Nicolás Maduro Tries a New PR Campaign: Going Woke | #socialmedia

As with his racial politics, Maduro’s progressive gender displays are seen by domestic critics as purely “propaganda strategies,” says Yendri Velásquez, the LGBTQ activist. While many Latin American countries legalized same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples, in Venezuela both remain illegal. LGBTQ people still cannot openly serve in the military. And while Venezuela was the first Latin American country to recognize transgender identities in 1977, since 1998 — the year Chávez first won the presidency — not one trans citizen has been allowed to legally change their gender identity, though transgender people were given the ability in 2016 to use pictures after their transitions in official documents and IDs. Meanwhile, the government has deepened its ties with evangelical churches, which increasingly represent a strong electoral force, and Venezuela’s abortion ban remains among South America’s most restrictive, while the country has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Latin America.

“Chavismo has become an embarrassment” for the international left, says Uzcátegui, the human rights official. Even Bernie Sanders, for example, denounced Maduro as a “tyrant” in 2019 after being pressed and criticized for previously stopping short of calling him a “dictator.”

Yet while some, like Sanders, among the growing U.S. left are beginning to see through Maduro’s messaging of socialist solidarity, other more stalwart Chavismo sympathizers and apologists have recently achieved important positions in American politics: After the U.S. government recognized Guaidó as president of Venezuela in 2019, Rep. Ilhan Omar falsely denounced the National Assembly’s struggle against Maduro as “a U.S.-backed coup,” while also falsely describing the opposition as “far right.” She has since repeatedly blamed American sanctions for “devastation” in Venezuela without mentioning Chávez and Maduro’s widespread corruption and mismanagement. Spokespeople for Sanders and Omar declined to comment.

Although their congressional contingent is currently small, as millennial socialists and groups like DSA make further inroads into American politics, the chances of more Chavismo-friendly politicians taking office across the country — and perhaps getting a chance to nudge U.S. foreign affairs — increase, highlighting a possibly troubling future for Venezuela’s democratic struggle.

“To some extent, there is a romanticization of Maduro” among some in the U.S. left, says Gabriel Hetland, a professor of Latin American studies at the University of Albany who has studied Venezuela since 2007. “There’s good motives: a critique of U.S. imperialism,” says Hetland, who identifies as a leftist and says he remains sympathetic to earlier forms of Chavismo and opposes sanctions. But “any serious leftist should not be supporting this government at all,” he says, pointing to Maduro’s “ecological” destruction, widespread repression and “pro-market” shifts in recent years.

“Institutional violence and human rights violations must always be condemned energetically,” says Ávila. “There aren’t good human rights violators, and their behavior cannot be justified in any way. That double standard to condemn some and justify the same excesses in others makes an enormous damage to societies, states and politics itself.”

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