Apps and Government Policies

Amidst a deadly US blockade, VA columnist Jessica Dos Santos finds a worrying intolerance for debate and criticism amidst Chavista ranks.

When I quit my job in a state media outlet there were several things that annoyed me. But there was one that was especially unbearable: the tendency of some workmates to blame the people for their problems.

If someone said, “I bought this medicine on the black market” or “the bus driver charged me twice the fare,” out they came: that’s why the country is going downhill, because of people like you who will overpay or allow others to do as they please.

And if the targeted person sought to justify themselves, “my kid is very sick” or “it was the last bus and I had no other way of getting home,” they would be accused of not fighting, not enforcing their rights.

Well, what if you fight to demand that the state provide healthcare and public transportation? No, then you’re a traitor!

I thought this practice had become a thing of the past, but a few days ago I realized it did not. As I watched the state broadcaster on TV, the show’s lead anchor read some messages from the audience. One stood out: “in this place we haven’t had water for five months.”

Her startled face gave away that this message was not supposed to be read. Then, like a cornered predator, she sprung out: “But have you made the complaint through VenApp (a government phone app)? You have to do it so the government can act.”

I could hardly believe what I was witnessing. A neighborhood has been waterless for half a year and it’s the people’s fault for not submitting a ticket in a weeks-old app? An app that means to create a kind of technological street government to address long-known public service issues and has all the hallmarks of an electoral campaign element. What happened to the directive that elected representatives (deputies, mayors, governors) should have their ear to the ground?

Sadly, I realized, nothing had changed. Only I had not been exposed to it. For one reason or another, and certainly not consciously, I’ve lost touch with those work and political comrades. When I stumble upon them it feels like we no longer understand each other, we talk in different codes, even if deep down we still have the same ideals.

At the end of the day this is the moat that has emerged over time. Some of us cling to certain principles, even if we are aware that they can change or evolve. Others will defend the government’s actions above all else.

If they put this political project’s principles first, they would never blame someone for not having water because they did not register in an app.

They wouldn’t judge teachers, healthcare professionals, and public sector workers who have taken to the streets of Caracas to demand higher wages because their current ones only cover 10 percent of the basic food basket. And they wouldn’t even consider something as absurd as blaming public employees, who after weeks of struggle received their well-earned vacation bonuses, for the exchange rate hike caused by the usual (business) suspects and a less-than-desirable government response.

They could not support the environmental damage and the deep economic inequality that is about to be unleashed by the so-called Special Economic Zones, created to “attract foreign investment via tax incentives.” In plain terms, luxury tourism projects for local and foreign privileged elites that will have little to no benefit for Venezuelan communities.

If principles came first, these opinion-makers would not tolerate the influx of GMO products into the country via the subsidized CLAP food bags. The CLAP program staved off hunger for a population besieged by murderous US sanctions and hyperinflation, and continues to do so. But it is also undeniable that it has become a very profitable business for a few actors who never believed in a seed law that was built from the bottom up, not to mention other things.

All these decisions, from Special Economic Zones to GMO foodstuffs, happen without any popular consultation. We’ve gone from being active participants in all major political steps to just receiving silence or less-than-clear information from above. One wonders how much of it is owed to communicational deficiencies, and how much of it is by design.

Amidst all this, those who disagree are ungrateful, those who complain are accomplices of the enemy. Just a few days ago the campaign against the “criminal dollar” was dusted off. Again, it was up to the people to assume the state’s supervisory role and demand that the official exchange rate be used. The fact that the US dollar is used to set prices is now inevitable, it seems. Be that as it may, retailers simply hiked their prices in bolívars, and soon enough the “official” exchange rate was on a par with the “criminal” one.

I know that many of these people who don’t tolerate disagreements are noble, smart and committed. They believe in a better country and work for it, but they are frightened to entertain the thought that certain things are happening that have nothing to do with the Bolivarian Process. They are not even willing to discuss which setbacks are forced by the US blockade and which ones are not. We’re losing spaces to debate, to question, and this was always at the heart of Chavismo.

All in all, we find ourselves like we are evaluating a partner that has changed a lot, but whom we still love for all we have been through and hope to accomplish together. Let’s not forget what made this “relationship” special in the first place.

Jessica Dos Santos is a Venezuelan university professor, journalist and writer whose work has appeared in outlets such as RT, Épale CCS magazine and Investig’Action. She is the author of the book “Caracas en Alpargatas” (2018). She’s won the Aníbal Nazoa Journalism Prize in 2014 and received honorable mentions in the Simón Bolívar National Journalism prize in 2016 and 2018.

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

Translated by Venezuelanalysis.