INTERVIEW | Ángel Álvarez, political scientist

"Economic repression is less apparent and more effective"

"What the Venezuelan government is doing with the opposition coalition was applied in Latin America by rightwing governments"

Ángel Álvarez argues that the charges made by members of ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) against the deputies of opposition Primero Justicia (Justice First, PJ) party are unfounded (Photo: Vicente Correale)
Saturday February 16, 2013  12:00 AM
Ángel Álvarez Díaz, a seasoned political scientist for election matters, the author of "Los dineros de la política" (The monies of politics, 1997), relates that in 1999 the Constituent National Assembly intended to include public funding of political parties and his advice was sought to draft the regulations. However, the proposal never landed in the plenary session. While he is aware of the individuals responsible for getting rid of it, he reserves that portion of the Venezuelan history. Almost 14 years later, he is still convinced that political parties would rather have a transparent public funding compared with those that "apparently lack State funding but steal the public monies for politicking."

Ramón Guillermo Aveledo (the Secretary General of opposition Unified Democratic Panel, MUD) fingered ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) for applying at the National Assembly (AN) methods characteristic in National Socialism. Do you agree?

The face of fascism in Latin America is that of authoritarian populism. Fascism in Italy or National Socialism in Germany were mass movements. Its techniques are used here nowadays: militarization of the civil society; conversion of trade unions into government artifacts; public servants used as tools, and armed gangs –the lumpen, as called by serious Marxism- railing on organized workers. When workers in Europe fought for their labor rights, led by socialists, fascist gangs would batter or kill them. Peronism was the initial expression of it in Latin America. Perón, though, was very smart to veer, after 1943, towards something else and he created the Latin American populism inspired by Il Duce and the Fürher. He himself was a fascist caudillo.

The session held on Tuesday, February 5, at the AN looked like an inflection point. What is happening to the PSUV?

The government has lost its main asset, which is (Venezuelan President) Hugo Chávez. Chavista populism, a personal movement, has lost its caudillo. Every campaign in Venezuela is for or against Chávez and it has worked fine. But now, Chávez is more and more turning into a memory, an evoked political ghost.

Some are referring to him in past tense.

Absolutely. However, such a gap filled with a cult to the physically absent Messiah cannot replace his presence 24 hours a day. Interestingly, Chávez continues making headlines despite his absence for more than 60 days. The only choice for the government is keeping him artificially, by means of letters, signatures, and the visits of ministers to Cuba where they allegedly meet with him and he gives them directions. Furthermore, they fabricate distractive elements, such as the AN session of Tuesday (February 5) to make the country discuss silly things or make unfounded claims.  The government has no more the negotiating capacity that Chávez did have with his voters. Neither (Vice-President Nicolás) Maduro nor (AN Speaker Diosdado) Cabello can replace Chávez, because that movement is not based on grassroots organization, but on a subject's charm.

You have depicted a weakened government. Yet it has escalated radicalization. How do you reckon the chances of the MUD?

Let me draw an analogy with boxing. A boxer who is in the eighth round and has been badly battered is barely responsive. Right now, the opposition is on the ropes, bashed up since October 7 (the presidential Election Day). This divides the audience of a boxer called Unified Democratic Panel, and everybody yells at him. The boxer's challenge is to move away from the ropes and take a breath of fresh air with a policy made on his own. He should be careful, but he ought to box. He may not rail on the other who is in better fitness. Nor let them corner him. He must follow suit with Cassius Clay, dance in the ring to gain strength.

What the society should do to help the MUD for that matter?

They should be patient; despair does not lead anywhere. What the government is doing to the MUD was earlier applied in Latin America by rightwing governments against leftists groups in the 1960's. The MUD's challenge is to stop being a site where the secretaries general of the seven parties take a seat and turn into a political organization.

A lesson seems to be learned from the episode of Tuesday, February 5: no room should be left. The MUD defended itself nicely.

That is a most appropriate message for society. It is of the utmost importance for both the leaders and their voters to realize that abstention or flight are not the solution.

The economic crisis is getting worse. How will the government handle the unrest?

People have not fully realized it yet. I do not know if it will happen, but populism has resorted to repression whenever the cash finishes. I rule out the scenario of stumbling oil prices for being unrealistic. If the economic crisis is of a gradual nature as it is the case, there is time for economically and politically selective repression. They focus political repression on dissenters to give an example. They have no mercy for Primero Justicia because (former challenger in the election for president) Enrique Capriles Radonski belongs to that party. Nevertheless, there is another repression, which is less apparent but more effective. That is, economically selective repression; conditioning consumption upon political loyalty. Here restriction of pharmaceutical products goes in the form of a list of priority drugs. That is a customary example. All those systems of rationing, price controls, barriers to foreign currency, licenses. All that is for the purposes of sweeping repression, yet in a latent manner that cannot be seen, let alone globally.

Translated by Conchita Delgado
The end of a cycle

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Brazil on March 13 to demand the ouster of embattled President Dilma Rousseff, carrying banners expressing anger at bribery scandals and economic woes. A banner read "We don't want a new Venezuela in Brazil."

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