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Criticizing Venezuela from the Left

Venezuela, increasingly, resembles today's liberal democracies, where institutions are becoming formal appendages of the power of the markets and securitization. Español

A young woman shows a sign that says ''your indifference makes me ashamed.'' Valencia, Carabobo, Venezuela. Juan Carlos Hernandez/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.

There are two truths on Venezuela. The economic and political crisis is real and Nicolás Maduro’s government has a large share of responsibility for it. But it is also true that the news coverage of events in Venezuela exceeds sensationalism – it has entered the soap opera field. A defense of the lessons and achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution that duly takes into account its contribution to the universal history of emancipation, must therefore take a step back and keep some distance from both Maduro’s government and the media.

What is currently happening in Venezuela is reprehensible and the actions of Maduro’s government, in many respects, must be condemned - but not for the reasons put forward by the media. Take the case of the democratic situation in the country. From the point of view which is regularly and uncritically spread by the media, Venezuela has presumably breached the democratic order by failing to observe the division of powers.

But if we look at it more closely, we can see that what is happening in Venezuela is, actually, a sharp division of powers: the legislative and the executive branch stand more divided than ever. This is not just a pun. A paradox underlies the very idea of the division of powers which Liberalism has been unable to solve conceptually: if the branches of government are to be truly divided, each of them must be autonomous and, at the same time, be kept under control.

But these two ideas are mutually exclusive, because exercising control over another branch implies violating its autonomy. The concern of Liberalism with "polarized societies" clearly shows that the much vaunted division of powers is only a formal distribution of functions within the State – a distribution that can only take place if those involved think fundamentally in the same way. The division of powers only works within the framework of a pensée unique - but a single way of thinking is undemocratic.

The economic and political crisis is real and Nicolás Maduro’s government has a large share of responsibility for it. 

In relation to this, a good deal of the current actions of the Venezuelan government can be criticized and condemned from a leftist point of view. To a large extent, the government has gradually dismantled the democratic character of state institutions as a protection of the weak against the strong. A quick glance at the social indicators of Venezuela, which used to be one of the most tangible results of the democratizing effects of the Revolution, confirms this tendency against its own principles. We are witnessing, for example, a clear deterioration of the newborn mortality rate, according to figures from the Ministry of Popular Power for Health: in 2012, the rate was 10 per thousand; in 2015 it was 20 per thousand (Cuba has a rate of 4.3 and Colombia 15).

The doubling of the newborn mortality rate can only be explained by a general deterioration of the healthcare system.The Bolivarian Revolution teaches an invaluable lesson precisely on this question: an accurate and precise indicator of the existence of a truly democratic separation of powers is the effective separation of political from economic power.

This stems from the idea that liberal parliamentary institutions are valuable and useful for emancipation and democracy to the extent that they are tools on the hands of the weak to stop and block the economic power of the strong and powerful. Throughout the last decade, Venezuela reminded the world that the historical meaning of western democratic institutions, as the political outcome of the French Revolution and the struggles of the social movements in the 20th century, is none other than this: democracy is the collective power of individuals against the power of money and the established privileges.

Something similar happens with the prison situation. According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons, the rate of overcrowding in the country’s national prisons (13 of which have been privatized, much as in the United States) was 54% in 2016. Things are even more critical in the Police detention centres: the overcrowding rate there exceeds 300% - their total capacity is 8.000, but at this moment they house more than 33.000 people; 29.000 of which have not yet been convicted: they are under (permanent) preventive detention. Most of these people are being investigated not because they are in the opposition – as some media would like us to think -, but for the drug possession and consumption. This, of course, puts the Venezuelan government in the shameful position of implementing a punitive policy against drug use which the fiercest detractors of Castrochavismo in Colombia would be proud of.

A good deal of the current actions of the Venezuelan government can be criticized and condemned from a leftist point of view.

The overcrowding and food shortage in Venezuelan prisons has led to unusual situations such as the beheading of Carlos Luis Valera Aguilar by other inmates on November 16 last year. He was beheaded for stealing lunch from another inmate, and they slit his stomach to extract his organs as well. In such a context, the focus of the Colombian media – for instance - on the case of Leopoldo López, who enjoys an exceptionally enviable detention regime, reflects the little or no interest of the mainstream and the Colombian Right in the real situation of the people in Venezuela.

The responsibility of the Venezuelan government in the degression of the Revolution is undeniable. The Venezuelan and, to some extent, the world’s powerful have made life quite impossible for Maduro. It is also true that the basis of the current crisis is the rentier mentality and the oil oriented economy of the country in place since the 1930s, which has already produced social explosions like the Black Friday in 1982 and the Caracazo in 1989.

Believing that Venezuela used to be an earthly paradise that Chavism has ruined is a pathetic explanation of what is happening today. But so it is putting the blame of it all on imperialist intervention and the reaction of the powerful: adverse situations are in fact a normal cost of governing that the Left must learn to handle with cunning if it wants to keep its aspiration to rule. After all, the class struggle is a social reality - not an excuse.

The responsibility of the Venezuelan government in the degression of the Revolution is undeniable. The Venezuelan and, to some extent, the world’s powerful have made life quite impossible for Maduro.

The problem, then, is not that the powerful are reacting. It is rather what a democratic government does about it. And what the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and its friends have done, despite what the pro-government media and Chavism keep on saying, is taking refuge in the typical stratagems of the western democracies, where the dividing lines between democracy and dictatorship are increasingly blurred: operating in an extended and indefinite state of emergency (as in the United States with the Patriot Act, in France since the terrorist attacks in Paris, and now in the United Kingdom after the Manchester attack) and appealing permanently to the judiciary and the rule of law for the defense of the status quo.

The fact that the Maduro government appeals to the Constitutional Court to suspend elections and not to the democratic strength of social movements and community councils to overcome trouble and move things forward in the fight against the powerful is quite telling of the current state of the political and collective vigour of the Venezuelan people.

The conclusion to be drawn from all of this is that Venezuela, increasingly, resembles today's liberal "democracies", where institutions become formal appendages of the power of the markets and securitization. And it is precisely for this reason that the actions of the Venezuelan government should not be excused because of their similarity with them, but must be emphatically criticized from a left-wing point of view.

This article was previously published by lalineadefuego

About the author

Andrés Felipe Parra holds a PhD in Political Science and International Relations (National University of Colombia, Bogotá) and a PhD in Philosophy (Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, Bonn).

Andrés Felipe Parra es Doctor en Estudios Políticos y Relaciones Internacionales por la Universidad Nacional de Colombia en Bogotá y Doctor en Filosofía por la Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität de Bonn.


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