By Clodovaldo Hernández – Jan 3, 2023
Over the two previous weekends, I presented the vision that my two favorite political scientists and this platform have defined in relation to this past year for the opposition and for Chavismo. Today, with the help of my expert advisers, Domingo Icod, the third in the batting order, I will present the balance and perspective of the part of the country that is missing in the analysis: the “Ninis” [those who are neither Chavistas nor in the opposition].
Let’s start at the beginning, with the sector that is neither revolutionary nor anti-revolutionary, which does not see itself, or act, as a Chavista or as an opponent; this is the sector that is on the rise in numerical and also abstract terms.
This is confirmed by numerous opinion polls, both in the form of surveys and focus groups. But Domingo was also aided by anecdotal evidence; that is, with his own perceptions of the street, the office, the supermarket, and family meetings. Me too.
Both scientific studies and prosaic interactions reveal that the neutral side (to call it something) is growing with an intensity that leaders and strategists, both those of the government side and those of the opposition sector, should pay attention to.
To encourage this reflection and debate, here I will postulate some of the characteristics of the phenomenon that we were able to unravel.
It is not new, but it has a variant
The first thing that can be observed is that the formation of a robust Nini faction is nothing new. It has been around forever, and has sometimes reached considerable size on the pie chart of political preferences.
What is different in recent times is that various currents derived from the internal political, geopolitical, and economic events of recent years have begun to contribute to the indeterminate flow, qualifying the issue with very specific details.
“It is useless to address the Nini issue with the same approaches and the same tools that were used in the time of Commander Hugo Chávez or in the first years of President Nicolás Maduro,” says Icod.
These approaches and tools serve only a segment of the non-polarized: that of the indifferent, born abstainers, political illiterates, philosophical skeptics, and other specimens who occupy a similar space in any society, even the most intensely politicized, as we were during the first years of the Revolution. However, they are insufficient to analyze the “neonini” behavior (a worthwhile term); that is, the behavior of the new fragments of this very same group.
Survivors of no return
During the worst years of the internal economic war, the attacks on the currency, the hyperinflation, the blackouts, the unilateral coercive measures, the blockade, and the pandemic (what a collection of atrocities we have suffered!) a subgenre of Ninis emerged, thanks to their survival instinct. These are people who put political ideas aside and insist on saving their own lives and those of their relatives. We all did, to some extent.
At this stage, the sector of “neither with one nor with the other” was nourished equally by Chavistas and the opposition. Many Chavistas totally or partially abandoned their responsibilities as social activists to deal with surviving in the most hostile environment they have ever faced.
In the same way, a good number of opposition militants, especially after the gruesome subversion attempt in 2017 (at the hands of the guarimbera arsonist wing), decided to distance themselves from a leadership that proposed a violent approach and demanded them to keep the “streets hot.” They went about their business, brooding over their discontent, but without participating in concrete actions or public protests. Even the cacerolazos, emblems of opposition radicalization, dropped in size and ended up languishing.
The individual (or individualist) combat has had its consequences for the Chavista base, in the sense that many of those who took that path have not wanted to return to their collective tasks. After leaving their skins in a fight literally to the death, they have preferred to assume the version of events according to which each one was rescued by his own effort and his own heroism. The party, the government, and the mechanisms of participation—according to that way of looking at recent history—did not work or were, rather, causes of worse misfortunes.
As for the opponents who have given themselves to neutralism, it is to be assumed that many of them have felt that their former leaders caused the calamities they suffered, with the aggravating circumstance that they themselves (the leaders) not only did not suffer them, but also garnered personal and group benefit from them. Such conviction has led that portion of anti-Chavismo to deactivate itself politically to concentrate on its own affairs.
We could label this sector as pragmatist: people who have decided to deal with their practical issues, concrete projects, and productive businesses and forget about their ideological motivations—a great danger for everyone, incidentally, but especially for the left.
Migration bounces back
One of the central strategies of the “regime-change” model, led by the United States and executed (in a very inept way, it must be said) by the Venezuelan opposition leadership, was to encourage the migration of thousands of Venezuelans to various countries.
They thought that with the exodus, the government would collapse. The proposal was based on the premise that in other countries, migrants could see that Venezuela, having a socialist government, was the worst possible place.
However, the approach had many obvious weaknesses. One of them was that, in reality, those countries were not waiting for Venezuelans with well-paid jobs, houses, and efficient health and education services, as many had believed. On the contrary, in several of the nations they were poorly received, mercilessly exploited, discriminated against, and subjected to acts of xenophobia previously unknown to us and contrary to our nature.
A good part of the people who left (and their relatives who remained in the country) assimilated this teaching: neither the countries governed by the right were paradises and the opposition leaders, who later transmuted into an “interim government,” were not really interested in helping migrants either. The consequences of this were disenchantment with the proclaimed political alternative and, therefore, apathy.
Of course, on the Chavista side, there were also many migrants. Those who have been left out are naturally inactive. But others who have returned have also opted for political withdrawal. In some cases, this is due to the traumas suffered from being part of the migratory wave. In other cases it has to do with the questioning attitude of those who were left “putting up the fight” and now see them with mistrust and suspicion, as unsound people.
The entrepreneurs turned
A detailed study would have to be carried out to obtain precise data, but a part of the new members of the Nini spectrum is made up of people (both Chavistas and opponents) who took the path of entrepreneurship during the times of the economic war and the pandemic, and now do not want to return to very low-paying jobs in the public sector or in traditional companies, even though they have slightly better salaries.
This position, consistent with what is happening throughout the world (it is part of the new model of labor exploitation, which is basically self-exploitation) in the case of Venezuela has a specific political correlate: those who have been co-opted by these new economic modalities have had their individualistic vision reinforced and they are not too interested in political issues.
Of course, this is especially worrisome for the revolutionary camp, since such indifference to the collective is the antithesis of the socialist model. Instead, it is consistent with the positions of the right. However, in the daily scenario, the effect is negative for both sides, since it nullifies political activism; so necessary, especially in electoral times.
The weight of corruption
Another factor that significantly influences the political disaffection of sectors that were previously active on the Chavista side or on the opposition side is corruption.
Crimes against public property, to use a phrase of these times, have gone viral, with a particular character: they are not exclusive to those who exercise the constitutional government, but, through the fiction of the interim, they have spread to the opposition side, in a most grotesque way.
This proliferation of acts of corruption has led many media leaders and militants, both from Chavismo and anti-Chavismo, to choose to stay out of the political game so as not to indulge in such conduct.
In the Chavista camp, the cases of corruption have had a notable negative influence, which have implicated top-level figures in Venezuela’s revolutionary history, such as the former minister of petroleum and former president of PDVSA, Rafael Ramírez, now a fugitive from justice. However, as much as these cases have had impact, there are also those of officials of lower standing who also enriched themselves, while the honest leadership and militants suffered the worst of the crisis.
Something similar happens on the opposing side. Ordinary anti-Chavistas have suffered the consequences of the economic war, the coercive measures, the blockade, the exodus, and the attempts at a violent exit, while the leaders of the opposition parties have used all this to shamelessly seize the enormous wealth of the state. In response to this, a portion of opposition supporters have decided to self-marginalize and no longer play the role of useful idiots.
It cannot be underestimated that some characters (from both sides of the famous talanquera) have also ended up in the neutral sector because they have tried to participate in the feasts of the corrupt, but have been excluded. They are Ninis out of resentment or, to put it more graphically, out of sheer spite. There is everything in the vineyard of the Lord.
Opportunists must be considered in order to have a broad overview of the non-aligned block of national politics; it is necessary to include the opportunists; that is, those who are approaching the Nini positions for marketing convenience, because they know that it is the growing sector and that by joining, they can obtain political or economic advantage.
With this approach, various political movements and so-called leaders have emerged who seek to take over the center, which is not that simple.
Beyond the claims of some politicians and parties, there is a segment of ordinary people that has also decided to place itself on the Nini side to capitalize on opportunities and to understand each other without the exhausting controversies that this has meant in past times.
The opportunistic Nini behavior has been very noticeable in merchants and service providers who previously openly showed their political positions (for or against the government), but have understood that they obtain better benefits if they refrain from these demonstrations and try to understand each other. .
These opportunistic Ninis, according to Icod, can be considered false Ninis, because when it comes to definitions they will undoubtedly lean towards their original political niche.
Biggest concern: the stubborn
In the list of subcategories of Ninis, perhaps the one that should cause the most concern, is that of those who have reached such a degree of obfuscation and exhaustion that they no longer want to be militants or supporters of the sector with which they have been related, but neither do they want to change sides.
They are the ones who are already obstinately apolitical, a position that has historically been fertile ground for the germination and flowering of fascism.
The increase in this trend is especially distressing for the revolutionary sector, considering that a similar climate existed in the country in the last years of Punto Fiji democracy, when sociological analyses pointed to the phenomenon of anomie. This unfortunate environment was overcome thanks to the constitutional process of 1999 and the leadership of Commander Hugo Chávez, which brought with it the participation of broad sectors in the ideological struggle.
In conclusion, Domingo and the writer believe that if national political leaders should invest time and mental energy in any issue during 2023, it is that of the Ninis, with all its complexity and variety. Hopefully it’s in your agenda.
For now, all that remains is to wish everyone, Chavistas, the opposition, and Nini segments (including the indifferent, pragmatic, opportunistic, and obstinate subgenres) a 2023 with health, peace, decent work, solidarity, and open paths to prosperity .
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
Venezuelan journalist and writer. He writes regularly for La IguanaTV, Supuesto Negado, and Mision Verdad.
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