How Chavismo Stopped Connecting

One of Venezuela's top media scholars, Andrés Cañizalez, finds the influence of 'cadenas'—mandatory chain broadcasts—is in freefall, and regime propaganda less influential than ever before. How did Jorge Rodríguez lose his mojo?

Photo: El Plural, retrieved.

“You’re a machine of unfulfilled-promises,” says Jordi Évole right to Nicolás Maduro’s face.

It’s the cherry on top of a dialectic clobbering that the dictator is taking, after he’s shown, one by one, that each thing he promised was just rhetoric, after the Spanish journo tells him, with numbers, just how bad the nation has degraded under his mismanagement.

“You always blame foreign forces for your failures,” Évole says.

“Well, we’re under an economic war…”

“You see?”

Years ago, Venezuelan presidents ceased to give interviews to Venezuelan journalists that don’t belong to disciplined PSUV-controlled public media; the next step for both Chávez and Maduro was to sit down only with foreign journalists they knew were on their side. That had to be the assumption about Jordi Évole, anchor of the Antena 3 show Salvados: Maduro should have expected to use him as a tool to pressure Spanish government about Madrid’s plans to recognize Guaidó.

The surprise was that Évole, without being hostile, is there to do real journalism. He just asks real questions, and insists on getting real answers. The beatdown is so bad, that Jorge Rodríguez has to walk-in to try to end the exchange.

As we watched the Interview Chainsaw Massacre, we could only wonder, is this seriously the spectacle Maduro was so eager to show us?

As we watched the Interview Chainsaw Massacre, we could only wonder, is this seriously the spectacle Maduro was so eager to show us?

2019 has been rough for chavismo and its propaganda apparatus. Ever since deputy Guaidó assumed his constitutional role as caretaker President, Team Red has agonized between the need to lash out, and the fear of the consequences. Within those constraints, chavismo is trying to wage war against this revived opposition on the media battlefield, and it isn’t going too well.

“Yesterday,” professor Cañizalez explains, “you could ban a politician from TV, and that would tank his career. Today, chavismo has practically banned Guaidó from all mainstream media and they still can’t stop him.”

Andrés Cañizalez, media scholar, Medianálisis CEO and communicational expert, believes that the reason why the communicational hegemony is in this PR nightmare is a mixture between the opposition’s pressure and its own decay:

“That’s why Communications Vice-President, Jorge Rodríguez, can’t get a chance: under its own weight, chavismo has eroded itself. It didn’t happen at once, it was a slow process and they’re no longer the media reference they used to be. In the face of this new, fresh leadership by Juan Guaidó, chavismo relies on its classical tools of character assassination, but even the Guaidó-Cabello meeting video came back to bite them.”

You must have seen it. First, Diosdado Cabello said he had evidence of a meeting that Guaidó denied happening several times. When Rodríguez showed a video with a guy in a hoodie (not incontrovertible evidence that it was indeed the caretaker president) the #GuaidóChallenge was born: the people openly mocking the dictatorship. Even American Senator Marco Rubio and Spanish pop star Miguel Bosé joined the viralized joke.

Not only did the whole world laugh, the message still today in public opinion is, “I hope it was really Guaidó in that hoodie, because then he fooled them.

“Despite lacking mainstream media support,” professor Cañizalez says, “the caretaker president counts with such support from the public that people forgive him for what in other moment, in another figure, would’ve been a cardinal sin. Chavismo can’t effectively answer to that with its old tricks, and that’s why their media strategy needs to flow in a different direction.”

That different direction isn’t flying well, either. Nicolás Maduro and his team have dedicated hours upon hours to be on TV, trying to look normal and hand-in-hand with the military, leading to embarrassing instances of chavista-backers openly mocking Diosdado Cabello (in his presence) and the “strongman” himself, obviously overweight, trying to run among soldiers and accidentally legitimizing Guaidó.

Today, chavismo has practically banned Guaidó from all mainstream media and they still can’t stop him.

And even mandatory broadcasts in free-to-air radio & TV are failing. For Cañizalez, whose NGO has researched the issue, “cadenas lost their effectiveness as a mechanism to construct a narrative.”

It makes you wonder, as Évole does, do these guys really live in a bubble where they lack perspective on how they’re actually coming across? Is Jorge Rodríguez living in a perennial 2006, where he could say anything about oppo leaders and the whole nation would take the bait? Did he think that their position is solid enough to discard the risk of facing a legit interview from a leftist Spanish TV figure?

“It’s the only thing he has, though,” Cañizalez says. “First, he insists hard on his status as president, that’s why we got banners on January 10th, saying ‘I’m the president.’ He’s worked hard to find legitimacy and, by appearing so much with the military, his message is ‘I have control of the weapons, I have control of the violence,’ which is really the quid of this whole struggle.”

“Chavismo, today, has crossed a point of no-return, where it is, and shows itself, as a military dictatorship. Maduro’s actual support is the military and when he says it and repeats it, he’s showing off the nature of his regime. If a transition isn’t achieved soon in Venezuela, we’ll be looking at a frontally militarized government that has no interest in appearing democratic, because it showed its true colors and got away with it.”

And in such a scenario, the propaganda behemoth that was so instrumental to chavismo to get and keep power, will no longer be necessary. Only weapons will talk.