The Normal Politics Trap

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Allegory of MUD's Strategy
Allegory of MUD’s Strategy

The question now is what will collapse sooner: Venezuelans’ confidence in the government or the opposition’s confidence in MUD’s leadership. I think of it as a kind of race, and I don’t think it’s obvious who will “win.” (With a bit of – macabre – luck, we’ll end up with a dead heat.)

The reasons for Venezuelans to lose confidence in this government are many powerful – we’ve been writing about them here for fourteen years (y medio). It’s the other bit that’s underanalysed.

Since April 14th, the opposition leadership has been building a trap for itself: arguing, on the one hand, that chavismo has a sophisticated operation in place to steal elections and, on the other, that if we just get enough people out to the polls we can successfully counter the government that way.

The tension at play here is evident. It can’t be massaged with artful sophisms or too-clever-by-half attempts at positioning. And yesterday’s Supreme Tribunal ruling, which put on dramatic display MUD’s utter powerlessness as it demands fair(er) electoral conditions, only underlines it once again.

This is the Normal Politics Trap. Guys like Henrique Capriles, Ramon Guillermo Aveledo and the rest of the MUD leadership cut their teeth in democratic politics. They see the task of political leadership as appealing to as broad a section of the electorate as possible. That makes sense as an understanding of the politician’s craft only in given circumstances: when you can be reasonably certain that the link between “appealing to more people than the other guy” and “obtaining power” is reasonably intact.

These days, even as they argue – and even as reality clearly shows – that this link has been severed, our leaders can’t seem to grasp the ways that break renders their old task irrelevant. This, in the most basic sense, is what it means for democracy to collapse: it no longer really matter whether you’re backed by 51% or 49% or 55% or 45% – the real basis of power now lay elsewhere.

The MUD Leadership knows this. What it doesn’t seem to know is how to adapt its practice to match this bewildering new reality. Its entire world-view, its whole conception of what it means to do politics, leaves it badly ill-equipped for the shift to abnormal politics that chavismo is imposing.

Thanks to its longstanding disdain for electoral politics, the far left has always been at home with abnormal politics in  a way that we’re not. We’re still wearing ourselves out filing lawsuits with the Supreme Tribunal of Luis Velasquez Alvaray and Eladio Aponte Aponte. It shouldn’t surprise us: asking Henrique Capriles to destabilize an authoritarian regime is a little like asking Diosdado Cabello to lead an open, deliberative parliament: nothing in his life experience or ideological outlook prepares him for such a task.

The Normal Politics Trap turns our powerlessness into spectacle, theatralizes it in highly visible set-pieces like yesterday’s TSJ decision.

And make no mistake: chavismo is banking on this. They know we’re ill at ease outside the sphere of institutional politics. They know we’re pretty damn hopeless at the kind of politics authoritarianism makes inevitable. They know, for instance, we’re just crap infiltrating stuff – there’s no conservative Gramsci to tell us why we need to. But you can’t subvert the power of unaccountable institutions if you don’t have people working from the inside. And, seriously, how many opposition infiltrators do you really think work in Fuerte Tiuna? In the Finance Ministry? In PDVSA?

What if we spent all the time, all the resources, and all the effort we’re currently wasting on Normal Politics of the type rendered powerless by authoritarianism and devoted them to the types of infiltration-and-subversion tactics that really might make a dent in the regime’s power? Does that sound hopeless to you? I’m sure that’s what people told Douglas Bravo back in 1974 when he decided his new strategy would be to talk up some 20 year old cadets at the Military Academy…

Unless we get serious about mastering the only kind of politics that matter in Venezuela these days, MUD risks turning into the Maginot Line of civil society’s defenses against authoritarianism. The longer it insists on gearing up for a battle on terrain that the other side can just by-pass, the closer the day comes when its ability to rally opposition supporters first fractures and then collapses.

1 COMMENT

  1. Here’s hoping that the stepped up political repression is because the opposition is having a pronounced effect. Yes, the econony is in freefall, but the knowledge disseminated by Capriles and others, unmasks the truth to those who seek it. Even some Chavista’s analyse. And when they themselves begin to hurt, they can become willing listeners.

    Capriles needs to get out, and go international, asap!

  2. It seems clear to me that MUD’s result on April 14, whether an electoral victory or a 1% miss, really did deliver a body blow to the regime’s prestige. It may well be that, with Capriles now
    unable to get on Venezuelan tv at all, new tactics and strategy are required. I recently heard Srdja Popovic of OTPOR talk about how they organized to overthrow the Serbian Communist-Fascist dictatorship, and thought some of his experience applied in Venezuela. The writing of Gene Sharp on overthrowing dictatorships might also be useful. For links: http://www.cbc.ca/toronto/features/tahrir/nonviolence.html

      • I am not certain there is someone inside the MUD leadership that has within his/her political DNA the necessary genes to head the fight “outside the sphere of institutional politics”. The topic seems to be an anathema within the MUD. I have the impression the MUD does not mind having one arm tied behind its back… as long as it keeps the high ground.

    • OPTOR was one of many factors that resulted in the overthrow of Slobo. Milosevic falls because different sectors of Serbia society mobilized and participated actively in protests, strikes, etc; this also coincided with a loss of support from the army and police forces, the summation of all these factors allowed the opposition to reach the critical mass necessary for the regime to collapse.

        • I would call it “evolution”; the Slobo regime accumulated enough screw-ups to alienate the guys with the guns and the working class it was suppose to represent.

      • It is pretty vain that the Venezuelan opposition tries to imitate a movement that was so obviously supported by USAID, NED, etc and which was taking over methods designed in the USA.
        Come on! You don’t need to be from the far left to see that. It is an identity issue. If we want a movement that changes Venezuela for good and that doesn’t look like just a puppet of US (EU, whatever) interests, we need to develop formulas and mechanisms made in Venezuela by people who are not most of the time writing in English or any other language than Spanish.

        Sorry, others do see through. It’s about time the upper-middle class opposition leaders see this as well. The Vaclac Havels of this world were not fluently giving interviews in English and going to Miami/London/Berlin for vacation.

  3. I really think that the totally unwillingness of any government in the region to challenge the democratic backslide has been an important factor in this. Not that it’s a panacea by any means, but chavismo literally faces no outside pressure to behave differently than it does. Paraguay gets suspended from Mercosur for impeaching Fernando Lugo within the letter (if not necessarily the spirit) of the constitution and Venezuela gets welcomed in during its absence. Venezuela holds a horribly flawed election and half the region’s presidents are falling over themselves to congratulate Maduro, while refusing to even acknowledge Capriles.

    • Mecosur is just a left wing presidents club. Brazil won’t even get Argentina to follow the trade rules despite the pressure from its farming lobby, so you can forget Brazil putting pressure on Venezuela to be democratic.

  4. This is an often heard argument: “You can’t follow democratic rules when the government is not democratic”. Meaning, that only violence is the way out.

    Gene Sharp tells us the way is through the most normal of politics, actual politics. Not necessarily institutional politics but people politics. In other words wining the hearts and minds of people to your cause. The way to defeat an authoritarian government is to achieve a critical mass of support, reach a tipping point in public opinion, obtain a determined majority. That’s how you “infiltrate the institutions”, not by cleverly placing key operatives, but by changing the convictions of the people already inside through changing that of the people outside.

    In that sense elections are a wonderful tool. They focus the efforts and attention of the largest percentage of people. They force the government to “play” by semidemocratic rules for a while. They allow to gauge the reach to the people. They are also risky, of course, go to an election unprepared and the blow can be devastating, think 2004, not August 15th but October 31st (governorship).

    Much harder is the task in between elections. How do you win hearts and minds when people are not paying attention? How do you obtain resources? How do you demonstrate your own credentials as a potential office holder? That’s when normal politics are hard.

    • Yes to all this…

      And, I would add: regular people can hold these two things in their head at the same time: (1) elections are not free/fair, and (2) we need to keep participating in elections.

      A very large % of opposition voters who do not believe in the credibility/neutrality of the CNE or TSJ have voted and will continue to vote in elections.

  5. How do you get this sort of politics under way and not fall into the same mistakes of April 11th and the oil strike in 2004 while you are at it? That’s not just a question for the leadership, but for us altogether.

  6. Thanks for the answer. Still, your comment points more at what not to do than at what to do. The main conundrum is: you cannot fight politically a government that systematically violates the law within the framework of the legal system they are responsible to enforce, but if the opposition violates the law this would give easy ammunition for the government to put people in jail and appear in front of the international community as a government that is hampering attempts from criminal groups to destabilize a democratically elected government. As a matter of fact, the government has continuously been provoking the opposition to go that way. In other words, the opposition is damned if they do, but they are also damned if they don’t. Your timid attempt to point at the direction to go (look for new leadership, infiltrate people in decision making centres like PDVSA and a few ministries) is evidently weighed down by self-censorship as we all know that this blog is being read by “intelligence” people from the chavista regime. The sole mention of Douglas Bravo, former supporter of the government and currently in an undetermined position but apparently leaning towards opposition, brings to mind words you expressly avoided in your piece: guerrilla warfare. In this day and age, and after seeing the miserable failure of the Colombian guerrilla, it sounds like a completely absurd proposition. Besides, Godgiven has suggested this idea to the opposition on a number of occasions as they would love to appear like the legitimate and democratically elected government fighting illegal paramilitary groups. So, in the political chess game the government is still in control. The financial crisis is what will cause the demise of chavismo.

      • It wasn’t too unthinkable in the mid 90s, things really got bad after their Soviet aid from disappeared with the fall of the USSR . Fortunately for the Castro brothers, Chavez and venezuelan petrodollars came along to help them out.

      • Yes, I do. Different times and different people. Castro and the Cuban revolution succeeded by letting the middle class leave the country and creating a regime of terror for those who stayed. The Soviet Union played a critical role in consolidating the regime. By the time the financial crisis came in the early nineties the damage was done and the Cuban people had no way of raising their voices, and those who tried were annihilated with the typical ruthlessness of the Cuban dictatorship. Although there are a few similarities in the situation (a large part of the Venezuelan middle class has fled the country), I believe that the democratic culture of the Venezuelan people will prevail. If you don’t like the romantic view of the situation, think about what happened to millions of disenchanted adecos and copeyanos that turned against their leaders to vote for chavismo in 1998. People will eventually get fed up of so much incompetence and corruption, but more so will not tolerate the worsening of the economical situation for much longer.

  7. Your lecture of the situation speaks of an opposition that still acting according to the law does not gain much. In fact it feels like the longer they wait the less room they have to operate within the legal frame. How did they find themselves in this dark alley? It is my impression that there is no consensus within their ranks about the nature of the opponent they are facing. Since the 8th of December, date of Chavez’s last speech to the nation, and what I think marked the beginning of this new race; the opposition seemed to be betting, solely, to the collapse of the chavismo, because of the lack of leadership. We listened many political analysts, and leaders- and alarmingly we still hear them today-repeating the same thing. And at the end, the opposition seemed to put all the hope in this poorly predicted collapse. Chavismo has been migrating their dynamics of power administration and crisis management, from one driven by guts to one driven by technique, and pragmatism, since they knew that Chavez was leaving them. There is relevant information on this regard on Wikileaks, this was public, but somehow not taken seriously or forgotten. Chavismo made an strategic use of secrecy around the health of this Chavez, and of the control they have of the institutions to position their candidate on and advantageous position and that is who they find themselves in power today. I see a few opportunities missed to revert the state of affairs legally, today these opportunities have proven to be critical, and irrevocably lost. Today, as we find ourselves in this trap, have we learn the lesson? Do we see that these guys know what they are doing? They have the backing of a sophisticated transnational public relations apparatus, why? because they can afford it.

    I am afraid the challenges ahead will demand even more from us and our leadership, than we have seen in these 14 years. Nonetheless, I haven’t lost hope..

  8. I know it does not look that way today, but in the end it is Chavismo that is caught in a long term trap: the Constitution.

    The opposition must be meticulous in sticking to the Constitution and insisting that it be followed.
    Believe it or not, the Constitution provides a consensus that can guide us through this horrible mess. At the root of our problems is the distrust in elections because we distrust the CNE. Obviously it needs to be changed. Three of the five Rectores have their term expired and need to be replaced. We need to put pressure so the three rectores be replaced following the Constitution. This is a cause that will get support from ni-nis, and even some Chavistas who believe and are proud of the Constitution. The same applies to la Contralora, who is occupying a post that needs to be replaced following the Constitution. The same applies for 10 Supreme Court justices.

    Obviously we are not going to get out of this mess magically. We need to keep participating, each time in a more organized way.

  9. 1) Who is up to that challenge? No one in the Venezuelan opposition is honed in subversive politics.
    2) The people who are convinced and would try a “non-conventional” political strategy (i.e., violent organisation, actions or speech) are too ideologically foreign to the rest of the country. As Quico said in a comment a few posts back, “we squandered our anger back in 2001-2005”, and the MUD was created to counter that.
    3) Douglas Bravo is clearly dissatisfied with his work. And even if he “succeeded”, it took 20 years.
    4) The country is in a bit of a stalemate, whereby the opposition is merely ahead by a little bit. If its strategy to suceed is to grow further in society, it might have to bee even more attuned to both electoral politics and “people politics”, as amieres suggested (and as HCR himself said on August 3rd). Ricardo Sucre, over at his blog, analyses the trends on the recent polls. People reject polarisation and a olurality believes the MUD is at the center of the political spectrum. That means it has to tone down the political anger even more, and, perhaps, tune up its social and economic indignation.

    I’m not defending my father’s tenure in and of itself, nor am I suggesting he should be head of the opposition forever (which he is not, whatever authority he has: the parties are the final stakeholders at the MUD, and ostensibly Capriles is the head of the opposition as recognised by most). I have no stakes in this other than the change of government.

    • First I just want to point out. Douglas Bravo succeeded in nothing, absolutely nothing. The coup from inside failed completely, twice (or more). Chavez won a democratic election because he won the hearts and minds of many people. Bravo had no idea how to do that.

      I think this is an important discussion to have specially in this blog. Most people cannot fathom a political strategy out of chavismo without a disruptive event like a coup or a break out of violence or an arabian spring. The first thing to understand is that when an event like that happens the government is already weak in support. People only notice the final fireworks but the structure of power had been eroding for a while. The event is more the consequence than the reason that brought the power down. Also many times those events are mere distractions like in Egypt.

      So is not the “event” that changes the government. That is just the outward manifestation a long process of weakening support. To try to provoke an event when the structure is still solid is a dangerous miscalculation. Even if it temporarily works like in April 2002 the new structure is already born weak.

      Without having any strength in terms of violence, resources, laws, media access, holding office, etc., the only strength the opposition can have is in people’s support. But chavismo also has people’s support plus the other advantages mentioned before so the opposition needs to have an overwhelming support to be able to fight toe to toe with the government. So that’s the arena where the competition is and chavismo knows it well. It’s important for the opposition and those that support it to know it too.

    • “No one in the Venezuelan opposition is honed in subversive politics.”

      your father did discuss the possibility of a coup with the u.s. state department, no?

  10. I posted it on the other thread but was deleted.

    When are you going to learn that they want to forget 14-A? They want to move on to 8-D that was Capriles response to the TSJ ruling, the only thing preventing the opposition from being normal are the extremists here and elsewhere that want them to self-immolate for an election they know they lost.

    The only way the country wins is that if the opposition is loyal to democracy, not loyal to emotions of election night.

    • Chavism is trying the same thing in Venezuela, getting the majority to applaud their impoverishment because they are “sticking it” to some minority. But despite Chavez’s rhetoric, there never was a brutal civil war in Venezuela like Zimbabwe experienced, so I don’t think they will be able to push it as far.

      The comments are a hoot as well, some of them sound like they are expecting the Obama/UN gun confiscation patrol any minute now…

    • In other words, from everything I know of Venezuelans, they won’t put up with empty shelves month after month in the name of ideology as Zimbabweans did.

  11. You don’t go subversive/openly aggressive when you have achieved (in reality) just a few percentage points advantage in the last general election, and are facing an all-inclusively controlled fascist regime.

  12. Unfortunately they (MUD) have decided that the way forward has to have the following hallmarks:
    (I say unfortunately because it is the better of a series of truly lousy choices)

    1) Whatever change has be seen as “constitutional” and “within the letter and spirit” of the law. It would do no good to take any kind of shortcut, especially since most governments in LA either lean left or lean to ass kissing, only for Capriles (or whomever ends up in Miraflores) to become “questionable”. This would easily make the return of chavismo a question of when, not if.

    2) The change has to come “from the people”, and not from “outsiders”. Again, this is about legitimacy.

    3) All local legal avenues need to be exhausted in order for International pressure to have a chance. Otherwise they’ll get the “go back to Go, do not collect 200BsF” card thrown at them. TO believe that international pressure will have some effect is almost, but not quite like believing in “pregnant birds”. But the card must be played nonetheless.

    Realistically speaking, the next card that makes sense to play is the referendum card. A Constituent Assembly could very well backfire and we’d end up much worse than we are now, IMHO.

    And even though the CNE is as crooked as the road to Choroni, “es lo que hay” its what you got, so you roll the dice…….

    Infiltrating institutions is time prohibitive, the very folks that made that work are sure to be on their guard against it too, so not a very timely tool.

    So the strategy has to be makes dents at the local level, win back the Assembly, then revoke the SOB.

    The Assembly holds the key, and is probably more important than the Presidency itself. The road to the Assembly goes through Mayoralties and Municipal Councils.

    It sucks, it will take very long to get there, but it is the best way forward.

  13. One thing that I keep thinking about is whether the Venezuelan electorate should be held responsible for the international and domestic debts accumulated by this illegitimate government! If not, then Capriles should warn all financial entities that lending money to this government will be at their own risk!

    As far as the “race” to see which will collapse sooner, I recall that supporters of this blog called and interviewed Chavista election volunteers and discovered that they were highly idealistic and enthusiastic. In would be interesting to interview them again, and find out if there has been a shift in their enthusiasm and any disillusionment of their idealism.

    • “If not, then Capriles should warn all financial entities that lending money to this government will be at their own risk!”

      That would be foolish.

      • One thinks back to game of thrones, where the Iron Bank of Bravos would decide to fund new claimants to the throne when the current king failed to pay his debts.

        Perhaps a middle road would be better, warn foreign entities that the MADURO is risky and will stop paying debts – thereby shrink Maduro’s credit limit – while at the same time promising greater responsibility and promise to pay previous debts. The Sidetur bond is great example to point out why this government is not a safe bet so long as Chavistas are in charge.

      • What might be worse? Maybe, fear, hunger, desperation, riots, killing, chaos, and then try to rebuild? The way things are going now, how can it end but into a gradual starvation of the very constituents of the opposition. Then what? Wait some more?

  14. http://youtu.be/ZlzM1k1LbS0

    The above interview is quite interesting and pertinent.

    I am in total agreement with this post, and have been since 2004.

    For me it has a lot to do with simple consistency.Laws don’t many anything in Venezuela therefore it is hard to base a strategy on law and expect to win. Elections are not honest in Venezuela, so we cannot base our strategy on them either.

    Capriles is a leader of peace but we don’t have a situation where peace is possible.

    I think other methods have to be used, strategies that are more consistent with reality.

  15. “People politics” is the only path. It will take some time, but press home the points. The crime, the shortages, the blackouts, etc, this is NOT normal! People, particularly poorer folk, do not know that. They do not know that they should demand better. They have no idea how much of their country’s wealth is squandered for this sh*thole situation they deal with everyday.

    And they don’t read blogs, or follow twitter, etc.

    • I think you are correct.
      But, de-normalizing normal is a very difficult (impossible?) task.
      Nonetheless perhaps it must be attempted.

  16. What if the opposition starts playing the chavista card of blaming people, or anticipating outcomes publicly, before investigations are even being done?

    For example, with all this situation with the challenge of the elections: what if Aveledo or Capriles would have said something like: “vamos a impugnar las electiones por esto y aquello y todo lo demas, tenemos todas las pruebas y razones para hacerlo y ademas es la via legal y lo que la constitucion indiva. Sin embargo, lo vamos a hacer a sabiendas que el TSJ las desechara a pesar de todas las pruebas porque es una institucion que esta politizada por el PSUV.”

    That way whatever the result would be a win for the opposition: if the TSJ fails in favour is a win and if it doesn’t, it will prove them right.

      • I would go further, I will be honest and clear.

        I would say “we will take this to the Supreme court and and and because that is what the constitution says and we need to do that even though it is pro forma. We believe there is no longer rule of law in Venezuela but we need to show how the PSUV-controlled Supreme Court reacts.

        • The link I added at the start is seen as an “example” of Chavismo but it is much more than that abroad. You really should show this over and over again. The extreme left
          does NOT recognise the separation of powers. We need to corner them on this and we need to do that in front of everybody. We need to have the regime express its position on the separation of powers over and over.

          • I would add this: The extreme left does NOT recognize the rule of law. The people who form a part of this political entity violate the very words in the Constitution that was created under the helm of Hugo Chávez. Therefore, the extreme left, while paying lip service to the Comandante, are really disrespecting his memory, burying his work, and spitting in the face of law-abiding Venezuelans, who are the majority.

  17. I don’t know that anyone is wearing themselves out in court. That’s a couple of people, maybe three to do that. The problem is not that the battle is being fought on traditional terrain. That is necessary in a movement that embraces democracy. But yes, the movement has to go beyond that. Instead of a couple lawyers in court…why doesn’t the entire collegio de abogados walk out, or sit in, for a day?…there has to be some thinking outside the box. You are right on that point.

  18. Nolia is out at VTV another flamethrower kicked to the curb so that things can be more harmonious, if Pirela wins in Maracaibo I do believe VTV will run out of crazy.

  19. Quico: “Unless we get serious about mastering the only kind of politics that matter in Venezuela these days…”

    I agree with your argument that normal politics won’t get anywhere, but I disagree with what seems a short-sighted conclusion, that the single other option you see is the “only kind” left. I can think of several alternatives, but my favorite is getting chavismo to crumble by its own weight. If we can convince chavistas to start demanding things that chavismo is not willing to give them, we have the opportunity to save the nation, not just because we are increasing our majority but because their supporters stop supporting their house of cards.

    Specifically, I find it surprising how many in the opposition are willing to choose undemocratic routes before trying the democratic option with what I think has the greatest chance of achieving the end goals: getting chavistas to chant, “Dame mi plata!”

    • Absolutely. But it also requires those who support the opposition also claiming “dame mi plata”. And that might change much more for the better than just simply getting rid of Maduro. Unfortunately, as it seems, chavismo and MUD are just as reluctant to give up the plata since they all live and breathe on the realities or the illusions of managing the plata.

      • The Ring of Power… Both sides must give it up, but the idea needs to come from our side to get the other side to start chanting so that the other side starts to crumble under its own weight. The biggest hurdle, however, is getting our side to be willing to give it up, and I’m not talking MUD; I’m talking as close as readers of the blog. Even here there are so many plans for those monies that they can’t give them up. It’s depressing, really.

  20. Regardless of this being the only way out of this mess or not, if you’re not willing to return to the country, grab a gun and put your money where your mouth is, you probably shouldn’t be advising others back in Venezuela to do it.

    • ‘Grab a gun’? Are you mad? Or just writing from Houston?
      Perhaps one can make the case those abroad have little to say to those in the country who are doing something (as opposed to not doing something)

  21. The election trap you refer to does not exist. One thing is a trap for capturing the presidency and a completely different thing are traps to capture hundreds and smaller and much easier to control alcaldias y municipios. In fact I do not see why the opposition will not be able to set up own traps.

    Frankly, on that kind of trapping there must be a lot of in-house knowledge one could access in MUD. And if that is the case, I am sure that some old AD-trappers would be glad to oblige with some tips on the how to do it… of course, if adequately compensated with a mayorship here and there.

  22. Maintaining a rule of laws against crime, intimidation, and corruption has always been tricky. The villains adapt. The law is a crude hammer, and the villains evade the power of the law by disaggregation. A crime committed in a single large act by a single clear actor is easily recognized and remedied. A crime committed in a multitude of small acts by a multitude of actors is much harder to remedy. A crime committed in a single flagrant violation of law is is easily recognized and remedied. A crime committed in a multitude of marginal and ambiguous infractions is much harder to remedy.

    That is what the chavernment does. Nazi Germany was an overt dictatorship which had an overt program of gleischaltung (coordination). All institutions (public and private) were explicitly made subject to the Nazi political program. All media was subjected to state direction. All political opposition was explicitly banned. All official power was explicitly taken by the Fuhrer. Elections were abolished.

    Under the chavernment, many (but not all) state institutions have been have been tacitly converted to chavista political ends, and many new institutions created, all serving chavista political ends, but not explicitly so. Some private institutions have been expropriated, but others left nominally free – some coopted, and some intimidated, but others still independent. The chavernment has the use of the large state media sector, and has intimidated much of the private media sector (e.g. the silencing of independent radio), but tolerates a visible independent media remnant. Political opposition is permitted. The forms of constitutional government remain at the national level, though they are ignored in practice. The opposition is allowed to hold local government office, though often authority is arbitrarily stripped. Elections are held, and votes are mostly cast freely and counted honestly.

    The result is that the chavernment has nearly the same level of arbitrary authority as an overt dictatorship without committing overt offenses that would mark it as such.

    There is a risk in this strategy: despite the media hegemony and the voter-steering machinery, it is still possible for the regime to lose a national election, as in Nicaragua. Or for popular discontent to become organized and manifest on a scale that discredits the regime with even its own police and army.

    This leaves opposition in a dilemma: continue the conventional fight, despite the rigging, because it may be winnable (vide the close results of April), or forfeit the conventional fight and take up arms. I don’t think the latter strategy can succeed, because the social segments that are the core of the oppo have too many hostages to fortune.

    Instead the oppo must organize – recruit as many people as possible into an explicit opposition umbrella with formal membership. Through the membership, bypass the chavernment’s media hegemony, and prepare for mass protests. Insure an opposition presence in every neighborhood, with support to resist chavista intimidation. Cultivate the uncommitted. Get enough of the people on the oppo side, and the chavernment cannot stand without acts that will discredit it; then, with popular support, use force if required.

    But that formal mass organization is necessary.

    • In time. Look at the Chavistas alliance, Cuba, Libya, Iran, Syria, North Korea. A cabal of zombi nations. Can that that be the future of free-living Venezuela? Without a fight? It’s the economy! It’s just a matter of time. Unless Chavismo can turn water into gold, at some point, the belief in the lie will be dead, and sheer desperation will call each either to take arms or to kneel.

  23. Dear Quico:
    Thanks for the remark: “I’m sure that’s what people told Douglas Bravo back in 1974 when he decided his new strategy would be to talk up some 20 year old cadets at the Military Academy…”
    It’s also what I’ve been trying to say to you for several years. Many military officers are educated and happy to defend a legitimate regime (and throw out one that cries democracy but implements theocracy). They DID refuse to shoot you in 2002. Now they are the only people who even CAN help you. If you had a credible civil framework – even just on paper, you’d be surprised by their support..
    But it’s nice to see you coming around at least one degree…
    😀
    Your Annoying but Loyal Friend,
    Deedle

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