14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami | 18 June 2018 — He changed the constitution, the coat of arms and the national flag, the name of his country and even its time zone. Hugo Chávez intended Chavismo to build a new social order on the remains of Venezuela’s liberal democracy and he succeeded. But at what a price!
Two decades after the arrival of Hugo Chávez in power and five years after his death, the documentary maker Gustavo Tovar presents a chronicle of the collapse suffered by the Latin American nation with his film Chavismo: The Plague of the 21st Century.
“Killing a person in Venezuela is called homicide, but killing a whole people is called Chavismo,” says the former president of Costa Rica, Óscar Arias, just one of the dozens of activists, academics, intellectuals and human rights defenders interviewed by Tovar.
How could Chávez, after a military coup, seduce the people of one of the richest nations on the continent to be governed by his will? Populism has a dangerously attractive answer: the poverty of many in Venezuela is the result of the wealth of others, therefore the poor must expropriate the wealth of the prosperous and redistribute it. In hatred, division, and a Manichaeism that divides everyone into good and bad, such that the success of Chavismo is based on lies, censorship and repression, according to the documentary.
“Hugo Chávez understood that people were very disillusioned and fed up with the usual politicians. He put at the center of the national debate a very important group of Venezuelans who had been excluded,” explains journalist Moisés Naím.
Chavismo comes to power through a combination of the weariness of the Venezuelan political class that brings an outsider to the presidency and the maneuvers of Fidel Castro who, from Havana, sees in Chávez the realization of his dream of conquering the richest nation of Latin America to export the communist revolution to Latin America.
Every twenty minutes Tovar interrupts his documentary to remind us that, while we have been watching, another Venezuelan has been murdered in the most dangerous country in the world. Venezuelan figures under Chavez are terrifying: 280,000 homicides, 15,000 arbitrary arrests, 6,000 extrajudicial executions, more than 280 documented cases of torture.
The power of Chavismo, first under Hugo Chávez and then with his successor, Nicolás Maduro, could not be explained without the rule of the army and corruption. Tovar presents the beginnings of the conversion of the armed forces to an ideological force, when Chávez proclaims that the Army will be “revolutionary, anti-imperialist, socialist and Chavista.”
In 90 minutes the film seeks to give an overview of the national reality by exploring the causes of the Venezuelan debacle. However there are unforgivable omissions, such as the Caracazo, the series of riots that shook the country in 1989, leaving hundreds dead, and the coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002, which precipitated the authoritarian ruler.
The writer and political scientist Laureano Marquez does an excellent job of describing the hijacking of the Venezuelan Army to serve Chavez’s party instead of serving the whole nation: “We have political parties in Venezuela and one political party that is armed: the Army.”
According to a study by the University of Zulia, cited by Tovar in his documentary, the military expenditures of Chavismo have amounted to 497 billion dollars, with billions spent on purchases from Russia and China, while on medicines they have barely spent 16 billion dollars.
Chavez promoted the creation of a militia of more than 500,000 men and publicly supports the colectivos, criminal associations that terrorize the public and control large areas of the country.
The manipulation of electoral power, in the hands of Jorge Rodríguez and the undaunted Tibisay Lucena, allowed Chavismo, which came to the government via the ballot box in 1998, to continue winning elections up until today.
“Chávez and Chavismo and all the Cuban power, from the very beginning, begin to build a fraud. You can not expect anything from a regime that controls everything and put your hopes in the electorate, “says Juan Claudio Lechín, a Bolivian writer.
In order to maintain the machinery of an increasingly larger, more powerful State that is a dispenser of favors, Chávez used expropriations of private enterprise. Lands, banks, food producing companies and even the jewel in the crown of the country, the public company Petróleos de Venezuela, which operated as a State within the State, fall under his control.
“He leaves the people of Venezuela without food, telling them the story that a businessman is a heretic who has no virtues,” explains Lechín.
The use of hunger as a political weapon is reflected in the documentary with images of women who have nothing to feed their children, people who eat garbage, and widespread ill-health and malnutrition.
Although the minimum wage is nomimally close to 400 dollars, Chavez’s economic performance has plummeted the purchasing power of Venezuelans’to the equivalent of less than a dollar a month and inflation is now the highest in the world (so far in 2018 it is 13,865%).
Along with these evils, there is corruption and drug trafficking . A justice minister who defends socialism in front of reporters who question his Louis Vuitton tie, the luxuries of the ‘red bourgeois’ and their children, the systematic plundering of the country, and the multi-million dollar accounts of the defenders of egalitarianism, all these are shown in the documentary.
“Chavismo is a process by which the lumpen — the criminal sectors of a society — seizes power. That is why they are so daring, that is why they can be so cruel and have such a hunger for power that they do not respect their friends or those who have supported them,” says Lechín.
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