Following Tuesday’s National Assembly plenary session, I keep hearing people say that focusing on the homophobic statements made by chavista parliamentarians does a disservice to the public debate, because the whole spectacle is but another smokescreen promoted by the Government to divert attention from other more pressing issues like incompetence, corruption, the economy, and municipal elections. “This is exactly what Chavismo wants,” some say. “Don’t take the bait.”
In my unending fight to keep my capacidad de asombro in the abysmal cesspool of hopeless relativism called Venezuela, I think we need to pause for a moment and reconsider the deplorable depths to which we have fallen. Abstract concepts like dignity, respect, freedom of speech and human rights may seem secondary to Venezuelans struggling to make ends meet facing rampant crime and out of control inflation, let’s not forget that those values are at the core of a minimally functional society. Trivializing homophobia, in this particular case, or humiliation as an officially sanctioned instrument for marginalizing dissent in general, is as close as we can get to losing all notion of what is right and what is wrong.
After Tuesday night’s cruel and homophobic disparagement of a member of the opposition, done in the name of fighting corruption, the Government went into hardcore damage control mode. Several PSUV spokespeople took to the airwaves to expound the Chavista love for celebrating sexual diversity, all the while insisting in broadcasting Oscar López’s homosexuality as an example of how depraved Primero Justicia is. Other cheap justifications of Chavista discourse inconsistencies include “Theres no greater example of homophobia than Capriles’s denial that he himself is gay, ” or “Homosexuality is a constitutional right as long as it’s carried out in a healthy way.” (those last two come courtesy of MP Robert Serra)
The lousy damage control machine reached unprecedented, ridiculous heights when Maduro, in a national cadena, awkwardly produced a photo-op flanked by two or three “sexodiversos” waving rainbow flags, and addressed the country (I paraphrase):
Come here, give me a hug [...], let’s take a picture, give me your flag [...] You are being manipulated [...] If you are a participant in these sexually diverse movements, you are an honest man or woman. I am a heterosexual, I’m married to Cilia, but I am an honest man. [...] It’s as if a woman committed a crime and we were accused of being chauvinists for wanting to persecute her. [...] The opposition believes that because they are opposition, they can be presumed innocent even though the contrary is proven. It is unfortunate that the Governor of Miranda’s office has been used as a place for gay and cross-dressing prostitution. [...] He had expensive parties. [...] We have proof but it is too sordid to publish. [...] I am happy to be here with you and to know that the gay community supports me. I am not homophobic. The revolution has vindicated respect for all people. [...] I am sure that Primero Justicia has honest members. The least they could do was agree to be investigated. [...] All opposition members who accuse PSUV officials of being corrupt without proof should be prosecuted for slander. [...] The sexually diverse community knows that crimes such as running a gay prostitution ring cannot be perpetrated in the name of homosexuals, and that the opposition cannot hide behind homosexuality to excuse its crimes.
It really is remarkable, Chavismo is dressing an all-out homophobic hate campaign in a rainbow flag as it fabricates a scandal to boost its phony anti-corruption drive.
And I agree: it’s certainly a smokescreen. But the fact that it is a smokescreen in no way minimizes the grave damage it does. The Government cares so little about civil rights that it’s willing to blithely trample them to carry out its agenda. What’s even more disturbing is that yesterday’s hackjob of a damage control campaign proves what the Government knows full well: that we Venezuelans have come to care so little about civil rights, that they can get away with it.