On March 5 the government of Venezuela commemorated the first anniversary of the passing of Hugo Chavez with a military parade in Caracas attended by few international guests. On the other side of town and across the country protests entered their second month. Even the regular observer of Venezuelan politics is allowed to wonder what has changed that made this wave of protests so extended, so intensive.
And yet, Maduro is still in office, with shelves empty, at the grocery store or at the drug store. How come?
Classical explanations have been advanced. There has been always a militant polarization of the country. Chavez fostered it by putting his finger on a racial and social divide that a small middle class group could not accept. And thus went traditional clichés. But this time around none of these can account for a massive movement that started way outside the traditional Caracas fire starters. This time it started with the steady and hard working Andes inhabitants of San Cristobal, bringing its state in near open rebellion.
Supporters of the regime still point out that popular districts remain calm and thus supportive of president Maduro. Clichés would still apply. This is a misreading of what the Chavez system has created in the past 15 years. There is a huge dependency system that was fashioned to ensure that large segments of the population cannot consider switching allegiance. They are afraid of losing their already shrinking benefits or their menial state jobs. It must be added that through paramilitary groups called “colectivos” working hand in hand with local organizations tightly controlled by Maduro’s party, the "consejos comunales", it is hazardous to express a contrary political opinion if you plan to remain living in peace in the neighborhood. There are now interviews available of people from popular districts breaking the fear cycle and explaining why they go to middle class neighborhoods to join the protests. And small barricades have appeared in transition areas.
Protests far from dwindling may even be gathering strength. This forces us to look elsewhere for an explanation. It is in the realization that the regime may well have stolen our future. How do we know that?
There is first the economic crisis. With inflation around 60% we cannot get housing, we cannot save, we cannot make ends meet. We see that our employers cannot get raw materials, cannot maintain production, and have empty order books. We are afraid that we are going to lose our jobs and we know that there are no jobs out there for us. We do not see the government taking effective measures. In fact, we see that the few it takes are simply making things worse. This cuts across social classes, this cuts across like or dislike of chavismo. This is a fact of life for all.
We see that Venezuela has gone from being an immigration country 25 years ago to be a country with a Diaspora. This one, on February 22, was able to hold significant to surprising protest meetings in more than a hundred foreign capitals and cities. Friends and relatives are leaving. Those who remain here have odds to die a crime victim larger than areas of the world at war. And the students, the ones leading the protests know that there is nothing awaiting them once they graduate. Now this also cuts across social classes though the pain may differentiate more according to your position.
This is why we protest. Our future has been stolen and we want it back. That is the only force that could have kept us for weeks in the streets.
And yet, have we gained anything?
We have mixed arguments. Some say that the "guarimbas" have cost us support. Some say that these were unfortunately a necessary cathartic moment. Some say that we must put in sync the needs of the two halves of Venezuela. Some say that the crisis and the ethics will bring them together at some point, sooner or later.
I think it is too early to consider whether the two dozen deaths and scores of hurt, arrested and tortured have had a definitive effect. No matter what, the regime whose figurehead is Maduro has been mortally exposed and this is going to have consequences. I will remind you that in 1936, at the glory summit of Berlin Olympics nobody could have guessed how the history books would be written 20 years later. Even Churchill would have been hard pressed to advance a tenth of the horror. And yet in 1936 the German regime had already given plenty of evidence of its nature, and where it was headed for.
We can already count as wins a few items that will not change, no matter how hard the apologists of the regime work at. And they are working hard at it because the image of the "left" is threatened world wide as it had not been threatened in a long time. By "left", of course, I mean the Fidel blinded left in Latin America and the hard left in Europe, both of them having had, in the best of times, very questionable democratic credentials. The social democrats, like many genuine Liberals in the US, have long known that the regime was a charade, perhaps even before than anyone else because they benefit from a healthy allergy to all that is military and corrupt. The Venezuela crisis is starting to pry away in academic circles those who pretend to belong to that democratic left for social prestige, but who were mere fellow travelers in the worst possible sense for their hypocrisy. The longer they defend Maduro, the lower they will fall.
The OAS meeting this week has revealed that democracy is not very solidly anchored across the continent. Only the US, Canada, and Panama who is the most recent victim of the leftist nationalist charade, have had the courage to stand up to the rest of the continent, where "left" and "right" confounded preferred to remain "neutral" as if it were possible to be neutral when Human Rights are trashed. Incidentally, many of those "leftist" have conveniently forgotten how many of them sought asylum in welcoming democratic Venezuela in the 70ies and 80ies. Shame on Latin American intelligentsia.
And we have also made gains inside Venezuela. Now the divisions inside chavismo and the opposition have become clearer. Those inside chavismo are not obvious because too many of them depend on the survival of the regime at all cost for their own survival, so many are the crimes they have committed. But one tiny dissenting comment inside that apparatus is as telling as scores of opposition politicians battling it all over.
In the opposition we have now exposed the "accommodating" wing, mostly Primero Justicia and the leftovers of AD, COPEI... these people preferred the country to slowly sink, thinking that in December 2015 elections will hand over them power. With the brutal repression of last months few now think such a scenario to be possible. Reality is finally sinking in. But that does not mean the radical wing has made gains: their recklessness has also exposed an all of nothing attitude that can lead us to civil war. What we have gained is that the opposition has been cut open and now they need to mend fast to survive, to boot the regime away, as soon as possible. It is the greatest of ironies that Borges and Capriles who have squandered their chance in April 2013 now must direct a resetting of opposition strategies that will not benefit them.
But the best gain of all is that chavismo has lost its image for good. It is now a vulgar repressive regime, who cannot ever again use with any credibility the excessively worn out arguments of 4th republic, 2002 coup, the empire against us and what not. In the past two months their repression and the bankruptcy of the country has overtaken in magnitude and horror all what has happened before because it was unnecessary, because they had more money than anyone, because they had so much good will 15 years ago. All of that talk to end killing students brutally.
We do not know when the regime will fall, or how. But now we know it will happen and it will be a major democratic moment for our continent because with a little bit of luck we will drag into the mud the Fidel legacy.