Chavista Tears as Chávez's Legacy Turns to 'Savage Capitalism'

Ten years ago, Maduro announced his mentor was dead. Many things have changed since then, except that he remains the ruler of Venezuela

In order to commemorate the 10 years of Hugo Chávez’s death, chavismo organized the “World Meeting for the Validity of the Bolivarian Thought of Commander Chávez in the 21st Century.” The 3-day meeting, held in the cultural complex Teatro Teresa Carreño in Caracas,  summoned people from the upper echelon, like Nicolás Maduro, Diosdado Cabello, Vladimir Padrino López, Héctor Rodríguez, Tania Díaz and Ernesto Villegas, plus some leftist intellectuals as American Claudia de la Cruz, Brazilian Alberto Almeida and Mexican Fernando Buen Abad, who glorified the “anti-imperialist, humanist and socialist” Bolivarian revolution.

Former presidents, presidents and prime ministers like Rafael Correa, Evo Morales, Manuel Zelaya, Raul Castro, Roosevelt Skerrit (Dominica), the current Bolivian President Luis Arce, Ralph Gonsalves (Saint Vicente and the Grenadines) showed up in Caracas, while other figures of the Latin-American left such as Presidents Gustavo Petro, Alberto Fernandez, Gabriel Boric and Lula didn’t, maybe exposing the political rifts between the representatives of the progressive pink tide or the insignificance of this event.

The commemoration attempted to create the illusion that “chavismo keeps existing without him.” But, is it the same chavismo?

Inside the doors of the Teresa Carreño folks chanted “uh ah Chavez no se va” and the “Chávez Corazón del pueblo” song, but outside, Venezuela is steamrolling in a different direction. There’s a significant rift between what chavistas think (or say!) is Chávez’s legacy, and what it actually is. Although it shouldn’t surprise them that his socialist speech and policies turned into crony capitalism, as it usually happens. Orthodox chavista ideas would seem blatantly opposed to the current dollarization of the economy, the creation of the Special Economic Zones, the loosening of price controls and the casinos. 

An important part of chavismo harshly criticizes Maduro on the economic failures (grossly oversighting Chávez’s own hand in it), as anyone can see just by navigating Aporrea. Once a popular platform for chavistas to exchange and publish political articles, today is a phantom of what it was and is not able to gather more than the last circles of hardliners inside the movement, to the point of having been censored many times by the ministry of telecommunications.

Rafael Ramirez, the president of PDVSA for 10 years under Chavez (the same guy who dismantled PDVSA’s workforce and is suspected of siphoning millions of dollars out of the company), wrote in Aporrea on March 5th that “Chavez is no longer here, and every day the Madurismo buries, disappears and defaces him, fading away his strong revolutionary content, pretending to convert him in a cartoon… If we would do an imagination exercise and Chavez would be among us today, he would surely take the whip to cleanse the merchants from the temple. Of course he would go and compare Chávez to Jesus.

Another columnist said “commander Chavez was confined solely to iconic dates, to yell empty and hypocritical slogans in his name.” Another wrote: “Maduro knew how to deceive Chavez and he shat himself on the people’s soul. He betrayed Chavez and betrayed the Venezuelan people.” Yeah, Maduro “deceived” Chávez.

The commemoration of the caudillo’s passing illustrates the ideological incongruences of chavismo, but most of all that the movement has been willing to dismiss its own ideology in favor of keeping power. But, was there ever an ideology? Like a devious chameleon, the regime uses all sorts of narratives (left/right, liberal/conservative or any combination of these) as long as they are useful to cling to power. That’s why even if they identify as hardcore socialists they court ultra conservative Christian groups. That’s why the government keeps on referring to Chávez as a messianic figure while they remove the messiah’s iconography from the streets. 

They may be tearing down the original essence of the movement peu à peu, but for a while it’s all about preserving power, whatever it takes, even doing away with the revolution as we knew it.