It is never too late for us, critical Latin American intellectuals, to recognize the authoritarianism of the Venezuelan government. There are already enough reasons for us “progressive” Latin American academics to publicly assume the “closure” of the regime, and to take it into account when analyzing possible solutions to the “catastrophic” Venezuela.
Maintaining silence or preserving formal – sometimes uncritical – support for the Nicolás Maduro regime does nothing to break the deadlock.
CRITICISM OF THE VENEZUEL PROCESS
It is understood that the question is difficult to face. Much of the beauty and excitement took place in Venezuela in the early years of Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution. A new constitution broadened social rights and made way for mechanisms of direct democracy and popular participation. Social investments and mobilization campaigns – the Missions – have significantly reduced poverty, eradicated illiteracy and increased access to health care.
Thousands of spaces for participatory democracy have been built: Communal Councils, which in their early years had the participation of the majority of the population, including members of the opposition. In the field of international relations, the objective was to build an alternative to American domination in the Caribbean region, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (Alba).
Moreover, there is a great fear that in criticizing the Chavismo it will slip into arguments that should be avoided at all costs – or be mistaken for those who have always used them.
I would cite at least two bad arguments, which complement each other. The first is the charge of “populism”, always leveled against any leader who seeks a direct relationship with the masses, bypassing liberal mechanisms of representation.
Populism is an empty concept of combat that is generally used to delegitimize the adversary. It barely masks the popular fear of those who accuse someone of populism, the demophobia of those who hope that politics will always be channeled through the institutions of liberal democracy. Here I come to the second bad argument against Chavismo: the limited view of democracy, which for many boils down to rules and procedures for organizing political conflict between elite groups. Popular participation, the smell of the people, mobilization, politics in the streets. Here is the terror of these people.
THE END OF DEMOCRACY
We understand then why we are so afraid to criticize the Chavismo. Most of his critics have been elitist and authoritarian for more than two decades, and argue against him from that perspective. With this, we have long underlined or criticized in a low voice serious problems such as the deepening of dependence on oil (the “rentismo” of the Venezuelan state), or the increasing militarization of government personnel.
In any case, reliable elections were organized, verified by international organizations, opposition spaces were preserved – almost all the major Venezuelan dailies and television channels at the time -, and Chavismo was effectively legitimized by majority vote.
Until 2015, when an authoritarian drift began with more evidence. After the disappearance of leader Chavez in 2013 and the worsening of the economic crisis caused by the fall in the price of a barrel of oil and serious problems in the administration of the state, the oppositions won a qualified majority in the legislative elections – two-thirds of the Assembly. With this, they could reform the Constitution and block the government, signaling the beginning of the end of the Bolivarian process.
The government’s option was then to react and apply successive “blows” through the institutions in order to survive, to maneuver through the institutional shortcomings it had and the support of the state apparatus it still had. in the Executive, the Judiciary and the Armed Forces. Successive distorted interpretations of the Constitution have been adopted in order to keep Chavez in power.
Among other things, the election of opposition MPs was canceled in order to prevent the oppositions from maintaining a qualified majority in the Legislative Assembly; all subterfuge has been used to delay and ultimately avoid the convening of a recall referendum, for which sufficient signatures have been collected; and a “Constituent Assembly” was convened – which ultimately came to naught – just to overtake the majority opposition Legislative Assembly.
In this way, Venezuelan democracy degenerated, regardless of the meaning of the concept used. Even though I defend the thesis that democracy can take many forms, that it is much more than institutions – and that certain institutions with which it has been confused -, I cannot accept that democracy means “rule of the minority. “.
And this is what the Chavismo is today: a regime that remains in power representing the minority of the Venezuelan people, through elections without independent verification that no longer legitimize it, elections to which the majority does not accept participate. If in a democracy a new majority is formed, the new minority must admit defeat. Since 2015, Maduro has not shown that he is considering this possibility.
The fact is that in any case the oppositions do not manage to constitute themselves as a reliable alternative, after several attempted coup d’etat and episodes of non-recognition of the rules of the game also on their part. It doesn’t help that part of the opposition is associated with the trump card and the portfolio, defending the military invasion of their own country and led by a self-proclaimed “president”. No other outcome is foreseen for a left or actually popular opposition.
DIALOGUE AS A KEY TO OVERCOME THE ENDLESS CRISIS
In a dance of death between a Chavismo which has already shown that it will do anything to stay in power – and which maintains military support – and various oppositions which struggle between coup, abstention and finally dialogue, Venezuela is experiencing a “draw” catastrophic ”.
In this situation where diametrically opposed forces are blocked, a humanitarian crisis advances with hunger, flight to the borders of Colombia and Brazil, and precarious boat crossings to Trinidad and Tobago.
If the catastrophic draws are resolved relatively quickly, the Venezuelan seems to turn into a never-ending crisis. It is difficult to find a way out, given the protracted economic crisis, the health crisis, deep polarization, sabotage and the seditious role of destabilizing external actors such as Trumpism, the Organization of American States and the governments of America. ‘Iván Duque and Jair Bolsonaro.
If there is a possible solution, it will be in the long term: dialogues, dialogues and more dialogues, mediated by unbalanced international actors.
We hope that at some point in this history all this blocked potential for popular participation will be resumed, all this accumulated participatory learning will be expressed, this sleeping revolutionary flame of hope will be rediscovered somewhere in this beautiful country.