The Achilles Heel of Populist Governments

Dariela Aquique

“My father was a Fidelista / Me, not as much as him.” From a song by Pedro Luis Ferrer. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — Populist social revolutions have as an inevitable feature, an excess of enthusiasm seasoned with a ridiculous chauvinism. The indignant masses cease to be citizens belonging to a party or a government; they adopt the epithets of their leaders.

I’ve seen this movie before. I know by heart how almost an entire nation acts in the midst of that apotheosis, when they don’t exactly know how to discern what the left really is and they can’t understand very well if it’s in their interest to be socialist or communist. Yet, what they clearly understand is that they’re supporters of Fidel, Correa or Chavez.

Technological advances in the media allow the news to be disseminated in the form and to the extent that those interested in “certain messages” want. Television channels, radio stations, the print and online media, as well as social networks are the means for carrying out the broadest political campaigns.

The new socialism or the new Bolivarian populist left (however it might be termed) is well aware that these days (in country’s calling themselves democratic) the right to media access must be considered an inviolable human right.

They have no choice but to enter the arena of cyberspace and digital television, even at the risk of their people being constantly bombarded with media discourses on one side and another. The Chavistas are clear that Venezuela isn’t Cuba, nor are the times the same.

This is why they haven’t blocked access to the Internet or confiscated satellite dishes. Instead, they’ve distributed digital television boxes to the majority of people – and for free.

Venezuela has a visible and audible opposition. In response, the government strives to gain followers, giving — and giving out so graciously — homes, schools, medical care and TV cable boxes. The people who are the most deprived (who are always the majority), like dogs, will always be faithful to the master who feeds them.

They’ll believe, repeat and toe the official line. They’ll make war on the opposition without giving them the least credit. Telesur is the epitome. The enemy = US imperialism. The worst evil = neoliberalism. The most unfortunate = the people of the European Economic Community. The most fortunate = the peoples of the new Latin America, and so on…

They’ll aggrandize their leader to the point of comparing this person to God on earth. But these great populist movements have an Achilles heel – they respond to Messiahs, not the goal. And when they lose their leader, they fade into extinction.

There were (and still are) many Fidelistas in Cuba, but there won’t be Raulistas. It’s the same with the Chavistas. No matter how much the second fiddle tries, there won’t be Maduristas.

4 thoughts on “The Achilles Heel of Populist Governments

  • Speaking of populist leaders, there is a report on CNN Chile that Hugo Chavez was declared brain dead by his doctors on Dec 30th, 2012. He has been kept on life-support since that time. The report states that the decision to send Chavez home was made under pressure from his daughters who want their father to die in dignity, and in the realization by the Cuban gov’t that it would be better if the Venezuelan leader did not die in Havana.

    The source, who claims he heard the information from members of Chavez’s inner circle, says that the recently released photograph of Chavez with his daughters was faked.

  • The devolution of these articles continues.

    We read the same accusations against Chavez (about his improving education, health care and the lives of the masses of poor in Venezuela simply so he could remain in office) in the mainstream press years ago.

    But to say the masses are like “dogs,” obeying whoever feeds them? This is a new low here as the quality of reflection and discussion continues its decline.

    Sad….very sad.

  • Dariela

    while there are many things in your analysis I may agree with, a large segment of the Bolivarian Left are for real socialism and are not populists in the reformists sense of the word like most of the bureaucracy.

    Yes they do have a great fondness for President Chavez but they are a thinking and action movement of the left and masses, farther to the Left than the state.

    They dislike the opposition for real reasons from experience not because of some media or bureaucrat telling them too. I would call it a class conscientious for the most part.

    Rojo Rojito

  • As usual, the author has no clue about the demands she should be doing. Granting access to the media as a constitutional right? Thats completely ridiculous and a sure recipe to disaster, because every nut and its dog will sue the media for not publishing their own deluded point of view.

    What she should be advocating is for a diverse and independent media free from political pressures where everyone can publish whatever they want as long as it complies with basic guidelines and they are willing pay the market price for the space.

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