The end of an error

Today, Venezuela’s opposition returned to the National Assembly they boycotted five years ago. They come armed with a sizable minority that, if this were a government that followed the Constitution, would have the power to limit Hugo Chávez’s untrammeled authority.

Regrettably, thanks to an illegal power grab by the outgoing Assembly, the new legislature has been transformed into nothing more than a glorified political battlefield, one where soldiers are penalized if they are deemed to be tanking.

It would be easy to dismiss this as inconsequential political theater. Yet the fact remains that the majority of Venezuelans who voted for the opposition will finally have a pulpit in the nation’s legislature.

Until recently, and unlike Quico, I had been somewhat sympathetic to the opposition’s decision to withdraw from legislative elections in 2005. The decision came after it was shown that the secrecy of the vote had been compromised. Could you blame them for not wanting to participate in a rigged game?

But, over time, I’ve come to see this as a mistake.

It’s not like having a minimal opposition presence would have prevented the outrageous swathe of legislation produced by the outgoing, illegitimate Assembly. After all, this is the lame-duck group that decided 25% or so of the votes gave it the political capital to, among other things, severely curtail Venezuela’s freedom of the speech, pack the judiciary with political cronies, twice give Hugo Chávez enabling powers, and strip the incoming Assembly of its power.

There are a lot of things these people lack. Chutzpah is not one of them.

But by abstaining and thus depriving itself from a voice in the forum, the opposition hurt its chances to ferment its leadership.

Chavista turncoats such as Ismael García, Pastora Medina, or Juan José Molina have carried the opposition banner in the National Assembly in recent years, but they have never really been accepted by the opposition electorate as part of them.

Instead, we have been forced to rely on governors, mayors, college students, and party bosses for leadership. Several are buena gente, but for them it’s notoriously more difficult to get a political message across than it is for a legislator attending bi-weekly sessions where a microphone and a TV crew are always at hand.

The 2005 boycott and the National Assembly that resulted from it are part of history now. As we bid them chao pescao, we need to focus on dealing with the complicated legacy they leave behind.

But let’s take a moment to call the 2005-2010 legislature what it is: a historical mistake.