An Interview with Javier Corrales


Javier Corrales and Michael Penfold’s 2011 book, Dragon in the Tropics: Hugo Chávez and the Political Economy of Revolution in Venezuela, I’m not ashamed to say, was a milestone in my “recovery” from Chavismo. It was a detailed, documented confirmation of what, for the months leading up to the time I read it, had only been a hunch on my part: that the “Bolivarian Revolution” had been, well, something other than what I had believed it to be for nearly a decade. I appreciated the book so much that I bought it again when it was revised and updated in 2015, something I rarely do with any book. So when I had the chance to meet and interview Corrales at the Venezuela at the Crossroads event on March 4 of this year, I was very excited.

I introduced myself in the morning and we set up the interview for the lunch hour. I selected a great spot in a large open area, under the shade of a tree (so Javier wouldn’t be squinting) and with a row of tall palm trees in the background, rising up over the Mission-style buildings of Stanford University.

I had to start with the question I had been dying to ask him all morning, just to break the ice. “So, just to clarify, you’re not an ‘ultra-rightist’ are you?” He laughed. “No, I don’t think so,” he said. And that’s where the interview began as we delved into the myths of the “ultra-derechista fascistas” and the “good” Bolivarian socialist left and Javier took it from there.

Javier Corrales is professor of Political Science at Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts. He earned his Ph.D. in political Science from Harvard University. He is the author and co-author of many books and he serves on the editorial boards of Latin American Politics and Society and Americas Quarterly.


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  1. He lost me when he suggested that the opposition should “talking to the side of chavistas who are eager to try something different”. True chavistas do not want to try anything but the crap they are experiencing.

    • Well sadly, unless they sudenlly shift views or we all decide to turn away from democracy, these are the things you have to do.

  2. I am half way thru the interview but wanted to make a couple of comments before I forgot.
    Javier is walking on eggs in his interview, when he talks about talking to chavistas and somehow giving them a guarantee that they will not be politically destructed. It seems to me that he is talking about chavismo as if it were a political party playing in a democratic field., a party like AD or COPEI that had good intentions but failed. Chavismo did not have good intentions. They cannot be treated like a democratic group. They are a criminal group and there is plenty of evidence to document this assertion.
    His reference to the Cuban Model of providing to the poor as something to be imitated glosses over the fact that Chavez did imitate it, with disastrous results, since today the venezuelans are as poor or poorer as when he came into power and instituted a policy of handouts/direct money transfers. The Cuban model is not a model to be imitated because it brings together the handout and the demand for political loyalty. It is a buying of consciences, not a democratic program but a dictatorship which favors those who keep silent and in their knees.

    • I Already read two wrong comments, Gustavo visualize chavismo as a carbon copy of Maduro and his corrupt circle of military and growing richness around the president. This is like saying, all Nazi were militars and approved the extermination camps, not true. In fact germany was rebuilded WITH the nazis.So Javier is correct, most chavismo in fact is the poorest class in our society, but Chavez polarization still faking our reality. I agree with Javier, a negotiation will be done to chavismo, like it was donde after Hitler’s fall down. As we notice, it will not be public, since opposition is deeply willing a vendetta. The risk of a civil war is not too far away, even when no ones like to talk about it. As Javier said, the clock is ticking and people is reaching a limit. 1200 social attacks to food sources all around the country this year, is a war already, guerrillas style, hungry people vs the people with food, is our government impulsing this class fight? oh yes, the transition to socialism could not be accomplished in peace, is on the books.

  3. Did not listen. From the brief write up, my take is that this guy is a socialist who only when there are dead bodies in the streets admits that perhaps there’s something that need to be “tweaked” a bit. Like tens of millions dead in Russia, tens of millions dead in China. His dead soul is what needs to be tweaked a bit. Damn leftwing POS “professors / intellectuals” brainwashing the minds of college students with their centuries old socialist swill.

    There are only four words to describe “socialism”: “It does not work.”

    Ponle punto al “socialismo”, y ya.

  4. I am getting tired of hearing about how in any post-Chavismo Venezuela, we must accommodate the Chavistas. Here is how I see Chavismo breaking down as of now. I am going to use some really “round” numbers to make my point. Before anyone objects to them, these are my “guesstimations” based on nothing more than my own observations and interpretations of the various polls available.

    About 25% of the Venezuelan public remains “Chavista”. Of these, they breakdown as follows (noting that there is probably considerable overlap):

    5% – Chavistas for convenience. These include all of the top government officials, generals, and several expanding circles of influence. These are people who are benefiting (stealing) from the system and want to continue doing so. This category includes all the various levels from collectivo thugs and prison pranes, to petty bureaucrats collecting bribes for doing their jobs, and all the way up to Cabello and El Assaimi. They do not “believe” in Chavismo as an ideology. Are these the ones whose interests and opinions we are supposed to respect and accommodate? I say no. There can be amnesty for many or even most (though not all) as a practical matter to get on with life. But we do not need to respect their political sensitivities because they don’t have any.

    10% – Chavistas by default or intimidation. Some of these are people that simply believe whatever their family or neighbors believe. They actually have no opinion of their own. Take a poll where they work, and they will tell you they are Opposition. Take the same poll in the barrio where they live, and they will tell you they are Chavista. To put it bluntly, these people’s opinions just don’t matter. They will blow whichever way the wind blows. This also includes people who say they are Chavista because that is what is expected of them to keep their jobs, their houses, their CLAP bags, or whatever. Again, these people don’t matter.

    10% – Chavista for true conviction. These are the ones that are difficult to deal with. Their belief in Chavismo is religious in nature. For them it is a matter of faith. They have dedicated 20 years of their life to the ideal that Chavez sold them. It is who they are. For them to reject Chavismo now would be emotional suicide. When Chavismo dies, some of them may slowly recover their ability to reason and see that they were bamboozled. Others may never do so. But, if there is any hope for them at all to recover from their delusions, they need to be separated from the Chavista propaganda stream. If you leave Chavismo intact as a party they will reemerge again in twenty years, convinced that “this time it will work”, just as Peronism in Argentina reappeared as Kirtchnerism. So no, we do not have to respect and accommodate these Chavistas. They bet on the wrong horse and lost. In the real world, when you bet and lose, you don’t get your money back. You suck it up and go drown your sorrows somewhere and try to figure out where you went wrong. Regardless, the true believers are small minority of the population, and I do not think that the vast majority of the population should be enslaved to the delusions of the minority.

    • Excellent, Roy! I agree 100% with your analysis. Who were the Chavista base in the golden 2000-2010 Chavista years?–simply Adecos/Copeyanos, who changed their shirt color to indulge in the freebies/giveaways. Yes, the true die-hard Chavista base probably is only 10%, consisting of the traditional Communist 3%, and perhaps 7% of the newly-“empowered”, but starving, who would rather die before abandoning their new-found “dignity”. To make deals with a narco-terrorist Regime so that they can save their skins/riches is anathema to me….

  5. “About 25% of the Venezuelan public remains “Chavista”. Or more.. shockingly, most are against Maduro but still venerate Chavez. When it was clearly Chavez who destroyed Venezuela. Maduro and today’s thugs are just finishing the job, and stealing the last few millions.

    It’s not just a lack of information that almost 10 million people still adore Chavez. I suspect it’s also a lack of education. Chavez had charisma, and high oil prices, so he handed out freebies to “el pueblo”, building his image. Maduro has none of that. But people forget that it was Chavez with his corrupt, Cuban-style ‘socialism’ that deeply messed up Venezuela. Draw your own conclusions, but I’m afraid the Venezuela people are not as smart or educated as we like them to be, and much more corrupt, at all levels.

    Or how else can you explain that even today people like Chavez? When the country is in shambles, no food, no medicine, highest crime, no public services, destroyed economy, enormous debt.. One of the very worst countries to live in the world today. No infrastructure, poor education, no services, no safety, no medicine, even hunger, no institutions, corruption everywhere.. Chavez created all that.

    It was Chavez who was a beast, a malicious creature, responsible for the “revolution” and all that crap. Frankly, I was unmoved when that sucker died. Good riddance. It will take many decades to start fixing the mess that evil monster left behind.

    And people still fail to understand that and even worship that animal, to this day. Some people really deserve what they got..

  6. Most men are not really adept thinking animals , most go through the motions of thinking ideas that they recieve from the outside in a very rough superficial way , they latch own to certain rethorical and mythical notions that they associate with those ideas and that inspire them certain passions that cater to their conceits and infatuation with melodrama.

    What they really are , are tribal animals , who go looking for something ‘bigger than themselves’ to identify with that make them feel they belong to something great and special and which they can share with a bunch of other people ……these tribal animals have their fetishes that emotionally bind them together such Fetish was the charismatic persona that Chavez created with his histrionic speech and gestures !!

    Chavismo is a tribal mythology that feeds on the mythological renderings of certain ideologies very few people actually understand or even really sympathize with ……A recent survey conducted by Venezuelan universities determined that about 70% of people believe that a market economic model is the best there is , 69% of them feel admiration for the CEO of Polar industries , in the past a great many people purportedly called themselves Chavistas despite the fact that they had no special sympathy for the Socialist Model their heroe constantly spoused …..!!

    There are lots of sentimental Chavistas , who loved the man and still remember him with fondness but who never were particularly wed to the ideas that many of us identify with Chavismo , thus to try and identify chavismo with a great mass of people with a particular ideological programme may not represent the reality that underlies such movement in practice. What they are is a tribe united arround certain rudimentary infatuations and hatreds , it is these rudimentary infautations and hatreds we have to contend with in order to deal with them within a new political order ………!!

  7. Chavez sólo es un producto creado por un bien lubricado mecanismo de propaganda y represión. La oposición se deja atrapar en mistificaciones absurdas y hace cálculos equivocados en base a esas mistificaciones absurdas. Esto le ocurre por su falta de cultura política, es decir, porque es incapaz de entender cómo es posible crear de manera exitosa un producto como Chávez, aunque en realidad hacerlo es muy fácil. Se construye por la fuerza, tomando el control de los elementos claves de la sociedad. Es lo que Marx llama la supraestructura. Alteras la supraestructura, y alteras todo lo demás, la cultura misma . De tal manera, que para mí todas las personas que hablan del carisma de Chávez, o que sugieren la necesidad de imitar su discurso y su estilo, a mí me parecen simplemente supersticiosas y destructivas, porque están legitimando al aparato que las reprime, aparato que de verdad no necesita para nada su ayuda, porque es capaz de autolegitimarse por la fuerza, es decir, imponer su verdad. Es una verdad que no incluye a sus imitadores, ni a sus legitimadores, sólo a sus dueños.
    El chavismo es un sistema de opresión y no tiene ningún sentido en esta fase del conflicto intentar convencer a los chavistas, porque de cierta manera los chavistas no son más que una ficción, un fantasma.
    Intentar convencerlos es una pérdida de tiempo, porque no existen realmente sino como peones dentro de un tablero más grande en el cual sólo juegan el papel que otros han decidido por ellos. Existen personas de carne y hueso que son víctimas de un sistema opresivo. Eso es todo.
    No es que yo crea que esas personas sean inocentes, ni que las idealice. Pero que hayan votado por Chávez o que se hayan corrompido no obedece a un defecto inherente a esas personas, ni a un pecado original tropical, ni a la inferioridad cultural de los venezolanos, sino a las relaciones de poder que el chavismo muy astutamente supo imponer. El objetivo debe ser alterar esas relaciones de poder. Por eso es que una transición electoral no es suficiente, y que hay que refundar la República y realizar una Asamblea Nacional Constituyente. No se trata de venganza, se trata de que el objetivo es un cambio en las relaciones de poder que generaron la situación actual. Esa es la verdadera diferencia estratégica de la que tanto se ha hablado. Hay quienes apuestan por la persistencia del chavismo con otro nombre, y hay quienes saben que la única manera efectiva de resolver el problema es cambiando la supraestructura, tal como hizo el mismo Chávez en su momento. Por supuesto, hay un sector dentro de la oposición que se beneficia del sistema actual (los periodistas y los intelectuales independientes deberían investigar eso a fondo), y ese sector va a hacer todo lo posible para conservar sus intereses. Lo mismo hace el chavismo en su interior. SI esos sectores dominan la transición, no vamos a llegar a ningún lugar. Esa es la lucha en este momento.

    • ¿O les quitas el votos o los secularizas?, no que este en contra pero buena suerte con ese sales pitch a la comunidad; nacional o internacional.

  8. Trolls who are paid to intrude in these pages should at least have sufficient command of the english language not to fill them with pretentious spanish goobledigook ……no one understands (not even those who speak normal spanish) .

    If you are going to troll a blog written in english the least you could do is to spout your silly rants in english…..!!

  9. Bill Bass, a nadie le importan tus acusaciones ni tus comentarios sobre mí o sobre mi forma de escribir.Voy a escribir lo que me da la gana en el idioma que me dé la gana, y la gente puede decidir si le interesa o no, si ignorarme o no.Después de todo, no es más que una opinión sobre el texto. Np es gran cosa. No te voy a decir troll, ni voy a bajarme a tu nivel, pero te recuerdo que eres un anónimo cualquiera, así que otras personas podrían crearse también fantasías raras sobre tu identidad así como tú haces conmigo.Si no te gusta lo que escribo, no lo leas. Si tienes argumentos, estoy dispuesto de buena fe a debatir. Si de verdad quieres evitar que publique, suplícale a los administradores que me bloqueen. Qué sé yo, a lo mejor te hacen caso.
    De cualquier manera, eres tú el que queda mal con tus respuestas irrespetuosas y difamatorias.Eres el único que tiene ese comportamiento acá, y te digo, la verdad es que ese comportamiento te hace quedar mal. No sé por qué tienes esa extraña fijación conmigo, hay algo en mis ideas que te afecta la conciencia. Por algo será. Te agradezco eso sí que dejes de hacer comentarios difamatorios y que tengas un poco de buena educación. Es lo mínimo que se te puede pedir. Y como dije: voy a seguir expresando mi opinión te guste.o no te guste, acá y en otros medios, y si tanto te molesta, debe ser por algo. Que tengas que inventarte toda esa historia de que me pagan por escribir es muy interesante. Por qué alguien inventaría eso o tendría que crearse esa fantasía?
    Y por cierto, una persona que usa la palabra goobledigook, no tiene ninguna autoridad moral para acusarme de pretencioso! !

  10. Love it when an exposed troll cries ouch and lashes out against those that expose them !! because it shows that ones comments have hit the mark and hurt their cutie cutie sensitive feelings. By using pretentiously abstruse terms like relaciones de poder , superestructura and other marxistoid goobledygook the troll gives away his half baked ideological prejudices …….., those, which is he were a smart troll he would try to hide and not advertise so as to make him self believable ……!!

    • Man, EVEN if he WERE a troll, giving him the benefit of the doubt mainly because you have called me a troll before too, don’t you think this kind of answer is counterintuitive to your purpose? I mean, if he IS a troll, then the only people that will agree with him are people who get their wolrdview confirmed by the kind of comments you make, in other words, nobody cares much what a troll says anymore, except the people who would believe him and those “”HEROES””, who go out and denounce them, it’s like being a Perez Jimenista in current political context.

    • O quizás estás proyectando. De cualquier manera, quién se supone que me paga? El papá de Leopoldo López? Diosdado? Raúl Castro? Orvex? Todos al mismo tiempo? Como ya dije, es una fantasía muy interesante. Cuéntame más.
      No soy marxista, pero el concepto de supraestructura puede ser útil para explicar algunas de las paradojas de nuestra situación actual y para plantearse estrategias más efectivas. También el concepto de pseudoactividad, que creo que es de Adorno. En mi opinión, la oposición está condenada a la pseudoactividad porque es completamente ignorante o inconsciente (por falta de cultura política)de la supraestructura.
      Corrijo: o es ignorante, o no le conviene enterarse.
      Eso es todo lo que he señalado. No es gran cosa. Se puede estar de acuerdo o no. Por ejemplo, los que proponen la Asamblea Nacional Constituyente, tienden a ser más conscientes de la necesidad de alterar la supraestructura, mientras que los que apuestan al diálogo y a una supuesta salida electoral, apuestan a conservar la misma supraestructura. En el fondo, todo lo que he dicho se corresponde con las situaciones y los planteamientos que hay en la vida real. Nada nuevo debajo del sol.
      Tu respuesta por otro lado es un ataque directo y vacío. Es curioso que haya quienes tratar a los chavistas con un guante de seda , pero no puedan ni siquiera tolerar un comentario donde se citan ciertos conceptos básicos que se estudian en todas las universidades.
      Hay una diferencia entre “convencer a los chavistas”, y “seguir explotando a los chavistas”. A mí me parece que hay un sector de la oposición que no tiene ningún interés en convencer a los chavistas sino en continuar explotándolos. Esa diferencia es enorme. Si yo fuera un chavista que está muriéndose de hambre, no me insultarías ni me llamarías troll. Pero como soy una persona pensante (no voy a decir inteligente, sino pensante) que se atreve cuestionar tu “autoridad” , tu “poder”, me atacas. Es lo mismo que hacen los chavistas, en el fondo. Como no me puedas explotar, me destruyes. Dices que alguien me paga porque no me puedes comprar tú.
      Eso de intentar crear teorías de conspiración para justificar la destrucción del otro ya lo hemos visto antes.

  11. Finally realizing that Chavismo is a failure is a little late. What event or circumstance finally got that through your head?
    Accommodating the Chavistas should not be a concern.
    There is a difference between political persecution, (Leopold Lopez) and criminal prosecution.
    Maduro and his criminal cadre should be prosecuted and should be required to surrender all of their wealth that has been amassed while they have participated in a criminal enterprise.
    I think a simple execution is too good for them. Whatever their ultimate punishment, they should be banned from politics for life.
    There is no reason to accommodate any political persuasion over any other. Access to the political system should be open to all parties equally. The only people that should be accommodated are the people that eventually fight this regime until it falls. They will be the true heroes of Venezuela.
    The most important thing is to establish civilian rule over the government. This includes separating and balancing the respective, legislative, judicial and executive branches. The powers must be balanced to avoid any one branch of government usurping the authority of the other branches. The Constitution, once properly amended and accepted by the people, needs to have provisions to stop any quick changes to be made. Amendments should need to be debated and approved by the people. The current Venezuelan Constitution is a complicated and confusing assembly of Chavez’s rantings. It allows for manipulation for the benefit of the people in power to the detriment of other political persuasions.
    The military must recognize civilian authority over it and must remain apolitical. This needs to be a cornerstone of government policy. Removing the military from domestic law enforcement is desirable.
    The job of the military is to protect the country and uphold the constitution. Never should the military support any political party.

  12. Seeing a lot of comments bashing Corrales for suggesting that we have to sit down with chavistas. As much as I hate having to concede anything to these criminals I am slowly starting to be convinced that this is the only way for a transition to occur in Venezuela. I just don’t see those in the regime giving over power if they know that they will be persecuted the moment they step down. As Corrales suggested we can look at our own history, and the history of other countries that recovered after periods of great division ie. Spain after Franco, US after Civil War, as examples were we can borrow valuable lessons.

    • Seeing a lot of comments bashing Corrales for suggesting that we have to sit down with chavistas.
      Thus far, “dialogue” with Chavismo has been a one-way street: “Do it my way, see?” That track record does not point to any measure of success in future negotiations with Chavistas.

      Spain after Franco, US after Civil War, as examples where we can borrow valuable lessons.
      Follow the money. While there was reconciliation of sorts in the above examples, these reconciliations were about politics and didn’t involve money, for the most part. Franco’s people didn’t steal very much- especially when compared to Chavistas. The reconciliation with the South didn’t involve money. 1) Former slaveowners didn’t receive any compensation for loss of their slaves. 2) The price of cotton after the Civil War was much lower due to the worldwide expansion of cotton production during the Civil War when most of US cotton wasn’t exported.The South was much worse off economically after the Civil War.

      Chavismo is a racket, with various groups or enchufados getting their cut of the petrodollars. We don’t know how much of Chavismo’s ~trillion petrodollars has been lost forever- gone to such policies as food/gasoline subsidies or CADIVI- or what amount is in recoverable assets.

      There are three very problematic issues here. 1) Ending the policies that siphon off money, 2) recovery of assets, 3) prosecution. Either of the three issues will result in a LOT of disagreement from Chavismo.
      Follow the money: that is why the path to a post-Chavista world will be very problematic.

      • Ok your points are valid but you only list the problems. Tell me how do you propose we get out of this mess? Last year’s dialogue, and the setting, was a stupid move from the opposition and yes chavismo did not follow up on any of the agreements. But as conditions get worse and worse for chavistas (at some point they are going to run out of money) the opposition I think can intelligently reach an agreement with pragmatic chavistas.

        • Ok your points are valid but you only list the problems. Tell me how do you propose we get out of this mess?
          I am rather pessimistic at this point, for a number of reasons.
          1) Oppo incompetence. We have already mentioned “dialogue.” When many in the oppo, including at this blog, have been vitriolic about Trump and Trump supporters (“slackjawed simplemindedness”), yet Trump has at least discussed Venezuela with various LatAm Presidents- more than previous POTUS did- my inclination is to label many oppo as “damned fools.”

          Especially when I have read some indications that previous POTUS via Assistant Secretary of State Shannon had pushed “dialogue.”

          2) The ability of authoritarian to totalitarian regimes to persist. Franco & Fidel- both Gallegos, BTW. In the 15 months since legislative elections, Chavismo has played a bad hand rather well. Chavismo has basically conceded NOTHING and thus far has gotten away with it.

          I recently finished Carlos Eire’s Waiting for Snow in Havana. From the first days that Castro was in power, his father saw Castro for what he was. Yet,his father didn’t take measures to protect portable family assets- which included some valuable paintings acquired at fire sale prices. His father always assumed that Castro would be toppled. Nearly six decades later, no toppling yet.

          One interesting aspect of the book was a child’s eye view of the imposition of the totalitarian regime. For example, the regime forbade minors to see the movie 2,000 Leagues Under the Sea, perhaps because a malevolent Captain Nemo had a beard. Yet young Carlos had seen the movie about 20 times before. There was also his reaction to young Pioneers marching in his neighborhood while chanting “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, Cuba sí, Yanquis no, Cuba sí, Yanquis no…Fidel, seguro, a los Yanquis dale duro” Carlos and a friend came up with a counter chant: Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, comiendo mierda y gastando zapatos two, three, four, eating shit and wasting shoes..

          Yet I also worked with refugees from Communist Hungary and Poland. Not long after, the regimes toppled.
          What is the difference? One difference is that neither Gorbachev nor his Warsaw Pact satraps were still willing to kill to stay in power. By contrast, Raul in Cuba and Chavismo in Venezuela are still willing to kill to stay in power- as far as I can tell.

          When a mob from the hills marches on Miraflores.. When the FAB/GNB is forced to choose between killing or not killing. That is my prediction of the end of Chavismo.

  13. The guy holding the club doesn’t feel he must negotiate the abandonment of his power to those who wield no club (only intangible clubs such as popular legitimacy and such like) , so although for appearances sake he will make loud noises that he wants to negotiate he is really uninstered in any negotiations leading to substantive change ……this is the real obstacle to a change In regime unless we have an explosion of public violence of overwhelming scale in which case negotiations will quickly become a capitulation ….letting the criminals of the regime off might help things in the final stretch but meantime the real challenge is getting the regime against the ropes in a very forceful way not just thru ‘moral’ or legal pressure….. These guys are gangsters in spirit and gangster only negotiate when facing a gun pointed at their bellies…..!!

    • These guys are gangsters in spirit and gangster only negotiate when facing a gun pointed at their bellies…..!
      Eso es. Yes, indeed. The last year of “dialogue” points that out.


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