The Venezuelan Riddle in Spain

Spain is currently going through some of the most turbulent years of its democracy. With many Venezuelan expats concerned about Podemos, is there a real reason to worry?

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.