Do you feel like the country is falling apart? Do you believe that Chavismo, and particularly the national government, is responsible for everything that is bad? When you hear the music that identifies the joint transmissions of radio and television, do you feel like killing someone? Are you convinced that everyone is in a bad mood because they can’t bear “the crisis”? Maybe you are the victim of a psychological war.
Bolivarian psychologists have talked about a psychological war. President Nicolas Maduro has also warned that what is behind it is an attempt to bring down the constitutional government and put an end to the revolution. Other sectors who know that the mind is a battlefield have remained silent.
Psychologists Olivia Suarez and Fernando Giuliani, members of the collective Psychologists for Socialism, warn that there is, in effect, a psychological war against the Venezuelan people, and that it didn’t start this year but it worsened after the physical disappearance of comandante Hugo Chavez. The present target, they warn, is the Bolivarian people, in order to create discouragement, but without leaving out the population which doesn’t support the socialist process. The Correo del Orinoco offers twenty points to understand what is going on.
1) What is the psychological war?
“A psychological war isn’t the same as a military war. But when we say ‘war’ it’s because the aim is to attack a target. It’s important to differentiate this straight away, from what would be a very intense political confrontation,” Giuliani explains. “War has an exclusive element of attacking a target, which in this case are many things.”
Another element that characterises a war is that it is planned, that is “there are strategies that have an objective and are planned”, there are people behind it which develop “an ensemble of resources, studying the situation, mobilising resources” towards that objective.
The psychologist adds that this form of war aims at the mind: “The scene is the mind, and we can understand ‘mind’ in many ways; it’s the individual mind, but also we can say, the collective mind, social representations, attitudes, social relations, emotions, thoughts.”
The analyst argues that there are clear proofs of a psychological war in Venezuela, for example, “it’s a planned managing of rumours, a planned managing of a type of information that clearly has concrete aims.”
The media are “evident instruments of this” and it’s enough to go over the headlines of newspapers and television programs to see that “patterns start to appear”. They all say the same, with a fundamental objective; “generate mental insecurity, generate uncertainty, generate states of alertness that don’t correspond to reality”. The psychologist uses as an example the AH1N1 virus; “There was, at least, three weeks, where the big headlines of the traditional newspapers were permanently talking about this, they always talked about it. The radio talked about it, and the television talked about it. And now scarcity, every day they talk about scarcity”.
2) How does one differentiate a real fact from psychological war?
There are very concrete characteristics, said Giuliani. Those who want to paint a country in ruins “never end up deciding, showing, irrefutably, what they are saying”. He takes again the example of the AH1N1 virus, because it was presented to the country as if there were a terrible epidemic, but the actions of the government to attack it weren’t informed on very much.
“The media highlights negative things, the worst things that could happen. The doubt is always around the worst things. And they generate a sensation that nothing is being done about it and that the thing is going to get worse”.
3) What is the role of rumours in this strategy?
Olivia Suarez adds that the perfect instrument for broadcasting this supposed information is the rumour. “And rumour always as part of an action, a story, a reference that is real. It’s real in inverted commas, that is, part of a reference that allows you to believe that it is real, maybe because you experienced it or because your neighbour has just seen it, or because your brother-in-law was there when it happened. They will always tell it to you as though something from your reality was present. That is, it’s not that any old person told me, my friend was there, or my uncle, my cousin”.
When it's “believable”, anyone will pass it on, because of good faith, because it's something that is happening. What happens with rumours at the moment? All the media and social networks broadcast it straight away and massively.
That is, “now it’s not a rumour that Fernando told me, but it’s gone on to Twitter to two million people simultaneously”.
4) What do the media do?
The media, highlights Suarez, “is the new army of the new war. That is, now they aren’t men who go to combat, body to body, man against man, woman against woman, they aren’t going to use planes or tanks or machine guns. They use the media, telecommunications, the social networks, as part of a plan. They are groups who put out rumours and groups who create situations, who strengthen the possibility that they may be true,” she said. “You’re always going to see, then, in a supermarket, in a bank, in the Metro, in a little bus, people who start to tell you a story that could be out of context, especially about something emotional.”
Both psychologists believe that it’s not random that there are groups that, in different regions of the country, talk about the same topics. “It’s noticeable, the similarity of the stories in different scenarios” as well as “how they argue, how they start with one thing and end up at the decisive point of the time; in the case of supermarkets, at not finding something.” Said Giuliani. There are other sectors which, without knowing it, become accomplices of this. “And there is always someone recording what happened there, so it comes out on Youtube or the internet, that is, they are situations that are mainly going to reinforce the emotions that are being planted within the psychological war”.
The communicational model that is being worked with is one of uncertainty, says Suarez. “That is, they put out a piece of news and it doesn’t matter if it’s true or a lie. Nor does it matter who put it out, because the important thing is that it generates doubt, and doubt is associated with not knowing what’s going to happen”.
5) What do they seek?
This uncertainty that they create “releases other emotions such as anxiety, fear, panic, rage,” says Suarez. They are negative feelings which, “on the one hand are more difficult to eliminate, to fight, and that on the other hand are much more powerful than positive feelings. So, when they create negative feelings of such intensity, the people are on the point of desperation.”
By bringing the population to this state, “the people are willing to seek anything that enables them to leave the situation”, which leads people to confrontation and even violence in order to get out of the “big chaos”.
The psychologist adds that this chaos has something real for the individual because “emotionally you are unstructured” but in your social life this unstructuring isn’t true.
6) Was the war accentuated with the death of comandante Hugo Chavez?
“Totally,” responds Giuliani. However the expert refers to the campaign against comandante Hugo Chavez, which started long before he became president. Proof of that is the fake audio where supposedly the comandante threatened to fry the heads of Adecos [AD members], spread in 1988, which later was found to be a farce. The psychologist identifies the persistence of groups of power in maintaining “this permanent disinformation” and believes that they “did their job”. Further, he adds that “the ancestral fear that there was here of the left and in all of Latin America”. Feelings that are stirred up “don’t predispose you to meeting nor to dialogue”.
The psychologist clarified that its healthy to feel fear, but warned that, when they manipulate you in a prolonged way, it’s very dangerous. “Why is it dangerous? Because they are feelings and thoughts that have a high irrational content. It’s not because it’s the result of a crazy person, what happens is that we have fears, and fears are not so easy to identify. We are scared of vague things, in the face of which sober, careful reasoning has to act for a long time in order to counter it,” he reflected.
One of the problems that he identifies is that a large part of the population doesn’t believe that this exists, and that even less do they believe that there are organised people preparing these conditions.
7) What are the targets of the war?
The fundamental target, at this time, is Chavismo, warns Giuliani. “The death of comandante Chavez opened up an opportunity for the vanguard of the right-wing opposition, as well as its allied groups, to divide Chavismo.” What does the psychological war do against Chavismo? “It generates insecurity. Regarding what? The intention of different leaders, above all of President Maduro, the sense of union that the Chavista project has, the fear that with the death of Chavez all of this was finished with, because that’s the discourse that the opposition always had.”
For that, “they are supporting themselves with one thing that is true, that is the psychological impact and strong affection that the death of the comandante brought about” and the mourning thereafter. The logical question of how to continue the revolution “opens you up to vulnerability which makes you think about things that you surely wouldn’t have thought about”.
The psychological war makes you think that this could end, it makes you wonder if Maduro will be able to cope with the presidency. For example, it can make you ask, “Will he be able to govern like my president Chavez did? Will he cope with the problems the country has?”
8) The Chavista people are the only target?
“The fundamental target is Chavismo, but it’s not the only one. What do they want to create there? Division from fear, from insecurity from a mental point of view. But the rest of the people who don’t support the Bolivarian project are still an important target,” Giuliani stated.
The strategy towards that sector is aimed at drawing them together around the same thing: Making them believe Chavismo “is the worst thing that has happened to the country, that its the most corrupt, that they are incompetent, that they are unscrupulous people and capable of doing anything.” Just has Giuliani says, “they are truly and unfortunately convinced that effectively this [the Bolivarian revolution] is useless, these rumours and the persistent discourse always point at the incompetency that is Chavismo, the corruption that is Chavismo, and when I say Chavismo, the psychological war talks about it in a way that there aren’t any exceptions”.
To these sectors, the possibility of thinking that there are honest and capable people in Chavismo and that the government is doing something well, isn’t there, stated the psychologist. “And how do they achieve it? First, with persistence, because they have kept up this discourse for 14 years, and secondly, by permanently bombarding, which doesn’t give you the chance to reflect”.
9) What are the most vulnerable sectors?
“The attacks are aimed at all types of people, with different munitions and messages,” Suarez expressed.
With the youth it’s insisted that they don’t have a future, that they should leave the country. “There’s a systematic pattern, so that the youth feel that whatever they study, the don’t have hope or future in Venezuela,” she commented. This doesn’t just affect the youth but also families, because uprooting and emotional links enter into the game, as well as fear “that these links will be broken”.
With women they want to plant the idea that they can’t guarantee the food for their home, that they aren’t free to buy what they like. “It has to do with the role of housewives who don’t obtain [products], who aren’t free to do what they really want to do”.
With the elderly, the strategy is to create panic that they can die because, for example, they aren’t going to be able to get medicine on time in the next few months.
“They are manipulating the most important fears to each of the sectors,” she manifests. “For the elderly, there’s the risk of dying, for the youth, their future, for the house wife, the possibility of not having control or the ability to give, to share, to belong, to have what one needs to have.”
10) Does the story about President Maduro’s birth certificate play a role in this?
It’s a good example, says Giuliani. “They say that the president is Colombian, but they don’t have to demonstrate it. What do they want to generate with this? In the general population they want to create doubt. If we analyse it coldly it doesn’t resist a basic analysis, because when the president when to register his candidature at the National Electoral Council he had to take his birth certificate. But the people receive this information, and the brain and social mechanisms have a distinctive feature: they tend to complete information that isn’t complete, we all do it.”
The analyst uses the story of the telephone to describe what happens: From the story of the neighbour who supposedly arrives late to their apartment, comes the story of the neighbour who was with another man. “People complete the story, but they always complete it according to its origin, if the rumour comes from something negative, they make it more negative, and later they add to it, as is the nature of the brain, a particularity that the social circuits have and which we call “pressure to infer”. You are in a queue, and maybe you don’t feel like talking, but if the people start to talk, you talk too, and you add something, later you go to a baptism and everyone starts to talk and say that there is a problem with scarcity, and two women were fighting over some precooked cornmeal”.
The rumour, he says, “takes on its own life” even though it lacks a basis. On 14 April, after the presidential elections were over, the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles said he had other figures, Giuliani remembers. “He never talked about that again, but saying something like that had a lot of power because he said it to tense people who already had the idea that the CNE is useless”. But it doesn’t matter much if Capriles has something to prove what he said; the idea took off and he never denied it.
11) Are rumours subject to reality checks?
“No, the media, these spokespeople, these rumours, they are never subject to checking,” said Giuliani. He says that it’s not just a “very well planned war” but also a “frank manipulation and a full on lie.” So “it’s very easy for me to say “I have other results”, as Capriles did, when really I don’t have them, and no-one’s going to ask me for them, and I’ve already said it”.
The breeding ground was developed months and years before hand. “if you plant it today and you start today, no one is going to believe you, but within a year of systematic preparation of the terrain, you’re going to believe anything,” Suarez says.
12) What are they seeking to create against the president?
Those responsible for this psychological war “don’t just have to divide, or make people believe that there are internal divisions in Chavismo, but also decrease the credibility of the leadership of the revolution” and in the process itself, Suarez analyses. To do that to the president they try to present him as a “liar” so that the people don’t believe what he proposes. “Everything that indicates that the president is a liar, they are going to do psychologically”. There are strategies for that, she adds; for example, maybe nothing is being said about insecurity, but the head of state today talks about the topic, tomorrow “the media will summarise the most violent events, the most horrendous and atrocious that you can imagine”.
One thing is reality, the other is perception of reality, they argue.
What is the perception now of Venezuela, as chaotic?
Chaotic. That is, here, now, according to perception, there’s scarcity, there’s inefficiency, there’s turmoil.
Is there planned destruction of the image of the president?
Of course. There was, openly, against Chavez, the psychologists say. The Bolivarian leader was subjected to moral death and they have used his image for all sorts of manipulation. Proof of that is the recording that they circulated a few weeks ago with the falsification of his voice.
Now, those who are behind the psychological war take what the president says in order to immediately belittle it. For example, “if he creates Corpomiranda in order to be able to relieve all the problems in Miranda [state], the next day the headline is ‘This is going to be the same inefficiency, the same bureaucracy, a means for corruption’. It’s an immediate reaction so that people assume that what the president does will always be a failure.
The permanent reviling of the leader also aims to stop the Chavista people from uniting with his leadership, that’s why they attribute everything bad to him.
13) What role does the use of Chavismo’s symbols play for Anti-Chavismo?
One of the aims is to increase confusion, the psychologists emphasise. They want it to be believed that in the face of the supposed uncertainty of Chavismo there is the certainty that the opposition has something better to offer.
Also, by stealing certain symbols, such as the cap with the Venezuelan flag, “they want to steal or appropriate ideas” that united the vast majority, such as the homeland, independence, values, culture. “When these sectors start to appropriate or try to appropriate some things, they cause rifts. Those who lead the war “play a lot with marketing that aims at discrediting, belittling the Bolivarian leaders, and on the other hand at positioning well the leaders of the anti-Chavismo.
According to Giuliani, “they have tried to appropriate some concepts of Bolivarianism, of Chavismo, of socialism, of the left, in order to trap and confuse some sectors, sectors with Chavismo that are undecided.”
14) How is the chaos they are trying to plant in the minds of the people made evident?
“In the type of conversation that people have, in their daily conversations,” Giuliani says. “The conversations are riddled with the types of problems that go with the interpretations. That is, people don’t just say 'we have shortage problems', but 'we have shortage problems because of this and this and this'”.
The psychologist explains that, furthermore, this is accompanied by irrational verbalisations, without an accurate analysis of what people are really living. Another example, “You go every day to any place and they attend to you warmly, but one day a bad person attends to you and the thing is converted into ‘everyone is anxious, everyone is angry’, even though it’s not true”.
It’s also based on “the compartmentalised vision that middle class people had for a very long time, that has systematically refused to recognise that there are other spaces [sectors] in the country and that the world could be limited to their surroundings, and people who think differently don’t fit in those surroundings”.
The psychologist, in his analysis, doesn’t put prejudices to one side. “If you are a person who has always thought that the poor are lazy, that the poor are undisciplined, that the poor need to be spurred on, and the opinion matrix against the revolution sustains that Chavez is a “lover of snakes”, surely you’ll believe it. In your head, as a consequence, there’s no space for the idea of an organised people.”
15) What are the weapons that psychological war uses?
Giuliani cites a model in social psychology, “which is related to social influence” and that indicates “what you should do to influence [things] when you have a choice that isn’t a majority one”. He cites various elements: “You have to be insistent and persistent, you have to say the same thing all the time, you have to be consistent in what you say, and you have to resist in the face of proofs of the reality, that is, if they call on you to prove this, you brazenly change the topic and keep talking. This is called psychological resistance, or in colloquial terms is a very cheeky guy”.
What is the effect that this has? “These three things combined open up the space for doubt, a space that other things can penetrate,” he warns.
The model isn’t bad per se. The psychologist says that it can be used to change the vision of the population of organ transplant, for example, in order to increase donations and help save lives.
16) At what point does the psychological war become a physical war?
The vanguard of Anti-Chavismo hopes so, Fernando Giuliani warned. He cited what happened on 11 April 2002 on Puente Llaguno, with a staged killing spree to justify the coup against comandante Hugo Chavez, as well as the march called for by the anti-Chavismo for 17 April this year to the CNE. This mobilisation, prohibited by the president, could have ended up with the people against the people. “What they were seeking there is a confrontation”, but fortunately the head of state prevented the protest from happening.
“A confrontation here would be enough” to justify the occupation of the country by external forces, he argues. He remembers what happened in Chile in 1973, when the leadership of the armed forces decided to perpetrate a coup against the constitutional government in order to put an end to the supposed chaos created by the right. “In Chile they generated the need for change”, something they want to replicate in Venezuela, he said.
17) What is the final objective of the psychological war?
To plant in the population the “need for change” and that the majority of people think that anything is better than the “disorder” that they supposedly experience. From there, the overthrowing of the national government.
They hope to “return to normality, which isn’t real, it’s the normality of the values of the bourgeoisie, it’s the normality of the values and the naturalness of the capitalist or imperialist system,” Suarez accused.
18) Is the psychological war infallible?
No it isn’t, Giuliani says. There are many people, especially in Chavismo, who “bit by bit are recovering an ability to read critically, and this can’t be underestimated”.
The psychologist recalls that between 2001 and 2002 the people were subjected to strong pressure by these sectors, which included the resurrection of operation Peter Pan (the “regime” would confiscate children and families should take them overseas). Suarez says that in some zones of Caracas it got to the point where between 2002 and 2005, of having hot oil to throw against “the Chavistas”, as well as ice ready in the fridge for the same end. “The crisis was very intense, from an emotional point of view, and the people resisted with a critical reading and of course, by being clear about where they were going”.
“If there is a people that has been an example in the world of resistance in the face of psychological war and the media, it’s the Venezuelan people,” Giuliani says. Because when Chavez was born as a candidate he didn’t have the press in his favour. “He was subjected to the craziest and most ferocious campaign in the history of our elections, and he won”.
19) What is the antidote to the psychological war?
The political consciousness of the people has grown a lot, the experts state. “There has been a very recent history, a very close one, which identifies completely with a leader” which enables people to doubt what the media says and the right-wing campaign.
However, Suarez affirms, vulnerability increases when the population doesn’t have “antennas” prepared to capture that there is something irregular, as happens in the soap operas. “In the soap operas, they don’t handle direct news, but use imaginary symbols. That is, if in all the soap operas or all the series that we watch they start to deal with fear, uncertainty, desperation, injustice, you’re left with this emotion, which you then connect to when you go to the supermarket and there’s no milk,” she says.
20) How can people protect themselves from the psychological war?
“The most important tool for people to protect themselves is organisation,” they both respond together. That implies, among other actions, “the creation of anti-rumour brigades, that allow you to verify information,” they propose.
The state should guarantee true information in a systematic way, they stress, because if not, lies prevail. In that sense they also believe that its important to fine those who have generated chaos with their supposed “information”.
For Giuliani and Suarez it’s important that there are “very high levels of cohesion within all the organised Chavista people, because that is the main target that is being aimed at”. They both insist that each person can maintain their beliefs and ideologies if they want to, but they stress that it’s important not to lose a critical understanding of reality.
Translation by Tamara Pearson for Venezuelanalysis.com. The original article has been slightly abridged.