Regencia / Antonio López Ortega


A few historians have wanted to recognize the university and the army as the two most important traditional breeding grounds for modern political leadership in Venezuela. This could be because both institutions have always achieved a consistent balance between social and regional representation. In simple terms, army and university are profoundly representative since they’ve concentrated within their core, origins, creeds, social origin and the desire for self-improvement. That’s where the similarities cease, of course, because the ends and means of both institutions eventually branch off in opposite lines. On one side (army), concentration of power, verticality, uniformity of visions. On the other (university), expansion of knowledge, horizontality, diversity of visions. The other big difference is that the mixture of university (as the civil estate that it is) and politics is not only natural but favors the student (many political leaders start out by being leaders at their own universities). While the mixture of army and politics, at least in what is understood as modern democracy, is always explosive, maybe because the military estate, bound by specific jurisdictions, must always be subordinated to the civil estate.

The military appetite for power – a specter that, as Ramón J.
Velásquez would point out, we thought was buried since 1958 – continues to thrive in contemporary Venezuela and conceals, as it did in the past, a profound disdain for civil forms, which are always more sinuous and forced when the hour comes to find a necessary democratic consensus. But what is most difficult for us to recognize is, when the decline of the civil estate – in other words, the political estate in effect since 1958 – ended up imploding and allowed, at a point of extreme emptiness, the entrance of military jurisdiction as the only sustenance of power in a hopeless Venezuela. Whoever can rewind back to the year 1998, when the electoral choices of the common citizen were split between an ex-beauty queen and an ex-coup plotter, will be able to see the abyss we faced. That a historic party such as Acción Democrática, kidnapped by a civil caudillo with presidential appetites, could have wagered on a clearly losing option with only weeks to go before elections speaks of an inexpressible decrepitude.

In view of what is evident since 1998 – the militarization of politics, of the forms of governance, of public habits, of social orders, of governmental terminology –, it’s worth asking ourselves if what we now have as a form of government is actually simply an exercise in regency, that is, a period estranged from conventional political forms, a hole in the democratic road that’s temporarily filled in while we wait for the historical line of succession to recover its sense of orientation and purpose. At least it would be a benevolent explanation, so as to not speak of the abuses and the patrimonial losses of the nation. Since civil power, incapable of regenerating its leadership, fell apart in all aspects, the military estate, with its habitual appetite, has come to take hold of its possessions like a regent who occupies a throne.

It could be that the real sovereign power of the people hasn’t reached adulthood, but its growth is unstoppable. The return to the university as a political breeding ground is barely a sign of the slow renovation of the civil estate. And in that variegated mixture of identities, conditions, regions, social extracts and sexes at least we can perceive an identifying principle capable of being a nucleus for a Venezuela with no need for militias or uniforms to imagine a shared destiny.

Translator’s note: Antonio López Ortega was recently awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, which he’ll use for travel to the U.S. and England in preparation for writing a novel.

{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 19 June 2007 }

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