The Crisis on the Other Side

The crisis has brought chavismo to the edge of historical oblivion. Don't think they don't understand that.

There’s this tendency in the opposition to imagine the crisis is all on our side. That the chavista movement is made up entirely of people who are A-OK with the country’s descent into unlivability: wild-eyed Serrano-style ideological hardliners too blinkered notice or olive-clad kleptocrats too drunk on 18-year old scotch to care. And while there are clearly elements of that in the chavista movement, to flatten it into only that is to miss two-thirds of what’s going on.

Polarization is all about not seeing the other side, about losing any sense of its reality. It’s clear that the government doesn’t see us beyond its clichés either. And that mutual blindness has always been a contributor to the crisis.

But let’s be clear, chavismo is undergoing its most thoroughgoing crisis yet. You get glimpses of it through an Aporrea that reads more and more like the House Organ of Marea Socialista: a place where anti-madurista heterodoxy is now almost expected. And you get the clearest glimpse of it yet in the elevation of Vladimir Padrino López to a post that amounts to Prime Minister —as clear an indication as we’ve seen yet that pressure for a change in policy direction has reached fever pitch.

Chavismo is uniquely ill-equipped to understand the forces that are driving Venezuela’s economic and social collapse. But they’re uniquely well equipped to register it. Seventeen years of investing in communal organization have ensured that the party-state does have a presence in every town, village, barrio and caserío in the country, and information can’t help but flow up and down those structures.

Chavistas at the grassroots level are pissed, and they’re pissed for the same reasons everyone else is pissed: just surviving has become enormously challenging for people. Chavismo, for all its authoritarianism, has not built the kind of soviet-style totalitarian state that can genuinely shrug off its own people’s starvation.

And middle ranking chavistas, folks with aspiration for public office sometime in the next few decades years, are keenly aware of the way this crisis is turning the PSUV brand toxic. Nobody inside the Bolivarian movement has any illusions about electability as long as they’re hitched to Nicolás Maduro like a ball and chain.

Time was when you could make up the difference via spending in the run-up to an election, but that time is gone. There is. NO. Money. When 88% of likely voters tell you they want the president mandate revoked, you know things have reached a head.

Maduro’s rampant incompetence is intolerable to the country, yes. But it’s also intolerable to PSUV. And it’s in this context, of a movement driven to the brink by awareness of its own toxicity, that you have to think about what’s coming in the next few weeks.

Nobody making decisions right now thinks Maduro can win re-election in 2019. Nobody within chavismo thinks the movement can survive unless it jettisons this catastrophically failed governing clique out of power in relatively short order.

Do they hope for an orderly transition that keeps less destructive aspects of the coalition in power? Of course they do. Will they work hard for a Gattopardo-style transition, where everything has to change so everything can stay the same? Definitely.

Can they necessarily control the forces of chaos and social conflict their own misgovernment has set loose? Not even they know the answer to that.