My friends and family back in Bogotá are well aware of my weird obsession keen interest in Venezuela and its politics, so when I visit it is often a topic of conversation. My last trip happened right after the 6D election when interest was particularly high. I found that everyone I talked to knew that the opposition had won and had won big, many of them aware of the 112 diputados and that it was some sort of magic number. This wasn’t too surprising as Venezuela is a favourite item for Colombian media and news channels, going all the way back to the Chávez-Uribe confrontation days.

What struck me was that the people I talked to had only a vague idea of what the opposition is beyond being, well, the opposition. Comparing political ideologies across borders is tricky even in the best of circumstances, and we are far from those, but it’s safe to say that the bulk of la MUD is less right-wing than President Santos. It turns out my relatively safe assumption was a complete surprise to those I talked to. For example, my good friend Carlos who leans right and supports Uribe was dismayed to find out that the Venezuelan opposition, who he supports, is leftier than Santos, whom he dislikes.

My sense was that Colombians, in general, perceive the Venezuelan opposition as somehow right wing and as a relatively homogeneous group. We know this is the image that chavismo and its media likes to portray, with “la derecha” or even “la ultraderecha” used constantly to refer to la MUD and its allies.

Perhaps that’s why the Colombian left has been using a similar rhetoric. Adding to this, Uribistas often make a point of their support for the opposition, so it would make sense that they also had an interest in showing them as right-wing. In the end, the push from the left and the pull from the right would result in creating the image of a homogeneously right-wing MUD. Pretty interesting, huh?

Too bad that’s wrong. Or at least much more complicated than that. I first realized my hypothesis wasn’t holding too much one day I was talking to my friend Nicolás, who is a law student, a community activist and far from an Uribe supporter. We were talking over beers in one of Bogotá’s popular faux-English pubs when the conversation drifted to Venezuela and my thoughts on how the opposition was seen. Just like my other friend, he had never thought la MUD being to the left of Santos, but not because la MUD was especially right wing, but rather he had never thought of “placing” it anywhere in his political compass.

I decided to take another strategy and just ask directly to friends and family what they thought was the opposition’s ideology. The most representative answer was my dad’s quite eloquent “eso es un sancocho”.

But how do Colombian politicians on the left talk about the Venezuelan opposition?

First, do realize that Chavismo has long been unpopular in Colombia, both El Comandante himself and Maduro even more so.

Clara López is a key figure in the mainstream Colombian left and she did recur to Telesur-style language of “right-wing coupsters” to talk about the opposition, but it was about  Carmona, who actually staged a right-wing coup. He has been all but forgotten here so I’m skeptical this had much impact. In this later tweet she makes a distinction between a violent, anti-democratic opposition and a legitimate one.

Senator Jorge Robledo is the left’s leader in Congress and fierce critic of  “the right” and “neoliberalism”. He did criticize Santos’ meeting with Capriles but focused on Santos, not one word on Capriles.

It’s different with Piedad Córdoba, chavismo’s close ally, who called some members of la MUD “parapolíticos”, implying they’re associates of Álvaro Uribe. Despite Uribe’s popularity, there are many who strongly oppose him, which could make la MUD less appealing as an alternative to chavismo. She is well known but also widely disliked, limiting the impact of her views.

The Venezuelan opposition has made huge efforts to attract support internationally, often focusing on political figures, but a key part is also understanding how it is perceived by people in the countries of the region.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Now that we have someone like Macri setting the benchmark of what is good right-wing governance; MUD, Santos, Kirchner, Capriles, Correa, Morales, Dilma, etc, all look like moldy obsolete despicable boring left-wing figures of the past…

    So, we basically have the left-wing dinossaurs that still “can’t accept” things like rule of the law, private property, fair elections, criminals being punished: those are the Bolivarians.

    Then we have the left with a coat of civilization on it: those “can accept” rule of the law, private property, etc, but they will hardly start any economic revolution, they believe economies should be regulated hardly and the presence of the state should be felt and seen everywhere. To a smaller or larger degree, we are talking about MUD, Santos, Bachelet, Humala, Capriles.

    Finally, we have people like Macri and Uribe, the ones we lie awake at night praying to rule our countries and save us from hell.

  2. Thanks, Rodrigo. I think the interest goes back in time. After all, we are neighbours. My dad used to buy from time to time El Tiempo in Valencia back in the eighties (last century!). I think he was the only non-Colombian doing that there, but my dad thought it was just normal to try to learn something about people who share so much in common.

    In any case: it is a bit sad to see Colombians do not seem to have a better idea of what is going on in Venezuela than Germans. I often read or hear German news about the opposition in Venezuela being “the conservatives”. It is quite depressing and I have written several times to the German media trying to clarify
    things are a little bit more complicated.

    Something similar happens in Spain. Most Spaniards do have a certain idea of it all and yet – and yet- a large proportion of their electorate still votes for Podemos, a movement that has been largely financed by Chavismo and which still ha a similar attitude to the world as Chavismo does.

    But let’s see: what is the opposition, after all? I think your father is right. The opposition is a sancocho.
    Even in First World countries parties’ positions are becoming wobblier by the day. In Venezuela everything is, as usual, as feudal as it always was and that makes it more difficult to understand what anyone is for.

    What do we have in Venezuela?
    – personalism and a system completely based on lords, vassals and fiefs
    – parties are just there to serve as a platform for a family or a very small group of people
    – there is no abstract set of values and much much much less a programme – ideology is purely imagology
    as Kundera described it
    – property rights, particularly of most land in Venezuela, are less clear than those of Great Britain during the early Middle Age
    – a position of complete denial of reality prevails: even a lot of oppos think the country is rich because of oil reserves. They ignore wealth is really based on the average competitiveness of a country’s citizens. They all follow a cargo cult.
    – Thus: most Venezuelans will react very aggressively against anyone trying to bring about too much “honesty” and “accountability” for everyone (it is good only to use against those you want to take away from power)

    In Western Europe we often get before elections articles in newspapers where the programme of each of the 5 to 6 most important parties present in a nutshell what they stand for. They would have a big trouble trying to do so in Venezuela.

  3. That’s right, it’s normal trying to box everything in structures we are familiar with (specially a Group of people so far from our monosfera), the hard part is that Venezuela doesn’t have left or right, if anything some kind of left leaning minestrone mental, that more or less reflects what’s happening at the time, right wing is kid of caca, i can’t remember an openly right wing polititian, even Maria Corina has to jam lefteese in her language to not seem too liberal.

    In Venezuela having a polititian say they never liked Alí Primera is the same as havig a polititian in The states openly discussing the advantages of comunism.

    We like out leaders to be more “mientras vaya viniendo vamos viendo” because that’s what people’s lives are like, in a petrostate anyone can suddenly stumble upon riches and lose everything at the bingo next weekend, and that’s completely normal.

    Having a step by step agenda is kind of secondary, it’s not a valuable personality treat, Chavez’s “plan de la patria” had to first pass the trial by fire of el pueblo seeing him being able to wing it for so many years.

    So fiting in those set “right” or “left” slots might actually affect your capacidad de maniobra and as a polititian we like you to have your pseudo political stance as flexible as your moral and ethic values.

  4. The main problem is that everything that isn’t batshit Castro/Che worshipping is part of the “hard right wing”. The mythology of “the good guerrillas against the evil Imperial interests” is a huge dead weight that Latin American countries drag around. Which is why I fully supported the Allup video, because it has to be made clear that military communism worship is primitive, is barbaric and has no place on modern society. That the Sao Paulo Forum is allowed to meet without mass arrests for conspiring against Latin American democracy is apalling.

  5. The right wing in Venezuela doens’t exist by traditional definitions, but don’t confuse what a party or coalition defines itself as and what actually policies they make way for.

    I will give an example:

    The Democratic Party in the United States is defined as a moderate left-party, but in practice, their policies represent a moderate-right.

    The opposite effects happens in Venezuela. The opposition represents itself as a moderate leftist party, but I would wager this will disappear once el Chavismo is out of the way. With good reason as well.

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