An Affective Picture of Chavismo Part VI: Converts

Reinaldo Iturriza

I do not think I’m wrong if I say that Chavismo is a rather silent subject. There will be exceptions, as is natural, but it seems to me that it is distinguished by a certain self-control, a certain caution that allows it to succeed in the most compromised situations, to slip away, to fall on its feet, to preserve not only physical but also spiritual integrity. Rarely will they be seen screaming in a public place, in the grocery store, in the corner kiosk, in the bank line, in the elevator, during a family celebration, in a gathering of friends.

I recognize that silence can be misinterpreted: it is not that one prefers to remain silent in the face of injustice or to remain impassive in the face of offense. Much less is it that he or she has nothing to say or is ashamed of what he or she is, feels and thinks. When the time comes, you speak, loud and clear, and if necessary, act.

Habituated to cope with adversity, to be ignored, unnoticed, invisible, it did not take much effort to adapt to a hostile political environment.

If we were to use an expression that refers to the way in which many problems are solved in school and high school, Chavismo has much to hope for in the historical downturn.

It is not that they shy away from problems; it is that they are so accustomed to them that they have learned to distinguish the right moment or to find the right, fairest, most intelligent way to solve them.

In his environment, in the neighbourhood, let us say, or in the countryside, knowing that the majority, simply free of danger, can engage in long discussions with his adversaries, always sprinkled with humour, whether the most divine or the most profane, with preference for the latter.

In circumstances of extreme hostility, when, being at a clear disadvantage, they feel that aggression is imminent, they feel fear, like anyone else, and can pretend not to be, and try to go unnoticed. But what happened to Orlando Figuera, who, knowing he was lost, condemned to death, chose to accept his destiny: “… whatever answer I gave, they were going to kill me. I said yes. I’m a Chavista, what’s the problem” (1), he told his mother shortly before he died. At most, his murderers will have interpreted those words as a resigned confession, as proof of his guilt, and not as what it truly was: a reaffirmation of his dignity, impossible for his aggressors to understand.

The convert, on the other hand, feels an urgent need, which cannot be postponed, to express his disenchantment. Faced with the difficult task of justifying his shameful capitulation, he declares himself ashamed of his past, and does not lose the opportunity to declare what he betrayed, how deceived he feels. Someone once abused his trust or took advantage of his naivety or mocked his dreams, and he is no longer willing to allow it, he says.

But if the one who betrayed, deceived, abused, took advantage of or mocked him deserves all the insults, no one seems more despicable to him than the one who remains faithful to his principles, his convictions, and continues to fight. He accuses them of being mediocre, justifiers, blind, privileged, accomplices.

The vociferous attitude of the converts pursues an additional purpose: to be accepted by the milieu that previously harassed them, considering them strange, monstrous, uncivilized, ignorant, crazy. To renege in a loud voice is a way of demonstrating that one has rectified oneself, that one has corrected one’s course, that one has come to one’s senses. Unfortunately, this does not always work: whoever has made hostility a way of doing politics will not cease to demand one and another declaration of new faith. For converts, the past is a condemnation, like a curse that persecutes them, forcing them to shout the worst things, louder and stronger, entering a vicious cycle that seems to have no end.

The multiplication of converts in recent times is no coincidence. “The shock doctrine” (2), by Naomi Klein, abounds in details about the effects produced by economic, political or social shock measures, characteristics of what she calls “disaster capitalism”. Klein exposes the sinister kinship between the torture methods employed by the U.S. government and these shock measures. The aim is to make a clean slate, either in the body and mind of the tortured, or in societies, to create a new personality or to make even the most brutal and inhuman forms of capitalism acceptable, desirable.

Of course, there is nothing of creative power in torture, but pure destructive power. A destruction that, eventually, makes the tortured renege on his personality. In the case of societies, one of the objectives of economic, political and social torture is to destroy historical memory in order to create disoriented, terrified and submissive human groups.

Commenting on the U.S. government’s aggressions against Venezuelan society, Alfred-Maurice de Zayas said: “Today’s economic sanctions and blockades can be compared to the sieges of cities in the Middle Ages with the intention of forcing them to surrender. The sanctions of the 21st century try to bring not only one city but also sovereign countries to their knees (3). More recently, Idriss Jazairy stated: “It is hard to imagine how the measures that will have the effect of destroying Venezuela’s economy and preventing Venezuelans from sending money home can be said to be aimed at helping the Venezuelan people” (4).

With the sanctions, Venezuela is literally being subjected to torture, among other things so that, overwhelmed by extreme circumstances, the Venezuelan people renounce their political identity. This has not happened.

Converts for simple political inconsistency are joined by converts as a consequence of the inhumane siege against the population. But Chavista’s political identity still stands.

It is necessary to know how to distinguish between this phenomenon of conversion and popular unrest, even political disaffiliation. The difficulty is understandable: the vociferous make a lot of noise. But we have to learn to listen to the subterranean popular rumour, almost silent, that speaks to us of the errors and miseries of officials and leaders, but also of their successes, of Chávez, of his will not to renounce definitively everything built during the Bolivarian revolution.

They may decide to retreat, to remain on the sidelines; they may even find reasons for no longer feeling identified with Chavismo. But that is one thing, and it is quite another to commit political suicide.

(1) Jairo Vargas. “My son was burned alive for being a chavista. Público, 16 May 2019.

(2) Naomi Klein. The doctrine of shock. The rise of disaster capitalism. Paidós Ibérica. 2007.

(3) United Nations. Report of the independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order on his mission to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and Ecuador. September 2018.

(4) United Nations. Office of the High Commissioner. US sanctions violate human rights and international code of conduct, UN expert says. 6 May 2019.

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Translation by Internationalist 360°