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So we´ve been in Merida for almost 2 weeks now. The contrast between here and Barqui is pretty enormous. Where Barquisimeto was industrial and working class, this place is upper middle class and fancy. The viaduct that we cross just about every day looks like a fixture out of Seattle or Portland, the centro has malls and McDonalds and just about any other ammenity the average traveling gringo could want. Oh and there are actually gringos here, weird. Rumor has it there is even a group from the University of Minnesota here taking spanish classes that is prohibited from participating in ´political activities´. lol.
Anyways we have been taking spanish classes at the Universidad Los Andes (ULA) which is supposidly a bastion for the opposition in Merida. Speaking with my spanish professor has been my only prolonged experience talking with a member of the political opposition. Aside from her all I had heard was unsubstantiated accusations of Chavez stealing everyone´s money and just in general ruining Venezuela.
On the first day of class our professor got to talking about the political and social situation in Venezuela. She listed off many of the common gripes against the socialist governmnent, though not in as scathing or vindictive a manner as the private media usually uses. One of the complaints was the typical Welfare-Queen argument against the provision of social aid programs. The basic jist of this old tune is that the provision of a social safety net incentivizes laziness. This argument usually draws on the racist and classist prejudices of those that invoke it.
In particular we talked about a program called Misíon Niño Jesús, mission babyjesus, that provides financial aid to expecting and recent mothers. Her critique was that now women were getting pregnant on purpose in order to mooch aid from the government.
She also took up the argument that I have unfortunately heard many times before from the opposition, that culturally Venezuelan´s are lazy. And furthermore that the basis of the government´s support is a populist clientelist relationship, in which people are able to evade real work by keeping the PSUV in power. She then assigned us an article for homework from some opposition OP Ed supporting this position, and generalizing the plight of the ´average´ Venezuelan. This article was one of the biggest pieces of junk I have read in a long time, and detailed the laziness, vanity, pride and all around foolishness of the venezuelan population. One of my favorite uncited assertions in the article was that Venezuelans are themost vain people on the entire planet. To boot instead of making the easy connections of these traits to the effects of capitalist society on the human psyche, the article asserted that they were a result of the fifth republic (a phrase that describes post Chavez Venezuela). In all of this criticism, the article not only offered no suggestions for change, but ended with a quote suggesting that as time goes on, only the type of suffering the people endure changes.
Articles like these are common in the mainstream press and are symptomatic of the opposition´s overall propaganda strategy. This strategy is executed by a small media oligopoly in the country. Whether or not the opposition´s media strategy is conspired together or merely serendipedous is hardly important, but consider this. The private media ownership in Venezuela is concentrated into the hands of about 3 or 4 firms, all of whom with strong ties to the political opposition, and the country´s domestic capitalist class. These media firms also took an active role in the falied coup of Chavez in 2002, colluding with its conspirators, falsly declaring chavez´resignment and initiating a media blackout when the people of Caracas shut down the city to reinstate their president. They also continue to stream misinformation, while remaining un-censored or punished by the Chavez government. They use this impunity to promote their anti chavez propaganda program.
The first step of the opposition´s propoganda strategy is the most obvious, but probably hardest to connect with the overall goal of ousting chavez and reinstating the country´s old oligarchy. This step is, creating a national image of an unruly, selfish mass that makes up the majority of the working class. This is done through articles such as the rag we read in class, as well as in the photo exposes popular in the daily papers that depict a wide array of social malfeasances from public urination to jaywalking. Another step is to create a general feeling of insecurity. This is achieved through extremely graphic reports, including photos, of the violent crime that is unfortunately common in parts of Venezuela. To give an example of how this type of reporting goes above and beyond simply warning citizens of danger, in a popular Barquisimeto newspaper I found a two page spread of color photos of a man who´s head had been smashed in with a cinderblock.
The second step is slightly more covert. This is creating the seperation between these unruly hoards (a word commonly used in the opposition media) and ´civil society´. This step is hard to pinpoint exactly but is emphasized much in the tone and perspective of articles. Issues of popular importance will be written in a dismissive tone. Pro government rallies will be accused of being mandatory for party members to attend (so if you weren´t there, you must not be a part of all that right???) and of being violent and disorganized. While, opposition events will be herralded as popular uprisings, much in the same way one can contrast the US media´s contrasting coverage of Tea Party events, and the Occupy Movement.
Finally, once this separation has been made between you, and the brainless masses, conclusions are subconsiously drawn about the necessity of diverting public funds and resources to these ungrateful masses, and subsequently about the government that doles them out, and the concept of socialism in general. Then, like magic, the individual becomes anxious for any alternative to this seemingly senseless system, and low and behold, turning back the political clock 13 years to the oil oligarchy of old doesn´t sound so bad. This need for change, however banal, is then given an increasing sense of urgency from the repeated images of insecurity and danger plentiful in the papers and TV news.
There is a sad irony to this cycle, that the majority of those affected by it are not those who would benifit from the end of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. On the contrary, as a result of the many projects of social welfare, and programs actually designed to lift people out of poverty, a new upwardly mobile working and middle class has arisen. Unfortunately these people are precisely the targets of the Opposition´s propaganda, and for some, it works. In Barquisimeto I met many working class people who denounced the very same government that´s sole mission is to empower and support them. In the case of my spanish professor, she has been convinced that her work as a mother is of no tangible value, and thus not worth being rewarded in a monetary fashion. This process bears resembalence to the way the new deal recipient middle class of the 50s and 60s were made to denounce the ´welfare queens´in the days of Reagan, that expected the same basic services that they had relied on all their lives.
This conundrum brings up a great paradox for socialism in Venezuela. That is, its effectiveness in carrying out its ideal, bringing dignity and a decent life to those that capitalist society marginalizes, it opens itself up for attack. The opposition sees this ´weakness´and has capitalized on it. Of all of the problems facing the revolution here, this one is paramount, and will come to a head this october during the Presidential elections.
The solutions to it too are not simple. Obviously lowering social and, and thus deminishing the country´s new more comfortable middle class is not an option. Furthermore, the government has shown it is not interested in media censorship, despite a plea to chavez from the conservative Brasilian president Lula, that the Venezuelan media is out of control. Thus the answer to this problem necessarilly has to come from the base, as government intervention would provoke further scrutiny, and inaction has proven to allow the opposition to pull support away. The only solution here is the developement of a popular class conciousness that is protaganistic and widespread. What this means for those of you who havent been reading yer marx, is that just as the capitalist class globally confers and acts in its best interest (through trade agreements, corporate mergers, institutions of control such as the IMF, WTO yada yada) the rest of us, and in this case the venezuelan people, must realize our possibility and need for mutual aid.
In venezuela that means both continuing socialism in an electoral sense, but more importantly continually utilizing measures of popular power, and furthering a culture of political consciousness and participation. This process is certainly underway here, as one is stressed to find someone without some position one way or another on any of the country´s issues. The structures for popular power are in place too in their infantile stages through the comunal councils and comunas. But lamentably this type of change in societal modes of thought, within norms of individualism and greed take a very long time. This process in Venezuela we must remind ourselves is only 13 years old, and has gone forward leaps and bounds despite having the world´s capitalist class trying to reverse it by any means possible the whole way.
Comment, critique, discuss plz.
And the Socialist Locksmith?
Bromeo. Post of substance forthcoming. En serio.