By Armando Chaguaceda
HAVANA TIMES — We public intellectuals work by denouncing and arguing our point at the same time. In our reports, we have to condemn every form of abuse by any concrete power (regardless of where it takes place). Because the victims of this abuse, without discrimination, need our solidarity and not our complaints or relativisms because of ideological and pragmatic reasons.
However, from a reasoning point of view, we can’t compare situations where the context, modus operandi and the structural consequences of the power’s actions can’t be contemplated. Because this (naive or concerned) confusion never contributes to the cause of freedom.
As a result of the events that took place in Buenos Aires this week, denouncing repression in Argentina is trending, calling upon this country’s dictatorial past or, in some cases, the mirror image of Venezuela. Some of Latin America’s left-wing commentators have done the first, strangely the same people say nothing when young people are arrested and shot by governments such as Venezuela’s, which they erroneously call “progressive”.
Looking for an allegedly impartial critique, colleagues have resorted to the second course of action and have confused the duty of denouncing all forms of repression with the mistake of comparing an imperfect democracy with a hardline dictatorship. And I am directing this article at these colleagues, not at the cynical “closet Leninists”.
Both repressive situations are terrible per se, but they don’t compare if what you are trying to do is establish a (false) line of symmetry in just how much human rights and democracy have deteriorated in both contexts.
In Venezuela, institutional and social mechanisms to disagree with the established system have been reduced to the minimum (using repression). There is a Party State which no longer recognizes the National Parliament, is hijacking referendums and elections, locking up mayors and social leaders as well as shutting down media outlets. Over the past two years, the price of Venezuela’s autocracy has been thousands of political prisoners, hundreds dead and severely injured, hundreds of thousands of emigres.
The pattern of repression has been systematic, widespread and planned: Attorney-General Luisa Ortega Diaz’s report alone, (who was impeached by the Constituent Assembly – Diaz being a longtime militant of the Left who had been appointed by Hugo Chavez as Attorney-General for 6 years among other things) counted that until July 27th, 109 people had been murdered in protests, 37 of whom were proven to have been killed by state or para-State forces.
Venezuela’s electoral body (National Electoral Council) is politically biased: it delays or moves local, regional and national elections forward, to suit the president. There isn’t only a setback in social indicators, there is a brutal humanitarian crisis of great proportions in Venezuela. Inflation is through the roof, liquefying the currency and hitting the poorest. As the studies carried out by the Venezuelan Program of Education and Action on Human Rights illustrate, there is nothing left that resembles a Social Constitutional State after the unconstitutional National Constituent Assembly was imposed.
In Argentina, a neoliberal agenda has been in the works that attacks people’s hard-won social rights by trying to reduce the extent and role of the State and to adjust the national deficit at the expense of pensioners and society’s poorest sectors. This agenda lacks social awareness and doesn’t put any proposals forward to try and alleviate growing levels of inequality. It’s an agenda which criminalizes worker and indigenous people’s protests (like the Kirchner government also did, by the way), but where the opposition – in parliament, parties, unions, districts – exist and function normally.
This agenda moved forward with a growing electoral (and social) base for a central-right party (Cambiemos), but it hasn’t stripped large opposition sectors of their social bases, regional governments and political positions. Aware of this, the Government has varied its response as to how it deals with protestors, combining acts of repression, cooptation, negotiation efforts, offensives and retreats.
In Argentina, elections take place with acceptable levels of competition and certainty (except for in certain authoritarian enclaves in interior provinces and with the well-known patronage practices that all governments engage in) and the results of these elections are recognized by both the government and opposition.
Even under this government and with its political agenda, working class wages and their quality of life continue to be among the highest in the continent: the country continues to receive immigrants from neighboring countries, including Venezuelans. Nevertheless, as reports from the Center for Legal and Social Studies indicate , there are alarming threats to basic rights relating to work, education and public protest, which are connected to Cambiemos’ neoliberal agenda. Most recently, the protests this week against Argentina’s controversial pension reform claimed 160 people injured (both civilians and police) and nearly 70 arrests.
Latin America has known (some) Leftist dictatorships – the most emblematic being the prolonged Cuban autocracy – and (many) Right-wing dictatorships. However, just like the latter (backed by the US) were once the norm in the continent, today there are only the former. And it’s good to remember this in the Argentinian case, whose people suffered the worse planned and systematic massacre in South American history in the name of the “Fight against Communism”.
Can new Videlas suddenly rise up in our continent? Without a doubt: capitalism (which seeks the concentration of wealth) doesn’t mean democracy, based on extending people’s rights. Its logic goes against all ethics. When both coexist they are rather troubled marriages, of uneasy cohabitation. Just like what is happening today in our region, riddled with systems where human rights are being (dis)respected or consecrated, to different degrees. Even reaching bloody crises identified by a failing State, such as in Mexico.
Let’s talk frankly, without being afraid of being politically incorrect to some groups of public opinion. Venezuela isn’t even a populist government (as populism exists in tension with democracy), it’s an authoritarian government, in which all rights (social, civil, political) have been structurally violated, suppressed and hijacked by a military, bureaucratic elite and totalitarian regime. Argentina isn’t a dictatorship (although some sectors of Argentinian society insist on labeling it as such), but an imperfect democracy with a strong delegative tradition – and regional authoritarian leaderships – which is in grave danger of regressing as a result of its governing elite’s neoliberal project.
In both contexts, under the respective ruling governments, people need to have the opportunity to make demands regarding their civil rights with those who govern the country without being harmed – using their voices, their votes and peaceful protests. Regardless of their identity and ideology, people at a Conurbano picket or a student in Tachira, those in favor of Milagro Salas or Alfredo Ramos.
Civic and citizen demands that the Argentinian and Venezuelan States (and their regional counterparts) seek to tame using more or less violent means like recent studies prove, which recognize that: “The common reality in Latin American countries is that States normally respond using force to contain and control protests. This is what an analysis of regional tendencies in recent years illustrates.”
Especially in the past few weeks, experts on the subject have reported that different States within the region are dealing with protests contrary to international conventions that relate to the regulation and respect of this right. And faced with this, those of us who have good friends or memories of Caracas or Buenos Aires’ streets, can – and should – stand in solidarity with the struggles in Venezuela and Argentina for a better country. Those of us who dedicate ourselves to analyzing politics don’t, however, have a right to confuse Hell with Purgatory. Even less so in the name of justice and truth.
 For further information about Argentina’s current social conflict please read https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/12/19/album/1513674046_230099.html#foto_gal_2, http://nuso.org/articulo/termino-la-primavera-estallo-el-verano/y https://www.telesurtv.net/news/Los-ajustes-mas-significativos-de-Mauricio-Macri-en-Argentina-20171218-0057.html
 Read https://www.derechos.org.ve/informe-anual/informe-anual-enero-diciembre-2016
 Read https://www.cels.org.ar/web/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/IA-CELS-2017.pdf
 Read https://www.cels.org.ar/web/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Protesta_social_regional_web-1.pdf
 Read https://www.cejil.org/es/preocupacion-respuesta-estados-protesta-social-ultimas-semanas