BUENOS AIRES — In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn (1922-96) explained that scientific knowledge is obtained incrementally, within theoretical paradigms that permit the interpretation of the natural world. But these paradigms, he warned, could at times become straight jackets that prevent us from seeing new phenomena that don't fit our preconceptions.
A prime example is how a good portion of the Left worldwide continues to see Venezuela's Chavista regime, led by Nicolás Maduro, only within the paradigm of dichotomy. They see a picture of rich versus poor, whites against blacks, Yankee imperialism against Bolivarian revolution, capitalism versus socialism. In Argentina and Brazil, leftist elements view the Bolivarian system as a challenge to the IMF. In Chile, the Left blames Venezuela's economic collapse on the same conspiratorial forces that toppled President Salvador Allende in 1973.
The dichotomy extends to Spain's Podemos party, the Labour Party in Britain, and Noam Chomsky. None are taking a truly critical view of the situation. They want to see this as a spat between Donald Trump and Maduro, without stopping to consider the Venezuelans want or aspire to. Their support is thus for the regime, not for the people, as they keep thinking in terms of the Cold War and the fight for Venezuelan oil.
It is a mistaken paradigm that cannot explain events on the ground. Chavismo came to power in 1998 bearing the socialist standard, but it was not alone. It was joined by the military, which discovered that it could perpetuate itself in power by branding itself as left-wing. Thus Chavismo came explicitly to define itself — on the advice of Norberto Ceresole (1943-2003), an Argentine adviser to the late president Hugo Chávez — as both a civic and military movement.
Where was the Left while all this was unfolding?
Thanks to that and to high oil prices, it thwarted the attempted coup of 2002 and managed to crush the political opposition for a good while. But eventually it began to lose ground. In 2007, the late Hugo Chávez (president from 1999-2013) suffered his first big electoral defeat, in a referendum to scrap presidential term limits by revamping the constitution he himself had installed. Chávez ignored the results and changed the constitution anyway. Five years later, and battling cancer, he won the 2012 elections, but it was to be his last last hurrah.
At the behest of Cuba, he named Maduro as his successor. And after Chávez died in 2013, ties with popular sectors were cut. The Sucre district near Caracas, one of the continent's poorest neighborhoods, turned against the movement. Others followed suit, and in 2015 — against all expectations and despite the regime's shenanigans, the opposition won control of parliament. Maduro responded by nullifying parliament and creating his own Constituent Assembly through fraudulent elections. The rest is history.
Maduro has intensified his oppression as oil prices have fallen. More than 400 political opponents have been jailed, and more than 100 students shot in the streets. Dozens of media outlets have been shut down. Hospitals have been neglected. Thousands of tons of food handled by the state have been left to rot in ports, while frequent power and water cuts make life even more difficult for everyday citizens trying to support themselves on vanishing incomes.
As a result, some 3 million Venezuelans and counting have fled the country, many on foot. And where was the Left while all this was unfolding? Where were all those ideologues who have now come out fighting in Maduro's defense? Busy rehashing their old paradigms, no doubt.
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