The Venezuela of Maduro: Plenty of Circus, but No Bread
EspañolAldous Huxley’s Brave New World portrays a democracy that functions at the same time as a perfect dictatorship. The author imagines a system of slavery where slaves are actually happy with their condition. To achieve this unprecedented goal, the ideologists for this dictatorship use all the technical and scientific tools in their reach, and an overarching media presence plays an important role in their strategy. However, the central part is the manipulation of leisure and fun. In other words, it runs as an update of the famous Roman “bread and circus” slogan.
Most probably, Nicolás Maduro has never read Huxley’s novel, but that does not necessarily matter, since it’s publicly known that he is only a puppet of Venezuela’s government. He hasn’t even been able to move to La Casona — the presidential residence — because Rosa Virginia and María Gabriela, daughters of the late Hugo Chávez, still live there.
It’s no mystery that the men who are behind the scene of this bad Venezuelan play are the Castro brothers. They are the ones who, in exchange of being able to “milk” the oil cow, share their experience on how to surrender an entire population to humiliating conditions. After all, they do have an accumulated knowledge of more than five decades of successful totalitarianism, which in part was possible due to deceitful publicity campaigns that sold a Cuban “paradise.”
When Chávez died, Maduro thought he was inheriting all the power that once belonged to his predecessor; but there are certain things that can be granted by decree, and others that can’t. As the old Latin proverb says, “What nature does not give, even Salamanca can’t lend.” Chávez had a political sixth sense, charisma, and the unquestionable gifts of a comedian; while Maduro is only a cartoon. And on top of that, timing is not on his side. He now harvests the fruits of the countless economic mistakes of his predecessor.
Since the establishment of “21st Century Socialism,” Venezuelan living conditions have been in decay in a consistent manner. This deterioration includes individual rights and liberties, as well as physical conditions in which people develop their daily lives. But during the last year, the decay has reached enormous proportions. The scarcity in basic goods — even toilet paper — is alarming. In January, even the official inflation rate reached 56 percent.
The state has total control over the access to foreign currency, with in practical terms means that it has the absolute domain over its population. For example, after monopolizing all TV media, now the government denies newspapers access to foreign currency to import paper. The exchange control has become an effective means to restrict press freedom, and therefore, the free circulation of information and the expression of thought.
To make matters worse, the country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. According to the Venezuelan Observatory for Violence, there are 79 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Since Chávez took power in 1998, this rate has quadrupled, and as a consequence, Venezuela has become one of the most dangerous nations in the world.
In addition, the huge levels of corruption has reached a point never seen before in the country — and that says a lot. Also, it’s important to remember that Chávez’s accumulation of power was due in a big way to his apparent concern for the poor. As a result, his followers and supporters — both local and foreign — have elevated his status to a “saint.” Once, Uruguay’s President José Mujica expressed: “How easy would be to put an end to world poverty, but we would need a few people like Chávez.”
It’s hard to believe this, when the only thing that Chávez gave to the poor was a media show. Their living conditions haven’t improved, in spite of the exorbitant price that oil reached during his tenure, and its revenues for the nation. To that empirical evidence, we must add the words that Héctor Rodríguez, the current minister of education: “Not that we are going to get people out of poverty and bring them into the middle class … so that later they aspire to become escuálidos [a popular Chavista term for political opponents].”
As if this were not enough, Venezuela’s government has voluntarily turned the country into a Cuban colony. In common times, this is known as “treason against the fatherland.”
For all these reasons, Venezuelans have realized the state of prostration they have reached under Chavismo‘s ruling. For several months now, the citizens’ discontent towards the regime has been increasing, and it exploded in early February with massive demonstrations, led by students, that have taken the country by storm.
Regarding this crisis, Maduro, possibly due to his mysticism, decided to impose “happiness” by decree. In November 2013, he took the first step when, among fireworks, he claimed “Merry Christmas 2013, early Christmas, early victory, early happiness for the whole family.” Afterwards, he created a Ministry for the Supreme Happiness of the People.
This time, maybe even driven by the same noble intentions, Maduro declared six consecutive days as holiday, which started on February 27 and ended on March 4, as a way to ignore the massive protests that were taking place to reject his government. Far from taking the situation seriously, Maduro asserted: “I came here to demonstrate my joy and declare the victory of carnivals and peace … I’m the president of happiness for the people … Count on me to be forever happy.”
It’s obvious that Maduro well understood the part of the equation where it states that in order to keep people calm against the ruler’s outrage, they have to receive the “circus.” But it seems he didn’t write down the second part, where it states that without “bread,” there’s no circus that can sustain a government so dictatorial, corrupt, inefficient, and, on top of that, subservient to Cuba.