Ten tenets of Chavizm

Leaked US diplomatic cable, reproduced in its entirety. This was written June 16, 2009, 12 days before the first major setback of Chavizm: The deposing of his Quisling in Honduras, Manuel Zelaya.

A student of history may find that most of these tenets are not new by any means. They have been used in the past over and over by other dictators, e.g., Adolf Hitler. The repression has continued after this cable was written, by making judge Maria Afiuni and former presidential candidate Alejandro Peña Esclusa the latest political prisoners. How much longer, Venezuela?

DE RUEHCV #0750/01 1671323
P 161323Z JUN 09 ZDK




E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/11/2019


1. This message is the end of tour analysis of the political
situation in Venezuela by Embassy Deputy Political Counselor
Dan Lawton.

2. (C) Summary. Despite President Chavez's professed
allegiance to socialism, his political project lacks any
consistent ideology. Instead, the Venezuelan president
exercises an increasingly authoritarian playbook that ensures
his unquestioned, indefinite leadership and concentrates more
and more power in his hands. The Government of the
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (GBRV) aggressively defends
its democratic legitimacy at the same time that it targets
key opposition leaders, polarizes society along political and
class lines, and hypes the existence of external and internal
enemies to justify repressive measures. Chavez's preference
for loyalty over competence, creation of parallel Bolivarian
institutions, efforts to forge a one-party state, and
chest-thumping nationalism also smack of creeping
totalitarianism. Overall, Chavismo poses a serious threat to
democracy not just in Venezuela but throughout the region,
and it directly competes against U.S. influence in Latin
America. Moreover, it is becoming ever more difficult to
begin any dialogue with a GBRV increasingly consumed by its
own solipsistic "revolutionary" fervor and outsized ambition.
End Summary.

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One - There Is Only One Great, Indispensable Leader
--------------------------------------------- ------

3. (C) President Chavez has carefully cultivated his own
personality cult, such that for most Venezuelan voters,
President Chavez embodies Chavismo. Outsized billboards and
posters of Chavez dominate public buildings as well as the
rallies and campaigns of his United Socialist Party of
Venezuela (PSUV). Venezuelans can buy a wide range of Chavez
paraphernalia from Chavez action figures to Chavez watches to
a compact disc of Chavez singing Venezuelan folk songs. He
dominates all state media, which also broadcast his Sunday
"Alo, Presidente" talk show. Chavez regularly requires all
local television and radio networks to carry his speeches
("cadenas"); he has wracked up over 1200 such hours (50 days)
on the air. He has not groomed any successor and he
frequently rebukes even his most trusted advisors publicly.

4. (C) In pursuing the elimination of presidential term
limits, Chavez declared publicly numerous times that he is
indispensable to his Bolivarian Revolution. While voters
rejected his constitutional reform package in December 2007,
he succeeded in winning public approval of the elimination of
term limits for all elected offices in the February 2009
referendum. Chavez has repeatedly stated that he plans to
govern at least until 2020. A corollary to the Venezuelan
president's protagonism is that there can be no Chavismo
without Chavez. No Chavez supporter who has broken with
Chavez has prospered politically. The formerly pro-Chavez
Podemos party is all but broken after opposing Chavez's 2007
constitutional reform package. Former Defense Minister Raul
Baduel also spoke against indefinite reelection; he is
currently sitting in a Caracas military prison awaiting trial
on corruption charges.

Two - Centralize Power

5. (C) Chavez's "Socialism of the 21st Century" exalts the
government's active role in the economy and vilifies
capitalism, but in the minds of most Venezuelans, it remains
a vague notion of a state bearing benefits. The thread that
most consistently ties together Chavez's political project is
the increasing concentration of power in his hands. Chavez
has firm control over all the other branches of government.
The opposition foolishly boycotted National Assembly
elections in 2005, and currently only approximately 15 former
government supporters do not automatically support Chavez in
the 167-seat unicameral legislature. With few exceptions,
the judiciary rules in favor of the executive branch, even in
civil cases bereft of political implications.

6. (C) Chavez is also squeezing state and local governments
from above and below. He recently promulgated a law that
allows the central government to take state control over
ports, airports, and highways. The central government has
done just that in states run by opposition governors.

Moreover, Chavez created an appointed position to take over
virtually all the functions and budget of the opposition
mayor of Caracas. The National Assembly is considering
creating presidentially appointed regional vice presidencies
that would undermine elected governors. The Venezuelan
president also created community councils nationwide which
are registered by and report directly to the Office of the
Presidency. Chavez diverted 30 percent of state and local
discretionary development funds to these community councils.

Three - Hype External and Internal "Enemies"

7. (C) Chavez insists on depicting the United States (which
he habitually refers to as "The Empire") as Venezuela's
enemy. Although most Venezuelans are not anti-American,
Chavez's radical foreign policy plays to his base of firm
supporters and serves as a convenient rallying cry during
Venezuela's frequent elections. Although he holds virtually
absolute power in Venezuela, Chavez tries to reframe public
perceptions by depicting himself as David fighting Goliath,
usually the United States, but also occasionally Spain,
Colombia, or Israel. Chavez and other senior GBRV leaders
have tempered this script somewhat since the election of
President Obama. They tend to praise the President and
Secretary personally, while quickly adding that "imperial"
political power continues to be exercised in the United
States by big business, the military establishment, and the

8. (C) Although domestic opposition to Chavez is weak and
disunited, Chavez and senior GBRV officials regularly accuse
it of plotting to overthrow or assassinate the Venezuelan
president in coordination with the United States. The GBRV
does not produce proof or in most cases actually pursue
charges; such allegations conveniently serve to circle the
wagons within Chavismo, to prevent across-the-aisle political
dialogue, and to discredit the opposition. The GBRV
regularly reminds voters that large sectors of the opposition
participated in the short-lived 2002 coup to give greater
credence to current "threats." Chavez also accuses the
opposition of doing the USG's bidding, calling them
"pitiyanquis." Moreover, government supporters regularly
accuse opposition-oriented press outlets of "media
terrorism," essentially building the case for continued
government harassment of the vestiges of independent media.

Four - Polarize

9. (C) Railing against the "oligarchs," Chavez exploits class
divisions in stratified Venezuela for political gain. By
playing almost exclusively to the over 70% of Venezuelans who
are poor, Chavez has maintained a reliable electoral majority
(with the exception of the 2007 constitutional referendum
vote when many Chavistas abstained). He is not only
channeling government resources to the economically
disadvantaged, but also prioritizing the GBRV's role in the
economy at the expense of the private sector. Such policies
squeeze the middle class and are feeding a growing brain
drain of professionals, sectors of society traditionally
associated with the opposition. They also increase citizens'
economic dependence on the GBRV.

10. (C) Politically, Chavez tolerates no middle ground.
Although increasingly large numbers of voters consider
themselves politically neutral, most Venezuelans still
habitually self-identify themselves as either with "the
process" or against. Moreover, the GBRV has a good idea
where most voters stand. Those that signed the 2004 recall
referendum soon found themselves on the infamous "Tascon
List" by which the GBRV discriminated in terms of government
jobs, contracts, and other benefits. In his speeches, Chavez
frequently cites mentor Fidel Castro, bellowing in stark
terms, "With the revolution, everything; outside, nothing."
After its most recent registration drive, the PSUV claims
over seven million members. Local analysts believe the PSUV
party list is becoming the "reverse Tascon List" -- if your
name is not on it, you cannot expect to get government
services (at least not without paying intermediaries).

Five - Insist on Democratic Credentials

11. (C) Senior GBRV leaders insist that "participatory"

democracy is superior to "representative" democracy. They
contend that real democracies give priority to "social
rights" and argue that concepts such as checks and balances
and institutional autonomy are discredited "bourgeois"
concepts. Chavez also regularly stresses that he has held
national elections almost yearly since he was first elected
in 1998, blurring any distinction between being elected
democratically and governing democratically. Anxious to
preserve their democratic legitimacy at home and abroad,
Chavez and senior GBRV officials lash out immediately and
disproportionately to any criticism of GBRV abuses. They
traditionally dismiss any criticism as interference in
Venezuela's domestic affairs and insult or try to discredit
any government or organization that faults the GBRV (without
ever engaging on the substance of the critique). The GBRV
forcibly expelled a Human Rights Watch leader and a member of
the European Parliament when they publicly took issue with
the GBRV's human rights record while in Caracas.

Six - Reward Loyalty Over Competence

12. (C) The single most important common characteristic of
Chavez's ministers and other senior officials is their
unquestioning loyalty to the Venezuelan president. He tends
to rotate a small coterie of firm supporters through senior
positions, simultaneously rewarding his inner circle while
preventing them from accruing either real expertise or an
independent power base. A substantial portion of Chavez's
appointed officials participated in his failed 1992 military
coup. Moreover, Chavez retains loyalists despite their poor
administrative or electoral track records. He named
Diosadado Cabello, who last year lost his re-election for the
Miranda Governorship, to be Minister of Infrastructure and
Telecommunications. Chavez appointed Jessie Chacon
Information Minister after he lost the mayoral race in the
Sucre borough of Caracas. By contrast, Chavez's PSUV
temporarily expelled Henri Falcon, the then widely hailed
competent mayor of Barquisimeto, only to quickly reinstate
him after it became obvious that Falcon would win the
governorship of Lara State in 2008 with or without the PSUV's

Seven - Repress Selectively

13. (C) The GBRV picks its political victims carefully,
making examples of sector leaders. Such calibrated
repression has so far avoided any significant public backlash
while at the same time created a climate of fear in civil
society and fostered self-censorship in the media. Examples
abound. The GBRV recently pressed corruption charges against
Maracaibo Mayor and 2006 consensus opposition presidential
candidate Manuel Rosales; Rosales fled to Peru where he was
granted asylum. The GBRV jailed Carlos Ortega, the leader of
the largest opposition trade union confederation. He escaped
from military prison in 2006 and was also granted asylum in
Peru. The GBRV closed the only critical free-to-air
television network in 2007 and is threatening to do the same
to opposition-oriented cable news network Globovision.
Prominent electoral NGO Sumate has been subject to numerous
government investigations. Chavez and other senior GBRV
officials have blasted prominent Catholic Church officials
for defending democracy, and pro-Chavez thugs briefly
occupied the Cardinal's residence in downtown Caracas.

Eight - Create Parallel Structures

14. (C) Over the last ten years, the GBRV and its supporters
and allies have created new bodies and institutions in an
effort to undermine and outflank organizations that it could
neither control nor co-opt. Domestically, the GBRV and its
adherents have spawned pro-government NGOs, business groups,
labor unions, television and radio networks, and even a
socialist spin-off of the Catholic Church. Chavez's social
programs ("misiones") generally sidestep and starve long
established government ministries of resources.
Internationally, Chavez is endeavoring to establish
multilateral organizations that both magnify Venezuela's
influence and combat purported "U.S. imperialism." From the
GBRV's perspective, ALBA, Petrocaribe, UNASUR, and the Bank
of the South are tools with which to supplant or weaken the
OAS, IMF, and the World Bank.

Nine - Party Equals State

15. (C) Since creating the United Socialist Party of
Venezuela (PSUV) in 2007, President Chavez has been trying to
forge a one-party state. Chavez uses government resources,
especially state media, and pressures the over two million
government employees to support the Venezuelan president,
PSUV candidates, and his referendum proposals during
elections. The National Electoral Council (CNE) staffs PSUV
registration drives. Chavez demanded that all pro-government
parties join the PSUV, but three parties, the Communist Party
(PCV), Patria Para Todos (PPT), and the Podemos party,
declined. Podemos later joined the opposition in 2007. The
PSUV declined to support any PPT or PCV gubernatorial and
mayoral candidates in the 2008 state and local elections and
neither party now exercises any meaningful local power.
Moreover, the National Assembly is seriously considering an
electoral law that would almost certainly expand the PSUV's
absolute legislative majority and diminish the influence of
the PPT and PCV after the 2010 parliamentary elections.

Ten - Monopolize Nationalism

16. (C) Calling himself the heir to Venezuelan founder Simon
Bolivar, Chavez asserts exclusive claim to Venezuela's
forefathers and national symbols. He regularly cites Bolivar
and other national heroes out of context, insisting that they
were early socialists. One of Chavez's stock stump speech
messages is that his Bolivarian Revolution liberated
Venezuela from being an American colony and will make
Venezuela a world power in coming decades. In contrast,
Chavez and his supporters depict the opposition as
unpatriotic, stateless, or paid U.S. agents. Chavez's own
exaggerated demonstrations of patriotism conveniently
distract public attention from local problems or demonstrate
incontrovertibly that he can do what he wants. In 2006,
Chavez added a star to the Venezuelan flag and flipped the
horse on the national seal to make it run left, not right.
In 2007, he eliminated three zeros from the currency and
changed its name from "bolivars" to "strong bolivars." He
also added the prefix "People's Power" to all ministries and
ordered all Venezuelan clocks changed by thirty minutes to
create a unique Venezuelan time zone. In 2008, he suggested
that he would exhume Bolivar's body to prove that he was
poisoned (He has not done so yet).


17. (C) The increasingly authoritarian nature of Chavismo,
not to mention its habitual and politically convenient
vilification of the United States, pose considerable
challenges to any effort to improve bilateral ties. Chavez
and other senior GBRV officials publicly express interest in
greater dialogue with the USG, but the reality is that to
date, the GBRV has been reluctant to create meaningful and
easily accessible channels of communication, let alone engage
substantively on issues that should be of common interest.
The GBRV also makes it clear that it will not accept or look
past any USG criticism, however well-founded or required by
congressionally-mandated reports or testimony. Facing no
checks on his power at home, Chavez craves international
attention and influence abroad. Whether it is funneling arms
and money to the FARC, sending suitcases of money to the
Kirchner campaign in Argentina, or exporting elements of
Chavismo to ALBA countries, to name just a few prominent
examples, Chavez's outsized ambition backed by petrodollars
makes Venezuela an active and intractable U.S. competitor in
the region.

3 thoughts on “Ten tenets of Chavizm”

  1. Actually, the past week several more political prisoners have been added. They are accused of having set the fire at the INTI office in Santa Barbara the other week, although any reasonable observer must suspect that it was set by the government itself. Only they had both motive, possibility, and opportunity, plus the only person found at the site was the head of the office. In the middle of the night!

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