Photo: Archivo de la fotografía Urbana, retrieved

Going through our archives, we found this piece by our Quico Toro, talking about an authoritarian regime in the throes of collapse. He was speaking of the 1957 zeitgeist, just before Marquitos left power, that was much like the one existing in 2015… and the one we have today.

We didn’t change anything. You tell us how current this is.

Still shell-shocked by a series of defeats, facing a military government that’s ruthless in smashing dissent, the opposition staggers around listlessly hardly believing its own claim to power. Wise people warn about the need to hunker down for the long haul. With key leaders jailed or exiled, the opposition wallows in a kind of collective post-traumatic stress,  no longer really daring to believe regime change might be possible, much less imminent. The government, everyone knows, has a complete stranglehold over electoral institutions: it can flagrantly violate the constitution it itself had approved to give itself an unfair advantage in elections, and there isn’t a damn thing anybody can do about it.

Welcome to November, 1957.

The Pérez Jiménez dictatorship had blatantly broken the 1952 constitution to substitute a promised presidential election with a yes/no plebiscite on his continued rule. Everyone knew this wasn’t legal, everyone knew voting conditions would not be fair. The voting system wasn’t even secret, and public employees were explicitly threatened with dismissal if they did not show up to the office with the “No” ballot on Monday, proving that they had deposited the “Yes” ballot (in favor of the regime) in the ballot box. But with the price of dissent set explicitly at prison, no one could do anything about it.

The government did indeed go on to “win” the plebiscite of December 15, 1957, and by a wide margin. Less than six weeks later, the dictator Pérez Jiménez had fled the country, his regime a pile of rubble around him. December 1957 is an object lesson in why elections are always a crisis point for authoritarian regimes —and doubly so for unpopular ones— no matter how monolithic their power may appear.

The decision Pérez Jiménez faced ahead of the vote has absolute resonance today: he could either allow a more-or-less fair election and go down in honorable defeat, or he could try to rig the vote, putting forward unacceptable voting conditions that guaranteed his triumph and ride out the consequences. He had all the power he could have asked for to try the latter course, and the opposition felt entirely powerless to oppose him.

One fascinating aside is that one of the very few voices that actually foresaw the potential for the dictatorship’s decision to cheat to backfire and undermine its stability was a then little known Copei youth activist by the name of Luis Herrera.

That was far from the consensus among opposition bigwigs. For one Romulo Betancourt, in his correspondence from exile in late 1957, lamented that Acción Democrática had essentially stopped functioning as a national organization by then. With all its key cadres jailed or exile, AD couldn’t mount a rally in Guatire if it set its mind to it. The reasonable expectation —indeed, the very widely shared expectation— was that Pérez Jiménez would never willingly give up power through the ballot box.

That expectation turned out to be right…but useless. Elections have a way of destabilizing unpopular authoritarian regimes that are quite independent of what the leader is or is not willing to accept.

Why? Because the actual process of stealing an election dramatically demonstrates to the regime’s remaining supporters the precariousness of their own position. The “cooperate/defect” choice facing each of them gets rebalanced towards defection. It is one thing to know for sure that a government is illegitimate; it’s quite another to know for sure that everyone around you knows that everyone around you knows it is illegitimate. Elections —when rigged— can give rise to just the sort of “Emperor Has No Clothes” moment where everyone suddenly acknowledges publicly what each person had known privately just a moment before.

For an authoritarian regime, that’s a moment of utmost peril.

Come December 6th, realizing just how far behind they are, the Maduro regime may well calculate that their best bet to stay in power is to simply steal the election. That decision, if it is made, will be made on the basis of a calculation that that’s how the regime can cement itself in power.

It wouldn’t be the first time a Venezuelan government has made such a wager. And it wouldn’t be the first time that calculation has been wrong, either.

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43 COMMENTS

  1. I’m trying to square this, and just don’t see how we are anywhere near a 23 JAN 1958 moment.

    You wrote:”Elections have a way of destabilizing unpopular authoritarian regimes that are quite independent of what the leader is or is not willing to accept. Why? Because the actual process of stealing an election dramatically demonstrates to the regime’s remaining supporters the precariousness of their own position. The “cooperate/defect” choice facing each of them gets rebalanced towards defection. It is one thing to know for sure that a government is illegitimate; it’s quite another to know for sure that everyone around you knows that everyone around you knows it is illegitimate. Elections —when rigged— can give rise to just the sort of “Emperor Has No Clothes” moment where everyone suddenly acknowledges publicly what each person had known privately just a moment before.”

    So lets revisit the last 2 “elections”.

    Need I mention the ANC “election”? Shoot, the company that runs the voting equipment baldly states that votes were injected and they cannot guarantee the results, and nothing happens but that certain oppo parties go full bore towards yet another “election” where:

    Andres Velasquez gets his election stolen at gunpoint, in broad daylight with the robbers taking the time to pose for a few selfies, and no “emperor has no Clothes” moment here or for the ANC fraud.

    I mean, at least inside Venezuela.

    Outside, sure, many countries saw right through the ANC bs, and called it, and continue to call BS on Maduro but that only get us so far.

    You could argue that a certain portion of Maduro’s support has left him for other revolutionary pastures, but I would argue those defections have more to do with starving and dying from lack of everything rather than Maduro cheated on election day.

    I don’t see it chamo. I didn’t see it in 2015 either, but there was a bit more hope for what the AN could do in the air than there is now.

  2. I remember this piece, besides the great writing, it was hopeful.

    In addition to feeding my confirmation bias I like the similar case that Mr. Darwin Chavez repeats every week in his column in La Patilla Verdades y Rumores:

    “Hagamos el análisis sobre el riesgo que Maduro representa para cada uno de los niveles, incluyendo a los militares. Es muy probable que al final la mayoría de ustedes coincidan conmigo: Maduro es el principal enemigo del chavismo… La reelección presidencial se puede resumir en la fórmula: +sanciones+incautaciones de bienes+persecución internacional+Venezuela como cárcel+peligros para sus familias. “

    • Well, not really. Pérez Jimenez fled to the US, and was later extradited to Venezuela. He spent five years in jail in Venezuela, and moved to Spain after his release.

      Actually, Maduro likely has more places to go than Pérez Jimenez had. Maduro could go to Cuba; they would never extradite him. There are other places, too, that are very unlikely to extradite him, at least by their current governments: Bolivia, Nicaragua, Syria and Russia, to name the more obvious.

      • People forget that MPJ left Vzla because “Yo no mato Cadetes”. He did not want blood shed at the lower levels, he could have resisted. The dude had some principles, unlike the 1300 Chavista”generals” thugs today.

        BTW, take a chance and look at what MPJ did in LESS than 5 years, with low oil prices, late 50’s. He built about half of Venezuela’s current infrastructure, and was planning for the rest. Strongest economy in the Region, 1 MPJ Bs. was almost equal to the US$. Google it up. Whatever you see today, highways, hospitals, large construction projects, MPJ probably built it.

        • Right (except 1 Bol.=$1). Look at photo heading above–all wearing neckties, even military, mostly gentlemen, relatively well-educated, even military–and compare with those in charge today.

      • Pedro, once Chavismo falls, Cuba’s dictatorship is gone and so will Nicaragua’s.
        The only two countries where I could see these guys going are Russia and perhaps Belarus.
        I have been to Russia, I have Russian friends, I was into Russia since I was a child and I cannot imagine these guys living there…one or two perhaps, but not many more.

      • ” Maduro could go to Cuba; they would never extradite him. ”

        That’s true, they won’t extradite him.

        The cuban manure would KILL him instead, and to the background I refer:

        * chancho guevara (abandoned in Bolivia)
        * Gral Ochoa (Successful communist soldier in Angola, death by fussilade upon his return to the island)
        * Allende (When Pinochet’s forces were closing in, Allende’s cuban bodyguards pumped him full of lead)
        * shiabbbbe the rotten wax doll (december 30 of 2012, the health-killers let the tumors to consume him all the way from his ass to his liver and lungs)

  3. Ojalá su predicción sea acertada por el bien de su país y el de los venezolanos que ahora están sufriendo esta dictadura pero la historia, cuando se repite, lo hace a su manera. Por algo se dice que no está escrita.

  4. “It is one thing to know for sure that a government is illegitimate; it’s quite another to know for sure that everyone around you knows that everyone around you knows it is illegitimate. Elections —when rigged— can give rise to just the sort of “Emperor Has No Clothes” moment where everyone suddenly acknowledges publicly what each person had known privately just a moment before.

    For an authoritarian regime, that’s a moment of utmost peril.”

    That’s why I think wee need to force that theft and raise the temperature to its highest – by participating. Many of us are waiting for Caracas Chronicles to endorse participation in this election.

  5. Agree there are some similarities, however.. these elections are not about the dictator holding power, but rather the ideology of a socialist revolution and the legacy of El Galatico Comandante Infinitum, backed by Cuban security and counterintelligence with over 50 years of election rigging. Sure maybe maduro packs up to retire in havana, but this dictatorship will just change the talking headpiece.

    I still believe there will be no intervention, and when pdvsa finally collapses you will see starvation and mass exodus as never seen before in this hemisphere.

      • Absolutely. And, with MPJ, the U.S. through their Ven. military contacts provoked regime change, mainly for commercial reasons; said contacts are not available today, and the key ones are heavily controlled by Island agents–there is going to be a pitched battle to defend the Island’s economic lifeline, plus its expansionist ideology–and, for the U.S., much more is in play than just Venezuela’s welfare.

  6. An election under current conditions is a provocation. I don’t believe that most Venezuelans today think the Emperor has clothes. Will it be the final provocation? I don’t think anyone can say with certainty. Who would have predicted what is going on in Nicaragua right now, even a short time ago?

    History is a useful corrective when we begin to think that what things are like today in Venezuela is stable, permanent, or reflects any well executed “plan”.

  7. “I still believe there will be no intervention, and when pdvsa finally collapses you will see starvation and mass exodus as never seen before in this hemisphere.”

    What I am expecting, too.

    • People don’t understand that way more money comes in with the Drug Trade today, than the mere $55 Mill/day they get from US/India for oil. Not to mention the other super-scams with food, finance, minerals, gold, etc.

      Another thing they fail to comprehend: Dictatorships don’t give up: they face jail time. They don’t care about how many people starve or leave the country: it’s actually what they want, part of the plan. And if some don’t like it, you already saw what happens: massive repression.

      Not many more people will leave Kleptozuela anyway, about 4 MILLION “pueblo” people are Enchufados, leeches, complicit with the Kleptocrats; No more than 5 million will emigrate, 4 down, 1 to go. Great for them: more billions in remesas for the regime, less malcontents to repress. All is well. Until the US Marines intervene IF they ever do. Otherwise, it’s officially Cubazuela II for many more decades. DECADES more. 2 down, 5 to go?

      • “People don’t understand that way more money comes in with the Drug Trade today, than the mere $55 Mill/day they get from US/India for oil. Not to mention the other super-scams with food, finance, minerals, gold, etc.”

        Do you have any data or numbers to back that up or just an opinion?

  8. OT: this is for Bill Bass. Still awaiting your apology for assuming Chevron’s exats were involved in corruption. I’ve written before the IOC expats prevented corruption prior to 2007 expropriations, when they had majority control, and Venezuela made more $ through new project development and efficIency. Thats all dead, or dying.. Enjoy!

    https://youtu.be/Qla-DTYH9EY

    • Gringo ; I wrote a response to your post explaining how my conjecture of what had happened regarding the expats had moved as more information became available , evidently you have not read it , do so ……., the language of my original post was conjectural not categorical , reading comprehension is a challenge for many so dont feel embarrased !!

      • Bill, conjecture in the vacuum of facts causes damage to the Truth and creates more victims. And there was no reason for you to rush to judgement. Your history of posts shows you are smart, educated, worldly.. but you missed the point intentionally or not.. and cannot bring yourself to rectify, and that is another reason why Venezuela is Venezuela.

        I’d like to see someone discuss how to get those two innocents freed, as well as the political detainees. But, suggesting action on this blog, well that’s just a step too far.

  9. Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Syria and Russia, to name the more obvious.
    ———–

    Not exactly paradise, any of those places, and Nicaragua is melting down by the day. The Chavista’s also just lost another arbitration case worth 2 billion, having just drawn down a big loan from the IMG. The noose is tightening, but slow to the point of torture.

  10. Tragically for Kleptzuela, they got Chavismo instead of Perez Jimenismo.

    MPJ would have turned Venezuela into another Chile, or better, best country in LatAm. Chavismo did the exact opposite. To this day, another MPJ would be the best medicine for the deeply SICK Kleptozuela. (Economically, morally, education-wise, infrastructure, etc). IF they are lucky and the US Marine save their butts now, any MUD future governments will be a piece of crap, for decades to come. Yes, uneducated people with very bad habits need a strong, right wing authoritative system to educate them, train them at work, and keep corruption in check. Just like Pinochet did with Chile. Look at Chile now.

  11. Can’t find a former blog with this post of mine:

    Do you guys know that VZ has been added to Trump’s travel ban list (travel TO the U.S.), which is being argued in front of the Supreme Court right now? (North Korea was also added.)

    Interestingly, lawyers arguing against the ban are NOT challenging the bans against VZ and NK, because their argument against banning the other countries is that it’s based on religious prejudice, against Islam.

    And from what I’ve been reading…some of the Justices’ comments…it looks like Trump is going to win it.

    • The Venezuela portion of the travel ban only applies to government officials and their families. Venezuelan citizens at large are still free to travel to the US.

      • But… they need visas first… Ask around what is the rate of Visa Approval / Denial for B1/B2 applications since January 2018…

        • Yeah, it’s definitely not easy for the average Venezuelan to get a visa, especially now, but it does happen.

          The Trump administration has actually shown great nuance in their handling of Maduro’s regime. So far all sanctions have been very precisely targeted, always aiming to hurt the thugs in the pocketbook, while minimizing fallout for civilians.

      • “Venezuelan citizens at large are still free to travel to the US.”

        But what need would they have to travel to the mean ol’ empire of murrica when they’re all happy and peachy with their clap bags because they “deserve shiabbizmo”?

  12. MPJ was ousted not because of popular protests incensed at his attempt at extending his dictatorship for 5 more years but beause he had a tiff with his high command and having made a countercoup wich rendered them inoperative he became a man with an army he could not command in his defense .
    The economic situation was also very different , Venezuela was enjoying a period of prosperity and growth such as it had never experienced before ………the country was not in chaos , all services were working , there was no inflation , crime was low , at a private level most people felt contented even if at a political level they wanted democracy. Some members of the high command politely suggested that he allow for free elections , he had done a superb job and would always be remembered for his accomplishements , contrary to popular belief the army was much less involved in govt than is the case now and had no interest to be appointed to official or political positions, his response was sharp and categorical ‘you tend to the barracks and leave politics to me ‘ . Dont think that the situation now resembles that of 1957 , its much worse but then the passion for supreme and indefinite power of the ruling clique is much greater than MPJ’s ever was…

  13. Did Perez Jimenez have something like a Carnet de la Patria scheme? Were people dependent on the government for food? I doubt it, these for me are two key differences between la penultima dictadura y la dictadura actual. Plus MPJ had no colectivos.

  14. The biggest difference between now and then is most of the remaining population is hungry and tired and hollowed out with more focus on fleeing than staying and changing governments. Syria, Cuba, etc. are examples of this condition…

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