Critical Introduction: Chávez’s Argumentation

According to Isabel Fairclough and Norman Fairclough, the connection between language and action is crucial to any analysis of political discourse. In Political Discourse Analysis, they repeatedly emphasize the importance of arriving at “a coherent way of showing how… representations [within texts] connect with human agency, how they function as reasons for action” (6 emphasis in original). This is due to the fundamental objective of politics itself: “[to] mak[e]… choices about how to act in response to circumstances and events and in light of certain goals and values” (11). That is, politics is about choosing courses of action, and arriving at those choices requires deliberation, or consideration of the arguments for and against certain lines of action. Fairclough and Fairclough note that political deliberation is (ideally) a cooperative process that leads to a decision on what course of action to take and that participants normally focus on means for achieving societal goals, rather than on the actual goals themselves (19-20). Further, contextual factors such as scarcity and urgency contribute to the controversial character of political deliberation, and the uncertainty inherent in the process itself is often compounded by the differing values and priorities held among political actors (26). Given this backdrop, Fairclough and Fairclough define all political discourse as practical argumentation, or “argumentation for or against particular ways of acting” (1). Practical argumentation contributes to the deliberative process, ultimately wielding power because “[v]oluntary action follows from decisions which themselves follow from deliberation in which judgements are made about what is the right thing to do” (5).

In terms of the structure of practical argumentation, Fairclough and Fairclough note that it generally includes a “practical claim” for the best course of action, supported by four premises (11). These include:

…a circumstantial premise, which represents the existing state of affairs and the problems it poses; a goal premise, which describes (and ‘imagines’) the future state of affairs agents want to bring about or think ought to be brought about; a value premise, expressing the values and concerns which underlie the agents’ goals (but also affects how they represent the context of action); and a means-end premise, which represents the proposed line of action as a (hypothetical) means that will presumably take agents from the current state of affairs to the future state of affairs that is their goal. (11)

The relationship between the premises outlined above is demonstrated in Figure 1 below.[1] Fairclough and Fairclough note that these premises may be conveyed in argumentation through a variety of genres, including narrative, theoretical argumentation or explanation. Still, the authors emphasize that analysis of political discourse should focus on the relationship among the premises of an argument, since “political discourse abound[s] in appeals to emotions and social instincts… and… attempt[s] to create effective bonds of trust between arguers and audiences by adapting rhetorically to their social sensibilities” (56). For example, arguers might “invoke an audience’s known values in support of a claim for action,” or they might describe the circumstances for an argument in a way that “fit[s] in with the claim that is being made” (46). The authors observe that appeals like these can be “irrelevant to the claim being made and

disguise a failure to produce relevant argument” (56). Relevant or not, “adapting to the beliefs and values of the audience and producing an argument that is comparatively better, rhetorically speaking, than another, may give an arguer a considerable advantage in mobilizing the support of a greater proportion of the audience” (59).

Thus, Fairclough and Fairclough not only demonstrate the link between language’s power to influence and action, they provide a framework from within which Chávez’s argumentation can be deconstructed and appraised. This kind of appraisal builds an important foundation for the translation process, in that it allows the translator to identify the underlying functions of the text they are translating and so develop strategies for conveying the components of a speaker’s arguments. For example, in the discussion of narrative theory above, we learn that within his discourse, Chávez emphasizes the significance of his election by framing it in terms of the great eras of Venezuelan history. Understanding his representation of Venezuelan history not just as a presentation of facts but as a circumstantial premise within his argument whole therefore provides the translator with a more thorough understanding of what the interlocutor might be trying to do with language (as does narrative theory). Further, as demonstrated in Figure 1 below, values serve a significant purpose in the overall structural framework of any argument, yet those values highly regarded in one culture may not carry the same weight and influence in another. How then does the translator account for that difference in translation and convey the same power in translated argumentation? While this project does not yet explore those and similar questions, the political discourse analyses of the source language speeches that follows provides both the translator and her audience with a context for understanding the relationship between these speeches and the historical moments in which they are embedded, along with the relationship of the speeches to Chávez’s discourse on a whole.

Figure 1: Fairclough and Fairclough’s structure of practical reasoning

In the analysis of the four speeches that follows, a common thread noted is Chávez’s tendency to avoid the meaningful deliberation that according to Fairclough and Fairclough should define political practice. As we observe, like any politician, Chávez seems to prefer to instead present his claims for action as straightforward, obvious advances in the transition to a more perfect state of existence. Within Chávez’s February 2, 1999 inauguration speech, a new constitution and an enabling law are presented as two means for achieving the idealistic existence Chávez purports his government to represent. His speech delivered on December 15, 1999 presents the passage of the new constitution as legitimizing of all further actions to be taken by his government. Chávez’s April 14, 2002 speech following his reinstatement to power after an attempted coup establishes a binary opposition in which a small minority of Venezuelans is said to be responsible for the coup. The broad support of the population and Chávez’s earlier successes are then presented as evidence for the need for opposition forces to conform to the trajectory of the country. Finally, in his twenty-first century socialism speech, through prolix discussions on such topics as the history of Venezuelan legislation, Chávez circumvents meaningful debate on his proposals for solutions to the accumulated social debt of the world.

Chávez’s Inauguration – February 2, 1999

The speech Chávez delivered before Congress on February 2, 1999 on the occasion of his inauguration features a complex web of premises and conclusions that can roughly be divided into two arguments. The first is for the Enabling Law that would grant Chávez presidential decree powers in the short term, and the second is for the Constitutional Assembly that would write a new Venezuelan constitution. While the premises for each argument are interwoven throughout his speech, I have categorized them according to the argument they serve. Broadly, Chávez’s argument for an Enabling Law is based upon representations in which society is depicted as existing in a state of crisis and in the early stages of recovery. Repeated calls for urgency strengthen Chávez’s position on the necessity for a short-term solution, and his connection to the Venezuelan people serves as evidence of his trustworthiness in light of the unchecked decree powers he requests. Chávez’s argument for a Constitutional Assembly is based upon the representation of society revolutionizing in support of that assembly. His line of argumentation also hinges on the idea that the call for a Constitutional Assembly originated with the people, when in fact, a new constitution was among Chávez’s initial political objectives. In Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution, Richard Gott notes that the formation of Chávez’s political party and campaign rested upon the need to make a place for himself within a “corrupt… system… weighted against newcomers” (134). According to Gott, Chávez thus “concentrated at first on two principal items on his political agenda: the need to dissolve and replace the existing National Congress, and the need to elect a Constitutional Assembly to draft a new constitution” (134). Returning to Chávez’s inauguration speech, originating his agenda with the people suggests that Congress should not oppose the public it represents. Both claims of his argument have the same objective: the transformation of society into a “true democracy” (13). Notably, Chávez does not explicitly define what he imagines a “true democracy” to be in his speech. Rather, the audience is left to piece together an understanding of that topic based upon what Chávez seems to argue that a “true democracy” is not. It is not a society in which unemployment is at eleven to twelve percent, or one in which fifteen percent of children are dying from malnutrition (20). It is not the contradiction of a nation with so much wealth having a poverty rate of eighty percent (11). Nor is it a country in which the people is not sovereign and the government does not represent the people (16). For Chávez, a “true democracy” therefore seems to be one which responds to and remedies these inequalities.

Within his arguments for an Enabling Law, Chávez’s representation of the state of affairs in Venezuela is divided into two distinct time periods: the past, characterized by the various crises resulting from the lack of government leadership; and the present, characterized as a period of resurrection toward true democracy set in motion by his presidency. As far as the past, Chávez considers recent Venezuelan history as far back as the 1970s. He describes the “moral crisis” that originated in that time period as “el cáncer más terrible que todavía tenemos allí presente en todo el cuerpo de la República,… la raíz de todas las crisis y de toda esta gran catástrofe” [the most terrible cancer still present in the entire body of the Republic, the root of all crises and of this entire great catastrophe] (8). According to Chávez, failure to remedy that moral crisis, led to a second crisis in the 1980s. That one was economic, and it “carcomió instituciones, carcomió el modelo económico” [corroded institutions, corroded the economic model] (8). Chávez likens the effects of these two crises to a country whose wounds are nearly fatal: “nuestra Patria hoy está herida en el corazón, nosotros estamos en una especie de fosa humana” (our homeland is wounded in the heart, we are in a kind of human grave) (10). Representing recent history in terms of a crisis that significant introduces a great sense of urgency into Chávez’s argument, a sense of urgency that is reinforced through allusions to a ticking time bomb (complete with the “tic tac, tic tac” (tick tock…) (21). And Chávez infuses his discussions on crisis and urgency with the sense of responsibility Congress should feel over the public. He states, “…no podemos esperar ni una hora, no hay sábado ni domingo para los que estamos en emergencia y tenemos tan gran responsabilidad, tan gigantesca responsabilidad, con tantos millones de seres humanos que en este mismo instante cuando estamos nosotros aquí, no tienen qué comer o no tienen escuela para ir…” […we cannot wait even an hour, there is no Saturday or Sunday for we who are in a state of emergency and we have such a great responsibility, such a gigantic responsibility, with so many millions of human beings who, in this moment while we are here, don’t have anything to eat or don’t have a school to go to…] (27). Thus, Chávez draws values into his argumentation, which Fairclough and Fairclough note can refer to both individual concerns, like honesty and commitment, and to those morals and commitments imposed upon an individual by society, best illustrated by behaviors one is generally expected to avoid, such as stealing or murder (46). Further, they observe that value premises serve an important function in argumentation in that they “restrict the set of actions that are compatible with [a] goal,” (46). In this case, by convoking the tenets of democracy—that governments should serve and protect the people they represent—Chávez is able to establish the need for Congress to act with urgency to serve a protect a population in a state of crisis.

                In contrast to the crises that are said to have defined the past, Chávez depicts his own election as a stepping-off point to a new national existence. He uses what Fairclough and Fairclough refer to as a “persuasive definition,” or one that “serve[s]… [the] rhetorical interests… [of the arguer],” to parallel his election with a societal resurrection (93):

…como los pueblos no pueden morir porque los pueblos son la expresión de Dios,… resulta… que felizmente,… hoy en Venezuela estamos presenciando… viviendo una verdadera resurrección. . Sí, en Venezuela se respiran vientos de resurrección, estamos saliendo de la tumba. (12) […as the people can’t die because the people are the expression of God,… it turns out that happily,… today in Venezuela we’re witnessing, living a true resurrection. Yes, Venezuela is exuding winds of resurrection, we’re rising from the grave.]

In this selection, the people are defined as the “expression of God,” and throughout the speech Chávez also defines himself as the expression of the people, evidenced in statements like, “Yo estoy aquí para ser instrumento de un colectivo” [I’m here to be an instrument of the collective] (19), and “…siendo intérprete como quiero ser siempre del sentir del pueblo venezolano” [being the interpreter I want to always be for the feelings of the Venezuelan pueblo] (25). Thus, following the logic of deductive reasoning, Chávez seems to imply that as the voice of the people, he is also the voice of God. Aside from the untenable conclusion that would depict Chávez as some sort of an infallible, omniscient leader—defining himself as having some sort of psychic connection with the collective contributes powerfully to his claim if left unquestioned, as it strengthens the implied argument that Congress should forego deliberation and approve the Enabling Law. After all, what could be more democratic than decrees made by a president with a direct line of communication to all members of Venezuelan society? While this line of analysis may seem extreme, Fairclough and Fairclough emphasize the fact that without the critical questioning required to “test… the acceptability” of such definitions, “the dialogue in questions holds the potential for deception and manipulation” (93). In this case, by aligning himself with the people in such all-encompassing way, Chávez at the very least suggests that within the population, no opposition to his political platform exists. Moreover, this line of argumentation assumes that as an instrument of the people, Chávez is devoid of any of those subjective personal wants and desires felt by all human beings that might influence his use of presidential and decree power. According to Fairclough and Fairclough, “When we deliberate alone we are supposed, ideally, to think of the strongest objections to a proposal for action, in the same way in which several agents, supporting different proposals, would argue against each other” (87). While Chávez’s argues for the Enabling Law that would grant him unchecked decree powers within the framework of practical argumentation and reasoning, his line of reasoning foregoes one of the most important components of argumentation and of politics overall: deliberation. Chávez not only fails to consider counter-arguments for his claim for extraordinary presidential powers, he also implicitly encourages Congress to refrain from deliberation in its decision-making process.

Chávez’s argumentation for a Constitutional Assembly is also characterized by a call for Congress to act without deliberation. In his inauguration, Chávez pledges to call—that very same day—for the Referendum in which the public will vote whether or not it wants the Constitutional Assembly (19). Chávez’s haste is based upon representations of society being in state of revolution, and Congress is presented with two options for addressing the revolution: “darle cauce a la revolución venezolana de este tiempo o la revolución nos pasa por encima” [give direction to the Venezuelan revolution of this era or the revolution will run us over] (13-14). Like his depiction of crisis and urgency in Venezuela’s society, Chávez’s portrayal of the Venezuelan revolution is largely based on representations. Representations are ways of describing the world that are informed by one’s position in society and are often presented in a way so as to serve the purposes of the arguer. The time period in which Chávez became president was characterized by political unrest and protests, marking the first time Venezuelans voted widely for independent political parties. Still, whether or not that instability constitutes a revolution could be debated. We must consider then what might Chávez gain from that representation of civil unrest? The New International Dictionary of the English Language defines “revolution” as the “overthrow and replacement of a government or political system by those governed,” and while this action is not necessarily said to include violence, revolution is often characterized by “armed hostilities” (“Revolution”). That representation therefore carries a certain implied threat of violence, as does suggesting that the only alternative to giving direction to the “force” is being “run over” by it due to inaction. This implied threat is expanded through statements such as the following, which depicts the second of the two options not just as inaction, but as moving backward, and more insidiously, as treason: “yo prefiero la muerte antes que la traición… no hay marcha atrás en la revolución política que tenemos que impulsar y que claman las calles del pueblo de toda esta tierra de Bolívar” [I prefer death to treason… there is no going backward in the political revolution that we must move forward and that the people in the streets in all of this land of Bolivar clamor for] (15). Not only can Chávez’s discourse be construed as threatening opponents in his audience, it’s deceptive in that it gives the impression that Chávez is participating in a process of counter-reasoning. Fairclough and Fairclough note that within monological discourse, the arguer is responsible for considering counter-claims, which in this case might have included proposals for responding to the needs of the people within the framework of the existing constitution (92). But Chávez clearly “formulate[s]… all the options… in ways which favour his own conclusion,” (92). Thus, while his discourse is framed as deliberation, it actually contains no “weighing of alternative options” or even “any indication that his own proposal has been critically evaluated” (92).

Chávez also utilizes the “clamor” of the pueblo for the Constitutional Assembly as an additional circumstantial premise that suggests that his claims need no critical examination. Through the inclusion of only a few related speech acts, Chávez paints a picture of broad support for the assembly (15). However, Chávez’s statements also go well beyond the idea of support, as he asserts that calls for the Constitutional Assembly actually originated with the pueblo. He states, “…yo no estoy aquí no por mi, yo estoy aquí por un compromiso; yo no soy causa, soy consecuencia” [I’m not here on my own behalf. I’m here because of a commitment. I’m not the cause, I’m the consequence] (14), and later, “firmaré el decreto presidencial llamando a Referéndum al pueblo venezolano… no es un compromiso sencillamente, es un mandato de un pueblo” [I will sign the presidential decree calling on the Venezuelan pueblo to vote in the Referendum… this is not a simple promise, it is the command of the pueblo] (19).Chávez’s attributes his call for a Constitutional Assembly to the public largely through the use of imaginaries, or “discursive… representations of a possible, non-actual (or not yet actual) world… a future possible world (Fairclough and Fairclough 103, emphasis in original). Fairclough and Fairclough indicate that when used as circumstantial premises, imaginaries give an audience more powerful “reasons for action,” since premises come to be viewed as institutional realities (108). Throughout his campaign, the not yet actual constitution was framed as concrete state of affairs that would absolutely result from Chávez’s election. The members of society that subscribed to that reality even filed a Supreme Court case on the constitutionality of the Constitutional Assembly during Chávez’s campaign, collecting more than a million and a half signatures in support of Chávez. Chávez leverages those past successes, asking, “¿Quién puede oponerse a eso, si esa es la voluntad del pueblo, si es la voluntad del soberano?” [Who can oppose this, if it is the will of the people, if it is the will of the sovereign?] (18). Thus, Chávez invokes solidarity with the Venezuelan people as a value in this line of argumentation, using that idea to problematize any kind of opposition whatsoever to what has been framed as the will of the people. Through analysis of the argument for an Enabling Law, we learn that Chávez employs urgency to encourage Congress to forego deliberation, and likewise, in his arguments for a Constitutional Assembly, deliberation is set up to be in opposition to the people’s will. In that latter case, Chávez goes so far as to implicitly threaten those who would oppose that will. But, as Fairclough and Fairclough emphasize, “a decision arrived at deliberatively will not only be more legitimate, in virtue of the fair procedure, but will tend to be a better decision. And this is because, through its cooperative nature, the deliberative procedure is more likely to get things right, to produce better answers to problems than other procedures” (31). Overall then, Chávez’s discourse, and the omission of deliberation from his arguments, is in fact in direct conflict with the goals that serve as part of the foundation for his argument: “la relegitimación de la democracia” (19) and a “democracia verdadera” (13).

Because the idea of a “true democracy” is central to Chávez’s discourse, the definition of “democracy” serves as a useful point of comparison to Chávez’s government. In “Democracy and Democratization,” Georg Sorensen the divergence of opinions that surround the idea of democracy. Sorensen’s statements on how one’s societal context affects her views on democracy demonstrates the problematic of formulating a singular definition for the term. He notes, “In the debate about the relationship between capitalism and democracy, the liberalist tradition maintains that only a capitalist system can provide the necessary basis for liberty and democracy. The Marxist tradition rejects this view and argues that capitalism must be replaced by socialism as the necessary basis for democracy” (Sorensen 442). Given the conflicting views surrounding democracy, Sorensen identifies three definitions useful in the categorization of governments. First, he discussed the narrow conception formulated by Joseph Schumpeter, which defines democracy as “simply a mechanism for choosing political leadership,” specifically through elections (Sorensen 442). Second, Sorensen presents the comprehensive conception developed by David Held, in which democracy “maximizes popular participation, people’s control of all major aspects of social life, and popular rights in terms of political, civil, economic and social rights” (Sorensen 442). Third, we learn of the conception proposed by Robert Dahl, centered between the definitions proposed by Schumpeter and Held. Within this conception, democracy includes “meaningful and extensive competition among individuals and organized groups (especially political parties)…, [an] inclusive level of political participation in the selection of leaders and policies… [and] a level of civil and political liberties” (Sorensen 442-443, emphasis in original). Notably, defining the means by which Chávez purports to achieve his overall objective of “true democracy” as either more or less democratic depends upon the definition of democracy we elect. If we elect Dahl’s definition, Chávez’s seeming desire to avoid the competition and deliberation on the new constitution and the lack of participation characteristic of enabling laws points to a certain lack of democratic practices in his course toward “true democracy.” Still, interestingly enough, while Sorensen does define Venezuela’s political system as a democracy, he also stipulates that Chavez’s is a “delegative democracy,” or a democracy that “concentrate[s] power in the presidency and sidesteps[s] the political process involved in going through congress” (447).

New Constitution – December 15, 1999

Chávez commemorated the passage of Venezuela’s new constitution with a speech delivered on December 15, 1999. His efforts toward a new constitution were realized very quickly. A referendum vote on holding enacting the Constitutional Assembly that would rewrite the constitution was held on April 25, 1999. It was approved by eighty-eight percent of participating voters; sixty percent of eligible voters abstained (Jones 238). July 25 elections named the members of the constitutional assembly, and in overwhelming victory, Chávez supporters took 125 of the 131 assembly seats. Chávez circumvented the electoral council’s decision to restrict the ballot from listing each candidate’s party by giving voters cards with names and pictures of chavista candidates (240). The constitutional assembly convened on August 3, and among its first actions was to establish its oversight over the other branches of government (241). The assembly declared a “judicial emergency” on August 19, and that day, members instituted a Judicial Emergency Commission, whose task was the reform of a notoriously corrupt judicial branch. Jones notes the extent of the commission’s reach: it had the “power to suspend or dismiss nearly half the country’s forty-seven hundred judges, clerks, and bailiffs because of pending accusations of corruption, incompetence, or other regularities. Even Supreme Court justices could be removed” (241). Accusations of corruption had simply gone un-investigated up to that time, allowing judges to continue practicing. The assembly next declared a “legislative emergency,” which ultimately resulted in the August 31 shutdown of Congress, and although a truce was negotiated by September 9, Congress’s ability to enact laws remained severely restricted (Jones 243-245). The assembly next turned to the business of writing the constitution, and Chávez provided his own draft for them to work from (as Bolívar had with the Congress of Angostura). The assembly was forced to rush through the drafting process due to the deadlines established by Chávez. By the time the vote was held on new constitution, the assembly had had just under four months to complete its task (not to mention that their draft was due in November so as to provide a period in which it could be read and studied). The constitution for what would now become the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela was approved on December 15, 1999 by seventy-one percent of participating voters. Fifty-eight percent of eligible voters abstained (Neuman and McCoy 30-32). Chávez had taken office just eleven months prior, and what should have been a happy victory for the president was overshadowed by the torrential rain pour and resulting mudslides that led to thousands of deaths and immeasurable destruction in a number of Venezuelan states.

Chávez’s speech, while certainly somber in tone given the circumstances, calls for the same speed in action that had characterized the changes taking place in the government in the preceding months. The overall societal goal expressed in the speech is to construct the new Bolivarian Republic, or “reconstruir a Venezuela, y ponerla grande de nuevo, ponerla bonita de nuevo, ponerla hermosa de nuevo” [to reconstruct Venezuela, and make her great once again, make beautiful once again, make her splendid once again] (503). In arguments aimed directly at his opposition, Chávez presents union as a means or solution for attaining that goal; however, that union does not require a shift in attitude among chavistas. Rather, those opposed to the constitution are called upon to reflect, to reconsider their positions and to join “al inmenso esfuerzo que comienza esta misma noche” [the immense effort that begins this very night] (501). As with the inauguration speech previously discussed, Chávez’s claim is framed largely in terms of divides, and in an interesting combination of dichotomy and metaphor, Chávez equates the present-tense approval of the constitution with the rebirth of the country, the tragic deaths resulting from the torrential rain and mudslides symbolizing the failures of the puntofijista government (499). The negativity with which Chávez defines the forty years of government previous to his election is absolute, characterized by corruption, negligence, and an oligarchic, false democracy, and Chávez even suggests that its anti-Bolivarian roots goes back to the 1830 assassination of Bolívar’s fellow revolutionary, Antonio José de Sucre (498). Within this absolutist line of argumentation, opponents to the constitution and the puntofijistas are combined into a single destructive force. Where that force is characterized by death, Chávez’s political project is feminized in a way that associates it with giving life, the new constitution representative of the rebirth of the nation, the beginning of the Bolivarian Republic.

                This new beginning for Chávez not only marks the end of puntofijismo, but of the extensive process of deliberation that resulted in the creation and approval of the new constitution. Chávez emphasizes that process throughout his speech, noting that the Constitution is the first of its kind to have been “sometida a la discusión pública, amplia, abierta, democrática” [submitted to the public for wide, open and democratic discussion], also the first to have been approved in a referendum vote (504). And if that process of deliberation doesn’t serve to indicate the legitimacy of the new constitution, to Chávez, election results will. Chávez celebrates the “gran mayoría de los venezolanos conscientes” [great majority of conscientious Venezuelans] who voted despite the difficulties of the day (500). He also applauds the election process itself, comparing it with Punto Fijo elections in which “se perdía votos, se perdían urnas, se perdían actas” [votes were lost, ballot boxes were lost, tally sheets were lost] (503).[2] In comparison, Chávez boasts “elecciones ahora rápidas, cristalinas, con resultados incuestionables” [faster, transparent elections, with unquestionable results] (504). He notes that opponents will likely cite abstention rates as contributing to his victory. Although Chávez never explicitly states those rates, Chávez dismisses those concerns, instead providing fuzzy “statistics” on the subject to establish their normalcy.[3] His overall advice for opponents: “Dense cuenta que la inmensa mayoría de los venezolanos, el 71% de los que fueron a votar aprobamos sin duda, de manera abrumadora, esta nueva Constitución” [Recognize that the immense majority of Venezuelans, seventy-one percent of those who voted, undoubtedly and overwhelmingly approved this new constitution] (501). Thus, when Chávez calls for the union amongst the honest families of Venezuela in the construction of Bolivarian Republic, he does so from the stance of a victor, his position lately being broadly approved in a now completed process of deliberation, or elections. Indeed, Chávez quotes Antonio José de Sucre, speaking to the necessity to honor the defeated, yet also calling for the defeated to glorify the victor (507). Chávez seems to expect that this act of glorification will encompass absolute acceptance of the changes to come—changes not up for deliberation.

                The new constitution would certainly effect great change. In the report on the process, “Observing Political Change in Venezuela: The Bolivarian Constitution and 2000 Elections,” Laura Neuman and Jennifer McCoy of the Carter Center discuss those changes. They note, “the new constitution appears to give the president disproportionate powers to the other branches of government, particularly the legislature” (36-37). That legislature would shift from a bicameral Congress to a unicameral National Assembly (35), and while provisions included on referenda allowed citizens more direct control and participation in the governing process, they also gave the president the power to seek repeals of legislation. Moreover, the constitution granted the National Assembly the power to “delegate unlimited decree powers” to the president (36). Finally, as the election process was considerably altered in the new constitution, new elections for every governmental post were required (40). As Chávez outlines the changes to come in his speech, including the mega-elections to come the following year, he states, “Vean cómo a partir de la aprobación hoy de la nueva Constitución, cambiará dentro de muy poco tiempo, el político nacional; y comenzará a estructurarse, ahora apenas, el nuevo edificio político nacional” [You’ll see how moving forward from the approval of the new Constitution today, the national political map will change in a very short period of time, and shortly thereafter, the new national political structure will begin to be constructed] (505). First, one can’t help but reflect on the speed with which change had already taken place within Chávez’s government. Within just eleven months of presidency, he had secured the approval and election of the constitutional assembly that would force thousands of judges to resign, dissolve Congress, and write a new Constitution. Chávez appears to act with urgency to prevent his opposition from mobilizing. If that were the case, Chávez’s argumentation could be said to exhibit manipulation and deception, characteristics which are “always intentional and always covert,” according to Fairclough and Fairclough (95). Nevertheless, they note, “[t]his intention [to deceive] cannot be simply read off an argument, and, however strongly we may feel that this is what is going on, judgements of this sort can only be made tentatively,” even if judgments of this kind “can acquire some confirmation with other evidence” (97). Still, the sense of urgency that seems to pervade his argumentation is indicative of the avoidance of meaningful political deliberation would become a defining characteristic of Chávez’s government.

Return to Power after Attempted Coup – April 14, 2002

                On April 11, 2002, after days of strikes, over 200,000 opposition marchers converged on Miraflores Palace in protest of Chávez’s enactment of forty-nine presidential decrees and his takeover of the state-run oil company, PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela) (Isikoff; Nelson 6-7). In anticipation of a potential coup, Chávez made plans to implement a Plan Avila, in which the Armed Forces would be mobilized to take control of the streets. The last time a Plan Avila was executed in Venezuela was during the 1989 Caracazo, and use of the plan against of the populace had been prohibited in the 1999 Constitution as a result (Nelson 301). In the meantime, Chávez also appeared to be complicit in the arming of Bolivarian Circles, the community organizations that took on militia-like qualities and likely received orders to attack marchers (131). Although the president would deny knowledge of their activities, by all accounts these orders originated from Chávez loyalists, Chávez himself being aware of that mobilization, and a controversial video captured of members of the Bolivarian Circles firing on opposition marchers would later be “a huge liability” for the president, as “the most vivid evidence of pro-Chávez gunmen” (263). Amidst the clashes between pro- and anti-Chávez forces, including a firefight lasting over three hours, the president’s top military leaders refused to implement a Plan Avila, and General Vásquez Velasco, head of the entire armed forces, even denounced Chávez’s plans to use the military and Bolivarian Circles against the public, stating, “This is not a coup d’état. This is not an insubordination. It is a position of solidarity with all of the people of Venezuela” (93-94, trnsltd In Nelson 133). Later, Chávez would agree to resign the presidency; however, in the end he would refuse to sign the paperwork. Chávez’s resignation was announced and he was escorted to a number of military bases, Pedro Carmona stepping into the interim presidency. Carmona angered Vásquez Velasco when he systematically dissolved all institutions of the Chávez government, Vásquez once again making a public statement, but this time denouncing the unconstitutionality of Carmona’s actions. His statement signaled the weakness of the Carmona presidency (224-225). When a letter began to circulate that Chávez had not resigned the presidency, he was rescued and reinstated by loyalists within the army. Thousands of Chávez supports gathered at Miraflores Palace to celebrate his return.

                The speech delivered by Chávez following immediately after his return to Miraflores is incredibly significant, presenting Chávez’s original storyline on the attempted coup, a theme that would be touched upon again and again by the president in the years to come. As Brian A. Nelson observes in The Silence and the Scorpion, “the religious parallels of a fallen leader who miraculously returns from the (political) grave after a short exile were not lost on Chávez and he was quick to use them to bolster his aura as a messiah figure” (268). Like many of the themes that the president liked to revisit, binaries are a central characteristic of the circumstantial premises that make up this speech. On the one hand, the coup committed by the virtual country, and on the other, the (counter-, counter-) counter-revolution in response to that coup, carried out by the real country. Notably, through the use of simplistic, binary oppositions, Chávez is able to imply the existence of only two primary “actors” in this story: the opposition vs. pro-Chávez forces. Representing the opposition as a single unit allows him to assign that group agency in the attempted coup, implying a certain amount of coordination amongst the various groups said to make up the opposition. The president explicitly lists only the police forces and the media among those groups, and while Chávez twice cites police repression of the public in his speech, accounts included in Nelson’s portrayal of events point to the police strictly trying to serve as a buffer between marchers and pro-Chávez forces (93-95). Throughout his presidency, Chávez would refer to the people and the Armed Forces as his primary audiences, and within this speech, those groups are said to make up the pro-Chávez forces. (In fact, the speech contains an entire two pages of anecdotes in which Chávez aligns himself with the military by telling stories of how well he got along the soldiers at the various military bases to which he was taken.) Despite the over 200,000 people who marched on Miraflores Palace in protest of Chávez’s presidency and top military officers forcing his removal from office, Chávez’s portrays both groups as loyal supporters, as in the passage below.

Ejemplo de un pueblo que ha despertado definitivamente, de un pueblo que ha reconocido y asumido sus derechos, sus obligaciones, de una Fuerza Armada cuya esencia, cuyo corazón estructural, cuyos oficiales, suboficiales, tropas están conscientes de su responsabilidad histórica y no se han dejado confundir, ni manipular, ni engañar y ha brotado desde el fondo de la situación, desde el fondo de un alma, de un cuerpo, ha brotado esa fuerza que ha restituido la legitimidad y la Constitución de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela. (277-278)

An example of a people that has definitively awakened, of a people that has recognized and assumed its rights and obligations, of an Armed Forces whose essence, whose structural heart, whose officials, sub-officials and troops are conscious of their historical responsibility, who has not allowed itself to be misled, or manipulated or deceived, and emerging from the depths of this situation, from the depths of one soul, of one body, has been the force that has reinstated the legitimacy of this government and the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. (2)

                Fairclough and Fairclough identify manipulation in discourse as “boil[ing]… down to intentionally deceiving one’s addressees by persuading them of something that is foremost in one’s own interest” (95), and the above selection is not the only instance of blatant manipulation in Chávez’s speech. For example, Chávez defends the Bolivarian Circles, which “no son grupos armados, son una organización social” [are not armed groups, but a social organization] (287). Later, Chávez applauds the counter-counter-revolution for stopping the coup “sin disparar un tiro, sin derramar sangre” [without firing a single shot, without spilling any blood” (290). The over-generalization that would depict the pro-Chávez camp as embodying (all of) the people and the (entire) military suggests that the overwhelming majority of society on the side of Chávez greatly eclipses a small minority of opposition forces. And since, according to Chávez’s story, this overwhelming majority is not implicated in any of the violence that took place, the responsibility for reform lies with the opposition. Indeed, that’s the claim or solution behind Chávez’s entire line of argumentation here: that the opposition learn to cooperatively participate in politics (rather than participate in rash, illegitimate actions like coups), this despite the president’s horrible track record for encouraging deliberation within his government (as demonstrated through the analysis of the previous two speeches). Throughout the speech, Chávez issues advice and commands to the opposition on how they might go about this, which includes making criticisms public and truly working and participating in politics (281). Chávez’s overall message to the opposition? “[N]ecesitamos nosotros una oposición en Venezuela, pero una oposición leal con el país, una oposición lean con el pueblo, una oposición que presente críticas verdaderas, que presente alternativas al país” [[W]e need an opposition in Venezuela, but an opposition that’s loyal to the country, an opposition that’s loyal to the people, an opposition with legitimate criticisms, one that presents alternatives to the country] (281). Aside from the absurdity of characterizing the passage of forty-nine laws through presidential decree and a state takeover of the PDVSA as “illegitimate concerns,” Chávez’s conception of an ideal opposition that contributes to the deliberative process of government serves what has been identified as the overall goal of his argument: “…ir buscando el mayor consenso posible, porque el objetivo tiene que ser el mismo para todos -con nuestra diferencias- la Patria, la Venezuela que es de todos” […seeking the greatest consensus possible, because we must all have the same objective, despite our differences: the country, a Venezuela for all] (289).

                Unfortunately, while Chávez states in his speech that the aftermath of the coup would not include retaliation, those in opposition to the Chávez government were indeed persecuted and their criticisms were silenced (281). No investigation was carried out on complaints made by opposition marchers regarding injuries they had sustained at the hands of the armed Bolivarian Circles and the National Guardsmen stationed at Miraflores. Nelson even points to statements made by Chávez following his return in which he declared “he would go after anyone who tried to bring a case against the government because all such accusations must be lies” (256). Members of the opposition who adamantly called for investigations faced violent beatings and death threats, and military personal who had been disloyal to Chávez were forced to resign or even go into hiding, as was the case with General Rosendo, who had refused to implement the Plan Avila. Further, although sixty gunmen from Bolivarian Circles and the National Guard were identified in the shootings on opposition marches, the government refused to carry out widespread investigations, and just four were tried in connection to the deaths and wounds inflicted upon the opposition during the April 11 march. They received minor weapons charges and served no jail time, and overall, the gunmen were also openly celebrated by Chávez’s government. A monument in their honor was even erected on the Llaguna Overpass, from where they had fired on unarmed marchers (Nelson 255-277). Thus, despite the open and cooperative tone that seems to dominate Chávez’s speech on the coup and the repeated calls for wide-ranging participation and collaboration within politics, the audience still glimpses the oligarchic tendencies of the president in the implied threat in his comments on the resignation of the entire Board of Directors of the PDVSA, an announcement that must have been quite the surprise: “Y yo le acepté la renuncia, come se la acepto a todos” [And I accepted their resignations, and I’ll happily accept anyone else’s] (289).

Twenty-first Century Socialism – February 25, 2005

                In the article, “Latin America & Twenty-First Century Socialism: Inventing to Avoid Mistakes, Chapter 2,” Marta Harnecker discusses the history of the term, “twenty-first century socialism,” first used by Chávez in his opening address to the IV Social Debt Summit, the fourth speech translated for this project. Originally coined by Chilean sociologist Tomás Moulian in Twenty-First Century Socialism: the Fifth Way (published in 2000), whether or not Chávez was aware of the book is unclear. However, according to Harnecker, he first alluded to his desire to turn to socialism in a December 2004 speech at the World Meeting of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity. He then spoke of the need to overcome capitalism through a socialist model in January 2005 in a speech delivered before the World Social Forum. In the speech translated for this project, Chávez openly calls for the rejection of neoliberal capitalism and the invention of and transition to “twenty-first century socialism,” the first he publicly used that phrase (90, 161).[4] The goals Chávez references in his argumentation in that speech are at first quite lofty, as he refers to the battle “por salvar el mundo y por construir un nuevo mundo mejor posible” [to save the world and to build the best new world possible] (152). Chávez later speaks to the worldwide cancellation of social debt, a more focused goal, although certainly no less ambitious. Within the speech, social debt is defined broadly by the misery, hunger, poor living conditions, exploitation, lack of education, etc. suffered by the great majority of the worldwide population (153). Overall, Chávez’ speech on this occasion has many of the same characteristics identified in the analysis of the previous three speeches, including a framework based on a number of binary oppositions, which will be discussed below. However, where a tone of finality stands out in Chávez’s previous speeches, or the sense that Chávez’s statements represent both the opening and closing of debate, this speech is distinct in that it seems to be Chávez’s response to a global conversation that has begun outside of this forum. And at its heart, that conversation seems to be about capitalism.

The widespread rejection of the capitalistic economic model is among the major claims made in this speech, a claim that is supported by one of the first sets of binaries that Chávez establishes in his argumentation: the idea of change and stagnation. Chávez states, “ahora llama la atención esa profunda contradicción entre un siglo en el que hubo tantos cambios el XX, pero al final no cambió nada” [what’s notable is the profound contradiction of the twentieth century, during which there were so many changes, but at the end of which, nothing really changed] (158). For example, in reference to two more important binaries in his argumentation, Chávez notes that those countries considered to be developed or underdeveloped has not changed over the course of the last century, that eighty percent of the world’s resources are still owned by a small minority while the majority lives in “la más profunda miseria” [the most profound state of misery], thereby contributing additional binaries to the argument (159). Thus, despite the many great technological and scientific advances that paralleled a period defined by neoliberal capitalism, “[e]n el marco del modelo capitalista es imposible solucionar el drama de la pobreza, es imposible solucionar el drama de la miseria, de la desigualdad” [Solving the tragedy of poverty is impossible within the framework of the capitalistic model, as is solving the tragedy of misery, of inequality] (160). Chávez responds to the many persuasive definitions within the capitalist camp that would positively frame the model, including terms like “sustainable development” and “equal opportunities.” Chávez expresses incredulity at the first of those two terms, stating “El desarrollo que está acabando el planeta no es sustentable” [Development that destroys the planet isn’t sustainable] (160). He also challenges the idea of “equal opportunities,” doing so with analogies, including one that would pit a child against Cassius Clay in a boxing match to demonstrate what he believes to be the absurdity of providing both a small corn producer and a transnational corporation with equal opportunities (168). For Chávez, the whole purpose of the government is to level the playing field, as “para eso están las leyes, las normas, los reglamentos que regulan las diferencias y generan una igualdad” (that’s why we have laws, regulations and rules, to mitigate differences and produce equality) (168). Likewise, developed countries’ inability to progress in any small way on Millennium Goals only serves as further evidence of the inadequacies of capitalism. In his response to capitalism in this global debate, Chávez maintains that the stagnation and destruction of underdeveloped nations is the overall design of the capitalistic structure. It then follows that to empower themselves and effect meaningful change for the world’s population, leaders must adopt a model outside of the capitalistic tradition.

In presenting his alternative to capitalism, Chávez rhetorically asks his audience, “Entonces si no es el capitalismo ¿Qué?” [So if it’s not capitalism, then what?] (161. His response, “Yo no tengo duda, es el socialismo” [I have no doubt, it’s socialism], and more specifically, the invention of a “socialismo del Siglo XXI” [twenty-first century socialism] (161). To historicize and therefore legitimize this claim, Chávez turns to notable “socialists” from Latin American history, citing resolution after resolution of Bolívar’s on public education, emancipation, indigenous rights and land reform. These serve as proof, to Chávez, that Bolívar would have converted to socialism and created a socialist utopia if only he had lived a few more years (169). Because his socialist project challenged the status quo of the oligarchy, Chávez notes that Bolívar was generally disliked within those circles from La Paz to Bogota to Washington D.C. He was even known as the “el peligroso loco del Sur” [dangerous madman of the south] (165). Because Chávez and those in Latin America now seek to re-establish Bolivar’s original (socialist) project of Gran Colombia, they are the twenty-first century’s dangerous madmen of the south. And the increasingly inflammatory language directed at him by the U.S. only serves to emphasize the threat they represent to the status quo.

Porque ahora se dice que es Chávez la amenaza, es Chávez el peligro, que es Chávez el desestabilizador de la comarca; aquí hay un solo desestabilizador que se llama George W. Bush, ese es el gran desestabilizador universal del mundo, esa se es la amenaza del mundo; pero ellos dicen que soy yo la amenaza. (162)

[Because now they’re saying that Chávez is the threat, that Chávez is the danger, that Chávez destabilizes the region. Only one person destabilizes this region here and that’s George W. Bush, the great destabilizer of the world. He’s the threat to the entire world, but they say that it’s me.]

His comments, while flamboyant, unite a number of binary strings in his argument: capitalism vs. socialism, the status quo vs. transformation, Bush vs. Chávez, U.S. interests vs. Venezuelan (world) interests. Through the union of these binaries, Chávez not only aligns the audience with himself against a common foe, the United States, he also establishes socialism as a means to combat that foe. Further, being singled out by the status quo is seen to be indicative of Chávez’s role as a primary leader in the transition to twenty-first century socialism, his status as an expert being reinforced through the didactic approach he takes in the speech. Chávez’s enumeration of the Venezuelan programs and legislation geared toward social justice is extensive, further aligning the Comandante with the Libertador,as Bolívar’s work and his own serves as the main corpora from which Chávez draws examples. Thus, while he states that each country will develop its own version of twenty-first century socialism, he stresses union. And within that union, Chávez clearly believes that Venezuela will serve as a model.

                Notably, nestled into the over forty pages of argumentation on the broad concepts of capitalism and socialism is approximately six paragraphs dedicated to a claim on direct action to be taken by the countries of the world on the topic of external debt. Statistics on the staggering sums of money being paid by underdeveloped countries to service international loans serve as the foundation for Chávez’s argumentation in this regard. He points to the billions of dollars a year that countries like his pay just on interest alone. In terms of the goal of cancelling social debt, Chávez therefore makes the claim that “una parte importante eso sí, no marginal de esta Deuda se convierta en inversión para la educación, para la salud y para la producción de alimentos; por lo menos 50% de esta Deuda” (174) [an important part of the debt, not a marginal part, be converted into investments in education, health and in the production of food, at least fifty percent of that debt]. Monetary investments in the quantities to which Chávez refers here would undoubtedly allow governments to invest in a broad range of social programs benefiting their populations, and this solution is at least more concrete than the assertion calling for the widespread adoption of socialism. Yet while Chávez would have his audience believe that this proposal “ni siquiera es radical, ni siquiera es extrema de no pagar” [isn’t radical… [or] to the extreme of not paying] (174), how he frames argumentation for this claim is not the  significant aspect of this portion of his argument. Let us revisit Chávez’s speech after being reinstated to power following the attempted coup in 2002. Amidst the flowery language on the love and connection felt between Chávez and his followers, amidst the anecdotes on Chávez hanging out with the guys while a prisoner of the military, amidst his call that his opponents take up the ideals of participatory and protagonistic democracy comes an announcement of perhaps three or four lines that the entire Board of Directors of PDVSA has resigned. But Chávez doesn’t discuss what that will mean for the country. When considering Chávez, we must therefore focus on his tendency to distract from meaningful debate on the tangible issues at hand with grandiose argumentation focused on the definition of concepts like bolivarianity and twenty-first century socialism. And, as Rory Carroll notes, “that was the comandante’s strategy in a nutshell: Whatever the problem, tell a story. Turn a problem into a narrative, make the country an audience, and hold its attention” (182).


[1] This figure was replicated from Figure 2.2, “The structure of practical reasoning: a more detailed representation,” in Political Discourse Analysis. See Fairclough and Fairclough, 48.

[2] According to Neuman and McCoy, election results from 1959 to 1993 were “generally accepted and viewed as legitimate, although it was widely acknowledged that small-scale fraud occurred episodically” (22).

[3] Chávez indicates that abstention rates were equal to those of the July 25 elections and lower than those of the April 25 elections (500-501). Statistics from the Carter Center Report, “Observing Political Change in Venezuela: The Bolivarian Constitution and 2000 Elections” by Laura Neuman and Jennifer McCoy allows us to put Chávez’s claims into perspective. The report indicates nearly 12,000,000 registered voters as of February 2001 (out of a population of just over 24,000,000) (25). Forty-five percent of registered voters participated in the December 15 elections, according to the report, with an approval rate of seventy-two percent of the vote (18). Therefore, approximately 3,888,000 of 5,400,000 participating voters approved the constitution. The report indicates an abstention rate of forty-six percent for the July 25 elections, meaning that approximately 6,480,000 participated in that vote (27). (Earlier statistics included from Jones indicated an eighty-eight percent approval rating in the April 25 election on the referendum for a constitutional assembly, with sixty percent of eligible voters abstaining [238]).

[4] In ¡Hugo! The Hugo Chávez Story from Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution, Bart Jones indicates that the phrase “twenty-first-century socialism” is first used in the Fifth World Social Forum speech delivered in January 2005. That speech does not contain the phrase, although Chávez does state, “Al capitalismo hay que transcenderlo por la vía del socialismo, por esa vía es que hay que transcender el modelo capitalista, el verdadero socialismo” (90).