Biography: Jose and Luis López Rafaschieri are Venezuelan political scientists, authors of the book “La gran recesión y la izquierda”, bloggers on Morochos.org and Morochos.net.
Viktor Kaspruk: In Venezuela, the power has actually passed to military men. Is it possible to speak about «a silent» military coup d’etat in your country?
López Rafaschieri: The self-coup is most used by authoritarian presidents when they haven’t the legislative or judicial power on his side, but Chavistas have full control over all the Venezuelan institutions, including the National Assembly. We discard the thesis of an autocoup to explain the current events.
The truth of the matter is that the political unrest in Venezuela was this time caused by economic measures such as a maxi-devaluation of the Venezuelan currency, hardening of exchange rate policy, price controls and judicial persecution of business owners. These policies have promoted the most severe inflation rate of the Chavista era, over 50% last year, and the worst scarcity of basic products in decades. In general, you cannot find milk, cement, bathroom paper, sugar, cooking oil, autoparts, flour, etc. in the Venezuelan markets.
Viktor Kaspruk: Will the military control economy, society and public institutions?
López Rafaschieri: This is a militarist government. The majority of governors, deputies, ministers and high-level authorities are former soldiers, even active in some cases. That is a constant in all the authoritarian regimens of the world and Venezuela is not the exception. Seats in public institutions are used to reward the loyalty of armed men, and integrate them into the party. The authoritarian style of Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, needs the frequent use of force to impose the revolution agenda and maintain the order.
Viktor Kaspruk: In a series of anti-government demonstrations, protesters have demanded the resignation of President Maduro. Is it possible to speak about a revolution in Venezuela?
López Rafaschieri: Current anti-government demonstrations are a response to failed policies. It is to early to call it a revolution, but undoubtedly this is part of a disappointment process that shows that a growing number of citizens is demanding a change.
We have worse problems than those that provoke the fall of previous Venezuelan political elites. Maduro does not have the charisma of Chavez. He is unpopular even among sectors of the ruling party. Chavism had never been so weak as now.
Viktor Kaspruk: Students in the western states of Tachira and Merida have been at the forefront of the protests, saying they are fed up with the lack of security and the poor state of Venezuela’s economy…
López Rafaschieri: Venezuelan Andean states were in other time important centers of trade, agriculture, tourism and education, but many policies of this regime have affected negatively these activities of that region. The hostility against Colombia have reduced trade. The hostility against Universities have downward the budget of the ULA, the second most important academic institution of Venezuela. Expropriation policies and crime have scared investments in the farming sector, and inflation, foreign exchange controls and insecurity have damaged the arrivals of tourists. For that reasons, in our Andes, you find one of the opposition strongholds.
Viktor Kaspruk: Are the rampant crime, inflation and shortages of basic goods the reasons of the protests?
López Rafaschieri: Failed policies to solve social problems in general. Can you imagine to buy anything 50% more expensive than a year before, according to data from the government? Can you imagine a long scarcity of milk and other products because of the politicians? Can you imagine a country where 98 out of 100 murders go unpunished? We have 15 years living in that way. The people are tired.
Viktor Kaspruk: But students demonstrating in Caracas are shouting: «Who are we? Students! What do we want? Freedom!»
López Rafaschieri: Freedom because this is an authoritarian government. Apart from the failed policies to solve the main social problems, this regime has cut civil rights. For example, the independent media have not covered the protests, in order to not be closed or penalized by the government. You can research the case of NTN24, closed for covering the demonstrations. In Venezuela, freedom of expression and the right to be informed are among the human rights most threatened.
Viktor Kaspruk: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro banned street demonstrations. Are the Venezuelans ready to stop protests?
López Rafaschieri: We don’t know if this protests will continue longer, but we can assure that this year will be of great instability in political and economic terms. We are only at the beginning of a process of dissatisfaction that cannot be stopped by force, and the economy shows critical imbalances that will not be solved applying the same failed policies.This will be a hard year for Venezuela.
Viktor Kaspruk: What do you know in Venezuela about the situation in Ukraine?
López Rafaschieri: Despite the geographical distance, the current political instability in Ukraine is in some level one of the inspiration of Venezuelan demonstrators. You can see pictures of the Ukraine protests in Venezuela’s social media. Opponents of the government say in these spaces, “Ukrainians do it, why we not?”, “That’s what we have to do!”
Viktor Kaspruk: From your point of view, is there something a common in a political situation in Venezuela and Ukraine?
López Rafaschieri: In Ukraine, the current administration has a bad record dealing with people problems, the country is polarized between two main groups, and sovereignty is a critical issue. The role of Russia in the breaking of the agreement of Ukraine and the European Union cause discomfort in many sectors.
Certainly, we can encounter similarities, only change Russia for Cuba in our history. The ethnic variable, in Ukraine, is perhaps the most significant difference.
Viktor Kaspruk: Do you think Venezuela has a chance to get rid of the dictatorial regime?
López Rafaschieri: Yes. We do not know if this time or this year, but Chavismo shows that 15 years of socialist policies have not solve any of the citizens problems. The people are tired and is expressing dissatisfaction through this wave of protests in all the Venezuelan territory. One of the crucial elements where the opposition has failed is the unity of its leadership. In the current scenario, Henrique Capriles and others important politicians are adopting a submissive posture against the government, claiming to stop the protests, discrediting its leaders. On the other side, the demonstrators criticize Capriles and reject any participation in his soft agenda.
If the opposition achieve a common line, with Capriles and his accommodative faction making part of the protests promoted by the university students, we are sure that probabilities would be greater for representing a real change in Venezuela.
Photo description: Luis López Rafaschieri