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Venezuela: the political crisis of post-chavismo.

During the two years of PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ'S ILLNESS, THE VARIOUS imbalances that had characterized Venezuelan society since the beginning of his first term in 1999 deepened. His death, on March 5,2013, left an immense political vacuum. During the 14 years of his rule, political power and decision making were concentrated in the presidency. On December 8,2012, before leaving for Havana to undergo a last surgery from which he would never recover, Chavez announced that his successor would be Vice President and Chancellor Nicolas Maduro. Following the guidelines stipulated in the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (CRB V), upon declaration of his death presidential elections were immediately convened and took place on April 14.

Maduro won, but the results were closer than the polls and analysts had anticipated. As had become the norm in the Chavez era, the electoral competition was characterized by the use of state resources for the campaign of the ruling party. State media and employees were also involved in the campaigns, further demonstrating the elimination of boundaries between state, government, and ruling party, with state powers subordinated to the "Revolution" (Lopez Maya and Lander 2013; see also The situation turned combative when the National Electoral Council (CNE) published its first bulletin reporting data from 90 percent of the polling places. The report showed only a 1.7 percent advantage for Maduro over Henrique Capriles Radonski of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). (1)

Maduro's triumphant discourse that night sounded awkward because it was out of proportion to the very slim lead he had. Six months earlier, candidate Hugo Chavez had won the presidential elections with an advantage of 11 percent. This noticeable weakening of power put Maduro and the ruling party in a difficult political position vis-a-vis the opposition and the Chavista base. In the following days, the president, his government, and his party opted to harden the polarizing discourse, denouncing a potential coup d'etat from the extreme Right--whose head would be Capriles Radonski. They gave signs of condoning acts of violence against opposition leaders and supporters. This deepened the political crisis even more.

The Political Context (2)

The political crisis developing in Venezuela is marked by extensive political imbalances. These result from the dismantling of the liberal democratic institutions established in the CRB V and their being replaced with a new state of direct democracy, led "from above," during the second term of President Chavez (2007-2013). The new emerging regime has characteristics of authoritarian populism. The CRBV state has been replaced by a non-liberal "communal state."

Chavista Populism

Although scholars have not yet reached a consensus about the nature of populism, the definition proposed by Ernesto Laclau (2005) describes it as a universal form of doing politics characterized by an aggressive and polarizing political discourse that divides society into "the people" (the good, the poor, the powerless) and "the oligarchy" (the bad, the elite, the powerful). Populist politics centers on a charismatic leader who establishes direct relationships with his followers, without mediation. Because of this, authors such as de la Torre (2008) and Peruzzotti (2008) consider it to be a form of direct democracy: it simplifies the political discourse, generates a powerful potential for mobilizing that facilitates political cohesion among movement participants, and transforms the relationship between society and the state. On the one hand, these authors assert that in countries where populism has recently gained momentum (Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Venezuela), processes of justice and social inclusion have occurred. On the other hand, sustaining this form of politics over time results in the weakening and/or destroying of mediating institutions and political representation, creating the conditions for anomie and authoritarianism.

Anomie refers to situations in which social norms are no longer followed, creating the conditions for anarchy/political instability/lawlessness and sociopolitical violence. Populism privileges the direct relationship between leader and masses above state institutions and laws, and it tends toward a polarizing, discrediting discourse that does not tolerate difference and pluralism. This erodes the legitimacy of the checks and balances between state powers (legislative, executive, judicial, etc.), undermines the standards of respect among citizens, and favors the self-serving exercise of power. In Venezuela, the rise to power of the Chavista coalition in 1999, with its rhetoric of rejection of the institutions of political representation, institutional mediation, and state autonomy, actually eroded and de legitimized representative democracy. This in turn reinforced a culture of antipolitics and a cult of personality surrounding the figure of President Chavez, sowing the seeds for noncompliance and disrespect for laws and social norms. This anomie was exacerbated during the second term of President Chavez, when he tried to transform the CRBV to establish a new state and new relations between state and society. His constitutional reform proposal lacked representative principles and checks and balances between state powers. Although it was rejected by popular vote, the government continued to develop it, making fraudulent use of the existing requirements of the Constitution (Casal 2013). (3)

The continuous growth of indices of social violence such as murders, robberies, and kidnappings, in addition to the corruption and penetration of organized crime into state organisms, also reflects deepening anomie. In 2013 these indicators were among the highest in the world (PROVEA 2012, 2013; Tarre and Tablante 2013; see also Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia and Transparencia Venezuela).

Chavez represents an emblematic case of Latin American populism. Without doubt a charismatic leader, he built a successful direct relationship with his followers via diverse mechanisms that partially explain not only the popularity he enjoyed until his death, but also the current institutional deterioration. The following are four of the most successful mechanisms of direct networking between the leader and his base.

First, he became president in a permanent campaign. In 14 years, Venezuelans held elections 18 times, and none of them were liberal elections in which representatives are chosen. In Venezuela, each campaign was carried out by the government as a referendum in favor of or against President Chavez, regardless of whether it was a national, regional, or municipal ballot, a referendum, or the election of representatives or government authorities other than the president. The result was a constant relegitimation of the leader. His self-serving leadership was secured and contributed to a situation in which it was practically impossible for representative institutions to exercise any counterweight or control over him.

Second, thanks to the abundant revenues from the oil income tax, the government created a powerful media infrastructure, called "the system of public media," that revolved around Chavez. This system was an instrument of direct communication between the leader and his followers. Five television channels, dozens of radio stations, electronic networks and websites, and massive propaganda on the streets, all helped impose the messages of the president as a shared common sense, and his presence became a daily reality in private homes. During the last years of his presidency, his weekly program, "Hello President," lasted an average of six hours straight and included dances, songs, appointments and dismissals of ministers, insults, money prizes, and launches of new policies (Bisbal 2009,67). In the same period, on the flagship national public channel, Venezolana de Television, three of every four hours of transmission featured official propaganda and videoclips of the presidential broadcastings (cadenas presidenciales) or of "Hello President" (Bisbal 2009). The presidential broadcastings in those years were transmitted on an every-other-day basis and interrupted programs from private networks. Part of the official public media strategy was to construct a uniform and stigmatized image of political opponents, reducing the diverse world of opponent parties into a single "unpatriotic" and, more recently, "fascist" political bloc.

Furthermore, the government reduced the influence of private media entities, which were initially very powerful and critical of the government. Making use of the legal powers conferred on the National Executive Branch by the CRBV, Chavez withdrew radio station concessions for the media entities that he considered to be critical of his political project. In addition, due to his parliamentary majority, he pushed through the passage of laws that gave him the ability to weaken media companies that he considered harmful to his interests. He financially supported community media entities that joined forces with the government's political proselytism during election periods. On the one hand, the government's media strategy gave Venezuelans the feeling of continual participation in politics and made Chavez seem like an intimate, familiar figure. On the other hand, it increasingly undermined the right of access to diverse, truthful, and timely information.

A third powerful mechanism was the construction of a vast popular organizational network in Venezuelan urban neighborhoods that was linked directly to Chavez. During his first term in 2006, these participatory organizations were driven by liberal democratic ideas and were part of an emerging popular civil society. These entities, such as the water roundtables or the self-managed community organizations, had autonomy and were designed to comanage public services with local authorities (Lopez Maya 2011). However, in his second term Chavez launched the communal councils with a different, non-autonomous perspective. By 2012, there were already more than 40,000 such councils, which were increasingly converted into a network of patronage tied to the leader and led from above. In exchange for resources for their community projects, they were required to show political loyalty to Chavez, his party, and his socialist proposal (Gonzalez 2013).

A fourth mechanism of institutional destruction were the more than 30 "social missions" created and controlled by Chavez since 2003 that operate in parallel to state social institutions. They have strongly affected various sectors of the population, weakened the potential for full empowerment of popular social organizations, and reinforced the paternalistic and patronage-like culture of the past.

The Emergence of the Communal State (4)

Since the start of his second term, Chavez made strong efforts to impose a political project called "socialism of the 21st century," which entails the institutionalization of new relationships between society and the state and the creation of a "communal state."

In 2007, when Chavez controlled 100 percent of the National Assembly (AN), he presented a motion for constitutional reform to adjust the CRBV to the new paradigms of his proposal. Sixty-nine articles were proposed for modification. However, the proposal was rejected by popular vote that December. The CRBV states that a rejected reform cannot be reintroduced in the same constitutional period, but the president got the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) to interpret Article 345 in a manner favorable to his interests. The TSJ found that even if Chavez couldn't reintroduce a proposal for constitutional reform during the same period, he could have the rejected contents approved through laws and other legal procedures (Casal 2013). This transformed the state without respect for the popular will. Various legal and administrative means were used by Chavez to have his way. In some cases he made the National Assembly, which he controlled, approve laws of an organic character (leyes organicas); in other cases he pushed reforms of existing laws or wrote special decrees. This was made possible by the popularity and legitimacy of the president, the subordination of the TSJ to his power, and the weakness of the opposing political forces.

By the end of 2010, a few months before Chavez's illness was announced, the laws that laid the foundation for the communal state were in place, and a state began to emerge parallel to the one established by the CRBV. This new state is not tied to a liberal conceptual framework based on the individual political subject's right to vote and other civil and political rights. The new state does not appear to have independent counterbalances or political parties that can alternate power. On the contrary, the communal state is legitimated via "popular power." This is similar to Cuba and the former USSR, where legitimacy lies not in the individual but in the collective subject, and decisions are made in assemblies that do not have elected representatives but rather spokespeople with no freedom of conscience. In states such as these there is no universal, direct, or secret suffrage.

The majority of these "socialist" laws were passed after February 2009, when through a popular referendum Chavez won approval for a constitutional amendment allowing the indefinite reelection of all elected offices, including the presidency. This proposal had previously been rejected in the 2007 referendum (Lopez Maya and Lander 2010). Some of these laws were approved in special parliamentary sessions convened in December 2010, (5) at an inopportune time and with little or no popular consultation. These sessions were convened by the outgoing assembly (2006-2010) once they learned the results of parliamentary elections for the following period (2011-2015). Although victorious, the government lost the qualified majorities. The AN thus came out of the elections with a more diverse political representation, which would force the ruling party to negotiate in order to approve certain laws (such as organic laws) and to appoint authorities for other state powers.

This new framework of socialist laws and a communal state has distanced Venezuela from Western representative democracies. The new regime prioritizes council-based direct democracy, weakens universal suffrage, doesn't respect the autonomy or the independence of public institutions, and restricts principles such as pluralism and rotation of public offices. (6) These laws have brought back the highly centralized system that had prevailed in the country until 1989, when sociopolitical struggles resulted in the approval of laws favoring political decentralization. The control of resources, strategic decisions, and the appointment of subnational authorities have all been returned to the executive branch.

With the approval of these laws, a new administrative division of the national territory also began. The geographic units of the CRBV are the municipalities and the federal states, which choose their local and regional authorities by universal and secret-ballot elections. In the communal state, these territories and their authorities are superseded by a new geographic system of communal councils (CC), which are organized into communes. The communes are aggregated into bigger units called socialist cities, and they can also unite to form federations and confederations, as long as the executive authorizes it. In the communal state outline, no representatives or authorities are elected by universal suffrage. The communal councils consist in territorial units of no more than 250 families. Decisions are taken in assemblies, and elected spokespeople communicate them to the commune level. These spokespeople, chosen by a first-degree election, vote in the commune assemblies to elect spokespeople to the socialist city assemblies (second-degree election), and so on. Communal councils, communes, and socialist cities report to the authorities of the "Special Regions of Development," who are appointed by the president according to the Organic Law of the Federal Council of Government (2010). It is a hierarchical and vertical state, politically centralized, where community organizations depend directly on the president. The CC and the communes act as managing arms of public service policies decided above by a centralized planning body. Councils and communes are not autonomous social organizations but rather part of the state, of the government, and of the "socialist" party (Gonzalez 2013; Lopez Maya 2011).

All of these developments contradict the CRBV, which imagined a political regime combining representative and participatory democracy. The fact that the 2007 reform proposal was rejected by popular vote indicates that there were reasonable doubts about the legitimacy of the entire subsequent legal process, despite the interpretation given by the highest court of law.

The Economic Context: "Rentier Socialism"

The communal state is accompanied by an economic model that is not very different from the Venezuelan model of the twentieth century. In some ways it is even worse. Chavismo, despite all of its rhetoric concerning an ironclad economy in the face of capitalism, has lacked an economic vision that could transcend and/ or surpass the "rentier oil model" that has moulded the Venezuelan economy since the 1920s. This rentier model is primarily funded by the international oil market and has benefited from rising oil prices that are now 10 times higher than when Chavez began his first term. (7)

The rentier oil model is different from other modern economic models because the economic surplus does not derive primarily from an internal productive process taxed by the state. The "petro-state" is financed with significant income extracted from the external market. This results in the tendency of elites and government bureaucracies to become autonomous from society and to escape citizen control; and it favors inefficiency, corruption, and the implementation of ambitious and fantastical projects. Coronil (1997) characterized this phenomenon, already noticeable during the oil boom of the mid-1970s, with the metaphor of a "magical state."

Rentier socialism is similar to state capitalism, which accelerated during the first presidency of Carlos Andres Perez in the 1970s, when oil prices skyrocketed. This boom had a shorter life than the current boom, as oil prices fell drastically in the 1980s, leaving the country indebted and impoverished. As in the current situation, the petro-state recentralized, confiscated land, cancelled debts, nationalized companies, and heavily regulated the economy. According to the Plan of the Nation, then called "La Gran Venezuela," the goal was to become part of the "First World." Under the rubric of socialism, some features of the old model are exacerbated: more state confiscation of rural lands, increase in the number of nationalized companies, and stricter state control that increasingly stifles the production process. This has led to economic stagnation. There has been a 50 percent reduction in production in the manufacturing sector compared with the levels before Chavez was in office (Conindustria in EN, April 4, 2013). Apart from isolated exceptions, there has also been a decrease in agriculture and agrobusiness. Today the country imports around 65 percent of its food products and manufactured goods despite the important investments made by the government in the countryside, including debt relief and equipment purchases. The flight of the rural population to the cities has followed course. Meanwhile, $95.50 of every $100 that enters the country derives from the sale of hydrocarbons (AAVV 2013, Lopez Maya and Lander 2009).

One of the novel features of rentier socialism is that it weakens private property and favors social property, as laid out in the "Plan of Socialist Transition 2007-2014." According to this plan, the communes would be the socialist spaces in which the "new man" would be born with a new self-managing and self-sustaining economy (see Lineas Generales de Desarrollo Economico Social de la Nacion 2007-2014, at Lineas_Generales_2007_2013.pdf). Nevertheless, the "units of endogenous development," which include the Zamoran estates, rural cooperatives, communal councils, and "social production companies," function under a system of collective property with anti-hierarchical principles that do not distinguish between manual and intellectual labor and claim not to pursue profits. They languish without tangible results and are sustained by the continual financial support of the petro-state. (8)

As a result, economic imbalances have grown during the final years of Chavez's second term. The growth in fiscal spending was exacerbated in 2011 and 2012, in an attempt to respond to growing social demands in the middle of an electoral campaign that Chavez ran in a deteriorated state of health. (9) According to unofficial figures, this spending reached 16 percent of GDP in 2012 and was financed through considerable indebtedness to the banking sector, mostly national but also international (Guerra 2013). Inflation during the last 10 years averaged 20 percent annually, and imports continued to grow as the government attempted to ward off scarcities that would endanger its electoral victories. On October 7, 2012, Chavez won the election. By February 2013, Vice President Maduro was forced to devalue the bolivar by 46.8 percent while Chavez was in Havana, further deteriorating wages and salaries already hurt by the previous inflation. (10) The history of the petro-state repeats itself. Although the price of oil hovers around $ 100 per barrel, petrodollars are insufficient to cover the expenses of the "magical state."

PDVSA, the state oil company, appears unstable as well, as it has been saddled with unrelated projects that fulfill the socialist agenda (AAVV 2013; Guerra 2013). For example, PDVSA was in charge of educational social missions and food distribution, infrastructure, and housing construction. It has also financed political proselytism in favor of the president and it has supported international allies, among other things. This diversification of functions and expenses has damaged its productive and managerial capacity. PDVSA has had to postpone important investments in technological upgrades, equipment replacement, and various maintenance issues. Furthermore, the company has not properly trained the managers and technicians that would have allowed it to fully recuperate from the massive layoff in 2003, when Chavez defeated the oil shutdown convened by the top management opposing the government. These are some of the factors that explain why Venezuelan oil production hasn't increased in capacity in the past 14 years. The stark increase in the internal demand of hydrocarbon in the last years due to its extremely low cost (its price is just $0.08 per gallon) has also contributed to the decrease in exportable volume. The frequent accidents in the refineries have also affected gas exports, as the industry has had to buy in the external market in order to fulfill its commitments to clients. (11) These economic realities have contributed to an already explosive political situation.

The Social Context: Socioeconomic Indicators and Achievements in Public Management

In the past 14 years Venezuelan society has changed significantly, but there have not been enough studies to account for its current characteristics. One of the clearest and most sustained priorities of the Chavez government has been the fight against exclusion and poverty and the search for greater equality and social justice. In this respect the government has made important gains that contribute to explaining Chavez's popularity and his ongoing electoral triumphs.

Beginning in 2003, more than 30 "social missions" were approved to solve pressing problems. In contrast to previous social policies, those of the Chavez era were directly linked to the president, who usually allocated the resources outside of the national budget, with special funds created with extra revenue from the oil business, or directly with revenues from the PDVSA. The missions initially sought to overcome isolated and short-term problems, such as illiteracy and the completion of primary school for adults (Mision Robinson I and II), food scarcity and increasing food prices (Mision Mercal, PDVAL), and free preventive and primary medicine care in poor and working-class neighborhoods (Mision Barrio Adentro I). Because of the positive political yield these missions gave him, Chavez made them a central part of his social policies and of the socialist proposal for his second term.

The petro-state's increased resources resulting from the oil boom facilitated the launch of diverse missions generally linked to Chavez's electoral campaigns. During non-campaign periods, the missions tended to languish, with even the most successful ones being negatively affected. Mercal, with its subsidized food products, and Barrio Adentro have declined and have been relaunched time and time again. (12) During his last campaign in 2012, Chavez had approved large fiscal expenditures in order to inaugurate what he called "Great Missions," which aimed to end once and for all problems such as the huge housing shortage, lack of pensions for the elderly, and the economic precariousness of female heads of households with disabled children or pregnant adolescents. As a result of these investments, the country made positive gains in some important social indicators.

According to official figures, poverty and critical poverty among Venezuelan families has been reduced to half of what it was in 1998 (families in poverty in 2011 made up 27.1 percent of the total, according to the INE or National Institute of Statistics). The GINI coefficient, used to measure the inequality gap between the rich and poor, shows that for the first time in decades Venezuela is one of the least unequal societies on the continent. (13) The number of elderly pensioners doubled, as has enrollment in primary schools, and university education almost tripled (PROVEA 2013). With the help of social organizations and communal councils, many communities have received resources that have improved their quality of life. Various scholarships and subsidies have been distributed in order to cover basic needs. Formal public employment has also increased, and the workday has been reduced by law. There have been recognized gains in labor rights for domestic workers and a decree has gauranteed job security since 2002 (PROVEA 2012). Not surprisingly, the promotion and implementation of these policies have always been linked to President Chavez personally.

Despite these advances, severe economic imbalances have precluded permanent gains. Private employment has been declining, while new and burdensome public positions have been opened to compensate for the loss. It is estimated that the number of public employees has doubled in recent years, and those within the PDVSA have tripled (AAVV 2013). The informal sector of the economy, while in decline, still employs more than 40 percent of the economically active population (INE 2012). (14) Despite annual salary increases, inflation over the last three years and de facto devaluations in 2013 have worsened income levels. Because the government refuses to let external bodies evaluate it, the quality of public education is difficult to measure. However, strong polarization and ideological biases in public schools are well known. These and other problems have provoked growing street protests that, together with other social phenomena, have created a permanent state of unrest. (15)

Government management in the Chavez era has not been characterized by a stable development of institutions and routines. On the contrary, the "revolutionary" atmosphere introduces a logic of improvisation, provisional measures, and emergency operatives that has increased inefficiency. Additionally, some new institutions, such as various missions, operate parallel to other state institutions with the same function. This increases fiscal expenses and negatively affects resource management.

The provisional nature, polarization, and inefficiency in such programs has led to increasing public service deficits, which have in turn lead to more protests. The electrical shortages, especially in the center of the country, are among the worst of these services crises. Cities have constant and sometimes prolonged blackouts, while infrastructure and public transportation continue to deteriorate. In addition, there are intermittent food shortages and higher food prices, partly caused by government delays in granting currency exchanges to importers. There is also a growing black market exchange for dollars where the official rate is seven times lower than the market rate. (16)

Similarly alarming are the constantly increasing social violence indicators. Although social violence began to rise at least a decade before the Chavez era, it has recently increased so much that the country, and especially Caracas, has been called one of the most dangerous places in Latin America. Official statistics show that in 2012 there were an average of 54 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants, compared with the larger region's average of 15 per 100,000. (17) According to the NGO PROVEA, one of every four crimes was attributed to security forces, and the rate of impunity was 91 percent for homicides and 97 percent for common crimes. The NGO Venezuelan Prison Watch has reported a horrific portrait of the penitentiary crisis. In recent years, about 350 prisoners have died on average each year. In 2012, there were 591 deaths alone. Venezuela's penitentiary system is becoming one of the world's worst and most violent.

Maduro: Political Crisis and Authoritarian Military Response

The previous contextual information is the backdrop for the development of President Chavez's illness, which he himself announced to the country on June 30, 2011, and for his death on March 5,2013. During those 21 months we Venezuelans lived through a complicated and bizarre situation in which the severity of Chavez's illness was hidden from the public. Chavez received medical treatment in Havana, and his treatments and condition were never revealed. The public media manipulated information to create the illusion that Chavez was fully capable of fulfilling the obligations of his presidency even though he was absent from the country for extended periods of time and was clearly unable to rule. This continued until the day he died. There was no declaration of an appropriate temporary executive during his absence, as required by the CRBV. As a result, an atmosphere of confusion, rumors, and tensions began to grow, which led to a strained daily existence for many Venezuelans.

As we already mentioned, Chavez was last seen on December 8, 2012, when he announced on national television that he would return to Cuba for a fourth operation. At that time, he designated Nicolas Maduro as his successor, if the operation was not successful. From that point until his death the government developed a propaganda strategy to sanctify him, legitimize a political myth based on his personality, and assure the leadership of Maduro as Chavez's successor. These efforts climaxed at Chavez's funeral and were used as part of Maduro's electoral campaign.

Nonetheless, Maduro was not able to maintain Chavez's electoral support. The April 2013 election results assured another six-year term but did not consolidate Chavismo. Without Chavez, the legitimacy of the new presidency was questioned, especially given a margin of victory of only 1.5 percent (Lander 2013).

On the night of April 14, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) and its presidential candidate Capriles Radonksi questioned the validity of the electoral results. They demanded an exhaustive revision of the voting process, with an audit of 100 percent of the polling places and a revision of the voting registries, including the examination of signatures and fingerprints. The petition was not accepted by the National Electoral Council (EN, April 27, 2013). In the midst of violent incidents and of "cacerolazos" (South American street protests characterized by people banging on pots and pans) repudiating Maduro, the CNE (National Electoral Council) quickly proclaimed Maduro's victory. This stoked the flame of a political crisis that continues as this article is being written.

Authoritarianism, Nepotism, and Militarization

The government blamed Capriles Radonski for the outbreaks of violence that occurred during the protests in Barquisimeto (where 84 people were detained, the majority youth) and in Valencia (where 75 were detained). These protests were heavily repressed. Many people were wounded, with many complaints of physical and psychological abuse by state security forces (CIVILIS 2013; EN, April 19, 2013). Maduro justified the repression by painting these protests as part of a conspiracy by the extreme "fascist" Right to strip him of power (EN, April 17, 2013). The government later commended the National Guard in the Lara state legislative assembly for its forceful action against the protesters (El, May 5, 2013).

Maduro's slim victory indicated an important political reversal for the government. Nevertheless, the president and high-ranking officials declared that they would never reach an agreement with the opposition and opted to further harden the polarizing and denigrating discourse toward those who refused to join in their "revolutionary" project. To assure their ability to govern in such a difficult environment, they resorted to a manipulation of laws that received approval by the judicial power, as well as the use of the police or the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) to repress opponents. This strategy has been made possible by the previous subordination to the executive of the legislative and judicial branches of government and of the electoral and attorney general powers.

The National Assembly (AN) in particular is used to legitimating violence and abuses of power by government legislators. In the April 15 session of the AN, its president Diosdado Cabello stripped the opposition representatives of free speech and relieved them of their managerial posts in parliamentary commissions. Their salaries were suspended. The argument was that they should not have rights as representatives if they didn't recognize Maduro as president. (18) The session turned violent and at least two opposition representatives were wounded by ruling-party representatives. One of them, William Davila, received a head wound that needed 16 stitches (Infolatam, May 2, 2013). El vis Amoroso, the ruling-party representative, publicly approved the blow (EU, April 17, 2013). Even worse violence took place on April 30, resulting in an assault on 10 opposition representatives, two of whom sustained a cheekbone fracture and a nasal bridge fracture, respectively. Using a similar logic to that used on April 15, Minister Iris Valera justified the "assbeatings." (19) Maduro's chancellor, Jaua, claimed that the violence was initiated by the opposition representatives themselves (EU, May 2, 2013; Infolatam, May 2, 2013). The opposition forces, with Capriles at the head, hardened their discourse, challenging the elections and refusing to recognize Maduro as president-elect.

These impasses were overcome when the legislators agreed to respect the democratic institutional framework (EN, May 8, 2013). But the tension continues in the AN each time the government uses its simple majority to impose agendas and approve laws without dialogue. Again in October opposition representatives protested loudly when President Maduro appeared in the AN in order to request an Enabling Act as part of a policy to combat corruption. Maduro accused two representatives of Primero Justicia (PJ) of being corrupt. Julio Borges (PJ--Miranda) turned to the president, along with Nora Bracho of Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT-Zulia), in order to protest the accusation. Their right to speak was suspended for a month, in accordance with a regulation approved by the ruling-party majority that authorizes such penalties when authority is disrespected (EU, October 9, 2010 and October 15, 2013).

Another government strategy includes the discrediting, persecution, and in some cases jailing of high-ranking opposition politicians. With a simple majority, the ruling party in the AN has opened investigations into opposition politicians such as Capriles Rodonski, leaders of the Voluntad Popular Party such as Leopoldo Lopez, and Antonio Rivero, who was even jailed. They are being blamed for the outbreaks of violence in the days following April 14. These open proceedings function as scare tactics and threats. Because the ruling party didn't win enough seats in the 2010 parliamentary elections to ensure the qualified (two-thirds or the three-fifths) majorities in the AN, they have been opening investigations against opposition representatives to weaken and discredit them and to decrease the number of seats held by that bloc. In July they revoked the immunity of PJ Representative Richard Mardo, accusing him of corruption (EU, July 31, 2013). Although the CRB V requires a two-thirds vote in the AN in order to revoke the immunity of a representative, the ruling party argued that in this case it was a "temporary suspension" that only required a simple majority (ibid.). Another case involves Representative Maria Aranguren, from the Migato Party. The ruling party asked the courts to open an investigation for corruption, seeking a preliminary hearing against her in order to remove her and bring in her substitute, who is an activist from the PSUV. They accomplished this with the judicial consent and thus were able to pass an Enabling Law with the three-fifths majority required for such laws.

Charges of corruption before the attorney general's office or the courts are the resource most commonly used against opposition leaders: Capriles, the governor of Miranda, and his secretary Oscar Lopez, Henri Falcon from Lara, and Liborio Guarulla from Amazonas, all face lawsuits and open investigations. As part of this strategy of weakening and delegitimizing opposition politicians, Maduro, like Chavez, designates regional protectorates that exist as sort of parallel figures to the governor and are nonexistent in the laws. To lead them, Maduro, like Chavez, has named the PSUV candidates who had been defeated, granting them the resources to compete with the elected authorities.

Other expressions of authoritarianism have been centered on the continued chipping away of freedom of expression and on curtailed access to diverse, truthful, and timely sources of information. This process, initiated during the Chavez era, has continued under Maduro. The novelty has been the purchase of private media outlets whose editors were strongly critical of the government, thus producing a change in editorial lines. This was the case with the television channel Globovision, bought in May (EU, May 6, 2013). Furthermore, Maduro has brought about lawsuits in the attorney general's office even against politically moderate daily newspapers, because of headlines that displeased him. The response of the diligent attorney general's office is to call the directors and journalists as witnesses, a type of scare tactic. (20)

Authoritarianism is combined with two other strategies that constitute a portrait of growing illegality: nepotism and the militarization of the government. In the current government, appointing friends and family members to important public positions independent of their abilities is a rising trend. This practice was already characteristic of Chavez's administration, during which relatives of Chavez and of high-ranking officials, such as Cilia Flores and Diosdado Cabello, came to hold positions in the institutions directed by the latter. This trend has become more frequent, supported by the lack of institutional checks and balances over state powers. The last names Chavez, Maduro, Flores, Varela, and Cabello, among others, serve as credentials to access key posts such as those of vice president of the republic (Chavez's son-inlaw), director of missions (Chavez's daughter directs the Milagro Mission), national treasurer (Cilia Flores' cousin), chief of the Department of Special Inspectors of the Presidency (Maduro's son, who is 23 years old), or head judge of the judiciary (Cilia Flores's son, who is 27 years old). (21)

Additionally, the persistence of important signs of a failure of governance has been fueling a growing militarization of public management. Among the emergent governmental structures with military features is the Political Military Command. Such a command does not exist in the CRBV. These officials have assumed the responsibility of making political decisions in a collective manner since Chavez's illness. Chavez had put together a Political Command of the Revolution, but Maduro has transformed it into more of a military organism than a civic one. (22) In September, with the justification of fighting against the sabotage of the "fascist" Right, deemed responsible for inflation and food shortages, Maduro created a Comptroller of the Economy, appointing as its chief Major General Herbert Garcia Plaza. Garcia Plaza was returned to active duty in order to "assume the complete leadership of this organism" (Notitarde, September 13, 2013).

Maduro has diagnosed the political situation as an out-of-control war against Venezuela by the international Right, the empire, and fascism, requiring a further militarization of government and society. Among his initiatives is the reactivation of enlistment in the Bolivarian militia, a military component that doesn't appear in the CRBV, created by Chavez for the defense of the revolution. He suggested the goal of bringing the current number of militiamen--400,000--to one million (EN, August 28, 2013). General Major Garcia Plaza announced the use of militiamen to work in public and private supermarkets on weekends in order to resolve the problem of excessive labor costs due to the new Work Law (EN, October 1, 2013). Previously the government was using the militiamen for surveillance purposes in ministries, hospitals, and institutes. From the perspective of opposition forces, this is an excuse to use these militiamen (and women) to neutralize labor conflicts on the rise due to the rising inflation.

Another sign of militarization is the Homeland Security Plan launched by Maduro in order to combat crime, which involves the militarization of public safety police forces, now placed under the authority of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) and the militias. The recent creation by decree of the Strategic Center for the Safety and Protection of the Homeland (CESPPA) is another example. Its goal, among others, is to regulate access to public information and to permit the state to call on citizens to provide information that the Center requires without any judicial guarantees. (23) Similar to the Comptroller of the Economy, this organism is presided over by an already-retired major general who has returned to active military service (San Miguel in El, October 15, 2013). These developments reflect a growing military hegemony in government and an increasing use of authoritarianism to confront political problems. Other expressions of this phenomenon are the constant media coverage of military parades and visits from Maduro to barracks; an increased employment of active military members in public positions; and an increase in the military budget for 2014. This militaristic conception of government is reinforced by the constant propaganda designed to convince Venezuelans that we live in a state of emergency and danger. As a consequence, expressions of civic and daily life are deteriorating and are replaced by mission-based practices, emergency plans, and all sorts of operatives.

The Fight against Corruption and the Enabling Act

Since September 2013, Maduro's central political strategy has been to try to get the AN to grant him extraordinary powers to legislate by decree, just as his predecessor did. Maduro has alleged that he is justified in these actions because he is fighting a war against corruption, which, because of the capitalist practices of the past and of the Right, has not been eradicated (EU, September 13, 2013). In October 2013 he presented a proposal to the AN that would have granted him extraordinary powers in accordance with the CRBV for one year. Among other demands, he requested the power to pass or reform laws in order to combat corruption, establishing "strategic mechanisms to fight against those foreign powers that hope to destroy the homeland economically, politically, and in the media," and to create regulations to sanction the flight of capital (UN, October 16, 2013). With the stated purpose of defending the economy, the executive asked for the power to "pass and/or reform the laws and/or measures designed to plan, streamline and regulate the economy." He argues that this will transform the economic system, safeguard prices and currency stability, promote "harmonious development of the national economy," and "strengthen the fight against hoarding and speculation" (ibid.).

The government's determination to fight corruption and to require special powers to do it is paradoxical and bewildering. On the one hand, the ruling party shelved the anticorruption law of 2012, after a preliminary discussion and approval by the Chavista majority in the AN. The bill was sent for review to the general prosecutor of the nation, where it was presided over by Cilia Flores, now first lady, and the process was paralyzed. It has been said that since the law recognized nepotism as a crime of corruption, Chavismo blocked its approval. Also not recognized by the government are the recommendations of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption of the Organization of American States (EN, September 13, 2013). On the other hand, it is well known that corruption exists and that organized crime has penetrated organisms of the central government, including, for example, CADIVI, the institution that regulates access to dollars at the official exchange rate, (24) and the military sector (31 suitcases containing 1.3 tons of cocaine were confiscated in the Charles de Gaulle airport from a flight arriving from Maiquetfa, an airport controlled by the National Guard). (25) Corruption also takes place in city halls and state governments controlled by the ruling party: In October 2013 the Chavista mayor of Valencia was detained and placed in the custody of the courts under accusations of corruption (26) A Chavista ex-governor from Aragua, who during his military career served as Chavez's escort, also left Venezuela, under strong accusations of being mired in corruption during his time in power (EN, August 12, 2013). Moreover, there is no doubt that with no balances between state powers, and with all of them currently subordinated to the executive, these special powers will be used by Maduro as an instrument to persecute opponents, finish dismantling the institutions of representative democracy, and consolidate the drift toward an authoritarian socialist state.

Final Comments

Relationships between state and society based on republican principles of civility, dialogue, and respect for the other have dwindled in Venezuela. Liberal representative democracy is dying and is being replaced by a communal state, a militaristic authoritarianism that is crystallizing in the name of Chavez. A product of this institutional destruction has been and remains social anomie. The end result of this process is unknown (Lopez Maya 2013). The question of whether such a regime is on the Left or the Right seems irrelevant, given the ample evidence of political setbacks that the country currently endures.

This crisis could be averted by a reform through which the government repudiates violence and opens itself to political pluralism. There must be an engagement with the massive opposition in order to create a transition that preserves the positive legacies of inclusion and social justice attained during the Chavez years and assures a return to the rule of law laid out in the CRBV. The CRBV is the ultimate social pact agreed upon and approved by popular referendum by Venezuelans. Nonetheless, the strongest trends seem to be driven by a hardening of Chavismo and a growing militarization of the country and of Maduro's government. This will only cause more political crises. For the moment, the government is taking a "Cuban-style" political direction under the guidance of a political-military directorate, and is attempting, via an Enabling Act, to turn the legislative branch into an empty shell to consolidate a communal state that is increasingly distorted and converted into a militaristic and authoritarian regime controlled by the upper echelons of power.

Postscript: The Municipal Elections and Protests in February 2014

On December 8, 2013, municipal elections were held. As with all the electoral processes in the Chavez era, and despite the fact that in this case the elections were only for mayors and council members, a plebiscitary logic was present, albeit with less weight than in the presidential elections. Similar to the situation in April 2013, during the campaign the government made use of public resources (institutional, human, and financial) to spread propaganda about the activities of its candidates and allies, without the National Electoral Council (CNE) containing or punishing such practices (Lander 2014). The united candidates of the MUD developed a plebiscitary strategy, placing Capriles at the head of the campaign. However, the results did not deliver the anticipated numbers.

The candidates of the PSUV obtained 5,273,939 votes nationwide (47.06 percent), whereas those of the MUD attained 4,419,877 (39.44 percent). The local dynamic eased the polarized concentration somewhat, as the votes for the PSUV and MUD--which in the presidential elections made up 99 percent of the total -declined to 86.5 percent. The rest of the votes were distributed between alternative candidates (9.87 percent) and invalid ballots (3.63 percent).

The ruling party interpreted these results as a recovery relative to April's results, and President Maduro took them as a sign of his growing strength within and beyond Chavismo. The government reiterated that it would continue moving forward with the Homeland Program. On the one hand, Maduro signaled a willingness to promote dialogue by recognizing and agreeing to meet with opposition governors and mayors. On the other hand, however, the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, asserted that there could be no political dialogue: "We will not succumb to the blackmail of dialogue.. .1 flatly refuse. I will not meet with fascists" (El Pais, January 6, 2014).

In February 2014, the continuation of the socioeconomic and political crisis provoked various massive street protests led by the student movement and accompanied by civil society and political figures from the MUD, such as Voluntad Popular and its director Leopoldo Lopez, independent member of parliament Maria C. Machado, Bandera Roja, and La Causa R. The protests were initially motivated by the unsafe environment prevailing in the cities, but upon being met with disproportionate repression, they intensified and expanded to the point of constituting a cycle that has continued up to the moment of completing this article in April 2014. The outcome of these protests remains uncertain. By April 4 there had already been 39 deaths, 608 people injured, dozens of complaints of torture and abuses, 2,153 detentions, and more than 168 people jailed, one of whom was Lopez, the leader of Voluntad Popular (see ve/2014/04/01/infografia-cuantos-son-los-estudiantes-detenidos-y-bajo-que circunstancias).

The official response to the sociopolitical malaise has been inept and antidemocratic, identifying every collective action as part of a conspiracy of "imperialism," financed by businessmen and the international "fascist" Right (at government has exercised stiff repression, rejecting every demand from the student movement and the MUD. This, combined with a strategy of doublespeak that condemns the violence while praising the Chavista collectives that participate in the repression, or that calls for dialogue without giving any signs of easing the disproportionate repression, deepens the uncertainties surrounding the future of Chavismo without Chavez.


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Bisbal, Marcelino 2009 Hegemoni'a y desarrollo cominicacional. Caracas: Group Alfa.

Casal, Jesus M. 2013 "[??]De la Constitution nominal a la Constitution fachada?" In Venezuela sin Chavez, edited by A. Alvarez and Benigno Alarcon. Caracas: UCAB.

CIVILIS 2013 "Situation de derechos humanos en Venezuela en el marco de la eleccion presiencial del 14 al 30 de abril." At

Coronil, Fernando 1997 The Magical State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

De la Torre, Carlos 2008 "Populismo, ciudadania y estado de derecho." In El retorno del pueblo, edited by C. de la Torre and E. Peruzzotti, pp. 11-22. Quito: FLACSO.

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(1.) The results of the last bulletin (boletin) gave Maduro the win with 7,587,161 votes (50.6 percent) and assigned Capriles 7,362,419 votes (49.1 percent, a difference of 1.4 percent (Consejo Nacional Electoral, at

(2.) This section is excerpted from a more detailed article. For more information, see Lopez Maya and Panzarelli (2011).

(3.) Casal sustains that in Venezuela there has been a move away from a nominal constitution, in Lowenstein's sense, to a "facade" constitution, as in Sartori's definition. The 1999 Constitution is

"being infiltrated and displaced by an ideological system that is incompatible with it, to the point of depriving it to a great extent of any usefulness, even aesthetic, for those in power" (Casal 2013).

(4.) This section has been extracted from various earlier articles, the result of a long research project concerning popular participation in Venezuela. See, among others, Lopez Maya (2010, 2011).

(5.) The CRBV is also restrictive in requiring that laws be consulted or debated by the citizenry and organized society. This article (Article 211) was not respected by the ruling party in its rush to approve these laws.

(6.) These are constitutional rights that have been violated. For a detailed analysis of the contents of laws that violate the CRBV see, among others, Civilis (at uploads!comparacicib3n-conslitiicic3bin-reforma-y-leyes-_def nitivo_.pdf).

(7.) The average annual price of the Venezuelan basket in 1998 was $10.57 per barrel and in 2012 $103.44 per barrel.

(8.) Official economists agree that the management of "socialist" companies like cooperatives, social production companies, etc., has been an unfortunate failure (AAVV 2013; Perez Marti 2013). Nonetheless, we weren't able to gain access to recent figures. In 2009 we conducted an analysis with official figures, finding that they were irrelevant to the makeup of the GDP (Lopez Maya and Lander 2009). A government economist explained that since 2009 the BCV stopped calculating the contribution to the GDP from social economy companies (Alvarez, pers. comm., October 28, 2013).

(9.) "Statistics from the Central Bank of Venezuela indicate that in 2012 the country imported $59.3 billion in goods and services, 26.7 percent more than in 2011, when purchases abroad amounted to $46.8 billion" (EN, March 31, 2013).

(10.) The official bolivar went from 4.30 to 6.30 per dollar.

(11.) The most notable was the explosion that occurred in the Amuay Refinery, in the state of Falcon, that caused the death of 26 people and wounded 90 (PROVEA 2013).

(12.) Currently more than 50 percent of the modules of primary care of Barrio Adentro are inoperative (PROVEA 2013, 184).

(13.) The GIN1 coefficient is a number between 0 and 1, where 0 corresponds to perfect equality and 1 corresponds to perfect inequality. In 2011 the coefficient for Venezuela was 0.39, according to the INE.

(14.) The informal sector of the economy at the beginning of the Chavez era constituted 55 percent of the total, and so there has been an important reduction in the past 14 years (PROVEA 2013, 129).

(15.) In 2012, 3,986 street protests were recorded, an average of 11 daily protests, which is higher than the average of the previous six years. Of these, 61 were violent and 76 percent were motivated by economic, social, and cultural demands (PROVEA 2013).

(16.) The scarcity index reached 21.2 percent at the end of September 2013 (BCV 2013).

(17.) The homicide index for every 100,000 inhabitants at the end of 2012, according to official figures, was 54. According to PROVEA, which includes victims of homicide investigations in the category of "resistance to authority," the rate is 78 per 100,000 inhabitants (PROVEA 2013, 42).

(18.) "The containing wall [for violence] of this revolution was named Hugo Chavez, and just the thought and the inspiration of Commander Chavez has until now controlled us" were the words of Diosdado Cabello, the president of the AN. This was the statement that foretold the violence of April 30 in the AN (EN, April 17, 2013).

(19.) "Iris Varela: The Opposition in Parliament Deserved Their Ass-Beatings" (EN, May 2, 2013). Cabello claimed that the whole thing was staged by the opposition representatives, and this is the way it was described in the media (ibid.)

(20.) This was the case with the 2001 daily newspaper. Furthermore, the assets of the director of the weekly Sexto Poder, very critical of the government, were confiscated and its director jailed.

(21.) We found this information dispersed among various dailies and blogs. We have corroborated it as much as possible with the weekly Quinto Dia, which publishes every week the names of the appointments that appear in the Official Gazette. A list of Flores's relatives--about 30--appears at

(22.) The most well-known members, who had meetings in Havana during Chavez's illness, are Cilia Flores, Rafael Ramirez, Jorge Arreaza, and Diosdado Cabello (see venezuela-gobernada-por-el-comando-politico-de-la-revolucion). Now joining them are active members of the military like the minister of defense and the heads of the organisms of the armed forces (see

(23.) See lado-la-figura-del-estado.

(24.) In August the president of the BCV was removed from her post. Statements that she gave recognized that CADIVI had approved the awarding of preferential rates of exchange to phantom companies on the order of $20 billion (EN, August 14, 2013). Economist Asdrubal Oliveros of Ecoanalitica has stated that 40 percent of CADIVI's invoices are for phantom companies (EN, February 5, 2013).

(25.) See .html.

(26.) See mayor-ciudad-venezolana_68166/.

Margarita Lopez Maya *

* Margarita L6pez Maya (email: is a historian with a PhD in social sciences from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, where she is now senior professor-researcher of the Center for Development Studies (CENDES). Lopez Maya has been editor of the Revista Venezolana de Economia y Ciencias Sociales and on the board of the Latin American Social Sciences Council (CLACSO). The most recent of her several books is Democracia Participativa en Venezuela. Origenes, leyes, percepciones y desafios (Participative Democracy in Venezuela: Origins, Laws, Perceptions and Challenges, Centro Gumilla 2011).
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Author:Maya, Margarita Lopez
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Geographic Code:3VENE
Date:Dec 11, 2014
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