Saving chavismo


Nicolás Maduro and Diosdado Cabello may not look eye to eye on most subjects, but they sure seem to agree on one core issue: chavismo must disappear.

After the opposition’s big win on Sunday, it took less than 48 hours for the government to throw all the artillery (pots and pans included) they had, and that we discussed here on the blog. “I told you so” rights do not apply, because it was obvious. Everyone knew they would take it badly, and that they would try to sabotage the new National Assembly (AN), subvert it, gag it, and throw it off of a bridge.

What did surprise me, however, was how fast they went about it.

In just two days, between Maduro and Cabello, they’ve started to put in motion crazy ideas such as the appointment of the Supreme Tribunal justices who will replace those who asked for early retirement, sterilizing the AN per an enabling law, taking away control over ANTV, and establishing a parallel AN through street parliamentarism.

Diosdado’s stance, as usual, is that of the scared beast. When cornered, he attacks with his best weapon: bullying. His message is that he will strip the new AN of as much power as he can, in the name of the people who voted for that same new AN. Sweet little bullfrog. (Although, notice how they have departed from saying that they do what they do “for the people,” to simply speaking of “defending the revolution.”)

Maduro’s strategy is somewhat different. He just loses it. He attacked “el pueblo” like a twelve year old prepubescent child would’ve: “I was going to give you houses, and trust me, I CAN, but… I asked for your help and you didn’t give it to me.” And then he went back to menacing with bloodshed and the like.

These attacks are not directed towards the opposition, they are directed towards chavistas who voted for the opposition because they hate Maduro and Diosdado so damn much, that they decided to betray Chávez’s legacy.

Their biggest threat is actually chavismo itself.

And it’s not just Maduro and Diosdado who people hate, they hate them all. You must’ve seen the videos on election day at the voting centers of prominent leaders of the revolution, where they are supposed to have their core electorate, and people, mostly doñas, just heckled them to hell. It’s hard to think of one high profile PSUV politician people doesn’t hate.

Go to Caracas and ask anyone in the streets of Libertador, what they think of Jorge Rodríguez or Winston Vallenilla —who used to be the most lovable face in national TV—, go ahead and even ask them what they think of the Chávez family. You’ll get a lot of criollo curse words in response, along with “those corrupt bastards destroyed the country.” But invariably, every single time, you will get a “Chávez wouldn’t have let this happen.”

Chavismo will not be going away, and this is something we have to come to terms with and capitalize.

And capitalizing chavismo doesn’t mean fooling chavistas into becoming smolanskistas, it means giving them space within the system, make them love it, and defend it. Many will say that chavismo and whatever the government is are the same thing, but I bet you anything that dealing in the parliament with Pollo Carvajal – who has been signaled as a key player of a military drug cartel-, as opposed to dealing with Héctor Navarro or Nicmer Evans – excruciating as this may be-, is not the same thing.

Right now, chavista “ideologists” have been relegated to the icky pages of Aporrea which, by the way, have been firing gems for the past two days. They are accused of being traitors by PSUV leadership. And they’ve even been getting some love by colectivos, just like what happened to Jorge Giordani and Mr. Navarro when they were about to give a press conference to criticize the path the government has taken.

Myself? I can’t understand chavismo wholly. The only thing I see is a frankenstein of an ideology driven by resentment. And hey, resentment I do understand. Because it’s what I’ve been feeling towards them for many years now.

But I feel that if we don’t get over this, it’s going to come back again and again, in the form of people who know how to manipulate it and those who are manipulated by it, like Diosdado and Maduro. I’d rather save chavismo, know where they are, and have them channel their “locos.” If we’re going to have chavismo for a while, we better make sure the chavistas in charge are chavistas we can actually deal with, and not chavistas that are eventually bound to put a gun to our temple. Ojo, I don’t know how we do that.

The problem here is, for chavismo to be saved, they’re going to have to want to be saved.

And that’s a glitch from its foundation, because the disaster that chavismo is going through is the fault of, you guessed it, Hugo Chávez. He embodied a personalistic cult that wasn’t designed to be sustainable after he passed. Whatever children chavismo had, were destined to come back and have chavismo for lunch.

Go ask Jorge Giordani, one of the midwives of chavismo, who just starred in the best metaphor of what’s been happening to it: After being attacked by colectivos, soaking wet from a bucket of water someone emptied over him from a building, he went to ask for the help of a man in a military uniform: “I was a Minister of Chávez, and I demand your help.” And the man looked at him, turned his back, and got away as fast as he could.

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  1. Sometimes I think ever since Chavez died, Maduro has been clueless as to what to do. That’s why he sticks to his basics: Repression, bullying, control over institutions, etc. And still after being defeated like that in the election, he doesn’t seem to react, either.

  2. I don’t agree that channeling chavismo is by socialist politicians. The very thought is creepy and annoying, and more importantly, unnecesary.

    Chavistas respect two things: someone who doesn’t take shit from anybody, gives them pride; and somebody who REALLY helps them out (our problem so far has been that these two things have no preconditions, like “not at the expense of the future” or “along with a capable team of professionals”). Someone who could incorporate those two things wouldn’t even need to call himself chavista (heck, I think it couldn’t hurt), to be accepted by chavistas as the medium. And a person who could do those things AND impose economic sanity… A galán con chequera… Well, that would be a treat, wouldn’t it?

    As far as, for example, Capriles goes, he’s my favourite so far and certainly the bravest and probably smartest, but he fails in my book still on the pride side. He’s lookin’, he’s really tryin’, but I don’t feel “it.”

  3. Raul,

    This is an excellent article, and you show high-level strategic thinking. But, I disagree. You cannot build a healthy society on a foundation of Resentismo and Populism. This zero-sum concept of politics needs to be purged, slowly but surely, from the public discourse.

  4. I always thought of Chavismo as the political Id of Venezuela, magnified to the monstrous proportions by the commodity cycle. But as the Id, it will always exists and it must be controlled and defused.

    I think of Peru and Alan Garcia’s two governments. The first one between 1985-1990 was scorched earth destructive, yet the second time he squeaked in to power he was unable to live up to his nickname of ‘caballo loco’, in fact he did nothing remarkable either way, and that is good enough.

    I guess as in the most typical Chavista form, cause when chavismo la caga, la caga completo. Maduro and Cabello have shown as the most inept politicians EVER, I still cannot believe these blunders:

    – No elegant platitudes when conceding defeat, instead sore losers crazy talk.
    – No liberation of political prisoners as a token of good faith and instead setting it up for a BIG showdown which they will lose.
    – Insulting al pueblo mesmo!

    So obviously Maduro and Cabello have stopped playing politics and if the rumors are true, they were gunning from some dramatic action and found themselves pretty lonely when no one followed.

    I am certain they are still scheming, but as days go by they are turning into paper tigers.

    The next years are going to be very traumatic and there will be a lot of political capital spent in the process so we will have to confront a reconstituted Chavismo 2.0 with the likes of Nicmer. As for Cabello and Maduro, they will be the appropriate scapegoat between Chavismo 2.0 and Oppo.

  5. I agree with Raul: if we want our democracy to work, decent chavismo needs to be saved. I don’t think that chavismo is only about resentment or about Chavez figure, despite both elements were the key at the beggining. If I were a politician, I’ll be right now talking to Marea Socialista, aporrea crowd, and also with those that left MUD like Bandera Roja. A broader coalition could be the possibility to stop/ avoid any crazy move from Maduro and Cabello.

  6. chavismo as a movement should be co-opted by the opposition to mean a bottom up democratization and a rebuilding of public institutions. There is an opportunity to redefine the aspirations of the revolution as a noble experiment that has been destroyed by a greedy and corrupt psuv. doing so would remove or at least dilute the political cover that the psuv operates under.
    the opposition could just as easily claim that now is the time to build the venezuela that chavez and everyone wanted but that was stolen by the psuv enchfados.

  7. Right now, I would leave them alone and see them destroy themselves, specially with oil at $36.

    Afterwards you deal with the survivors. Every possible survivor will have a looooooong rabo de paja which you could use to control him/her.

  8. One of the many things Chavismo is, is a kind of left politics. This piece fails to acknowledge that and simply refers to the elementos gangsteriles among the heterogenous bunch that Chavez was able to turn into a block of sorts. Lissette picks up on the leftist politics by pointing towards my mates, the Marea Socialista / Aporrea crowd, as representing a broadly coherent version of this left politics.

    • Hey, we have readers from Australia! Epa, Carlos!! Left is not only in the chavista side of our polarized politics, that has been over simplified as left vs right. Teodoro and Pompeyo never were chavistas, for example. Social problems, human rights are both areas in which wide consensus can be achieved. It’s a beginning, we should try

  9. “And that’s a glitch from its foundation, because the disaster that chavismo is going through is the fault of, you guessed it, Hugo Chávez. He embodied a personalistic cult that wasn’t designed to be sustainable after he passed. Whatever children chavismo had, were destined to come back and have chavismo for lunch.”

    It’s fascinating to consider how the deaths of both Hugo Chavez and Nestor Kirchner were crucial for the dismantlement of both PSUV and PJ, repectively, as hegemonic forces in Venezuela and Argentina. If only the two bastards hadn’t died, we very likely wouldn’t be witnessing what we are now. Charismatic Chavez would be in power now facing far less pressure from the masses, il Padrino wouldn’t have done anything against him either; Nestor would be picking up the bat from Cristina today in a far more authoritarian Argentina than the current one, with its institutions working even more for the hegemony of a single party and to curb dissent. How come the life of a single person can be so determinant for the future of a country? That should be studied very hard because it clearly shouldn’t be that way…

    • “How come the life of a single person can be so determinant for the future of a country? That should be studied very hard because it clearly shouldn’t be that way…”

      This is already understood. Any country that creates the idol of the strong man who liberated the country from some terrible situation encourages strong man politics and when the necessary heir arises they can tap into this vein, straight to the nations heart.

      This is especially true for Latin America with their supposed liberation heroes who freed themselves from the Spanish (please note that I say ‘freed themselves from the Spanish’ because they sure didn’t liberate the country by handing it back to the indigenous populations).

      All those statues of Bolivar in every town centre existed long before Chavez. Chavez was merely the continuation of this (and I fear Leopoldo’s appeal is also linked to this ‘heroic’ thought stream).

      Additionally, outside of Latin America this can also be found in other places around the world. Look at places like Uzbekistan and the statues of their ‘glorious’ historical strongmen being erected around Tashkent to reinforce the mythical appeal of the current dictator strongman Karimov there.

      • Correct, that sick pattern must be destroyed for once and for all, and not allowed to happen anymore. The new AN must address this issue immediately, to reduce the size of the state and to restrain the personality cult is imperative.

  10. Can anyone name any policy positions that makes Chavismo inherently left wing? Populism is populism, simple as that and it shouldn’t be given a free pass. Especially not to appease the “aporrea” crowd who stood idly by while Venezuela was ripped to shreds.

    Venezuela wasn’t in need of a complete restructuring in 1999, Chavez won as the anti corruption candidate. Our system brought great prosperity 1960s and 70s. There is absolutely no argument to be made in saying that chavismo deserves a seat at the table during reconstruction based on their nonexistent leftist policy chops.

    I’m not saying they all deserve to be demonised but it took 15 years to get back to square one, let’s not squander this opportunity.

    • Pedro, the real question is this: can anyone name any policy positions that makes Chavismo inherently chavista? These guys clearly distorted Chavismo, real Chavismo is not like that, we must try again.

    • Can anyone name any policy positions that makes Chavismo inherently left wing?

      Maduro? Policy position? Perhaps “Since you didn’t vote for us, we won’t build you any houses” is the closest that Maduro has come to a policy position.
      Exprópiese. That is the closest that Hugo got to stating a policy position. Or: whatever Fidel approves, that will be our policy- which would be a policy position of both Chavez and Maduro.
      If you want a Chavista intellectual, consider Giordani, You know, the guy who was praising North Korea back in the 1990s.

  11. I think Chavismo’s closest analogue is early Peronism; so more right-populist than left.

    Argentina’s democratic actors did a very poor job of defanging Peronism, with the result that it is still out there, maybe in a more left form right now, but fundamentally contemptuous of liberal institutions and practices.

    I hope Venezuela can co-opt rather than repress the Chavista id; if it is going to survive, half-strength would be a good start.

  12. Chavismo as it currently stands is on its way out; it is also going to be a dominant political force for decades to come in one way or another no matter what. I think it is smart for the opposition to hasten its becoming a social democratic party that uses progressive elements from Chávez’s rhetoric for proper politics instead of this narco-populist nonsense.

    But can they do it? Chavismo is imploding… There is no generación de relevo beyond the same bureocrats we’ve had for the past 17 years. Chavismo’s ruthlessness with dissent goes quite similarly with its left and right-wing critics alike. The only definite ‘break’ I can see happening is a loss of the presidency, a full (if temporary) removal from power that forces a recomposition and a true generational rebellion within the party. Something like that can only be good for the whole country—those that want a serious party to deal in that Chavismo legacy which whether we like it or not is still the affiliation of most Venezuelans however strained their links to it may be right now.

    • Why is Chavismo on its way out? I believe it’s because the country has run out of money. Venezuela is never again going to benefit from a trillion dollar fortune being placed at its disposal. Many tend to forget Chavez was on his way out in 2002 and survived thanks to divine intervention.

      Once he had his hands firmly back on the wheel again was when the goodies, i.e. misiones, began. Chavez governed through populism from that point until his death. Hugo Chavez was not a swred political operative, he was a thug who derived his power by preying on the poor. When the money stopped pouring in he died and wasn’t able to be held responsible.

      There are no progressive elements. You’re comment is in no way an endorsement of the revolution but we must be very attentive as to how we look back and not say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, it was utter waste in every sense.

  13. Leak on you. What’s your address in Singapore ?I will send Yew a new parrot stuffed with cocaine and a diplomatic passport.

  14. We are looking at chavismo with the amusement and the authority of those that can say “I told you so”…

    However, the MUD is not too far from chavismo of being a kaleidoscope of right, right center (and why not) left. Some just hate the guts of the 4th and all its representation but their hate for Maduro and Chavez legacy is just an inch higher.

    The MUD needs to realize that the glue that keeps it together just got couple of drops of solvent in the from of winning the election (ask HCR and his latest tragic comic attempts to divert the attention from LP). How long the MUD will stay coherent is almost as the same question as the Maduro/Godgiven binomio against the “pure Chavistas” coherence under the PSUV. It looks crazy to even bring that not even a week after the election. But the question remains.

    I guess we need to stop giving these thugs ideas of how to survive and focus on how the MUD will survive once the power is delivered and its temptations begin to affect the elected.

    So far, Maduro/Godgiven have not disappointed, I will be scared if the actually would have chosen statesmanship over bullying. In that, I agree a 100% with the article.

  15. The funny thing is that all the things that Maduro threatened that the oppo was going to do if they won, like not giving out freebies and attacking “el pueblo mesmo”….are being done by Maduro and is not even a week.

    I disagree with the post. Chavismo should be let to implode, the MUD has the much more important issue of trying to ensure that we still have a country when that happens.

  16. The people of Venezuela want a decent standard of life for their families , security ,opportunity , incentive to work and time to enjoy a beer . The same as everybody else on the planet Now your sitting on the toilet with your new tablet and a red t shirt to wipe your ass Paper can’t be flushed down anyway even if you had it ( eco friendly ) .
    There is optimism at last , a chance to start the millennium and restore some pride .
    The conditions are there to claw your back up and reap the rewards of an honest day’s work
    Elect a new leader , put on your work cholas , and get busy living Venezuela is always a good place to own on the RISK game.

  17. Is there a part of Chavismo which in the abstract an ordinary oppo can identity with , for example the phocus on helping happles poor people with their medical needs , or educational opportunities which ordinarily society doesnt offer them , or giving kids and their mothers some help , or talking to them with true concern for their needs and fate. I can represent the current regime as a betrayal of Chavez orginal vision , as having gotten the recipe wrong ,as falling for a corrupt system of governance that even many hard core Chavistas cant stomach ( just read aporrea) . Isnt there way or articulating this notion that Venezuelan people need a real revolution based not on words but on well and efficiently executed plans by well run and clean organizations . I strongly feel we need a Revolution which targets the fight against poverty and its consequences , that part of Chavez notional vision is salvageable if framed in a different more realistic and rational and less hatred filled way. Why not use the brand to sell something which represents the values which underlie many of Chavez aspirations , taking out the toxic and destructive part ??

    If we were to reframe a new Chavismo in line with the democratic agenda of the oppo could someone just list 5 goals or concerns which could be included in an oppo message as wholly consistent with it !!

    The nazis where national ‘socialists’ , they tought the term socialist was part of a brand that could help them sell themselves to the german people of their time , they did make the state the center of german life but they did not try an nationalize and destroy the private industry of the country , rather the reverse, they gave them the maximum stimulus to make them bigger and stronger and allow it to offer every german a good job . Dont fight the brand , make the brand work for you ….!!

  18. I agree. The opposition needs to make sure there’s a “sane” chavismo left to deal with after they implode. But only after they implode. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

    Once chavismo implodes, there will be many groups/persons claiming to be the true heirs of Chávez, claimants to be the leaders of the new chavismo. MUD could choose who to “legitimize” as the new face of the sane chavismo. By that I mean that the fact that MUD has chosen that group/person to be the face of chavismo will make them seen as the more viable representative among the claimants, in the eyes of the public.

    For MUD, it will be a balancing act. They have to choose a group that has a decent following in chavismo, but that can be reason with. So avoid the radicals. Among the moderates, look for people with a decent following. But, of course, no one too popular. We don’t want to help create Chavez Part 2.

    • you are right, trying to save Chavismo might not be wise at all, if anything it will make things worst. Chavismo has proven to be capable of using whatever small advantage they can get to survive.

      So I’ll say let’s kill the authoritarian monster, and encourage the formation of a sane Socialist Party ** ghasp ** by building bridges with people willing to sit down and cut deals in favor of WE the People, at the same time we help the moderates to isolate and weed out the radical and authoritarian elements of the party.

      • Democracy (like many other historical movements) is sometimes about taking whatever is salvageable from a rival political or cultural opinion , sanitize or detoxify it and assimilate it into your own creed , this was done by Christianity which took some pagan customs and made them part of chrisitian ritual . Napoleon also did it by combining elements from traditional monarchy and others from the French revolution and merging them into a distinct historical movement that united France around his person . You create a brand that borrows from many others and use them to advance your agenda and attract former rivals to your side .Emotionally its not as satisfying as utterly destroying your enemies vision but in historical terms much more sane and practical !! There must be someone on the Oppo side capable of creating a narrative which accomplishes this .!! On the other side there are people who realize this and if you measure their words carefully are trying to make this cross over of the chavez brand easier .(Rodriguez Torres?).

        • Yes, Rodriguez Torres might be one. He’s being treated as a traitor, because anyone trying to create and own a sane version of chavismo is a threat to the Maduro/Cabello chavismo brand, which is dependant on fear and violence. Marea Socialista might be another one, although their main worry appears to be the survival of the ideological dream of chavismo, and not the political survival issue we’re talking about here. Someone who might attempt to reach out from the opposition and bring this “sane chavismo” into his fold is, obviously, Henri Falcón. Maybe he’s already doing it behind the scenes.

  19. He wrote: “There is an opportunity to redefine the aspirations of the revolution as a noble experiment that has been destroyed by a greedy and corrupt psuv. doing so would remove or at least dilute the political cover that the psuv operates under.”

    Sage insight IMO. Note that in a few short days, Maduro (and Godgiven) went from went from talking about El Pueblo, to the Revolution, to basically, “Me.” But the country has developed a political conscious, and there’s no going back to the hidalgo rule era of fat cats and have-nots.

  20. Macri already teaching how to deal with criminals.

    “En esa reunión, los hombres de negocios ventilaron una información inquietante. Según ellos, el conflicto que terminó con la ausencia de Cristina en los actos se inició durante una reunión que, en la Quinta de Olivos, sostuvieron a solas Cristina y Macri. Contaron que allí Cristina reclamó garantías explícitas de Macri para frenar investigaciones sobre la corrupción kirchnerista. Ahí defendió a Alejandra Gil Carbó. Las fuentes dicen que Macri se sorprendió y respondió: >>>>“Cristina, yo no manejo la Justicia y no voy a poder garantizarte nada.”<<<<
    La reunión terminó de inmediato.

    Escucharon la versión Adrián Kaufmann Brea, Jorge Brito, Carlos de la Vega, Luis Etchevere y Juan Chediack. Juraron absoluta discreción, pero todos conocen que las denuncias de corrupción atormentan a la ex presidenta."

  21. OT, but:
    Brent declined to $39 a barrel, its lowest level since Dec. 31 2008, in London trading while West Texas Intermediate for January delivery was at $36.25 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The price falls come after the International Energy Agency said in a report this morning that the global oil surplus will persist until at least late 2016. West Texas Intermediate is down around 11 percent in just the last month.

  22. What’s going on now with Maduro/Diosdado is amazing to watch. Everyday it gets better. And it’s clear this in only in part about MUD vs Maduro/Diosdado. The real issue for them seems to be Maduro/Diosdado vs Chavismo. The result of the vote is as much a victory for MUD as it’s an astonishing rejection of the Maduro/Diosdado leadership. It’s like watching Goliat scared shitless, sensing there’s a David around in the bushes, ready to strike.

  23. It seems that Maduro/Cabello are passing through the Five Stages of Grief/Loss. After two or three days of Denial, they are now into the second stage of Anger. They are lashing out at any convenient target including “el pueblo”. The third stage is Negotiation, but I don’t see this coming anytime soon. It is still hard for me to imagine what this might look like.

  24. Saving Chavismo? Easy! The very first act of the new AN is to pass a law that ‘requires’ all executive decisions, all cabinet meetings, all official news conferences and all economic decisions be made in the presence of Hugo Chavez’s coffin, as was done yesterday, with television camera’s rolling. All holding hands around the sarcophagus. Seance-like. Dramatic. Creepy, yes, but an effective method of showing where all of these crazy ideas are coming from. Everyone would be happy, Chavista’s and opposition (for now), dont-cha-see? …!

  25. Faustus, you be killing me. We’d of course need for the bus driver to channel the dozing leader along with a few birds till the path ahead is clear. Great to hear some comedy in this crazy drama.


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