In an effort to consolidate his power, Nicolás Maduro cracks down on left-wing activists who previously supported him and speaks out against corruption.
The host of The People in Combat, a popular radio show, had always praised Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, even as millions of citizens were sinking into misery under the rule of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. But this summer, when a gasoline shortage crippled his remote fishing village, he deviated from the party line.
On his show, longtime socialist José Carmelo Bislick accused local party leaders of profiting from his access to fuel, leaving most people waiting for days at empty gas stations.
Only a few weeks have passed since the complaint when, on the night of August 17, four masked and armed men broke into Bislick’s house and told him that he “ate the light”, a phrase that indicates that someone has run a traffic light Red. They then beat him and dragged him away in front of his family. Hours later they found him dead with gunshot wounds, and wearing his favorite Che Guevara shirt.
Bislick’s murderers are still at large in that city of 30,000 inhabitants, where everyone knew him and knew that he had dedicated his life to the Bolivarian revolution. The town’s socialist mayor never spoke of the murder or visited his relatives, who said his death was politically motivated.
“Is reporting so ugly as to cost the life of a man who only sought social welfare?” Asks Rosmery, the announcer’s sister.
Bislick’s death appears to be part of a wave of repression against left-wing activists marginalized by Maduro, who aims to consolidate his power in the December parliamentarians. The vote is boycotted by the opposition, which discovers that there will be fraud.
Having dismantled dissident parties, Maduro has targeted his security apparatus at disillusioned ideological allies. “Whoever makes a criticism first puts you on the side of opposition parties, of the right, they call you a traitor,” said Ares Di Fazio, a former urban guerrilla and leader of the far-left Tupamaros Party, was dismantled by the government after having expressed his discontent.
Security forces have cracked down on traditional government supporters who in recent months flooded the streets of provincial cities to denounce the collapse of public services. Officials who denounce corruption are accused of sabotage.
Members of the ruling electoral alliance who decided to run as independents are disqualified. Those who persevere are harassed by the police or accused of spurious crimes.
In part, the internal repression is the result of Maduro’s decision to abandon Hugo Chávez’s distributional policies, in favor of what amounts to crony capitalism. The change legalized the black market economy in Venezuela, sanctifying widespread corruption and allowing Maduro to maintain the loyalty of the military and businessmen who benefit from the new economic order.
The result has been a jarring chasm between the official rhetoric, which blames the national collapse on US sanctions, and the extravagant lives of ruling elites in supermarkets and luxury car showrooms. “There is a blockade for some and still lifes for others,” said Oswaldo Rivero, a left-wing activist and national television presenter, in reference to the stores where imported luxury products are sold, who for years promoted attacks on the opposition from his program .
To those who question that, “they turn firewood,” said Rivero, who says they now call him a traitor and have threatened him on social media for speaking out against corruption.
For the past two decades, left-wing parties represented by activists like Rivero had helped Chávez, and later Maduro, to stay in power.
Those political movements, some of which date back to Cold War-era insurrections, campaigned on behalf of Maduro’s candidates, mobilized supporters for government marches, and at times harassed opposition groups. His message of radical change resonated in the shantytowns and rural settlements of Venezuela fed up with entrenched inequality.
But these allies became increasingly disillusioned with Maduro’s authoritarianism and corruption. This year, for the first time, they decided to present their own candidates to the assembly. Maduro responded quickly to the challenge.
In August, the judges of the Supreme Court of Justice installed Maduro loyalists in the leadership of the Tupamaros and three other small dissident parties. Police detained Tupamaros chief José Pinto on unsubstantiated murder charges, harassed leaders of the Communist Party of Venezuela, and briefly detained a 73-year-old veteran dissident, Rafael Uzcátegui, accused of having visited a brothel. All the defendants have described the cases as a political persecution.