A Punishment Vote for Chavismo in Venezuela

Isbel Diaz Torres

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro with a painting of former leader Hugo Chavez in the background.
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro with a painting of former leader Hugo Chavez in the background.

HAVANA TIMES – We have just witnessed the first electoral defeat suffered by Venezuela’s Chavista government and, now, all “prognosticators” will be able to see how accurate or mistaken their respective predictions were.

These results may of course be interpreted in many different ways, and I would like to share my own perspective. Though it is not as profound and informed as it could be, it at least seeks not to contribute to the silence that sometimes helps besmirch the image of the left around the world.

First and foremost, I believe hard times are ahead of President Maduro and the Venezuelan people (which are definitely not the same thing).

Maduro and his elite, needless to say, are interested in remaining in power and guaranteeing their country’s governability, but their proven incompetence and the pressure to be exerted by a parliamentary majority pitted against them will be a double hurdle that will likely keep them from reaching the end of their terms in office.

I know this would be a kind of relief for many, given the long list of crimes and abuses this government is guilty of, the gradual centralization and verticalization of power, the exclusion of dissenting voices, human rights violations, the shameful corruption of the elite and its populist policies, all carried out in the name of a socialism that seems increasingly absent in daily life and only visible in the speeches of the new Messiah.

The fact of the matter is that, in the 15 years that Chavismo has been in power, the structural components of Venezuela’s capitalist economy were maintained and guaranteed the movement of millions of dollars between the bureaucratic and business elites, as well as between transnational corporations and bankers.

I am not however content to see the opposition make headway, as common folk in this sister nation won’t have an easy time under them either. The maneuvers of dissidents, in many cases, were neither as honest nor democratic as they claim to be, to say nothing of the fact that the “defense of private property” is one of the opposition’s axes, which says quite a lot about what prospects those without any property can have.

Nor do I believe the opposition’s Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) gathers all of the “democratic forces” in the country, nor that all of the forces within the MUD are as democratic as they present themselves to be. In addition, the MUD has played the same game as the government, contributing decisively to the political polarization and the tensions that Venezuela experiences today.

If the social achievements of the Chavez government are fading and poverty is expanding across the country, I do not believe this coalition is the best suited to address these issues. In fact, it would not be imprudent to say it will try to eliminate a number of Chavez’ social programs.

As I see it, it is not that the MUD won the elections because of an attractive platform, but that one had to be crazy to vote for a party such as the PSUV, which would guarantee the continuation of current calamities. It was a punishment vote.

To be sure, I do not put much stock in electoral processes, nor in spending tremendous amount of energy around a nation to place someone in a presidential chair, so we can then sit back and wait for them to fulfil our expectations. That said, I respect and admire a number of Venezuelan forces that I consider revolutionary and that take part in these processes.

Regrettably, the typical rifts within the left, a lack of mutual understanding and, in many cases, solidarity, and the certainty of having the one and only answer to the political challenges of the day, served to hand over power to Venezuela’s center-right.

Venezuela’s independent revolutionary left (composed of anarchists, Trotskyites, Marxist-Leninists and other groups) did not manage to assemble a common front to offer an alternative to the generalized disappointment produced by the PSUV, a strategy which the MUD did carry out successfully.

In recent times, Venezuela has seen strikes, protests, the blocking of streets, demonstrations and other actions that were not organized by the PSUV or MUD. These movements, however, did not achieve the needed level of organization.

A colleague pointed out that MUD forces include lawyer and transgender activist Tamara Adrian Hernandez, a woman considered to be on the left who has been a tenacious women’s right and LGBT activist in Venezuela. I saw a few videos of this woman on the Internet and her tenacity and criticisms made a good impression on me.

Three good things can be caught sight of in these elections. The first is that the high percentage of voters seen may reveal, not only generalized malaise, but also a widespread eagerness to change things.

The second is the government’s civic attitude of respecting the negative results of the elections, an extremely valuable lesson, particularly for the Cuban government, which isn’t exactly known for acknowledging defeat.

The other issue has to do with the fact that, once the center-right has assumed power (with President Maduro at the helm), the left can begin to gain in clarity about the work ahead. These governments that claim to be in the left are, may a time, more difficult to combat than the most savage of neoliberal programs.

Anti-capitalist parties, collectives or social movements must learn that it is not enough to wear a sign that reads “socialist” or something along those lines. I, for one, have had enough when I see a president in any of these progressive nations that tout a “21st century socialism” begin to try and extend their term indefinitely…even if they haven’t trampled on anyone at that point.

The global left, however, is never put off by this. What happens, then, with democracy?

All the while, the political panorama is changing more quickly than Cuba’s privileged leaders can process. I don’t think they have totally relocated their “financial metropolis” to the United States, and these developments could foil some of their plans.

It’s possible that, in the short time left for Chavismo, Cuba’s military and economic elites will try to hasten a number of adjustments to minimize the damage (though today’s unexpected migratory crisis is a complicated obstacle).

While they play their geopolitical games and enter into secret alliances and negotiations, the peoples of Cuba and Venezuela could well take note of these developments, such that the historical lessons they offer can someday be of use to them.


Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

6 thoughts on “A Punishment Vote for Chavismo in Venezuela

  • According to Telegraph.com/uk “…Venezuela’s government has found an ingenious way to cling on to power in their rapidly-unravelling state: announcing the creation of a new, parallel parliament which will run as a “people’s assembly,” beside the National Assembly they no longer control.” So it looks like the Maduro government has no interest in ” the will of the people”. Their only interest is remaining in power!

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