The bits of chavismo that will survive Chávez

1984-frontOver the last few months, I (along with everyone else in this business) have been fielding the same kind of requests: “can you write us 600 words on whether chavismo is likely to survive Chávez?” It’s started to annoy me, actually, because the only real answer is so obvious, and so banal: “well, parts of it will.”

The real question is which parts.

In its political practice, chavismo’s center-of-gravity is clear enough: ensuring that Hugo Chávez personally makes every decision of any importance in the country, and many of no importance at all. Insofar as this brand of personalism is chavismo’s essence and its end, the answer is a very boring “no” – chavismo cannot survive the death of Hugo Chávez.

But chavismo is more than its center of gravity, and its ideological dimension will live on. In its ideological sense, it’s also a mechanism for generating “truths” – or things broadly accepted to be true by millions of Venezuelans, which amounts to the same thing. That these “truths” seldom match up with the versions of “truth” arrived at via a more traditional, zanahoria method is beside the point – or, looked at differently, is exactly the point.

The paradigmatic truth, to me, is one that long obsessed Chávez: “Simón Bolívar was murdered by his oligarchic enemies.”

Now, this isn’t true in the historical or medical sense. Even the looney-tunes exhumation dreamed up by Chávez turned up no forensic evidence at all to back it up.

And yet, with disarming candor, Hugo Chávez declared it true all the same. Bolívar was murdered because it is necessary for him to have been murdered to close the narrative system of betrayal-and-redemption that chavismo is built on.

Bolívar’s murder is a sort of higher-order truth, one validated by the fact that it is believed by Chávez, parroted by his media and therefore has been established as true within the Truth-Making parameters of the Revolution. And make no mistake about it – today, in Venezuela, Bolívar was murdered.

Chavismo as an ideological system creates its own truths through the expedient of repeating them until they are believed. It makes truths out of assertions it needs to be true in order to preserve the moral order Chávez’s discourse creates, one where he is good, those who oppose him are bad, and when good things happen it is always because good people act, and when bad things happen it’s necessarily because bad people act.

This is why the idea that “the Opposition is to blame for Chávez’s cancer and must be punished for it” is well on its way to becoming “true.” We see clues to this scattered throughout official declarations.

The causal chain involved – when looked at coldly – is little short of insane: by demanding accurate information on the president’s real condition, the opposition is supposedly robbing Chávez of the peace and tranquility he needs to recuperate, and that somehow makes us responsible for his illness.

Let’s not mince words here: that makes zero sense. Yet, for an ideological system where the existence of bad things must always be explained by the actions of bad people, it makes perfect sense. After all, the premature death of the demi-god/caudillo is the very worst thing that could happen – it’s intolerable to a certain cast of mind for something like that to just … happen. It is narratively imperative for Chávez’s illness to be the fault of someone – of us. And so, chavismo is making it so.

It’s chavismo’s capacity to generate “truths” divorced from any evidence and based exclusively on the regime’s narrative needs that’s likely to survive Chávez’s passing. It is the aggressive, no-holds-barred perversion of the democratic public sphere that will be around for decades after Chávez has gone.

50 thoughts on “The bits of chavismo that will survive Chávez

    “Los que queremos ver a Chávez recuperado y sano queremos que esté tranquilo, ¿verdad? Haciéndose el tratamiento que se tiene que hacer”, dijo Jaua en un acto en Caracas, pidiendo a los asistentes que apoyen la recuperación del mandatario. “Los que quieren que Chávez no se recupere son los que tienen un chantaje, una presión criminal”, añadió Jaua, refiriéndose a la oposición, que ha acusado al gobierno de mentir sobre la salud del mandatario.

    Es que de verdad somos bien coñuemadres nosotros enfermando al comandante así…


  2. Chavismo in the phychological realm is pathological and will live on. While Chavez is unhinged, society is affected.


  3. In reality, the Cuban doctors who screwed up His Nibs’ cancer treatment, should be prosecuted for “Magnicidio”. Indeed Chavez has been assassinated but not by the opposition, rather by the Cubans What a delightful ironical twist ! Where is the “fiscal general” to start prosecuting those murderers? God, I love this country, never a dull moment.


    • If you have a look at Fidel Castro’s illness chronology, back in 2006, you will find similarities with Chavez’s:

      – Malpractice during initial treatment of the disease.
      – Demanding patient interfering with or not following medical team’s orders.
      – Real medical record kept as state secret.
      – Official pronouncements on patient’s health vague and cryptic.
      – Staged images released as proof of patient’s recovery.

      Seeing the whole package, it can be deduced both Chavez and Castro’s choices fucked each one up, being Chavez the worst one. Good for Cubans and the rest of the world Wikileaks released detailed info on Castro’s ailments in 2010. It doesn’t seem we’re as lucky.


  4. I humbly consider what you’re stating is wrong, or at least not 100% correct. The fact that this goverment has established misinformation ther flag, Their system doesn’t differ from the ones established in the book 1984, or even hitler speeches (or the american terrorists’ policy, for that matter) by much. “who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the future” it reads, and that alongside “a lie repeated enough becomes a true” defines Venezuelas’ reality at the moment.

    Nice article.


    • I agree, but the article still has some interesting points to be considered in the short term.


  5. Which makes talking to hard chavismo a futile exercise, at least publicly. But that’s not necessary. We have to talk to the rest of the people, and bypass these nuts.

    Is there any way whatsoever of being logical and using evidence-based, reasonable argumentation to Venezuelans now? And of telling them that they have behaved like idiots by association?

    For example, who would believe that Hugo Chavez was “cured” as of the end of September 2012? Did they know that the decision to remain in power and go for reelection was done by Hugo Chavez, and enthusiastically seconded by the myriad fanatics and brownnoses he had around, as well as the foreign pimps, governmental or not? Or that sanity would demand that a human being, no matter how strong, resign and commit themselves 100% to therapy and recovery upon being diagnosed with a deadly illness, say May 2011? That not resigning, not committing to therapy and recovery is a clear sign that one DOES NOT EXPECT TO SURVIVE THE ILLNESS, or instead is willing to MOST CERTAINLY DIE OF IT RATHER THAN FACE IT? That that means that Hugo Chavez committed suicide, with the help of his followers and “associates”? That the guilty party in the Death of the Caudillo drama is the Caudillo himself, plus all the cowards and pimps that did not stand up and confront him, ever, not even out of love, to save his life?


    • Loro, the problem is that people choose to believe them with religious zeal, did you see the numbers from Datanalisis where 60% of the people think he is sick but he is getting better and will come back to govern? And I believe it was 14% thought he wasn’t sick at all!!
      What can you do against that believing Chavez at all costs? Or believing the next crazy thing that comes along? Our country is Macondo and I don’t think we can break that with logic and sound arguments.
      Right now I am about to give up and believe that we really deserve what we got and there is nothing one can do…sorry, monday morning hopelesness


      • Yes, but the trouble with these statistical reports is that they hide from, or the media omits a critical detail: the date on which the poll was taken.

        If I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. In a highly volatile political environment, mindset changes are rapid, so that any public poll that delays the publishing of its results, due to an obvious need for number-crunching, is suspect — insofar as the truth is concerned.


        • I don’t think the mindset has changed in 14 years, so why should I doubt the poll now? I don’t think twitter or the thousands of people marching yesterday reflect Venezuela at large. Sorry Syd, but blaming the poll is just wanting to believe without proof, and that’s what they do…we should at least avoid the trap of believing what we want just because we want it… People think Chavez will come back and they don’t care if he has not been seen in almost 3 months… I don’t deny something could change the game, his death? but so far the outrage does not leave the twittershpere…


          • I’m actually with Syd on this one, I honestly think with the raw emotions and the nuttiness going on in Venezuela at the moment, one should take polls with a grain of salt.

            Having said that, it doesn’t surprise me one bit to hear 60% of Venezuelans think Chávez will come back. After all, 55% of them already proved they were insane in the first place last October …


            • I dunno. Orwell understood that the kind of aggressive reversal of reality involved in propaganda-generated truth goes hand-in-hand with doublethink, and this is a case in point. I bet a good many of that 60% telling pollsters that they believe Chavez will come back to power simultaneously also understand that he’s dying. They know what they have to say in public. They know what they have to believe in public. And to some extent, they do believe it, because they’re wedded to the system of morality it represents. At the same time they also don’t believe it, because it’s hard to stamp common sense out completely. But given that you both do and don’t believe it, when asked about it, there’s no question which way you’ll answer.


              • Aren’t many of those supporting chavismo’s denial machinery the same ones who used to argue, “CAP *esta vez* no va a robar porque la vez pasada robó suficiente”? Thus, what is truth or falsehood becomes irrelevant because it’s the failed mentality that will erroneously process whatever the data. The question shouldn’t be whether the river water will get to the ocean or not, but which way is the best way to guide it there.


            • I think you all are leaving something out of the picture: general knowledge on cancer. Most people have a vague idea of what the disease is about, that is, they just know it can kill but can also be cured. Besides doctors, only when cancer affects you or a person close to you do you get the intricacies of the disease. Those people have no clue of the graveness of a cancer relapse, so I’m not surprised by those figures at all. In fact, I expected them just like that.


              • This is a good point, Gabriel. I think a lot of us know enough about cancer from first, second, or third-hand experience, to understand that when someone has the disease and then disappears for three months … well, that person is probably a goner.


      • Moraima: Mecken once wrote ” in a democracy people get the government they deserve and they get it …..good and hard .”, my guess is that if Chavismo survives with the years it will naturally evolve into something more benign , more in sync with how things happen in a normal country, just as happens with diseases or religions which when they first appear are very virulent and then become less so as they accommodate to the organism they inhabit !! but its only a guess . From history one learns that anything can happen, that foretelling the future is a vain conceit.


        • …if Chavismo survives with the years it will naturally evolve into something more benign …

          you mean, there’ll be an end to the finger-wagging by officialdom on the “nalgas blancas” of civically protesting students, never mind el Assaimi’s?

          you mean, there’ll be an end to the witch-hunting, as publicised by Golinger et al, on the value of housing owned by the Capriles family?

          you mean sociopathic behavior will be on the decline?

          I won’t hold my breath.


  6. loroferoz , well said.

    Chavez is more afraid of losing power and control than of death. Maybe he was thinking that with just a little more power he could beat death. It is a suicide.

    The details of Chavez disease and treatment may never be known. We know with certainty that the treatments did not work.


    • I don’t know. In his infinitely corruptible entourage, there must be one at least willing to spill the beans out, for money or out of spite of being left off by Maduro and Cabello. If chavismo lacks one thing, it is the kind of fanaticism, loyalty and deadly enforcement that made possible totalitarian systems. I kinda expect the whole story to become known soon.


  7. this follows on the line of “déjenlo trabajar” from some time ago, when chavismo blamed its inefficiency on the fact that their political opposition (which doesn’t hold a single relevant public office, nor a majority in the National Assembly, nor military leverage, and not even more financial resources than the oil exporting government) was somehow keeping chabe from getting things done.

    cagá ‘e país…


  8. A brilliant post! The political importance of good storytelling is often minimized. In this case, the entire ability to enforce the story of the righteous people and the squalid anti-patriots depends entirely on state power. Movements which depend upon the state for their influence tend to crumble when they no longer control the state. Once Chavistas have to generate, staff, and fund their own storytelling media, the echoes of the morality play will die down. Having a period of opposition good governance would help, too.


  9. I am not sure the lies will outlast the propaganda machine, much less Hugo Chavez himself. But I am 100% sure that Chavez’s personality cult will last a few decades.
    Yes, some lies will remain as chavista truism for that time as well, but mostly among some hardcore fools. After all, there are still a handful of Holocaust deniers scattered in Germany and Europe. That doesn’t make it an universally accepted truth. Yes, there’s been a strong campaign to fight against such believes (Nazism and Nazi parafernalia are verboten in Germany), but the disastrous WWII helped with that. Given the terrible, sorry state of our nation, I guess many chavistas will face sooner than later a rude awakening. After all, scarcity index, a homicide rate ans a collapsing infrastructure that are comparable to those of a war torn country are not a walk in the park.
    On the other hand, just take a look at how the Evita Cult is still present in Argentina nowadays. Chavez has made things even worse in a country that was already in bad shape and many consider him a savior and hero. That’s what personality cults are made of. Argentina have Santa Evita. We will have San Hugo…


    • Oh, Jesus…NOT San Hugo! I agree with you about the cult of personalities. It just doesn’t make me feel any better about the fate of VZ, much less those (desperate) countries who aligned themselves with him, que dios los perdonen!


    • Democracies come in two versions , mono cracies where one man or group rules with the electoral support of a mayority of voters and a poli cracy where all mayor segments of political opinion are invited to participate in the decision making process wihtout the prevalent opinion ignoring or excluding all other sectors . As we all known Mono is greek for one while Poli is greek for many , Chavez style of governance is definitely a Mono cracy , an autocracy even where only one man and his clique take all the decisions .


  10. Toro says :

    “It’s chavismo’s capacity to generate “truths” divorced from any evidence and based exclusively on the regime’s narrative needs that’s likely to survive Chávez’s passing”

    I say:

    It was this tendency that created Chavismo in the first place


  11. I have been thinking about these issues for a long time. My conclusion, so far, is that it will depend on how things unfold over the next 9 months or so.

    If Chavismo is allowed to “fail” completely and utterly wronged, then there will be two possible wrongs”
    (1) A power vacuum filled by the most powerful faction, like Egypt or Iran, or
    (2) Something like what occurred in South Africa where there was a “Truth and Concilliation Commission”, where the facts of history were made plain to see by everyone.

    I doubt that things will return to what they were before Chavez. The Cuban pueblo, who profoundly dislike Castro socialism, dismiss Western capitalism as well. They are debating, but have yet to perceive a third road.

    My hope is that rule of law, and respect for private property will return… and with it, investment and progress will come back very rapidly! However, the future must take on a kind of Obama stand that there must be opportunity for everyone to advance themselves into a large, educated, and informed middle-class.


  12. Thought-provoking post. It is kind of remarkable how the whole crazy disease-as-assasination theme is being brought full circle.

    How many times will Chavez himself be exhumed for so-called medical examinations, as Venezuela goes through a post-chavez adjustment? Every successor within officialista ranks will purge his opponents and secure his authority in another as-yet-undiscovered assasination plot.


    • Maduro claims several assassination attempts on his life already. Like Chavez, the details are missing and the culprits are never identified or caught. Fake assassination attempts are like badges of honor needed for any Chavista to move to the top. You are nothing if nobody wants you dead.

      Fake assassination attempts will forever be part of Venezuelan political culture.


  13. Another tour de force, Quico.

    Although I sure hope this — “It is the aggressive, no-holds-barred perversion of the democratic public sphere that will be around for decades after Chávez has gone” — is too pessimistic.

    Decades! Let’s hope not. The world is changing pretty quickly — controlling the information your citizens receive is going to get harder, not easier.


  14. Quico,

    Very thought provoking article. Thanks.

    To some extent, every nation creates a mythological narrative that defines them. Some myths are true and some are false. Most are based on some grain of truth and then embellished… often liberally.

    While I have little doubt that part of Chavez’s legacy will be a shift in the Venezuelan identity, I disagree that Chavez’s myth, so different than the one before him, will endure in its present form. It is too foreign to all but the most rabid Chavistas. Without Chavez, there is an opportunity to create a new narrative for Venezuela. This requires leadership and imagination. Waiting…


  15. >>>> the answer is a very boring “no” –
    chavismo cannot survive the death of Hugo Chávez.
    El bolivarianismo _____? ______ survive the death of Bolivar


  16. …Hugo Chávez personally makes every decision of any importance in the country, and many of no importance at all.

    As I saw it, Chávez gained the authority to make every decision, but delegated a large share of those decisions to underlings answerable only to him. He also delegated his briefing to underlings, and made decisions based on the very short descriptions they provided him – which de facto delegated the decisions

    With Chavez gone, all that collapses.

    ISTM that looking ahead, there are two major segments of the chavistas,

    One is the mass of non-criollo Venezuelans who love Chávez because he makes them feel like somebody. This emotional link transcends the material failures of the chavernment.

    The other is the elite leftists who hated the Fourth Republic and the criollo elite, for whom chavismo is their vehicle of retribution and direct empowerment. They themselves are nearly all criollo. Most of them have state or parastatal posts, or ties to the bolibourgeosie.

    Chavez dying will split this coalition. No one can replace Chavez in the hearts of the masses, and the failures and stupidities of the chavernent wlll alienate many of them.


    • As far as I know, the amount he delegated is smaller than we think. One of the stories I heard in Caracas was that Chávez approved all large Cadivi outlays every day, personally. 10 millones pa Cargill? OK. 50 Millones pa Polar? No.



  17. Heelllooo? If 60% think he is coming back versus 12% methinks it’s after “the VP” they’ll come after… Not the oppo. Maduro has been saying he’s been talking to the virtual autocrat for five hours straight, not the MUD. But MADURO….
    They’ll turn the rage on him… And us for good measure. The pendulum swings…


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