Venezuela: Populism must be sweated | Opinion


A man passes on his bicycle in front of a mural with the image of the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, and Ernesto
A man passes on his bicycle in front of a mural with the image of the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, in Caracas.Ronald Peña (EFE)

Chavista populism is the most emblematic case for generating fear in continental politics. Sectors of the Venezuelan opposition maintain that if it happened to them, it could happen to anyone. But this is a false premise. Chávez managed to control all power, largely as a result of strategy errors by businessmen and sectors of the political opposition. The intolerance of the popularity of a mulatto who did not belong to the elites made the rush to remove him from power an endemic disease of the opponents. While other countries with a similar threat have contained or made progress against populism, Venezuela continues to worsen. The Venezuelan opposition had no patience, no sense of gradualism. They stuck to a short-term strategy with the all-or-nothing idea that has kept them running for 22 years to nowhere.

For years, those of us who have followed the Venezuelan opposition have focused on their condition as a victim and very little on assessing the serious impact their own mistakes have had. Knowing those mistakes is the most important lesson for the rest of the continent. In 2001, when Chávez was in government for less than two years, the businessmen decreed a civic strike that was followed by an attempted coup in April 2002. The coup was led by Pedro Carmona, president of the business chambers. In December of that same year, they began a strike at the PDVSA oil company that ended in February 2003 with more than 18,000 dismissals; in August 2004 they called for a recall that they lost. In 2005 they withdrew from the legislative elections, despite having 40% of the vote. The attempted military coup and the PDVSA strike left opponents without influence in the Armed Forces and in oil production. The recall was a reaffirmation of Chávez’s mandate and the withdrawal of the elections gave Chavismo total control of the Judicial Power, the Electoral Council and the Prosecutor’s Office.

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With high popularity, the military on his side, a lot of money and all the institutions in his hands, Hugo Chávez was able to do whatever he wanted in the face of a weak and fragmented opposition. Thus, he was re-elected with 62% of the vote in 2006. In this context, starting in 2007, not before, the Cuban occupation occurred and the socialism of the 21st century was born, which was half nostalgic Marxism and half revenge against businessmen and media. communication that they had tried to overthrow Chávez in his first government. In Venezuela, unlike Cuba, private property has never totally disappeared and expropriations on the scale of Chavismo were not repeated in the populist governments of Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua. There was never a clear anti-capitalist project, but there was a brutal struggle between the government and the private sector that left the businessmen defeated and the production plant dismantled. In other words, Venezuelan businessmen should never have led the political struggle against Chávez. Change is more difficult with a shattered economy than with an economy that continues to function. Survival crises immobilize people and expectations crises motivate them to improve. The paradox is that now Maduro is trying to restore capitalism.

The aforementioned errors contributed to the victimization, radicalization and strengthening of Chavismo. It is irrelevant to argue that Chávez already had plans to concentrate power and remain in office forever, because that does not justify anticipating. The populist Donald Trump did not want to leave either, and Jair Bolsonaro has said that his future is: “victory, prison or death.” Many presidents of the left or right would love to concentrate power, but the functioning of the institutions prevents them, even if they are very popular. The independence of powers and the neutrality of the Armed Forces are therefore crucial and this is what the Venezuelan opposition lost in just five years. The popularity of populists is slowly degrading, even if their rule is a disaster, because they are a consequence of the moral collapse of politics. People are angry and are slow to recognize that they are being deceived.

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Populism is revenge, it is born out of polarization, it considers itself a victim, it denies dialogue, it divides society into good and bad, it fosters conflict and considers that those who think differently should disappear. It is a mistake to face him with his own ideas and on the field where he is strong victimizing him, polarizing and dividing society more. This is what the Venezuelans did and fell into a vicious circle of desire for revenge and fear of revenge that now makes it difficult for some to leave power and for others to access it. It is a mistake to think that it would be better if those who believe in populism disappeared because the solution is to include everyone to end confrontation-polarization.

Latin America continues to be the region of the developing world with the greatest democratic progress. The institutions that were created in transition over the past century are imperfect, but they are working to contain authoritarian populist pretensions. Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Evo Morales in Bolivia had 60% of the vote. In Ecuador, Correísmo has been defeated twice, the first by its own party and the second by the opposition that now governs the country. In Bolivia, the opponents defeated the reelection of Morales, they are half of the power and they prevented an unpopular law from being passed. In Argentina, “Kirchnerist” populism has suffered two electoral defeats and will most likely lose power in 2023. Bolsonaro will surely lose the election in 2022. There was panic in Peru over the highly polarized election that the leftist Pedro Castillo won. but the counterweights are pushing it to the center. Fear is now moving to Chile, which will still elect a president under strong polarization. The possibilities of a ruler to concentrate power are directly proportional to the weakness of the institutions and Chile is a country with strong institutions. Something similar can be said about the elections in Colombia next year.

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In Honduras, the military overthrew the leftist Manuel Zelaya in 2009 as a populist and a Chavista. The result was a corrupt, authoritarian right-wing government linked to drug trafficking. Twelve years later, Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, won the elections. To populism it is better to sweat it, be patient, avoid the temptation of the enlightened who do not know how to wait and try to correct the error of the popular vote at all costs. The people are not taught, they learn. It is not about defeating an enemy, but about restoring tolerance, coexistence and reunifying the country. This may seem slow and difficult, but it is the only way to advance in democratic maturity. The Venezuelan opposition ran, stumbled and fell into a hole from which it did not finish emerging. In this matter, it is worth what José Alfredo Jiménez wisely said “it is not about getting there first, but about knowing how to get there”.

Joaquin Villalobos He is a consultant for the resolution of international conflicts.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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