Questions by the opposition about the mental health of president Chávez were common before his death. His successor Nicolás Maduro has also been “psychologically diagnosed” by critics. Venezuelan government agencies and officials are increasingly also using a rhetoric taken from the field of psychology with political intent: opposition to the government, or even “critical chavismo”, is regularly now labeled in government media as a mental disorder. Opposition discourse is also analyzed as part of a “psychological war” aimed at the Venezuelan people.
The trend was originally set by PSUV leader Jorge Rodríguez, a psychiatrist and mayor of the Libertador Municipality of Caracas. Rodriguez has hosted a public television show called Politica desde el Divan since 2015 (watch the first episode here.) According to its web page description, in the show “political subjectivities, discourses, classical tensions, and the forces that produce the social scene are analyzed, arguing that politics, no matter its nature, is constituted by measurable and scientifically verifiable (facts).” In practice, Rodríguez regularly analyses opposition figures and questions their mental sanity. He explains the opposition discourse as a whole as a part of a “psychological war” waged by the Empire and its local allies against the Bolivarian revolution.
Psychological diagnoses have also been waged against internal government critics. Most recently PSUV leader and National Assembly deputy Pedro Carreño formally asked the Supreme Justice Tribunal to name a medical board to evaluate the mental health of Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, who has criticized the Constitutive Assembly called by president Maduro. “The attorney is showing signs of mental insanity, and her appointment should therefore be revised,” diagnosed Carreño.
In order to better draw from the tools of psychology to understand the current crisis, the Venezuelan government sponsored the “First International Forum on Psychology, Violence, and Psychological Operations,” from 12 to 24 June in Caracas.
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas was the keynote speaker for the inauguration of the event. He encouraged the 11 international psychologists participating in the forum to discuss the “manipulation of information mechanisms used in the spiral of fascist violence now lived by the country. (…) Do not leave outside the range of your radar the extent and severity of the fascist phenomenon in the country,” asked Villegas in his speech.
During the academic sessions, according to government media, international experts devoted most of their attention to the analysis of the “main psychological operations used by the right-wing against the revolution in Venezuela.” For example, research by Argentinian psychologist Mario Colussi has led him to conclude that “under a systematic and progressive attack scheme, a plan of economic strangling, that has also created the conditions for a psychological war, has been stablished in Venezuela.”
The Venezuelan psychologist Fernando Giuliani, also a participant in the forum, pointed out that “the right-wing is trying to create stereotypes and prejudices in order to diminish critical capacity (capacidad reflexiva) of the populace, so that the populace itself will generate the conditions for the overthrow (of the government).”
The idea that the enemies of the revolution are waging a “psychological war” has also been argued by pro-government pollster Hynterlaces since 2015. In its reports Hynterlaces has regularly accused the opposition of “inducing neurotic responses” in the Venezuelan people (In this blog here, here, and here.)