There are undeniable similarities between 1998’s Venezuela and 2017’s Spain. Both countries relied on dysfunctional systems perpetuated by toxic socioeconomic trends, until a bold newcomer threw a wrench in the gears.

“I don’t understand those obsessed with presenting Venezuela as a dictatorship,” Podemos’ controversial leader, Pablo Iglesias, recently said.

Venezuela has played an awkward role in Spanish politics these last couple of years. It all started with the 2015 advent of Podemos, a new, cleaner face for the left in a country that suffered an unprepared administration during the 2008 economic crisis. Podemos ran on representing those who bore the brunt of the crisis, with a message that rang all the wrong bells for Venezuelans, reminding the expat community in Spain (the second largest in the world) of la madre patria, where Chávez succeeded with the same cards.

Venezuelans in Spain are divided in those who see Podemos as: 1) a stalking nightmare, or 2) a bitter joke.

I don’t understand those obsessed with presenting Venezuela as a dictatorship.

The former tends to comprise older Venezuelans, who remember the 1998 election and claim they’ll migrate again if Iglesias reaches power. The latter is mainly the bemused diaspora of young people like myself, who studied Spanish History for their SATs and are hostile to Podemos’ veneration of Chávez.

Either way, the Venezuelan stance on Podemos is universally agreed upon: negativo el procedimiento. It’s not even déjà vu; Pablo Iglesias and Podemos’ co-founders, Íñigo Errejón and Juan Carlos Monedero, once worked for Maduro as external advisors, Iglesias himself lamenting Chávez’ death on Venezuelan TV. Grimmer still, they have received the blessing of our very own Diosdado Cabello.

Podemos’ ties to Venezuela predate its existence, fueling the theory that Iglesias and associates might have benefited from chavista capital to build their institution. This was the only thing that major parties could use against the new, unblemished and, quite tellingly, threatening group. Podemos’ adversaries deployed “the Venezuelan speech”, a clumsy political maneuver headlined by Ciudadanos’ Albert Rivera, who flew to Maiquetía to bear witness of the people’s shortcomings and abuses from Maduro. He got Venezuelan votes, sure, but it was clearly a publicity stunt and Iglesias called him out on it, in a one-on-one televised debate no less.

The Venezuelan stance on Podemos is universally agreed upon: negativo el procedimiento.

The thing is: the people that Podemos claims to represent are very real. Their shortcomings, including intractable unemployment, deep cuts to disability aids, and increased educational fees, are super legit. All those folks from Barcelona so upset they’re willing to secede, have a reason. Spain is also a young democracy, barely over 40 years old. This is what we fail to consider when we shake our heads in amazement: podemistas are as out of touch with our issues as we are with theirs.

Venezuela is now to the Podemos voter what Russia is to the Trump supporter: an implication devoid of meaning. The Venezuelan situation has been taken lightly at a time in which the question “is it a dictatorship?” refuses to die. Those who play devil’s advocate for Maduro have been afforded all kinds of legitimacy in this post-truth era, and in the meantime, Venezuela is a contested issue with no real bearing on Spanish public opinion… por ahora.

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  1. it’s kind of a pattern, no society is truly inmune to the disasters induced by radical populism regardless of development level or wether is right or left, once this type of corrupted people get to power they will destroy all institutions to perpetuate the regime, eventually removing all limits to their power until stopped by force or the movement dissolves itself by internal fights. The main difference is that common people can earn a decent living under a right wing regime, while leftist populists will destroy the economy beyond recognition.

  2. A lot of leftists over there can´t decide if this is ” real socialism” or if it is and everything is just because of the evil empire sabotaging us. So they are always in the dire straits of not being able to decide which fallacy is best ” no true scotsman” or the “Scapegoat” . But nothing will keep them from wanting the same system established. ( they probably see themselves as part of the dictatorship and getting rich working for the apparatik while they impoverish everyone else, because resentment is tempting)

    From comments i have gotten they:

    -Believe we have an embargo like Cuba
    – Believe that most industrial production is private and its all due to private businessess speculating (even after all thsese years of expropiations and even when you have a private business all the output a company produces is given to the military for “redistribution” and all the raw matter and currency needed to produce and import is controled by the state so its end up in the state hands one way or another)
    – Believe that when Chavez was alive everything was peachy, when everybody has been vaticinating this from years ago
    – They believe we have the highest salary in Latam and don´t ever undestand the currency exchange situation
    – Believe that all humanitarian statistics were worst in the cuarta republica
    – Believe that crime statistics are inflated
    – They come with a bunch of euros, get paraded around by bolichicos in their blinded suvs with private security, buy prostitutes and booze then they go back to Spain talking about how we are not that bad and everything is cheap over here.
    -They don´t know a thing about gnb and how the state handles Corpoelec, PDVSA, the mining companies, etc

    -They think the problem is not socialism but that we didn´t diversify the economy and depend on oil, when in fact the reason we never have been able to move away from rentism is the socialist wellfare rentist model.

    – They think they are the slaves and they are the ones that live badly in their first world country, not us, we are just liars and spoiled for complaining

    They also seem to believe that everyone in Latam is black or brown skinned and if you are white you are an oppresor and are to be singled out and deserve whatever chavismo is doing.

    Thats the international left for you.

  3. Recent polls show Ciudadanos gaining on Podemos the latter being a whiskers breath away from matching its numbers , Iglesias has had to face a lot of internal dissent which he has squashed ruthlessly , his ambiguous stance on Catalonian independence has lost him a lot of support in Catalonia which in the past was one region where Podemos could count on many followers.

    Podemos represents some 18% of the total electorate , far behind PP and PSOE and close to Ciudadanos . Although he has tried to form an alliance with a wing of the PSOE there has been such fierce opposition to it inside the leadership of the latter that all initiatives on that side have failed. Here the ties of Podemos to Chavez regime have been used quite effectivey to discredit Podemos , they have tried recently to distance themselves from their association with the Chavez regime but the stigma continues to follow them .

    This a far cry from Chavez sweeping personal popularity of 60 plus % when he was first elected , although his party is not among the biggest the leader of Ciudadanos is generally deemed by pollsters to be the most popular political figure in spain, but that doesnt translate into a huge electoral following as would be the case in Venezuela .

    I do not believe that Podemos represent quite the same danger to the future of liberal democracy in spain that Chavez represented in 1989…… , still they are a political movement to watch.

    • Chavez didn´t need a majority of the population to win an election. And once in the state was at his disposal , specially after 2001 when he took control of PDVSA completely.

      Chavez won in 98 with 56% , in an election with 40% abstention. He won because the rivals fragmented and back stabbed each other, and people abstained due to general apathy, not because he was far above anyone else or that the majority of the country was looking forward to it.

      Much like the nazis did, these third party candidates look for the swing factors and campaign on a negative basis (they are not pro anything they are mostly ANTI) when something is going on on the mainstream and the system is shaking they antis, the third party guys who have a smaller base but a solid radical one, come in an sweep the floor.

  4. Im sorry but I have a different take on what Chavez meant for many Venezuelans when he rose to power in 1998 , he was a ray of hope for the many who loathed the existing political parties and what they represented , what I remember is that he movilized the enthusiasm of a large part of the population as had never been seen before , whatever exact percentage of the votes he got in 1998, his popularity quickly rose soon to very high levels , I very much doubt that in that time anyone would have been able to top the sweep of the fervour he created among the masses (including large portions of the middle class) . Enthusiasm for Podemos and its top leader is nowhere comparable to that of Chavez in his peak. He did share with Podemos a strategy of using peoples penchant for rabid political passion against the powers that be to movilize their support , but other people had tried that before and never been as impacting as he was ….he had the devils gift for swaying peoples hearts . Podemos also shares the contestarian rethoric of the movement which developed around the charismatic figure of Chavez but there is in Spain a very robust resistance to that kind of discorse as Chavez never had to face.

    • at the height of his popularity Chavez never truly had more than half the population, and between that half much less of fanatical, hardcore partisans, and of course he increased his ratings once he was “the guy with the money” because everyone supports the guy with money and there is always votes to be swindled.

      I know it not the same narrative everyone tries to push, that 99.9% of venezuelans are idiots who loved chavez to death and elected him in masse because somehow everyone was hipnotized and just that stupid or because was a lighting beacon of hope, but that is not true, or just partially true for a segment of the population, not the majority of it.

      The fact is in those 2 years after the election, even from that 56% of the 60% of the registry who did votedfor him a lot were already reggreting it because people didn´t vote for him, they voted against AD and COPEI and civilians, industries , media, police, some military fought him the hardest in his firsts years in power (paro petrolero, 11 abril).

      I leave with one of my favorite interviews at the time because it encapsulates how at least half Venezuelans felt and how we all knew what was going on way, waaay before any gringo or international outlet took interest or care to listen to us

  5. A year ago I was at a wedding in Spain. At the dinner before the wedding, the lady seated next to me was very silent until someone made a comment about Iglesias and then she blurted out: “YO SABIA QUE ME IBAN A SENTAR AL LADO DEL VENEZOLANO, NO PUEDEN DEJAR DE ACUSAR A PODEMOS DE ESAS MENTIRAS CON VENEZUELA!”. It was actually pretty funny, and it suggested to me that Podemos and their denials have, somewhat surprisingly, become a bit of a laughing stock in some Spanish circles.

  6. The thing with Podemos is; can someone supporting Venezuela’s mess be trustworthy?

    What have done almost every government that supports or has supported Venezuela is to try to destroy its own democracy using the same mechanisms Chávez used.

    So i think it is valid to use against Podemos or Corbyn their support to venezuela’s government.

  7. I didn’t understand a single fucking thing this guy wrote or the points he was trying to make. The worst ever, and the worst place to see this…CC.

    How fucking esoteric and meaningless that this article appears, here on CC, when VZ has such bigger fish to fry?

    Some of you Latinos read too many political books.

    Fuck the philosophy, even trying to understand it. Focus on the practical solutions.

      • He insulted me? This is what you think?

        Talk about hilarious, plus a whole lot of stupid.

        You’re not mad because of the tariffs Trump is putting on Canadian soft lumber, are you? You know what?

        Yes, you are, and I can read guys like you like a book.

    • One would think that an article describing some parallels between populism in Venezuela and in Spain would have given you food for thought, but it seems it’s too much to ask.

      Since you crap all over just about every article here one wonders why you even bother to read them.

      May I suggest a dose of Pepto Bismol, or a Tums infusion before you come to CC? It may help.

      I had no idea that there would be an apparently large number of Spaniards who don’t have a clue of what the Venezuelan regime represents.

      Even more, how actors on both the left and right continue to defend the indefensible simply because to do the opposite is a betrayal.

  8. Leí hasta donde dice “dysfunctional systems perpetuated by toxic socioeconomic trends” que presuntamente tiene España ahora y Venezuela en aquellos años. Alguien que dice eso no tiene ni idea de la situación de mi país y su opinión no tiene ningún valor.

  9. Good article, Rodrigo.

    Podemos has several problems. One of them is being really a group of several differents branches of the left, and the other is trying to actually gather enough support from as many sectors of the electorate they can without losing their base (a la PSOE) but without becoming an irrelevant “pure” far left party (as IU seems to try to be every time)

    That involves a lot of schizofrenia. You can hear one of them proposing something more or less intelligent and next day same guy or different one will come with some absolute idiocy. And you can see it in the Venezuelan issue. Some of them look very much uncomfortable with supporting Maduro but seems think tactically, as in “if I tell the base that we cut with a revolutionary left Latin American government, they will walk away”. Some of them drank all the Kool-Aid and ask for a second pitcher. But in general given how the issue has been used as propaganda by their enemies, they have decided to do what most parties do – the issue has become propaganda to them too.

    End result is that the most corrupt assholes in the right use Venezuela to cover their shameful behaviour and attack Podemos, and Podemos and fans end up with a “shut up about Venezuela, it is all propaganda” line at best and full support from the homicidal narcos at worst. Just because the issue is the propaganda here, not the reality there. Actually caring about the issue and the human rights being violated? Thats for losers, no electoral advantage in that.

    Doesnt make it any more palatable when another savior of the humanity and fierce denouncer of all that is wrong with the “system” laughs at you and applauds repression that would make him faint if done here, for sure, but well. Maybe it will be possible to get the less dogmatic to open their eyes some day. Or just shut the fuck up about things they dont understand.

  10. The Venezuelan conection is for Podemos the kiss of death , a great many people in Spain have relatives in Venezuela and they know (almost first hand) the horror that life in our country has become , Hard core Self infatuated leftist of course will remain inmune to admiting that its a horror but for a great many spaniards Venezuela is dystopia personified and no one wants a govt that resembles it in any way . Whatever efforts Podemos makes to distance itself from the Venezuelan connection , Podemos reeks of Venezuela and that hurts them , so their rivals do all they can to remind ordinary spaniards of the connection and Podemos tries to keep a very low profile about such connection because they know the stench of their venezuelan connection is toxic to their ambitions in spain…….!!

    There are two factors feeding political discontent in Spain , the consequences of the economic crisis where particularly bad , a large percentage of people lost their jobs and then their homes and of course they blame the Establishment , the other factor is that elected officials from the two main parties have been incredibly corrupt and naturally that has hurt the parties that they belonged to ……discontent is of course the feeding ground of Political movements like Podemos and Ciudadanos .

    The PP’s forceful application of the policies of austerity demanded by EU authorities to provide financial help to Spain are not popular but they are slowly starting to yield the desired results , Spains economic conditions have begun to improve and unemployment is creeping back to more reasonable levels.

    Given the discontent its remarkable that Podemos has not become a more popular movement in Spain , that may be because Spain is a much more conservative and institutionalized country than Venezuela ever was , to be noted is that the corruption affects elected political official not the rank and file of government career civil servants , the country despite its problem is much better run than Venezuela ever was…..!!

  11. Let me offer some comments as an outsider both to Spain and Venezuela. As my nick indicates, I am from a former Communist Central European country (now EU member) but speak Spanish quite well, and have been following Spanish politics in the latest months due to the Catalan issue. As I grew up during what it was called “real socialism” in my country, I have, somewhat understandably, little simpathy for any kind of hard-left, be that Latin American (Chavez, Maduro, etc) or European (Syriza, Podemos, …) type.

    What I want to add is already mentioned by Bill Bass in the first few comments, that Podemos’ position on the Catalan issue will do them a lot of harm, they seemingly tried to play for both sides in Catalonia but that lost them a lot of votes nationally.

    Second, which was also mentioned earlier, Podemos is not a centralized, disciplined party led by a single leader. As an outsider like me, the Chavist-Madurist party seemed much closer to me to the old Soviet-style Marxist-Leninist parties that were in power in our region pre-1989. Podemos, in the other hand, seems to be like a loose association a leftist groups, mostly intellectual groups. Heck, they have different allies in almost every single province (communidad autonoma) of Spain and those allies are loose amalgamation of local leftist groups themselves. Even the name of their party group in the Spanish parliament is like “Confederal Group of Unidos Podemos – En Comú Podem – En Marea”
    (As I had to learn, even Podemos and Unidos Podemos are two different things to begin with. )

    Third, they have a kind of sterile, monarchy-versus-republic discourse, which, IMO has nothing to do with actual problems of Spain which do exist (corruption, unemployment, dissatisfaction with living conditions and so forth). I simply do not understand why it is so important for them? What it would change if instead of monarchy, Spain were a republic? Imagine that, for example, a politician from “their hated PP” of Rajoy were elected the President of the Republic. Would they like that?
    The previous king was kind of unpopular towards the end of his rule, but he resigned in 2014, and I do not think this is a major issue any more. So do not see the point in pushing it by Podemos.

    Fourth, and this is very important IMO, much has been written here the influence of Cuba and China/Russia on the Venezuelan regime. This is obviously not present in the Spanish case, the main external players with influence are the EU and Germany in particular, both of them not very keen on a Chavez-like political regime being installed in Europe.

    So all in all, I would not fear a Podemos takeover in Spain, particularly not right now in this moment (with all this Catalonian issue in the forefront)
    On the other hand, in Catalonia there is a small extreme leftist party, the Popular Unity Coalition (CUP) which was part of the separatist camp and they were instrumental in bringing about the unilateral declaration of independence even though they only had 10 MPs in the 135 member Catalan parliament.
    Those people, as far as I know, are openly pro-Chavez and pro-Maduro and revere the “21st Century socialism”

    • Thanks for your comments. In the USA I know a “Spaniard” (Aragones but identifies as Catalan) who is 100% in the “monarchy-versus-republic” struggle.

  12. It is important for many people because monarchy is a holdover from Franco’s year. Without Franco, no more monarchy.

    And well… I agree. I dont see why in hell in the XXI century any country needs or requires a monarch. Is not the most urgent and important thing to fix, but at the same time, it also doesnt seems like that much of a trouble to implement. Look at France or Italy, do the same, done.

  13. Yes of course, my own country is a republic, and I like it that way, but as an outsider, this debate seems sterile to me in view of all the problems the country has this time.
    Do not know what percent of Spaniard are republican and what percent are monarchists. If there is a sizable republican segment (like 30-40% or so), then the Podemos strategy may make sense. What I know that for example in the UK the pro-republic side is in a small minority. So this is something I have to look up.

    Agree with regards to the monarchy, but on the other hand, a President (even a weak one like in parlamentary republics as Spain is a parlamentary systems now, but a constitutional monarchy instead of a republic) would be even more politicized than the king, he/she might be more openly participate in political life, would be likely elected as a party-politician, no matter if elected directly or indirectly through the parlament.
    If as many ppl argue, that the Spanish king is not a simbol of national unity, I do think a president would be even less so.

  14. While Spain is a republic in all but name where the monarch lacks any real political power , Venezuela which is outwardly a republic is run by the regime as an absolute monarchy where only its bosses take all the
    decisions and all others are excluded from having any say or influence on regime measures ……..the local candidate for Mayor of Caracas has shrilly proclaimed that only the PSUV can rule Venezuela and that no other politcal party can pretend to replace them in that rule ……..this pretention to being the only and absolute wielders of power in Venezuela is more expresive of a monarchy than of a free republic ……!! It is paradoxical and incoherent for Podemos to take the position that the struggle is between those that want spain remaining as a monarchy and those that want to see it become a republic……!!


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