July 22, 2004


It should be too obvious to state, but it bears raining on this particular bit of wetness. The government's referendum campaign is centered on demonizing all who disagree with Chavez. I don't mean that figuratively, I mean it literally.

Just to clarify for foreign readers, the Chavez government has chosen Florentino y el Diablo as its campaign theme. Florentino y el Diablo is a poem by Alberto Arvelo Torrealba about a poetry slam between a golden-tongued plainsman (Florentino) and Beelzebub - it's kind of like The Devil Went Down to Georgia only with poetry rather than fiddles as the artistic weapon of choice.

Chavez, needless to say, is Florentino here, while the opposition is, well, the Lord of the Hades. This is not implied or hinted at. It's not an occasional play on words. It's quite explicit. In fact, it's the center of the 'No' camp's rhetoric and campaign propaganda.

The broader political message here is spookily authoritarian. Accept our leader or you're Satan, is basically what they're saying. Only our point of view is acceptable. Disagreement is diabolical. Dissent fiendish. Is this how you build an open society?

The question, for me, is how millions of human beings can be led to support such a fantastic, cheerful surrender of common sense. I know, it shouldn't, but it still baffles me. How can millions continue to believe in a leader that embraces such extremes of scare-mongering and sectarianism? And how can anyone abroad fail to see the catastrophic social rifts that follow when you treat politics likea morality play with yourself as the embodiment of pure good and all who disagree with you in the role of pure evil?

Radical comeflor at heart, I just don't see how anyone can fail to see the intellectual and ethical bankruptcy of such a mannichean vision.