Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

The Caracas Chronicles Glossary

For years, people have asked us for a glossary of terms to understand our posts because of the use and abuse of Venezuelanisms. Here’s a tool to help you chart a course in the confusing waters of Venezuelan politics

A

Acción Democrática: one of Venezuela’s oldest parties. Acción Democrática was founded by Rómulo Betancourt (who’s considered to be the “father of Venezuelan democracy”) in 1941, under the banner of social democracy. Before chavismo, it was the party to beat. Its secretary-general is Henry Ramos Allup, and he has held on to that post for almost 20 years. Acronym in Spanish: AD.

Arco Minero: Mining Arc, a region north of Guayana created and parcelled by the Maduro regime to give gold concessions. Maybe the most savage show of extractivism in Venezuelan history: a gold rush in the hands of generals and mafias, deeply damaging in environmental and social terms.

Arepa: ancestral cornbread, beloved by almost all Venezuelans. It’s most commonly made with Empresas Polar’s PAN flour, more available in the U.S. and Colombia than in Venezuela, so it has become a symbol of the conflict between chavismo and entrepreneurship, as well as an identity marker of the reach of Venezuelan diaspora around the world.  

Armed Forces: regular troops, “FANB” in Spanish, for Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana. Full of generals, poor in resources, mostly able to control Venezuelans (with the help of colectivos and police), unable to face a foreign threat. After 40 years of submission to civilian power, the military recovered with Chávez its influence on Venezuelan society, and chavismo cannot be understood without them. Cuban and Iranian spies keep them closely watched, and they’re used to cohabitation with Colombian guerrillas and mafia lords. The population mostly deals with the hated National Guard; the other components are Army, Navy, Air Force, and Militias.

B

Bolivar: Venezuela’s official currency (squashed by the dollar since 1983). People often remember a time when the bolivar was 4.30 on the dollar. Today, it’s almost impossible to establish a comparison to those times. During chavismo, the bolivar has suffered two redenominations: First, in 2008, they eliminated three zeros; later, in 2018, they slashed five more. Needless to say, it didn’t work. Acronym in Spanish: Bs., quite appropriate. Under the first redenomination it was BsF., and under the second it’s BsS.

Simón Bolívar: in the ‘90s, the first line in Encyclopedia Encarta’s entry on Bolívar read: The Venezuelan George Washington. Although many Venezuelans may say it’s the other way around (because our Washington “liberated” five countries and almost succeeded in unifying a big chunk of the continent), the truth is that today Bolívar is closer to a Venezuelan Mickey Mouse. He’s everywhere.

Bolivarian: although it was originally associated with those who studied and followed the thoughts of Bolívar, chavismo appropriated the term and fatally linked it to Chávez and corruption. 

Boliburgués (Bolibourgeoisie): chavistas who became ridiculously wealthy through government corruption.

Bolichicos: which translates into Bolikids, refers to a group of “young entrepreneurs” from wealthy Venezuelan families (old money, mostly) who got in bed with the Bolibourgeoisie and siphoned billions of dollars out of the public treasure through oil and power contracts.  

C

Cadenas: mandatory government TV broadcasts.

CADIVI: there aren’t many things in the Universe as complex as the history of the chavista exchange control system. The only constant is that, regardless of the number of acronyms of all the different variations chavismo has given it since 2003, people still call it by its original name: CADIVI. It’s probably the chavista policy that has had the biggest impact on Venezuelan life. Acronyms in Spanish: CADIVI, SIMADI, SITME, SICAD, DICOM, CENCOEX, SIMECA. 

El Cafetal: a middle-class neighborhood in East Caracas, also considered the bastion of hardline opposition. Ni un paso atrás.

Caretaker President: People really hate us for this one, a controversial term from every single angle you look at it. First, many are inclined to call Juan Guaidó “interim President,” but the truth is he’s not. The concept of interim President doesn’t exist in Venezuelan law. Since Maduro’s presidential election of May 2018 was illegal and there was no norm to regulate the situation, the AN applied Article 233 of the Constitution by analogy. The article establishes that, until a new election can be organized, “the Speaker of the National Assembly will be in charge of the presidency.” The correct term in English, according to international law and practices, is “caretaker president”.

Carómetro: Venezuelans became proficient in reading the faces of politicians on TV while waiting for delayed electoral results. An utterly useless talent as the result would invariably be the same. English translation (just in case, you never know): Face-o-meter. 

Chávez: Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, a lieutenant colonel who tried to topple President Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992 with an unsuccessful military coup, and who eventually won the 1998 presidential elections. He was also an amateur baseball player, a talk show host, and a tyrant. The Allfather of chavismo.

Chavismo: everything that englobes the cult of Chávez. Also, The Chavezverse: the Maduro administration, government supporters, PSUV, the military, armed colectivos, and dissident and heartbroken chavistas. The Fifth Republic. A state of mind.

Colectivos: usually refers to armed colectivos which are urban paramilitary groups that control certain neighborhoods in Venezuela, and serve as shock troops to chavismo and as enforcers of government control.

Communicational Hegemony: refers to the network of media organizations owned or controlled by the state and the publicly announced mission of this apparatus: to dominate the public sphere, obliterating all discourse not controlled by chavismo.

National Constituent Assembly: a body formed in June 2018 through an illegal election, supposedly tasked with writing a new Constitution. Chavismo used it to usurp some functions from the AN, and to try to form laws they needed, since they didn’t control the parliament anymore. In practice, it’s pretty much useless since the international community and chavismo’s foreign partners don’t consider the laws it enacts as valid. There’s no evidence that one word of a new Constitution has been drafted. Acronym in Spanish: ANC

Copei: Venezuela’s social-Christian party, and AD’s counterpart in the era of two-party rule. In 2015, the TSJ intervened the party and chose an ad hoc board of directives, which led to its “undignified death”. 

Corpoelec: national power utility, made after years of centralization and nationalization. One of the most recognizable symbols of the state’s incompetence

D

Diosdado: Diosdado Cabello is the yang to Maduro’s ying. He sat at Chávez’s right hand and watched when he said goodbye and anointed Maduro as his successor. Today, he’s head of the ANC, a talk show host, an alleged drug trafficker, PSUV big-wig, and one of the most powerful and feared men in the country.

F

Fedecámaras: the federation of business chambers, with an influence equivalent to the size of the private economy and the attention it receives from the Maduro regime: zero. Related to Fedecámaras are Venancham (Venezuelan-American business chamber), Conindustria (the manufacturers), and Fedenagas (private agribusiness and cattle raisers).  

The Fourth Republic (La Cuarta): the period between 1958 and 1998 in Venezuelan politics, dubbed “the Fourth Republic” by chavismo. Others call it “the years of democracy”, because it transpired between the time dictator Marcos Pérez Jimenez was toppled and the year when Hugo Chávez was first elected. Historians don’t use this term and the neologisms related to it; in fact, we’re still on the Third Republic, created in 1830, after the Spanish rulers crushed the First in 1812 and the Second in 1815. 

The Fifth Republic (La Quinta): also known as The Chávez Era. 20 years and counting.

The Sixth Republic (La Sexta): let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

G

G4: The four parties with more deputies in the AN: AD, UNT, VP, and PJ. 

Juan Guaidó: the Speaker of the AN, who currently holds the caretaker presidency of the Republic. Technically, the first millennial President of Venezuela.

The Government: we struggle with this concept. It’s hard to call Maduro’s regime “the government” because, legally, it’s not. Its latest election was a fraud (and there are many elements to say that so was the first one too, but that’s an even more complicated conversation). But then again, calling the Guaidó administration “the government” feels like faking dementia sometimes, because Maduro controls the territory and is still able to enforce some “acts of government” inside the country.

H

Humanitarian emergency: the term employed by NGOs, some governments, and international organizations to describe the confluence of poverty, food insecurity, lack of services, economic collapse, and health issues that the majority of Venezuelans endure.

M

Maduro: coñuetumadre. Nicolás Maduro was one of Chávez’s oldest collaborators: “the bus-driver-turned-president,” according to chavista mythology, a union leader bureaucrat who started campaigning for el Comandante’s release from prison (after the 1992 coup) and rose through the ranks until he became Foreign Minister. Chávez picked him as his successor and he has been ruling the country ever since.

The Maduro Regime: there are certain things we dare not speak of, because they might bring bad luck or simply because of kabbalah, but many Venezuelans have a problem with saying “Maduro government”. It’s not a government! Or is it? 

N

National Assembly: the legal legislature. Yes, legal, it must be said. See Constituent Assembly and Parallel AN Board. Acronym in Spanish: AN. 

O

Opposition: there’s an argument in favor of saying that the opposition is everything that isn’t chavismo. It’s sort of what the Venezuelan political landscape would look like if chavismo didn’t exist, with all its problems, ideological diversity, and mix of characters and motivations. It encompasses almost all political parties besides PSUV, many of which have been declared illegal by chavismo. Venezuelan opposition parties share one fatal flaw with PSUV: their leaders rarely change.   

P

Parallel AN Board: early in January 2020, when Juan Guaidó’s first term as Speaker of the AN was due, chavismo and a dissident faction of the opposition voted for deputy Luis Parra as the new Speaker (while Guaidó was being held at the doors of parliament). It was an illegal act approved by the Maduro administration, but this board never held any kind of authority. On May 26th, 2020, the Maduro controlled TSJ ruled that the election of the Parallel AN Board was legitimate.

Venezuelan President: it’s complicated. See Caretaker President, Maduro.

Primero Justicia: probably the largest opposition party. In spirit, many believe Primero Justicia carries Copei’s social-Christian torch. It was registered as a party in 2000 by a generation of young leaders who are today at the top of opposition politics, including Julio Borges, Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo López, and Gerardo Blyde. Main figures: Julio Borges, Henrique Capriles. Acronym in Spanish: PJ.

PDVSA: Venezuela’s state-owned oil company. It went from being one of the biggest oil companies in the world to being in shambles.

PSUV: the United Socialist Party of Venezuela is the final iteration of Hugo Chávez’s political project. 

R

The Rodríguez Siblings: Jorge and Delcy Rodríguez are a mix between telenovela evil twins and Bond villains. Jorge’s a psychiatrist who now has a key role—a Goebbels-like role—in government communications. 

S

Sanctions: since the Obama administration, the U.S. has been imposing sanctions on individuals and certain organizations associated with human rights violations, corruption, and drug trafficking. During the Trump administration, these sanctions have gotten gradually tougher to the point of prohibiting U.S. persons and entities to hold any dealings with the Venezuelan state.

Supreme Tribunal: formerly known as the Venezuelan Supreme Court, it’s the highest court in Venezuela, instrumental in the dismantling of political institutions (since the ‘90s). Acronym in Spanish: TSJ.

Supreme Tribunal in exile: After the TSJ and the former chavista AN appointed a group of 13 justices by committing constitutional fraud, the AN decided to appoint a new group of judges to replace them. These appointments provoked a wave of arrests, as ordered by the other (illegal) TSJ, and most of the designated justices left the country, setting up the Supreme Tribunal in exile, eventually recognized as the true TSJ by the AN. Acronym in Spanish: TSJx (yeap, seriously).

U

Un Nuevo Tiempo: Maracucho spinoff of AD. Acronym in Spanish: UNT.

V

Voluntad Popular: a spinoff of PJ, founded by Leopoldo López. Acronym in Spanish: VP.

Venezuelans: a proud and self-deprecating people. We were told oil and Bolívar guaranteed a destiny of prosperity and heroism: now, the closer thing to heroism is the struggle of millions of people to stay alive in a complete absence of prosperity.

Venezolana de Televisión: Venezuela ‘s main state-owned TV channel. Acronym in Spanish: VTV.

Venezuela: saudade.

This document will be updated regularly.