The president’s decision to decree a paid day off from work on 2 February, and to deploy thousands of heavily armed National Guard troops nationally to enforce his decree, was a test to determine levels of popular resistance to arbitrary measures aimed at repressing and cowing the populace.
And the test was partially successful.
Everyone we observed yesterday on the streets of the commercial Sabana Grande district in Caracas was visibly scared and intimidated by the presence of dozens of National Guard troops and Metropolitan Police who were “reinforced” by hundreds of red-shirted “chavistas.”
But the fear we observed also was mixed visibly with anger. Most people were simultaneously scared and angry at the abuses directed against them by the thuggish mob of guardsmen, cops and chavistas.
The paid-day-off-at-gunpoint showed President Hugo Chavez that he probably has a very good chance of steadily escalating the state’s repressive mechanisms against the public over the coming months.
Most people yesterday were cowed and intimidated by the state’s show of armed force and mob rule.
More state repression will be President Chavez’s first response to growing public outrage at the steep economic downturn, soaring inflation and widespread shortages of everything which the country will suffer this year.
But Chavez also may have committed a strategic and tactical mistake. Yesterday’s repressive government measures to enforce the capricious whims of a power-drunk tyrant also raised red flags among millions of Venezuelans.
It remains to be seen over the coming months whether fear or rage will be the public’s predominant response.
Whether Chavez wins or loses his 15 February referendum on perpetual re-election, it’s certain that state repression against the people will escalate quickly during 2009-2010.
However, it’s 100% certain that if Chavez loses the referendum, the government’s repression of the people will be more ferocious than if he wins.
How long will Venezuelans tolerate state repression? That’s difficult to predict.
Venezuelans are a curious people. They have a collective cultural passivity in the face of constant abuses which amazes foreign visitors. A longtime Venezuelan friend explains this passivity in anthropological and ethnic terms.
The average Venezuelan is of mixed race, with strong indigenous and African ethnic and cultural strains, she says.
“Indian and African slaves in Venezuela endured centuries of forced servitude, slavery and genocide inflicted by their masters,” she explains. “They were forced on pain of extinction to be patient and endure. But eventually the pressures within us grow so large that a social explosion occurs. This happened in 1958 when Perez Jimenez was overthrown, in 1989 when the ‘caracazo’ happened, and in 1992 when the two failed coups happened. And I believe it will happen again sooner than anyone including Chavez anticipates.”