Are Venezuelans Leaning Right?

On Venezuelan social media, Vox and Trump’s conservative policies are catching on. But testimonies and surveys on the actual street say otherwise.

VEN04. CARACAS (VENEZUELA), 15/08/2017 - Fotografía del 14 de agosto de 2017, de la dirigente opositora venezolana María Corina Machado durante una entrevista con Efe en Caracas (Venezuela). María Corina Machado, cuyo movimiento político se ha separado de la Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), se mantiene firme, en una entrevista con Efe, en que lo único que se puede negociar con el Gobierno es la salida del presidente Nicolás Maduro. Machado insiste además en que no ha sido su organización, Vente Venezuela, la que se ha apartado de la alianza opositora, sino otros partidos, en respuesta a su papel en la ruptura, motivada por la decisión de la MUD de presentarse a las elecciones regionales de octubre. EFE/Miguel Gutiérrez
Photo: El País, retrieved.

The answer is “no” and you may wonder why. 

Why, after 20 years of populist authoritarianism turned into criminal tyranny, we haven’t switched perspective? According to the noise on social media, the right has gained some ground in Venezuela, but that’s an illusion. It’s true that there are people asking for the illegalization of political parties promoting socialism and communism; it’s true that Donald Trump and phenomena like Vox in Spain generate enthusiasm among some Venezuelans, especially those in Spain, the U.S. and Canada; it’s true that there’s a little of everything in the Venezuelan right, from disruptive bots insulting anything barely leftist to legitimate opinions from citizens and scholars defending their inclination, free markets and individual freedoms.

Truth is that Venezuelan society as a whole isn’t further right than it was 20 years ago. A large portion of the country, which is even poorer now because of chavismo and even more dependent on Maduro’s crumbs, keeps waiting for the “country’s wealth” to be better distributed. Chávez fed that preexisting hope, especially during the oil boom that allowed giving cash and goods away, creating the mirage of equal petrodollar distribution. By playing the avenger, Chávez also rooted among poor Venezuelans the old idea that the country needs a messiah, a leader to save them from misery. Even when chavismo’s policies have meant the destruction of the economy, healthcare services and the country’s infrastructure, this idea is stronger than ever. 

20 years of chavismo have consolidated positions that move between redistributive paternalism and a center-left consensus.

Let’s look at Venezuelans’ political preferences and the speeches of most opposition parties and leaders. The only option presenting itself clearly as right-wing, led by María Corina Machado, only has the support of a very small part of society, varying between 6.3% and 1,3%. All the other parties move in the spectrum from authoritarian left (PSUV) to social democracy or center-left (Acción Democrática, Voluntad Popular and Primero Justicia,) with 39% of support from Venezuelans. 49% of Venezuelans don’t identify themselves with any party. If we analyze the discourse of opposition politicians, including Juan Guaidó’s, we can see how they all present different versions of a social democratic position, closer to the center-left than to the center-right. 

Now, many right-wing ideas have indeed penetrated the Venezuelan public sphere. Consider the relevance that has among certain people the works of Carlos Rangel, particularly his “Del buen salvaje al buen revolucionario” (1976.) They’ve wanted to turn Rangel into a prophet of the right, pro-market, when in reality part of his book compliments Acción Democrática and its policy to contain the advances of the totalitarian left during the ’60s. However, the perspectives of people like Rangelor the Trump-inspired agitation in social media of our timeshave been unable to break the mainstream political mindset in Venezuela. More than producing mass rejection towards leftist populism, 20 years of chavismo have consolidated positions that move between redistributive paternalism and a center-left consensus.

So, for further disappointment of the right’s most belligerent speakers, we’re far from a substantial change in Venezuelans’ political preferences. Almost five million Venezuelans have left the country, choosing exile, hard jobs and terrible conditions over the regime’s patronage, but that doesn’t mean they’ve all switched political views. 

Many who are escaping the devastation produced by chavismo voted for Chávez repeatedlyand even for Maduro. Even if they reject chavismo now, how many still perceive the government as a benefactor that must grant them access to wealth?