La Vida Boheme’s Henry D’Arthenay Gives Us A Lesson in Venezuelan Politics, Media, and Cacerolazos [PART 2]

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Yesterday, Henry D’Arthenay of La Vida Boheme shared his thoughts on the political situation in his native Venezuela – touching on everything from the judiciary system, to the vote recount, to the incessant clatter of pots and pans as people voiced their discontent with cacerolazos in the streets.  In Pt. 2 of this two-part interview, D’Arthenay explains the role former president Hugo Chavez played within the Venezuelan government, the heterogeneity of the Venezuelan Left and Venezuelan Right, the parallels between Venezuela and Spain leading up to the civil war and, oh right, a new album due out next month. If you’re not caught up, read Pt. 1 of this interview here.

The recount could’ve been a good opportunity to show that, moving on after Chavez, things could be better or different but instead…

You can say a lot of things about Chavez but Chavez was a great…he had a great concession role. He was the common ground. It’s solely our fault as Venezuelans that we have sold the image of Chavismo as something very homogenous – it’s actually very heterogeneous. Chavismo, yes, was built around Chavez. But why was it built around Chavez? Because it was their common ground. [Now] it’s being sold as “Chavismo; left, Opposition: right.” Sometimes even inside Chavismo, they don’t have their own thing cleared up. People have this crazy idea of the left-wing only being Communist. The left is a very wide range of options.

That’s the same here in the US. Everything is split into either “liberal” or “conservative” or “left-wing” vs. “right-wing.” But there’s varying types of each. Are there anarchists or socialists in the liberal circle? Are the other side fascists, hardcore capitalists or what?

Inside the Chavismo, it’s very diverse, as diverse as it always was in every country of the world. With the opposition, it’s the same. What was the only thing that was tying them up? The left being with Chavez and the others being against Chavez. That was it! Their moral compass was set by being with Chavez or being against Chavez.

So what’s happening here is like losing the best character. It’s like when Friends was over and Joey started and people started watching Joey and they said “this sucks.” It’s like having Seinfeld without [Jerry] Seinfeld. We’ve been living a Chavez-centric policy for almost 15 years. Now that he’s gone, the institutions and how trustworthy they are, it’s all coming afloat because Chavismo now has a challenge. They have to try to gather their forces around an idea that’s not a person. They lost a lot of people during these elections and it was because a lot of the people, they weren’t voting for the socialist project as much as they were voting for Chavez.

Where were you during this whole time? Did you go to any protests or see anything on the streets?

It’s very funny. I had gastritis during the elections. I was puking my whole life out. It almost developed into an ulcer. I became kind of paranoid because I couldn’t move. The only thing I could do was change from news channel to news channel and there was a lot of noise in the street. Two days ago was when I kind of recovered and I started going out again. There’s not so many people in the streets. Yesterday was the only day I had seen people out because of the traffic. Today is a holiday in Venezuela. A lot of people take puentes {three-day weekends} here. A lot of people decided to stay because they’re afraid something’s going to happen.

On Monday, a lot of people went into the streets and started with the caserolazos and a lot of people went too far and started putting fire onto tires and stuff like that. It was kind of a quasi-riot. As the day passed, even the opposition said “don’t go out” because there was going to be this big rally but it was cancelled because they feared there was going to be another violent attack.

Again, this is a lot of rhetoric. The opposition said they had information that the government was going to infiltrate people inside the rally and cause trouble and then try to blame it on them. They were trying to prosecute Capriles until now and they haven’t pushed forward with that, which I found very weird. The opposition says the government is playing the chaos card. They want people to be riled up for something violent to happen so that they have to take power, thus cementing them.

The Chavismo is saying that it’s the other way around. The opposition is playing the chaos card to destabilize the whole country and cause some violence. Both ways are possible. People are more aware. Back in 2002 during the coup d’etat, people were very naïve. During one of the rallies, people got killed. A brother of one of my friends in Barquisimeto…was detained by the military and they had him there with two other people only for protesting and they were humiliating them. They made them wear shirts siding with the government, doing jumping jacks, and screaming government motifs. They released them already but, until now, there was a lot of cases of that.

In Caracas, the only day that was kind of harsh was Monday during the whole election thing because a lot of people were in the streets. Apparently, in El Limonero, which is a middle-class suburb, a guy was saying Chavez mottos and stuff like that and they shot him. There are radicals on both sides and there are not so many things clear. For example, there’s these medical centers called CDI (Centro de Diagnóstico Integral), which are government-based, and they were saying that people rallying for the opposition was [sic] burning them. Apparently, a lot of the centers they were speaking about, they were intact. My mom was talking to me about this guy they caught yesterday from one of those CDIs. They asked him what happened. The guy says “well, one of the doctors had a quarrel with one neighbor about a boyfriend” or something like that and they started fighting and suddenly it was on the news that there was a political riot. Unless you’re there, it’s hard to know what’s really happening.

This all reminds me of George Orwell’s account of the Spanish Civil War and how he learned how propaganda worked. The anarchists said one thing, the communists said another, the fascists said something else entirely, and you never really knew who was telling the truth.

I’m a very big fan of the Spanish Civil War because, for me, it has helped me to understand a lot of what happened to the country. A lot of people…tend to see the Spanish Civil War as “right” and “left.” Everyone had a different side to the story but sometimes there were like 10 or 15 sides to the story.

Right, the basic story being Francisco Franco and the military versus anyone who wasn’t on their side.

Yes but, actually, the Spanish Right was, as the Left, also very diverse and heterogeneous…but in a very weird way. Not a lot of people talk about that. You had los Carlistsas that wanted a return to the Spanish Monarchy…los Corporativistas…then you had la Falange…it was very wide. But why did the right win the Spanish Civil War? Because Franco quickly realized that it was more easy to unite the Right than the Left was going to unite. Can you tell me how you can make an anarchist and a communist agree when one demands state control and the other demands abolishment of the state?

Can you see parallels between these two situations?

Yes. I know the opposition has something in favor. In the past, they were eating themselves like wolves to see who was going to be the one to take power against Chavez. Now, they’re more unified. These elections, if you wanted to go against Maduro, there was only Capriles’ party, which is called La Mesa de Unidad. It’s a coalition they made of all the parties that are against Chavez…and they called it the Table of Unity. Meanwhile, Maduro, in the ballot, wasn’t a unique party vote. Chavez worked his ass off for the unique party thing. PSUV, which is the biggest party of Chavismo and the one Chavez created, wasn’t the only option on the ballot. Well, hopefully things get better instead of getting worse.

On a positive note, you do have an album coming out soon and it’d be great to see you guys in the US again.

Yeah, we’ll be out there soon hopefully. The album comes out in May.