The legion of Nicolás Maduro’s followers, if there ever was one, is declining. Only 30% of voters in Venezuela remain loyal to Hugo Chávez’s heir, according to the results of the presidential elections of May 20.
If we compare this process with the 2013 elections, when Maduro was first elected, the numbers say he lost 1.3 million votes. He’s surrounded by dissatisfaction, while Chávez keeps making political miracles even after death: His approval ratings remain between 50% and 60% among citizens surveyed by Datanalisis in March, although 91% of respondents think the country’s situation is bad or very bad. However, they proudly say: “I’m chavista, not madurista.” If such a distinction is even possible.
The legion of Nicolás Maduro’s followers, if there ever was one, is declining.
Maduro ascended to power because it was President Chávez’s last wish. Since then, he hasn’t implemented any radical change regarding chavista economic plans. Instead, he’s radicalized persecution against dissidents. Saying that you’re chavista, not madurista, when the model is the same, can turn into a tactic to shield yourself from attacks and slip jail time —although not everyone manages to do the latter. Claiming that we lived better with Chávez exculpates him, without considering the unprecedented oil boom during his term. The soldier created the debacle, but he died before having to face the consequences and, with that, he evaded the accusing fingers.
“I identify as a chavista and not a madurista and I’m convinced that the same is happening with an important majority of the people who supported Chávez many times, who know that Maduro isn’t chavista, because if he were, he wouldn’t have abandoned them. He wouldn’t have turned them into one of the most impoverished people on earth,” says Héctor Navarro, a minister from the Chávez era since the first cabinet created in 1999; expelled from PSUV, the ruling party.
Chávez gets some of the blame, but he’s still rather clean. Ricardo Sucre, political scientist and social psychologist, thinks that if politicians don’t attack him, it’s because there’s no point in kicking someone who can’t defend himself anymore. “I think that after 2007, Chávez earned the respect of those who opposed him. What would be the point of attacking an icon who built the image of a superman who inspired fear?”, he wonders.
If politicians don’t attack Chávez, it’s because there’s no point in kicking someone who can’t defend himself anymore.
The idea of treason gains traction among those who still believe in Chávez’s so-called legacy. Gonzalo Gómez, national leader of Marea Socialista and co-founder of Aporrea, muses: “Madurismo is the denial of chavismo.” He explains that Venezuela’s living a counter-revolutionary phase, in which the values and ideas originally proposed by the late president have been twisted, destroyed and perverted. “The destruction isn’t caused by external elements, but by inside forces assimilated by capitalism. One thing is the discourse, but in practice, those in the government steal the national rent and destroy what’s left of Hugo Chávez’s project.”
What does this project mean, however, for those who still praise Chávez’s government? Gómez lists what he thinks were that project’s accomplishments, and the reasons why support for the late president doesn’t decline, even though the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts a 1,000,000% inflation rate by the end of 2018. “Some battles were lost. However, during Chávez’s tender, there were conquests in sovereignty, social benefits, rent distribution, construction of the social tissue.”
“I met Chávez in person. In my hometown, in Monagas. He was that sensitive Chávez who was still open to hugs,” says Indira Urbaneja, national coordinator of the Movimiento Mujeres en Desafío and a close ally of former Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres, before he was arrested for treason.
She says that the president was handing out housing units in Monagas for disaster victims and she called him screaming and crying; he heard her and walked up to her; he saw such courage in her that he invited her to Caracas to be a part of the Youth Ministry’s reactivation. “He was the Chávez of the people, the one who received pieces of paper and letters with requests. Not that transfigured Chávez. When chavismo started, it was a feeling, it had no major political, ideological doctrines, no theoretical framework, but lots of feeling.” Urbaneja now stands in a crossroads: On the one hand, chavistas who are completely disappointed and want a radical change in the government system and on the other, chavistas who aren’t maduristas. “In low-income sectors, people say we weren’t so screwed up with Chávez. Now, there’s a very bad person in the presidency and when they compare the previous administration with this one, the former president’s merits grow. That’s why we often hear: ‘This wouldn’t be happening if Chávez was alive’,” says Urbaneja.
Ricardo Sucre doubts there could be madurismo without chavismo because, according to several polls, 80% of those who identify as chavistas support Maduro.
For Yorelis Acosta, social psychologist, five years is too little to forget a person who Venezuelans had to persistently see through mandatory broadcasts on radio and TV, government events and public works showing his picture. “With him, they worked the idea of the leader, the father protector of the poor; reinforced by the clientelism favored by steep oil prices. On the other hand, we have a hard time acknowledging when we messed up. For his followers, it’s hard to admit that the ‘revolution’ was a big scam, so it’s easier to put the blame on Maduro and hold on to the idea of Chávez, the betrayed saviour,” she explains.
Ricardo Sucre doubts there could be madurismo without chavismo because, according to several polls, 80% of those who identify as chavistas support Maduro. He argues that Chávez isn’t held accountable for the Venezuelan crisis for two reasons: the first is that we lived well during chavismo. “It was an age of bonanza, of spending. CADIVI was created and, in the long run, it turned into an opportunity for easy money and many people took that chance. Besides, a 20% inflation rate was paradise compared to the 128% rate we had in June.”
The second reason has to do with the traits of Chávez’s personality, Sucre says: a man who was simultaneously respected, admired and feared as an overprotective, strict father.
The known evil
Undercover agents, traitors, pretenders, counter-revolutionaries and disenfranchised fools. Each of those adjectives has been applied from government tribunes to discredit those who, from their own trenches in the same side of the wall as the government, raise their voice and denounce the corruption, shortages and hyperinflation ruining Venezuela.
In any case, Maduro (and his flaws) still sits on the presidential chair. A public servant who wished to remain anonymous claims this has nothing to do with the ruling opportunism, but the opposition’s failure to show that they’re ready to rule. “They aren’t united either and they propose an ideological disaster that doesn’t convince me. As long as I don’t see a good opposition that sticks up for us, I’ll keep voting for the government.”
In any case, Maduro (and his flaws) still sits on the presidential chair.
Urbaneja agrees that the opposition has been playing their cards all wrong: “Maduro is a consequence of the chavista sentiment, which was so great that it took a person to the presidency just to fulfill the leader’s wishes; but the opposition has played its role dreadfully. They haven’t connected to chavismo, instead they discredit them, call them a plague. They don’t build bridges.”
Finally, the former Minister Navarro says: “If Hugo Chávez were reborn, he’d immediately die again upon seeing this disaster.”