Has Pablo Iglesias, the charismatic leader of Spain’s far-leftwing party, Podemos, finally seen the light? After years of unflinching support, Iglesias has been drastically distancing his party from Maduro and the PSUV in the last few days. Last week, Iglesias condemned the existence of political prisoners in Venezuela – finally – saying “very clearly, and with no space for ambiguity, we do not accept that there should be political prisoners anywhere…the situation in that country…is terrible.” Back in March, a leaked strategic memo from Podemos suggested that their public relationship with Chavismo had been a terrible idea and they needed to rebrand.  

Iglesias is just the latest leftwing figure to begin voicing discomfort with Maduro’s regime. Luis Almagro, fresh from calling Maduro a dictadorzuelo, was Foreign Minister for Pepe Mujica’s government in Uruguay, which received significant funding from Chavez’s government in the 2000s. Last week, Mujica himself said Maduro is loco como una cabra. With Dilma and Kirchner out of the game, only the few remaining usual suspects continue to voice their support for Maduro’s failed revolution: Correa, Morales, and Ortega. The Three Amigos.

What is really unusual here is that Pablo Iglesias and Podemos have been deeply associated with Chavismo since his rise to political relevance as host of La Tuerka in Spain and Fort Apache in the Latin American-oriented channel, HispanTV.

Iglesias’s rhetoric on those shows was closely aligned with Chavismo, buying into the cult of personality that the comandante had created. His continued defense of the ideology on communicational hegemony programming did not help. Heck, the guy taught Chavistas how to build on their ideology in the mid 2000s. Along with Juan Carlos Monedero, who left Podemos in April, Iglesias served as an adviser to president Chavez himself. To this day, Podemos militant Alfredo Serrano Mancilla serves as an economic adviser for Maduro.  

It’s a measure of how completely toxic the Maduro brand has become that even a guy like Iglesias has been slowly distancing himself from them. All the way back in June of 2014, Radio Nacional de Venezuela called him “Judas” after Iglesias denied a funding relationship with the Bolivarian regime. Since then, Podemos’s moderation has been a problem for Chavistas that wanted a populist ally across the Atlantic.

Today, this rift between the PSUV and Podemos seems to be coming to a head. According to the recent CIS poll, Podemos will lose a third of its vote-share in the upcoming legislative elections in June. With corruption being a top voter concern in Spain (and across the globe), Podemos must aim to rid itself of any associations to the corrupt in order to continue to perform at the ballot.

This has perhaps been most apparent as the funding scandal has resurfaced, due to an explosive declaration from Rafael Isea, who was briefly Chavez’s Finance Minister in 2008. Isea claims that Chavez had financed Podemos-affiliated foundation CEPS with 7 million lechugas.  Iglesias’s response? To deny and to continue to differentiate Podemos from the PSUV, by calling out Maduro for keeping political prisoners.

Three years ago, we never could have guessed that the same man that proclaimed Chávez es Invencible, would be advocating for Leopoldo Lopez’s freedom. Even if that would seem totally reasonable in a normal democracy.

If that is not clear enough, you could hear it from the party’s strategists themselves. A few months ago the communications strategy report that emphasized the organization’s need to disassociate from Chavismo was leaked to the Spanish diario El País.

Perhaps Podemos is no Iberian PSUV, and Iglesias no longer bears allegiance to his comandante galáctico. But does that mean he is actually closer to Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn than to Hugo Chavez in terms of political worldview? I don’t think anyone could answer that.

This recent pivot by Podemos shows why we cannot take ideological claims at face value. It seems that, at least for Podemos, ideology is more of a signaling strategy, a way to communicate to define the tribe. We all know that the same could be said about the Chavista credo.

The key difference here is that in a society that respects strong democratic institutions, even populist, ideological leaders have to be sensitive to public opinion. And Maduro is just not the kind of figure you want to affiliate your brand with these days.

For Maduro, this type of moderation is unthinkable. Listening to voters is unthinkable. He is a despot, beholden not to public opinion, but to the incentives created by our country’s systemic corruption. El vil egoísmo, que otra vez triunfó.

27 COMMENTS

  1. Disagree, it’s all because they are in the middle of a campaign, they recently joined forces with Izquierda Unida, the same guys that few days ago harassed Leopoldo Lopez father in Asturias (people were even shouting “ojalá tu hijo se muera”).

    As soon as these guys manage to reach the government they will be best friends forever with Maduro & Co.

    • Yeah, Love J.O. but he got some facts majorly wrong (the images of protests are from 2014). It’s almost like he tries to manipulate/force a story around some punchlines, and gets a little flexible with the truth for the sake of comedy. Too bad, he just lost some credibility points with me.

      • Ya, just wish we had the table of comedy for discourse! instead of trucutru430 that was once my password if you would believe it!

  2. Excellent story on Podemos, following nicely on Francisco Toro’s excellent piece on the other apologists.

    You guys rock.

  3. Reminds me of Mortadelo distancing him from Fidel Castro during the 1998 presidential elections campaign.

  4. And Iglesias is getting support from his new partner in politics, Alberto Garzon from Izquierda Unida (Spanish far left party) defending Maduro and saying he suffers from an opposition that is not democratic!!!!

    Según Garzón, Nicolás Maduro está “sufriendo muchas consecuencias, como los problemas económicos que ha tenido por no saber gestionar una crisis que tiene mucho que ver con la bajada del petróleo”. Además, considera que Maduro también ha sufrido y sufre “una oposición que no es de carácter democrático”.

    http://www.libertaddigital.com/espana/politica/2016-05-23/alberto-garzon-encantado-con-que-leopoldo-lopez-este-encarcelado-por-golpista-1276574616/

    or

    http://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/20160522/401973691594/alberto-garzon-iu-acusa-leopoldo-lopez-fomentar-golpes-de-estado-venezuela.html

    what a bunch of ….. when will this nightmare end!!

    • I like Garzón much, much, much more than Iglesias; he is more calm, thinking, and a lot less histrionic, and I agree with a lot of his conclusions about Spain and its situation.

      But yep. I mean, not surprising, but sad. I understand it would be poison for him and his party to actually say something different, but that doesnt make it any better.

  5. Chavismo with its garish performance is used to bludgeon Podemos in Spain. It helps, but it is not motivated by any idealistic love from our ‘hermanos peninsulares’ towards Venezuela.

    A more accurate reading is the the deafening silence of other governments in the Americas. As much as I hope for the OAS to do something they seem self satisfied doing nothing.

    Martin is correct to say that Chavismo is toxic. I see it used as a convenient political take-down in internal political debates in other countries of Latin America, but beyond that I don’t see a clear gain for them to publicly censure Maduro, and they haven’t.

    Of course, the ideals of a democratic continent should compel action, but we have we seem to be stuck in the crude reality of is versus should.

    • Yes, it is very disappointing that heads of state from Mexico, Chile and Colombia, etc have been awfully silent about it. That only reflects lack of leadership and weak values. Latin America is so behind is depressing. I hope that at least they support the long overdue Democratic Charter this time.

    • Lots of spaniards who have lived in Venezuela or who have relatives there and who sincerely care about Venezuelas tragedies , in spain the abuses of Chavismo carry a lot of emotional traction, much more than in other places ……that explains why Podemos and Iglesias are attempting to avoid being identified with the Venezuelan regime , marking distance between themselves and Maduro , not because they have changed their original positions one bit but because its election time and every vote counts .

      Understood Podemos political advisors have told them that getting more votes will require them to move away from any identification with the now toxic image of the venezuelan regime , their rivals of course are using the image of the Venezuelan tragedy and the impact it has on a big part of the Spanish population to attack Podemos ……!!

      The bad image of the Venezuelan regime we are told has already cost some latin america leaders who were identified with Chavismo the chance of getting elected …..Mexico is a case in point , also had an impact in Peru.

      • Lots of spaniards who have lived in Venezuela or who have relatives there…
        Having met some, I know that Venezuela had attracted a number of immigrants from Italy. Did Gallegos immigrate to Venezuela as they did to Cuba or to Argentina?

        • Yup. In droves, especially during the years of a sputtering economy in Spain (1950s-1970s).

          Witness their social club — at least in Caracas and Valencia: la Hermandad Gallega.

          Many gallegos would set up small businesses, in Venezuela, giving them names that recalled their homeland, i.e., Bar Ribadavia. Then, when they returned to Spain, they set up again, this time giving their small businesses names that recalled their adopted homeland of Venezuela, i.e. Bar Maracaibo (as seen in Santiago de Compostela).

  6. Pablo Iglesias has no ethics and what he does have is a deep hatred for people who differ from his ideology and “leadership”. He will do whatever it takes to regain control but only until then.

  7. Problem is we are getting here to a point of negative reaction; as PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos use Venezuela shamelessly as a political tool against Podemos the reaction of the voters closer to Podemos is to consider everything just political noise.

    Fat chance of getting past the very heated political campaign here and approach the situation in Venezuela as something that all democratic parties, no matter the political ideology, should at least agree into putting whatever good will or negotiation power (if any) there is for Spain to play a role in helping.

    There is too much votes to be made and who cares about Venezuela anyway; the average Spaniard doesnt, except in the places with ties due to inmigration. But in Madrid or Barcelona? They just think is just propaganda and, at most, that is sad but you know, third work country, is normal, sure there are worse places that we dont talk about, blah blah blah.

    I’m just so sad and tired I just dont have the strength to argue anymore

  8. Sounds familiar? …Countries don’t really recover from being taken over by unstable authoritarian nationalists of any political bent, left or right—not by Peróns or Castros or Putins or Francos or Lenins or fill in the blanks. The nation may survive, but the wound to hope and order will never fully heal. Ask Argentinians or Chileans or Venezuelans or Russians or Italians—or Germans….

    There’s more through these reflections on the rise of Trump.

    • Every time I read about this subject come to mind the news when a full body statue of Thatcher were unveiled in London, the next day (the very next day) a guy with a cricket bat (yes no lie here, so british, so folkloric, such a nice add to the story) went and decapitated the statue with a single blow. The guy was jailed and the statue had to be made again. The statue beheader was a relative of a miner… political hate NEVER goes away. LIKE NEVER.

  9. Populist leftist politicians never start out being tyrants. They generally believe wholeheartedly in their ideology and have the “best of intentions”. The problem is that they believe in the power of the state to “do good”. Their policies always increase the size of government and the dependence of their populations on government largesse. Then, when they find that they can’t simply eliminate poverty solely with tax revenues, they turn to price and currency controls, which create market distortions and ever larger and more powerful bureaucracies. Of course, this leads to massive corruption. Finally, when their economic policies fail and the public discontent threatens their power, they resort to repression to maintain themselves in power.

    Which brings me back to where I started. Guys like Pablo Iglesias of Podemos don’t start out being evil. But, left in power for any length of time, they surely and inevitably become so.

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