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Podemos Sell Chavista Snake Oil to Spain

By: María Teresa Romero - @mt_romero - Nov 17, 2014, 10:40 am

EspañolThe end of the Cold War more than two decades ago brought with it the promise of a new global order — one built on the development and internationalization of democratic systems, values, principles, institutions, practices, and processes.

Except things have not developed as we would have liked. On the contrary, the integrity of democratic institutions has deteriorated worldwide, despite formal elections being held in almost every country on earth. Democracy’s decline has left room for the rise of authoritarian and extreme nationalist regimes from across the ideological spectrum, and Spanish politics have not escaped unscathed.

Problems such as corruption, partisanship, and inefficient government management of economic and social issues have produced widespread discontent, and led to dangerous manifestations of indignation and anti-establishment sentiments.

Enter Podemos (We Can), Spain’s upstart progressive political party led by Pablo Iglesias — a politician who at age 36 has declared himself a representative of “the new Spanish politics” and  “independent of hegemonic powers.” Podemos burst onto the political scene in January and has since experienced unprecedented growth. The party’s proposals are openly anti-establishment, anti-monarchy, anti-liberal, anti-capitalist, and above all inclined towards Marxism. Iglesias’s style takes after Latin America’s 21st-century socialists, who undoubtedly consider their principal goal to be the destruction of democracies in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and allied countries such as Argentina.

In fact, Latin-American Chavistas not only serve as the ideological inspiration for Podemos, they have also financed the party. The relationship between the Podemos party foundation Center for Political and Social Studies (CEPS) and Chavismo first began when Hugo Chávez took power in 1999. The former president hired the supposedly “nonprofit” foundation to organize the drafting of a revised Venezuelan Constitution.

In later years, the Venezuelan government hired the CEPS as advisers on various policy issues, and in particular to groom important officials for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). It assisted in the creation of communes, pro-Chávez and anti-globalization groups, and produced various surveys and programs on the Telesur television network.

El dirigente de Podemos en una de sus apariciones en el canal del Gobierno chavista, Venezolana de Televisión ()
The leader of the Podemos party appears on the state-run Chavista television network Venezolana de Televisión (Youtube)

This consulting service, which various CEPS members have publicly recognized, continues under Nicolás Maduro. According to the Spanish Culture Ministry, Venezuelans have provided more than €3.7 million to the foundation so far — a figure which Podemos and the CEPS vehemently deny.

The principal members of Podemos — including Pablo Iglesias, Íñigo Errejón, Luis Alegre, and Juan Carlos Monedero, all of whom are political scientists and professors at the Complutense Univeristy of Madrid — are suspected of having received even more money from various Venezuelan government entities, including the Ministry of the Office of the President, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of the Interior, the Central Bank of Venezuela, the Venezuelan Social Security Institute, and telecommunications businesses CANTV, Venezolana de Television (VTV), and Telesur.

In fact, for more than a decade, the CEPS had only a single client: the Venezuelan government. Only recently has the CEPS expanded its consulting services to the governments of Cuba, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

Furthermore, Podemos and their leaders have repeatedly expressed their public support for Chavismo. Iglesias even claims to be “responsible for the strategic analysis of the President of Venezuela,” while fellow Podemos leader Monedero says Hugo Chávez is the “ultimate liberator of Latin America.”

Podemos has advanced by leaps and bounds since January, winning five of 54 seats in the European Parliament on May 25, with 7.98 percent of the vote. During these elections, Podemos proved to be the fourth most popular party in Spain. The most recent polls show Podemos has the most support among voters with direct voting intentions.

On November 2, the Metroscopia poll signaled that Podemos supporters now represent 22.2 percent of the direct vote in Spain, compared to 13.1 percent for the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), and 10.4 percent for the conservative Popular Party (PP).

It may be that the Podemos phenomenon will disappear as quickly as it arrived. However, it could also be that Podemos is here to stay, undermining Spanish democracy just as the radical Chavistas have done in Latin America. In fact, following in the footsteps of the Latin-American model, Podemos has called for a national constitutional assembly to apply a “democratic solution” to the Spanish political crisis.

Today, anything is possible in the bizarre political landscape sprawled across the Hispanic world.

Translated by Peter Sacco.

María Teresa Romero María Teresa Romero

Romero is a journalist with a PhD in political science, specializing in international politics. She's a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, a columnist in several Venezuelan and international newspapers, and the author of several books. Follow her at @MT_romero.