Few terms in Venezuela can draw so many angry debates than defining the resentido social. Books could be written on it, thus this article can only be limited in its scope. However before starting, it would be very useful to observe that similar social phenomena exist in other societies, sharing similar parameters perhaps built in Human Nature. "Resentimiento Social" could be translated as "social grudge" or "class resentment" though the richness of the meanings in the Venezuelan lingo defies accurate translation. (1)
Resentimiento social in the USA
Considering that this blog has a large portion of US readers, I could point out that many folks integrating the religious right of the GOP could qualify as resentido social. In their case they attribute their personal failure to others who do not follow the Bible percepts that they supposedly follow themselves. These are many of the people that picket abortion clinics, follow homophobic preachers, burn crosses in front of mixed race couples and fall prey to sleazy politicians who used to be Democrats in the South but who now are Republicans. Usually these people adopt on the surface a "purifying" approach to life that easily overflows to punish anyone who does not think the way they do. The root is basically a failure to adapt to the new, to make the American Dream work for them and to fail to seek in themselves what could explain their failure. Fundamentalism could appear to some as a way to vent their grudges, thus giving a bad name to the fundamentalists that really hold their faith.
And in France
Other countries offer their own variations. In France there used to be a strong Communist Party who eventually failed but who was "followed" by the National Front of Le Pen. That xenophobic movement managed to have a significant chunk of the French population believe that their jobless problems, the growing insecurity be it monetary or physical, was due to the large North African immigration. It is to be noted that the Communist Party tried to use xenophobia too but failed as the Socialist party won office and made such a language taboo for the left. The National Front basically preaches that the problems, and personal failures (?), of the French are to be attributed to the European Union, immigration, lack of faith and what not. The language of a Le Pen supporter can qualify very well as the one of a resentido social, if not outright fascist.
And let's not go into the historical examples of violence based regimes in Europe and elsewhere.
Which is a basic description of a resentido social?
In a very simplistic nutshell a resentido social is a person who considers that s/he has failed in life because of "others". The others can range from family and friends to society at large and the government. But what makes the resentido social different from the average frustrated Joe is that they seem unable to outgrow their frustration even if one day they get a lucky break. They still live for an eventual revenge that even if it comes never seems to be good enough. Thus a second way to look at resentido social is the inability to learn, to outgrow frustrations, to mature.
A consequence of that inability to learn, of that blinding deep seated resentment, of a strong sense of entitlement, can only lead to intolerance, sectarianism, abuse and even violence. It is all a matter of circumstances and social barriers existing to contain such "get back at" feelings. In short, the resentimiento social is about destruction of social structures, not building them.
The making of a resentido social in Venezuela
Venezuela had the bad luck to have created a social frame that has lead to a general social frustration in its population. People indeed have reasons to fear frustrated and without future since the late 70ies. The dream of a big and easy money Venezuela came crashing in 1982 and as a society we have never been able to come to grips with the real causes of our failure. Though since many a witch doctor has offered a quick cure with the disastrous consequences that find us so prostrated in 2005.
Many are the reasons a Venezuelan can feel frustrated: unfulfilled populist promises, deteriorating standard of living, growing inequalities, perceived corruption of the political classes, personal insecurity, continuous degradation of public services, etc... All of this must lead to the confused feeling that "somebody somewhere owes me something". From there to start acting on it only requires some messianic leader.
An example of a resentido social
A search in Google for "resentido social Venezuela" yields 2800 entries, a witness of the lively discussion of the topic (2). And these are usually associated with Chavez and his supporters. Though, of course, some resentidos sociales can be found in the opposition. Let's look at a recent example.
Mayor Bernal, one of the Caracas districts mayors could well be a prime example of "resentido social", now on his lucky break. In 1992, as a constable of the Metropolitana Police he was booted out for sympathies with the coup mongers of that year. But now, as a Caracas ruler and the boss of his own police department he is trying to get reinstated in the Metropolitana. Considering that justice for the 1992 victims was never done, one wonders why would Bernal want "justice" for him being fired "unjustly". After all, there is a much better career awaiting for him in politics than back with the cops. But it seems that a grudge is a grudge, and too bad for the 1992 corpses that cannot express their legitimate grudge.
How many "resentidos sociales" in Venezuela?
Before examining how could that diffuse sentiment been used by Chavez (and others before him but not to such extent) it could be good to evaluate how many "resentidos sociales" exist in Venezuela. Obviously it would be difficult to establish a questionnaire where people would respond to values that tend to be looked upon as negatives. But this has not stopped folks such as Datanalisis to look into the matter.
In the results of a 2001 study Venezuela was divided into three groups, and a rather bleak division at that:
The first group for an 18% share is what we could very loosely qualify as the entrepreneurs, the heirs of the 60ies and 70ies relative prosperity. If they show a certain dissociation with society at large, it is because they consider that they are the ones responsible in creating their own future or administer on their own whatever legacy they have. That separation from society realities is a strength and a weakness at the same time.
The second group is the largest of the three and with 59% represent the fatalists, those that live for the present. Materialists and ever so fashionable, they tend to believe in Lady Luck as the driver of their destiny. They are waiting for their break a nd when this one is late in coming, well, resentment could install itself.
The last group would represent the frustrated ones, the ones that feel that society owes them. With 23%, they are the more "tribal" group, the ones that need to belong to some unit and the ones that blame all governments for their lousy personal situation. The study also adds that they are the ones more likely to read horoscopes and consult astrologers. Almost but not quite the "resentido social" portrait.
It is not the objective to decide whether that Datanalisis study is a valuable representation of society in 2001; however it does describe the "phenotypes" that politicians and marketers love to play with (the study did look into the spending habits of the three groups which already indicate a sure bias). Still, the observant leader can detect that group 2 and, mostly, group 3 are a fertile ground for a politician that preaches entitlement, revenge while managing to convey the impression of finally distributing the goods. Which would not stop group 1 to jump in the band wagon for personal benefit more than any conviction. Populism is populism and it succeeds when it manages to charm a majority, even if a few see from the start the empty promises.
How was used "resentimiento social" in Venezuela?
One additional problem with Venezuelan society is that from our history we do drag a certain class division which is only overcome through the "viveza criolla". That is, our Creole street smarts, so to speak, were the only perceived way to get ahead in life, to overcome the odds set upon us from colonial times. One must outsmart the other side, cheating being allowed. The Venezuelan "hero", or rather anti hero tends to be violent and smart and get away with murder. See Doña Barbara to understand that archetype of Venezuelan dominant violence (3).
Such tradition, coupled with a powerful feeling of revenge and entitlement, aggravated by now 25 years of continuous crisis, are a godsend for an unscrupulous politician like Chavez. And he has made good use of it. Using the tone of the fundamentalist fire and brimstone preacher he built his 1998 campaign on "frying the heads" of AD politicians, and never looked back since. All is a battle for revenge, whether the grievances are real or not. In his speeches Chavez basically says that if people are in dire straits it is not their fault, it is someone else fault (feel in the blank) and that Chavez will make things right. But never will Chavez on the campaign trail say that people should work harder, stop spending their money on beer, should try to avoid getting pregnant, should be more responsible for their actions. No, instead we will invade Hato Piñero and with that all of our problems will be solved. The agrarian problem of course being the personal grudge of Chavez, just as the Metropolitana is the grudge of Bernal. It does not make any sense, it will not solve anything, but Chavez will have people pay off because maybe as a kid he was chased from some piece of land where he was trying to steal some mangoes. Most kids outgrow such an event, but Chavez will make the land his and thus pretend to erase the fault. Just as the 1999 constitution includes a civil rebellion cause whose only objective is really to retroactively exculpate him from the 1992 rebellion.
Thus is the fate of Venezuela, finally fallen into the hands of a group of people with grudges that need to be avenged. Thus we see the violent discourse, the aggravated social divisions, the constant verbal violence, the growing street violence, the inability to deal with issues, to deal with growing crime, with poverty. Construction of a new Venezuela can be only dealt with once revenge has been exacted.
Unfortunately we know from history that revenge is never satisfying enough for these people. And we are already seeing this today, as chavismo having all in hand is now only worrying about the US, putting more people in jail, erasing the opposition leadership, while nothing serious is done to put Venezuela accounts in order, to try to bring back confidence to build the country.
There is only more violence ahead for us.
=== === === === === === === ===
(1) I have been writing on and off this article and only thanks to Easter Holiday was able to pen it down. But procrastination pays. Francisco Toro in Caracas Chronicle writes more on the excellent book by Briceño Guerrero and reading that article is an excellent complement to this post, while allowing me to ignore a few things.
(2) This blogger actually figures among the first 10 entries displayed by Google with his own entry in July 2004 using the term Resentido Social describing Chavez. He would certainly not use it anymore considering the new repressive laws, but he is certainly allowed to consult archives.
(3) Doña Barbara is the "great Venezuelan novel" to use the cliché. Written by Romulo Gallegos it remains without equal to describe the different types of the Venezuelan society. Little seems to have changed in the minds of Venezuelans since that book was published in 1929.