Today, Venezuelans are more likely to find an ad for makeup or jeans than a tribute to the country’s revolutionary icon.
President Nicolás Maduro’s shift from socialism to a more capitalistic approach, a key tenet of his bid to halt a years-long economic collapse, is manifesting itself in many ways, from the widespread use of US dollars to gourmet food. imported goods that fill store shelves. But few are as notorious as the makeover taking place in public spaces that were previously filled with Chavista propaganda.
Gone – or at least are fast disappearing – are many of the odes to “revolution” once seen everywhere, like depictions of Chavez’s eyes, slogans plastered on billboards with some version of the “socialism or death” message. , or huge murals of Fidel Castro and Simón Bolívar.
Most of those that remain are badly faded. Instead, the city’s highways are littered with billboards advertising cosmetics, food, and clothing brands.
“There is a substitution of ideology for the desire to push towards consumption,” said José Carvajal, director of Ciudad Laboratorio, an urban studies think tank in Caracas. Iconic socialist billboards promoting the idea that Venezuela “belonged to everyone,” he noted, have given way to a Dubai- or Miami-style landscape, with rows of palm trees along its main highway.
In many ways, it marks a kind of return to the pre-Chavez era, when multinationals promoted products of all kinds on billboards throughout Caracas. Now “Venezuela, like never before, belongs to those who can, and only a few can.”
The Ministry of Communication and Information did not respond to questions about the removal of the propaganda. However, at least some of the changes appear to be part of a government initiative. Maduro, who assumed power after the death of Chávez, launched in 2020 a beautification plan for 60 cities, where posters from old electoral campaigns were removed.
In downtown Caracas, staunch Chavistas used to gather to watch state television and pro-government biker gangs known as colectivos would gather. A restoration process is being carried out there to renovate historic theaters and colonial houses. Nearly empty is a section of Plaza Bolívar where such intense debates about socialist politics raged that the area earned the nickname hot corner.
“The hot corner? That got cold!” said Ramiro Hernández, 72, who buys gold jewelry on the street. He sits next to the empty area, surrounded by old buildings that now house cafes and restaurants.
That is not to say that propaganda has completely disappeared. Many traditional symbols of Chavismo appear in state media and on government social media accounts.
Maduro is even portrayed as a socialist superhero in a 1970s Hanna-Barbera-style cartoon broadcast on state television. His character, Super Bigote, fights against hyperinflation and foils coups.
Some staunch Chavistas, like Luis Meza, feel this is a destruction of Chavez’s legacy.
Meza, a 68-year-old retiree who worked at the state publishing house, used to organize popular political rallies near his home in Catia, a working-class neighborhood in western Caracas.
He has tried to restore Chavez’s memory in his garage, which is filled with all sorts of memorabilia collected over the last quarter century: dolls, posters, newspaper clippings. But few are interested in reunions or memories these days, he said.
“It’s as if the government wanted to erase Chavez from people’s memory.”