An Affective Picture of Chavismo (IV): Depoliticized, Fools

Reinaldo Iturriza argues that, contrary to international media representations, Venezuelan people are neither fools nor depoliticized.


And this land shall be free and this country shall be great, worthy of us and those who come after us. It won’t be a foolish country.

– Hugo Chávez, June 12, 2004

We are no longer a foolish country, we are a caribe country. Not the foolish country which they ran as they pleased. A caribe people is what we are.

– Hugo Chávez, November 19, 2010

Because they believe these people are idiots. No, these people are not the idiots they used to be, this is not the foolish country of yesteryear. This country has awoken, and that’s one of the biggest changes that has taken place here in these 13 years, a cultural change.

– Hugo Chávez, September 14, 2012

It never ceases to surprise me how people talk so incredibly casually about the supposed depoliticization of Venezuelan society, a phenomenon which, according to some, is on the rise. With a suspicious frequency, these kinds of opinions are usually associated with the idea that, in order to get close to the “real” Venezuela, we must dispense with the versions of events offered by Chavismo and anti-Chavismo.

The idea is problematic for at least two reasons: on the one hand, it presupposes a deep ignorance of the cultural change that the country saw since the emergence of Chavismo, in the ‘90s, and its unleashing during the first decade of the century; on the other, it implies an equally deep ignorance about the variety of shades we find in the wide Venezuelan political spectrum.

As a result, what is meant to be a look from a new angle, which “reveals” to the audience something nobody else can see, is no more than an extremely simplistic view of reality, almost always with a given agenda.

This imposture is old. For example, since the first years of the Bolivarian Revolution, the discourse against “polarization” has been trendy, especially coming from academics of the more classical liberal tradition, for whom conflict, rather than the engine of politics, is what politics should divert, neutralize, postpone. Then, as now, Chavismo was seen as a monstrous being, not the result of a historical conflict, rather as an almost pre-political, pernicious subject, which more than fueling conflict took advantage of it, hindering the “normal” functioning of the democratic system.

With its roots in parts of anti-Chavismo, this discourse was later appropriated, invariably, by those who, for one reason or another, decided to break from Chavismo or were kept on the margins.

Oficialismo, a concept which captures the practices of the most conservative currents of Chavismo, has never been too skillful in handling the differences within the movement. While Venezuela was shaken, as it still is, by the historical conflict between to gigantic opposing poles, oficialismo looked to avoid the rigors of the internal conflict at any cost, demanding discipline here and there, ignoring popular critique. On the flipside, it felt comfortable polemicizing with the most outrageous elements of the anti-Chavista political class.

Ultimately, amidst said conflict, oficialismo always presented a sham polarization, since it limits itself to fighting, exclusively, the battles it can win: foolish politics. And if it reaches the conclusion that the battle against capitalists is too uphill, then it is simple enough: it looks to reach agreements.

Oficialismo’s problem is doing foolish politics in a country which is not foolish, but caribe, and having to deal with a people who are no longer idiots.

Incapable of translating the legitimate popular discontent, the popular weariness vis-a-vis foolish politics, oficialismo resorts to, among other things, the tired trope of the depoliticized people (ungrateful, indisciplined, etc.), even more so now, in times of popular retreat from politics. And, in contrast, every display of solidarity, of perseverance against all odds, each demonstration of ability to resist, every act of popular nobleness, is interpreted pure and simply as carte blanche [backing of government policy].

Beyond oficialismo, the problem is when one tries to understand Venezuela ignoring the deep, historical roots of polarization and, even worse, the existence of this sham polarization, these foolish politics, which is rejected by most of Chavismo’s social base, and by Venezuelan society in general.

Discarding all of these elements is the fastest way to completely misunderstand what the popular majorities feel and think.

That’s how absurd conclusions are reached, for example that any show of support for the Bolivarian Revolution or of firm rejection of imperialist aggressions are demonstrations of uncritical support for the government. And, conversely, that the popular retreat from politics or the harsh criticism of government policies or of the Chavista leadership mean a tacit agreement with the anti-Chavista political class.

It is a big mistake to interpret this deep dissatisfaction with foolish politics as depoliticization. Even in the act of political disaffiliation (those who no longer recognize their political identity and eventually reject politics) there is a display of political will.

If we really want to understand what the Chavista people feel, we need to take into account that they are neither fools, nor depoliticized.

This is the fourth installment of a series of texts by Venezuelan writer and theorist Reinaldo Iturriza. Follow the links for the previous texts: part I, part II, part III.

Translated by Ricardo Vaz for Venezuelanalysis.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.

Source: Saber y Poder