Date of Degree

5-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor(s)

Kenneth Paul Erickson

Subject Categories

Critical and Cultural Studies | Latin American Studies | Mass Communication | Political Economy | Political Theory | Politics and Social Change | Social Control, Law, Crime, and Deviance

Keywords

Hugo Chávez's baroque televised revolution, Spurious socialism and fake egalitarianism, Bonapartism of the 21st century, Chavismo's antisocial institutional destruction, Matching homicides and inequality, Political crimes and crimes against humanity

Abstract

This thesis is an interdisciplinary exploration of Venezuela’s political paradoxes and their consequences during the Chavista years. On a concrete level, in this work I propose how the manner in which Hugo Chávez implemented his at first apparently benign redistributive politics in fact precipitated the country's current humanitarian crisis and what I will argue are the times of starkest inequality in modern Venezuelan history. Integral to this, although on a more philosophical level, here I also offer a theory of how and why Chávez’s representations might have been so misinterpreted.

The list of eminent political thinkers who have vouched for Hugo Chávez’s “socialism” is puzzling; the damage that they have caused by ignoring the counter-evidence and discarding even the most progressive of Chávez’s critics as “neo-conservatives” has been profound. Indeed, it has served only the most undemocratic extremes of the Manichean divide that Chávez contrived to consolidate his “neo-totalitarianism,” and today to the general discredit of the Left in the continent, perhaps for decades to come. But although I intend to show how Chávez and his successors have made of Venezuela one of the most unequal countries in the planet in the material domain of its economy, essential to Marxism, I will also present in what ways, in the theater of appearances of the political, Chávez was the first Latin American politician in the neoliberal era who could effectively articulate for its dēmos that there could never be true democracy with rampant poverty. For while he empowered “the people” in the end only symbolically, Chávez showed his spectators how they were players of their play.

This work was initially planned to be a much longer Ph.D. thesis, both inspired by and including the full series of ten interviews—eight of which were rather hours-long conversations—that I conducted in Venezuela with well-known leaders, politicians, and intellectuals of its government and opposition during 2013. I offer summaries in Spanish of all ten interviews (of roughly 1,200 words each) as an appendix due to their prescience and historical value, but the limitations of space for this master’s thesis and the time elapsed forced me to refocus instead on my own interdisciplinary explorations. However, without those conversations this thesis would not exist.; I have included multiple quotations of those interviews for an encompassing understanding.

Among my interviewees, there were two former ministers: the first, vice-Secretary of the Presidency during Chávez’s first term and later Minister of Culture until 2011; the second, a former vice-minister of Health. There were also two former presidential candidates: one of them, a legendary guerrilla leader during the 60s, founder of the Venezuelan party “MIR,” and prolific writer; the other, Venezuela’s highest vote-getter to Congress in 2010. But I also consulted some well-known intellectuals and heads of leading public and private institutions, such as the director of both the National Center of History and the National Archive; the then President of the UNT—the largest trade-union organization in Venezuela—; and the former Dean of the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello—and current President of the “Association of Universities Entrusted to the Society of Jesus in Latin America;” and I interviewed as well the chief research coordinator of PROVEA, one of the country’s most prominent HR organizations.

In the first and more theoretical chapter of this thesis, I introduce what populism, neo-populism, and rentierism are and how they operate. I also explain the ways in which Chavismo fits and exceeds these categories. In this chapter's first half, I consider works from the Argentinian post-Marxist theorist Ernesto Laclau to the Mexican philosopher Ernesto Dussel, the political theorist Benjamin Arditi, the comparativist Kenneth Erickson, and other specialists for their “political science” understandings. The second half incorporates the French Marxist theorist Guy Debord, the Russian philosopher Mikhail Backhtin, and several experts in cultural and literary studies for what I offer as my first original contribution in this text: it is a psychological and literary deconstruction of Chávez’s myth and his “Aló Presidente” program in a baroque key.

The second, more sociological chapter, presents Venezuela’s gruesome off-the-charts statistics, although focusing on its homicide rates—Caracas has been the “world’s homicide capital” since 2015, and Venezuela has the second highest murder rate worldwide. While the first chapter considers the magic of Chavismo’s “magical realism,” this one deals with its realities, its darkest side. Here I establish the link between those statistics and the dismantling of the country’s institutions, and then proceed to challenge the official discourse. Since the country’s institutional meltdown is common knowledge in Venezuela, this chapter’s contribution is to have linked that reality to the country’s collapse in general, and to present it to the American public.

The last chapter analyses the prior statistics from the point of view of economics, and specifically of income inequality, to propose how Chavismo’s “socialism” might have turned Venezuela into one of the world’s most unequal countries. Because the search for social equality is what brings together all socialisms from their most democratic to their totalitarian forms, at least rhetorically, I consider these findings as my third original contribution to the text. In the concluding section, a journalistic postscript, I present a sequence of the political events after the constitutional coup d’état, on March of 2017, and of the ensuing crimes against humanity to repress street protests.

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