The fact that 2022 was a lost year for the Venezuelan opposition (especially its arsonist wing) does not mean that it was victorious for the government. At least not in terms of electoral prospects.
This, I should warn, is hard to admit for many important people in the revolutionary camp. In fact, there are plenty who stress that this opinion is a symptom of late-stage “escualidismo” (support for the opposition) and imminent betrayal. To each their own.
In summary, after having written on the opposition wasting 2022 and now running against the clock, in this piece I share my opinions as well as those of my two favorite political analysts: Prodigio Pérez and Eva Ritz Marcano. We discuss how the past year went for Chavismo and what lies ahead.
The unequal recovery
The debate (sometimes serious, sometimes obnoxious) on whether Venezuela is improving or not might find a neutral ground if we label the recovery “unequal,” Prodigio stresses.
In her opinion – and both Eva and I agree – the recovery is undeniable in terms of economic indicators, but it has been marked by heavy inequality, typical of savage capitalism. This is the opposite of a society moving towards socialism.
“It is not true that improvements are only visible in Las Mercedes [wealthy neighborhood in east Caracas]. Let’s not exaggerate. These days [before Christmas] there were people spending money like there was no tomorrow in Catia, Antímano or La Hoyada [popular barrios in Caracas], but this democratization of unrestrained consumerism is an illusion and leaves out more vulnerable sectors. In other words, it heightens inequality in both real and symbolic terms,” Prodigio explained in academic terms.
For Eva, the most damaging of all this, from the government and ruling party’s perspective, is that the discourse of “more consumption equals more economic growth equals more social happiness” is, in structural terms, the enemy’s discourse. And in politics, those who lie with the enemy’s discourse will end up carrying its child (it does not matter if the creature comes out with good intentions).
This has good and bad consequences for Chavismo. The good part is that day-to-day conflicts are toned down. There is no longer a climate of permanent confrontation and turmoil that we witnessed for years. It ruined several holiday seasons and at its hottest peaks it nearly drove us to a civil war.
The bad part is that there is no clear difference between the basic programs of Chavismo and anti-Chavismo. And indifference tends to favor, according to my political analyst friends, to whoever represents “change,” even if the proposal is vague or false. If the government and the opposition offer the same prescription, people might lean towards the opposition, especially when it comes to governments that have spent a long time in power.
“The recipe to preserve an electoral stronghold was, until now, a different proposal compared to the right-wing, regardless of whether those pledges were fulfilled or not. If that becomes completely blurred, even at the level of discourse, another sector of Chavista voters will migrate towards other options or abstention,” Eva predicts.
Decline in the most loyal sector
A second aspect of Chavismo’s reality highlighted by these two political analysts is that, in their opinion, the Revolution’s support base has continued to decrease. Not just that, the rate is faster in what have been the most loyal sectors up to now: urban poor, campesinos and pensioners.
Each of these downs in support has ideological and practical reasons. The poorest of society (including elders) have borne the brunt of all these years of economic war, shortages, hyperinflation, sanctions and blockade. Furthermore, they have not had a chance to recover in this new stage where other sectors flash their prosperity.
“At least when those in the middle classes were struggling, the suffering was shared. These days, unbridled price hikes can be absorbed by a part of the population (that has incomes in USD or belongs to the business class or engages in currency speculation), but not by those who only earn in bolívars,” Prodigio claims.
The disenchantment is particularly serious among retirees and pensioners, who recurrently draw comparisons to what they lived when Chávez was in power. Though under a much different economic context, it must be said, many of them managed to live comfortably with their pensions.
When it comes to the campesino world, there is disillusionment because there is no shortage of signs that landowners are making a comeback and that agribusiness corporations are enjoying life in areas that had previously belonged to rural organizations following long and painful struggles. The re-emergence of landowners’ hegemony has in many cases come alongside the criminalization of campesino leaders, much like we used to see in the years prior to the arrival of the Bolivarian Revolution.
For this sector there is a similar phenomenon to what is seen with workers from basic industries, nationalized companies, as well as social property and even major private enterprises: trade union activities and protests have been stifled by judicial processes or actions from security forces.
These attitudes from authorities (that go against the celebrated political changes) make it so the ideological basis of Chavista discourse loses part of its content. Even if this does not translate into a transfer of support for the right, it at least generates political apathy which is unlike the enthusiasm that has propelled the Revolution.
The corruption factor
The heavily celebrated economic recovery has a component that boomerangs against the government and the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV): corruption.
The unrestrained ostentation of wealth on the streets has been one of the most strident signs that “Venezuela is fixed.” But it must be noted that some of these displays come from public officials who, if they lived on the basis of their legal incomes, should have no business enjoying this “rich and famous” lifestyle.
There is a macabre combination at play: the individuals who do not manage (or do not want) to hide their breakneck rise to riches feed the right-wing media and social media apparatus that, naturally, takes advantage of these opportunities. The audience of this shameful spectacle is the general public, Chavista, independent or pro-opposition, watching how a select few enjoy grotesque privileges while the majority continues to struggle to make ends meet.
Needless to say, this issue is even more damning when the protagonists are officials in charge of government programs that concern the aforementioned vulnerable sectors above all, such as public healthcare or social missions.
Amidst the displays of corruption we can also find the grotesque accumulation of a “business” class that trades on speculation and scams. This is a group that authorities have stopped chasing, with the exception of occasional high-profile acts.
The symbolic front is also important
The economic regeneration of recent times, which has become more apparent in 2022, has implied the renouncement of certain values that used to be at Chavismo’s core.
In the drive to get the country up and running, authorities have, for example, allowed the return of casinos and other similar endeavors. During his time, Chávez railed against them. Some officials have presented the unveiling or reopening of these businesses as evidence of economic development. This is, no matter how we look at it, an ethical aberration.
At the same time, there have been policies favoring imports of high-end goods that are only available to the richest people. These end up used by the opposition to sustain positions denying the existence of the blockade and of unilateral coercive measures.
The loss of these symbolic elements deepen the ideological blur that engulfs the ruling Chavista group. It reinforces the indifference (with respect to the opposition) stressed by Eva and Prodigio before.
A powerful and wide-reaching party
Despite this apparently negative scenario, there are reasons for optimism amidst high-ranking PSUV members. The main reason is that during 2022 the party restructured its organization and even branched out to incorporate a number of movements and social initiatives that had hitherto functioned outside the party.
The PSUV show of strength during internal consultation events and, later, during the swearing-in ceremonies for newly elected officials, were remarkable. They showcased a party with an organic presence throughout the country, something practically unique in a barren wasteland made up of the ruins of old political organizations and tiny parties with a presence that is more digital than real.
The opponent’s weakness
At the end of the day, taking stock of Chavismo’s 2022 and its perspectives for the key challenges ahead is inseparable from the reality of the Venezuelan opposition. The clear weakness of the sector remains the key advantage that the government and the PSUV can rely on.
The Mexico dialogue showcased that the arsonist opposition sector only has the blockade and sanctions card left to use in order to get something out of the negotiations. Those who thought differently had another clear demonstration with the approval of the arbitrarily named Bolívar Act which means to reinforce the blackmail against Venezuela. It is a seemingly contradictory action (given the rapprochement by the Biden administration) that looks to, once again, force the government’s hand at the negotiation table.
The analytical session with Prodigio and Eva was followed by the bizarre episode in which former members of a National Assembly whose term expired two years ago got together as if they were still in office and overthrew the supposed president of said obsolete parliament (Juan Guaidó), who also bestowed upon himself the title of “interim president” of Venezuela. The challenge was then to see which of the warring factions had the blessing of the US masters. Washington ended up endorsing the “coup” promoters. No one can deny that an opposition like this fills any government with hope.
In this government opponent camp we should include a sector of ex-Chavistas (who do not recognize themselves as such) who span a wide spectrum: from spectacularly corrupt former officials to people who, based on the honesty argument, have turned against the movement that they once belong to. For the time being, Prodigio, Evan and I only agree that none of these factions really threaten those who are currently at the head of the Revolution.
Faced with this reality, the governing Chavismo still holds the upper ground, in spite of all the setbacks analyzed in this article. Of course, it is very dubious that its prospects of winning and remaining in power hinge more on opponents’ shortcomings than on its own merits. But so it goes in politics and several other human activities.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.