What the opposition needs is an election

We need to turn the page
Time to turn the page

After a difficult year that was crowned by a defeat in December’s mayoral elections, the Venezuelan opposition is in a state of flux.

On one side, many voices are criticizing the passive role assumed by Henrique Capriles. These include, most prominently, Maria Corina Machado and Leopoldo López, who have formed an alliance pushing Venezuelans to pour into the streets, calling for people to go to Citizens’ Assemblies tomorrow.

On the other hand, you have Capriles, along with a handful of mayors and governors, willing to sit down and talk to the government to find solutions to the problems.

It seems clear to me that these two contradictory approaches can only be solved … by an election. Whether the opposition goes the way of Ukraine or Myanmar is a choice that people need to make.

There are numerous difficulties in materializing this option, but until it does, one side will continue claiming the other one is wrong, and unity will be in jeopardy. The 2012 primary decided that Capriles was the leader, and the statute of limitations for that election is clearly up. We need another election to indicate where we go from now.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t over-dramatize the current debate. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: whatever happens in Venezuela depends very little on what the opposition does. In a bankrupt country run by ever-diminishing oil rents, the military, the Cubans, and drug smugglers … we are political roadkill.

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  1. I don’t know if I should be angry or amused at this “vamos a la calle” approach that seems to be coming back to the opposition discourse. We’ve tried that. Twice. And failed miserably.

    I was too young to really take part in the first wave of street action back in 2002, but I got very involved in the second attempt, when the Student Movement was born. While it is true we managed to build enough momentum to turn the tide in our favor for the Referendum, we can’t deny that momentum dissipated as quickly as it came to be. And the reason was very simple: lack of support from the rest of the population. Most of the folks in the Opposition simply lack the determination to go out to the streets and STAY there until demands are met. They have too much to lose, and they really don’t care enough about the way things go in the country. At every protest the drill was the same: at first we had lots of people with us, the doñas with their ridiculous pots, the middle-aged men and so on, but as soon as the authorities showed up and sprayed people a bit or fired a warning tear gas canister, we were left completely alone.

    Really, if you have to beg them to go out and vote one Sunday a year, how can you count on them for any sort of serious street action?

    • Alejandro, the problem, and I say it seriously, is that all those civil pressure movements took place right before the Xmas vacation. In both cases, the opposition literally stopped the pressure and went for a vacation.

      In both cases, Chavez had the time to re-arrange his strategy and have a new proposal in January.

      So it shows a lack of leadership and vision on the part of those that were guiding the opposiion at that time.

    • Ale, I have a difficult time seeing the traditional leadership of the Venezuelan opposition willing to NOT TRY to take over and co-opt a street movement like the student’s one. Even the younger ones seem to prefer a top-down authority paradigm which does not go well with the kind of grass-roots, street and facultad level debate that goes on on these. And when they try, the movements can become easier targets for the kind of demeaning “sifrinitos” talk our Dear Leaders have down pat. So maybe there is still not time for a full on, Tahrir Square-like movement. But is not the pot-banging doñas or the middle-aged men that are the only ones to blame; when the need to hit the beach and the Polarcita for the holidays overpowers the political drive of the younger generations, clearly the country is still not where the angry comments seem to put it.

  2. However, one must take into account the side-effect of the choice Capriles made after losing to Chávez. By having run for governor of Miranda again he in fact kept the state from becoming another stronghold of the chavista machinery but also missed the chance to be a full-time politician as Leopoldo Lopez et al are right now. The so called passive role is, I think, Capriles’ understanding of what a state governor is about.

    Whatever one thinks of the opposition’s current status, the last paragraph of this article is what matters most.

    • “By having run for governor of Miranda again he in fact kept the state from becoming another stronghold of the chavista machinery”

      That statement is true. Capriles won in Miranda and thus Miranda is not a chavista stronghold nowadays.

      But it implies that Capriles running in Miranda was necessary for that outcome. And that I don’t agree with since Ocariz (who won the primary for that spot) is a hell of a candidate, who’s been able to keep Petare from chavistas, so I have no reason to doubt he would have won as Miranda governor as well, specially against Jaua.

      • That is true, but the Capriles had just narrowly lost the state to Chávez in October; so I think it’s safe to assume they didn’t want to take any sort of risk.

        • Oh, Capriles has definetely proven that he’s not one to take risks…

          He ought to read Camilo Cruz’ cliched book about La Vaca

  3. Burma? (I call it Burma as a Burmese friend who migrated to the US told me it was the milicos
    who changed the name to Myanmar).
    I would say the system is closer to Zimbabwe now…if at all. If we were Myanmar I would be going as often as I could.

    The problem with the “let’s go to the streets” is still “what for exactly”?
    That’s the problem Ukraine has now.
    What we need to do, as horribly difficult as that is, is to be setting up information vectors for such things as economic education or education about pluralism and real debate.
    Who among our leaders knows something about those items? And who is ready to start showing how to educate about those things?

  4. Well, I actually applaud Capriles for walking the talk. He said he was going to be a Governor for everyone, and if that means sitting down with the goverment to get things done in his State, he is doing it.

    • consider that opposition mayors and governors who are meeting with the government may be winning respect in the eyes of certain segments within chavismo, though i can speak only for myself. i almost feel compelled to defend Capriles these days, and not for partisan reasons like because i believe his ‘passive’ leadership would keep the opposition weak (i don’t believe this at all). i am among those who are critical of Maduro’s government, but have had even less trust in the opposition. to the extent that Capriles and others are actually able to put side their political differences for the sake of improving the country, they’ll be earning respect from those outside the opposition.

  5. Yo creo que este país es chavista y nos falta comer mas mierda para curarnos del chavismo. Esto no lo va cambiar las doñas del cafetal sino el pueblo y hasta que ellos no se arrechen no es efectivo las acciones tipo 2f

  6. We need elections because oppo leaders are taking different approaches in how to deal with the political moment and some feel that the two approaches are incompatible and require the designation of an unified leadership to bring all oppos around a single strategy .. Capriles is saying we wont shut the door on talking to the govt on some specific problems even if we maintain a critical position in regard to its performance and blunders while Lopez and Machado take the position that a more aggressive street stance is needed to put the govt on the defensive..
    Im really not sure that the two stances are incompatible . reflecting a two pronged approach which could very well work in the oppos favour.
    It would seem irresponsible and obtuse to refuse all collaboration with the govt on specific local govt issues such as crime, provided of course it leads to concrete results for the general population , This is a task in which the joint action of local govt and national govt seems justified , it doenst entail at all a surrender or abandonment or abatement of a generally critical stance agains the govt and what it represents. It brings polarization down which might be beneficial in some political scenarios.
    On the other hand oppo spirit might need a bit of stoking (via street demosntrations) to fire up its enthusiasm and movilize people to participate more actively in oppo activities . I dont think that at this moment thats going to bring us much closer to the possibility of a regime change but it might be useful for the future to start movilizing if conditions offer an opportunity for achieving something bigger . Both approaches can coexist specially where the leaders maintain their unified view of the govt and the need to replace it. The notion that one can only have one supreme leader that takes all the decisions and only one approach to things sounds a bit fascist , precisely the kind of notion that Chavistas find attractive , the ‘ein volk, ein reich, ein fuhrer’ fascination smacks of totalitarian tastes, something we would hope a more mature conception of politics should try to leave behind . Im in sync with both approaches and dont feel that they need be percieved as contradictory . The primitive mind is antinomic , everything must fall into an ‘either or..’ categorization . It would delight me if the oppo leaders might be seen as acting in concert rather than as rabid rivals . Lets hope this is the case.! .

    • I agree…. I suspect that part of the problem however may lie with diffent oppo politicians finding themselves in less or more difficult situations currently. The tactics of individual politicians depend on both their options and their overall strategy. Machado and lopez may not have much of a choice pursuing any form of cooperation on any important issues. Plus managing a governorship really has little bearing on the larger strategy, so this still needs to be resolved. The opposition as a whole needs a unified platform and a unified strategy to bring change at the top of government. Participation may not be consistent with that strategy. I find Capriles has been very vocal about his opposition to the Maduro government, and participating in a couple events does not diminish that. Again, the practicalities of running a governorship can be separated to some extent from the larger strategy of running the opposition. After all, Capriles as governor is relatively powerless in changing the government agenda at large. But he can make pronouncements were he disagrees with this agenda. And setting the government agenda at large IS what Machado deals with. What this post may reflect is that some oppo politicians more than others are feeling increasingly constrained or frustrated to make a difference.

  7. I think I agree with Bill Bass in thinking that there isn’t necessarily and incompatibility between, on one side mayors and governors cooperating with the Chavernment to solve problems, and on the other side parliamentarians and politicians setting up a more combative agenda.

    HCR and other mayors and governors DO have a responsibility to govern and solve problems that outweighs any need for them to “oppose” the national governement, except when there are clear grievances against the area they rule (as is the case of Cocchiola in Valencia). Therefore, they shouldn’t be in charge of setting the agenda for the opposition.

    On the other hand MCM, LL, Borges, Ramos Allup, and other non-executive-office-holder politicians have the responsibility of being the “Opposition” to the national government as their main concern. Therefore they should be setting the agenda for the opposition, the problem is that all parliamentarians and non-executive-office-holder politicians aren’t in agreement. So we need a mechanism to solve that disagreement.

    The alternatives to deciding by election are two:
    – First, a split within MUD, due to unreconcilable differences
    – Second, the way it works by default, the party bosses decide something taht usually benefits bigger/older/crappier parties (like AD) to the detriment of independents/new parties/little parties (like MCM, LL or Cuentas Claras).

    I also agree with this post a lot, because the opposition needs internal elections in order to set what is the mandate, just as the primaries helped set the overwhelming majority of candidacies with very few instances of losing a spot because of internal division. Elections as a deciding mechanism have brought many breaths of fresh air into the opposition, like MCM, Voluntad Popular (in places like Maturin) and HCR as a presidential candidate (as opposed to Pablo Perez or the CaPablo alliance AD and UNT would have pushed). Back room deals have brought us Enrique Mendoza as a congressman, Manuel Rosales as a presidential candidate, Eveling Trejo as Mayor of Maracaibo, the loss of Carabobo by El Pollo, and many other set backs.

    • To be fair, Carabobo was probably lost even if a behemoth like Capriles were to be the candidate. What’s the deal with Mendoza, though? Haven’t read much about him, he is rather low-key now.

      • Parliamentary seats in Caracas were allocated using a mix of primaries and consensus. Consensus heavily revolved around “turf keeping”. Thus, Petare went to PJ, since Ocariz had won it for the opposition from Chavismo.

        This generated a conflict, as Enrique Mendoza, a historical oppo leader had made his career from Petare and then to Miranda. So he bitched and moaned. PJ offered him to run in Guarenas, but Mendoza refused because he would feel dirty not running from where he lived and had made his political career, it would have been a travesty for him.

        In the meantime, the first spot on the safest oppo district (Baruta-Chacao-El Hatillo), was agreed to be allocated by primaries. MCM won that primary and Vecchio came it second. The second spot was supposed to go to Simonovis (or maybe another political prisoner), but the government pushed forward with their trial and Simonovis’ conviction was rushed to the TSJ, where it was upheld, thus barring him from running as the sentence was now final.

        VP lobbied for the second spot to be given to the candidate who came in second, but it didn’t have the glut to succeed, since it was still a tiny party at the time (by MUD’s rules). Instead, it was “agreed” to give that spot to Enrique Mendoza in order to placate him.

        He’s the oppo politician with the highest absence rate in parliament. So it became apparent for me, that he wasn’t interested in serving in parliament, but in running unsuccessfully in the primary for governor of Miranda, which he lost to Ocariz.

        And that’s my beef with Mendoza, que ni lava ni presta la batea, because Vecchio would have been a damn fine congressman.

  8. “We need elections because oppo leaders are taking different approaches in how to deal with the political moment and some feel that the two approaches are incompatible and require the designation of an unified leadership to bring all oppos around a single strategy .”

    To me this sounds a bit like “we can’t do anything without a caudillo”

    • Le das al clavo en la cabeza, Intelépilo… I believe that ever since the whole talk of unity began -was it with la Coordinadora Democrática?- those who don’t like the Government have played right into the Government hands… By presenting a “united” front you single yourself out as a target, but since that unity is made of highly diverging parts, movement becomes slow. Hence, easy target. And that is more or less what has happened. The military -and this IS a military Government- likes nothing better than a slow moving, properly identified enemy.

      The Government has ALL the resources, and even in established democracies such as the USA, Barack Obama will travel on Air Force One to support his democratic candidates, will use the might of the State in his favor. And in Rojo-Rojito Venezuela, that is even more so and is inevitable, so it is foolish to lose time asking for it to change.

      So while they have power, the opposition’s strength should be in mobility, in keeping them guessing. I believe the unity paradigm has not worked and will not work, and it also rubs the wrong way on a certain group of people (Wlad and myself included) who think reproducing the central-command structure of the current ruling class shows a lack of democratic credentials on the opposition too.

      I say, spread out, make yourself difficult to pinpoint and attack. In the current situation, maybe those who would vote for a more moderate center-left guy -such as that governor- will not because within the MUD he is associated with the more-to-the-right politicians seen by many as heavily sifrinos. And maybe the MUD is losing voting interest from the people more to the right -and ballot absenteeism HAS BEEN a problem- because (THE HORROR) that governor has met with the president, and has tried to coordinate strategies, as is his duty as an elected officer.

      And maybe some people are much more local leadership stories -the governor of Lara comes to mind, correct me Aveledo- that national ones, and have their own dynamics that might get muddled up by association with the saco de gatos in Caracas.

      The opposition seems to be operating, also, under the premise of “hitting it big”, meaning winning everything in one fell swoop. And that will be counterproductive because even if you win all governorships, the presidency, the Asamblea, everything, the ruling party has had 15 years to populate the whole structure of Government with their people. And you can’t fire everybody at once if you want to keep running things after winning, don’tcha? And it also shows why, even when the opposition candidate did relatively well against the current president in the ballot, Congress is still overwhelmingly in the hands of the ruling party.

      I can’t imagine how the country would’ve been right now if the opposition had won the presidential election, with a full Asamblea and almost all the governors on the other side of the street and motivated to show them as ineffective.

      Instead, I believe they will have more success, even if it takes a bit longer, chipping away at the power structure, capturing the disenchanted, swaying away the community groups, the asambleas de barrios, getting more involved in the local problems and searching and proposing solutions, and voicing discord when needed both with everybody. Regaining a democratic paradigm, puesh.

  9. The opposition doesn’t need an election, but I’ll agree that the situation is much different than in 2012. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for primaries for elections, but there doesn’t need to be an election right now.

  10. When I read the title I immediately thought that it was a mock paraphrasing the famous Venezuelan machista saying that goes “what that bitch needs is a good……”
    Then after reading I realized that no such meaning was implied. Nevertheless I think that the way opposition is behaving this days, the saying applies perfectly.

  11. There is no election needed..If Capriles has stepped back and Marchado and Lopez have taken the reigns, then it is them who hold power right now…It has already been decided by who takes control. It is not up to the politicians to decide who people will follow…People will follow those that lead them..And people are right now, today, following Marchado and Lopez. And that does not mean they do not follow Capriles. But for one reason or another, there is not much to follow from him.

    • In the primaries held by the opposition that Capriles won easily both Machado and López hardly won any votes. Capriles won with about 1.9 million and Machado had around 105,000. The secreary of the MUD Aveledo is on the way out and may be replaced by Omar Barboza. It is obvious that Capriles’ leadership is untenable after 4 straight election defeats.

      López and Machado will find it imposible to attract chavista voters and are more likely to generate abstention among the more moderate opposition voters. AD has more mayors and national deputies tan any other party but Ramos Allup has elected a lower profile.López and Machado receive wide press coverage and so they might look like leaders in the emdia – but the corporate and private media is generally wrong in Venezuela about most things. And they are wrong about this.

      From my point of view as a chvista it is good news that López and Machado want to be the leaders as decided by the US Embassy as both a financed from the US. This means that they are not really interested in elections but destabilization.

      Their track records are both golpistas looking back at 2002 and they can thank their lucky stars that the late President Chavez was generous enough to aprdon them in the amnesty signed on December 31st 2007.

      The opposition needs a national plan and does jot ahve one except for privatizations as that is what they are being paid to accomplish.

      • It’s true that MCM came a distant third in the presidential primaries (behind HCR and PP). But LL endorsed HCR, and votes for LL weren’t tranferable to HCR, so the votes he finally got in the primary don’t represent his influence.

        It may be that he would have come third with a litlle more votes than MCM, or gasp, fourth, but as it stands the amount of votes he would have gotten if he hadn’t pulled out of the race is unknown.

        That Barboza tip sounds interesting. Though unconfirmed, it would also explain Ramos Allup laying low (Barboza being in UNT, and originally from AD).

  12. Estoy muy de acuerdo con lo dicho en el artículo.Creo que la Unidad amerita una nueva elección interna o por los menos reunirse y aclarar las ideas nacientes porque la “aparente realidad” que marca el chavismo o este gobierno revolucionario es más contundente, considero que ese ha sido su éxito. ¡Claro! eso sin dejar de lado el monopolio que han creado con los medios de comunicación y mostrar una “tranquila y bonita realidad”.


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