Venezuela: Authoritarianism and its accomplices

By Armando Chaguaceda

Newsweek en Español.  March 25, 2014


Is a coup possible when the National Armed Forces, the National Guard, the Police, and the Intelligence Agency are instruments of the ruling party?

Authoritarianism is a way of doing politics where command comes before consensus, political power is concentrated to a leader or organism, emblematic institutions are undermined, independent discussion and participation are demeaned, political opposition is besieged or eliminated, and control over the electoral system whose intention is to transmit the will of the people, is obtained. This approach may take on diverse ideological attires –even opposed ones– and appear amidst multiple historical contexts, as Latin America’s experience has proved over the past two centuries.

Having said this, let´s be honest: today, Venezuela exists under an openly authoritarian regime.

In that country, the democratic and progressive mandate of the Constitution of 1999 has been replaced by a political form of action that increases control over local powers, limits any form of autonomous organizing, and criminalizes every form of political opposition and social protest. A government that insists in an alleged popular support expressed through elections, when now that support barely represents a slim advantage –of 1.5% in the last presidential elections– over its opponents. If we forget that the enjoyment of (certain) popular support, the celebration of (unequal) elections, and the existence of an (infringed) Constitution are compatible with authoritarian and dictatorial governments, we have the examples set by Somoza, Pinochet and Fujimori as a reminder.

Cabello, Maduro, and company call their opponents “golpistas” (coup organizers), but in as much as this term is befitting to those who do not acknowledge the will of the people, and violate governing laws and institutions, then the current Venezuelan government is an outstanding disciple of those who, in 2002, interrupted the constitutional order, overthrowing Hugo Chávez for 48 hours. Their way of acting is golpista when they kidnap the different levels of government in benefit of one political party, when they do away with the prerogatives of governors and mayors –slashing their budgets and appointing parallel government structures, when they physically abuse or deny the right of speech to opposing Parliament members elected by half of the people. When they establish a discourse filled with warlike allusions (battle, campaign, enemy) and disqualify others using racist or homophobic terms.

Analyzed by a fairly informed observer, the propaganda in Caracas falls apart like a house of cards. Is a coup possible when the National Armed Forces, the National Guard, the Police, and the Intelligence Agency –all Bolivarian by name and political ascription– are instruments of the ruling party, benefiting from the largest budgets and political prominence in Venezuelan history? Take a look at the origins of the top brass of the national government and the regional powers controlled by it, and you will find –amongst a few civilians from the old left and some converted celebrities– a constellation of epaulettes.

Is there a “media fence” when the six state-owned and the four privately-owned TV channels with national coverage all stick to the government’s informational guidelines and censorship, to the point where the opposing half of the country and its leaders can’t be found in the broadcast programming? Who holds the communication hegemony, when the only non-subordinated platform –the printed news media– has its days numbered as a result of financial drowning, legal fencing and the rationing of newsprint imports? What if not an enormous propaganda-filled monologue do the 44 regional TV and 264 radio stations in hands of the government broadcast? And what truly democratic president would launch a censorship agenda like the one that pulled channel NTN24 from cable operators, demonizes CNN and blocks social media?

The opposition is presented as “oligarchs” when its supporters, as well as those of the government, bring together diverse social sectors, political creeds and skin colors. But the elements that fertilize the road to a civil battle in Venezuela are kept hidden: repression, warlike and uncivil discourse from the government; impunity and support to paramilitaries; the complicit lack of action from Latin America; and the irrational desperation from part of the assaulted protesters –in that order of causality and responsibility. A battle where the asymmetry of strengths between its parts foretells more of a bloodbath than a true armed conflict.

The demands behind the current social uprising are diverse, legitimate, and none are “conspiratorial”: the fight against insecurity and scarcity, the liberation of imprisoned students, the cease of censorship and asphyxia of the media, and all forms of criminalization of freedom of speech and civil protests which are rights guaranteed by the current constitution. Along with the opposition leader Leopoldo López, and under the Venezuelan penal system, trade unionists, community leaders, students and popular activists languish, victims of harassment from the governmental machine. The main contradiction in Venezuela is not between “Chavismo” and opposition or between Left and Right; it is between a hegemonic, militaristic, state-centered project and those ideologically diverse social figures who refuse to surrender their independence.

Facing such a scenario, an important part of the region’s intellectuals display a lack of memory, blindness and dogmatism. It doesn’t matter if in the 70’s you stood for standards of equality and justice that earned you the title “subversive” and the threat of ending up –thanks to the CIA and their local trainees– in jail or underground. Nor did it matter that in the 90’s you questioned the incompatibility of “strengthening a democracy” under the neoliberal politics of “structural adjustment”. If today, in clear demonstration of coherence with such a democratic trajectory, you denounce the human rights abuse committed by the governments of our region –from Colombia to Venezuela– the part of your complaint that speaks of the repressive performance of the “revolutionary regimes” will disqualify you under the knowledgeable eyes of the “committed intellectual”.

How long will there be “progs”, in and outside of Venezuela, who –with their discourse– cover up the disastrous public management, the “conspiranoid” censorship, and the unjustifiable repression of Miraflores? Those who in the past would condemn –in the name of democracy and social change– the repression against students, who would protested against poverty and question the corrupt practices of a liberal democracy, while having been formed in its universities and thanks to its scholarships. Today they are either silent or perform embarrassing somersaults, invoking the in-fashion “theoreticians” and wearing down, like the sole of an old shoe, words like “emancipation”, “leading” and “popular”. Like ideological customs agents, they only defend the other’s rights when those rights coincide with their vision or personal pragmatism, labeling at will victims and victimizers. Faced with these attitudes, one wonders: where is the limit for such intellectual credulity and civil indecency?

During these tragic days, an expensive example of Mexican history comes to mind. At the height of the post-revolutionary regime, the writer Octavio Paz quit his position as a Mexican diplomat in protest of the repression in Tlatelolco (1968). That decision earned him insults from the official propagandists and from a sector of intellectuals who were numbed by the “revolutionary” litany. Then, far from what is thought of today, the popularity of the priísta government was considerable and, its control of the media was almost total. To live under the perfect dictatorship seemed preferable to suffering the blunt tyrannies of Central and South America; which is why most people, a few weeks later, lived the “normality” dressed up as a party of the Olympic Games of 1968.

Paz never rejected the progressive and righteous ideology of the Mexican Revolution, but he knew to promptly condemn those who, in its name, arose as a dominant class and system of repression. Today, many praise him as an example of civic courage and of glorious Latin American writing. It would be useful for those who still support Maduro’s government in the name of “anti-imperialism,” the “revolution,” and the “just causes of humanity” to reflect upon his legacy.


Armando Chaguaceda is an academic and political analyst, author of many books and articles on Latin American history and politics. He is a member of the Social Observatory and Coordinator of the Work Group, both positions within the Latin American Council of Social Sciences.


Source: Chaguaceda, Armando. “Venezuela: El Autoritarismo y sus Cómplices”. Newsweek en Español. Marzo 25, 2014. News for America LLC. Abril 01, 2014.

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Translated by #infoVnzla


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