On the end of Chavism

Forthcoming elections in Venezuela may not be about the continuity or the end of Chavism, but rather on how the opposition and the ruling party will cohabitate the day after. Español.

Aram Aharonian
4 November 2015

Dilma Rousseff receiving a Hugo Chávez picture from Nicolás Maduro. Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

On December 6, the new members of Venezuela’s National Assembly will be elected. The country is currently bracing itself for the election, as the results are quite uncertain. What is beyond doubt, though, is the confrontation between the opposition’s “disaster metaphors” and the “perfect victory” trumpeted by the ruling party, one aiming at consolidating the Bolivarian process – which is a revolutionary process too, they insist to say.

If a serious analysis is to be attempted, it should take into consideration data from nearly two dozen previous polls - since the elections of 17 years ago, when Hugo Chávez first became president in February 1999 -, from public opinion surveys, and from analyses of the mobilization capacity of the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela - PSUV) and the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable - MUD).

The country’s difficult economic situation should not be left out of the picture, together with the shortages and the long queues which, according to foreign analysts, indicate a "predictable" punishment vote for Nicolás Maduro’s government and a likely majority for the opposition.

But this is Venezuela, a country where everyone, both Bolivarians and antichavistas, miss Hugo Chávez’s leadership. Economic problems do exist and the government’s responsibility should be acknowledged, even if Maduro prefers to insist on an "economic war" being waged against his executive, which certainly cannot be the only culprit.

In addition, the country’s biggest external enemy is allegedly helping destabilization by promoting two boundary disputes: with Guyana - for the Esequibo territory - and with Colombia - for the smuggling trade and the export of its internal economic, but mostly security problems: hit men and paramilitaries.

Tibisay Lucena, president of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council, has warned that there exists a conspiracy against the body she presides, a complaint that is filed every election year and not always triggered by internal forces. It has now been the turn to accuse the US Secretary of State John Kerry, and more aggressive enemies are yet to come, according to the director of Últimas Noticias newspaper, Eleazar Díaz Rangel.

It is not at all funny to stand in a queue for eight hours to get food or medicines. However, the queues are orderly. Scarcity is not only due to bachaqueo or contraband running through the 2,200 kilometre-long Venezuelan-Colombian border. Regulated-price products are in short supply, and so are all imports at official rates. Controls have proven ineffective and the currency exchange gap is enormous.

Sixty-six Venezuelan military personnel were arrested on the border with Colombia, allegedly involved in these continuing criminal actions. Meanwhile, three successive attacks on State facilities in less than a week presumably come to show that these are part of a hypothetical radical opposition plan, which is bound to go on until election day…  and beyond.

The disaster metaphor

In this pre-election campaign in Venezuela, the opposition is weaving its discourse and strategy around the “disaster metaphor”. It does so, successfully, thanks to its persuasive effect through reiteration on television, newspapers, internet portals and radio.

According to sociologist Maryclén Stelling, "Metaphors, as allegorical elements, express something that is not necessarily stated explicitly, but that is sensed and understood through the association of concepts and life experiences." Therefore, words such as landslide, earthquake, tsunami, storm, erosion, are reinterpreted and given a new meaning.

Reacting to this, a number of think tanks advocate reconstruction, recovery, reactivation, debris removal, rescue so as to overcome the “disaster”. And the opposition seeks solidarity (i.e. votes) in this dismal situation. The last chance before a step forward... into the abyss.

A government’s victory, or a people’s victory?

Meanwhile, the oficialismo (officialism) insists on a "perfect victory" of the ruling PSUV – on the need, that is, of "the people’s union to defend the country (...) and clear the way." This is Nicolás Maduro’s message: "There are no predestined victories, we must work hard for them and enjoy them when they come." "We need a great political victory (...) to clear the way" and ensure peace in the country.

Many Chavista leaders who have distanced themselves from the government’s Madurismo point out that criticism and self-criticism within the Bolivarian process has almost disappeared.

"These elections are not going to be won by simple inertia because of Chavismo’s presence. Victory requires very vigorous and dynamic action on the part of the government," says Alí Rodríguez, former Foreign Minister and Minister of Energy, former secretary general of UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) and current ambassador to Cuba. But it would seem that what goes with this inertia is silence, rather than action.

This is why there is much talk about a “people’s victory” - that is, a victory of the people power that stems from the communes, where consciousness of the need to keep alive the undeniable achievements of Chavism – as opposed to the government or the flagging Gran Polo Patriótico’s (Great Patriotic Pole) electoral machinery - is still very much alive.

The opposition asserts that it will win the parliamentary elections (paving the way for denouncing electoral fraud, as it has done since 2004, if it fails to do so), and should therefore put forward, first of all, its proposals for running the State. The media which are siding with them, for example, are opposed to oil price adjustments, they often express favourable opinions on Guyana, and are against the peace agreements in Colombia. Would all this be defended by the Democratic Unity Roundtable in the National Assembly?

Is this the end of Chavism?

Chávez, together with his top advisers, created a national project, which eventually led to a project of a society beyond capitalism, and gained hegemony on the basis of his strength as leader and his strategic capacity. After his death, there has been a break in this internal unity, even within Maduro’s cabinet, while loud pressures to end the Chávez revolution from European – particularly French – social democracy raged, and also from large transnational financial groups and from the Vatican itself.

And so, contradictory reports on economic policy are being published while Venezuela’s president announces the need to adjust oil prices, the urgency of a tax revolution, and the development of price control systems... all of which remain mere announcements.

Today, the economy is in the hands of Brigadier General Marco Torres, Minister of the Economy, Finance and the Public Bank and chairman of the National Bank of Venezuela, who announced the organization of workshops with major global financial companies, such as JP Morgan, inviting them to invest in the country.

This has not resulted in any policy openings either. But Maduro - who keeps on making announcements – has been urging to radicalize the revolution, which would supposedly mean to edge closer to a model based on greater worker participation and the strengthening of the people’s involvement.

Analyst Manuel Azuaje notes that “the groups within the government have clashed over key issues such as the direction of economic policy. The passing away of Chávez produced the dissolution of the hegemony of the government project. His absence has led to the direct confrontation of these groups, none of which has been able to achieve hegemony. This is how the vacuum persists".

This lack of consensus - or convictions - has been used by the vernacular right, in alliance with imperialism, to intensify its strategies and collapse the country. Maduro has time and again taken decisions to reverse measures that had caused serious criticism and strong disagreement among the Chavista base, such as repealing the seed law project that opened the door to transgenic crops and foods, preventing the disappearance of the El Maizal commune, and suspending the opening of new coal mines.

But the fact is that some within the government are committed to a program of economic opening while others listen to popular demands and make decisions that reflect the spirit of Chávez. “The return to the past is not an option, nor is a withdrawal strategy (...). It is time to recognize the essential allies and support them in order to beat those who want to do away with all that has been achieved, says Azuaje.


There are two possible scenarios: one in which the PSUV wins the majority of seats in the National Assembly, and another in which it is the opposition that does it. The 51 MPs proportionally elected would be distributed evenly. The election would thus be decided in the circuits, but here the results are more difficult to forecast only on the basis of global preferences.

An “even” election result would create high voltage tension that would be further stimulated by fraud allegations. There would be attempted violence and actions outside the legal framework that could end with a defeat of the "insurgents", but would have harmful side effects for the country.

In the event that the opposition won the elections and obtained a majority in the Assembly, it would have to appoint the president of the Assembly, and this would lead to a cohabitation situation. According to opposition political scientist Leopoldo Puchi, this could involve both agreements and friction, which would be resolved with a view to the governorship elections, due at the end of 2016.

If the situation stumbles and drifts towards a strong power confrontation next year, the outlet would surely be a referendum in 2016 or early in 2017. If the opposition wins two thirds of the seats in the unicameral Assembly in December, this scenario would accelerate, but this seems today wishful thinking on their part.

Whether the government or the opposition wins, what cannot be ruled out is an increased tension. Therefore, it should be managed and processed as from now, for the economic problems, the hub of everything that happens, require a program of measures to be applied between December and January. At the political level, dialogue is an irreplaceable tool.

This article was previously published by Rebelión.

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