mas poderosa que aquella que se eligió en 2005 luego de que nadie votara.

        Go figure.

        • still…. nothing is gained if we don’t go to vote.

          In 2005 they didn’t have to use the TSJ to approve these things.

          In part, the TSJ that we have today is because people didn’t go vote then.

          I still don’t know anything in favor of not voting. Having the time to watch a movie?

          • Well, one alternative is to openly support #UNO, as you already plan to do once you loose on election day and once again foster public discontent based on lies for whatever purpose you deem fit. It’s no coincidence that both #UNO and CC share support for Lopez and disdain for the rest of the MUD, who are all government puppets as is any political figure with a modicum of public following that dares promoting civil resolutions in Venezuela.

        • Si no votamos nos roban los votos, si votamos nos roban los votos.

          Mejor cuidemosle los cambures y presupuesto a los politiqueros MUD

  6. I remember in high school the jokes about “Made in Venezuela” that hinted that stuff made in the country was of bad quality. I see those self-deprecating jokes now running rampant and unchecked. At some moment stuff made in Japan also meant of poor quality, so I’m optimistic things can change.

    • …more right than you know: in the 70s Toyota and Honda were heaps of inefficient rust and had really bad names. Now Kia, Hyundai etc have changed from cheapo oriental tat a decade ago to giving the world-beaters Honda and Toyota a run for their money.

      OK, Venezuela doesn’t make cars but it has the best rum and an arepa kiosk near where I live (SW England) has gone from barely a visitor to a roaring trade! It’s a start! 🙂

  7. Great new years message, however the true phenomenon is learned helplessness, not learned pessimism, whereas upon individuals are unable to respond toward positive, or negative, reinforcements due to the chaotic and arbitrary nature of externalities -inaction toward incentives-.

    I agree with this post in regards to the fact that we must realize the trap we are headed into if we start to succumb to a catatonic state, due to our particular situation, rather than to take initiative. In this regard Seligman and other psychologists from the field of Positive Psychology have studied certain coping mechanisms and developed theories on the subject of resilience, which is an interesting topic to dig into for a follow-up article of this post.


  8. Thank you for this escape valve, Juan. It’s important to note, too, that the health of the “home life” or regime is a critical predictor of that negativity spectrum in the “child” or the oppo.

    Here’s how I see it: The regime attracts those with delusions of grandeur, who then must keep feeding that delusion by distorting the truth, inventing negatives, and bashing those who it perceives as threats to the very maintenance of the delusions.

    Meaning, the regime purposely creates an arena to deflect any truth and instead allow a phoney world to flourish. Hence the regime’s puerile beratings of oppos in public. It’s all done to engorge those in power and the associates who flit towards that metaphysical puffing. That there are so many associates who gravitate towards this engorgement is simply the observation by some that chronic negativity (read: mental illness in any of its variants) is around 50 per cent of any given population.

    • I think cheerleading is important, but I also agree with Ramon that without a plan or the remote possibility of action, being positive amounts to no more than a delusion/coping mechanism (thinking along the lines of Wholigan). I also read the article in the NYT Jeffry noted and also thought immediately of Venezuela.

      Personally one of the more difficult aspects to deal with is the realization that Venezuela as a nation is not something positive to talk about. There was a time when you could explain to people that Venezuela is a country with problems, just like other countries, but full of wonderful aspects, but now I usually cut through the chase and just say that it is one big mess (usually I mention that there are 3 official fixed exchange rates to provide an example). What hurts is the feeling that any action in favor of Venezuela helps chavismo, and holds change back. This is similar to the feeling that is now felt more intensely by the Cuban opposition, who see themselves betrayed by the Obama administration.

      It is a mental burden to wish ill on your country so that you can rid it of its awful leadership, but this is in fact what goes on in this blog. We cheer every misstep by the government, every drop in the price of oil, every street demonstration, hoping it brings the country closer to political change. But years of thinking like this is corrosive.

      Must we continue like this or is it possible to identify areas where chavistas and opposition can work together without setting back the opposition’s efforts?

      Also, addressing syd’s comments, I’d like to know in more detail how the chavista mind operates, what are their aspirations, opinions regarding the role of government and the individual in society, the chavista program, and so forth. Know thy enemy, so to speak, and learn to speak their language.

  9. It sounds like a nice book. Anything to get you in a good mood is nice.

    I did some reading too: the press articles written by VS Naipaul about Argentina. No one sees Latin America as clearly as he does.

    The anatomy of the Argentina that Naipaul dissected, from the rise of Perón to the dirty war and finally the arrival of democracy, very much fits our country. No one resembles Chávez quite like Perón and their public (their “electoral base” as we would say today) danced to the same tunes with similar abandon. The atmosphere of hate between Argentinians is what we breath today in Venezuela.

    To cut a long story short, Venezuela (and Argentina) are still grappling with the same problems we had in 1810. Remember Boves? he spoke Chávez’ language with a similar audience to produce the same results. Remember Piar? Monagas? Zamora? CAP?

    We have had 26 constitutions and respected none. In colonial Venezuela people said “La ley se respeta, pero no se acata”.

    Have we changed?

    The persistence of the same issues along two centuries suggests there are problems beyond optimism and pessimism in our country. Sure, the regime is playing that game on us but, there are real issues here.

    Evo and Correa did not mismanage (the contrary is true). Cuba is not going through an epidemic of crime. We do. Why us?

    Think about this: we squandered a million million dollars in fifteen years. The entire “Dirty War” produced 25000 violent deaths. We have that every year!

    The explanation your imaginary child gives “I am not good at anything” is legitimate. Venezuela has not been good at anything for most of its history. It isn’t one test: it’s two centuries of failure. Three lifetimes.

    And don’t give me the music thing: looking under the rugs of the “System” would afford you more than one surprise, I am sure.

    To break with your past it’s impossible. You can open it up, analyse it, talk through it and maybe you will have an acceptable life (e.g Germany and the Nazis) But we can’t even agree on what our past is. Chavistas and us live, so to speak, in different dimensions of the same place.

  10. You are depressed because chavistas have coerced you into being depressed?

    This is pathetic.

    One day you’re members of an educated elite that denounces the manipulable mass that supports populism in Venezuela, but now you don’t seem so sure about which group you belong to.

    You fail because you have no self confidence.

    Your parents raised you to be a gipsy, not chavismo, whose existence is preceded by decades of a self-imposed culture of rentist economics and proud exodus among the higher socioeconomic circles.

    Chavismo doesn’t coerce you into writing 5 sayings per sentence, gipsy. Your adoration for money quotes and all things gringo is what confines you and your little circle to cross country subordination and the depression that comes with it.

      • Eventually you’ll make some sort of gipsy impasse like going overboard with sayings or in any other way indicate that English isn’t your native language and that you’re trying to fit in a foreign culture, sometimes overcompensating, and I’ll be there. I’m sure it’ll get to your head, whatever I say; I mean, if I managed to get gipsy major to rethink his money quote persona, who’s to say you won’t do the same.

        • Of the many, many people who have criticized me for writing about Venezuela in English, this is one of the least interesting ones.

          • Juan, you can convince your readers that it’s about the language you choose. I’m not here to contest that role. It’d be pretty stupid if I did that after my explanation of why you and your benign little group is depressed.

  11. “Evo and Correa did not mismanage (the contrary is true).”

    In 2008 Correa was “just” defaulting.
    “Correa Defaults on Ecuador Bonds”

    In 2010 Correa was one inch away from being ousted from government and forced to exile.

    In 2008 Evo faced an internal turmoil that almost led to a coup.
    “Ecuador declares state of emergency amid ‘coup attempt'”

    So, let’s not pretend that they haven’t mismanaged their countries and act as responsible presidents.
    They started by following the same guidelines as the crazy regime in Venezuela, they just changed course because (1) they don’t have all that Venezuelan oil that “make dreams possible”, (2) they are not as insane (stupid?) as the Chavistas.

    But yes, they did mismanage their countries. The present situation can’t and won’t erase their past.
    Soon people will start saying Cristina didn’t mismanage Argentina because, well, inflation is still lower than Zimbabwe’s. So, she can’t be that bad.

    • Hmmm, I don’t agree with you, I think Evo and Correa have managed the economy acceptably, compared to Venezuela.

      But even if they haven’t, my point is intact: Venezuela is still solving problems detectable in the early XIX century.

      To assume that their solution is a matter of pessimism or optimism is misguided.

    • In 2008 Correa was “just” defaulting.
      “Correa Defaults on Ecuador Bonds”

      That was probably the most successful default in history.
      Every creditor raised their hand and offered to accept less than the creditor before them.
      And when it was done, the investment money came right back into the country.

      Old Ecuador hand Hans Humes, of Greylock Capital, summed up how spectacularly successful the Ecuador strategy was, calling it “one of the most elegant restructurings that I’ve seen”.

      They defaulted and then had the state banks buy up the debt by offering more than the vultures.
      Bye Bye debt!!

      • Bye bye debt?

        Even after 6 years of the “most successful default in history”, all the three big credit rating agencies still rate Ecuador’s and Bolivia’s debt as “junk”. That’s the legacy these two great presidents will leave for their people, and this despite years of commodities boom.

        I understand that they realized they were destroying their countries and stopped doing what they were doing, but this adoration these two receive here is over the top. It’s something like: “People in Bolivia and Ecuador can still find milk in the supermarkets, and they won’t default in the short term, so Correa and Evo should receive a Nobel in economics.” hehe.

        • “Bye bye debt?”
          Yep. Creditors accepted $0.35 on the dollar. 2/3 of the debt was wiped clean.
          And Ecuador could have easily paid in full.

          “this adoration these two receive here is over the top.”
          I have no adoration for Correa nor his government. He simply scared everyone into accepting a low ball amount.
          Basically, Ecuador got 2/3 off their mortgage payment, but now no one will give them a credit card.

          I am not praising him, but he bluffed the bond holders and got away with it.

  12. Very good take for your New Year’s resolution. We need to unbridled our views from learned pessimism and look at a better Venezuela in womb the future, waiting for our labor to assist in her birth.
    Positive psychology is a construct with many elements in it. One of them is spirituality, that is the belief that there is something greater than oneself that deserves commitment. Not necessarily a religious belief. The artist consecrates her life to artistic endeavors.
    These days I have been reading Zealot, the narrative of a human Jesus; not the Christ but the Nazarene. It is a book filled with spirituality none of which has to do with supernatural beings, but with the behavior of people committed to the ideal of Israel. The Romans were chavistas on steroid. They dealt with rebellion by razing towns and killing everyone in it. But the Jews did not fall prey to learned pessimism. What kept them going was their unshakable faith in Israel.
    The democratic movement in Venezuela has no faith, no core beliefs. Instead, they have a large list of complaints because their former privileges have been abrogated. There is a lot of bravery in pockets of resistance: Franklin Brito, Maria Corina, the students, Leopoldo Lopez; but they are isolated manifestations of dignity and bravery, not an expression of a shared faith.
    Chavistas, on the other hand, have faith. Their creed is a concoction of revenge and power. Their symbols are Che Guevara, Fidel, and any other figure in the pantheon of socialist revolutionaries. Their music is Ali Primera’s and the Trova Cubana. Old, but idealistic.
    Chavistas live in Venezuela, therefore they suffer the same disaster that other Venezuelans suffer. My sister is chavista. She had surgery that left her with a leg shorter than the other. She stands for hours in line waiting to buy essentials like milk, sugar, and cooking oil. She is very creative cooking rice and tuna, or spaghetti with ketchup. She is very creative cooking rice and tuna on good days or spaghetti and ketchup on bad ones. But she is very proud of her revolution. She feels part of a larger purpose and is willing to tolerate hardships. She is a modern Jew fighting an imaginary Roman empire supported by her faith in the eternal Comandante.
    What would it take to develop spirituality in the democratic opposition? If we find the answer to that question, I propose that you make it the true New Year’s resolution.

    PS The goodness of positive psychology at the individual level, can escalate to organizational domains. See my journal article about it. http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/83259/came?sequence=1

    • With so many brilliant minds in the opposition we should be able to create a compelling message with a higher purpose for all Venezuelans, including chavistas.

  13. There are two different cases of ‘learned helplesness’ or ‘self defeating pessimism’ mentioned in the above postings , one which refers to the mind set where one gives up on an effort even before its begun leading to the posture of ‘why vote if were going to get clobbered anyway´ and another which relates to the feeling that this country will never achieve the status of a fully developed modern country because we , as a people are burdened with unsurmountable cultural or inherited handicapps which makes our desire to become such country a futile one.

    The two must be viewed separately for they require a different response.

    Regarding the first case , I think that we must not let the difficulties stand in the way of a proactive stance , one because its true that the regime has never faced a more difficult situation , they are deadly afraid of taking the decisions that need be taken simply to cope and this makes them specially vulnerable , secondly because one thing that history teaches us is that nothing is predictable , anything can happen any time , specially when things are in flux , even if a situation appears full of obstacles. and secondly beause sometimes you dont just fight to win but (whatever the odds) to maintain your dignity as a human person . I and my closest family took the position long ago that even if ours were the only votes against the regime we would go out and cast them , as a matter of principle and self respect , regardless of the results , and that we would continue doing so , as many times as necessary , without let or despair.

    In other words That if someone was to rob our votes they would have to do it because we wouldnt give them the sattisfaction of giving them away by not voting . Also that we didnt really care about personal differences between different opposition candidates , that we would vote for whoever held the greatest chance of booting out the bastards , and that other differences would be sorted out later, once the big job was accomplished.

    Regarding the second case, my concern is the superficiality of some many efforts at understanding our cultural problems and really getting at what has to be done to tackle them . Also the notion that these projects are to be attacked so as to get perfect results in one shove , which any rightminded person knows is puerile and impossible , you go by programmed steps , expecting some failures and some successes , moving forward one step at a time and not feeling defeated when something doesnt come out right , also maintaining a pragmatic posture, seeking out solutions which may never be perfec but just a bit better than the last one , eventually a big part of the job gets done, a piece at a time . !!

    I specially liked Whilogan, Syds and Alejandros comments , they all show good insights and deserve attention .!!

    • “I and my closest family took the position long ago that even if ours were the only votes against the regime we would go out and cast them , as a matter of principle and self respect , regardless of the results , and that we would continue doing so , as many times as necessary , without let or despair.”

      That is the spirit!

      “you go by programmed steps , expecting some failures and some successes , moving forward one step at a time and not feeling defeated when something doesnt come out right , also maintaining a pragmatic posture, seeking out solutions which may never be perfec but just a bit better than the last one , eventually a big part of the job gets done, a piece at a time”

      Excellent. Words to live by.

      It has been a repeated story for the opposition that great hopes and enthusiasm have preceded important elections (RR 2004, 2012, 2013) which even if they have not resulted in a victory have shown great progress, especially in the swelling and resolve of the opposition, only to be followed by great despair and demoralization after the defeat. These negative emotions have resulted in a big slump in the important regional elections that followed, undoing and negating most of the progress achieved until then.

      These negative emotions arise from unrealistic expectations. The expectation that victory was almost certain. It is a difficult conundrum. The false expectation boosts morale prior to the election which is a necessary factor to even have a chance of winning, but also results in great desolation and disappointment after reality hits leading to pessimism and defeatism. It is not easy but opposition politicians need to manage expectations in a better way painting a more realistic view but also infusing the people with the sense that the struggle is a long and hard one but it is worth fighting for, and that they should steel themselves for the road ahead that will include setbacks but also triumphs.

  14. Juan, excellent article. You have captured the current mood of the Opposition, and it is indeed pessimistic. It is so, because in spite of all its mistakes, Chavismo still has the initiative. The Opposition is passively reacting to Chavismo’s moves, however haphazard they may be. The Opposition must seize the initiative and create the sense of optimism that is currently lacking. So, what is “initiative”? And how do you regain it?

    Tom Clancy, in his novel “Executive Orders” wrote: “What people call ‘the initiative’ whether in war or any other field of human activity, is never anything more or less than a psychological advantage. It combines one side’s felling that they are winning with other side’s feeling that something has gone wrong–that they must now prepare for and respond to the actions of their enemy instead of preparing their own offensive action. Couched in terms of ‘momentum’ or ‘ascendency,’ it really always comes down to who is doing what to whom, and a sudden change in that equation will have a stronger effect than that of a gradual buildup to the same set of circumstances. The expected, when replaced by the unexpected, lingers for a time, lingers in the mind, since it is easier, for a while, to deny rather than to adapt, and that just makes things harder for those who are being done to. For the doers, there are other tasks.”

    Firstly, the Opposition needs to remind itself that they are the majority. I would suggest a subtle campaign designed to allow the Opposition to demonstrate its numbers in public. Suppose that people started wearing a small yellow ribbon ostensibly to say that they have not forgotten all the political prisoners. The yellow ribbon may not be right for Venezuela. Use whatever has the appropriate symbolic significance to Venezuelans. This will put the regime in the unenviable position of trying to figure out how to ban a “harmless” symbol. For the Opposition, the daily sight of so many people displaying the same symbol reinforces its sense of solidarity and combats the feeling of isolation and impotence.

    After that, the Opposition should design and implement protests that come out of nowhere and disappear before Chavismo can react. There are many tactics for non-violent and passive resistance. The Opposition needs to put pressure on the regime without giving it excuses for more repression. Not that it will stop them from applying more repression… that is inevitable. But, make the repression seem cheap and arbitrary. Continue to chip away at their legitimacy and expose them for the brutes they are.

    Meanwhile, mount a love campaign with the military. Not the generals — they are lost causes. Suppose one day, everyone in the Opposition gave a flower to every soldier they encountered at every “acabala” and the soldiers on guard wherever they are?

    Well, there are lots of tactics and things to be done. But first, the Opposition needs to stop feeling sorry for themselves, get off their asses, and start taking “the initiative”.

  15. Juan,

    Just one criticism: Your use of the phrase “demobilizes us” comes out odd in English. May I suggest you change it to “paralyzes us” or “demoralizes us”?

    • Yes, Juan, please correct your wording posthaste. Or at least make a mental note, like you did previously, so you don’t commit the same mistake again.

        • Wow, you actually think you’re in a position to talk down to resident Venezuelans?

          If only the media and family didn’t lead you to place blame on others, you’d learn to deal with your failures.

          No wonder you exiled Venezuelans/Cubans are so full of hate.

  16. Regime changes in our country’s history are routine. Paez’ conservatism dissolved, Guzmán Blanco fell into oblivion, Gomecismo disappeared. The current guys will fall too. What they represent, however, will remain among us.

    One the great successes of chavismo has been to impose the tone of the conversation. Early in 1999 everybody talked about “the sovereign” and later on the opposition too fell into this crowd-pleasing demagogy. Everybody wanted to copy Chavez and kiss a poor old lady in La Vega.

    To change the tone would be useful. To get the masses talking about the technical matters of the economy, oil production and reform would be a success for the opposition. A beginning.

    Sadly, the opposition doesn’t have a conversation. MCM is angry, MHC is cheaply sentimental, LL is (he writes for El Nacional), unoriginal (as in “sembrar el petróleo” etc).

  17. Venezuela has always been a bounty, to be seized by the most talented, violent rabble-rouser.

    To plan the transition from bounty to state ruled by the law, is the first duty of the opposition.

    To make the rabble want to become a citizenship is the second duty of the opposition.

    • The mentality that accompanies Vzla as bounty comes from the repeated view that Vzla is a resource-rich country. If that mentality were changed to people-centric accomplishments, to a focus on the quality of education or of manufacturing, think how optics could change to the positive band of the spectrum.

      Alas, a positive band is not what Cuban overlords had in mind for their colony, its chosen head still using Cubana de Aviación, now on a state visit to Moscow, in order to ask for a hand-out.

      • Correction: Moscow is a technical stop for Cubana’s CU T1250 (thanks @pburelli); Russia does not form part of this presidential tour to China, Saudi Arabia, Iran y Algeria.

  18. OT

    “(CNN)President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela said he is seeking the release of a jailed opposition leader if the United States agrees to release a Puerto Rican nationalist.

    “The only way I would use (presidential) powers would be to put (Leopoldo Lopez) on a plane, so he can go to the United States and stay there, and they would give me Oscar Lopez Rivera — man for man,” Maduro said on television on Sunday.”


    • The U.S. will tell him to go f**k himself… with all due respect, of course. Maduro would like nothing more than to take LL out of play by putting him on a plane. But, the interesting thing is that he even characterizes it as a “prisoner swap”, which is something that occurs between countries who are at war with each other.

      As for Oscar Lopez Rivera, he refused a conditional parole years ago because he refused to renounce terrorism. Somehow, I doubt he would be interested in exile and retirement in Venezuela.

  19. Call me depressive but I really believe that if this were 2007 with oil at $140, the opposition, did what it did, optimistic as it could be, would never have ben able to get rid of Chavismo, which, more than the policy of a crappy government is the notion that you as a citizen can live off the petro-state for your whole life and blame others for your suffering.
    But this is 2015 with oil at $47/ barrel and a crude, concerning reality as depicted in #AnaquelesVacionesEnVenezuela. The collapse of the Venezuelan economy and the likelyhood of a social upheaval is the only thing that keeps my optimism running.

  20. Funny, I’ve always felt proud of my “gypsiness”. Unless you are in a very small minority someone “gyspisied” over from where they were to Venezuela in the last 200-300 years. Having the skills necessary to live anywhere in the world as you see fit has always sounded to me more of a strength than a escualido apatrida weakness. You come and go as you please unecumbered by changing environments that you cannot control. (i.e. the communist plague). I know plenty of people that have said skill and choose to remain in a place were the pros still outweigh the cons.

    • “Having the skills necessary to live anywhere in the world as you see fit has always sounded to me more of a strength than a escualido apatrida weakness.”

      You have a different, very convenient, concept of gipsy; as usual, nationalism is conflated with retrograde education and the converse is success.

      If your highest aspiration is to leave, at least acknowledge it’s not an attitude aligned with relating to your fellow Venezuelan, most of which are poor and have no investment in American values.

    • Oi, don’t insult the Gypsies ! Most, if not all the immigrants to Venezuela, were from the illiterate peasant classes of a backward Spain or Portugal.
      Landed here and did everything for themselves and not a thing for Venezuela.
      Educated their genetically limited offspring and created a sub class of ignorant professionals.
      Still goes on today but is unable to camouflage the hints of racism now a couple of generations more advanced.
      And now we are all to become optimists overnight ? Rubbish. Collective stupidity of Venezuela still has some distance to go. Its not about a state of mind but more about admitting our mistakes, learning from them, before you can move on. Near as dammit 70% of us voted for a convicted criminal yet not one will admit that was a bit dodgy. So we are expected to become optimists whilst we conveniently forget our complicity in the brutalising of our country ?
      And I thought the peasant mindset was in decay.

  21. …It’s tough for many us to be optimists about the likelihood of defeating Chavismo in elections. I can be an optimist as the Russians were optimists when Napoleon invaded an abandoned Moscow and the tough Russian winter swept away with the French invading force: I am sure natural, uncontrollable causes in combination with the incompetence of Chavismo will end up being responsible for this government’s demise.

  22. There hasn’t been any message from the opposition out of just being deathly afraid of saying something that might displease chaburro assholes.
    Putting any amount of responsibility for this clusterfuck on the giant turd is considered the biggest taboo in venezuelan politics, when that taboo is abolished, that’ll spell the chaburrismo’s instant death.

  23. Its pretty clear that the regime is trembling with fear that worsening living conditions are causing it to constantly lose ground to the angry and disssafected, even among those who once used to support them blindly, that any action they take to effectively cope with the worsening economic situation is only going to make things worse , so if part of the oppo is in danger of falling into a state of demotivation from an induced ‘state of learned helplessness’ , the situation among the regime leaders and supporters is even worse .!!

    The regime is paralyzed by fear ( and by internal dissention) from taking any action to face the worsening situation . This is patently the case , again and again they make constant announcements about decisions being taken one day only to backtrack on their announcements a day later , they dont know what to do , Maduros speech and actions are pathetic in their confusion and lack of resolve .!!

    Take as an example ( and there are others) Maduros recent behaviour , several time he has repeatedly announced that important decisions are to be made public in a few days time, right after newyears eve and then time passes and nothing happens except that the official discourse become heavy with rethorical fireworks. or some improvised tour of the allies in the far east is conjured up to take attention away from its inaction. Fear of what their precipitously falling popularity portends is blocking them mentally from taking any effective action , they are paralyzed in their decision making , the war of nerves created by external conditions is taking a deep toll on their capacity to act with any effectiveness on the economic front .

    Thats why they desperately cling to the use of flagrantly coercive language and measures agaisnt the oppo because its only by doing so that they feel they are doing something to improve their situation , as a distraction not only to the weak minded among their followers but to distract themselves from the anguish that comes from the idea that they cannot control the countrys worsening economic and socia conditions without a heavy irreversible loss of the minimum popularity that they need to keep politically afloat.

    This is a part of the analysis which also deserves a part of this blogs attention !!

  24. There are countries that have gotten over their past, imperfectly, but with boldness enough to give them a fresh start.

    Spain had a black history of fratricide and hate going back five centuries. Franco’s death after almost 40 years of rule opened a window for politicians of every colour to set aside differences, once deemed irrevocable, and start a democracy, a new state under the rule of the law.

    You know the story. You can argue that Spain is among the most successful democracy of the last 40 years, along with South Korea and Singapore.

    Now that democracy is under siege from nationalists who play the old differences to hold on to power (Catalans want to win a battle lost in 1714; Basques are old school millenarists), populists using Chavez strategy to divide and rule (Podemos) and mediocre, corrupt politicians incapable to raise to the level of their predecessors.

    The Spanish democracy has been weakened by their failure to face up, and bring justice, to Fracoism’s crimes. They also failed to demand from nationalists complete loyalty to the 1978 Constitution. But the Spanish people will, I hope and think, defeat them in the end.

    Can Venezuela have a transition “a la española”? I think yes (I am optimistic!) but only if the opposition leadership can impose their ideas: rule of the law, technical expertise, open markets, true freedom. The fact that Venezuelans still talk about cheap petrol and handouts is a bigger failure that losing elections.

    Imposing the conversation will bring electoral success.

    • Optimism should derive from the basically untenable current/near-future economic situation of Venezuela with its concomitant very dour social consequences, not from, as Alejandro correctly states, Venezuela’s extremely poor historical record of managing its affairs in a reational/equitable/democratic manner.


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