Despite winning the presidency in a special election only three years earlier, the latest polls show that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s approval rating is slightly above nineteen percent.
On any given weekday, between noon and two o’clock, viewers can tune their radio to 95.9 FM for La Hora de Salsa (Salsa Time) a new daytime show hosted by President Maduro in which he sings and dances salsa. Maduro has created his new television personality in an attempt to win the waning support that his predecessor Hugo Chávez enjoyed in abundance (Chávez consistently eclipsed sixty percent approval ratings.) Aside from his political agenda, the late President Chávez was able to maintain popularity through a strong, constant media presence. Just as Chávez hosted a television program titled Hello Mr. President, Maduro hosts his salsa program in an attempt to connect with the people; however, there is no leisure time for President Maduro. Amidst an economic crisis that has seen mass food shortages, the devaluation of Venezuela’s largest monetary bill to 2¢ USD, and the exodus of 200,000 people in the last 18 months, Maduro sings and dances for the world to see, no different from Nero during the Fire of Rome.
Despite widespread discontent toward the current president’s administration, there is one seemingly unbreakable aspect of Venezuelan political culture that permits the continuation of Maduro’s rule: chavismo. Chavismo is, in short, a broad political ideology that supports the continuation of Hugo Chávez’s policies after his death. Despite the tailspin that Venezuela has entered as a result of Chávez’s policies, approximately thirty percent of the Venezuelan population identifies as Chavista and wishes to continue his legacy. However, roughly half of this demographic supports Chávez without supporting Maduro. While these Chavistas no-maduristas seem noble in their opposition to President Maduro, they are as to blame as any Chavistas are.
In post-Chávez Venezuela, Chavistas halt Venezuelan progress. As long as Chavistas comprise a large faction of the country, Venezuela will not be able to escape such an encompassing crisis. The decision to support chavismo during the Chávez presidency is understandable; it would be difficult to not support the president during a boom in which the nation experienced great wealth, poverty decreased by twenty percent, and household income and consumption sharply increased. However, this period was unsustainable because of a Venezuela’s reliance on high oil prices paired with Chávez’s massive spending.
As a result of a short-lived period of perceived prosperity, Chavistas have placed blind faith in their leader and the United Socialist Party. Hidden among the shadows of general happiness during the Chávez era, the government slowly became more authoritarian and far less democratic.
Under Chávez, the presidency gained unwarranted amounts of power. In the fourteen years that Chávez ruled, from 1999 until 2013, more elections and referendums were held in Venezuela than ever before. Twenty national votes were held over this period of time, giving the Venezuelan people an illusion that democracy had become much more prevalent in their homeland. While participation was encouraged by the national government and voter registration reached an all-time high of 97%, the true sense of democracy has been diminished. Under Chávez, Venezuela transformed from its original system of liberal democracy to one that is considered electoral authoritarian. Under the guise that he was expanding democracy in Venezuela, Hugo Chávez slowly usurped power through restricting and controlling the media, limiting human rights organizations from intervening in Venezuelan affairs, and stacking the supreme court in his favor. Maduro has taken this a step further, one that has proven to be lethal to human rights in Venezuela. The massive amount of power harnessed by Chávez and protected by those seeking to continue Chávez’s legacy has led to the jailing and murder of Maduro’s political opponents, the arbitrary deportation of thousands to Colombia, and the amplification of police brutality on citizens protesting food shortages and other crises caused by the government.
Venezuela will reach salvation only when progress is achieved, and progress will only be achieved when chavistas lose prominence and, subsequently, influence. This group has perpetuated the rule of an authoritarian regime that has proven to be destructive. While some argue that the 2015 victory of a congressional supermajority for Maduro’s opposition signals progress for the country, this is simply not true. The executive office of Venezuela simply has too much power to be toppled through democratic means – this has been seen through Maduro’s ability to almost single-handedly block a recall referendum that would put his presidency to a vote. While Maduro likely would have lost in the recall referendum, more must be done by Venezuelans; if more than eighty percent of the population truly wants to oust Maduro, there must be a change in mindset for many. Chavistas must come to the realization that the current state of turmoil was caused by Hugo Chávez’s policies, because without doing so, they will continue to legitimize a leader who mocks his people while they suffer.