Members and supporters of Venezuelan right-wing movements pushed anti-Guaidó and anti-Maduro hashtags on Twitter, as well as requests for Donald Trump to perform a military intervention in Venezuela. The campaign also deceptively described Juan Guaidó as a supporter of the Maduro regime.
The hashtags illustrate that, in addition to the power struggle against Maduro, Guaidó has to face an added challenge in establishing his leadership: a divided opposition. The opposition in Venezuela has historically been characterized by a culture of political in-fighting and a failure to coalesce as a united front to oust the government: first the Chavez regime, then the Maduro regime. These tensions are now playing out online, as far-right opposition groups mount an online offense against Guaidó.
The accounts promoted nine hashtags in January and February as a means of portraying themselves as the competent opposition that can put an end to the Maduro regime, assuming they receive foreign military assistance. The accounts used different events to push the hashtags, notably an international counterterrorism ministerial meeting in the beginning of January and Guaidó’s meetings with the U.S. President Donald Trump in February.
Links to terrorism
After the death of Qasem Soleimani, major general of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the U.S. Department of Defense announced on January 3, the governments of Colombia and the United States claimed that the Maduro regime was the main ally of the Iranian regime and Hezbollah’s militant wing in Latin America. This was later discussed in the Third Western Hemisphere Counterterrorism Ministerial in Bogotá, Colombia, on January 20, during which U.S. authorities also linked Maduro to armed Colombian groups such as disidencias de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (“Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces dissidents”) and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (“National Liberation Army”), more commonly known by their acronyms, FARC and ELN respectively
Between January 9 and January 11, right-wing accounts promoted the hashtag #ChavismoEsTerrorismo (“ChavismIsTerrorism”). The tweets using the hashtag claimed that it was necessary to convince the world that the Maduro regime was a terrorist organization in order for a military intervention to be an acceptable option. Some accounts also claimed that Guaidó was not pushing for a military intervention because that would mean he would also lose power in Venezuela.
Guaidó in the United States
Right-wing Twitter accounts started calling for a military intervention again while Guaidó was in the United States, where he had a private meeting to with Trump. He also received a standing ovation in the State of the Union Address, which he attended with an invitation from the U.S. president.
These events coincided with the hashtags #NecesitamosAyudaMilitar (“We need military support”), #LaSolucionEsLaAyudaMilitar (“The solution is military support”) and #SocialismoDestruyeNaciones (“Socialism destroys nations”). The latter was used in an attempt to call for Trump’s attention to the situation in Venezuela.
The hashtags gathered 104,239 mentions (tweets and retweets) between January 9, 2020, and February 13, 2020, according to a Brandwatch query. The hashtags with more mentions were #NecesitamosAyudaMilitarYA, with 22,629 mentions, and #ChavismoEsTerrorismo, with 21,878 mentions. According to Trendinalia, all three hashtags reached the country’s trending topics on Twitter.
Also reaching the trending topics was the hashtag “FueraSocialistasMUDyPSUV” (“Go away socialists, MUD [Democratic Unity Board] and PSUV [United Socialist Party of Venezuela]”) trended on January 12. This hashtag was used to attack not only PSUV — Maduro’s political party — but also Guaidó’s political coalition, in part by misleadingly claiming that Guaidó supported Maduro and saying the former to be a member of the “false opposition.”
Guaidó’s most recent political affiliation was with Unidad Venezuela, a rechristened and reorganized MUD, which itself was created as an opposition coalition against Hugo Chavez (and Chavismo in general). According to Spanish news outlet El País, MUD dissolved in 2018. Unidad Venezuela, as with MUD, is a coalition and includes progressive social-democratic political party Voluntad Popular, from which Guaidó resigned as a member when he assumed the presidency of the National Assembly on January 5, 2020.
The top 1 percent of most active accounts (193 of 19,318 accounts) tweeted 47 percent of the total tweets that pushed the hashtags, indicating that a small group of accounts had tried to manipulate traffic in order to make the hashtag trend. Among the accounts that tweeted the most were @DeLasCenizasVzl, @Vzlasiempre7, @EquipoTAC, and @revista_if.
These accounts described themselves as anti-socialist, anti-communists, libertarians, and members of right-wing movements, such as Rumbo Libertad (“On the way to Freedom”) and Derecha Ciudadana (“Citizen Rights”). Many aligned themselves in their bioraphies or picture profiles with groups that organize on Twitter to advance their positions and narratives, such as #GDT (“Keyboard Warriors Team”), #TAC (“Anti-Castro-Communist Tweeters”) or #CCL (“Libertarian Support Community”). These groups usually post hashtags identifying themselves on their bios and tweets.
@RoderickNavarro, coordinator of Venezuelan movement Rumbo Libertad, used the hashtag #ChavismoEsTerrorismo on January 10, when he tweeted a video of himself addressing Brazilian representatives. Navarro explained that the video was recorded on August 28, 2019, in the Brazilian parliament when he requested “Chavismo to be considered a transnational organized crime group.” Navarro has posted pictures to his Instagram account of him alongside right-wing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro and his son, Eduardo Bolsonaro.
After Guaidó visited the United States and returned to Venezuela, some of the accounts promoting the hashtags attacked Guaidó. During the State of the Union speech, Trump said, “Thank you very much [to Guaidó]. Socialism destroys nations, but, always remember, freedom unifies the soul.” The phrase “socialism destroys nations” appeared translated into Spanish as a hashtag shortly after Trump’s speech. Vox debunked the phrase, explaining that, although Trump “painted Guaidó as the antidote [against socialism], he did forget to mention that Guaidó is himself a socialist […] backed by the Council of the Socialist International (SI).” But Vox added that both Guaidó and SI reject the Maduro regime.
These misleading claims appeared alongside the hashtag #SocialismoDestruyeNaciones, suggesting Guaidó was aligned with Maduro. The latter idea was further amplified when it was used alongside #FueraSocialistasMUDyPSUV, a hashtag that trended between February 12 and February 13, after Guaidó returned to Venezuela.
The account @XVzlaLuchamos used the hashtag #FueraSocialistasMUDyPSUV to tweet: “Venezuela deserves to throw the entire left in the trash” with a meme showing trash bags with the name of MUD, PSUV, Voluntad Popular, and Copei, among other parties. It also tweeted a meme using a fragment of a statement by Guaidó out of context: “For the transition, we need Chavismo,” implying Guaidó’s support for Chavismo.
The original phrase appeared on January 10, 2019, in an interview that Guaidó gave to the Spanish outlet La Razón: “We live in a dictatorship, and for the transition, we need to be inclusive of Chavismo, of those who have disassociated themselves [from Maduro], of those still afraid to express themselves because they do not have a place to land.”