VENEZUELA: THE THEATER OF APPEARANCES

VENEZUELA: THE THEATER OF APPEARANCES

Venezuela is a stage of continuous political dispute, both in the concrete power relations and in the appearances that are derived from them. In this area, it is easy to verify that “something” happens every so often, however, it is incredibly complex to find out what actually happens.

In other words, faced with each new point of tension in the political conflict, citizens in general and analysts in particular, we are faced with an environment of informational and institutional uncertainty that makes it difficult to verify with certainty what the events that have occurred consist of, what are its immediate consequences and what are its medium or long term consequences.

No one can escape this informational and institutional uncertainty: citizens, analysts, decision-makers’ advisers, decision-makers, in short, all social actors handle, with some variations, the same level of information or, at least, the same degree of perception on the certainty of the information that is possessed.

The situation of informational and institutional uncertainty in Venezuela

The specialized literature [1] on the politics of uncertainty in authoritarian regimes tells us that these types of regimes suffer from two types of uncertainty: institutional uncertainty (their permanence in power is always threatened) and informational uncertainty (they can never know how safe are they).

In this scenario, all political actors try to influence both the increase or decrease in real threats, and the increase or decrease in perceptions of threats, depending on the political side where they are located. Of course, in an environment of deep uncertainty, it is complex to verify for sure when the real threats are only perceptions or the perceptions of threats are actually real threats, therefore, the environment tends to be of continuous paranoia for all actors. on the board.

That is to say, that even if the political regime were consolidated, it could never be sure that it is, therefore, since what is at stake is precisely its permanence in power, it will never be an exaggeration to treat any perception as a real threat, even with the wear and the possible cracks that this attitude can generate in the dominant power block. On the other hand, for the opposition, the situation is inversely proportional: although their strategy tends naturally to be to generate perceptions of threats in the hope that they will become real threats, it would be a huge mistake to create strategies or make decisions assuming that Perceptions of constructed threats are, in effect, real threats.

Why is the information available not credible?

Information in authoritarian contexts will always be, at a minimum: opaque, if not simply non-existent. We are talking about a really dramatic situation: since even with the information available, there is no way to verify if the information is complete or true.

Why does this happen? According to the researcher Andreas Schedler [2], there are three factors that promote the opacity of information in authoritarian contexts; namely: the repression of beliefs, the hidden nature of public policies, and the lack of credibility of information monopolies.

The world is a theater

First, in authoritarian contexts, public communication is distorted. Every day we attend a large theater where citizens, public officials, political and military elites assume a self-protective role, an acted position on what to say, do and, above all, not to say or not to do according to the function that is had within the different power structures.

Thus, even if the regime invested large amounts of money and time in monitoring citizens – and especially its supporters – it could never be sure that it observes it is, in truth, the real opinion of citizens, supporters or officials.

To further increase confusion, what is allowed and what is not allowed within the theater compartment is not fixed or immutable, but continually changing. What is seen today as the exemplary behavior of a pro-government official, tomorrow can be seen as a suspicious compartment of an infiltrator and vice versa. Therefore, everyone acts – even those who truly feel committed to the political process – knowing that others do, but without ever being able to confirm whether they are actually doing so.

Hidden politics: who, how, where and why

The second factor promoting opacity in authoritarian regimes has to do with the “hidden nature of public policies”.

Naturally, the political game is complex even in the most advanced democracies, however, while in those political decisions are made by the actors following a set of clearly established and verifiable procedures, in authoritarian contexts and mainly of institutional fragility, the decisions tend to be mostly arbitrary, executed by unknown actors, without the possibility of verifying the immediate reasons or consequences of such decisions.

In the Venezuelan case, this situation is evident for all the actors on the board, even for the “players” who apparently seem to be more deeply involved in the game – and, therefore, it would be worth assuming that they are more informed – it is difficult to verify who, how, where and why some of the political decisions that occur on a daily basis have been made.

The crisis of traditional information media

The third element that facilitates the opacity of information in authoritarian regimes is related to the “lack of credibility of information monopolies”.

In other words, to the extent that the regime controls the public information media, it tends to be interpreted as tendentious, arbitrary, or biased. In the Venezuelan case, the situation is frankly worse: since most of the private media also participate in this (un) informative game. Either because they have been co-opted by the political regime or because they show a biased editorial line in the opposite direction. Therefore, the consumption of information in Venezuela through the Venezuelan media tends to be a self-affirmation of the tendencies and opinions of one and the other according to political preferences.

In these contexts, for example, there would be no difference between the information provided by CNN or the information provided by Telesur: both are only credible for an ideologized public.

This situation, which could be different concerning to some specialized media or “think tanks”, ends up languishing when we understand that the analysts of these media – even though they could become actors with honestly impartial intentions – generate analyzes in the same context of informational uncertainty than the rest of the actors.

Thus, when traditional information is not reliable or, in Schedler’s words: no less reliable than any other secondary publication or aisle rumor; we are witnessing the proliferation of experts and analysts, who are trying to dispute the monopoly of information or, better said, of divination. This situation ends up being aggravated when we see that the majority of those who present themselves as “political analysts” in Venezuela are, in reality, political operators who seek to position the opinion matrices of their party camps.

How are political decisions made in a context of uncertainty?

The answer to the question in the statement can only be tragic if we consider that the decisions of politicians end up affecting the future of society, however, the reality is that all plans on how to control or deepen institutional uncertainty, are carried out in a context of informative uncertainty. In other words, you are never one hundred percent sure about the significance, causes, or consequences of events, no matter how simple they seem.

This situation affects all “players” equally, both the actors in power and the actors in the opposition. In fact, one of the most credible explanations from the rational point of view about the erratic strategies of the Venezuelan opposition revolves around the lack of reliable information when planning actions and, therefore, quite modest results in comparison to the proclamations that motivated them.

The limit of the theater

The most up-to-date specialized literature on the politics of uncertainty tells us that uncertainty is not only a given factor but rather a disputed field: all actors will try to increase threats and perceptions of threats that hover over the other with the aim of try to increase your own governance by decreasing your opponent.

As we have seen, in contexts of extreme uncertainty, theatricality takes on substantial relevance: for the political regime it is not only important to maintain control, but also the appearance of control; For the opposition, it is not only important to increase government instability, but the appearance of instability.

However, at the end of the day, the limit of the theater meets real power: if the political regime does not make people believe them, they can always make them obey them through the different coercive means available to them. On the other hand, for the Venezuelan opposition, no matter how much they insist on the theatricality of power through the “commissioned presidency” and the foundation of the parallel State, the possibility of exercising real power does not escape the fantasies created in the “tables” of the theater.


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Guido Revete

Cofounder and co-Director at Revista Florencia. Sociologist from the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), with a postgraduate diploma in Advanced Studies in Governance and Political Management from the Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB), candidate for Master in Political and Government Studies at the Metropolitan University (UNIMET) .

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