Venezuela: Why a government petition against US sanctions has some shaking

In 2003, the opposition signed a petition to recall Chávez, but many later faced government repercussions. Now, a similar idea has been proposed for Venezuelans who don't sign a petition against US sanctions - and people are falling in line.

Ariana Cubillos/AP
Supporters of President Nicolas Maduro sign a petition asking the US to end sanctions against Venezuelan officials accused of violating human rights, and denouncing US aggression, in downtown Caracas, Venezuela, March 19, 2015. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro plans to give the petition to President Obama when the two leaders cross paths at a regional summit in April.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Caracas Chronicles. The views expressed are the author's own.

A few years ago, Hugo Chávez enacted one of his most vile yet brutally effective political strategies: the Lista Tascón.

When the opposition began collecting signatures to recall his mandate in 2003, Chávez demanded that each and every signature be counted and verified by the Electoral Council, the CNE. They proceeded to do just that, with the CNE even asking people whose signature was in doubt to come and verify it was actually theirs.

The whole process took months of political and bureaucratic wrangling, and it was a brutally efffective stalling tactic. But the biggest effect of this move was to allow the government to make a digital version of the list, one that Chávez subsequently used to punish his opponents.

Appearing in the Lista Tascón, named for the legislator who came up with the idea, became a mantra. “Como yo firmé…” became the explanation for many of life’s misfortunes.

Some people claimed you couldn’t get a passport or a simple permit if your name appeared on the list. Many were fired for signing. Members of my own family were denied employment in private companies that did business with the government just because they had signed. Why, there were even academic papers written about the economic impact of appearing in Chavez’s list – appearing on the list meant, on average, a 5 percentage drop in earnings, and a 1.3 percentage drop in employment rates.

It is no exaggeration to say that the list destroyed some people’s lives. The whole thing was so traumatic that even the government saw it, and they decided to put the list away after a certain point. Their goal had been reached: people were now terrified of ever signing anything against the government.

Years have passed, as have Chávez and Tascón, but their ideas are alive and well.

A few days ago, [President of the National Assembly] Diosdado Cabello brought up the idea that anyone who refused to sign the petition drive demanding Obama repeal his Executive Order … would be put in a list. And just to underscore his point, he said that no, that this would be nothing like the Lista Tascón. Today, we learn that the Electoral Council will be asked to verify the signatures on the list, certifying who has been naughty and who has been nice. Because they have nothing better to do …

Venezuelans may be brave, but they are not idiots. Refusing to sign this petition will bring terrible consequences, and we all know it. We’ve all heard the stories of public servants being forced to sign, of school children being asked to sign, of chavistas petitioning outside supermarket lines, or at Metro stations, or when people are paying their taxes. Spanish daily ABC claims people are being asked to sign in exchange for poultry. Why, even some of Caracas Chronicles’ bloggers have been “convinced” to sign the list!

Nicolás Maduro has vowed to bring ten million signatures to the Summit of the Americas next week [in Panama] and hand them over to President Obama personally. I really hope he does – the whole charade promises to be a spectacle unlike any other (Will they be digitalized? Will he bring a wheelbarrow? How much space do ten million signatures occupy? Oh, the possibilities for satire are endless…).

I truly hope President Maduro monopolizes the Summit with his antics. Our spineless Presidents deserve Maduro ruining their precious Summit.... Chavismo has already destroyed the hemisphere’s circumstances, he might as well do the same with its pomp.

But when he does it, let’s not fool ourselves: this is just bad theater. The only goal here is to increase the fear in Venezuela’s population, and heighten the repression of the majority of the country who now loathes Maduro.

– Juan Nagel is a writer for Caracas Chronicles, the place for opposition-leaning-but-not-insane analysis of the Venezuelan political scene since 2002. 

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