We will see their faces over the following days: the people –by the hundreds of thousands– who are crying for Hugo Chávez. It would be petty to dismiss them just because we disagree with almost everything that the Venezuelan president stood for.
The sad truth is that many who opposed Chávez did ignore those Venezuelans for years. When Chávez jumped from 3,673,685 votes in the 1998 presidential election to 7,309,080 in 2006, many people screamed fraud, because they couldn't understand where those votes were coming from. What they didn't see is that Chávez had spent his first years in government registering hundreds of thousands of Venezuela’s poor, who until then had never voted (Chávez was first elected by the middle class, who were tired of the corruption and inefficiency of the old political parties, not by the poor who would later support him).
When the opposition spotted people called Batman or Superman in the voting lists, they thought they’d found the smoking gun they had been looking for –but the joke was on them when the government unearthed these voters and proved they were real despite their cartoonish names.
For many who opposed Chavez, it was easier to question the Batmans and Supermans, and claim fraud, than to accept that the political class that represented them had for decades ignored and marginalized a majority of Venezuelans. So whenever Jimmy Carter and or the OAS put their seal of approval on Venezuelan elections, they were accused of conspiring with Chávez.
None of this is to say that Chávez was not a corrupt and authoritarian charlatan that abused his office, bent the rules of democracy like a magician, disrespected the Constitution almost on a daily basis, and followed democracy only when it benefited him (best example of this: when an opposition politician was elected mayor of Caracas, the President let him be sworn in but then took away his office, responsibilities and budget and gave them to a hand-picked Chávez supporter). But despite all of this, Chávez did have a majority and they are now crying for him. Understanding who these people are and why they supported the President is necessary if there is ever going to be a real reconciliation in Venezuela.
The innocent. Being the optimist that I am, I choose to believe that these are the majority of Chavez’s supporters. They have no idea of what a democracy should look like, or what they should expect from a proper government. They just know that for the first time a President looks like them and talks like them: he goes on national TV and sings, dances and speaks about that time he almost didn’t make it in time to the toilet… Maybe they’ve only received a red t-shirt from Chávez, or just the hope of one day being handed the keys to a new house (even if it’s an apartment in an 18-floor building with no elevators), but it is still more than most of them ever got from previous governments. That’s why one of their favorites slogans was: “Hungry and with no job, I stick to Chavez”. How do you convince them that the man was not a saint?
The opportunists. These are the people that are getting rich off the “revolution”. From the “socialist” ministers whose children go shopping in New York, to the businessmen that make the red caps, red t-shirts and anything else you can imagine being made in the color red. They are the boli-bourgeois who shuddered every time Chávez spoke of Socialism and “communes”, and who drove around in Hummers and armored cars, buying for cheap the homes and businesses of the old elite. Today, as the crocodile tears trickle down their face, they are actually wondering how they can keep doing business in a government led by Nicolás Maduro.
The cynics. They believe in no one –and care about no one– but themselves. They’ve spent the last 14 years figuring out how to survive under Chávez, so now they are worried about changes. These are the people who will rather go off to the beach or a mall than vote. They have seen the opposition mess up so many times, that they really have no reason to choose them over Chávez. They couldn't care less about democracy, rule of law or human rights. Give them a new smartphone or a car, and they are happy. So now they aren’t really crying for the dead President as much as for concern over their own wellbeing.
The lefties. Before Chávez first took office, they spent decades dreaming of what a left-wing government would be like. So they revelled when it was finally their turn to lead Venezuela –even if many of them suspected that Chávez wasn’t a real socialist, and they were disgusted by the corruption of the opportunists. Since most of the lefties had spent their lives reading books and daydreaming, instead of having proper jobs, they ended up being a mess when it came to planning and carrying out government policies. We have them to thank for the regular power failures, crumbling roads and nightmarish economy. Not surprisingly, many of them have joined the ranks of the opportunists.
The anarchists. They are the people who, seeing how Chavez broke the law every single day, felt they also had a right to do how they pleased. The list includes those directly responsible for last year's 22,000 homicides, the gang leaders in the “barrios”, the police that moonlight as kidnappers, the mobsters that rule the prisons... They will surely miss a President saying that it is all right to go out and rob if you are hungry or needy.