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Hyperpoliticized authoritarian institutions: the godfathers have arrived

Since Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez became president of Venezuela, the loss of institutionality has been a constant. Indeed, the subordination of the powers of the State to the executive, the domestication of the judiciary and the armed forces and the conception of the government as an entity dependent on the ruling political party has been the norm.

Thus, one of the most aberrant practices in terms of government management has been privileging political reason over the administrative structure of the State. One of the most notable cases occurred in 2008, when Antonio Ledezma was elected by popular vote as metropolitan mayor of Caracas. A few months into its tenure, the central government deprived the Mayor’s Office of the budgetary resources that corresponded to it and that were established in the legal framework, also proceeding to the creation, through a presidential decree, of a Single Authority for the Capital District, which assumed a large number of the ordinary powers of the Metropolitan Mayor’s Office, restricting its capabilities almost exclusively to the payment of payroll salaries.

The deprivation of powers and capacities of the Metropolitan Mayor’s Office of Caracas was the first test of this modality of ignorance of the will of the voter, so that if an election was won by a force other than the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the next step was to put into practice this operation of castration of the elected institution to subsequently create a supposed authority, outside the Constitution and the laws, which would receive the budgetary resources corresponding to the entity in question.

In this way, for each opposition governor who was elected, the government “assigned” a parallel authority, called with the singular name of “protector”, which in practice limited the powers of the governors. This occurred in the states of Miranda, Anzoátegui, Nueva Esparta, Táchira and Mérida.

On the occasion of the elections for mayors and governors in November 2021, Maduro had promised not to resort to the figure of the “protector.” «Starting from these elections, I think the best thing is that, whoever wins, they get the government in their state, in their municipality. We are going to eliminate what we have called protectorate, by state and municipality, so that whoever wins, wins. Let them govern and that’s it. Let’s see how they do,” he declared in June of that year.

However, recently, Nicolas Maduro announced the relaunch of this mechanism, which now receives a new name: these are “godfathers” and “godmothers” who will take care of the twenty-three states and the capital district. The functions of these authorities are diffuse, and Maduro points out in his announcement that it will be their duty to “listen to the people, serve them…”. Later, however, he highlights other functions of these commissioners sent from the central power: they must supervise the operation “1 x 10”, which is a mechanism to guarantee the official vote in the elections that must take place this year, as well as they will ensure the “bricomiles”, military community brigades for education and health, whose real operation is linked to reinforcing the electoral operation “1 x 10”.

The so-called godfathers and godmothers are all high government officials, the vast majority of whom are ministers. It is clear that this new structure is plagued with problems. On the one hand, it lacks legal support, and this allows us to foresee a high propensity for them to generate expenses outside the framework of the administration and, therefore, outside the budgetary control mechanisms. On the other hand, the proposed scheme implies a dedication of the administration to the electoral campaign, which is in itself a violation of the legislation, as it represents a use of public resources in favor of a political group.

But there are more unfortunate consequences of this operation that openly promotes the conception of the party-state: if the ministers dedicate themselves full time to the electoral campaign, who directs the ministries? Who oversees the development of public policies?

A final comment is appropriate to this absurdity of the regime led by Nicolás Maduro: in authoritarianism the citizen is minimized, he is trivialized. Thus, a helpless, almost defenseless citizen, who has been deliberately driven to poverty, needs “protectors” and “godfathers.” The government reminds this citizen that he is not a person endowed with capabilities, initiatives, and rights, but rather someone who requires a godfather from whom he can submissively ask for the most basic things, shelter or food, in order to live.

The international community has seen the possibility of a competitive, free, and fair presidential election in 2024, as outlined in the constitution, receding. There are only ten months left of this year and there is no defined date for the election, nor for a massive opening of the electoral registry, nor the forecasts for the vote of the millions of Venezuelans abroad. These “godfathers” are one more sign of the inequality and advantage that has characterized Venezuelan elections so far in the 21st century.