Of drunks, fights and empty bottles

Quico says: I’ve been in a bit of a funk, lately. What can I say? Caracas got me down this time. There’s something about life in this incredibly...

Quico says: I’ve been in a bit of a funk, lately. What can I say? Caracas got me down this time. There’s something about life in this incredibly hostile, constantly on-the-brink city that wears away at you. I’m sure it would, even without all the political BS. But it’s the layering of BS on top of BS, the kind of bovine-scatology milhojas, that really wears you down.

The thing that’s been weighing on me lately is the disconnect within the political opposition. It’s something else, our oppo political class. After ten years facing a government that openly wants to repress their movement out of existence, you would think these guys might have re-thought their way of doing politics, if nothing else, out of the sheer need to survive.

If the threat of Chavista repression was not enough to jolt them into some semblance of life, you’d think the sneering contempt in which most anti-chavistas hold their putative leaders would serve as a final safeguard, some kind of reason for them to get their act together, subsume personal ambitions for the greater good, act the way their natural supporters are begging them to act.

No such luck.

Just in the last couple of weeks, we’ve had a public row between what remains of MAS and Acción Democrática over how to select candidates for next year’s National Assembly elections. We’ve had Leopoldo López tossed out of UNT by a party leadership clique that felt threatened by his popularity. And now, we have a kind of sotto voce civil war inside what remains of Copei as different factions – one lead by Secretary General Luis Ignacio Planas, the other by Roberto Henríquez, Enrique Naime and Carlos Melo – play all kinds of dirty tricks on one another, with each trying to seat only its own supporters ahead of a National Party Convention to secure leadership of the party (TalCual dixit, but behind their subscription wall.)

The only positive thing we can extract from this fight is that at least Copei still has enough members for them to split off into factions and fight one another. One suspects that some other opposition parties (I’m lookin’ right at you, ABP) could only fracture if their caudillo developed a sudden-onset of Multiple Personality Disorder.

It’s not hard to see the way this is going to go. One faction will keep control of Copei, the other will whimper off and form their own rump party, and the bizarre political disease of never-ending fragmentation within Venezuela’s political opposition will continue until we reach the inevitable logical outcome. Because my theory is that, one day, Venezuela will simply have as many oppo political parties as it has oppo voters. 4,302,173 oppo votes for 4,302,173 oppo parties. It can happen no other way.

There’s a lovely criollo saying for the kind of political fight we’re seeing in Copei: two drunks fighting over an empty bottle. The sheer, visceral disgust that political fights like the one in Copei set off in the people the party needs as supporters is enough to totally vitiate the supposed “prize” of securing a leadership spot. And the layers and layers of disgust – the mille-feuilles de nausea – that the accumulation of such internal fights sets off in the opposition’s natural supporters explains what I see as perhaps the most startling aspect of Venezuela’s political life today: the utter and complete collapse in confidence that the political opposition can mount a credible challenge to chavismo.

It’s, of course, a self-reinforcing belief. When nobody at all believes you have even the slightest chance of one day unseating the government, nobody at all will take a chance on you. No radio station will sell you advertising space, because why risk angering the government to help out people who will never be in government? And even if you could find a radio station to sell you time, you couldn’t afford to pay for it because nobody at all wants to contribute money to a party that has zero chance of forming a government. And with no money, you can hire no staff, and run no campaigns, or do any of the other things you might need to do to start to turn around the perception that you have zero chance of one day forming a government, which, as a result, becomes more and more entrenched every day.

Faced with this absolutely bleak panorama, opposition political leaders choose instead to aim for more manageable goals: secure a spot or two in the National Assembly, which at least come with a salary and a chance to get a bit of free media coverage now and then. But to secure the nomination you need to obtain that spot in the National Assembly, you absolutely need control of a party, which is why the fight for party leaderships becomes an knives-drawn affair, a deplorable spectacle that further entrenches the absolute certainty people feel that this opposition will never ever mount a credible challenge to the government.

This is the closed loop the opposition political class is locked into: a vicious circle that would guarantee Chávez’s continuation in power for many years to come even without the openly authoritarian repression his government is deploying.