Crisis in Venezuela: A Regime's Denial

As Venezuelans from all over the country make their way to Caracas, some on foot, the world wonders how it came to this.
Credit: María Alejandra Mora

Hannah Arendt, in her book Origins of Totalitarianism, described the extent to which three strategies—organization (of the totalitarian machine), propaganda and terror—were adopted by totalitarian regimes to systematically deny reality and, at the same time, build a fictionalized, credible, and consistent version of reality that had nothing to do with the concrete, verifiable, and factual version. Arendt sustains that in the first place, the masses: 

 

do not believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience; they do not trust their eyes and ears but only their imaginations, which may be caught by anything that is at once universal and consistent in itself. What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part. 

 

At the end of the process (a very cruel process), when the totalitarian regime undergoes its decline and its leaders realize they are in the last days, things dramatically change and the very logic of totalitarianism is shaken. Arendt argues:

 

It is in the moment of defeat that the inherent weakness of totalitarian propaganda becomes visible. Without the force of the movement, its members cease at once to believe in the dogma for which yesterday they still were ready to sacrifice their lives. The moment the movement (...) is destroyed, the masses revert to their old status of isolated individuals who either happily accept a new function in a changed world or sink back into their old desperate superfluousness.

 

It is difficult not to believe Venezuelans are now living in times ruled by an altered logic of totalitarianism. The masses are now disenchanted with the regime, and each day more convinced the regime will never fulfill the promises of welfare and happiness it once made to them.

 

Hugo Chavez

Chavez: From Hope to Disaster

Hugo Chávez took over as Constitutional President of Venezuela on February 2, 1999. During his presidential campaign, he characterized the Venezuelan situation over the last decade of the 20th Century as a complex social, economic, and political crisis whose most conspicuous traits were: pervasive corruption and impunity, deteriorating income inequality, increasing poverty and social exclusion, and a generalized skepticism of the masses--particularly the middle class--and their potential to overcome the crisis within a representative pacted democracy (as Terry Karl classified it in her book Paradox of Plenty) on which Venezuela’s political system was sustained. Chávez’s appraisal of the crisis was deemed to be timely and accurate and in 1998, at the time when he was appointed candidate and the campaign began, the appraisal worked as one of the determining factors of his victory in the December 1998 elections. 

Of course, his charisma was also a critical factor in his success. Somehow, a disillusioned population believed the 1992 star of an attempted coup against Constitutional President Carlos Andrés Pérez had the skills and character needed to lead the country to a brighter future. Those were times of anti-politics. 

It was surprising that not only the Left, but also elites from a wide range of ideological positions (media owners, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, right wing politicians, etc) gave Chávez blind and strong support. The same thing occurred abroad. Latin American and European intellectuals started to see Chávez, and the social political experiment he soon started conducting, with curious and expectant eyes. Well known journalists were charmed by Chávez. Many remember the support he received from the Spaniard Ignacio Ramonet (Le Monde Diplomatique), or the British Richard Gott (The Guardian), to mention just two of the more conspicuous voices. Their pieces worked (at the beginning) as credible endorsements to his project. In addition, money wisely handed on to other journalists and opinion makers helped in growing that support.

Venezuela, a country that until those final years of 1990 had only been known for its oil reserves and exports of beauty queens, had suddenly turned into an interesting place. Promises and expectations were put in excess on the shoulders of Chávez, and praise of the potential positive outcomes of the Venezuelan experiment spread fast. 

For a long time, Chávez managed not to disappoint his supporters and sympathizers. He implemented populist distributive policies, which in selected cases had a bold but unsustainable impact on the welfare of poorer sectors. These positive outcomes were taken as truth, validating expectations of dramatic improvement in the population´s welfare. Local and foreign intellectuals, academics, consultants, and experts endorsed the regime´s declared achievements with their own research. 

Chávez and his allies were also capable of effectively disguising—or openly lying about—the regime´s totalitarian goals. Information hegemony was another strategy upon which the regime´s foreign and local support relied. It was the platform used both to disseminate its lies, and to prevent accurate and factual information regarding what were initially just isolated indicators of worsening social problems to reach the population. For example, each time the population complained about a rise in violence, a spokesman would argue it was just a perception of violence they were experiencing. 

What at the beginning Chávez had sold to the Venezuelan people as a peaceful and democratic change toward a fairer society with a brighter future, over the years, started to seem a different thing, not easy to define nor understand, but certainly far more gloomy, unfair, and obscure than what the country had ever experienced or gone through. 

 

Credit: REUTERS/Marco Bello

Building Blocks of the Revolution

The crisis Venezuela is currently suffering is not just the unintended outcome of the unfortunate encounter between Nicolas Maduro´s blatant ineptitude and some unfortunate external events (the slump in oil prices, the effects of climate change, etc). No. Misery and crisis are a tragedy that could have been prevented from the beginning. It has been the persistence of the regime´s leaders in sticking to the economic and political model they adopted early on that underlies this crisis, not unintended consequences. 

Indeed, it could very well have been the intended goal since, over the past 17 years, some of the regime´s leaders have praised the benefits of ruling a population that has been put in a state of need and poverty. A raw example of this way of thinking was exposed by General Guaicaipuro Lameda, who was president of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) between years 2000 and 2002. He said in an interview that Jorge Giordani, Minister for Planning, had once confessed to him: 

 

This revolution is proposed to make a cultural change in the country, people change the way of thinking and living, and those changes can only be made from power. So the first thing is to stay in power to make the change. (...) poor people: they are the ones who vote for us, so the speech of the defense of the poor. So the poor will have to remain poor until we achieve a cultural transformation (...) and that takes at least 30 years. 

 

Another factor that further delayed the realization—both by the Venezuelan population and also by the democratic world—of the darker aspects of the regime was the series of institutional changes aimed at tightening Chávez’s grip on the array of state institutions, dismissing the principle of power separation. The importance of such a comprehensive capture of the State´s institutions has only recently become clear. Outraged citizens have witnessed the shameful behavior of the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (Supreme Court), or of the Consejo Supremo Electoral (Electoral Authority) during the current crisis. 

As of June 2016, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court had made at least ten rulings that complied with requests made by Maduro. Those rulings were aimed at either endorsing the constitutionality of the Executive´s decisions, or declaring the unconstitutionality of decisions made by the National Assembly. It has not been difficult for a large segment of the population to reach the conclusion that this institution is sabotaging the performance of the legislative branch. Another dramatic breaking of the impartiality expected from any state institution has been found in the National Electoral Authority (CNE). Experts agree its decisions on the recall referendum requested by the opposition have violated official regulations approved by CNE´s board.

Chávez was also skillful exporting his model to other Latin American countries where he had made alliances such as: Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Equator, Nicaragua, etc. Chávez´s formula to remain in power was quickly adopted by his allies. It worked in many ways as a political franchise. It could be possible to deem as royalties from this franchise the promise of political support he expected from those who adopted his government´s institutional structure and ideology. 

Oil has also played a critical role in determining the fate of the regime. During Chávez’s presidency, oil prices fluctuated between $20 and $150 per barrel. For Venezuela, the real problems started with the second fall in oil prices, which began in May 2014 with prices just below $100 per barrel. From that time up to the present, prices have hovered around $45 per barrel with a minimum of $28.50 in January 2016.  

Despite the ups and downs in oil prices, economists estimate that between 1998 and 2015 the regime amassed approximately $1.8 trillion in revenue ($1.28 trillion of which comes from oil exports, and the rest from bilateral loans and bonds). Not many in Venezuela have been able to grasp the enormity of this wealth. Certainly, for some years, there was money for almost everybody. Even the general population, including those who opposed Chávez, received a portion of the income coming from oil exports. Cardholders registered with an agency responsible for allocation of hard currency received a fixed amount of money every year. In addition, they were also able to buy airline tickets at a special exchange rate. Therefore, during high oil price years, not only the population but also airlines and travel agencies, as well as the whole tourist sector experienced a growth rate that seemed to reflect a convincing health. 

Time, however, has revealed this was merely an illusion. Indeed, according to the Venezuelan Association of Airlines (ALAV), as of June 15, 2014, the Venezuelan State had an accumulated debt of $3.4 billion.

During periods of low oil prices, the lower income from oil exports was distributed according to more stringent terms. Selected groups were defined as the main beneficiaries. Thus, a portion of the resources were distributed to the electoral supporters of the regime (chavistas light and chavistas duros) via social missions or other programs. Another large portion to the military, and a third was distributed to neighboring nations. Those were funds aimed at strengthening the political support to Chávez's project in South America. The large infrastructure contracts Venezuela signed with Brazilian companies, or with Argentinian energy companies, are an example of this. Skillfully managing all these factors, Chávez was able to maintain for more than a decade the faith of Venezuelan masses in a utopia that he baptized as 21st Century Socialism. Over 14 years, he won 15 of 16 elections and a referendum. 

Violence—built to use as a contingent defense of the regime´s integrity—deserves a special mention here. In the early years of its administration, the visibility of violence and terror, structured upon an intricately woven network of so-called social movements and organizations whose members were educated and indoctrinated according to the revolution´s moral and cultural values, was kept disguised on the margins of society. The organizational members of such a machinery were: well-armed collectives, militias, official intelligence bodies, selected branches of the military and the police, and other organizational bodies. Each was assigned a different role in the enactment and execution of violence. It was possible for the regime to disguise the size and strength of most of its machinery for violence because it used alternative strategies: charismatic rhetoric, populism and rent distribution, carefully controlled electoral fraud, and information hegemony, amongst others. But violence has always been a final option. Any analysis of the past, current, and future situation of the regime has to take this factor into account. 

 

Credit: Carlos Díaz

Coming to Terms

Chávez was a leader who seemed to have an unwitting reluctance toward imagining the future and everything associated with it (modernity, cities, technology). Indeed his vision of the future was almost always a reimagining and a restoration of the past (an imagined past). The realization of the authoritarian nature of the Bolivarian project--Chávez's 21st Century Socialism--was always a main motive of defection. 

Now, time has given Venezuelans and the world evidence that his project was not actually related to social justice, inclusion and liberties, but rather to capturing (using the rules of the democratic game) and keeping (no matter what the cost) political power as well as controlling the vast amounts of resources Venezuela gets from its main economic activity: oil exploitation. Ideology and the heterogeneous narratives associated with the Latin American Left where used as an effective rhetorical strategy aimed at recruiting followers and maintaining political support. The realization that the authoritarian nature of the Bolivarian Project had been buried under a web of lies and imagined truths reached, in some cases as an epiphany, in others as a slow disenchantment. In both cases, people gradually detached from Chávez and his process. But there were others who remained there, just beside him. For those members of the population who had the strongest need to believe and to belong, Chavez´s promises defined a path out of their status of non-identity, poverty, and impunity. People belonging to this group were unable to see (at least not at the beginning) the authoritarian traits in the process he was conducting. Even if they saw them, they would ignore them, persuading themselves authoritarianism was needed to punish the bad people and to reinstate their stolen rights (economic, political, and civil). They would deny time and again any dark trait, any obscure stain pointed out by any opposition leader. It is not easy to forget a promise of a brighter future. 

Another group also remained supportive of Chávez. It consisted of the radicals, the resentful, the cynics, and the opportunists. A heterogeneous bunch. But each one of these groups would play a role moving his experiment ahead, and many years in the future, contributing to the failure of that same process. A commonality shared by all the people who remained around him, supporting him until the present, has been their impaired ability to understand what was happening, and their refusal to change (or to ask or advice for such a change).

Chávez, aside from his outstanding charisma, had the ability to recognize when to stop. Or even to go back to just before the point where his authoritarian bias would have been too obvious to be disguised as democracy. This I want to stress: Chávez was a master disguising his actual intentions—his authoritarianism, his dream of implanting in Venezuela, with a minimum of violence, a contemporary totalitarian communism, his so-called 21st Century Socialism.

In October 2011, the Venezuelan physician Salvador Navarrete, told the media that Chávez had been diagnosed with an advanced pelvic sarcoma and that the prognosis was not encouraging. Chávez was treated with chemotherapy and possibly radiotherapy. Since the Venezuelan government treated the illness as a State secret, it has been difficult to have a conclusive narrative of the evolution of the illness. Although Chávez recovered, and was able to participate and eventually win the Presidential election on October, 7, 2012, he was never able to assume the position. On March 5, 2013, Nicolás Maduro informed the population that Chávez had died. He had been appointed as his successor. 

An election was held on April 14, 2013, to elect a new president, and Maduro won with 50.62 percent of the vote. Sadly for the country, the population soon started to realize that Maduro lacked both the charisma and the political intelligence of his predecessor. Compared to Chávez, Maduro had another critical weakness: he never refrained from breaking limits. Democratic limits, constitutional limits, those defined by human rights. Every single limit has been broken by Maduro and his allies. Now, the regime is considered by many actors as having a strong totalitarian and authoritarian bias. A chaotic bias. Some have even talked of a genocidal bias due to its refusal to acknowledge the humanitarian crisis the country is undergoing.

If high oil prices were a fortunate event for Chávez, the sustained fall in oil prices has been incredibly unfortunate for Maduro. Oil once made it possible to subsidize a project that was otherwise socially and economically unsustainable. Chávez had the good fortune of ruling nearly most of his long period with high oil prices. The problem is that the economic model based on oil rents and its distribution by the State, on which Chávez´s revolutionary project was stacked, raises perverse incentives. These in turn give rise to corruption. Venezuelan intellectuals are aware corruption has been closely associated with oil. Because of this structural liaison between oil and corruption, oil was called the devil´s excrement. The term was coined by Juan pablo Pérez Alfonzo, the founder of OPEC, in a book he wrote in 1975 titled Hundiéndonos en el excremento del diablo (We are Sinking in the Devil´s Excrement). Fernando Coronil, in The Magical State, further develops this idea. He states that,  

 

By 1978, this phrase for oil had become common expression. It was often used to support the view, most forcefully expressed by Pérez Alfonzo, that oil had undermined Venezuelan society making it, as Uslar Pietri had feared in 1936, into a parasite of nature. While Venezuelans had treated this dark effusion of nature as God´s gift, it had turned out to be the Devil´s excrement. 

 

Rising oil prices had an even more perverse and deep impact on Chávez's regime as resource allocation was mainly dependent on decision making processes of high level officials and politicians, rather than on market processes. Central planning contributed to the massive corruption that was already intrinsic to the model. Now with falling oil prices, corruption was unearthed because the regime´s delivery of public goods fell to dramatic levels. Only now is the world realizing the extent to which the leaders of the regime are to blame for the tens of thousands who are dying of hunger, disease, and rampant violence. The recent cover of TIME magazine, with the title Venezuela is Dying, has raised the awareness of this catastrophe. 

 

 

The Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela

The regime´s power quickly eroded after the death of Chávez in 2013. The beginning of the descent of oil prices triggered a series of shortages in food, medicine, and many other products as a result of of dramatic cuts to imports. Maduro´s ascent to power in 2013 gave rise to a social, economic, and political crisis of unprecedented dimensions. It is much worse than the crisis that took place 20 years ago, which Chávez had accurately diagnosed, managing to persuade the population that his strategies would quickly and effectively address it. At the present time, experts, political leaders, and the population seem to agree the primary cause of the crisis is the reluctance of the regime to abandon the current economic model, making space for the market to allocate most of the resources currently allocated by leaders and high level officials of the regime seeking to profit from their discretionary powers. 

During the period of high oil prices (2003-2012) poverty in Venezuela significantly declined. But that improvement was neither sustained nor sustainable. The poorest sectors of the population received fractions of oil exports whose distribution was controlled by the regime. When oil prices started to drop, poverty returned, mainly as a result of an extremely high inflation rate. Asdrúbal Oliveros, an economist and president of Ecoanalítica, a firm that specializes in economic analysis, estimated that, whereas in March 2016 the inflation rate was 540 percent, in April 2016 it reached 750 percent. According to economists, one of the underlying causes of this astronomical inflation—the highest in the world—is the uncontrolled printing by the government of inorganic money not backed by hard currency reserves. Data from the Venezuelan Central Bank (BCV), suggests the International Reserves fell 19 percent at the end of the first quarter of 2016. Yet inorganic money is still being printed.

A clear outcome of the rampant inflation has been the rise of poverty. Oliveros states extreme poverty is affecting 80 percent of the population. In one single year the figures have dramatically risen. According to a study called Encuesta de Condiciones de Vida (Encovi), in 2015, 73 percent of homes (76 percent of the population) were below the poverty line. This percentage has been the highest since they began to measure poverty in 1975. The same research provides evidence that in 2015, 49 percent of Venezuelan homes were classified as in extreme poverty. It is difficult to believe there will be a significant improvement in these figures since the World Bank estimated Venezuela´s GDP will drop 10 percent in 2016. In addition, if there is not a regime change, the IMF forecasts an inflation rate of 1600 percent for Venezuela at the end of 2017. Because of the close and direct relationship between inflation rate and poverty, it is very difficult to forecast the extent to which such an inflation could have an impact on poverty, worsening its indicators. 

Credit: ZiaLaterAnother main cause of the crisis are the acute shortages of food, medicine, and other manufactured goods. Economists sustain such shortages are the consequence of the government´s decision to reduce imports to historic levels at a time when the Venezuelan industrial park has an external debt of $12 billion (and most credit lines are frozen). 

Food scarcity reached 43 percent in April 2016 (up from 31 percent in April 2015). A sad outcome of this problem is the long lines of people, who have to wait for many hours, under the burning rays of a little gracious sun, at the doors of supermarkets and drugstores, in order to have the opportunity to buy subsidized food and medicine. A related problem is that those in need have to struggle, day after day, with violent networks of bachaqueros, a term that designates those who buy subsidized products and then resell them to other people, most of them poor at an average of twenty times the price they bought them. 

The crisis in the health sector is just as dire. Douglas León Natera, President of the Venezuelan Federation of Physicians, declared on June 15, that medicine scarcity in drugstores, which is similar to that in State hospitals, reached 90 percent in April 2016. This figure means that of every 10 times you visit a drugstore asking for medicine, nine times you will not find the medicine you were looking for. It is a percentage referred to as the active principle, not to the pharmaceutical brand, because if that were the case the figures would be far worse.

Malaria and other once controlled infectious diseases have returned, and effective policies to control them are non-existent. For example, in a recent article on malaria in Venezuela in the New York Times, Nick Casey, interviewed Venezuelan physicians who confirmed there has been a rise in the number of those affected by this illness. Casey complains official statistics are unavailable since the regime seems to treat them as classified information. According to unpublished statistics recorded in the Boletín Integral de Salud Ambiental, however, as of May 14, 2016, the number of malaria cases reached a record 104,369. It seems the country will easily surpass the 136,402 cases registered at the end of 2015. 

On August 9, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon spoke with journalists in Argentina and told them that Venezuela is undergoing a humanitarian crisis. “I am very concerned for the current situation, since basic needs such as food, water, healthcare, and clothing cannot be met.” Venezuelan high level officials complained about this statement and belied the Secretary General, a response expected from the regime. 

 

Responding to the Crisis

We could speculate that when the regime´s leaders realized the scope of the crisis they had to confront, and the lack of strategies they had to overcome it, they may have balanced the pros and cons of two alternative options. First, passing the power on to the opposition and remaining a strong political party. Especially since on December 6, 2016, the opposition (gathered in the political movement known as MUD) had won a supermajority with 112 representatives. Choosing this option would have represented a tacit acknowledgement that the model (the experiment) had failed. Further, that the solutions the regime had implemented over the past 16 years never had the slightest chance of success. Such a hypothetical scenario could also have been the result of a combination of dialogue and negotiation between legitimate representatives of the regime and of the opposition where impartial mediators could have participated. 

The second option was to maintain power no matter what the size and complexity of the crisis, absolutely denying the description (every description) of the crisis, and alleging that either the crisis was the malicious outcome of a conspiracy of external enemies of the revolution (the Right, the Empire, the transnationals, etc)—whose agents and simple servants were the opposition leaders and the local oligarchs—or it was the unavoidable outcome of a nature mistreated by evil capitalists, whose actions and decisions underlie the origin of catastrophic climate events such as El Niño

This second option, which implied a denial of responsibility of the regime´s policies in the making of the crisis, has been the chosen option so far. This option was neither consistent with the scenario of a dialogue, nor that of a negotiation. At least not one open and advertised. Partial negotiators, who were not willing to accept basic conditions proposed by the opposition before agreeing on the terms of any hypothetical dialogue (mainly related to liberating the political prisoners and to not sabotaging the recall referendum), were not approved by the opposition. Again, this behavior was not a surprise. 

 

Maduro VenezuelaVenezuelan President Nicolas MaduroCredit: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr

Maduro's Response

The last month has been particularly hectic regarding the Venezuelan crisis. On Monday July 11, Maduro issued Executive Order 2367, which created the new Sovereign Purveyance Mission. The newly published decree delegated to General Vladimir Padrino López, Top Commander of the Venezuelan Military, the responsibility of surveillance of the production and coordination of the distribution of food and medicine. In this task, General Padrino was granted superpowers, meaning that the whole cabinet is now subordinated to him. 

Analysts interpreted this cession of power as a turning point in the regime´s management of the crisis. Where some are optimistic Padrino will be a key factor in negotiating the transition to a new political order, others are suspicious, arguing it is likely Padrino might feel he and his allies are the only ones capable of preventing the country from falling into more chaos, misery, and violence. Padrino might also have the feeling that he is the only one capable of effectively preventing the revolutionary process from suffering a total and final breakdown. He might, therefore, choose to keep the power he has been granted. If this is the case, a consequence many envision is that the whole political, institutional, and economic structure the regime erected over past 18 years could be torn apart and catastrophically fall. 

Some analysts deem the regime has already collapsed—losing political and electoral support—beyond a point where things can be reversed. But its leaders are still in denial of this reality. It seems they believe acknowledging the dimension of the crisis will make them weaker and diminish their likelihood of winning future elections. This is certainly not the case. Indeed, it works the opposite way. The denial of the crisis, and of any responsibility in its creation, prevents self-criticism and diminishes the likelihood of addressing with sound policies any of the associated problems. 

The option of Padrino keeping his superpowers is not sustainable in the mid-term because of the serious need for fresh financial resources. It is very unlikely for Venezuela to get a loan of needed resources if a new political pact, whose terms should be obeyed by all legitimate signatories, is not reached. Before 1998, Venezuela enjoyed a 40 year period of relative peace over which it was possible to build a democracy. An agreement called Pacto de Punto Fijo was the ground on which a pacted democracy was built over those 40 years. A new, fairer, wiser, more inclusive and more mature version of that agreement should be built now. Any future program aimed at reconstructing the country should have to be grounded on this new agreement. 

La toma de CaracasCaracas, Venezuela, August 31, 2016.

Yet in the streets, Henrique Capriles and the MUD, are fostering the recall referendum (a political right provided in the Constitution) sought by opposition leaders and the population. If the referendum takes place in 2016, a new presidential election will have to be conducted and the probability of a regime change would be a certainty. If the referendum takes place in 2017, however, the regime would appoint as President the Vice President and a regime change would not occur. In that case, things might get very chaotic, much worse than they are now. Violence, which has already reached a dangerous level (approximately 115 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants), might surge even more. 

The problem with the escape valve the referendum represents is that its implementation has systematically been thwarted by the board of the CNE, which follows orders from the executive branch of the government. On August 9, Tibisay Lucena, president of CNE, declared the recall referendum would take place in 2017. She argued her statement was based on a rigid schedule drawn from a regulation approved in the past by CNE´s Board. This, however, is a regulation that has been openly violated by the board itself. 

La toma de CaracasMaduro's forces preparing for La toma de Caracas on August 31, 2016.As a response to such an inflammatory decision, a massive street action has been called by the opposition leaders for September 1. It has been called La Toma de Caracas (The Takeover of Caracas). People from all over the country will travel to Caracas to attend the largest ever rally the opposition has called during the past 17 years. During the days leading up, people will travel to Caracas by car, bus, plane, and motorbike. Some will even travel on foot. People expect this event, if it is successful, to work as a turning point. The opposition has asked the population, and not only those who oppose the regime, to go out to the streets and participate. Although the event should have to be bold but peaceful, the regime is already nervous about it. Military are being called to build trenches with sandbags and occupy strategic points of the capital with armored vehicles. Maduro is preparing the military as if a foreign army will arrive in the city to overthrow him. 

 

What Does the Future Hold?

At the present time, although the practice of denying reality is also locally implemented by the regime using its information hegemony, such an effort seems unable to keep on persuading the masses to quietly live within the fictionalized realm they once dwelled, and within which they happily and confidently expected to experience a fast ascent to a brighter future. In the domestic realm, the practice of disguising reality seems now to be directed toward themselves. The suspicious attitude and the anger with which the population receives the regime´s network of lies, is evidence of the extent to which what had previously been perceived as a utopia has now been broken into pieces. 

Call it enlightenment or an epiphany, the collective awareness that led to the disenchantment with the Bolivarian regime and its narrative of happiness was a long and winding road. This disenchantment came at a high cost, with lives obliterated by common crime or agents that respond to the regime´s leaders, impoverishment, illnesses, misery, deprivation of freedom, torture, and repression. 

But disenchantment is not enough. It does not lead immediately people here or abroad to a representation of what actually reality is. It takes time, energy, information, and knowledge to weave a myriad of data and indicators into a causal model whose logic (simple or complex) may help people understand which actions were responsible for which outcomes, and who the decision makers in each case were. Only after a task like this was performed did an early version of reality come out, and with it also emerged the earliest intuitions of the horror reality had been over the past 17 years. 

With distance, and with a relative feeling of security during the last two years, the world started to realize the amount of death, pain, misery and suffering the regime´s decisions and policies had actually caused. They began to see the extent of their contribution to the sadness and hopelessness of over 30 million Venezuelans had been. 

Venezuelans benefited from the voices of millions of exiles and emigrants, living in hundreds of countries all over the world, who told their stories of the reasons they left the country. They also benefited from the curiosity and passion of journalists who told the world, in stories published in the most prestigious printed and online media, of the chaos, cruelties, corruption, and violence they directly witnessed. In 2014, foreign journalists wrote articles and shared pictures of street fights between students and formidably equipped riot police. Those mobilizations resulted in over 3,000 arrests and 43 deaths, including both supporters and opponents. 

Two years later, photographers from all over the world have taken terrific pictures of the current crisis in every possible and conceivable region, sector, and population group. Foreign officials, politicians, and intellectuals brave and smart enough to see, above ideological bias and distortions, the horror hidden within and underneath this Leviathan the regime has turned into, also contributed to raise global awareness upon its totalitarian aspirations.

The Organization of American States Secretary General, Luis Almagro, has been persistent in the talks he assumed of letting the world know the real nature of Chávez's so-called 21st Century Socialism. His focus is in line with Almagro´s recent call for the activation of the Inter American Democratic Charter, initiated on June 23 with the presentation of the Secretary General´s Report on the Venezuelan Crisis to the OAS Permanent Council. After suffering silently for months (for some Venezuelans) or years (for other Venezuelans), the population is starting to imagine the borders of a complex and multilayered reality that has been the main cause of its many social ailments. 

This recent awareness of their own reality might explain how, according to Venebarómetro, 64 percent of the Venezuelan population supported the recall referendum on this past July 25. It could be the outcome of a similar awareness that on August 18, according to Datanálisis, 75 percent of the population declared they would vote to remove Maduro from the presidency. It seems this time the Venezuelan population has chosen to act according to their understanding of reality. 

The time has arrived to no longer be concerned about which understanding each Venezuelan has of the real nature of Maduro´s regime. It is far more important to understand that the formidable machine, built by the regime to disguise the horror its policies have caused (and is still causing), has failed. And that it will continue failing. It is also important for each Venezuelan citizen to have both an idea of which of their actions will help to collectively alleviate the problems they are experiencing, and which will help in constitutionally and peacefully getting rid of this regime as soon as it is possible. The massive takeover of Caracas taking place today can certainly not simply be dismissed. 

Lorenzo Dávalos is a public policy consultant and editor based in Caracas, Venezuela. He holds a Bachelor's in biology from Universidad Simón Bolívar and an MBA from IESA. He is a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics. Lorenzo also worked as researcher and consultant for organizations and strategic planning.