Venezuela: Deconstructing the Largest Social Engineering Experiment on the Planet

José Negrón Valera

A famous aphorism, associated with Abraham Lincoln, says the following: “You can fool everyone for a while. You can fool some all the time. But you can’t fool everyone all the time”. But is this really so?

Photographs of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó with members of the macabre paramilitary band Los Rastrojos have been shown. Terrorist Lorent Saleh appears in a video declaring that he is willing to fill the streets of Caracas with blood. Telephone recordings are presented where Lorenzo Mendoza, owner of Venezuela’s largest business conglomerate, talks openly with Ricardo Hausmann, an economist and financial operator, about his plan to indebt the country through a multi-billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Test after test, fact after fact, and Venezuelans who identify with anti-Chávezism remain immovable in their position of not embracing the truth. What mechanism operates here?

Facts No Longer Matter: The Theory of Social Turbulence

For twenty years, an operation of psychological siege was applied to Venezuelans in order to build a new architecture of reasoning in which the enemy was represented by Hugo Chávez and his Bolivarian socialism project.

Always appealing to fear and uncertainty, they were able to get people to believe that Chavismo had come to take away their material goods, their children, to spy on them through energy-saving light bulbs, to execute satanic pacts to perpetuate themselves in power, to traffic uranium inside bicycles, and so forth, which even today, those who oppose Chavismo, still believe to be irrefutable facts.

Noam Chomsky declared that the period of neoliberal boom that started with Reagan and Tatcher filled the world with a mixture of “anger, fear and escapism”. One result of the ensuing institutional discredit led individuals to reason that, “if you don’t trust anyone anymore, why should you trust the facts. If no one does anything for me, why should I believe in anyone,” explained the American intellectual.

In Venezuela, this disenchantment with institutional structures as entities that supported social life had its turning point after the social explosion of 1989, with the popular revolt known as Caracazo.

The progressive deterioration of the Venezuelan State could only be stopped with the arrival of Chavez to power. However, the new political perspective promoted by the then Venezuelan president was quickly torpedoed. Media operatives unleashed a full-scale offensive. There was no space in institutional life that was not attacked and misrepresented as a political initiative.

This tactic, known by experts in psychological warfare as social turbulence, sought to hinder the development of the democratic project. But at the same time, it also sought to advance in a new re-engineering of relations among Venezuelans, as well as between them and their nation state.

In his study of the power of television in society, Loonie Wolfe stated that the technique of modeling the collective mind was achieved if an adequate environment was built to which “stress and tension could be applied to destroy morally informed judgment” in order to ensure that the person was more prone to suggestion. Consider that the public was captured by the information channels that opposed Chávez and that are now informed through nearly omnipresent social networks.

Another well-known psychoanalyst, Bruno Bettelheim, in his book “The Well Informed Heart” explained that in a “situation of extreme uncertainty and terror the person reverts back to an increasingly infantile state”, that is, they are incapable of acting like reasonable adults.

Remember the images of the 2017 guarimbas where Venezuelans were burned in the streets, where messages circulated almost daily with the imminence of a military coup. Or more recently, the attitude of automatic reaction, without argumentation, without debate, of those who have traditionally opposed the renaming of different places in Venezuela’s capital. Viscerality replaces politics.

Something more irrational than that?

The thesis of social turbulence was coined by psychologists Eric Trist and Frederic Emery. Their conclusions were popularized thanks to Daniel Estulin’s book “The Tavistock Institute“, which explains how to create social reactions of dissociation in well-organized environments (i.e., population groups of any scale) in order to “soften a population” by using mass phenomena such as power cuts, economic and financial collapse, and terrorist attacks.

Trist and Emery argue that “if impressions followed one another very closely and were administered more and more intensely, it was possible to induce the entire society into a state of collective psychosis”.

For the researchers, the people subjected to this process “would end up disassociating themselves, because they would try to escape the terror caused by an overwhelming reality; they would lock themselves in a state of denial and would take refuge in amusements and popular entertainments, and they would demonstrate a certain tendency to suffer rages”.

What about the people who have joined the ranks of social turbulence? Can they stop for a second and admit that they have been lying to themselves all these years? Is Chavismo the cause of our ills? What is the extent of our responsibility as a political group? Of my own responsibility as a citizen?

The apocalypse of infinite dissonance

If we only look at what happened in 2019, we will understand how deeply the social engineering project applied against Venezuela penetrated.

Juan Guaidó has promised his sympathizers the apocalypse repeatedly. Nicolás Maduro’s last day was decreed more than six years ago. “The end is near,” they shamelessly proclaim to their electoral base. But who can blame these leaders for lying, if the masses of their voters continue to be docile in response to the deception?

If I were to ask myself why this happens and how they can lie to them almost every day and that this does not generate any kind of collective awakening process – a kind of rational reflection that impels them to abandon those leaders-, my answer would be: the problem is that the Venezuelan opposition psychologically behaves like a cult, rather than a political group. I will explain this immediately.

Researcher Marteen Van Doom, in describing the discoveries of Leon Festinger (the psychologist who coined the theory of cognitive dissonance) provides important clues on how the establishment of beliefs works in radicalized groups.

Van Doorn pointed out that Festinger infiltrated a cult whose members believed that extraterrestrials from a planet called Clarion would destroy the Earth on December 21, 1954. However, as true believers, cult members would be saved and transported to their new home planet in UFOs (they were instructed to wait in cars parked in a Chicago suburb). Of course, nothing happened when the time came. Earth continued in perfect existence and the parking lot was not visited by extraterrestrials.

“Now what?” asks Van Doorne. A natural question that fits perfectly with the continuing deception of the Venezuelan opposition by its leaders and the U.S. government itself: How do people deal with a rebuttal of a belief in which they have invested so much of their lives?

How do those who wake up the day after Juan Guaidó has promised the end of Chavismo deal with the truth? How do those who go elsewhere to seek happiness and stumble upon the harsh reality represented by Latin American countries that have been subjected by neoliberalism to processes of generalized impoverishment deal with themselves? Festinger has an answer:

Instead of concluding that the prophecy was wrong, the cult deduced that, since the prophecy could not be false, the fact that they believed in it and acted on it saved the Earth. “Thanks to them, the aliens showed mercy. And they were not wrong. They could cling to their beliefs. According to the theory of cognitive dissonance, when reality falsifies our deepest beliefs, we would rather challenge reality than update our view of the world,” he said.

Does this not remind you of the justifications that attempt to exonerate the opposition of errors with phrases such as “it was necessary to do so to make Venezuela a credible threat”, “now the world knows the drama of the country”, “we are one step closer to achieving it”? And so on, in an endless system of excuses that protects them from any rational evaluation.

Festinger explains this mechanism of denial:

“Tell them you disagree and they leave. Show them facts or figures and they question your sources. Appeal to logic and they do not understand what you mean”. Suppose you present unequivocal and undeniable evidence that their belief is erroneous: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs. In fact, he may even display a renewed zeal to convince and convert others to his point of view,” Festinger points out.

The complex psychological experiment implemented against Venezuela constructed a very particular worldview. One in which Chavismo substituted everything that could be wrong with the individual and collective life of the population.

In addition, it obtained two war trophies: it turned crisis and hopelessness into a commercial brand to obtain economic funds from abroad. And it transformed the country that has the world’s largest reserves of oil and gold, extensive biodiversity, exorbitant quantities of minerals of all kinds, and ideal agricultural land into a nation with no future.

Now, a question arises that we will endeavour to answer in a future issue: is this situation irreversible? Absolutely not.

Nevertheless, the process of social healing and the mechanisms of protection of the Venezuelan psyche and culture imply the participation of all Venezuelans, especially those who, identified with the opposition, have been registered in this cult without being aware of it or even wanting it.

Translation by Internationalist 360°