In politics, symbolic acts that send a message to the broader society resonate far more than others. This May 22, amid of anti-government protests and outrage for a young activist killed, in Barinas, Hugo Chavez’s childhood home was burned.
As far as we know there were no victims, but the image of Chavismo, the popular legacy of Chavez and the government all suffered a devastating hit in this one act. The fact that a Venezuelans’ mob on the street expressed their displeasure at government former President Chávez—echoes on the popular, political consciousness.
This is not an isolated event. Since mid-April, with a backdrop of protests occurring across Venezuela in small or medium-size towns, protestors have torn down and destroyed sculptures of the founding father of Bolivarianism. In Pariaguán, in the of the country, in Mariara in the central region, and in Ureña in the west, mobs have taken out their anger by attacking and defacing images of Chavez.
These acts and their wide occurrence show two things. First, Venezuelans have lost their fear and are now acting in ways that before would have triggered the government’s wrath and a massive wave of repression. Second, this marks the end of an era. Symbolically, torching Chávez’s birthplace is a way of demonstrating the end to Chavismo as a political model.
Chavismo has forced things to this point. Last October, when the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) suspending the recall referendum against the president and suspected local elections, many of us believed that Chavismo confronted an existential dilemma as political force. It was, at the time, showing that it feared its own declining popularity and possible electoral end.
Like any other political organization, made up of human beings, Chavismo is not monolithic. I argued in October 2016 that not only had the movement’s hardline effectively closed of the a path to political change through democracy and elections—as established in the Constitution—they had also committed a form of political suicide for the long term.
As Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupts, and absolute power, tends to corrupt absolutely.” Even if it is a hackneyed phrase, what it does is that by choosing the path of consolidating power absolutely in shutting down democratic, electoral avenues of political change, hardline Chavistas has thrown their lot with absolute power, and the corruption and inevitable degeneration that comes with it. Today, Chavismo in government doesn’t act as a government but as a mafia, and as a result with every passing day it makes it less likely that Chavismo will be able to play a role in a future democratic Venezuela.
As a citizen, I have never supported Chavismo, but as a political analyst, I cannot fail to admit the ability, especially early in its time in office, of Chavismo to smash the old political system and marginalize the former political class and the movement’s connection with the people.
Hugo Chávez of 1998 was able to interpret the demands for deep change in his 1998-electoral campaign. At the same time the traditional political parties, Copei and AD, that had dominated politics for more than three decades, were clearly out of touch and committed every political mistake possible.
At the time, the prevailing public sense was that the traditional political class had held on to power far too long—primarily through corruption—and that stopped caring about popular need and demands for change. This same breeding ground of the 1990s exists today, only now it runs against Chavismo and will ultimately bury it.
There’s one critical difference though. Chavismo is killing itself not just through corruption but a slide to out-and-out dictatorship and the worst economic crisis in the country’s modern history—all causes by a series of misguided and increasingly indefensible governmental decisions. As a result we are today in an climate of massive suffering and social upheaval incomparable to two decades ago.
Venezuelan society not only wants a new president, today it was a new social model.
Chavismo, as a political project to re-found the republic, is dead. The torching of Chávez’s childhood home showed that we have reached the end of the Chavista era. Maduro’s dictatorship symbolizes its degeneration. Forever more, Chavismo will be associated with hunger, repression, lack of elections, and the inability of a movement, a political-social system, to be able to renew itself. The hardline sons of Chavismo chose that way when they broke their founder’s own constitution in October last year. Call it the tendency toward absolutism and absolute corruption, call it the end of democracy in Venezuela, but what it really is, as far as Chávez and Chavismo are concerned, is regicide.