There is a fantastic moment at the end of Charlie Wilson’s War, where the late (and great) Philip Seymour Hoffman tells a story that nails the strategy of the Venezuelan opposition since 2002 spot on.
There’s a little boy and on his 14th birthday he gets a horse… and everybody in the village says, “how wonderful, the boy got a horse.” And the Zen master says, “we’ll see.” Two years later The boy falls off the horse, breaks his leg, and everybody in the village says, “how terrible.” And the Zen master says, “We’ll see.” Then a war breaks out and all the young men have to go off and fight… except the boy can’t cause his legs messed up. and everyone in the village says, “How wonderful…”
You get the idea. Then, PHS, in his role as Gust Avrakotos, warns a womanizing US Senator, played by Tom Hanks, that it is oh so wonderful that they have managed to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan, but the US has to make a huge effort ($$$$) to become friendly with the locals and not abandon them to their own fate. They had to see through what they had done there or it would backfire.
They didn’t, and history, not Hollywood, proved the point. Afghanistan went to hell and eventually the US ended up sunk in deep (shit) conflict with them.
In April 2002 Hugo Chavez was overthrown due to large protests that took place mainly in Caracas, and were supported by the middle class, PDVSA (¿?), and different organizations that included, on the same side, workers and employers. Chávez was driven out of office (Wonderful!). A couple of days later, Chávez was back, stronger than ever. Later, that same year PDVSA workers went on strike to put pressure on the government regarding 49 new laws that would drive the country to hell (Wonderful!). A couple of months later, Chávez fired thousands of those workers and regained control of the company. In 2007, Chavez proposed a referendum to reform the Constitution and radicalize the socialist revolution, thanks to the students, the opposition won (Wonderful!). Shortly thereafter Chavez was enabled to legislate and he included the subject of the reform in several laws. 2013, Chavez died (Wonderful!). Oh, he left Nicolas Maduro. But, Chavez died (Wonderful!). Oh, he left Diosdado Cabello. No, really, Chavez died (Wonderful!). Oh, he left the Castro brothers. Again, you get the idea.
There was a popular soap opera character in the nineties, Eudomar Santos, who embodied Venezuelan philosophy to its fullest. He used to say “as it comes, WE’LL SEE how it goes” (como vaya viniendo vamos viendo). Mr. Santos rode THAT horse. He planned for nothing, and hoped for the best. This is how the opposition has been playing things all these years. No see through plans.
The current situation has been compared to that of 2002. For better or worse (and I won’t make an assessment on whether we are in a better place now than we were then), both situations are not close to being similar. Most of the main elements are different, so we can hardly expect a similar outcome. This time around the protests have been organized by the students. Chavez is not a part of the equation. Back then, the protests took place because of the debacle that was to come. Now, the protests are taking place because the debacle that came. Chavez is not a part of the equation. The economy is down the toilet. There has been more repression by the authorities. The focus is not Caracas. And, of course, there is some sort of political cohesion in the opposition.
The only element which seems to repeat itself this time around (and, dammit!), is that the Venezuelan opposition stands right now on what seems to be an improvised scenario. If so, there is, of course, no way of predicting what is going to happen, nor a way of seeing through whatever happens.
There seems to be some sort of leadership crisis in the opposition, which may not necessarily be negative. It is positive that Leopoldo Lopez’s following has rocketed, his views represent those of a good chunk of the —middle class— opposition. It is also positive that Henrique Capriles is working on containing the situation, and using a moderate approach that appeals to another huge group. By regrouping their own followers, they will have an opportunity to bring together an opposition that lays divided (but not disbanded) and, perhaps, even manage to control the student protesters who seem to have gone haywire. One could only hope there is a macabre plan (or plans A, B, C, and D, at the least) behind this and it is not just improvisation. In the past, improvising has taken huge tolls on the opposition’s integrity and strength. If everything is left to chance, WE’LL SEE…
The end is nigh, pack a toothbrush.
[Disclaimer: I have reservations towards #LaSalida. Not in the exact same page as Juan (although pages in this story seem to change by the second as my own opinion has), but reservations nonetheless.]
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