The ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ in Venezuela

The ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ in Venezuela: Radical Democracy or Just another Authoritarian Regime?

Everyone loves to, or at least dreams of living the great American dream one day. Owning a big house, a nice car, have a stable job with a decent amount of income to look after the whole family and of course the man’s best friend of the house, is something to talk out, to the big lawn. Of course, before one can get to the American dream, steps are involved; working an eight hour shift at a gigantic corporate retail environment, and as years pass along, the success of accomplishments are moved up by the ladder, from part time employee to General Manager, yet again even as a General manager, they are still working for someone bigger. All of this involves, capitalism, imperialism, globalization. There is nothing wrong of any sort to have all these incorporated into society in the western culture; it’s something society strives for, no matter where in the western hemisphere. How about in the developing world? Is it the same dream and the same process? Specifically speaking; in Latin America, where authoritarians, military dictatorships and everything else that the United States if fighting with? Why have not societies down south on the American Continent not achieved any technological advancement as much as the societies in the North have? Maybe that is what authoritarianism, or even “left-wing politics” does to a state, where the elites live well while the poor get worse in the name of equality and social justice. One man, who even made it to the, “100 most influential People in the World” slot, is seen as a threat to democracy as the United States would love to describe it, is one prime example of wonders done in the political arena, both domestically in Venezuela and internationally, with his Authoritarian regime. Hugo Chavez, is indeed an authoritarian. Who is Hugo Chavez? Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias was born on July 28th, 1954 in the town of Sabaneta, Barinas in Venezuela. He was the second son of two poor schoolteachers, Hugo de los Reyes Chavez and Elena Frias de Chavez, who lived in the rural section of Sabaneta. Hugo and Elena Chavez had always wished for their children to lead a better life than them, hoping that one day they could live in the prosperous cities, escaping the poverty they found themselves in. As schoolteachers, it was only natural for them to view education as the best means of escaping their current situation, so young Hugo and his older brother Adan were urged to take advantage of the education offered to them, and it was a request Hugo fulfilled. However, despite their family’s problems with the political system and the fact that Hugo’s great-grandfather was a renowned rebel leader, Hugo’s parents did not wish him to be a politician, but Hugo Chavez had other plans in life, following the footsteps of his grand father and using his leader and hero; Simón Bolívar, as a prime influence in his political life.

As it has been mentioned above, Hugo Chavez is indeed running an authoritarian regime. One case of signs that an authoritarian is in power, is when there is an involvement of a single party state. Typically speaking, countries; Canada, United States and other western European countries have elections not only to determine which party or whom is going to run the Nation or State till the next term, but also to have citizens exercise their rights and powers in the electoral systems, which is what makes democracy in full form. Venezuela, under the regime of Hugo Chavez’s authoritarian government, there is neither opportunity nor chances of the citizens to change the government’s system or the country if there is just Hugo Chavez running for elections, with no opposition in place to have chances on winning. Yes, the country does have electoral systems, but in what regards are they placed when it is just going to him winning.

“Recent elections—including the constitutional referendum overturning term limits—suggest that Venezuela is shifting toward competitive authoritarianism. In this type of regime, democratic principles are violated widely and systematically enough to make the prospect of an opposition victory highly unlikely.”

Manuel Hidalgo, states the same, in his article; Hugo Chavez’s “Petro-Socialism”. In fact as he mention above, when the opposition in power has victories that are highly unlikely, how that can be seen democratic, when it contradicts the purpose of democracy. It is a definite form of a variation of authoritarian regime, when democratic policies are violated when it is one party winning in almost every election leaving no choices for the citizens of the state to vote on.

Based on the type of regime Hugo Chavez runs, the term that has been coined well after him is, “Chavismo”. It is the name of a left-wing political ideology, based on Hugo Chavez’s ideas, programs and government style. Since the term “left-wing” has been brought up, it would be better to explain what it is, to have a better understanding of the points being made. In terms of the economy, left wing politics have the theory have John Keynes, who advocated for state intervention; having the central government intervening in the process of production in the economy, industrial democracy; which involves workers making decisions, sharing responsibility and authority in the workplace. Left-wing politics in terms of social consensus, it advocates for more of an egalitarian society; where there is no economic distinction among the citizens or workers in a society. They are all equal, and have all the same political, economic, social and civil rights. Even though, Hugo Chavez and his ideologies are on the left side of the political spectrum, the ideologies that make up the left side are not quite exercised through him. In fact it can be described that, “Chavismo”, is the on the “wrong left”.

He is seen as a pivotal figure in promoting a sharp leftward shift in Latin American politics and has been criticized for his authoritarian tendencies. In the words of Jorge Castañeda, “Chavismo” is the “wrong left” for Latin America.

In other words, if something is not being exercised through power, the way how it should be done, it clearly has the wrong approach towards it. Hugo Chavez has done that mistake towards the left wing of his ideologies based on the quote above, for his authoritarian tendencies. The reason being, authoritarian tendencies are never accepted nor appreciated.

“When that failed, he won power at the ballot box and is now approaching a decade in office. In that time, he has concentrated power, harassed opponents, punished reporters, persecuted civic organizations, and increased state control of the economy.”

Sure, the leader gets what he wants yet there are no room for compromises, or expression of opinions or speech. If citizens cannot be stating their opinions or speeches, feel what they want to express, that very well undermines their rights. When such rights are undermined, for sure it is not a democracy yet it is very tyranny. If the citizen gets an opportunity to state how he or she feels about he state in public, having society to hear their thoughts, especially the media, the next step would be harassed and punished reporters, who did not talk in favour of their leader and not have anything nice to say about their leader, regardless of if he or she was a bad leader. In such case, the citizens is seen nothing higher than an animal, which does not talk to begin with. Furthermore, Chavismo is leaning towards the left. Socialism, Communism and Anarchism are often associated, which incorporates radical individualism. Such instances are often and associated with tyranny regimes. Where authoritarians and dictators use power in the wrong way and abuse such ideologies, and when theories like communism is supposedly meant for the greater good for individuals and societies alike, misuse is what often crops up. For an instance, extreme cases of misuse in power like in North Korea are a perfect example that goes hand in hand with the type of “left- wing ideology” that is being described. Its government is considered to be a Stalinist dictatorship, which is communism inspired, by Josef Stalin himself, who once ruled the Soviet Union with the socialist approach. Again, with a left-wing approach for the better of the individuals and society as a whole, democracy has no room to be measured, as to how much of it is actually used in the government, which leads to North Korea being one of the most authoritarian governments in the world. With North Korea having below the index of Democracy among the 167 nations across the world, Venezuela is not very far from its actions towards the people and immigrants of Venezuela.

“Report on Global Anti-Semitism.” The report documents how openly anti-Semitic the Venezuelan government now is. Besides the raid on the Jewish school, it noted that “President Chávez cautioned citizens against following the lead of Jewish citizens in the effort to overturn his referendum victory. Anti-Semitic leaflets also were available to the public in an Interior and Justice Ministry office waiting room.”

It looks like authoritarianism has a way with Jewish immigrants. Hitler felt they were a threat to his Third Reich, and the nation as a whole and started extermination camps to have them wept off the face of the earth. Hugo Chavez is on the same page as Hitler was; except Chavez was less determined as Hitler was, towards his goals. Nonetheless, if the Venezuelan government has led to the bullying of its Jewish populations, how far are they going to go?

Discrimination is where it all starts, and that is what started to the much later and traumatizing Holocaust the Jews had went through under Hitler’s authoritarian regime. As the quote above mentions, Anti-Semitic leaflets are available to the public, spreading the word, or word of mouth is very key to have ones’ perception on something to change into something else and Hugo Chavez’s government is very well aware of that to back up their actions and discriminations against the Jews.

To an extent, having an authoritarian government doesn’t mean it’s always going to bad or hell for the citizens that resides in the such state. If the leader or the authoritarian is a real character of having to implement social and economic structure for the good of his or her nation, why would it be bad? After all, the leader is making full use of his or her power, where what he or she says is the law, not having to pass legislations through their cabinets, not having to wait on votes for motions to pass though, or if worse comes to worse, the opposition rejecting such good laws and have the good intentions go down the drain. What they say, is what happens, and in such cases hoping the best for one’s nation is never wrong. Having a left-wing ideology to change the nation is a bonus for the nation. Socialism and lastly communism, is what leaders like Hugo Chavez yearn for, having a nation where there are neither rich nor poor, everyone is equal. Of course such theory will always sound good, but also, sound too good to be true. Hugo Chavez, with his Chavismo ideology, wants the Venezuelans to all be protagonists of each of their own lives. Have them to prosper, have them to be equal from one another, have them to be the subjects and not objects; not always having to work for themselves in a hard labour environment, with wage labour especially.

“The Chavez government’s pledge to advance the revolutionary process through radical democratic means can be explained by its resolve to construct a society that allows Venezuelans to become protagonists or subjects and not just objects of the transformation. It is recognized that Venezuelans will develop the capacities and attitudes necessary for socialism only through practice.”

Sure, there is no democratic practice, where the citizens of the state do not have to choose who they would to elect to lead and prosper their state, but why should they need to have rights to vote when the leader himself will take good care of the people, especially through an ideology of Chavismo, where Chavez only wants the best for his nation and his people as a whole.

When the word authoritarian arises, one word that might arise simultaneously would be corruption. So what is corruption? In this context, politically speaking, corruption is the use of legislated powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain. With the greed of power, and misuse of power, comes corruption.

“The executive branch also acquired control over the National Electoral Council (CNE), the body that governs electoral affairs. For the first time in Venezuela’s democratic history, doubts began to arise concerning the fairness of electoral rule.”

It was mentioned and asked upon earlier, what is the point of having elections and trick the citizens of the state in having them to exercise their democratic rights, or so they think, when the opposition is highly unlikely going to win when the same man is repeatedly in power. Well, the quote above can best be described in such case, brought up earlier and now. If the executive branch of the state has acquired control of the National Electoral Council, why would or how could the opposition or anyone opposing to win against him or her in power presently. To make things worse yet, at the same time to have some sort of light shed on the issue, were all the elections fair and square then? After all, political competition is the reason why the people are voting. It is based on how well the politician has grasped the citizens attentions, how well the leader has achieved his or her goals is what determines if they are ready to be accepted in power again and again. It must be the power of corruption, to have control over the electoral bodies and win all the time, so that personal gains can be achieved by having themselves placed in office. Hence, there is no point of having society to believe in democracy or have them to believe they have rights in choosing who their leader is.

Another prime example, of how well corruption can determine one’s entrance into power is through selling out the votes. If votes are sold, why worry about losing in a political election battle. Of course, the people would want better lives in Venezuela, better or even higher standard of living than what they have with Hugo Chavez at the present time, yet Chavez, being an authoritarian he is, having the greed and hunger for power over and over again in office, can make the people happy through his way of corruption.

“State spending is born from democratic pressures (heightened political competition), but beyond a certain threshold of irregularity, it begins to undermine democratic institutions, creating a playing field that is far from level. Spending has given the Venezuelan government an advantage in competing for votes: The opposition campaigns with words; the state, with words plus money.”

All the opposition can do really is, getting the word out. What is their agenda, how they plan to change the nation and make it different from Hugo Chavez’s regime and what they planning on changing it to, if someone like Hugo Chavez have been in power for many years, yet with an authoritarian approach. Whereas, the state, in this Hugo Chavez himself, running for presidency again and to make sure he secures a good majority of the votes that paves his arrival back into the office, one opportunity is to acquire control of the electoral council and two have money talk. Pay the voters and make sure his votes are secured.

Hugo Chavez must have life pretty easy as he wants it to, by having to win the elections with almost no opposition, getting what he desires based on his political agenda of his authoritarian regime, oppressing freedom of speech and freedom of press in that sense, can pretty much take Venezuela to wherever he wants on the map, with his “left-wing”, or his Chavismo ideology. Claiming to have Bolivarian Socialism , as the 21st century socialism, a definition of socialism to help the poor, in which he has succeeded, as the supporters and fans of his are mostly the poor and the les cared in the streets of Venezuela. Sure he’s got schools for the less fortunate kids, and less fortunate mothers making money as single mothers and house wives as their primary job. It is definiatly not a radical democracy; what other rights does his nation have? It is another authoritarian regime headed by a powerful man, Hugo Chavez. With the way things have gone, and going Venezuela is nowhere near the real left wing political ideology, of Socialism.

Venezuela’s Participatory Socialism
Burbach, Roger; Pineiro, Camila
Socialism and Democracy, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 181-200, Nov 2007

Populism and Foreign Policy in Venezuela and Iran
Dodson, Michael; Dorraj, Manochehr
The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 71-87, Winter-Spring 2008

Chavez’s Venezuela
Gonson, Paul
Current History, vol. 105, no. 688, pp. 58-63, February 2006

Hurricane Hugo: Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is a threat to more than just his own people
Author Halvorssen, Thor
Source Weekly Standard, vol. 10, no. 44, pp. 25-27, August 8 2005

Hugo Boss
Corrales, Javier
Foreign Policy, no. 152, pp. 32-40, January/February 2006