Class, Caste, and Venezuela’s Opposition: Political Realignment at a Conjuncture

Sociologist Ociel López argues that the Venezuelan opposition is sabotaged by its own racism and classism that prevent it from winning the Chavista masses to its political project. 


Around three and a half million Chavistas between 2012 and 2015 have become disaffected from the official politics offered by the government. This is the number of votes that the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) and its allies have lost in the same period. But it is also the atmosphere that you can breathe, day in day out, in hegemonic Chavista areas (electorally speaking). 

Despite this deep discontent, however, the recent marches by the opposition in September and October 2016 have once again exposed it as an upper and middle class White minority, that mobilises in just a couple of municipalities nationally, led by the richest families in the country (Mendoza, Capriles, Machado-Zuloaga) and which is also, fundamentally, incapable as a class of articulating the discontent in the streets, from the most “politicised” to “looting”. 

Why is this real discontent– which is not “media-based” or “induced”– present in the electoral sphere and in the everyday life of the popular classes, yet it doesn’t go along with the opposition in their eagerness to overthrow the government? Why doesn’t it turn up to their rallies, why doesn’t it go to their marches? Why do the citizens that resent the economic situation dismiss the opposition’s agenda? Why is it that those citizens who today are even searching for food in the trash and who went out to loot in Cumaná, do not sign up for the takeover over the Miraflores Presidential Palace? 

There is a clear answer: the political opposition’s class shines through. The “marginal” class originally, yes, but outwardly “high” – upper class and elitist*.

The current “rebellion” (Freddy Guevara – etc.) is a sad repetition of the radical classism demonstrated in the previous takeover of Miraflores in 2002, which ended the government of Chávez for three days. Each scene, each image, each speech exposes a leadership and a mass of people who have no issue with yelling racist slogans, offending people like Chávez and Bolivar, revealing their chauvinism by insulting Maduro as “Colombian” and prioritising “political prisoners” in their agenda, as if it really matters to the country that some rich daddy’s boy is in jail amidst so much disarray. 

In his speech, Freddy Guevara, a legislator for the Popular Will party– a Mendoza family franchise–reignited the idea of “taking Miraflores” and this re-aligned political forces, because it revealed a central and even singular demand: Miraflores means having political power as a class, despite the fact that this classist position is what prevents them from winning general elections. 

The new Miraflores “takeover” is realigning political forces. On the one hand, it is realigning those of the opposition – caught up with the internal sabotage of (Henrique) Capriles**, who is the only leader prepared to win Chavista votes, but who is fenced in symbolically and hesitant. Capriles either loses the White minority that is essential for winning the primary elections, or he loses the hegemonic vision that he has been working on and with it the Chavista majority, which is essential for winning general elections.

But it is also realigning Chavismo, because as bad as the post-Chavez government has been, nothing could be worse for the people’s interests than having the upper class take power. And Miraflores is symbolically Chavista, not just in terms of the government, but fundamentally Chavista, and if the usual enemies want to take it again, many people from the popular classes will have no problem defending it once more. 

But the “opposition masses” are once again getting special attention. Their hysteria and incapability of politically reading the country, even in favorable situations, is not due to media manipulation (in fact, they no longer have media in their own image), nor to the irresponsibility of their leaders. It is simply a defect. The defect of the upper and middle classes that believe themselves to be the owners of a country by day and then lock themselves away in fear by nightfall. A class which decisively says, we are going to take Miraflores “it’s our right”, and then after the first shot is fired, denounces the “collectives” and “motorcyclists”*** in terror. It is an arrogant and haughty class, but at the same time, terrified and spineless. That’s why they always end up saying “I am so gone!”, “this country is fucked”, “we won’t get ahead until they exterminate the scum and Chavistas” and then return to their comfort zone in the east of Caracas or north of Valencia. A morning comfort zone, because as Herrera Luque reminds us “the night is an equaliser”.  

That’s why Lorendo Mendoza and the mantuana**** families march against the “dictatorship” but get scared by a strike. That’s why they don’t dare say, as they did that one infamous time, “this human river is marching to Miraflores”. The “owners of the valley” need a Carlos Ortega***** and they don’t have one. Meanwhile, “their women” Maria Corina and Lilian Tintori remind them of how cowardly they are. Will they sacrifice their children to get to Miraflores? We doubt it. Without poor people marching with them, the main scenario is hysteria, a return to the east and defeat. For Chavismo it is a re-encounter: binding together and reforging its class identity, no matter how much criticism you may have of the government.

*Here Lopez uses the phrase “sifrinaje” which has been described by the author elsewhere as the snobbish and elitist “cultural ethos” of Venezuela’s rich white elite, descended from the colonial upper classes.

** Henrique Capriles Radonski was the MUD opposition coalition’s official presidential candidate in 2012 and 2013, who attempted to imitate Chávez’s discourse and demeanor in order to win lower class votes.

*** Motorcyclists are feared and stigmatized by Venezuela’s middle and upper classes, who commonly regard them as “malandros” (criminals).

**** Mantuana is another way of saying “the owners of the valley” and refers to the colonial White oligarchy that controlled Caracas. 

***** Carlos Ortega was a trade union leader who lent support to the opposition in the lead-up to the 2002 coup.  

Translated from the original Spanish and edited by Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas for Venezuelanalysis.com.