To make an analogy between Chávez’s social democracy and the “totalitarian” socialism in Eastern Europe is an easy task mostly for the representatives of organizations and media who side with the Venezuelan opposition. Students and NGO activists sponsored by international organizations have traveled across the Western world campaigning against the so-called dictatorship of Chávez. In the former Socialist bloc they have been unconditionally supported not just by neoliberal think-tanks, but also by former dissidents including Lech Walesa and the late Vaclav Havel. One could only wonder, however, whether in the 1980s Havel and Walesa would have been allowed to freely travel abroad, and openly speak at mass rallies at home? Could the writer have freely launched an essay collection on “The power of the powerless” in a new bookstore in a shopping mall in Prague, where the reception included bites of salmon pate and champagne? Could the trade unionist simply fly over from Gdansk to give a passionate speech against the governments of Czechoslovakia and Poland, at the same book launch, before the eyes of over a hundred opponents of the regime?
The scenario is not accidental: it is taken from the book launch of the essay collection The Totalitarianism of the XXI century. Published in 2009, the book contained essays by leading academic intellectuals from state-sponsored universities who openly declared Chávez a dictator. Before the lavish reception, they all said out loud that they lived in a totalitarian state without freedom of speech. Police did not attend the book launch or later harass the participants. The book is one of the hundreds of volumes and thousands of print editions against Chávez in person, and against his government sold freely in bookstores across Venezuela. The location of the event is no accident either. The bookshop is cuddled cozily in El Paseo Mall is in the metropolitan district “Las Mercedes” connecting a number of wealthy parts of Caracas. To the south it is bordered by hills where the members of the rich mainly white economic elite live in gated communities or magnificent private mansions. To the east lies the municipality of Chacao: the bastion of opposition, where middle class Venezuelans share several heavily guarded square kilometers with representatives of media, embassies and multinational corporations. Foreigners and rich Venezuelans rarely leave this elegant oasis. For them, the highway to the airport is better known than the metro to downtown Caracas: the city center where most public institutions are hosted and rank-and-file Venezuelans live. And why would they bother: following the draconic neoliberal reforms in the 1990s, the Venezuelan public sector shrunk beyond recognition and became just one more service provider competing with exclusive private services.