With the Help of Venezuela’s Opposition

In a certain sense, anti-chavistas have acted in favor of the revolutionary movement in that they behaved as an exclusionary force that distanced themselves from the social sectors, pushing these towards the governmental sector.

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In a certain sense, anti-chavistas have acted in favor of the revolutionary movement in that they behaved as an exclusionary force that distanced themselves from the social sectors, pushing these towards the governmental sector.

This is a reasonable explanation of the growth evidenced by the government in a time when one would have expected a decline in the level of social adhesions and, at the same time, explains why the opposition lost a part of its support even among the middle class, which it had controlled almost completely.

Examples of social movements that emerged prior to the revolutionary process, which in the beginning were sparse and that, in some sense, were captivated by the magnetic force of the process are the cooperatives and the community and alternative media.

Cooperatives

In the orthodox sector of the cooperative movement, which has existed in Venezuela since the 1960’s and that in some regions (mainly mid-west) had reached a notable level of development, from the beginning had reservations with respect to the haphazard form with which President Chavez stimulated the development of cooperatives. They fear that once these organizations that were created with the unique force of presidential leadership decline (a scenario of which they are certain), the loss of prestige of their massive failure will fall generally upon this traditional sector and with it would follow a decline of historic proportions.

Nonetheless, as a result of the heat of the moment and of some presidential programs, the cooperative sector has grown tremendously in the past few years and the communities that have adopted this form of organization as an alternative to the search for individual employment or the costly creation of businesses are numerous.

However, the government’s efforts to add the cooperative sector to its achievements are not the only variable in the equation, since such developments have had an unprecedented support from the opposite side, apparently guided by a suicidal strategy. The opposition has dedicated itself to ridiculing, criminalizing, and satanizing this form of popular economic organization. The most conspicuous spokespersons of the anti-Chavistas tend to refer to cooperativism as an archaic structure, incapable of generating social wealth on any meaningful scale. They assure that the motivations are akin to communism and that they weaken the sacrosanct concept of private property. They affirm that the cooperatives launched by the government are no more than new sources of political clientelism when they are not covered up with a façade of cells of political violence. Such critiques practically oblige groups that have adopted this form, Chavista or not, to radicalize themselves in favor of the government.

The private mass media have been the resonance boards for these endeavors to underestimate and to reduce these initiatives to a joke. The analysts and commentators that have been in charge of this have in return received applause from a gallery that has an image of itself as being “modern” (in the sense of neo-liberal globalizers) and considers itself part of the first world, since the official programs mostly produce embarrassment among them.

The government’s tendency to create structures that provide a foundation to its postulates of endogenous development have gone beyond the orbit of cooperatives, embracing the field of the social economy, extending its policies into the arenas of small and medium businesses and even grazing on big business.

In parallel, the opposition has dedicated itself to questioning these efforts, indicating that the initiatives in the micro-sphere do not generate sufficient energy to start the economic motor.

Obsessed as they are with neo-liberal precepts, that enthrone foreign direct investment on a large scale, scorning these sectors and discarding the people who try to redeem themselves in the arms of a government that has chosen to pay attention to them, not just rhetorically, but also financially, through government purchasing of goods and services and the acquisitions of Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA, the state oil company).

Community Media

The phenomenon is repeated in other fields, such as is the case with the community or alternative media. It is an old struggle, of at least two decades, which Chavistas have capitalized upon due to the coincidence of two forces: first, the revolution, which tries to attract the community media and, second, the opposition, which demonizes or caricaturizes them and thereby distances itself from them.

In this particular case there is a specific incident that clearly indicated the positions and that left a mark: the persecution of the alternative media by the sectors that temporarily took power on April 11 of 2002. If there were any doubts about what would happen in the case that the Bolivarian government should fall, in these few hours these doubts were dispersed. From this moment on community media and small publications closed ranks behind the government, without necessarily being chavistas.

After April 2002, the opposition has not been able to hide its distaste for the alternative and community media. On the contrary, in a broader sense, opposition politicians and the owners of the large private media outlets have made known their efforts against any mode of communication that broadcasts opinions that are different from the ones they propagate.

The closing of the community TV station Catia TVe by the Greater Caracas Mayor Alfredo Peña, via administrative machinations, was another proof of the bad will that the alternative media encounter outside of Chavista circles.

The Reasons

It is easy to understand why the government attempts to coopt the social movements that have their roots among the people. Any government, especially one that proclaims to be revolutionary, must do so. In the particular case of the government that President Chavez leads, one can observe a special motivation: the conviction it has that the revolution must be sustained by a structure that has its seeds deeply within the communities, as a movement of movements, and not as a simple political party or alliance among parties.

Chavez constantly expresses this idea and tends to talk about the empowerment of the people and of the organization and participation of the communities. The creation of the Bolivarian Circles was, at least in their initial conception, a step in this direction.

Now these are the reasons why the government acts the way it acts, but what about the reasons the opposition has for bringing about a series of actions and omissions that have led to a wasting of its political capital and to distance itself from important social sectors, pushing these towards the government sector? This is an unknown that requires much analysis.

The opposition’s behavior appears particularly paradoxical if one considers that within the ranks of those opposed to the government are a good part of Venezuela’s intelligentsia, people with an intellectual and technical education—supposedly and self-proclaimed—superior to that of Chavistas, who should have a clear understanding of social and political processes. This superiority in intelligence, academic level, and professional merit, which has been converted into a topic by the media and into a weapon by the middle class, has not served the detractors of the government to understand that their strategies, far from capturing the support of important segments of the population, have led to an isolation from these and, in many cases, to deliver them to their adversaries.

Not only leaders of the anti-Chavista movement are involved in these uncertain efforts, but also a workforce made up of national and international advisors, who have made studies and presented diagnoses and prognoses. Were these advisors wrong or were they ignored by the leadership? This is something that only the protagonists can know.

The only thing that one can attribute such an erratic manner of facing political struggle to is the excessive heterogeneity of interests that exist within the opposition coalition Democratic Coordinator, an alliance of political parties that just about covers the entire political spectrum, from the ultra-right to the ultra-left, corporate interests that reach from the chamber of commerce Fedecamaras to the union federation CTV, and the most varied NGOs.

This coalition has incurred in dramatic errors, such as the underestimation of the forces and capacities of the government and the overestimation of their own forces, which it displayed particularly during the strike of December 2002 and January 2003. In this accumulation of factors strategic components of the opposition sector have provided greater attractive force to the powers that emanate from the government.

Translated by Gregory Wilpert