Chávez volvió

The Federal Legislative Palace has new tenants who wasted no time in changing the décor. Where will the opposition work now?

It took one year, six months and two days to get the portraits of Chávez back into the Legislative Palace.

On January 2016, in a flourish of institutional assertiveness, then speaker of the National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, decided to rid the Federal Legislative Palace of all images and likenesses of Hugo Chávez. Chávez was the only former executive to have his portrait displayed in Parliament, and Henry was not having it. “Imagine if each political party could bring their favorite president into the Assembly, imagine what the National Assembly would become,” Ramos Allup explained.

Returning the portraits of Chávez to the National Assembly building was a promise that Diosdado Cabello had threatened about on several occasions. “I don’t know who’s going to win the Constituent Assembly, but I invite you all on the day of its installation to join me at the Legislative Palace and in returning the pictures of Bolívar and Chávez to their rightful place, so they may never be taken out again!” he said during a campaign rally in Monagas.

Now, videos of Chávez’ mug reentering the National Assembly building are being touted as a symbolic victory for chavismo. Images of Chávez in prayer, having coffee, and giving a speech before the United Nations are once again gracing the hallways of the legislative palace, trying to convince us of one thing: that chavismo is back.

After MUD won parliamentary majority in December of 2015, the first grand flexing of its political muscle was captured for the ages in this video of an AN worker removing both Chávez, and chavista likenesses of Simón Bolívar, from the neoclassical Capitolio. It signaled  the dawn of a new age when Chávez’ legacy could finally be put to rest.

“I don’t want to see any portraits here unless they are of the classic Libertador. I don’t want to see Chávez or [Nicolás] Maduro, take all that vaina to Miraflores or give it to the people in charge of the garbage collection, “the leader of Acción Democrática said.

But that is now in the past.

Yesterday, not a single opposition legislator placed a foot inside the AN building. Red shirts and chavista chants once again reigned supreme on the streets surrounding the Palace.

“Volvió, volvió, volvió“, Chavistas screamed as the pictures of Chávez were returned to the Capitolio. Watching the ceremony on State TV, it seemed like the days when opposition leaders could walk about the Legislative Palace as legitimate authorities are gone, never to come back. And it wasn’t just Chávez, it was also Diosdado Cabello, Cilia Flores moving back in…. la crème de la crème of awful, radical, scary chavismo.

And just like that, 545 Constituyente delegates took the team picture in front of our legislature and will begin work in their new, usurped offices in Parliament starting today. The opposition leadership insists that this brings us one step closer to the end of the chavismo era, but yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony was pretty triumphant; a victory party for chavismo. More than the Chávez portraits, this is about the loss of an important space, both physical and political, for the opposition.

“So, does this mean that, other than our remaining governors and mayors [the ones who are not in jail or in exile], there are no more opposition politicians? Is the opposition becoming a social movement?” a foreign friend asks me. I let the weight of this loaded question sink in. In whom and in what place does the representation of almost 8 million Venezuelans rest now? We don’t know what will happen in the Palacio Federal or with the National Assembly or with the new tenants. What we do know is that Chávez volvió, y volvió arrecho.