Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde
In the six weeks since Venezuela’s snap presidential elections conspiracy theories have continued to be central to the Maduro government’s public statements. Illiberal movements are premised on the idea that transparent and accountable institutions are a sham, a smokescreen for the real action that takes place behind the scenes. As such they are constantly tuned in to signs of a conspiracy, a coordinated action that takes place covertly to achieve an end in a way that would not be considered legitimate were it made public.
In the Venezuelan case, conspiracy theories are to be understood in the context of anti-imperialist and anti-American rhetoric that, given the long history of US intervention in the region, resonates well with part of the population.
As we argued previously, whether they are true or not, denunciations of conspiracy have the same effect. They unify followers behind leadership that has information about a treacherous but silent enemy. They silence dissent by making it look out of place given the urgency of the situation. And, of course, they serve as an efficient way to deflect criticism over problems of governance.
Since our previous post we have continued to track the conspiracy theories forwarded by the Maduro government.
April 17, Maduro argues that problems of high inflation and shortages of goods are due to an “economic war” waged against the country. See also declarations a month later. On May 11 the Minister of Agriculture, Iván Gil, declared that the government is facing “a problem of sabotage in the process of food products distribution with the purpose of destabilizing the Bolivarian government."
April 19, Maduro claims that his government has defeated the latest "phase of a coup d’état.” He argues that “there is no opposition in Venezuela, but only a permanent conspiracy supported by the United States.”
April 26, In a news conference Interior and Justices Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres reveals that the government has detained a US citizen named Timoty Hallet Tracy that, according to the Minister, belongs to a US “intelligence organization” and that had been handing out money to “students and parties of the right with the aim of generating violence.” Tracy is still detained pending trial.
April 25, Two days before his arrest, state television (VTV) aired news claiming that Antonio Rivero was a CIA agent that had been recruited by the US State Department three years ago, with the aim of “denouncing the supposed ´cubanization´ of the FANB”. VTV shows a video of Rivero participating in the post April 14 election protests and giving instructions to protestors. Rivero has since then been granted a conditional release pending his trial:
May 4, Maduro claims that “sectors of the right” are in cahoots with former president of Colombia Alvaro Uribe and paramilitary mercenaries that are “trying to penetrate the country through jungle trails.” Maduro had also accuses Uribe of being behind the murder of Johnny González, a sports journalist shot in Caracas.
May 4, Maduro calls US President Obama “chief of the devils,” and alerts “all independent governments of a plan by the North American government to produce what has been called ´The War of the Dogs´ in Venezuela, to justify an imperialist intervention."
May 4, On national television, Maduro accuses opposition Mayor of Caracas Antonio Ledezma of being a "traitor to the fatherland” for meeting Mayors of the Miami area, and calls the on the General Attorney (Fiscal General) to open an investigation on him: “We cannot accept someone asking for the interventions of a country like the US in internal matters.” On May 8, Socialist party representatives denounce that on his trip to Miami Ledezma had met with “agents of the spying web of the Israeli Mossad."
May 6, The new Justice and Interior Minister, Miguel Rodríguez Torres gives details of a "conspiracy plan” that aims at “intoxicating society with fear and destabilization” by making demands for the non-recognition of established institutions. The conspirators include NGOs, political parties, the media, and social media web sites.
May 14, Maduro announces there is a plot to make him quarrel with National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, and then “physically eliminate” one of the two, so as to blame the survivor for the crime.
May 16, During a visit to the State of Barinas Maduro blames the citizen security problem on the “fascist right”. He declares that he has “no doubt that the right, and external factors, are bringing in groups in order to kidnap and kill for money…they did the same thing by bringing in hard drugs to our barrios, to give away for free to young people.”
May 27, Maduro says the international press is coordinated and promoting “psychological warfare” to justify an intervention in Venezuela.