The Illusion of the 2013 Historic Crossroads

In the bleak political mood of 2023, Henrique Capriles tries to reset his image with a film, suggesting a sort of return to the moment when things went the wrong way

In the old times this would’ve been a book—though Henrique Capriles considered a memoir, years ago. In this chronically audiovisual era, more prone to shallow “content” than to deep storytelling, the politician who came the closest to defeating chavismo in a presidential race, made three 20-minute YouTube videos to finally address what happened ten years ago when he ran against Maduro: an event that has divided Venezuelans between those who believe that he gave away an election that he won and chavismo won and those who think he avoided bloodshed by calling back protests at the time.

The fact that the videos are uncredited—we are not told who produced and directed, although they do have high production values—which contributes to the idea that more than documentary they are propaganda spots. In fact, Capriles & Co. don’t seem to try to hide the fact: after all, he’s running for the opposition primaries. The 10th anniversary of these events and the release of the Capriles mini series come at an interesting time: seven days after the death of Tibisay Lucena, who was a recurring character as the then-president of the electoral board; and a few days before Juan Guaidó, a rival of Capriles, appears to start his life as an exile through a confusing series of announcements and accusations between him and the Petro administration, in the broader context of a paralyzed negotiation between the Maduro regime and the U.S.

Our dear Naky carves deep in a brilliant review on her blog, by suggesting that Capriles is disturbingly polite about Chávez and Maduro (ever dreaming with seducing chavista voters) and irresponsibly oblivious of the country’s current context. I agree with Naky, but the focus here is the context of another era, from December 2012 to April 2013.  

Capriles’s version, in summary, goes like this: he sacrificed himself to be the candidate after Chávez’s death because no one else would take on the challenge; that there was foul play in the elections; and that, yeah, we still can do it.  But the main subject here is the deep, painful, collective grievance that has spoiled his image since 2013, and keeps fueling his disapproval rates in the polls: that many people blame Capriles for not having the smarts (or the balls) to collect a victory that was his (“ours”) against Maduroe in the 2013 presidential elections. With these videos, framed as “the true story of what happened on April 14th, 2013,” he expects to counter that enduring oppositionist dogma. 

That Capriles won in 2013 but didn’t collect is a myth, for it is based on an assumption that is not likely to become a proven fact.

We’ll never know for sure, given the corrupt nature of the electoral referee and the de facto advantages enjoyed by Maduro, if Capriles could have obtained proof that he had won. So one can decide what to believe, whether Capriles defeated Maduro or not: and lots of people decided to believe, to this day, that Capriles really could have imposed his will over the chavista regime but ultimately proved to be a pendejo.

This follows a classic opposition pattern of collective hysteria, where a new champion is charged with the highest expectations before being transformed, overnight, into a loser. We saw it with Capriles in 2013 and with Guaidó in 2019. This is a tenacious behavior, because in retrospect it serves to shape a massive frustration, and therefore it’s hard to beat. Capriles will need way more than well-done videos to replace that story with the one he wants to prevail.  

So far, it appears that he’s failing with this piece of propaganda. He’s not saying anything he hasn’t said already. He’s not introducing any powerful, fresh idea that could change the conversation or alter the mood of definitive defeat that most Venezuelans show in the polls and their current relationship with anything that resembles politics. Maybe he will end up running again in 2024, in conditions even worse than the ones we had in 2013, when chavismo still had money to spend. But he’s unable to reconnect the nation we are today, inside and outside the physical country, with the nation we were ten years ago. In fact, as Naky reminds Capriles, 2013 is gone, lost, and it won’t come back.   

This has made me think in the tempting illusion of the historical crossroads: a moment where a nation decides to go one way or another, in an imaginary junction that we can envision in the future (and presented as a life-or-death instant: “we must vote because this is the last chance we have to recover our country”) or revisit from the past, to explore the dismissed possibilities, the paths not taken. What would have happened if we chose differently in that crossroads?

Fiction abounds in productive approaches of such a narrative device, from episodes of The Twilight Zone to novels that imagine a fascist United States, like Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America or Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. In Venezuela, a different kind of work, Francisco Suniaga’s great novel El pasajero de Truman, had a big success by feeding on the illusion of the historical crossroads by telling the story of the madness of Diógenes Escalante, the civilian candidate that maybe would have avoided the rise of the Pérez Jiménez military generation in 1945 if he had been able to run in an election.

I feel that Henrique Capriles is trying to offer that he can take us back to the crossroads of 2013 and lead us through a different path. He wants us to hope that we can restore the route we were supposed to enter ten years ago. 

We all know we won’t get back the lives, wealth, pride and knowledge we lost, but Capriles seems to embrace the illusion of the historical crossroads to invite us to vote for him in a new one in 2024. If we vote, and we unite around him, as Capriles and the rest of the interviewees suggest, we can produce the Cambio we didn’t get in 2013, before so much violence, hunger, death and exile. 

But, flaco, no. It isn’t so simple. We’re not the same. And the metaphor of the crossroads doesn’t fit with the landscape we’re facing ten years later: a nation that shrank where greatness is inconceivable, where instead of clear roads to choose we only have the dusty trochas that so many of us used to flee once our hopes were broken, maybe forever.