In the Middle Ages, pilgrims would journey to Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, in quest of indulgences to enter the Kingdom of Heaven without going through the unpleasant experience of purgatory or the boring wait of limbo — a theological holding space, of course, that eventually was shut down.
They would travel the famous Road to Santiago (several hundred kilometers, if they started from the French Pyrenees), embraced the wooden statue and guaranteed themselves heavenly glory.
Something like that is happening today with the ruling circle of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. The pilgrims of the Bolivarian apparatus reach paradise, after traveling up the Havana Road, to embrace the Castro brothers, two old men who at their age also have some calcium-like consistency.
What are kids like Nicolás Maduro, Diosdado Cabello and Elías Jaua doing in a place like that? It’s obvious. They’re there to learn the only subject on which Cuba is the world’s greatest expert: political survival.
The Castros, who have managed to fail at everything regarding the production of goods and services, to the astounding extreme of liquidating the centenary sugar industry, have nevertheless managed to cling to power for 54 years, surviving long and futile African wars, dozens of guerrilla and terrorist adventures and the disappearance of the Soviet Union, father, boss and financier of the Cuban disaster.
How did they do it? This is important, because herein lies the essence of the Cuban lesson to the Venezuelans:
First, by maintaining absolute discipline within the structure of power. There is only one head, one voice, one applause. No dissent or deviation may exist. There is no room for divergence. Any functionary or leader who drifts is crushed or deleted, after a public demonstration that he or she was a crook.
Second, an absolute control of the machinery that makes the rules (that well-tuned choir performing as a parliament) and the institution that applies those rules as the rulers see fit (the judiciary, which is only a family of obsequious executioners at the service of those rulers).
Third, total control over the communications media that report on public and private affairs. Reality is what the flunky in charge of describing it says. Contradictions do not exist. One of the state’s main functions is to conceal any aspect that goes counter to the official discourse or account.
To achieve those objectives and induce the behavior that promotes obedience, the Soviets created a very efficient system of warehousing its citizens.
People were placed in institutional stables, segregated by age, gender and occupation, always watched by the political police from an ostensible distance to create pressure and inspire fear. (It is very important that people feel fear, so they won’t rebel or protest.)
After a couple of generations, that kind of state consolidates. It creates “the new man,” not exactly the disinterested, brotherly and hard-working creature envisioned by Marx but a person immobilized by three unbreakable chains:
The force of inertia. Things are done a certain way because “they’ve always” been done that way. There is no alternative to the discomfort produced by that clumsy and bureaucratic state.
The fear of repression is well founded. Harsh imprisonment and summary executions are effective ways to inspire obedience. Citizens in totalitarian states think only about fleeing. As stated by journalist Juan Manuel Cao, communism ended with a flood of people fleeing, not fighting. Docility is a way to adapt to the system.
The spinelessness syndrome. From childhood, people learn that the regime is unbeatable, so it makes no sense to oppose it. The parents, who want to protect their children, are the greatest propagators of that syndrome. They teach their children to lower their heads and obey, so they may remain unharmed.
What more will the Bolivarians learn from their Cuban masters? A key strategic lesson: This is not the time to open other fronts. The dove of peace must be released. To the “gringos,” they send reassuring messages. To the major capitals, they send assurances that no major radical steps will be taken. The neighboring countries are told that they shouldn’t fear the permanence of a post-Chávez presence. The opposition is beaten with a stick and told to shut up.
There will be time enough to deal properly with those natural enemies after the Iron Curtain finally comes down.