MAGAzuelans: Trump’s last line of defense

Caracas/Venezuela - January 30, 2019: Protesters hold banners welcoming Donald Trump aggressive moves on Venezuela and Juan Guaido, the U.S. backed opposition leader declared interim presiden

In the days after the insurrection incited by President Trump and carried out by his radical thug supporters, I—like many others—followed media reports closely and also browsed several social networks as a way to better understand what happened in America. I was particularly curious about the feelings of those from countries other than the United States. My own review led me to infer two patterns at odds with each other.

The first one, which I guess is the only good news out of this whole catastrophe, is what we all know by now: Many of the same Republicans who supported President Trump all along finally decided to stand up to him, with some in the leadership even asking for his resignation and some supporting the ongoing impeachment effort. They understood—albeit too little too late, perhaps—that the American democracy was (and still is) under an attack fueled by the machinery of lies and conspiracy theories voiced by Trump himself and that cannot, under any circumstances, be tolerated.

The second pattern I identified in my social networks is not good news, definitely not for my birth country, Venezuela. The tweets I saw over the past few days in “Twitterzuela”—the name some give to the collective of Venezuelan influencers on Twitter and their followers mostly opposed to the Chavez-Maduro regime (as most of the country is)—are as full of conspiracy theories and lies, as well as an almost religious loyalty to Trump similar to what one sees from the thugs who raided the U.S. Capitol last week. Even in the days when Trump becomes more isolated by the minute, the “MAGAzuelans”—Venezuelans who support President Trump and his MAGA agenda—are there for him, repeating the lies and accusing anyone who dares to criticize Trump of being a socialist, a traitor, a thief, and, in my case, I even get some antisemitic tropes. Remarkably absurd is this piece of evidence: In the days following the assault on the U.S. Capitol and the subsequent blocking of Trump’s social media accounts, Google Trends shows that searches originated in Venezuela for “Parler”—the Twitter-style platform now preferred by Trump supporters and ultraconservative media—exceeded the global average often by as much as fourfold.

What explains this unconditional support of MAGAzuelans toward Trump? It is probably a combination of numerous factors.

Venezuelans have already lived under a regime that spreads numerous lies and conspiracy theories daily for over 20 years. Although the political tone of the Venezuelan regime’s conspiracy theories is left-leaning and the tone by Trump is right-leaning, they are lies, nevertheless. In a country without free press—also a result of the Chavez-Maduro regimes—social media has become an increasingly important source of news and content for most Venezuelans. Many of the Venezuelan “influencers” that have gained significant traction on Twitter and other social media platforms crave more attention. And being sensationalist—often creating and spreading lies—is apparently an effective way to do that.

Then came Trump, perceived as the “savior” who “will stand against socialism” and allegedly save Venezuela. Judging by the outcome (or lack thereof), however, it is now clear that Trump accomplished very little (being generous here) in effectively helping the Venezuelan people regain their democracy. But his messages (though not always consistent) and some of his actions on this topic, such as recognizing Juan Guaido as the legitimate interim president (with overwhelming bipartisan support), were a source of hope for many Venezuelans who wanted to see, rightly so, an end to the cruel dictatorship in the country. But Trump’s most extreme rhetoric regarding Venezuela, such as hinting at an upcoming military intervention, strengthened the most radical components of the Venezuelan opposition who are convinced that the only way to end the dictatorship in Venezuela is through a U.S.-led military intervention; not only a ridiculous idea, but also an unreal and unfeasible one. Presumably because of this, these radicals—the MAGAzuelans—would worship Trump unconditionally. And now that they see that Trump is leaving office, the MAGAzuelans have become a megaphone for Trump’s election fraud conspiracy theories, as well as the absurd idea that Biden will implement a radical socialist agenda that would convert the U.S. into a failed state like Venezuela is today after 20 years of socialism.

Trump’s words on Venezuela—even if lies—had a purpose. They were meant to fuel an unlikely albeit small electoral base: the growing Venezuelan diaspora in the United States, mostly concentrated in Miami-Dade County in Florida, one of the counties where Biden severely underperformed as compared to the Democratic ticket in the 2016 elections.

The absurdity of this story is that it is Venezuelans—particularly those who oppose Chavismo the most—who should have been the first ones in line to call out President Trump for his populist governing style, which had important similarities with Hugo Chavez (identified by several experts early on). Instead many worshiped Trump, which hints that what most bothered them about Chavez was not his autocratic tendencies that destroyed what was once one of world’s richest countries. It is even more absurd that even after last week’s events—which produced images that are remarkably similar to the attack on the opposition-controlled National Assembly in July 2017 by a Chavista mob—many in the Venezuelan opposition continue to stand by Trump.

I’m hopeful that the vast majority of the Venezuelan people know better. But if the few—and particularly loud—MAGAzuelans do represent a significant constituency in the country, then this is really bad news for what could be a post-Maduro Venezuela. We can only hope that with the departure of Trump, they will find topics to tweet about other than politics. That will certainly restore some sanity to the very important discussions that Venezuelans must keep having in order to bring democracy back to the country sooner rather than later.