Notes from the Frontlines of Venezuela’s Social War

Notes from the Frontlines of Venezuela’s Social War

[From Warscapes]
by George Ciccariello-Maher

“In their housing developments

they placed first, broken bottles on top of their walls,

then, barriers and armed guards,

barbed wire, bars, attack dogs,

and now, triple-wired electric fences

like a Nazi camp… [but]

the concentration camp is the street,

the barrio hills and poverty,

the dust and the junk,

where they live, God willing…

– François Migeot, “Who divides the country?”

Venezuela is a society at war. There is no need to sugarcoat this fact, in part because it is nothing new. But against those voices who would insist that it was president Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution that divided Venezuela into two warring camps, it must be said: the camps already existed; the Revolution has simply revealed them.

On the Virtues of Open War

Sometimes, often, open war is preferable to its opposite. I don’t call that opposite “peace” because of the need to destabilize this all-too-common, all-too-easy opposition. No, this war is nothing new. Instead, it is a question of rendering visible the war that already exists, that has existed, and that continues unabated. Whereas Frantz Fanon famously diagnosed colonial society as Manichean, as cut into two, inhabited by two deadly opponents whose enmity is as clear as day, things are rarely so clear in ostensibly postcolonial Latin America.

The war has been going on for many decades, even centuries, but from the 1960s to the 1980s it remained largely concealed under a blanket of petrodollars. Occasionally, it was measured in bullet-ridden corpses: in the sporadic guerrilla struggle of the 1960s and in state-sponsored massacres like Cantaura (1982), Yumare (1986), and El Amparo (1988). But most would agree that this war became absolutely undeniable on February 27th, 1989, in the popular, anti-neoliberal rebellion known as the Caracazo and the massacre of massacres that followed.

© Lainie Cassel

What former president Rafael Caldera called the “showcase window for Latin American democracy” was irreparably shattered, and no quantity of rhetoric could repair it. The events of 1989 begat Chávez’s failed 1992 coup, and 1992 begat his eventual election in 1998. Suddenly, wealthy elites were wondering aloud what had happened to their powerful myth of Venezuelan harmony. To lose the comforting myth of one’s own magnanimity was one thing, but to lose power to a dark-skinned brute was another thing altogether.

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