At the Turning Point: An Open Letter to my Chavista Friends

More than two months of protests continue in Venezuela

The principle of enantiadromia says that culminating processes revert into their opposite like a yin-yang. This is a force that's certainly at work in Venezuela today as the Bolivarian Revolution, which promised deepening democracy becomes a dictatorship.

At the Turning Point: An Open Letter to my Chavista Friends
by Clifton Ross

Dear Chavista friends,

In 2005 when I was invited to participate in the World Poetry Festival of Venezuela I offered my solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution and I asked for yours to help us fight the murderous policies of the illegitimate President George W. Bush who had illegally declared war on the people of Iraq just two years before. I stayed on in Venezuela, reporting on the process at my own expense; and out of my own resources and my love for Venezuela and its people, I made a movie in favor of the Bolivarian Revolution to build greater solidarity between Venezuela and the world.

Given the changes that have occurred in Venezuela in the intervening years, I have come to reevaluate my loyalties and gradually I have come to make a decision to stand in solidarity with the majority of Venezuelans who now oppose the Bolivarian government. That is to say, I join my energies, my hopes and my aspirations with those who are out in the streets, day after day, fighting what has now become a parody, a caricature of that project I once supported.

There are several reasons for my change of heart, and they all concern the very negative turns the Bolivarian government has taken over the past decade, abandoning its own project and betraying its own ideals. They warrant some explanation because, as I see it, I only turned my back on the Bolivarian Revolution when the Bolivarian government turned its back on the Venezuelan people.

1. Participatory and Protagonistic Democracy

Do you remember that phrase? It was on everyone’s lips when I lived in Venezuela in 2005-2006, and it was viewed as the core principle of the Bolivarian Revolution. As Venezuelan sociologist Dr. Margarita López Maya later explained to me, “liberal democracy, left to itself, becomes elitist” and the brilliance of Chávez was to try to complement this form of democracy with direct and participatory democracies. What happened to that promise to “deepen democracy”? In 2007, Chávez proposed a referendum that would turn the country towards socialism. The referendum failed, but he refused to obey the will of the Venezuelan people and instead pushed it through with a series of laws , including one that replaced “participatory and protagonistic democracy” with “people’s democracy” or “popular power.” Things have only gotten worse for any form of democracy in Venezuela since, but especially recently under Maduro with the blocking of the referendum and the “postponement” of gubernatorial elections in 2016, and now a rush constitutional convention being pushed through without a consultation of the people. This latter, approved by the Chavista-controlled Supreme Tribunal of Justice in Sentence 378, has divided Chavistas who support democracy and those who are now favoring dictatorship since the ruling “eliminates participatory and protagonistic democracy,” according to Chavista Fiscal General (Attorney General) Luisa Ortega. The lesson should be clear: in large scale democracies, without the framework of a representative democracy, none of the other democracies can be democratic.

This should have been the clear lesson of the Socialist-Communist projects of the 20th century. Socialist “people’s democracy” or “popular power” neither represents the people in terms of their individual votes, carried out in secret, much less involves those people “directly” as “protagonists,” nor does it engage them to “participate” in any meaningful sense in the running of their nation. We’ll return to this point later.

2. Endogenous Development

This was one of the most hopeful ideas that Chávez proposed: building up the internal economy of the country and making it, among other things, more food secure and independent. This would have been the first step toward industrial and then technological development, since this was the progression (agriculture, industry, technology) of development of, not only the United Kingdom and the USA, but also China, Japan, South Korea, India, Brazil and other countries. When Chávez came to power, 65% of what Venezuelans consumed was imported. Today that number is more like 90%. In a twelve-year period until 2012 (the government has virtually quit releasing economic data over the past 5 years or so) imports increased over 300%. And this wasn’t simply a “failure” (although it was that), but the result of policies of Chávez and Maduro with currency and price controls that destroyed national production; the expropriation of productive farms and turning them over to non-productive forces; the irresponsibility, ineptitude, corruption and impunity around the importation of agricultural inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, etc); and putting control of agricultural production under the government which has proven itself incapable of carrying out its duties with any kind of efficiency whatever. Rather than moving forward with “endogenous development,” Venezuela has destroyed its national industries, both state- and privately owned and this has also forced the government to “double down on imports.”
But why? Could it be that currency and price controls offered more opportunities to the Boliburgos and Bolichicos for corruption, embezzlement, “bachaqueo,” currency arbitrage, etc. etc.? From the perspective of this corrupt elite that fattens itself at the top of the national pyramid, “good” policies are those they profit from; what does it matter to them what those policies do to the country and the people lower down the food chain? And this leads us to the next point:

3. Corruption

Perhaps you’ve read that statement Chávez made in 1992 just a day before his coup attempt when he said that military in the tradition of the Liberating Army of Simon Bolívar “can’t remain indifferent to…the immense level of corruption that plagues all spheres of our country, the great number of privileges that some have, the absence of punishment for those we all know are culpable of having improperly enriched themselves with public money…”1 and so on. You need to ask yourself if you’ve ever seen such corruption as what exists today in Venezuela. I remember, all those years when Chávez was president all my Chavista friends repeated the same verity: “Chávez is pure: it’s just that all those around him are corrupt.” Now all those who were around him are in control. Have they magically stopped being corrupt? I leave that question with you, but Transparency International ranks the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela under the Bolivarian Revolution among the ten most corrupt countries of the world.

4. Anti-imperialist project?

According to Chavistas, Chávez undertook an anti-imperialist project—but did he really? Certainly the rhetoric of this government has been anti-imperialist, but the “Empire” remains Venezuela’s number one trading partner as it receives 43% of Venezuela’s exports and supplies 29% of its imports (including refined petroleum which, due to the dire state to which PDVSA has fallen under this government. According to Venezuelan National Assembly member Tamara Adrian, Venezuela no longer is able to produce its high octane gas, and it also imports 60% of its lower octane gas—both from refineries in Louisiana.). But the surrender of its other minerals to Chinese, Russian and Canadian corporations, the relinquishing of a huge swath of ecologically sensitive territory, inhabited by indigenous people, known as the Arco Minero; the turning over control of intelligence and other sensitive military, educational, health and other sectors to Cubans; housing built by Iran and China and so forth, rather than by Venezuelans, all this raises the urgent question: What sort of “anti-imperialism” is this? Certainly there seems to be a stronger argument that Venezuela has never been as indebted to, and dependent on, empires as it has become under the Bolivarian Revolution.

5. Illiteracy

I recall when I lived in Mérida, Venezuela in late 2005 watching Chávez on television declaring Venezuela “territory free from illiteracy.” But what do the facts show? Well, probably a lot, but since 2013 the Bolivarian government has not been releasing them, or at least statistical information on economic and social performance. And what it put out before that, as in the case of the 2005 claim Chávez made on illiteracy, was not always reliable. According to a September 14, 2013 article, “Olga Ramos, coordinator of the Venezuelan Education Watch, upon comparing the 2001 and 2011 census outcomes, significantly noted ‘using data of both census, we found that the illiteracy rate remains the same…” Olga isn’t alone in arguing that “the government party, has misrepresented statistics,” in this case, on the literacy rate. Even as early as 2007 the “late researcher Jose Luis Salomon did the math” and came to very interesting conclusions. He said that “"Mission Robinson was launched on July 7, 2003, and by October 28 of that same year, according to [then Minister of Education Aristóbulo] Istúriz, it had already made 1,202,025 Venezuelans literate. In just 15 weeks? 80,135 persons became literate each week? 11,448 per day? 20.2% more than the program's target?” So what has been the real impact of the educational “Missions” in Venezuela? We won’t know until a democratic government that is accountable to the people it represents, one that produces and releases reliable information on its activities, comes to power in Venezuela.

6. Poverty

What happened to the billions and billions of dollars that came into Chávez’s hands that he claimed to be using to eliminate poverty? We know at least $475 billion dollars—and that’s according to former Chávistas like Hector Navarro, Jorge Giordani, Nicmer Evans and others—was stolen and funneled into private accounts in foreign banks. That’s a very peculiar sort of 21st Century Socialism, don’t you think? One that privatizes the national wealth—and that not even by sales, but by pure robbery. The Missions came and went and were never audited. We don’t know, except from what the government propaganda said, what they actually accomplished, but did they eliminate poverty? Did they eliminate hunger, disease and misery? Before 1998, when oil was under $20 per barrel, did you see Venezuelans eating out of the garbage? Waiting in long lines to buy food? Spending their month’s wages to eat for less than one week—if, that is, they were careful? And this is happening when oil prices are more than double, nearly triple what they were when Chávez came to power. While the government releases no figures on poverty, the ENCOVI (National Poll on the Living Conditions in Venezuela) report, put together by Venezuela’s top three universities, put the poverty rate at 82%. For English readers, an excellent review of the report is found here by economist Frank Muci.

7. Etcetera

It would take more pages and tax your patience to enumerate the other failures such as in healthcare, which even by 2011 was a disaster and today is in collapse; Food supply scandals involving the military and the CLAPS and the use of food as weapon against the opposition; the out-of-control violence that shot up under Chávez and made Caracas the most violent city in the world, and so on and on.

The yawning gap between objectives and results, rhetoric and reality, aspirations and the filthy, grimy inhumane outcomes, represent the supreme irony, the most extreme turn of events, so great that it qualifies as an “enantiadromia” (literally, “backwards running course”)—a term dating back to Heraclitus and used by Carl Jung to describe a psychological condition in which a person reaching a culminating point turns into his or her own opposite. The Chinese yin-yang served as a symbol of this process which often occurs in politics where a liberator, on coming to power, attempts to impose himself on a people as a dictator—does that sound familiar?

When I was in Venezuela in 2005 the country had just experienced two very undemocratic attempts to overthrow Hugo Chávez: the coup of April 11, 2002 and the oil strike or lockout later that year. That opposition was pulverized in the Referendum of 2004 and even though they renounced those tactics thereafter, they have been qualified as “golpistas” ever since. Strangely enough, Chavistas, who denounce them with that term, celebrate Chávez’s own coup attempt (1992) every February 4th. But the worst coup against democracy has taken place under Maduro, who utterly ignores the will of the people: in December 2015 when Venezuelans chose the Opposition to fill the seats of the National Assembly his government refused to allow the National Assembly to carry out its constitutionally mandated functions; it blocked a referendum on his presidency for all of 2016; it illegally called off the gubernatorial elections of December 2016; it has politically “disabled” (deshabilitó) opposition politicians, or refused to recognize their elections; it has prevented peaceful protests and attacked protestors with tear gas, water cannons, clubs, guns and legal proceedings under military tribunals; and now it has illegally constituted a National Constitutional Assembly to rewrite the constitution without consulting the people in referendum. And these are just the most outrageous violations of the people’s will and their democracy. Meanwhile, who is out in the streets leading these demonstrations for the restoration of democracy? None other than the “golpista” opposition.

Clearly, by every measure, indeed, by Chávez’s own stated objectives, the Bolivarian Revolution has failed. Not only has it failed, but it has destroyed everything fifty years of the “Democratic Revolution” of 1958 had built up. The country is in ruins, and yet some still—and this strains credulity—believe that “neoliberalism” could possibly be worse. Yes, that’s the refrain of the Chavistas, that Maduro must be supported or else “neoliberalism” will return. This claim in the context of the most devastated country of Latin America today, approaching a situation comparable only with post-earthquake Haiti, shouldn’t require a response, but it’s so pervasive that I feel required to reply to it. This refrain of “either Maduro or Neoliberalism” fits into the polarized world Chávez made of Venezuela; you know, “you’re either with me or you’re with the opposition, the ‘apátridas,’ the ‘pitiyanquis,’’ etc. What a poor world he created with that discourse. Among all the possible alternatives it came down to nothing more than the “revolution” of a bombastic caudillo whose underlings were robbing the country blind versus the “enemy.” Did he not have any greater imagination than that? Weren’t his followers more capable of greater creativity, to be able to imagine a world that was neither the kleptocracy of the Bolivarians nor the austerity of the neoliberals? Evidently not. But the people fighting in the streets certainly have more imagination and they’re definitely not fighting for “neoliberalism” as they battle the repressive forces of the state.

This is one of the many great lies, or I should say, another little lie that is part of the Great Lie of the Bolivarian government. This great lie has been regurgitated recently by none other than Atilio Boron who called on Maduro to “crush” the opposition. Boron, like Maduro and some of his comrades, represents an old, decrepit dinosaur left, like those calling for the “Emergency Days of Action” on Venezuela. But just because they are dinosaurs doesn’t mean their views have become extinct. To the contrary, in Latin America, and in much of the world, they still have extraordinary power to mold opinion and shape views on the left. In their narrative, which cleaves closely to Marxist-Leninist ideology, the CIA is the cause of the current disturbances in Venezuela and the people in the street are “right-wing lackeys of the Empire” who are responsible for the violence as they attempt to overthrow the “revolution.”

But this narrative is a cookie-cut story from the Cold War years that reflects nothing of Venezuelan reality, nor any reality, more than a quarter of a century after the collapse of communism. The reality of the present is much simpler and more obvious. The current protests are directed against a corrupt, brutal and repressive kleptocracy that has been starving and indebting its people to maintain itself in power and enrich a “revolutionary” elite—and Wall Street—in the process. The people in the streets are the people, not that collective abstraction of Marxist doctrine, but the students, workers of every stripe and ordinary Venezuelans who simply want decent lives under a decent government. They represent the nearly 80% of Venezuelans who want to see Nicolás Maduro step down from the presidency this year. Those who have been demonstrating now for more than two months are the vast majority and they deserve not only a hearing and our respect, but also they deserve our solidarity.
They certainly have mine.

* The full quote, in Spanish, is “Nosotros, como militares herederos del Ejército Libertador, no podemos permanecer indiferentes a lo que hoy sucede. El inmenso grado de corrupción que plaga todas las esferas de nuestro país, la gran cantidad de privilegios con que cuentan algunos, la falta de castigo a las personas que todos sabemos culpables de haber tomado indebidamente dineros públicos, las políticas económicas que colocan en posición deplorable a los venezolanos más sencillos, la venta a consorcios extranjeros de nuestras empresas fundamentales, la imposibilidad que tiene la gran mayoría de los venezolanos para satisfacer sus necesidades básicas, la ineficiencia del sistema y de todos los servicios públicos y en fin el desconocimiento de nuestra soberanía en todos los terrenos, nos fuerzan a tomar una acción destinada a reivindicar la democracia.”

  • 1. The full quote, in Spanish, is “Nosotros, como militares herederos del Ejército Libertador, no podemos permanecer indiferentes a lo que hoy sucede. El inmenso grado de corrupción que plaga todas las esferas de nuestro país, la gran cantidad de privilegios con que cuentan algunos, la falta de castigo a las personas que todos sabemos culpables de haber tomado indebidamente dineros públicos, las políticas económicas que colocan en posición deplorable a los venezolanos más sencillos, la venta a consorcios extranjeros de nuestras empresas fundamentales, la imposibilidad que tiene la gran mayoría de los venezolanos para satisfacer sus necesidades básicas, la ineficiencia del sistema y de todos los servicios públicos y en fin el desconocimiento de nuestra soberanía en todos los terrenos, nos fuerzan a tomar una acción destinada a reivindicar la democracia.”

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Crossly
Jun 3 2017 19:26

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  • The current protests are directed against a corrupt, brutal and repressive kleptocracy that has been starving and indebting its people to maintain itself in power and enrich a “revolutionary” elite—and Wall Street—in the process.

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Comments

sarda
Jun 4 2017 11:44

When ordinary people are given principles alien to their nature they will always have a hard time upholding them and the elite will quickly grab the opportunity to apply the principles themselves and rule over society. Transcendental principles are not human in nature but a godly property, but as human tries to uphold them, in the end they always fail and become corrupt because, as always the justification, "Hey! I'm only human".

petey
Jun 4 2017 14:13
sarda wrote:
ordinary people

unlike yourself, i'm sure

sarda
Jun 5 2017 12:05
Quote:
unlike yourself, i'm sure

I only have these as my principles:
Be not a burden!
Be independent!
Be practical!
Be equal!
Learn and improve!
Because just like any ordinary people "Hey! I'm only human".
How about you, what principles do you uphold?

Spikymike
Jun 8 2017 15:42

Some good material and sound points made in this text from Clifton Ross even if we might have some different views on their understanding and use of terms such as 'socialism' 'democracy' and 'revolution'. So reinforcing some of the same issues raised by Ross from a slightly different angle see this:
www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2017-06-08/venezuela-the-dead-end-of-the-bolivarian-road-to-socialism