This is a dictatorship. It is indeed urgent we call it so.

But the act of doing so brings up the most obvious of questions: if this is a dictatorship, then who would our dictator be? Nicolás Maduro? (Guys, seriously?) Padrino López? Tareck El Aissami? Diosdado Cabello? Jorge Rodríguez and his rainbow colectivo?

Dictatorship is defined as “government by a dictator”. This, in turn, is defined as a “ruler with total power”. Do any of these guys have total power? 

The whole system rests, by necessity, on the support of the military and its threat of violence, but the men in olive green support not Maduro, but ‘chavismo’ in general — and chavista kleptocracy, in particular. Worse military support does not come from a single man — Padrino López, say — but from whole theater of ne’er-do-wells dressed as generals wherefrom he derives his own, half-hearted, support.

The peculiarity of our situation arises from the fact that El Aissami, Padrino, Jorge Rodríguez, Diosdado, and so on (henceforth the contenders, for short) have not, as is normally the case, risen to power.

You see the problem. The way power flows in Venezuela (and particularly within chavismo) is still diffuse and, paradoxically, “institutional” — even though it operates in a system built around a single person. It is, in other words, still in desperate need of much sharper definition. Until it gets it, until it ebbs to the shores of a single man, this is no traditional dictatorship. Till then, this is something else entirely, something much slipperier: a diffuse authoritarianism lost in a desperate search for its focal point.  

The peculiarity of our situation arises from the fact that El Aissami, Padrino, Jorge Rodríguez, Diosdado, and so on (henceforth the contenders, for short) have not, as is normally the case, risen to power. Have not fought for it through some Darwinian political struggle. They have not centralised power by way of usurpation or violent elimination. Instead, power has come down to them, as it were, pre-stolen.

Remember: these were men who were happy to operate under Chávez’ shadow as he greedily centralized power in himself. It was he, the gigante with the long shadow, who was doing the power-grabbing. The contenders’ business was, first of all, money and only then power in the debased form of bureaucratic sway. All they needed was for Chávez to continue setting up the theater that enabled them to rob the country of its biggest commodity bonanza and. Their role was merely to administer the state in his name and help him to amass still more power for himself.

Naturally, those in the nominally highest positions of power (those in the military, PDVSA, governorships and ministries) were also the ones closest to the oily golden tit of the state. These greedy suckers are the contenders, the true substance of chavismo.

The last thing they wanted was to exercise power themselves and lay bare their terrifically profitable subterfuge.

Social climbers of petro-dynastic proportions, they are also, perhaps, the purveyors of its true political message: ‘As long as there is corruption, there is hope.’

The last thing they wanted was to exercise power themselves and lay bare their terrifically profitable subterfuge.

The death of Chávez meant the first big blow to the populist theatre that covered up this kleptocracy. The second blow came with the haphazard succession of Maduro, a man so visibly unfit for the role of Master of Ceremonies of the Farce. The tragedy, for him, is that this role is the only plausible justification for the implicit donation of the contenders’ power. The third came with the crash of oil prices. The fourth with the rise of an united Opposition and the loss of the National Assembly.

The final blow was facing imminent defeat in a referendum that could unseat them all and reveal them and their crimes.

With each of these blows, chunks of wood and curtain fell. With each, the power they had only exercised to grab money they were forced to excercise in state violence — sometimes symbolic, more and more often physical. At first, the relatively milquetoast: they bought newspapers and TV stations and even hosted some shows themselves. Later they had to throw hundreds of people in jail. Installed a desperate TSJ. Put the military in charge of food distribution. Ring their friends in the colectivos and bring them to the National Assembly floor. Pass a Budget without a sideways glance at the elected National Assembly. And on it goes.

The farce has been laid bare of necessity.

The end of democracy signals the straightforward surrender of their farce.

The so-called ‘pressure valve’ they blocked off in ruling out a recall was blocked off not only closed to us, but to chavista power-players also.

The end of democracy signals the straightforward surrender of their farce. It imposes an awkward redrawing of the power structure. The puppet-titan who can cast a shadow large enough to cover them is nowhere to be found. Yet find him they must because, that’s the only way they know how to rule. Alas, this puppet needs to be charismatic. Needs to recover all the popular support chavismo has lost. And bring the oil barrel up to two hundred while he’s at it.

It is easy to see Chavismo is in desperate straits. Unmasked and against the ropes, trying erratically to find new ways of ruling that could bring back older, easier days.  For all they know, they might even fail in ruling through violence. They need a pause from all the crumbling. This is why they look for dialogue.

None of them signed up to this to be the dictator, and none of them have the chops to be the puppet they need, either.

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M.A. in Economics from the University of Edinburgh. Madrid based. Wealth management, roots in banking and microfinance. Voracious reader of Classics, specially the Russians, and History. Caraqueño and Caraquista, inescapably a lover of Salsa, wheat talk and Rum. Fascinated by South America's indigestion of modernity, owes his political understanding mostly to Octavio Paz, Ivan Karamazov and dad.

28 COMMENTS

  1. Not a single mention of the actual power ruling Venezuela? Tsk, tsk, everybody knows the master of the circus here are the castro brothers in the landfill – island, the criminals sitting in chimpanflores are but puppets at their service.

  2. Is there any historical evidence that dictatorships that are ruled by cliques are easier to overthrow than dictatorships with one clear ruler? I’m skeptical but I don’t know. I do agree with you that the Chavistas are very much on the ropes and must be desperate.

  3. It’s called an “oligarchy” (irony of ironies), and the kleptocratic rulers are called “boliburgueses”. Yes, many other terms fit well, best perhaps a cancer (a bunch of cells growing without regulation). Another good term would be from one latin word for soldier: latro, hence latrocracy, which sounds splendidly close to latrine or ladron (which it should).

  4. Someday some people will get this straight:

    Whatever’s left of what Venezuela was is no democracy, no ‘socialism’ not even a real dictatorship.

    Read, and weep:

    Kleptocracy (from Greek: κλεπτοκρατία, klépto- thieves + -kratos rule, literally “rule by thieves”)[1][2] is a government with corrupt rulers (kleptocrats) that use their power to exploit the people and natural resources of their own territory in order to extend their personal wealth and political power. Typically this system involves the embezzlement of state funds at the expense of the wider population, sometimes without even the pretense of honest service.[3][4]

    Yes, that’s what it is. A Tropical blend of authoritarian trespasses, backed by the corrupt Military, and a bunch of THIEVES. That’s all. They try to disguise themselves as “socialists” or “bolivarianos” but they are nothing but thieves, no real ideology.

    Kleptocracy. Get it straight.

    • The United Arab Emirates is a kleptocracy too, nevertheless it’s considered a nice place to work and live. If there were no ‘real ideology’ behind these crazies ruling the Venezuelan economy, Caracas would be like Dubai today, and not a copy of Havana.

    • In every form of Marxism, everything is political. Your possessions, your hunger pains, your life are all merely political, and so is theft. Theft is political.

      In every form of Marxism, the privileged ruling elite class is required to use every political thing to further the “revolution”, otherwise they delegitimize themselves. Thus every form of Marxism is a kleptocracy.

      The useful idiots and followers don’t want to believe that, but Marx himself said it (among others).

  5. A Dictatorship is a system of rule where one person or a small clique have such a hold on political power that they can unilaterally DICTATE and impose all important public decisions to the rest of the population, decisions which all are forced to obey even where they are taken in breach of existing constitutional processes. and without the participation of anyone else.

    In Venezuela we have a dictatorship, but not necessarily a dictator in the traditional sense, Formerly all power was vested in Chavez and we had both a dictatorship and a Dictator , after his death a clique took over, even if Maduro was annointed by Chavez as his successor . Its clear that while Maduro is the titular head of this clique it is the clique and not Maduro alone who exercises this dictatorship….!!

  6. I would characterize it as a Governing Junta. It is not even strictly a Military Junta, such as in Myanmar, but a hybrid Civic-Military Junta. Regardless of name, it is clearly NOT a Constitutional Democratic Republic.

  7. My take, an excellent post minding the omission of naming the puppet master proper, the cuban invasion force.

    Chavez himself IMO just another puppet-alas a great one, with lots of carisma and relative autonomy, but a puppet nonetheless.

    About definitions, venezuela (o lo que va quedando de ella), is an occupied colony, and is been systematically stripped of all the rent it can generate.

    • I find it interesting how the word “colony” has near universally negative connotations in Spanish language and culture. In the English language, the word can have both negative and positive connotations. A “colony” is not just something to be exploited. It is also considered an investment in the future. It is not just a source of resources but also a new market for exports for the parent economy. As a native English speaker, I think of the concept of a “colony” as something which is intended from the beginning to become self-sustaining and eventually independent, although with strong cultural and commercial ties to its progenitor.

      Not that I would ever deny the abuses committed by the colonizing powers. The English were not altruistic saints by any stretch of the imagination. Nevertheless, in spite of all the negative history, I retain a positive image of the hopefulness, adventure, and romance of colonial period.

      • Roy, I think it is quite more than “English” versus “Spanish” and “the English managed well, the Spaniards did not”.

        The English colonists, together with the Dutch and Germans in some parts- made up the clear majority of the population once the native population that existed in 13 colonies was killed or died or driven away. That so so until well after the Independence. Only in some colonies like South Carolina were black majority even in 1860.

        As you had for a long time this “one-drop rule” for such a long time, most people with some awareness of black ancestors was “on the other side”.

        It is easy for you to have associations of adventure and romance and what not.
        You are white, man.

        I would actually say the average inhabitant of Venezuela in 1812, who was of mixed ethnicity, had more positive associations with the colony in spite of all the nasty things that happened than the average mixed US citizen back then.

        In our case it was a wee bit more complicated and I am telling you that as one who is a bit more native American than the average and yet 2/3 of Spanish ancestry.

        In our case we went through more waves of redefining what was cool and not because our mix was dramatic from the start.

  8. But in this context, Venezuela is a colony of Cuba in the worst sense: They are an occupation force plundering our resources and slaughtering our people.

  9. In every form of Marxism, everything is political. Your possessions, your hunger pains, your life are all merely political, and so is theft. Theft is political.

    In every form of Marxism, the privileged ruling elite class is required to use every political thing to further the “revolution”, otherwise they delegitimize themselves. Thus every form of Marxism is a kleptocracy.

    The useful idiots and followers don’t want to believe that, but Marx himself said it (among others).

    • Interesting this article by Ociel López. Here is a fellow who misses the forest for the trees. No food, no medicine? Who cares, the poor is Chavista to the core. It reminds me of a local expression: “Tapar el sol con un dedo”. As a local resident in the interior, what I see is a long painful agony. Pathetic!

    • “Chimpanflores” is a play on the words “chimpancé” (A kind of monkey) and “Miraflores” the government palace.

      It’s basically a way to say in a word that chavismo has downgraded the presidency and the government in Venezuela in general to an animalistic state, where they act mostly due to stupid gut-impulses, even when following said ideas ends burying Venezuela into ruin deeper and deeper after each choice chavismo makes.

      In last instance, you could consider it an insult against chavismo’s ruling class.

  10. For me it appears as if “Chavismo” stands for the actually quite long period of high oil prices and easy money. Thats the golden calf. Between 2004 and 2014 “we” reduced poverty by don’t know what. And djinni coeficient went down to some other number.

  11. It’s a dictatorship by the Leninist Party once led by Chavez. Historically, when the Great Leader dies, an interim period of group leadership of the party intervenes, until a new Great Leader marginalizes the other pretenders. But the Party is always there.

  12. Chavez did not allow the Psuv in congress or outside it to actually make decisions , he could tell congress what to do but often chose to exclude them altogether , they were simply his personal tool to do what he decided , he was a Dictator with some favoured side kicks who got a bigger piece of the pie but always under his total command . With Maduro its more like a clique including some military groups he needs but who share in some of the decisions together with non military members of the clique. Some members of the clique may be thinking that he is becoming more of a liability than an asset and that I suspect is whats making the so called negotiations possible …….

  13. Collective dictatorships are not unknown in history. Athens had its Thirty Tyrants period.

    The USSR for about eight years after the death of Lenin had no single paramount leader, and this was also true from Stalin’s death to the fall in 1991. (Krushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev were only primus inter pares.)

    Imperial Japan had no single leader with complete power. The Army and Navy answered to no one.

    Iran is a bizarre hybrid: the clerics have ultimate power, but choose to leave control in the hands of the elected President (chosen from among those they approve).

  14. Venezuela es tan diferente que para definirla no sirve ninguno de los adjetivos disponibles. Para categorizarla hay que inventar una nueva categoría.

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