I want every North American who is posting in the #prayforvenezuela tag to look very carefully at what is happening in El Salvador right now, because it will provide some clues to things you need to know about Venezuela.
El Salvador had a civil war between the right-wing military government (then and now embodied by the ARENA party) and left-wing guerrillas (under the banner of the FMLN) between 1980-1992, more or less. Up until 2009, the Left had never been vested with governmental power in El Salvador, but in the elections of that year the FMLN’s candidate, Mauricio Funes, managed to come out on top.
Now, 5 years later, another election takes place in which it appears that the left-wing FMLN’s candidate, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, has a narrow lead over ARENA’s candidate, Norman Quijano, going into a recount. Here’s where it gets interesting: Quijano, in his speech to supporters after preliminary votes are released, denounces the count as fraud and accuses the electoral council of bowing down to the “dictatorship.” You read that correctly. The government of Mauricio Funes, who is exiting office at the end of his scheduled term, and who is the first left-wing president ever in the history of El Salvador, presides over a dictatorship.
Wait a minute… where have we heard this logic before?
Oh, that’s right… Venezuela. The same Venezuela that has had 19 elections in 15 years. The same Venezuela with an impeccable electoral system that has been vetted by various international observers. The same Venezuela in which the opposition has had 4 attempts in the last year and a half to defeat the government at the ballot box… that Venezuela is a dictatorship. The same Venezuela with a ministry dedicated to decentralizing political power into neighborhood councils and democratic communes, the same Venezuela that has overseen drastic reductions in poverty and misery, and drastic increases in access to education, health, and employment… that Venezuela is a dictatorship.
There’s a reason we see this logic crop up again and again in Latin America; these are not the only two examples. The reason is that, for right-wing parties (like the party behind Venezuela’s riots) and the elites they represent, a system is not defined as dictatorial based on whether or not there is popular participation, elections, pluralism, civilian oversight, equality, justice, etc. No.
For these elites, a system is defined as dictatorial whenever the chief priority of the governing party is not to defend the privileges of the rich. This whole idea of Venezuela being a dictatorship is not new: the Venezuelan elites have been making that argument since the day Chávez was first elected in 1998, and have continued to refer to it as such after each of the electoral processes in which they have chosen to participate.
But Venezuela has never been a dictatorship due to lack of elections, participation, oversight, equality, or justice; Venezuela is, and has been for 15 years, a dictatorship to the elites because the idea of the poor, humble, usually-darker peoples of Latin America holding political power over their heads doesn’t just scare them: it disgusts them. To those accustomed to centuries of power and prestige, being stripped of these is the worst kind of tyranny imaginable.