Photo: Reuters retrieved

The association between Hugo Chávez’s and Nicolás Maduro’s governments has a particular political relevance nowadays. The matter has historical aspects and other facets that deal with the current struggle for a change of government.

To what point are the avatars we’re suffering under Maduro a consequence of what Chávez sowed?

The historical aspects have to do with factual events. Specifically, to what point are the avatars we’re suffering under Maduro a consequence of what Chávez sowed? The political aspects have to do with the relevance of the task that Venezuelans have in their hands now: discover a way to get rid of the current regime.

Out of a desire for coherence, we’d love for these two things to go hand in hand. That denouncing Chávez’s mistakes and the damage he caused was an element in the fight against the current government. But we have to consider the possibility that, for the time being, we must detach one thing from the other.

Historically speaking, I’m one of those who think that our situation is a consequence of what Chávez did during the fifteen years he was in office. During those long years, it was him who buried the time bombs that are currently blowing up in Maduro’s hands. They didn’t explode in his own hands for many reasons. Destructive processes take their time and, regardless of how serious our issues were before him, the Venezuela Chávez inherited had much to offer, for much had been built. Therefore, much had to be destroyed. Our country spent around seven decades modelling itself as a modern, democratic nation, the latter particularly in the last four. Sinking that ship couldn’t be done overnight. It can take fifteen years or more, especially if the modern, democratic country holds its ground as it did. In fact, Venezuela hasn’t yet been annihilated, and it won’t be.

The Venezuela Chávez inherited had much to offer, for much had been built. Therefore, much had to be destroyed.

We know another reason quite well: we savored the greatest oil boom in our history for several years. By the time Chávez died, the boom was starting to wear off, but the decline was just beginning. Chávez exploited this brief moment of prosperity, so the destruction was covered beneath the curtain of oil wealth. (This is especially clear in the case of PDVSA itself. Who could’ve imagined, without the proper knowledge, that the resplendent “PDVSA para todos” was being silently ravaged until it became the carapace it is today?)

So, the Barinas-born leader didn’t live the consequences of his own years in government. Some speculate about what he’d done in view of the circumstances his successor had to face. You can let your imagination roam free, but that’s not our purpose now.

In my view, what’s undeniable is that Chávez systematically and ceaselessly destroyed the country’s economic, institutional, international, political, cultural and psychological foundations, to the point that the already advanced destructive process combined with the decline in oil prices and output sent the country into our current freefall.

By then, Chávez was already gone and Nicolás Maduro stood in his place, the most incompetent president in our history. The destructive process, critically intensified by the oil situation, falls now on Maduro’s shoulders.

It’s hard to imagine someone less prepared to face a crisis such as the one this guy had to deal with. His administration has done nothing but deepen and speed up the crisis that his predecessor had ushered us in. We don’t need to go over this: we all live what’s been happening in Venezuela since 2013. What I really wanted to establish above is that the person who caused the crisis we’re experiencing was, indeed, Hugo Chávez and what he did during his fifteen years in office. I’m not denying that Maduro has added several elements of his own making, because that’d be unfair. In fact, he’s made decisive contributions that allow us to suffer the worst possible effects of what Chávez was already doing.

I’m not denying that Maduro has added several elements of his own making, because that’d be unfair.

Let’s study the other aspect now: the political struggle. We don’t have to take out Chávez’s government now, but Maduro’s. The country isn’t in a position to get history classes or explanations on how the foreign exchange controls imposed by the former government was the origin of the black market dollar’s current price. A good size of the huge majority of Venezuelans who want regime change were chavistas once. Many of them still love and pray for Chávez. Many of them still think that he was blameless for what’s happening. On top of this belief, there’s an undeniable fact: “We lived better with Chávez.” “In his government —some of them say— there were no CLAP boxes or carnet de la patria, and there would’ve never been,” they’d add.

The point now is whether, with respect to the effective political fight, we should detach Chávez from Maduro. Should we put aside the historical truth that the ultimate culprit of the madurista debacle was Chávez?

I believe this is the most pertinent option. We can regularly hear analysts and commentators who don’t miss a chance to mention Chávez’s responsibility in our current tragedy. Regarding historical truth, nothing is more accurate. That’s pretty clear for most of the population, so we’re not telling them anything new. And those who still don’t have it clear —but know we have to get rid of this government—would rather not hear that Chávez came before Maduro. They’re even less inclined to hear that “madurismo is the superior stage of chavismo,” to put it in the jargon pleasant to chavistas doctrinaires around.

So, we must talk about Maduro and his disaster. We shouldn’t bother anyone who wants to believe that Chávez has nothing to do with what his successor has done, if that helps them to join our fight for a change of government. Time will settle the scores and clear the debts, as it always does. For now: everyone and everything against Maduro.

In order for us to suffer the terrible effects of that destructive work as utterly as we’re suffering them, Chávez had to be succeeded by a man like Maduro.

On the other hand, perhaps we don’t need to drastically detach the full historical truth from the needs of the political fight. There can’t be a doubt about Chávez’s destructive work. But I think it’s also true that, in order for us to suffer the terrible effects of that destructive work as utterly as we’re suffering them, Chávez had to be succeeded by a man like Maduro. Surely it was possible, even back in 2013, to avoid the terrible future where the man from Sabaneta was taking us.

But with Maduro, that option was closed from the beginning. One of Chávez’s cruellest actions was to appoint him as his successor or worse yet, to lack anyone “better” to leave behind. So if we push Chávez aside and give all responsibility to the current ruler, we’re underscoring a substantial fact of historical truth: only a man like Maduro could ensure that the general ruin of the foundations Chávez built could be felt in such a painful and complete way.

That, among other things, is why we don’t need any other focus but to see the end of his government.

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Lawyer and political scientist. Founder of the School of Political Studies of the UCV, where he taught History of Political Ideas and the Venezuelan Political System. Individual of number of Venezuela's National Academy of History. Visiting Professor at St. Antony's College, Oxford University. Since 2000, he has been conducting the radio program La Linterna at RCR. He was Director of El Diario de Caracas and Deputy to the National Congress. He has published several books on Venezuelan political history, oil history, analysis of the Venezuelan political system.

29 COMMENTS

  1. “The point now is whether, with respect to the effective political fight, we should detach Chávez from Maduro. Should we put aside the historical truth that the ultimate culprit of the madurista debacle was Chávez?”

    If you don’t associate Chavez and Maduro, you will fight this same battle again. Same Chavismo, different name on the banner.

    The key to this fight is this: The middle class (and up) cannot fight this fight. The Chavista voter needs to come to the very painful realization that they have been duped. Unfortunately, I fear that thousands will have to die before the light bulb come on. The old and infirmed first. The outraged Chavista will be the last in line to die before the Cubans decide to bail out.

    The achiever class needs to do one thing. Shrug. Go on strike. Withhold your jobs (close your businesses), your talent and your time. Take a break for a month.

    Retailers? Don’t buy anything from your wholesalers. Fire sale your current stock and close your doors.

    Wholesalers? Don’t sell anything to your buyers. Don’t buy anything from your suppliers.

    Within a week? Maduro will have to make an executive decision on whether it is time to leave or double down on despotism.

    • Totally agree. We need capitalism not the garbage that Chavez sold us as an “alternative model”. That model doesn’t exist nor its sustainability. If we detach Maduro from Chavez we’ll have the chavismo trying to replicate another Chavez-phenomena leader.

    • There is another factor or two that is just now becoming obvious. There is a whole new middle class of inchufados coming in (very quickly I might add) who have decided that this government is well dug in enough that they aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon, so they have decided to “adapt” to their political and economical climate so as to continue to thrive. This just means that they have been willing to play along with the national guard in their insatiable quest for riches. Very few games left here in town, my favorite example is a Chinese buddy of mine who is positively thriving. Takes a very small markup 30% max and pays everyone well including his employees which were careful picked and very loyal. Plus he has several pay points and is equipped to handle the long lines at his store resulting from him being the only game in town.

      We’re seeing a wave of tourism coming to the beaches again. Not like before but it’s obviously picking up. Tourism means some people have enough disposable income that they can afford to come here. We see that they are newly rich or children of accomplices and by selling them our services and products are we not too complices to the status quo? We smile and listen to there stories and very few are proud either that they have bent to these lows and are doing business with the devil. But the end excuse is always the same: You gotta feed your Family.

      • Another Gringo, you are absolutely correct. There have been many instances throughout history of people trying to survive on rats, mice, insects, even boiling leather and drinking “the soup”. Someone recently posted on these pages of seeing a man inspecting a dead cat found on the street to see if it might be salvageable.
        None of us know where this will end but we all hope and pray that it does not come to such extremes.

    • I read that this morning:

      They said VZers never ate donkey. It smells awful and is tough.

      They learned it from the imported Cuban “doctors.”

  2. Great article! Obviously, the priority is getting rid of Maduro and his disastrous kleptocracy. But there are still people who think that Stalin “betrayed” Communism, and that Lenin’s vision was pure; he just died too early to succeed. There’s a Trotskyist party in almost every country pushing this fable, and in some places they have real influence. So the more effort made to tie Maduro to Chavez, the more likely that the whole experiment won’t have to be repeated a hundred years from now.

  3. Diego Bautista Urbaneja, extraordinary political analyst, concludes:
    “The point now is whether, with respect to the effective political fight, we should detach Chávez from Maduro. Should we put aside the historical truth that the ultimate culprit of the madurista debacle was Chávez? I believe this is the most pertinent option”.
    I disagree. By concentrating on Maduro and not on Chavismo (of which Maduro is a top member) we could gain a battle but lose the war. In the long term what needs to be erradicated from the minds of Venezuelans is chavismo, not simply Maduro. Rigt now we witness how Chavistas are trying to shift all the blame to Maduro in order to survive and keep their pellejo and their ill-gotten millions. This maneuver could be unwittingly reinforced by Diego’s suggestion, if accepted as the strategy to be followed.
    DBU’s piece is excellent, wish to see more of his work in CC.

  4. Mr. Urbaneja is right, the task at hand is to remove Maduro from power, and for this there is plenty of support even in Chavistas ranks. Later will be the time, in the context of a democratic system, to debate the merit of Chavismo, and as Mr. House states, you will have to deal forever with the die hard believer that will root for Mao, Lenin and el Che.

    As it stands now, only violence will dislodge Maduro from power, he understands that his next act will be death or jail, just remember Gaddafi. But how are you going to muster the commitment to the insurrection that is required? The traditional opposition may draw votes in an election, but few in el barrio are going to risk bodily harm for liberty under the aegis of Maria Corina or Leopoldo. As I said in previous comments, Chavismo has resoundingly alienated el pueblo from the escualidos and its leaders in the MUD. Moreover, up to now, the exodus from Venezuela is mostly of escualidos, so the MUD followers, those that marched last year are gone.

    I wish we could expunge Chavismo mindset from Venezuela, but as I read Aporrea I understand there is no way to do it now. THEY MADE Chavez and they NEED to excuse themselves from the disaster that afflicts the Venezuelan nation. The mental maneuver is to split Chavez from Maduro and make one holy and the other evil, after that you just link yourself as Chavista-socialista-dogooder and behold righteous contempt for Maduro and his squandering of the noble revolution.

    It is Chavista that hold the guns in the military and it is the people that were Chavistas of various stripes over the last 20 years that are needed. They will agree with escualidos that Maduro is terrible and needs to go.

  5. As most have said here, BOTH Chavez AND Maduro have to be exposed for what they are–charlatans of a fake destructive revolution/ideology, which, if continued in whatever guise, will only impoverish Venezuela even more. The idea of attacking/removing Maduro, leaving the Chavez legend/”Revolution” intact, is counter-productive to Venezuela’s eventual recovery. What is needed is a complete housecleaning. It isn’t Chavismo that profoundly alienated the barrios/Pueblo from the “escualidos”/MUD, it was the MUD leaders themselves, who completely blew their 2/3 (Pueblo) AN majority in inaction/ineffective Regime opposition, then blew their escualidos support by, immediately after the ANC rigged election, calling off street demonstrations, and calling for participation in rigged Regional elections. Venezuela now is electorally lost to democracy, similar to Nicaragua, and can only be set for democracy by (most-likely outside) armed intervention. Every day that passes, most of Venezuela has an increasingly post-Apocalyptic look, with only a few big cities still not yet converted to the abject conditions of, say, La Habana.

    • Net, Marc,
      You may have to vomit to accept certain allies, but you have to do it sometimes. Winston Churchill came under severe criticism for his willingness to ally himself with Stalin to defeat Hitler. He shrugged off the criticism, saying “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would find something nice to say about the Devil himself.”

  6. 73 years ago to this day the United States of America was in the business of wiping the Japanese from the face of the earth.

    What saved the Japanese race (and thousands of American lives) was the decision on the part of the allies to accept surrender on condition that Hirohito remain as Emperor.

    How the average Japanese citizen managed to remain loyal to a leader, who only days earlier was arming teenage girls with sharpened bamboo sticks to repel the evil American invaders, and yet rebuild a nation in cooperation with American forces, is a mystery to me. But it happened.

    My point is, let El Pueblo worship at the grave of Chavez if it makes them feel good. They can still rebuild their country, hopefully one friendly to the U.S., with U.S. help, and with a lesson learned, and get on with their lives.

    • Nope, have to eradicate it. Strike the words from our vocabulary. Teach our children the truth while the other band starves to death. They drank the red koolaid and are in to deep, too far gone to turn back now. They are a very small minority anyway at this point.

    • @Lorenzo “73 years ago to this day the United States of America was in the business of wiping the Japanese from the face of the earth.”

      As the grandson of a US Ranger who fought “Tojo” in the Pacific, this is both inaccurate and comes off as a wee bit insulting, even if I know you did not intend it.

      The US was never in the business of wiping the Japanese from the face of the planet; at most some Allied leaders like Admiral King were. But the US as a whole was in the business of killing as many Japanese as it could any way it could to end the war.

      That’s an odd distinction but it is an important one, because the US never intended to exterminate the Japanese like Hitler and Stalin tried to exterminate Ukrainians. And Japan wasn’t saved by the decision of the US to accept Hirohito’s surrender.

      The US has already decided that months before Hirohito did. It and the other Allies had gone so far to declare that they would accept such a surrender at Potsdam, so long as it was the right kind ie Unconditional. There was no question or decision to be made about Such a surrender because it was already decided.

      “What saved the Japanese race (and thousands of American lives) was the decision on the part of the allies to accept surrender on condition that Hirohito remain as Emperor.”

      Utterly wrong.

      The Allies made no such acceptance. In fact, Japan has been holding out offering just such a conditional surrender for *months* and the Allies has steadfastly (and correctly) refused to have anything to do with it.

      They did retain the Tenno and Imperial Household after the war, but they made that decision only after the Japanese had unconditionally surrendered.

      And finally,

      “My point is, let El Pueblo worship at the grave of Chavez if it makes them feel good.”

      No. And for the reasons I’m gonna mention, this ties in to a misconception you list here…

      “How the average Japanese citizen managed to remain loyal to a leader, who only days earlier was arming teenage girls with sharpened bamboo sticks to repel the evil American invaders,”

      Hirohito never was in the business of arming anyone except for the Imperial Guard around his household.

      He was never a totalitarian dictator- Fuhrer, Duce, El Finado- like Chávez was. And in fact responded to the only attempt to make him one by demanding the conspirators be crushed by the military lest he lead the Imperial Guard against them personally.

      The kids being armed were certainly being done so in his name, and up to Nagasaki he probably didn’t object TOO much, but he was a Tenno. Not a totalitarian.

      As such he was never involved in the nitty gritty of dictating policy or commanding that great crimes. It’s wrong to say he was a powerless puppet and he was not blameless (we know he rubbed stamped things like the use of Poison Gas), but he and his position were not tainted to the degree Chávez is.

      That is why it was possible for him to continue on being the ceremonial, spiritual figurehead he had been during the occupation while it is impossible to tolerate Chavismo idolatry.

  7. Maduro is the face of the regime, but unlike Chavez, is he really in charge? I think initially people were very skeptical that he was, and I don’t know if the experts think the situation has changed.

    • @Canucklehead A very good point. Maduro is a much less appealing and popular figure than Chávez was (is, really). I remember reading a number of dissident blogs that he is just a figurehead for a military mafia.

      I am not sure that is true, but it is definitely a possibility. And even if it is not true now there’s the question of it would stay untrue if things went turbulent in the dictatorship.

      In any case, even at his most powerful Maduro is a symptom of the much wider real problem of Chavismo as a whole.

  8. The inmediate task is getting rid of Maduro’s current regime , it can hold on to power using fraud and coercion and by atempting to invoke Chavez still cherished memory , but it can do little to free Venezuela from its current terrible predicament , that needs a regime change because nothing can be done by a regime no one trusts and all reject , maybe that can be done by a regime that doesnt present Chavez as a fiend (even if thats what he was) but as somewhat misguided by those arround him or whatever………the task at hand is more urgent and the deconstruction of Chavez can wait , it will happen anyway ……, but right now the priority is to effect a regime change even if to achieve that the task of unmasking Chavez direct role in causing the current disaster is posponed until a more propitious time .

  9. Another important consideration no one ever mentions . the key factor holding this regime together is its ability to neutralize the military forces so that they are unable to exercise their institutional duty to uphold the laws of the land and its capacity to elicit the loyalty of a part of it to support its coercive authority ……because we experienced military dictatorship in the past we built an army that was bland and atomized and bureaucratized to a meek subordination to the command of whoever held the reins of political power , this has evidently backfired on us Venezuelans , Chavez too easily broke down whatver remained of the armys capacity for autonomous institutional action in defense of the countrys institutions. A new army must be rebuilt that must be much more cohesive assertive and proactive in its role as defender of the countries institutions , maybe that has a recognized role in the running of the country at leas to the extent needed to make them defensible against the actions of people who would sabotage those institutions from the inside .
    This I know is unsavory because the military in this country have been demonized to build the heroic image of the democratic leadership that succeeded the MPJ dictatorship . Nonetheless do reflect on its necessity.

    • Why not just disband the military.. the country has only been threatened militarily from within, no threats of “invasion “ except cubans, farc and diosado’s friends. They have no job except to abuse el pueblo and beg for a couple million bsf for soda. Just take away their guns and send them home.. the regime would collapse like a cheap Sears tent.. saving lives and money.

      • Because not having an army means that a hundred different groups could arm themselves and start uprisings every month or so or take over different parts of the country at will creating a situation of civil chaos. In the 20’s a small group of Venezuelans (including some who later became the founders of venezuelan communism) armed themselves and for a few days took over Curacao which had no garrison ….., it was the absence of an organized well equiped and trained national army which in the 19 century cause Venezuela to experience a state of almost continous civil war , with manifestos and rebellions ocurring all over venezuela on average almost every month , there is a book written about it , ‘Los Dias de la Ira’ by historian Antonio Arraiz.

        • So need military to fend off national security risks/invasions but don’t pay attention to GNB or local police to handle this? IMHO part of the problem is sooo tooo many layers of security that provide no security, only more corruption.. tools for the boliguarces.

          When was the last time the Venezuelan army did anything of value for the country? Hell Bill there are a lot of countries with no standing military.

          If you cannot answer then consider your position and that of the country.

          Seriously, an army organized to traffic drugs.. yeah let’s keep that..

          And wonder why venezuela is a steamy pile of shit with no future… it’s because no one will accept any change.. they all want their clap bags, same politicians, standing in line for free shit is better than working.. sorry to see people dying, but it’s someone else’s fault..

          And the military does nothing but make it worse.. pls don’t opine on 1800’s or 1900’s invasions.. or curaçao? Seriously? Just gave away esquibo.. which you commented on… while the military plunders gold and silver…

          Suerte Sr Bill

  10. Professor Bautista,
    My congratulations for franing the question the way you have done.
    I think it is really good that this question is posed.

    Short-term pragmatism suggests that everyone who can be enrolled to bring down the Maduro regime should be engaged and aligned to do that. This includes people who believe that Chavez was a saint, but who were only passive supporters. Does it have to include people who were positively active in oppression, corruption and theft?

    The counter-arguments are (a) ethics (b) medium-term risks of a return to Chavismo if the ghost of Chavez is not fully exorcised and (c) the likelihood that individuals – who were active participants in the dismantling of democracy in Venezuela, oppression, corruption and straighforward theft – go unpunished because of their timely conversion to an anti-Maduro coalition.

    Argument (a), the ethics argument, is that it is deceitful to pretend to a tolerance of something when your true position is radically opposed. It is valid, but overwhelmed by long-term history of mendacity in politics for positioning. No big deal for a lapsed political conscience. Argument (b) is founded on the belief that it actually makes a difference whether you continue or desist from debating the level of culpability of Chavez. In my opinion and experience, people who already believe in the legend of Chavez as a champion of the poor and dispossessed are largely impervious to factual arguments against him. They don’t want to know the truth. Argument (c) is probably the strongest argument – at least emotionally – against letting go of the Chavez history and trying to enrol former chavistas as anti-Maduro allies. I don’t know where one draws the line with this. I don’t have a problem with jumping into bed with former Chavez supporters, but I am more than reluctant to enjoy congress with individuals who were active participants and beneficiaries of the depraved, corrupting and degenerate policies pusued by Chavez. Luisa Ortega? Henri Falcon? Rafael Ramirez? In the absence of an external invasion, some degree of amnesty is going to be necessary to enroll the people of power in Venezuela to effect a real change. I honestly don’t know where to draw the line.

    • Answer: external invasion, complete housecleaning-the Pueblo needs this, the vast majority will support this. The Country ruling echelons are rotten to the core, for the most part, both Chavismo/Oppo, intertwined by marriage/inter-personal relationships, on-the-take. No sane outsider, including the IMF, will pony up the multiple tens of billions of $ necessary to right the rotting/sinking carcass of a ship that is Venezuela without the elimination of the rogues/barbarians captaining it under the pirate flag of Cuban- Bolivarian “Socialism”.

  11. Dream on. I am reminded of the economist’s solution to the problem of finding a box of tinned food as a castaway on a desert island. The economist’s solution to the problem starts with “Let’s assume we have a can-opener…”

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