The Law against Fascism that perpetuates authoritarianism in Venezuela

Vice President Delcy Rodríguez introducing the Law Against Fascism in the National Assembly of Venezuela on April 2, 2024. Photo by The National Assembly of Venezuela. Open License.

Last Tuesday, April 2, from the podium of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez presented, on behalf of Nicolás Maduro, a proposed Law against Fascism that hides in its 30 articles the total legalization of censorship, repression, and the curtailment of the right to protest.

The law is considered a legal strategy to minimize the last freedoms of citizens in the face of the presidential elections, which has been accompanied by an increase, since the end of last year, in the level of repression against activists and politicians, ranging from the arrest of members of the Vente Venezuela party and the political disqualification of opposition politician María Corina Machado from running for president (after she got 92 percent of the votes in the primary election organized by the opposition), to the detention of members of civil society and human rights defenders such as Rocio San Miguel.

Read more: Rocío San Miguel, Venezuelan rights activist and lawyer, detained and reported missing

This new law has already been approved in first discussion by the Venezuelan Parliament and would become effective as of its publication in the Official Gazette. The proposed law comes at a time when the country is preparing for presidential elections marked by repression, political disqualifications of the main opposition candidates and the lack of democratic guarantees. The prison sentence contemplated ranges from six to 12 years, while fines will be up to USD 100,000 for those who finance or promote messages prohibited under the law.

In addition to this, the year 2024 began with the reactivation of threats from the government towards Venezuelan NGOs and activists. The draft Law for the Control, Regularization, Performance and Financing of Non-Governmental and Related Organizations was brought back to the forefront by Diosdado Cabello, high ranking political actor of Chavismo, at the end of 2023 and was reinforced by Jorge Rodriguez in January, with the announcement of the beginning of the public consultation  from the National Assembly.

Venezuelan democracy is thus receiving one of the last blows against the civic space before the expected elections.

What is fascism according to Chavismo?

The proposed Law against Fascism, Neo-Fascism and Similar Expressions comprises a series of 30 articles designed to severely punish any expression considered as promoting fascism, including the dissemination of messages through social media.

According to Article 4 of this law, fascism is defined as “the ideological position or expression based on motives of racial, ethnic, social or national superiority, which assumes violence as a method of political action, advocates the culture of death, denigrates democracy, its institutions and republican values and promotes the suppression of the rights and guarantees recognized in the Constitution in favor of certain sectors of society for discriminatory reasons.”

For this new law, “racism, chauvinism, classism, moral conservatism, neoliberalism, misogyny and all kinds of phobia against human beings and their right to non-discrimination” are considered fascist traits according to the state's concept.

Read more: Presidential elections in Venezuela: Less free than ever

According to the Royal Spanish Academy, the term fascism refers to an “authoritarian and anti-democratic attitude,” including among its synonyms or related terms the terms “authoritarianism, totalitarianism and dictatorship,” something with which many governments around the world have labeled the government of Nicolás Maduro.

A law against the media, NGOs and political parties

This proposal also seeks to legalize censorship at all levels. Article 11 establishes that public, private and community radio, television, electronic and print media service providers, as well as social networks, must guarantee spaces free of any fascist, neo-fascist or similar nature.

Under this law, the Maduro regime also intends to justify the political disqualifications and dissolution of social organizations and political parties that have in their constitutive act alleged fascist guidelines.

Articles 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 are directly linked to the prohibitions of civil organizations, as well as the impediment to register as candidates or hold political office for persons linked to these organizations that are considered fascist.

When expressions such as neoliberalism are considered fascist and that neoliberalism is considered “a form of liberalism that supports economic freedom and free market,” then any organization linked to this thought can be labeled as fascist. In fact, the statutes of the political organization led by María Corina Machado (Vente Venezuela) have among their principles the market economy and private property.

Is this the end of citizen protest?

Article 12 of the proposed law expressly prohibits public meetings and demonstrations called for the purpose of promoting fascism or neo-fascism and similar expressions. Furthermore, it adds that “the public authorities shall take preventive measures to avoid or dissolve public meetings or demonstrations.”

Protests in Venezuela: 2022 vs. 2023: 2022 had an average of 20 protests a day, and 2023 an average of 19 protests a day. Infograph by the Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social. Used with permission.

According to the Venezuelan Conflict Observatory, in Venezuela there were nearly 7,000 protests in 2023, with an average of 19 protests per day, with labor rights being the main reason with 59 percent of the total.

The narratives about “fascism” on social media are dominated by chavismo

The government's communication apparatus was aligned to promote the discourse in favor of this new law, which has already been approved in first discussion by the Venezuelan Parliament. So, what does government propaganda look like amidst the discussion of this new law?

The conversation about the Law against Fascism in social networks is promoted primarily by Chavismo. Although Chavismo has historically dominated the Venezuelan digital conversation, so far in April it has been the only one to position socio-political tags as trends on X (formerly Twitter).

On this occasion, the state propaganda apparatus lined up to push narratives in favor of the legislation, mainly using the Ministry of Information (MIPPCI) as the leader of the hashtags they wanted to position, pushing hundreds of messages supposed support for the enactment of this law in the country.

Read more: How the Maduro government pays to promote propaganda and disinformation in Venezuela

Probox conducted a complementary search on X, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook through keywords on the topic to study the conversation in depth. This list included: fascism in Venezuela, fascism bill, law against fascism and neo-fascism. There were 1,408 mentions of these words between March 09 and April 08, with a peak that was located on April 04, but the greatest activity took place from April 02.

The three main accounts promoting these narratives were found on X, all of them publishing pro-government content. In first place is the account of Agencia Venezolana de Noticias which with 29 mentions on the subject generated 10,184,539 impressions on the social network; then, the controversial Agencia Venezuela News, which with 14 mentions managed to reach 499,534 views, followed by the personal accountof social media influencer @MieloDan which with 13 mentions generated 40,625 impressions.

These are part of the propaganda and disinformation ecosystem built by Chavismo in recent years. The Venezuelan News Agency is an openly pro-government media and directly financed by the Venezuelan State, while the Venezuela News portal is part of the media that calls itself independent but is frequently pointed out for disseminating propaganda and disinformation, having clear links with the PSUV and the Venezuelan government.

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