EspañolVenezuela is a country that likes to play it chévere — cool, chilled, relaxed. It’s the natural home of the jodedor, the “joker” who makes light of everything. And it’s people are no strangers to making gags, despite the problems facing them — or in fact, precisely about the problems facing them.
Humor has become a defense mechanism; it demystifies power; it takes the weight out of everyday dramas, by making sure that nothing’s sacred, not even death, as our morbid comic refrains show. Llorando y vistiendo al muerto, “I’m crying over the dead man,” you might say to someone taking their sweet time over something.
Or, when times are tough but you have to keep going, you’ll come out with el muerto al hoyo y el vivo al bollo: the dead to the grave and the living to the bank, perhaps more poetically translated as “when there’s a will, there’s a relative.”
During 40 years of democracy, Venezuelans became accustomed to laughing at their governors. You hadn’t truly arrived as president until you had your dedicated impressionist on Radio Rochela — a long-standing comedy show broadcast by RCTV.
This ignoble tradition carried on until the arrival of Chavismo, and Hugo Chávez closed the channel in 2007. If Chávez didn’t like having fun poked at him, the insecure and uncharismatic Nicolás Maduro liked it still less.
Paranoid as he is, seeking plots, conspiracies, and would-be coups in all corners, the post-Chavista government is on the point of waging all-out war on humor. Now Maduro controls all of local TV, almost all radio and press outlets (save two or three shreds of resistance), the struggle against laughter now spreads to social media.
And with its predilection for announcing exactly what its next lumbering step will be, the government has already announced its imminent strike on memes, via a program called Cafecito Psicológico on state channel VTV.
Here, the psychiatrist Ángel Riera told viewers that Maduro is up against a “sixth generation meme war,” a tool of “viral neuromarketing,” designed solely to “twist reality and generate depression” among Venezuelans.
It turns out that the memes against Maduro weren’t riffing off his verbal slip-ups, his public mood swings, or the crisis facing the country, including a miserable economic existence exacerbated by levels of corruption that make the other governments of the region look like kids in diapers. No, these simple images with text are actually an attempt to destabilize the nation.
Helpfully, the TV expert explained it all. Why is the government paying the most attention to memes alluding to the Venezuelan revolution? Simply because “the big corporations are using them to launch an international smear campaign against the revolution.”
It’s a feeble effort to cover up for rising censorship. And all in response to memes which poke fun at his claim to have been spoken to by Chávez in the form of a “little bird,” his infamous slip of the tongue in speaking about how Jesus “multiplied the penises,” (penes, rather than pesces, fish) or the laughable image of him reflecting on the shores of the Mediterranean uploaded by his former Communications minister.
Maduro claims to believe that his administration is a success, and “admired and supported by the entire world,” as he said last weekend on a visit to Russia — Moscow’s lovely in the spring, especially when back home they’re throwing diapers and mangoes at you in the street.
It’s the same practice of systematically denying the truth shared by all communist regimes, taken to extremes of persecution and megalomania almost similar those of North Korea. Maduro has likely been taking tips from Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, who has establishes his own office to “troll” all those who take him on via Twitter, and has managed to close Crudo Ecuador, a Facebook page that did nothing more than make fun of his government, among other targets, through memes.
However, Mashi Rafael, unlike Maduro, hasn’t dared to lock up tweeters. Six of Maduro’s implacable 147-character foes have been thrown into political prison: Inés González was imprisoned seven months ago, after her online alter ego @inesitaterrible earned the government’s wrath (and 40,000 followers) for her biting commentary.
Now Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, instead of representing the judiciary, serves as an attorney to Chavismo, warning that social networks “must be regulated.” The Government’s Ministry of Communication now has a Viceministry of Social Networks that now floods Twitter on a daily basis with hashtags in support of the government, which all ministers are obliged to include in their tweets. You can gauge Chavismo‘s true level of online support when, on Sunday’s and government holidays, the Chavista tweetstorm mysteriously dies away.
But what these Marxists who have never read Marx, or still less Lenin, can’t achieve is to make good and basic products magically reappear on the shelves again, nor can they stop people from realizing their huge incompetence, for all their media circus. Above all, they can’t stop Maduro from making gaffes, the product of his poor preparation for rule, and the fact that he doesn’t want to be anything other than an heir to Chávez, a man whom what he had in courage and cunning, he lacked in wisdom and foresight.
And thus he left Venezuela to ruin, the country with the worst inflation in the world, the second highest homicide rate, one of the most corrupt, and with one of the worst standards of living, despite the mountain of petrodollars that Chávez rained over the country.
There’s no propaganda apparatus that can stand up to these truths. And that’s why these memes, an expression of riotous freedom, are going viral: despite the best efforts of the government to clamp down on them.