21 February 2015
Revolutionary paranoia and Venezuela's 'endless coup'
It's a sign of how polarized and nearly equally divided politically Venezuela is that the mayor of its capital city is part of the opposition to the late Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro. And it's a sign of how desperate things have gotten there that Maduro had the mayor, Antonio Ledezma, arrested this week, accusing him of participating in a conspiracy to remove Maduro from power by a coup d'etat. Maduro grew expansive in his suspicions, claiming that Bolivarian Venezuela is beset by an "endless coup" of the wealthy, backed by the U.S. That phrase sums up neatly the way revolutionary politicians see their opposition. When you're convinced that revolution is an unconditional imperative, any opposition, any disagreement, becomes counterrevolution, and all disagreement is potentially if not inherently conspiratorial. In the most basic terms, it's a negative conspiracy of refusal to get with the program or submit to the will of the people, or the will of history as the Leader understands it. The problem with this point of view is its failure to make distinctions under insecure conditions. One might accept that revolutionary change is an unconditional imperative, but it never follows from that that the Leader is always right, or that the Leader should never be contradicted. Revolutions often go off the deep end that way, but that's not the situation in Venezuela. The opposition there is adamantly opposed the the Bolivarian revolution, and elements of the opposition did attempt a coup against Chavez. None of this proves that Mayor Ledezma is a coup plotter, but just as a diagnosis of paranoia doesn't mean that you don't have enemies, liberals should not make an absolute presumption of Ledezma's innocence. Venezuela is in bad shape and from all appearances Maduro isn't helping things much. He lacks the charisma and apparently much of the political skill of Chavez, and the worldwide oil glut has punished the country's petro-centric economy. I can't judge how badly Maduro is f'ing things up, but if people were ready to take down Chavez when the country was doing relatively well economically, how many more may find Bolivarism intolerable in a bad recession. People might have very good reasons to believe that Maduro should go, but none of them entitle citizens of an electoral democracy to remove him by extralegal means. The opposition screams that Chavez was becoming a dictator or that Maduro is, but such cries were belied by Bolivarian acquiescence in opposition election victories. Only now, arguably, comes a real test. If Ledezma is guilty, it's up to Maduro to make sure a free and fair election replaces him, even if that makes someone of Ledezma's party the next mayor. If he uses the charges against Ledezma to ban his party or disqualify it from the next mayoral election, Maduro would go a long way toward proving all the old charges against his movement. If he starts to treat all opposition as illegal counterrevolution, Maduro will be on the way to dictatorship, and all constitutional bets would be off. In short, Ledezma's trial is coming, but Maduro's is here.