Photo: ABC, retrieved.
Will everyone who left come back?
When people in Venezuela say that everyone who left will come back when the dictatorship ends and everyone will hug each other in Maiquetía Airport, they’re simplifying to the edge of indifference a phenomenon that involves several millions of people, each one of them with a particular motive for leaving.
That an immigrant would eventually return depends on what’s more convenient after all is said and done. It also depends on whether they actually have the choice of staying; sometimes the husband wants to come back but the wife doesn’t, or vice versa; parents want to come back, but the children don’t, and so on. Many factors are involved in these types of decisions and they don’t have to be linked to the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.
Some are already coming back, and some are living in Venezuela but will leave in the future. Venezuela turned into a nation that emigrates and that won’t change. More than the idealized image of five million prodigal sons and daughters flooding the borders in the democratic dawn, we should consider what the transformations that the reality of our exodus will instil in the Venezuelan collective conscience.
What do we mean by “the end of the dictatorship”?
If we go by the polls that have come out in the past few months, 85% of the Venezuelan population rejects Maduro. But behind the shared desire of removing him from power, there’s no consensus on what we want to end and what to start. We can’t agree on the nature of what we usually call “change”.
That an immigrant would eventually return depends on what’s more convenient after all is said and done.
If by “change” we mean the end of the dictatorship and not just the correction of its economic performance, as it means for me and for a few others, then we’re talking about the beginning of a democratic transition: the alliance that holds the regime of Nicolás Maduro breaks, real elections are organized with international assistance, and the beginning of institutional and economic rebuilding comes forth, also with international support. This will be an immensely conflictive, difficult process that will go on for several years before we can say that, for better or worse, Venezuela is once again a democratic nation, with the constant threat of authoritarianism blooming from every ideological corner.
But it seems that, for some, the end of Maduro’s regime means solving the complicated humanitarian emergency and the economic collapse: in other words, hospitals become functional again, hyperinflation stops, the electricity supply becomes stable, we find a way to have a decent income that can eventually buy you a house or a car, etc. That’s it. Venezuela becomes a functioning country again, an idea that doesn’t include the democratic rebuild.
For others, it’s the idea of going back to the chavista oil boom, the consumer bubble, the cheap credits, the subsidies and benefits. The price controls that contributed to the economic collapse: the “store owners are abusing” prices, the foreign currency policies, the Cadivi illusion. As if Maduro’s dictatorship was only a distribution problem, and the problem is that Maduro is less generous than Chávez.
And there might even be some that hold on to the hope, even after all that has happened, that Venezuela will go back to what it was before 1998. As if chavismo never existed. As if that Venezuela—that I also miss, of course—was a paradise.
So we have a problem here: we imagine different things when we ask for the end of this dictatorship.
What do we want instead of Maduro: Democracy or dictatorship?
Among those looking for a “change,” within that 85% that wants Maduro gone, how many of us really want a democracy? How many want an open regime, with diverse political parties, fair rules that apply for everyone, with autonomous authorities, checks and balances, and a Parliament in the center of it, where even chavismo can participate, in a power struggle that’s truly regulated by the Constitution?
We imagine different things when we ask for the end of this dictatorship.
In that vast rejection towards Maduro—and I’m hugely concerned with this question because I don’t think I’ll like the answer—how many simply hold a grudge against him because he couldn’t provide what Chávez did? How many want a new Chávez that will avenge all the misgivings of chavismo and, like Chávez, will not focus on justice but on settling the score?
Will we want the poor to be taken care of, or will we blame them for chavismo?
It’s clear that many Venezuelans, including some who emigrated, miss the high income brought in by the chavista oil boom. It’s also clear that many Venezuelans, inside and abroad, label those that show any kind of concern for the poor as socialists and, therefore, chavistas.
They’re both expecting something that reality cannot give them. One side can’t count on a bankrupt state that won’t be able to spread out the subsidies and benefits as the broken-handed chavista Leviathan from ten years ago did, because oil prices can’t afford them and production levels are too low to generate the necessary income; the other side shouldn’t defend a model that leaves the underprivileged to their own luck, especially when there are so many more than in 1998, and poverty is more similar to what it used to be a hundred years ago, not just 20.
The question of what to do about the poverty explosion is a source of disagreement, a landscape where consensus seems impossible to reach.
Whatever we think, or whether we like it or not, there’s no way to bring the country back to the surface without facing the catastrophic poverty of the majority of the population. Not even the most pragmatic recovery path, a Chinese-inspired horizon with a growing economy but zero political change, can achieve the goal without at least recovering some of the purchasing capacity or the minimum ability to survive amid a large portion of Venezuelans. The scenario where absolutely nothing is done for the poor is what we have right now, the status quo, the dictatorship of Maduro. It means internal dissolution, exodus, violence, backwardness and pain.
However, the question of what to do about the poverty explosion is a source of disagreement, a landscape where consensus seems impossible to reach. Some think “Screw the poor, they gave Chávez the throne,” and some think “The only way out of this drama is more chavismo.” Between the two stand those who believe, for example, that in Venezuela the only way to bring down poverty rates is through a democratic transition, with a program that isn’t socialist or Trump-like liberal.
How we handle the mass impoverishment problem among the Venezuelan population will depend on political and economic factors in play during the regime that replaces Maduro, and the dilemma will echo in the rest of society.
What are we, Venezuelans, after 21 years of chavismo?
Still, the question of how Maduro would fall is valid. Because trying to answer it leads to political strategies.
After the inertia that shredded the democratic political ecosystem in the ‘90s, chavismo put the poverty issue on the table. It forced us to talk about it. We already know the results: a society that’s not only poorer, but starving. But besides our attitude towards poverty and inequality, did we become more solidary after 21 years of chavismo? Beyond our political orientation, have we become more aware of injustice and the need to end it? Or did we give in to social resentment and the old positivist dogmas that the Venezuelan people are useless by birth and poor because they want to?
How do we think the end of the regime can actually come?
At this point, is there any faith left on the “cease of usurpation, transition government, free elections” mantra? Or in the negotiations aided by foreign arbitration? Or even in an armed intervention that will break the alliance between the armed groups that surround Maduro?
With all that has happened since January 2019, it seems that the different scenarios for Maduro leaving have been vanishing. Each side not only despises the other, they also lose faith on their own. The discussion appears to have shifted over to who’s to blame for this new failure, in a new ruckus inside the opposition from which the regime always profits.
Still, the question of how Maduro would fall is valid. Because trying to answer it leads to political strategies. Guaidó and his people are trying to forge a new path, while others just blame him for the lack of results, instead of blaming the ones holding Maduro in place: the military.
Finally, will there really be a democratic transition in Venezuela?
Of course that the opposite question, maybe the nastiest of them all, also fits the bill, an open inquiry since the arch of hope that took flight in 2019: Do I leave, or do I stay and adapt to things I cannot change?
Maybe we need to look for shots of hope and focus on understanding the reality we have.
Can we still think about defeating the regime? This is what the regime wants us to stop wondering, and there are reasons to ask this without being called a divisionist, defeatist, collaborationist or traitor. Not daring to ponder on it doesn’t call off the fact that we have tried different ways and none have worked. The truth is that with repression, international support and their opponents’ weakness, the regime keeps winning in their only policy: hold on to power so the satraps can keep looting.
And no one seems to know how to get us out of this.
Maybe we need to look for shots of hope and focus on understanding the reality we have, instead of being stuck on daydreaming about what we wish we had. Put our feet on the ground, pay attention, and find answers to what we don’t want to ask ourselves.