Advocacy Group Examines Origins and Threats of Chavismo

latam-coverHugo Chávez may have passed from the scene, but Chavismo — his ideology, its adherents, and the aligned regimes — is another matter altogether. As Luis Fleischman shared with approximately 30 guests on Monday evening, the movement continues to garner support throughout Latin America and beyond. Additionally, the “Bolivarian Revolution,” as Chavistas brand their role in Venezuela, shows little sign of reversing course anytime soon.

The event’s sponsor, Justicia Para la Democracia, devotes its energies to achieving democratic values and justice in Venezuela. That mission fits closely with Fleischman’s new book, Latin America in the Post-Chávez Era: The Security Threat to the United States — so cofounder Maria Trina Burgos (pictured) invited him to speak in Weston, Florida, just outside of Miami.

Maria Trina Burgos (left), cofounder of Justicia Para la Democracia, with supporter Belsay Hennig.
Source: Fergus Hodgson

An adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University, Fleischman shared that the genesis of his book was more than just the appalling stories of exiles. His curiosity and concern perked even more when he saw the involvement of Cubans and Iranians on Venezuelan soil, and he realized that Chavismo was much more dangerous than previously thought and was bringing together an ardent, anti-US alliance.

“[This] made me feel that Chávez was about something else, other than socialism,” he said. “What was emanating from Caracas was something by far more radical. . . . Of course, years later, there were other countries that adopted also the Bolivarian blueprint, like Bolivia, Ecuador, and so on . . .” Chavismo was not a “just another classic populist regime . . . It was a transnational revolution.”

Luis Fleischman, prior to his presentation. Source: Justicia Para la Democracia

In his presentation, after a brief run-through of the book’s chapters, Fleischman sought to address two key questions: (1) why did Chavismo emerge in Venezuela, and (2) what exactly is this regime and its ideology?

Listen to the full presentation, including attendee discussion, here (61 minutes).

He recognizes that there was a severe deficiency of democratic legitimacy. Instead, there was partidocracia or rule by the political parties.

“Once they were elected, they became like the big bosses . . . In other words, no loyalty to constituencies, but rather loyalty to themselves, [and] the perception of corruption [was] extremely important.”

Whatever legitimacy they had stemmed from welfare, on redistribution of revenues from oil. Therefore, once an economic crisis occurred everything “blew up, and all of a sudden the political class was not seen anymore as a benevolent political class, but all of a sudden lost all their legitimacy.”

This crisis of legitimacy meant an outsider like Chávez could more easily enter the fray — even after his failed coup d’état in 1992. And Fleischman believes a similar chain of events occurred in Ecuador, leading to the rise of Rafael Correa, with those in power seen as thieves and liars amid economic instability. So at least initially, the Chavista regimes, including that of Evo Morales in Bolivia, came to power democratically.

Regarding the actual nature of these regimes and their revolutions, Fleischman believes the term “Bolivarian” is absolutely unrelated to Simón Bolívar’s legacy. The only touted relation with any accuracy may be the desire for regional unification, he says, but the form of unification follows a completely different ideal. Further, that sticking point is irrelevant, since even the opponents of Chavismo have tended to run on regional unification, including the recent opposition candidate in Venezuela, Henrique Capriles.

“‘Socialism of the 21st Century’ is also a symbolic term that doesn’t have much meaning,” he says. The idea comes from a German who now teaches in Mexico, Heinz Dieterich — and it is for direct or participatory democracy, aided my modern technology. Dieterich also incorporates some Marxist notions, that prices should reflect labor hours, rather than supply and demand.

“Chávez had nothing to do with that. I don’t think he paid any attention to the ideas of Heinz Dieterich, but the word ‘21st Century Socialism’ sounds appealing.” Fleischman is similarly dismissive of any strict adherence or attention given to Marxist-Leninism in Chavismo.

The main influence, he believes, comes from Norberto Ceresole, who was an Argentinean sociologist and adviser to many political leaders who sought revolution. Conveniently, Ceresole believed discretionary power applied by a ruler, as much as possible, was in fact a positive outcome and a reflection of the will of the people.

However, “among the Chavistas there is this belief that democracy cannot exist if there is not equality” — that equality is more important. “Therefore we can trash democracy because democracy so far has not brought us to equality.”

Fleischman also identified Muammar Gaddafi as influential, among other rulers of oil-rich nations, since Chávez was “obsessed with the Arab world.” They control entire societies with the primary natural resources, most importantly oil, so he traveled there frequently to learn that model.

Although seemingly disparate, Fleischman says that all these principles enable more power to the state.

When taking questions and considering the future, Fleischman offered little hope — at least not until “this generation dies.” The military, he believes, are not likely to rise up, since they are now dependent on the largesse and are deeply embedded in and loyal to the regime. Similarly, intimidation leaves little likelihood of a fair election and democratic recourse, even in the face of dire economic circumstances.

“The Venezuelan regime is here to stay . . . they are not going to give up power, not even through elections.”

Further, they are likely to continue expanding their influence because many people still see the nation and regime in a positive light.

“Chávez is perceived as a symbol of change, a symbol of a victorious left.”

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