Lessons from Venezuela on Countering Oppression.

AuthorRosenblat, Mariana Olaizola
PositionSpecial Issue on Human Rights Activists Engagement with Oppressors

Venezuela today is a dark microcosm of the promise of social change gone tragically awry. As a Venezuelan-American, witnessing the devastation of my country over the past two decades has shaped my views on movements that promise sweeping social transformation. It is primarily through the lens of this experience that I offer some reflections.

Venezuela in the 1990s had a broken political system that excluded the vast majority of Venezuelan citizens from meaningful participation in political life and the benefits of national wealth creation. When Hugo Chavez re-entered the political scene in the late 1990s, after being released from prison for attempting a coup d'etat in 1992, he tapped into a reservoir of resentment that had simmered over decades of exclusion and inequality.

In the lead-up to his campaign, Chavez promulgated a manifesto entitled Bolivarian Alternative Agenda: A Patriotic Proposal for Escaping the Labyrinth, according to which Venezuela would transition toward a "Concrete Utopia" leaving behind the "old nefarious model based on imposition, domination, exploitation and extermination." This new episode in Venezuelan history, led by "the Bolivarians, revolutionaries, patriots and nationalists," would constitute a complete "restructuring of the State, of the entire political system ... based on the principles of legitimacy and sovereignty."

Fast forward two decades and we indeed find a drastically changed Venezuela. But instead of a Venezuela that has achieved social, economic, cultural, and political "realignment" ensuring equitable distribution of living standards, as forecasted in the Bolivarian Agenda, we find a country where, according to the United Nations, 94 percent of the 28.8 million people live in poverty; 300,000 people are at risk of imminent death because of the lack of essential medicine and the reappearance of preventable diseases; 1.2 million children are not in school; and 3.7 million people suffer from chronic malnutrition in the face of severe food scarcity and an inflation rate of more than 2 million percent. (1) Venezuela today is nothing short of a failed State.

Meanwhile, wealth inequality has only become more pronounced, with a new ruling class unabashedly siphoning off billions of dollars from state coffers and reaping epic profits from a revitalized narcotics trade. The impunity and unbounded opulence enjoyed by ,this new elite makes any profiteering practiced by the old-generation politicians--and so fiercely condemned by Chavez--look benign by comparison. That those in power continue to proclaim their allegiance to the Bolivarian project, particularly its aim to achieve human equality and wellbeing, is farcical and darkly ironic at best.

I believe Venezuela's demise raises important questions relevant to anti-oppression movements. While listening to...

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