Black and White Program

Venezuela, Chavez, and the Divide of the People

June 27th, 2008 by Federica Robles

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The economic relationship between Venezuela and the United States is centered around oil. Venezuela produces 3.8% of the world’s oil and the U.S. imports 10% of its oil from Venezuela. Of the amount of crude oil that the country exports, the U.S. purchases 44% of it. In 1998, Venezuela democratically elected Hugo Chavez as its President. In 2002, a political coup forced Chavez to lose power for nearly 48 hours; massive protests and a lack of military support for the coup’s leaders assisted Chavez’s return to power. The political relationship between Venezuela and the U.S. has been contentious. President Chavez recently denounced the Bush administration at a United Nations meeting. The relationship has been on a collision course for many years, with increasing oil profits fueling Venezuela’s growing political power in the South American region.

Venezuelan citizen Federica Robles shares her impressions of the affect of President Chavez on the people of her country.

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Several months ago, a young British filmmaker came to Venezuela with the intention of conducting a few interviews and taping footage for a documentary that he is endeavoring to make about the country, its people, and the changes both have undergone since the advent of Hugo Chavez Frías’ presidency. It caught his fancy, he said, “the pandemonium that this person had caused in the political arena around the world”– making him eager to know what kind of tangible effects he has in Venezuela, beyond the hype and rumors.

The interviews were conducted in several locations of Caracas, the nation’s capital, by the director of the documentary and myself, with a plurality of individuals that represented different ages, social-economical groups, and professions. The interview basically consisted of two questions: “what do you think of Chavez?” and “how do you think the country has changed since Chavez has been in power?” The answers, though varied in details, essentially stemmed from one of the two positions that Venezuelans are currently left to choose from: pro-Chavez (chavistas) or anti-Chavez (opposition).

Chavez supporters, or chavistas, are completely enamored of their president. In their eyes he can do no wrong. The answers provided by chavistas in response to the first question of the interview leaves no doubt as to their proclivity. Most describe Chavez as a brave individual with the courage to have stood up to the oppressing classes that formerly ruled Venezuela and to subvert from the imperialistic ideology that developed countries, mainly the U.S., have systematically tried to instill in Venezuelan in order to dominate and exploit the country and its people, especially those belonging to the lower classes. Thus, Chavez is perceived as the defender of the poor, of the oppressed minority whose voice is not heard nor taken into account. Chavez is their hero.

Overall, this group also adamantly believes that the country has progressed politically, economically and socially since Chavez has been in power. Even 17- and 18-year-old interviewees emphatically voiced this same opinion, a fact which seems surprising when one takes into account that they were only 9 or 10 years old when Chavez was first elected, an age at which a person is not, as a rule, politically aware. These teenagers, however, seem to remember quite clearly what the country was like 10 years ago, enough to compare it with the present and affirm and confirm that any change Venezuela has gone through due to Chavez´s policies and politics has been for the better.

Chavistas, young and old, seem oblivious to occurrences that affect the entire population and that common sense would dictate could not be banished from existence by labeling of them as an imperialistic fabrication. This includes events such as shortages of milk, inflation, and the systematic takeover of a number of private companies by the government. They manage to not believe any of it, to only believe President Chavez´s words and statements. This is living proof of Chavez´s success as a doctrinarian.

Those who do not support Chavez voice opinions that are diametrically opposed to the ones mentioned above. The prevailing tone of the answers provided by members of the opposition is saturated with outrage and feelings of impotence– not to mention a total dislike towards President Chavez. They perceive him not as a hero but as a charlatan, a hypocrite that says one thing and does another, that proclaims himself the defender of the poor and underprivileged while in reality is nursing his own personal interests and following his own private agenda.

These interviews proved that there is a great divide among Venezuelans that needs to be eliminated for the sake of the country. This might not ever be achieved if there continues to be a President that promotes and exploits the confrontations and divergencies between chavistas and members of the opposition. This divide is fed by differences that stem not only from opposite political stances and also tinged with socio-economical confrontations: the rich versus the poor.

The general belief is that the lower classes are the ones that unconditionally support Chavez while most of the middle and upper classes are adamantly against him. Chavez proclaimed himself the defender of the poor, the abolisher of oligarchy, the banisher of hegemony of the wealthy, exploiting the riffs between the two classes. The resentment that the less fortunate feel towards those who are financially well-off has been used by the President as a tool to gain popularity with the masses, those– mostly uneducated– who live in barrios and hold blue collar jobs believe only that which is said by Chavez or by his media supporters: national television channels like Venezolana de Televisión, Teves, Telesur, Vale Tv– all created after Chavez came into power– as well as printed press and radio, no matter how irrational, autocratic, or blatantly strange it may be. Any news that comes from any other source is considered to be a complete fabrication by the opposition in order to regain power and accumulate wealth. According to the chavistas, it is now their turn to be rich and the opposition is doing so with a vengeance.

After having conducted these interviews, the filmmaker realized that what is truly needed in the country is unity, all Venezuelans working towards the common goal– development and progress of Venezuela. He has gone back to his native UK now, editing his footage, making a reel that will enable him to gather funding to return to Venezuela and finish his documentary. Hopefully, by that time the country will have developed its own agenda to follow instead of that of its elected President.

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