I do not think I would be mistaken in stating that Chavismo is a mostly silent subject. There are exceptions, naturally, but I believe Chavismo is distinguished by a certain self-control, a certain cautiousness that allows it to shine in difficult circumstances, wriggle out of trouble, fall on its feet, maintain an integrity, both physical and spiritual. It will rarely be heard loudly in a public office, a grocery store, the corner kiosk, the bank queue, the elevator, a family celebration, a gathering of friends.
I recognize that silence can lead to mistaken interpretations: it is not that it would rather be silent in the face of injustice or remain still in the face of offense. Even less true is that it has nothing to say or that it feels ashamed of what it is, feels and thinks. When the moment arrives, Chavismo speaks, loud and clear, and if it comes to that, acts.
Used to dealing with adversity, to being marginalized, ignored, invisible, it took a lot of effort to adapt to a hostile political environment.
If we looked for a popular expression that can refer to how problems are often solved in elementary or high school, Chavismo is a lot about biding its (historical) time.
It is not that it avoids problems, it is that it is so used to them that it has learned how to find the opportune moment to find the appropriate, fairest, smartest way of solving them.
In its environment, for example in urban barrios, or in the countryside, being aware that it represents the majority, or that it is simply out of danger, it can engage in long discussions with opponents, always with humor aplenty, from the divine to the profane, with a preference for the latter.
In circumstances of extreme hostility, finding itself at a clear disadvantage and foreseeing an imminent attack, it feels fear, as expected, and may disguise itself as something else, trying to go unnoticed. But it may be hit by the fate the befell Orlando Figuera [young black man who was burned alive by an opposition mob], who, knowing he was doomed, condemned to death, opted to accept his fate: “… whatever I said, they were going to kill me. I told them ‘yes, I’m a Chavista, what’s the problem’” (1), his mother said shortly before he died. At best, his murderers will have interpreted those words as a resigned confession, as proof of his guilt, and not as what it really was: a reaffirmation of his dignity, something his attackers cannot grasp.
The convert, in contrast, feels an imperious, unstoppable urge to voice their disenchantment. Facing the difficulty of justifying his shameful selling out, he declares himself ashamed of the past, and does not miss a chance to declare how he feels betrayed, fooled. Someone once breached his trust or took advantage of his naiveté or crushed his dreams, and he will not stand for it any more.
But if those who betrayed, misled, abused, took advantage of or crushed dreams deserve all the insults, nobody is more despicable to the convert than those who remain faithful to their principles, convictions, and go on struggling. He accuses them of being mediocre, apologists, blind, privileged, accomplices.
The vociferous attitude of the converts has one more goal: to be accepted by the media that used to antagonize them, considering them weird, monstrous, uncivilized, ignorant, madmen. To repent publicly is a way to show rectification, a change of course, towards reason. Sadly, this does not always work: those who turned hostility into a way of doing politics will not cease to demand more and more professions of faith. For the converts, the past is a conviction, like a curse that follows them, forcing them to utter the worst things, louder and stronger, entering a vicious cycle with no end in sight.
The proliferation of converts in recent times is no coincidence. Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” (2) has plenty of details about the effects of shock economic, social or political measures, features of what she terms “disaster capitalism.” Klein exposes the sinister similarities between torture methods imposed by the US government and these shock measures. The goal is to create a tabula rasa, in both the body and mind of those tortured individuals, or societies, to create a new personality or to present as acceptable, even desirable, the most brutal and inhumane forms of capitalism.
Of course, there is no creativity in torture, only the power of destruction. A destruction which, eventually, forces the victim to renounce his personality. In the case of societies, economic, political and social torture has as one of its goals to destroy the historic memory, to generate disoriented, scared, submissive human groups.
On the issue of US sanctions against Venezuela, Alfred-Maurice de Zayas said: “Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns with the intention of forcing them to surrender. Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees.” More recently, Idriss Jazairy said: “It is hard to imagine how, according to the US Treasury Department, these measures can seek to ‘help the Venezuelan people’ if they destroy the economy and will not allow Venezuelans to send money to their country.”
With sanctions, Venezuela is being literally tortured, so that, among other reasons, overwhelmed by extreme circumstances, the Venezuelan people will renounce their political identity. That has not taken place.
The converts spawned by pure political irrelevance are joined by the converts produced by the inhumane attack against the population. But the Chavista political identity is still standing.
One must be able to distinguish between the conversion phenomenon and popular malaise, even political disaffection. The difficulty is understandable: the vociferous make a lot of noise. But one must learn how to listen to the underground, almost silent, popular rumor, which tells us of the mistakes and failings of officials and leaders, but also their achievements, it tells us about Chávez, about the unwillingness to definitively renounce everything that was built during the Bolivarian Revolution.
There may be a will to fall back, to stay on the margins, even to no longer identify with Chavismo. But that is one thing, which is very different from committing political suicide.
(1) Jairo Vargas. “A mi hijo lo quemaron vivo por ser chavista”. Público, 16 de mayo de 2019.
(2) Naomi Klein. La doctrina del shock. El auge del capitalismo del desastre. Paidós Ibérica. 2007.
Translated by Ricardo Vaz for Venezuelanalysis.com.