Hugo Chavez’s government has created the fiction of advancing democratic and socialist revolution in the last 14 years of Venezuelan history.
The first promise he delivered partially, and the second one is purely fictional. He advanced democracy by breaking down the previous party system of political and economic elites, forcing a major withdrawal of old privileged cadres in Venezuelan society. This allowed a renovation of politics with new actors and new faces. Chavez’ populism articulated the poorest, engaging them in politics. Because the tight controls of party politics were removed, this created an impression of an advancing direct democracy that convinced millions of Venezuelans that what was taking place was actually a revolution. However, this was more illusory than real. The cost of this change did not come about by the reinvigoration of an institutional life that was supposed to take place with the new constitution of 1999. Instead this sudden change brought about the increasing arbitrary power of Chavez himself, and his new governing elite of military men. Contrariwise the current presidential campaign contender Henrique Capriles Radonski represents a return to civilian government.
But socialist rhetoric has function, on the other hand, to create the false impression that Chavez is the paladin of the cause of the poor. But if we look at his government from a broader historical perspective we will discover that he is nothing but the paladin of the military caste. Venezuelan republican history is pervaded by the conflict between civilian and military control of the government. For most part of the 19th century, and half of the 20th, military men were at the head of the State. However starting from 1958 Venezuela took a civilian turn that lasted for 40 years, defeating every single military conspiracy that stood in its way. This new regime was based on the bureaucratic organization of political parties that by the 90’s was so corroded by corruption and unpopularity that it rapidly disintegrated.
Chavez attempts of coup d’état in 1992 reveal his true character: he is representing Venezuela’s historic tendency to militarism versus civilian government. His electoral campaign of 1998 was the recognition that the times of coup d’états were over, and an electoral path was the only way the military could regain control of the government. Venezuela has been a government-led capitalist economy for decades, with a welfare state tilt long before Chavez. The change that his government really brought to political life was the return of the military as the ruling and most privileged elite, with a democratic disguise and an empty socialist rhetoric.
The challenge posed by Capriles in the upcoming October presidential elections is the return of civilian government. Again, Chavez’ socialist rhetoric functions as the ideological mechanism that obfuscate reality.
Capriles is portrayed as a representative of the rich, the bourgeoisie and the old political elites. But this is hardly a believable claim, judging by Capriles’ youth (he is 39-years old), and comes from a political party (PJ, Justice First in Spanish) which has barely twelve years of existence and that has never held the presidency, obviously. Last February he even defeated the candidate of old political parties, Pablo Pérez of UNT (A New Time), in the primaries for the candidacy.
The socialist prejudice against all opposition as oligarchs and bourgeoisie is nothing but a lame generalization that aims at distorting reality. Capriles offers a change from 14 years of military autocracy. For otherwise how can a president be called but an autocrat and a tyrant when he has subordinated all the other bodies of the government, disposes of Venezuelans’ private property at will, defiles free and fair elections by massively wielding the public treasury for campaigning, insults his opponents in the most inpolite and uncivil way, closes independent broadcasts and radios, chastises anyone that challenges his decisions and defies any attempt of accountability? It is paradoxical indeed that the initial democratic reforms that he meant became absolute personal power in the end. But that is the undeniable truth of an authoritarian personality educated in military barracks. Capriles represents the opposite.
Venezuelan politics cannot be divided as a struggle between rich and poor, which is nothing but a coarse outlook of historical reality. The true cleavage is between militarism versus civilian government, and that is what is at stake in the upcoming October elections.