Recent protests in Venezuela have caught the attention of the entire world. Demonstrators are protesting for a myriad of different reasons, from extreme rates of inflation, to rising crime and murder rates, to allegations of corruption. Despite these different reasons, one thing remains constant: the majority of protestors are demonstrating against the government ruled by Nicolás Maduro, the successor to the late charismatic firebrand Hugo Chavez.

But what is Chavismo? What are the origins of this political movement that has swept up the Venezuelan state and has until recently, been extremely popular?

Chavismo has its origins in the beginnings of Chavez’s political career. In 1997, the Fifth Republic Movement was founded to support Chavez in the 1998 presidential elections. The Movement was named the fifth republic because at the time, Venezuela was in its fourth republic and the movement intended to renew the state of Venezuela on revolutionary policies.

A key belief of Chavismo is that the state should support social welfare programs for its citizens. For instance, Chavez often used populist rhetoric to galvanize the lower classes and the disenfranchised with promises to make their lives better. Revenue from Venezuela’s significant oil reserves were put into programs designed to reduce poverty, improve education, and establish social justice and social welfare within Venezuela.

 Some tenets of Chavismo include nationalization of industries, and a strongly anti-neoliberal stance on economic issues with an emphasis on participatory democracy. Systems of “Bolivarian missions” or misiones bolivarianas exist in order to bypass the red tape that often comes with bureaucracy and where citizens can gather to express their opinions directly and have their voices heard.

Not surprisingly for a revolutionary political movement, Chavismo strongly identifies with the historic figure of Símon Bolívar, the 19th century liberator of Latin America from Spanish colonialism. This idea is carried on today with Chavismo attempting to rally countries around the region to oppose what is seen as imperialist US policies that put capitalistic gain ahead of basic human rights.

The idea of Chavismo works well theoretically, as most populist ideologies do. But the reality of the situation is that Venezuelans are unhappy with the way the country is being governed and the direction the current brand of Chavismo led by Maduro is taking them.

Instead of listening to the demands of the people, Maduro decided to take the thuggish route and try to quell the current protests by deploying hundreds of soldiers and ordering fighter jets to make low passes over the capital of Caracas.

Maduro’s responses to the protests give full view to his insecurity. In order to maintain a tight grip on the country, he has expelled three US diplomats from the country and detained 45 people. Maduro has also attempted to regulate media coverage of the protests and threatened to revoke press credentials for CNN reporters.

Unless he listens to and responds to the needs of the people, he will be put in an increasingly insecure position within his United Socialist Party. While an overthrow of Maduro’s government and an opposition-installed government in unlikely, what is possible is Maduro being forced to step down in favor of his Vice-President, Jorge Arreaza.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: The New York Times, The Huffington Post
Photo: Jorge Amin