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Cablegate: Chavez and the Rhetoric of Hate

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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 05 CARACAS 001789

SIPDIS

NOFORN
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/20/2021
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ELAB KDEM SCUL VE
SUBJECT: CHAVEZ AND THE RHETORIC OF HATE

CARACAS 00001789 001.2 OF 005


Classified By: Robert Downes, Political Counselor,
for Reason 1.4(b).

-------
Summary
-------

1. (C) President Hugo Chavez has successfully filled the
Venezuelan political lexicon with hate-inspiring concepts to
create and enlarge fissures within Venezuelan society and
cement his domestic support. Unfortunately, it is already
changing the way average Venezuelans think and act. Since
taking office in 1999, Chavez has perfected his propaganda of
hate message, hitting on the broad themes of rich vs. poor,
U.S. imperialism vs. Bolivarianism, and capitalism vs.
socialism. Chavez' audiences are the upper, middle, and
lower classes, though the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
(BRV) has over time extended these to international actors
and the public at large as Chavez tries to make the leap to
world figure. Typical messages are "the U.S. is an evil
empire," "being rich is bad," "the opposition will never
return." The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (BRV)
transmits its messages via its monopoly on all state media,
rank and file proselytism physical and psychological
intimidation, and the unmatched oratory skills of Chavez
himself. Chavez' hate-sowing rhetoric forces everything into
an us-or-them binary decision, leaving a frenzied and
fearful, or at best intimidated, population incapable of
resolving basic conflicts. End Summary.

------------------
Watch What He Says
------------------

2. (C) President Chavez is all talk. Like many autocrats
intent on maintaining power, he uses rhetoric as a blunt
political weapon that seeks to vivisect society along class,
political, social, and race lines. To outsiders, Chavez'
long and rambling speeches are semi-coherent and at times
laughable. To the average Venezuelan, however, Chavez' words
have meaning, offering hope or fear, depending on the
message. Chavez speaks as if his words will create the
reality they are describing. For example, he recounted his
distorted version of the events of April 2002 for years until
prosecutors finally started filing charges against those
Chavez labeled traitors. For Chavez, merely appearing at a
construction site for future public housing and railing
against the "oligarchy" for historically denying homes to the
poor, as he did recently, is more politically valuable (or
seemingly important) to Chavez than actually building the
aforementioned houses. While it is tempting to chalk this up
to Chavez' mastery of bovine scatology, we must concede that
it has remarkable impact on Venezuelans. Moreover, Chavez is
going full throttle to extend his hypnotic message around the
world.

-------------------
Haves and Have Nots
-------------------

3. (C) When Abraham Lincoln sought to unify the country to
avoid the Civil War, he appealed to the "better angels of our
natures." Chavez, however, consistently calls forth
Venezuelans' "worse demons" with a simple divide-and-conquer
strategy. There are many such divisions, but we chose three
for this analysis. His first cut is between rich and poor.
Admittedly, there were social rifts before Chavez, but the
political system had as a characteristic two "poli-classist"
parties that were socially inclusive. Chavez fanned the
underlying resentment into flame, however, to propel his
political movement. He continues to pick the scabs today.
In Chavez' Us-vs.-Them thinking, Venezuelans are either poor
or rich -- he all but ignores the middle class. The poor he
calls "el pueblo," a word whose meaning ought to encompass
all Venezuelans. Bolivarians like to interchange "el pueblo"
with "el soberano," literally, "the Sovereign," to imply that
only the poor have the right to speak in matters of public
interest. The remaining Venezuelans (at least 40 percent of
the population), meanwhile, are relegated to the well-known
term, "escualido," a term meant to connote scarcity or
thinness. Chavistas are now using the term as a verb;
"escualidizarse" means to detour from the revolutionary path
and seek a personal fortune (an emerging trend in the
revolutionary vanguard).

4. (C) The second cut of hate rhetoric is between U.S.
imperialism and Bolivarianism. "Imperialism" is a Chavez
label meaning that all USG actions are motivated by the
desire to dominate other countries. This harangue emerged
after April 2002 when Chavez accused the United States of
plotting a coup to oust him. Chavez regularly calls the
United States an "evil empire," though he often adds that
this is a recrimination of the USG and not of the American
people per se. Of course, all Venezuelan "escualidos" are
automatically tagged as lackeys of the empire. "Imperialist"
is a Bolivarian term of disdain that is frequently punctuated
with "fascist," "terrorist," and "coup-plotter." Chavez'
tantrums against President Bush ("assassin," genocidal
maniac," etc.) are now commonplace. This theme was put in
stark relief when senior Chavista Eliecer Otaiza said in
April 2005 that Venezuelans had to learn to hate Americans in
anticipation of an eventual armed conflict. Hyperbole aside,
INR studies in mid-2005 show a clearly declining trend in
Venezuelans' perception of the United States. According to
the studies, anti-U.S. sentiment increased markedly since
early 2002 (up 27 points to 48 percent) and Venezuelans with
positive views of the United States are down 29 points to 52
percent. While not all these changes can be attributed to
Chavez and his rhetorical salvo -- the Iraq War is a
significant intervening variable -- it is a safe bet that his
fulminations against us are having an effect. Meanwhile,
Chavez uses "Bolivarian" as a loose synonym for
anti-imperialism. He paints his Bolivarian Alternative for
the Americas (ALBA), for example, as the morally pure version
of the FTAA, which in Chavez' words is an attempt to colonize
Venezuela.

5. (C) A third cut of divisive hate rhetoric is between
capitalism and socialism. Underpinned by a neo-Marxist
interpretation of history, Chavez frequently attacks
capitalism and neo-liberalism as a "savage" system that if
left unchecked will end human life on Earth. Chavez puts his
economic theory in religious terms, often referring to
socialism as the way of Christ while capitalism is a "Judas
system." He impugns capitalism for its emphasis on the
individual and lack of "solidarity" and frequently speaks of
the need for the emergence of a "new man" not motivated by
consumption. For example, when three school children were
brutally murdered in March, Chavez said the murderers were
guilty of "extreme individualism" and had deviated from the
tenets of socialism. Chavez offers socialism as an
alternative, though Chavez seldom defines this beyond his
populist spending programs (ironically fueled largely by the
sale of petroleum to the United States). Chavez frequently
blasts a capitalist "oligarchy" in Venezuela that seeks to
undo the works of the Revolution (and cut off benefits to the
poor).

----------------
Target Audiences
----------------

6. (C) Chavez' strategic audiences are the majority
pro-Chavez poor, the opposition (mainly the rich and middle
class), and the international community. Despite a recent
spate of international forays, Chavez still works his
domestic base, the poor, regularly appearing on television
distributing benefits to the red-clad masses. Polls suggest
that about 20 percent of Venezuelans will support Chavez no
matter what, but another 30-35 percent are only fair weather
supporters. Of course, it is easier given Chavez' skill set
to tear down and discredit the opposition rather than working
to earn and maintain the support of the poor. Chavez instead
uses his propaganda to stir up resentment against the
political opposition, blaming them for the troubles of the
country. The strategy appears to be working: a Consultores
21 study from April 2006 showed that 60 percent of
Venezuelans do not hold Chavez responsible for the country's
problems. At the same time, Chavez does not forget that the
opposition is a critical audience. He frequently taunts them
with outlandish remarks that usually draw asinine responses.
For example, in February Chavez pushed through legislation to
add an eighth star to Venezuela's flag (reportedly, because
Bolivar had wanted it). Not 24 hours went by before a small
opposition group held a rally to cut the star out of the
national flag, opening them up to attacks by Chavistas.
Finally, since winning the August 2004 referendum, which
de-capitated the opposition, Chavez has been crafting his
rhetoric of hate for international audiences. He never fails
to hawk his anti-imperialist diatribe in international fora.

------------
The Messages
------------

7. (C) Chavistas play on the fears and anxieties of both rich
and poor. For the poor audience, Chavez casts his movement
as a new evolutionary stage in world political thought that
is opposed by the United States and the opposition. Chavez
often swears on his life that the opposition "will never
return" to power. Chavez and his supporters warn that their
adversaries want to strip the poor of benefits such as the
Cuban-run Barrio Adentro medical program and Mercal
subsidized food markets. Chavez tells his followers that
they must practice "solidarity" and "community living" before
seeking personal wealth. He frequently tells his followers
that "to be rich is bad." A priest from Barinas told poloff
that school reading lessons in his state two years ago were
teaching children phrases like, "I am poor because someone is
rich." Chavez tells the poor audience that an oil-starved
United States is preparing an invasion, that he will resist
by blowing up the oil fields and converting the barrios into
an Iraq-like insurgency war. To reinforce this, the
Venezuelan military regularly publicizes its training
exercises to repel invasions, including training the
citizen-reservists in urban resistance. One press report had
an officer throwing a rifle to a reservists and screaming,
"The gringos are coming for your women. What are you going
to do?"

8. (C) For the rich, Chavez heaps coals on their
uncertainties. Rural and urban expropriations may be
publicly touted as correcting an injustice to the poor, but
it is actually a threat to Venezuela's property owners that
nothing is safe for those who oppose Chavez. Caracas Mayor
Juan Barreto put the elite in a tailspin late 2005 when he
publicly toyed with the idea of expropriating the posh
Caracas Country Club for low-rent government housing. Chavez
warns the opposition constantly of a lower class uprising
should something happen to his government, of the poor
streaming down from the ramshackle neighborhoods that dot
Caracas' hilly landscape to perpetrate violence on the rich.
In electoral politics, Chavez describes everything in terms
of a battle, so that his re-election bid in December will
deliver a "knockout blow" to the opposition. If they refuse
to fight by selecting a single candidate, he taunts them with
the idea that he will convert the election to a referendum on
his indefinite re-election. These messages are intended to
keep opponents and would-be opponents subdued and unwilling
to risk open conflict.

9. (C) Chavez continues to develop and target his
international audience, though it is a trial-by-error
process. In his early days in office, there was probably
much more mainstream acceptance of his asystemic,
anti-globalization message among the international community.
After rounds of political successes in Venezuela, however,
we suspect international actors are waking up to the dangers
Chavez' power accumulation entails. His strongest audience,
perhaps, is among radical leftists in the United States,
Europe, and Latin America. While not in the mainstream,
these dedicated groups present a ready crowd for Chavez'
overseas events and can influence perceptions in their
countries.

-----------------------------------------
With Enough Mice You Can Hide An Elephant
-----------------------------------------

10. (C) As pollster Alfredo Keller pointed out earlier this
year, Chavez controls Venezuela's public political dialogue
on a ratio of 20,000 to 1. Of course, much of the private
media is bitterly critical of Chavez and is able to
counteract some of the BRV's propaganda despite a severe
media content law. Chavez' most powerful weapon in the
public arena, of course, is himself. He appears on
television and radio for hours a week, sometimes in
compulsory broadcasts on all stations ("cadenas"), delivering
his message in a variety of ways. One survey put Chavez'
obligatory broadcasts during his seven-plus years in power at
836 hours, with 57 hours of that in the first quarter of
2006. The Sunday "Alo, Presidente" is his flagship
propaganda product, and it reportedly has his hard core
followers glued to the set each week for five to seven hours
to receive guidance and inspiration. Practically everyone
talks for the rest of the week about the latest Chavez rant,
stealing momentum from all other issues in the public arena.
Thus, an opposition group that wants to talk about
fundamental issues like unemployment or crime will find
itself consistently drowned out by Chavez noise, like
courting Bolivia's Evo Morales or buying Russian fighters or
having Iranians building low-cost housing in Venezuela.
Chavez only has to promise something for people to think he
has delivered it.

11. (C) The official media can deliver Chavez' divisive
message with a programmatic array of subtlety. There are
currently four principal 24-hour government television
stations: VTV (the principal news and opinion outlet); Vive
(targeting poor communities); ANTV (the National Assembly's
station); and Telesur (Chavez' version of CNN to an
international audience). VTV has shock talk shows like La
Hojilla, whose moderator lampoons the opposition and USG on a
nightly basis. VTV also airs the cynically titled "Contact
with Reality" spots that portray opposition figures in the
worst possible light. At times of heightened political
unrest the station runs cartoon spots depicting hideous
caricatures of key USG figures throwing bombs, supporting
terrorists, and handing cash to opposition members. ANTV has
a morning show in which an analyst tears apart the United
States over every news item from the war on terror. Telesur,
autonomous in name only from the BRV, runs more sophisticated
news stories that hammer on Chavez' international agenda
points, such as post-electoral stories from Peru in which
analysts predict failure for winner Alan Garcia, who clashed
with Chavez repeatedly during the campaign.

12. (S/NF) Of course, subtlety has its limits. The BRV
brazenly preaches its messages to its rank and file via the
missions and other public programs. Participants in the
job-creation mission, Vuelvan Caras, for example, receive a
comic book that describes the concept of "endogenous
development," re-educating them about how capitalism had
nearly depleted Venezuela of its resources and human capital
until the arrival of Chavez. The newspaper "VEA," fast
becoming the "Granma" of the Bolivarian Revolution, contains
a daily opinion column which ends, "Only socialism can save
the world! Chavez is socialism!" The education missions --
Robinson, Ribas, and Sucre -- and to a lesser extent public
school texts all contain distorted versions of history,
including a reference to how the United States became an
empire after forgetting that it was once subjugated by Great
Britain. When that fails to convince, the BRV also has shock
troops such as the Tupamaros and various "motorizado"
motorcycle gangs to deliver the message. Sending armed thugs
to threaten and sometimes commit violence against opposition
figures was a prevailing practice during the era of mass
opposition protests in 2003-2004. It is still present in
today's Chavista toolkit, as seen in April when the
Ambassador's motorcade was menaced by egg-throwing
motorcyclists. Chavistas also dabble increasingly in
psychological operations, such as staging an apparent
terrorist act of blowing up a pipeline during the
parliamentary elections to suggest an international
conspiracy against the BRV.

---------------
The Fear Factor
---------------

13. (C) The effect of Chavez' rhetorical onslaught is a
frenzied populace afraid to express anything other than
support, genuine or not, for the BRV. A recent focus group
study by the think tank Cedice Libertad reported that
residents of the barrio are fearful for their lives, mostly
because of the out of control crime rate. However, some
government supporters added fears for their children in the
event of a U.S. invasion "as the president constantly
announces." Many expressed fears of a subsequent civil war
in the event that Chavez were to be removed from office.
Others said they are awaiting an opposition figure who will
guarantee that were Chavez to leave office the opposition
would not exact revenge on them. Chavez opponents in the
barrio fear losing their employment or other benefits if
their political affiliation is discovered. Many said they
had ceased to vote or sign petitions because it would have
consequences for them and their families.

-------
Comment
-------

14. (C) The Chavez regime is predicated on making Chavez
supporters hate the opposition and vice versa. It is a
problem that worsens with time, as a new generation grows up
in this warped environment. Chavez is in this sense a
follower of Che Guevara, who said in stark terms, "Hatred is
a factor in the struggle: intransigent hatred of the enemy
pushes humans beyond their limits, and converts them into an
effective, violent, selective, and cold killing machine." In
Venzuela, therefore, to call for dialogue or consensus in
even basic public policy questions ignores the thousands of
hours Chavistas put in weekly to keep both sides agitated.
It also means that Chavistas will not likely let up in their
assault on the United States any time soon. We have to
maintain our careful restraint to the rhetorical provocations
as well as a steady public diplomacy effort to offset Chavez'
insidious effort to teach Venezuelans to hate us.

WHITAKER

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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