RE: the Venezuela situation

So, here’s the thing.

As everyone knows, Venezuela is a country of hyper-polarized mindsets. The reality is extremely complex and can be defined in anything BUT a polarized “black-or-white” mindset, as is the one that unfortunately prevails amongst Venezuelans, including those of us abroad.

I hate this polarized mindset. It made it impossible to have any sort of conversation in Caracas. “Todo el mundo es chévere hasta que se habla de Chávez” (Everyone is cool until you start talking about Chavez). It also made it impossible to express the fact that, hmm, maybe you agree with some of what each side is saying, and maybe you disagree with some of what each side is saying. On social media, these nuances are lost forever, due to the rapidly changing nature of social media communication and a simplification of the way we communicate with each other.

Past experiences in Venezuela, however, such as the 2002 coup, the oil stoppage in 2003, the recall referendum in 2004, and the general state of malaise and guarimbas (which destroyed parts of my neighborhood) from 2005-2008 (including the closure of RCTV, which I wholeheartedly supported, as RCTV would have never gotten away with its brand of irresponsible, misogynistic, classist content in other democracies)… in addition to having people at work “stalk” me online and get all in my face about my progressive stance, or try to get me to join the PSUV… All these experiences have shaped my current thinking, especially my default reaction to doubt the general information thrown out by traditional media, to instead try to look for the nuances.

With that in mind, I reserve the right to change my stance whenever there is new evidence shown either by credible sources, or lived through my own experience. So, whatever I could have thought was the “right” information or position last week, in such a volatile state of affairs as the one that engulfs Venezuela today… could merit some changes “in light of new evidence/experience”. There are some things, though, that can never leave my mind, and make me have a knee-jerk reaction whenever I see certain people involved:

  1. In the 2002 coup/El Carmonazo, during which private media completely manipulated the populace even going as far as using subliminal messaging or self-censorship as a means to continue stirring the situation, former Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado (one of the current leaders in the protests today) signed and supported the Carmona Decree, one of the most shameful and undemocratic measures that I’ve ever lived through.
  2. Leopoldo Lopez, then mayor, as soon as Carmona was in power, began literally rounding up Chavista officials and arresting them, sometimes through violent means, from their homes. He also spurred on an attack on the Cuban Embassy, ordering it to have its electricity and water cut, and then he proceeded to literally cut the cables to the embassy on live TV.

    (Wikipedia image) President Bush meeting with the Executive Director of the Venezuelan Civil Society Group Sumate.

    (Wikipedia image) President Bush meeting in 2005 with Maria Corina Machado, then Executive Director of the Venezuelan Civil Society Group Sumate.

  3. Furthermore, Machado’s organization “Sumate” was getting funds from the US to conduct destabilization efforts, and she was later on received as a guest of honor by the Bush Administration. I don’t think I can forget any of this, and then see protests several years later, led by these same people, and think “hmm, they have real good intentions”.

(See Violent protests in Venezuela fit a pattern – by Center for Economic and Policy Research)

I think there are many factors that have fueled the protests that began on February 12 and are continuing to go on today. I think many of those factors have merit and I completely support people who are peacefully protesting these very serious problems.

Some of those factors are based on the economic and social realities that have been affecting Venezuela for decades –not necessarily only during the “Bolivarian Revolution” era. Some of those factors *exclusively* have to do with decisions taken in the past 15 years, during the “Revolution”. I have identified these to be the severe economic shortages, the extreme inflation that makes “the highest minimum wage salary in Latin America” seem like just pennies, and most importantly, the brutal crime and murder rates that affect Venezuelans, at the rate of over 21,000 violent murders per year.

However, what I will never be able to comprehend or get behind, are the extremist, violent factions that are just out looking for blood and conflict, in order to destabilize the country to the point of it becoming unlivable (not that it isn’t already, for the reasons mentioned above), as a way to trigger President Maduro’s unseating from power.

As much as you despise a president that was democratically elected, even if by an infinitesimal margin, I don’t think that gives people the right to forgo democratic channels to win regime change. It’s democracy, and it just does not work that way. It didn’t work in 2003 with the oil sabotage, and what actually ended up happening was “el control de cambio” (exchange control) and the debacle that is CADIVI and Sicad, and the terrible currency control system that is causing much of the economic malaise in Venezuela today.

In Venezuela (at least up until the time I left in 2008-09), we can trigger presidential recall referendums – which is almost unprecedented in modern democracies. I believe that the opposition has more than enough people that could gather names to trigger this mechanism in 2016.

As a community organizer (an “Americanized” organizer, as my oldest brother  says), my strategy and tactics would have been different – especially if I were counting on the resources that the opposition currently has. (It’s imperative to mention that the opposition is very well-resourced, and much of that money may be coming from abroad. Why would I say this? Because it has happened time and time again.)

We can talk about strategy and tactics on a later post, or offline, because I would have a lot to say about that, but it all should be guided by very precise principles that I think the Venezuelan opposition still has to figure out.

Now call me “Americanized”, but I think one of the biggest failures of those leading the Venezuelan opposition (and its most recalcitrant followers) has been their complete disconnection from their privilege, and their inability to acknowledge how that privilege shaped Venezuela for years in the past, finally coming to a head in 1999 (though let’s not forget El Caracazo) with Chavez’s election and the democratically adopted 1999 Venezuelan Constitution.

I’m talking about several types of privilege; privilege that I myself benefitted from and began realizing once I became an immigrant in the US, and furthermore when I began adopting my current political mindset and ideology.

To me, that failure to acknowledge past and current privilege of the basis of class and income, race, gender and education by part of the opposition who is now leading the protests, is what delegitimizes them not just in my eyes, but in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans that either support “el proceso revolucionario” or may not support it, but do not want to see a return to the past.

It is a complete and utter ignorance of privilege, down to the language that is used. Until the opposition realizes this, internalizes the analysis, and takes serious steps to make things right and connect with low-income Venezuelans… I don’t think they can be successful, and I sure as hell will never feel represented by this opposition movement.

Take the term “middle-class”, “la clase media”. Growing up, I heard my folks identify as “middle class”, and everyone around me was “middle class”. But looking at my life right now as a “skilled” H1-B guest worker immigrant, working in non-profit, where in the US I identify as “working middle class” or “lower middle class”… I began to think back to this esoteric term that I heard so much in my childhood.

My mom is an attorney, my father was a plastic surgeon – and they worked VERY hard to get there, I must emphasize that. In Venezuela, my two brothers and I all went to private, religious schools. We lived in a 4-bedroom apartment with beautiful hardwood floors, and my parents owned other properties. We had vacations in the United States, several cars, domestic help, an eastern-Caracas accent, and the opportunity to continue our higher education in the United States.

Many of my friends and family were also in a similar socio-economic position. If this was a marathon, it’s safe to say that not only did we get a head start on the race, we were also given cushy shoes, water and an overall easier track to run on, while many others – Venezuelans in the barrios and small towns– had to figure out how to even get shoes to run. Yet everyone around me would describe themselves as “middle class”, as many of the protesters continue to do today. Is this an accurate term? For some, perhaps yes, they are “middle class”, but for the most reactionary (and wealthy) sectors, I don’t think “middle class” is aligned with reality.

After 1999, socioeconomically speaking, a significant and historical shift began, good in many ways for those who had been at the bottom, and different for those who had been at the “middle” and at the top. Though not a smooth shift, and by no means a perfect shift, I think this shift was historically necessary for the maturity of Venezuela.

Following decades of elitism, classism and covert racist/colorist tendencies running rampant in the country, this shift brought forth the voices of the oppressed, the marginalized … simply, of the majority of Venezuelans. This was a strange reality for many at the top to accept, and there was no prompting towards reflection over what had gotten our country to that point, and why this change was inevitable and necessary. It was only met with disdain, entitled anger and a longing for the past by part of those who continue to be in the elite, even to this day.

As I said, not acknowledging that privilege makes these masses of young, oftentimes wealthy, formally educated Venezuelan protestors lose legitimacy and credibility in my eyes, as well as in the eyes of many Venezuelans who may be apathetic or supportive of the Maduro government.

The different thing these days is the fact that Nicolas Maduro does not have the charisma, the political savvy and the intelligence of Chavez. (I am not a fan of Maduro at all, but he was elected.)

In addition, intertwined within the protestors’ unrealistic and undemocratic calls for Maduro’s toppling or resignation, there are some legitimate demands to problems caused by sheer administrative ineptitude concerning the economy and the incidence of crime. Up until 2009, when I was last in Venezuela, some things were hard to come by, but shortages were not at these embarrassing levels. I spoke to my mom this week, and she says once again, people are not being able to find enough toilet paper, deodorant or shampoo. Crime rates are extremely painful, and the M.O of many murderers has become more brutal than ever. And it’s the poorest who are still the most affected –contrary to the belief of the so-called “middle class”.

From my limited view here in Iowa, these right-wing protestors are more organized and determined than ever, some of their demands are in response to true economic malaise in Venezuela, and they are up against someone who is simply not Chavez. Their zeal for turning back the clock and intensifying the chaos is resolute, and it is not going to die down soon. Their use of social media has been tremendous, so intense that it even drove me to deactivate my Facebook account for a month, as the disinformation and downright reactionary commentary were enough to give me mild anxiety.

This episode in Venezuelan society is disturbing. I wish the rational sectors in Venezuela will push forth a sustainable environment to work towards resolution. Reconciliation should come, too, but I see it very difficult as long as members of the opposition continue to be blind to their grotesque privilege and their role in acknowledging it, in order for the country to move forward. It is not up to those who were marginalized for decades, to now “understand” the privileged ones again and stretch out their hand to reconcile. The opposition must bear the brunt of that work. They have not even started.

I continue to think about my patria, especially on those days where I just want to “get off the ride” and take a break from being a foreigner. But alas, this is the life I have chosen for now, meanwhile my mom and my family continue sending reports of my dear country as it is pushed and pulled with no solution in sight.

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For some interesting academic analysis closer to my own point of view (my posting these here does not imply full endorsement), please visit the following links:

Obama Wrong to Isolate Venezuela –Mark Weisbrot and Oliver Stone

Venezuela’s struggle, widely misrepresented, remains a classic conflict between right and left – (Center for Economic and Policy Research, a progressive think tank)

Venezuelan Jacobins (George Ciccariello-Maher, Jacobin Magazine)

Some links with analysis, compiled by the Venezuelan Embassy to the UK and Ireland

Epilogue: In the international mainstream media, Maduro seems to have lost the airwaves war. I also think that there has been some serious mishandling of the current situation, which has led to deplorable excesses by part of Venezuelan law enforcement, which I fully and wholeheartedly condemn. Rogue elements in law enforcement, whether provoked or not, must be put to justice – as well should those protestors that caused the death of other innocent Venezuelans.

WTF? A letter from Benito Mussolini’s great-granddaughter in support of the Venezuelan opposition (Spanish translation from Italian)

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