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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5 responses so far.

  • godmonkey - Jul 22, 2008 at 1:46 am

    One important note – the opposition represents only a fraction of the population. In terms of inequality, Venezuela ranks towards the top in Latin America. According to the World Bank, prior to Chavez’ taking power, the poverty rate soared over 60%. Many put the number much higher.

    The majority of oil revenue, particularly in the 80′s and 90′s was kept towards the top of the heap, with political figures and businessmen reaping most of the earnings. What this filmmaker should have pointed out is that the barrios were essentially created by the an inept political elite over the last 30 years. This and the Dutch Disease essentially destroyed their economy – an economy which, under Chavez, has since lead Latin American countries in growth (and not solely in the oil sector).

    Those individuals, the poor, represent the majority – as such, their choice of Chavez and his subsequent adjustment of the Venezuelan system to cater to their needs should be taken as a sign of a healthy democratic system. Let’s not forget that not only was Chavez elected by a landslide (several times) but that the majority of the country ousted most of the old ruling class after the Constitution was approved – a clear rejection of the old ways of doing business. International monitors have been to Venezuela multiple times and have found no misconduct (and this includes the Carter Foundations).

    Also, a government has the legal ability to expropriate a company – just because it leaves a bitter taste on capitalist palettes doesn’t mean they can’t do it. Our own government has used eminent domain for projects it feels are important to the betterment of the country – whether you agree with it or not, it’s still their right to do so.

  • zvzulander - Oct 9, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    The Carter Foundation is not unbiased. It is as socialist as the rest. And no government should STEAL a company from anyone without a very very good reason, like criminal behavior. The government didn’t build that company and do the hard work; the “poor” didn’t do it either. Usually someone with guts and brains did it, and it is their hard work the looters are stealing.

  • verito - Nov 5, 2008 at 8:07 am

    And when people are starving, because of “effective” working system resembling a bit “Konzentrationslagers” or rather “Gulags” (they were pointed more to extermination through work, not work by extermination) – in the name of the welfare of fat rich stomachs of the world, whom I unfortunately also represent – is it not crime? If there is no (lets say in commas) “justice” in any country, then happens things like in Venezuela, and the people have saint right to do so. There is also a light version of such process. Do we have the right to demand from people that they work for us for 1/10th of our earnings and 1,5-2 times longer than we in our safe jobs, only cause we want to see a next stupid discount for useless stuff in big supermarket $$$ laundry? Is it so much different to feel whether those people are xxxx km from here, or whether are they your neighbors?

  • Claudia - Jan 6, 2011 at 1:35 am

    I’m venezuelan and now the most people in venezuela really hate him , the people of other countries can’t image the big evil that he has did in venezuela he is crazy a social misfit and so many bad things he divided venezuela in 2 groups who hate each other now are the ones who love our country and we want to get rid of Chavez and his supporters for convenience or because they are uneducated about marginal that they want to give away everything and they do not matter if we let this man a fool every time he opens his mouth

    he is a national shame

    he is a dictator

    can not have a farm because you remove it because they invent that are not well grown and be sure that after a while of being owned by the government to see it ruined by all it touches it destroys.

    For you see that is our reality unfortunately we are not even a shadow of that country which was the first to emancipate themselves from spain because we wanted to be free and today 201 years later we feel pain to see that we are subjected to worse and when it belonged to Spain. (aunque siento mucho aprecio ,respeto y empatia hacia la Madre Patria y los Espanoles con esto no digo que nos arrepentimos de la independencia solo que habiamos pensado que despues de ustedes seriamos mas libres y como ven pues no lo logramos cada dia vamos de mal en peor y nos da impotencia no poder sacar a ese tipo para empezar a enmendar todo lo malo que el ha hecho. como veran este parrafo lo escribi en castellano especialmente para ustedes por si a alguno leia el parrafo anterior que estaba en ingles aunque tambien lo hice con otra intension gracias por poner este hermozo idioma en nuestros labios ,yo adoro hablar y escribir en mi lengua materna y sin ustedes formando parte de nuestra historia ni lo hablariamos ni tampoco existiriamos hoy en dia como pais asi que bueno gracias yo prefiero resaltar lo bueno de aquella etapa me parece tonto que otros hispanoamericanos les reclamen por lo que ocurrio hace ya tanto aunque quisieramos desligarnos de ustedes de forma definitiva es imposible porque por todos lados hay rastros de su presencia comenzando con que la mayoria de nuestras familias vinieron originariamente de Espana . se que me sali del tema pero necesitaba escribirlo porque antes habia hablado de un tema como la colonizacion o independencia que siempre termina en pelea cuando la tocan ambas partes con esto solo quiero que sepan que aunque hay tontos que digan lo que digan en el fondo no podemos odiarlos porque somos concientes de todas estas cosas .

    please excuse me if i have mistake in the correct use of the english lenguage ,I am learning and sometimes i have literal traslations of the spanish ,

    bye and thanks for read this ,sorry I wrote more in spanish because I wrote a paragraph for the spanish people because I needed explain something if they read the last paragraph that I wrote in English ,sorry if you dont understand in the next opportunity y only write in english for you can understand all

    Gracias por tomarse la molestia de leerlo se que esta bien largo ,chaito jaja se supone que iba a escribir en ingles y termine escribiendo mas en castellano .

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