Today, we’re celebrating another Caracas Chronicles anniversary, thankful for the opportunity to register our reality for you all. Although we’ve haven’t been there for all of chavismo’s run, we want to present you with this small summary that some of our regulars and crew prepared, on what we’ve been through in 20 years of ascendant autocracy.
It may put things in perspective, depress you or outrage you. But you will hardly be indifferent.
The Rise of Hugo Chávez
Photo: Rusplt retrieved.
“With traditional parties losing popularity, Hugo Chávez’s candidacy grew. On December 6, 1998, he won the presidential election with 56.20% of votes, while Henrique Salas got 40%.
Through the National Constituent Assembly, Chávez accomplished two objectives: a) Writing a Constitution that’d give the president more powers, and b) Promoting new elections for all public offices, which secured his political control on all State institutions.
It was a political script reused with various guises, until 2012.”
– Carlos García Soto.
April 11, 2002
Photo: Venelogía retrieved.
“I, like most Venezuelans that day, saw the death and rebirth of chavismo through TV.
There was a birthday in my family, and the birthday-girl wished, as a joke, for a coup. Little did we know Caracas would turn into a shooting gallery. It was the opening shot in more than a decade of violence, protests and political extremism and, despite dozens of elections, waves of protests and unprecedented levels of intolerance, el once de abril marked us in a way that no further explanation is needed. It’d be the first time Venezuelans would mourn both the fallen, and the slow, painful death of the Republic and our way of life. We were, and remain, held for ransom, and only a cozy Stockholm Syndrome keeps us warm at night.
That day, in Venezuela, innocence died for good.”
– Daniel Cadena Jordan.
The 2002-2003 Oil Strike
“I was nine years old in December, 2002.
I didn’t get it. I knew something was up at PDVSA, the big company where my family from Falcón worked. They stopped working to force that ugly Chávez out of power; within days, pretty much everyone joined. I was happy, even though I had a ton of homework to compensate for the early vacation, and I wrote my letter to El Niño Jesús (our criollo Santa), asking for a Jurassic Park T-Rex and for Chávez to quit the presidency.
Two months later, the strike ended, Coca-Cola came back to the stores and school resumed. In a couple of months, my uncle and cousins, along with other 17,000 workers, would be fired from PDVSA.
That Chávez did it again.”
– Juan Carlos Gabaldón.
The 2004 Recall Referendum
“After the paro petrolero meltdown, the opposition took the electoral route, collecting signatures for a recall referendum on Hugo Chávez.
The ineffable Jorge Rodríguez, then helming the CNE—with Tibisay as his lackey—used every trick to shamelessly delay the vote with technicalities. Chávez used the extra time to launch the popular misiones, so when election time came, defeat became a sticking point for the opposition.
A negotiation process led by the Carter Center and then OAS Secretary General, César Gaviria, was needed, the first of many international enablers of chavismo.
Yes, that election was legal, but was it fair?”
– César Crespo.
The Shutdown of RCTV
Photo: Contexto Diario retrieved.
“After 2002-03, Hugo Chávez knew he had to control the four main private TV stations or, as he called them, “the four horsemen of the apocalypse.” First, he spent lots of money on enlarging the State media, pushing censorship forward (remember the RESORTE Law?). Of course, he kept taking the airwaves through mandatory cadenas.
But the guy needed a trophy, and a Venezuelan institution paid the price.
By refusing to renew Radio Caracas Televisión’s broadcasting license, he sentenced it to death. On midnight, May 28, 2007, RCTV shut down and chavismo launched TVes, a poor replacement to this day. That very night, the ‘communicational hegemony’ was born, a ruthless plan to get rid of non-compliant press and control news and opinion.”
– Gustavo Hernández.
“In 2007, Hugo Chávez wanted to change 69 articles of a Constitution that wasn’t a decade old. His very own baby now held him from doing whatever he wanted so, to keep up with appearances, he proposed a people’s vote.
Unlimited presidential re-elections would be allowed. The Central Bank’s autonomy would end, guess who’d be running it. Expropriations would be Constitutional and the State could occupy land before courts ruled over disputes. These amendments would basically reorganize our administrative districts, making governors and mayors bow to the presidency, through a ‘popular power’ that wouldn’t be elected by citizens.
It was the first time we defeated chavismo, and it was sublime. Chávez was as gracious as he could, in a spell of diplomacy that lasted two days, later using taxpayer money to cover the city with ‘POR AHORA’ billboards.
Still, his ego was bruised and that can’t be taken away from us.”
– Nina Rancel.
The 2009 Constitutional Reform
“After losing in 2007, Hugo Chávez decided to ignore the will of the people.
Most of the rejected proposals on the previous entry were enacted through laws and decrees, but the cornerstone, the lifting of re-election limits for the presidency, was still pending.
So, he tried again despite Constitutional prohibition, on the contrary, widening his proposals for governors and mayors, fast-tracking the process in the almost-entirely red National Assembly. A referendum was held on February, 2009. The simplicity of this proposal, along with a colossal campaign where all of the territory was covered in propaganda, saw Chávez getting closer to his overall goal of being president for life.
Chavismo had always done what it wanted when defeated at a local level, but this was the first time it blatantly embraced the popular vote… as long as it favored Hugo’s social control.”
– Gustavo Hernández.
Franklin Brito and the 2010 Expropriations
“‘Iguaraya’ was the name biologist Franklin Brito gave to his farm in Guarataro, Bolívar, taken away from him in 2003, on Hugo Chávez’s command.
The National Institute of Land gave Iguaraya to a group of trespassers, invasores, and from then on, Brito fought a monster whose real dimension we ignored. After failing at Bolívar’s courts and being fired from the school where he taught, he moved to Caracas, starting a series of hunger strikes and public protests, demanding his land be returned.
For seven years he was ignored. The scrubs claimed greater patches of the mismanaged Iguaraya, making agriculture impossible. On August 30, Brito died, weighing only 35 kg.
Chávez’s government continued a policy of massive nationalizations, including CADA supermarkets, agroindustrial giant Agroisleña and over 40 farms across the nation. Eight years later, most are unproductive and abandoned.
Just like Iguaraya.”
– Juan Carlos Gabaldón.
2012’s Presidential Race
Photo: Opinión retrieved.
“Hugo Chávez entered 2012 facing two battles: one for his third full term as president, and another for his life.
While putting his best hopes on the Cuban doctors treating him for cancer, he spared no expenses in obtaining what could be his electoral swansong, and even if oil prices were stalling and economical woes were looming, the government launched a massive spending spree to ensure the triumph.
Chávez was presented not as a leader, but as the literal “heart of the motherland.” The opposition made a mammoth effort that included an open primary, and Miranda governor, Henrique Capriles Radonski, was chosen to fight an uphill battle, with an impressive campaign.
But so did Chávez, regardless of his health. Two months later, he faced reality. On December 8, he announced he had to get surgery in Cuba, handpicking Nicolás Maduro as successor.
It was his last public address to the country.”
– Gustavo Hernández.
The Death of Chávez
Photo: 24 Horas retrieved.
“‘The show must go on.’
Hugo took the maxim of showbiz to heart, turning his last months on Earth into the ‘Schrodinger’s presidency,’ both dead and alive at once. To date, nobody knows for sure when el Comandante reached the light at the end of the tunnel.
On March 5, 2013, his hand-picked successor (appointed de facto on January 10) made the passing official and tense calm drowned the nation. For some, the trip back home through ghostly streets was uneventful (every single store in Guarenas was closed and silence reigned), but others were sunk in pandemonium, stuck for hours in traffic, with radio stations calling for peace. There were mass robberies around la Torre de David and Sambil La Candelaria, while Venezuela braced for an uncertain future.
Hugo Chávez died a president, just earlier than he wished.”
– Javier Liendo, Daniel Urdaneta & Victor Drax.
Nicolás Maduro: President
“The CNE’s call for a snap election set one month after Chávez’s death was announced with Maduro anointed as successor, in April 2013. The opposition again named Henrique Capriles as their candidate, but no one thought he’d do well after the 2012 fracas and the ghost of Chávez looming over.
However, Capriles ran a heroic campaign and, when results were announced, Maduro had won by only one percentage point.
Amid widespread evidence of electoral fraud, Capriles decided against calling people to protest, a decision that still haunts him today.
As for Maduro’s rule, it still haunts us today, too.”
– César Crespo.
2014’s Protests and Leopoldo López’s Arrest
Photo: Trome retrieved.
“The first major protests against the Maduro administration started on February 12, 2014. Government thugs came to disperse the crowds, shooting live ammo and killing Bassil Da Costa, and Robert Redman later that day.
I was working downtown at the time and, seeing the events unfold on live TV, I went back home through Universidad Av. A huge picket line cut access to the intersection of South 11th and East 2nd, in La Candelaria, where Bassil was shot dead. They wouldn’t let anyone pass until the next day, when I went to mourn him. Couldn’t help but collapse in tears of anger.
Thus, the Día de la Juventud turned into the start of a several-month-long field war, pitting unarmed students against the worst of State law enforcement. Leopoldo López, alleged leader of the protest, was arrested on bogus charges. It served as a rallying flag for the brave youth that set the streets on fire all across the country, until mass arrests, attrition and the opposition’s treacherous turn into dialogue killed the rebellion.
At least 43 deaths, all lost when Henrique Capriles shook hands with Maduro on national TV.”
– Daniel Urdaneta.
The Opposition’s Parliamentary Triumph of 2015
“Could chavismo even admit defeat?
I wasn’t that optimistic thinking they’d risk their majority. On election night, after long, tense hours, a visibly shaken Tibisay stated the impossible: 112 seats for the opposition, 55 for chavismo.
We cried and cheered and called relatives abroad in celebration, as a confused Maduro admitted defeat. You could say chavismo took the hit because it already knew how to answer and, again, mock the will of the people.
But for that sole night, hope for the future reigned supreme.”
– José González Vargas.
Maduro and “The Economic War”
“‘The economy is shielded!’ said Hugo Chávez in the late 2000s. ‘¡Pónganme el petróleo a cero, compadre!’
By 2012, shortages and inflation were already evident. By 2015, 11 years after colossal oil prices and, what in theory should have been a budget surplus, we were in a financial meltdown.
It was the birth of ‘the Economic War,’ a communist-inherited phrase used in our lands since late 2013, as one of Maduro’s excuses to extend his power. At first just another chavista buzzword, it has become, along with El Imperio, the government’s most iconic boogeyman and scapegoat.”
– José González Vargas.
The 2017 Protests
Photo: El País retrieved.
“Walking the highways and breathing tear gas daily, we were pretty sure that this time, the end was truly nigh. But where there was fury, only weariness remains.
Chavismo’s judiciary hitmen decided that the National Assembly wasn’t long for this world, neutering it in one stroke of the pen. Outrage built into rallies, and although some of the events were peaceful, several took the lives of kids who had known the world only through the red veil.
I wrote about the clashes as I lived them on the ground and, in my heart of hearts, I know we failed as demonstrators because a key sector of the traditional opposition saw us as a tool for their particular benefit. Today, the government is politically stronger, suffering deepened and our diaspora became a regional crisis.
The Great War is described in history books as ‘the great tragedy,’ because after all that death, blood and tears, nothing was solved. Doesn’t that describe what we went through?”
– Victor Drax.
2017’s National Constituent Assembly
“Maduro’s political response to the crisis derived from citizen protests was convening a National Constituent Assembly in utter violation of the Constitution, with the support of the National Electoral Council and the Supreme Tribunal of Justice.
The National Constituent Assembly has been around for over a year: it removed Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega Díaz from office, created so-called ‘Constitutional Laws’ and issued agreements condemning Trump.
However, there’s no sign of a single article of the ‘New Constitution.’
– Carlos García Soto
2018’s Humanitarian Crisis
“I saw a family mourning their three-year-old daughter, because the health system didn’t provide her with neither the vaccination against diphtheria, nor the antitoxin that could’ve saved her. Farmhands turned miners, returning from Bolívar with excruciating cerebral malaria on a hospital bed. Patients waited months for brain surgery, because the required items could only be found in Colombia, at unaffordable prices.
All of this because of a man-made crisis whose sole responsibles refuse to acknowledge. The total breakdown of a society that now needs help from the world, a complex humanitarian crisis like Latin America hasn’t seen in decades.”
– Juan Carlos Gabaldón.
Nicolás Maduro Is Re-elected President
Photo: Todo Noticias retrieved.
“The energy, excitement and ideal that voting could still veer Venezuela’s fate was quite dead when time came for a new presidential election. With a decomposed opposition, an established ANC and chavismo no longer caring about pretensions of democracy, this election was a sham most people didn’t bother to join.
There’s an image that keeps looping in my mind, like a GIF. It’s Maduro, after casting his vote, waving at an empty schoolyard at seven in the morning, as if surrounded by a huge crowd.
There’s no better metaphor for this election than that.”
– José González Vargas.
The Petro Is Born and Our Currency Changes Again
“The regime’s latest economic decisions have been a train wreck. While the new monetary cone imposed about three months ago brought some relief to a severely cash-deprived population, the accelerating and ravenous hyperinflation soon made it obsolete.
As for the petro, a sham cryptocurrency supposedly backed by oil barrels and developed with Russian help, we’ve always known it’s a fairy tale, but chavistas don’t lose hope. So, on top of pointless bolivars, our bank accounts have a petro sign where we can conveniently check our balances in a ghost currency no one can acquire, should we need to.
Hyperinflation, at the time of publication, has not been defeated.”
– Javier Liendo.
The Venezuelan Diaspora
Photo: Panorama retrieved.
“According to recent UN estimates, over three million citizens conform the newly-established Venezuelan diaspora, and 2018 has been the most intense year to date in what’s the greatest emigration wave in Latin American history.
No matter our background, current residence or success abroad, we the diaspora share both an unequivocal rejection of chavismo, and a bittersweet longing for a country that we’ll always call ‘home’, but we can’t help lose touch with. It’s extremely painful to hear about the humanitarian crisis and the grotesque depths of the Maduro autocracy, more so endure it from a foreign nation, being forced to live the ‘here and now’ where people hardly understand our plight beyond mere ‘misery porn.’
Most frustrating of all, there’s the impotence of realizing there’s little we can do, other than strive to push through in our new homes, hoping the world meets our real nation and culture, not the red-stained nightmare of chavismo foreigners usually associate us with.”
– Daniel Urdaneta.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.