Critics from Within, Dispute Legacy of Chávez

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde  

In his speech during the commemoration ceremony of Chávez’s 62nd birthday in July 28, president Maduro emphasized the need for loyalty to the late president in order to continue his legacy. “To say ‘Chávez’ is to say ‘loyalty, people, and history,’” said Maduro. Government followers made the hashtag #LealesAChavez, “Loyal to Chávez,” a trending topic on Twitter that day, a fact celebrated by state media. Three days before Maduro had already asked for “the support of all Venezuelan revolutionaries. This is not a time for treasons and traitors, it is a time for loyalty,” he emphasized.

But what it means to be a loyal chavista is a matter of contention. As the economic crisis deepens, and Maduro faces the threat of a recall referendum, critics and alternative interpretations of Chávez’s legacy are becoming more common inside the movement.

On July 18 Clíver Alcalá Cordones, a retired general who participated in Chavez’s coup against president Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992, personally handed a letter to the National Electoral Council (CNE) asking it to “respect the recall referendum” petition. The document was also signed by a list of ex-ministers who had served under Chávez, including Hector Navarro and Jorge Giordani.

Giordani was a long-serving planning minister under Chávez. Having been removed from his post in June 2014 he published an open letter in which he criticized Maduro’s policies. Navarro, education minister under Chávez, also published a letter in 2014 backing Giordani’s critiques. Both letters sparked a public debate within chavismo, especially heated in the web portal Aporrea, a discussion forum for chavistas of all tendencies, and a strong response from the government (read our coverage here and here).

Alcalá Cordones has been unwavering in his loyalty to Chávez. During a military parade in 2012 which he led, he opened the ceremony by proclaiming in front of Chávez that the parade would include “12,400 revolutionary, socialists, anti-imperialists, and profoundly chavista patriots.”

Later that day the group of ex-ministers and Alcalá Cordones gave a news conference, organized by Marea Socialista, a small leftist dissident political party led by Nícmer Evans. Navarro said that the group was acting on a “common platform” with Marea Socialista to push for the recall referendum. He also claimed that the group is in contact “with middle and high cadres of the government” worried about the situation in the country. In later interview Navarro emphasized that by backing the recall referendum he is “being loyal, not to the MUD (opposition), but to Chávez.”

Marea Socialista is by far the most vocal of the chavista dissident groups contesting the legacy of the Comandante Eterno. Since at least June 2014 Evans had been publishing strong critiques against Maduro. Marea Socialista broke away from the PSUV in 2015 and tried to field its own candidates for the legislative elections. But the CNE disqualified more than half of its candidates on the grounds that the party had failed to fulfil gender party rules established by the electoral body.

The party was also prevented from having its own card on the electoral ballot. Evans claimed that the party was the victim of a conspiracy between the opposition MUD and the PSUV to block any initiative outside the political polarization. The party has also been immersed in an ongoing judicial process after it appealed the CNE’s decision to the Supreme Court (TSJ). In that process, says Evans, the state attorney claimed that Marea Socialista should be prohibited from using the term “socialist” as it is an anti-government group.

On June 10 of this year the Caracas offices of Marea Socialista were raided by police investigation squad of the CICPC. According to Evans the police officers showed a search order authorizing them to look for evidence of a possible foreign currency related fraud. The director of the CICPC, Douglas Rico, denied that the raid had a political purpose. He said that the police was searching for a person accused of trafficking with counterfeit dollar bills.

There are other dissident sectors. On the far-left, the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) has been expressing criticism of corruption cases in the government and what it regards as an attitude of “capitulation” (entreguismo), of the Chavez legacy. This, says a PCV leader, is the work “of sectors of the (revolutionary) process, public officials who are engaged in a conciliatory policy with the oligarchy.”

More moderate criticism has come from former Minister of Interior and Justice, Miguel Rodríguez Torres. He has been calling for a policy of consensus and dialogue with the opposition, but also within chavismo if the movement is to continue Chávez’s legacy. He also said in a direct appeal to Maduro that “a real leader does not wait for conflict to explode.”