August 9, 2022

Chavismo Thrives on Mistrust

Mistrust will not end until the Chavista revolution has come to an end and a new, tolerant, pluralistic government requires of its members and partisans the categorical understanding that, although those who govern may be elected by a subset of the population, they must serve the nation as a whole.

Some context: By the time Maduro announced Chavez’s death one year ago, Chavismo had controlled Venezuela for 14 years. Venezuela’s bicameral legislature had been replaced by a rubber-stamp assembly; term limits had been eliminated to allow the president to run for re-election indefinitely. The judiciary had become obedient to Chavismo to the point of loyalty oaths; the labor movement had been gutted (its leaders imprisoned or exiled) and replaced with government unions; broadcast media critical of the government had ceased to exist; and elections had become unfree and unfair.


Since Chavismo took control, billions of dollars have been spent domestically and abroad promoting two key messages to its supporters: “Everything that preceded us was miserable;” and “If we lose our hold on power, a fascist group of oligarchs will return and Venezuela’s poor will suffer terribly.” These memes of mistrust have galvanized support, first for Chavez and now for Maduro, and are reinforced by the government slogan: “Fatherland, Socialism or Death.”


Venezuela is in a revolution with no declared end in sight. Chavismo operates on the basis of exclusion and political apartheid. Mistrust is necessary for the Maduro government’s survival. Those who doubt this sad reality should read the twitter timelines of Venezuelan cabinet ministers, active generals, or top party leaders. The language focuses on “blood,” “fascism,” “payback,” “cowards” and “battle.” One Chavista governor even tweeted at armed combat units: get ready “for the sudden counter attack,” while the tourism minister retweeted that “fascist” protestors deserve “shots, arson, and explosives.”


The half of the country that voted against Maduro in the recent election faces this confrontational mindset from a government supposed to safeguard the individual rights of all Venezuelans. Meanwhile, the opposition is underwritten almost entirely by the oligarchy’s mercantilists and former Chavez loyalists — most of whom simply want Chavismo to limp along while they squeeze whatever remains of the oil bonanza.

The majority of those protesting are Venezuela’s poor and they suffer chronic shortages (even toilet paper is a luxury), ever rising inflation and high crime. As much as Maduro tries, it is hard to blame the revolution’s incompetence and corruption on the “fascist” opposition. The mistrust in Venezuela has no immediate end in sight but peaceful protest is the best hope that the government will continue to lose popular support and Venezuela’s people will find common ground in a new political synthesis.