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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Ponce: Chavez’s “Socialism of the 21st Century” -- Venezuela's Populist Propaganda
"Chávez, as well as Rafael Correa from Ecuador, Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua, and others, have been using a socialist revolution to frame their fight for power in the region," says NED Fellow Carlos Ponce. "Their 'Socialism of the 21st Century' is just populist propaganda -- instead of advancing towards something new, it repeats the worst faults of the most perverse authoritarian models of the 20th century."

By Carlos E. Ponce

Class struggles and oil-based growth have helped populists like Hugo Chávez in Venezuela to export their “ideologies” and increase their power at the regional level. Chávez, as well as Rafael Correa from Ecuador, Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua, and others, have been using a socialist revolution to frame their fight for power in the region. Their “Socialism of the 21st Century” is just populist propaganda. The political character of Chávez and his regime is state-capitalist, fascist, and specifically populist. This “New” Socialism, instead of advancing towards something new, is repeating the worst faults of the most perverse authoritarian models of the 20th century.

If we take Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci views, a socialist regime must focus on empowering the working class and civil society to achieve power. According to Gramsci, civil society -- rather than the economy -- is the motor of history, for this is where the meaning and values that can sustain or transform society are created.

In the “Socialism of the 21st Century” model, the basic function of populist leadership is to prevent the working class from developing a full understanding of their role in society with false rhetoric. Chávez, like other populists, makes a rhetorical claim to represent the ‘people’ against the ‘elites,’ in order to pre-empt the development of class-consciousness and instead maintain the majority of the population surviving from the governmental “charity”.

Chávez’s regime persecutes civil society and at the same time created a new elite caste, which is corrupt, arrogant, and rich. This new caste of leaders (with their families and close partners), within the huge government bureaucracy, is worse than all the rich classes from the past. The new elite are getting richer and richer, supposedly on behalf of the people. For Chávez and his accomplices, it is not a matter of empowering the lower classes or even engaging in a class struggle. The key for the regime is to keep working-class struggles under control and to create a false social-revolution.

False socialism promoted by Chavez, Ortega and Correa, according to Bernard-Henri Levy (Left in Dark Times: A Stand against the New Barbarism), is sick because it adopts the worst features such as fascination with nationalisms, anti-U.S., anti-liberalism, anti-Semitism, and a fascination with radical Islamism.

The extreme Left sees in people like Chávez the money that they need and the false discourse to maintain false dogmas. The result is a false progressivism without progress. In this case, social-revolution has been the flag used by a group of neo-populists to gain power in Latin America and impose a new tyranny with false social goals.

While Chávez from Venezuela, Correa from Ecuador and Ortega from Nicaragua were democratically elected, they have ruled by decree, modified the law to fulfill their desires, concentrated power in the executive branch of government, eliminated any form of accountability, manipulated the elections which no longer can be considered free, and greatly enhanced the role of the military as their chief power base.

They have violated human rights and eliminated the rule of law and any democratic principle or institution. Instead of seeing new socialists, we are witnessing the resurgence of radical populists in Latin America. The nationalist and anti-imperialist rhetoric of Chávez, Correa, and Ortega is a rebirth of a radical-nationalistic populism from the past. We cannot call those countries democracies.

Eduardo Galeano, one of Chavez’s favorite authors, wrote in Open Veins of Latin America (1973): “The ghosts of all the revolutions that have been strangled or betrayed through Latin America’s tortured history emerge in the new experiments, as if the present had been foreseen and begotten by the contradictions of the past”. Chavez and Ortega just betrayed their own revolutions.

What Galeano (1973) wrote about Venezuela years ago applies to the false socialist regime of Chávez: “nationalization of basic resources doesn’t in itself imply redistribution of income for the majority’s benefit, nor does necessarily endanger the power and privileges of the dominant minority. In Venezuela the economy of waste and extravagance continues intact."

Chavez “extravagance” is just one of the ghosts hunting his fake revolution, it is just a matter of time and the right democratic wave for his sand-built regime to fall.

Dr. Carlos E. Ponce is the Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and General Coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy, a network of over 210 leading civil society organizations across the Americas. In his native Venezuela, Dr. Ponce led the Justice and Development Consortium (Asociación Civil Consorcio Desarrollo y Justicia) — a nongovernmental organization that develops justice-reform and conflict-resolution programs at the local level. He previously worked as executive secretary of Venezuela’s National Human Rights Commission and as an advisor to the Venezuelan Congress.

Ponce earned his PhD from Northeastern University, Master of Arts in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning from Tufts University, Master of Studies in Environmental Law (M.S.E.L.) (Magna Cum Laude) from Vermont Law School, and his law degree from Andres Bello Catholic University in Venezuela. He was also a Fulbright Fellow, Tufts Fellow, World Bank/Fundayacucho fellow, European Union Visitor Program fellow, and in the US Department of State Visitor Program. The views expressed in this article represent the opinions and analysis of the writer and do not reflect those of the National Endowment for Democracy or its staff. Twitter: @ceponces


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