Eight things you and I can agree on

We shake with the right hand. That should also go on the list.
We shake with the right hand. That should also go on the list.

(With my apologies to those who think “dialogue” is a bad word)

A few days have passed since the session where two different countries collided in Miraflores. Most of us left convinced of what we believed going in – that chavistas and the opposition simply do not have anything in common because, well, chavistas are crazy. Reality means different things to both sides, facts are irrelevant, and not even the Constitution can serve as a bridge between the two sides, since the two sides can’t even agree on what the Constitution actually says.

Chavistas are from Mars, the opposition is from Venus. Or are they?

As the dialogue process continues – much to our bafflement – it is worthwhile to really ask ourselves if this is true. Are we really that different?

Questioning your assumptions is always a good thing, but that is not why we should seek common ground. The goal should be to not only confirm assumptions, but to signal to the other side that certain things will not be on the table anymore. Let it not be said that we didn’t go the extra mile trying to find the rare common ground.

In that spirit, I would like to make a list of eight things chavistas and the opposition can agree on. Some of them should be things that perhaps we don’t know we believe, but that we might as well believe them just as an olive branch to the other side. Others are those that, perhaps, we could persuade them to believe.

Here is my list. The idea here is to complement them with other ideas – so feel free to add them in the comments section.

  1. The Cuarta República was baaaad. We don’t need to parse things here. We can argue endlessly about whether or not things went South with Caldera I, CAP I, Luis Herrera, or Lusinchi, but what good would that do? We don’t need to fall in the trap of talking about how wonderful Venezuela was under Raúl Leoni. I think it shouldn’t be a point of contention that the last twenty years of the Fourth Republic were crap. Social and economic indicators show it, and democracy died a slow death during those times. We can even agree on the claims made by chavistas that human rights were violated. Admitting this important point for chavismo could provide an opening.
  2. April 2002 was a coup. I found the whole discussion last week by Henry Ramos Allup about an “emptiness of power followed by a coup” a huge turn-off. In April of 2002, a coup took place, one that removed Hugo Chávez from power. Whether it was justified or not is beside the point. What difference does it make? Every time we mince words and fail to call it what it was, we create a gashing distance between us and the other sides. It’s time to throw Carmona Estanga under the bus for good and call a spade a spade. It will be a sign of good faith to admit to that. Plus, how long can we continue arguing the same thing? Take April 2002 off the table by conceding it, I say.
  3. Simón Bolívar was the father of our entire country, and he was no socialist. Bolívar is one of the few symbols that we all share. We might as well take Bolivarianism off the table, by taking the man himself off the table as well. Bolívar has been used as an icon for warring factions since he came home a coprse in the mid XIXth-Century. Chavismo upped the ante by playing politics with his corpse – literally! We can all agree that trying to make Bolívar fit into one ideology more than the other is not productive, and it creates unnecessary divisions. We should also agree that labeling him as some sort of socialist does the man no favors. Bolívar had a deep social conscience, but he was no socialist, and using him to promote a particular ideology is wrong. Let the man rest in peace.
  4. Guarimbas are violent. Few people like the guarimbas, the barricades currently dotting many of our cities. They are disruptive, they harm innocent people’s daily lives, and they don’t lead us anywhere. Guarimbas in the Prados del Este highway are about as harmful to Maduro’s power as singing “Hay un camino” in the comfort of your own shower. It’s time to admit they are a mistake – a violent mistake.
  5. Coups are always bad, and democracy is good. File this one under the category of “things chavismo does not yet admit, but should.” February 4th was the birth of Chavismo, but it was an extremely messy, bloody, completely illegal birth. As long as chavismo doesn’t denounce its own genesis, it cannot, in good conscience, denounce other people’s coups. Either we all agree that coups are bad (April 2002 just as bad as February 4th), or we stop criticizing coups altogether. It’s really that simple. If chavismo wants to be considered democratic, it should begin by supporting democracy wholeheartedly. This implies respecting the outcomes of elections, such as Antonio Ledezma’s. It also implies understanding that they cannot simply jail a mayor elected a few months ago with massive margins (Daniel Ceballos). Democracy should be our common goal, so it would be productive to put it down on paper.
  6. PDVSA should remain in the hands of the State. I’m always surprised when chavismo hurls the false accusation that the opposition wants to “privatize PDVSA.” This is not even under discussion. Some of us wish we could have a discussion on why exactly the government needs to own the national oil company while neighboring Brazil floats the stock of its oil company quite successfully. Sadly, that discussion will never take place in Venezuela. State-owned PDVSA is something nobody in power questions, so we should put it in the basket of “things we all agree on.”
  7. Venezuela needs to develop its own food production. Rafael Ramírez thinks this is important. Henrique Capriles thinks this is important. Julio Borges, Maria Corina Machado, Leopoldo López – pretty much everyone can agree that importing our food … is really bad – bad for our farmers, bad for our wallets, bad for our self-esteem. We may disagree on the policies we need to implement to get there, we may have different opinions on whether or not we’re getting closer to the goal of self sufficiency, but at least we should agree that it is a worthwhile goal.
  8. Crime is not an intractable problem. In the Pope’s letter to Venezuelans last week, he said that one of the things we have in common is that we all “respect human life,” and that we are all terribly worried about “violence and crime” (not sure the Holy Father was thinking of the “colectivos” when he wrote this). It is worthwhile to pin this down. Many times, chavismo has excused its deplorable record on crime by saying it is an “intractable” problem. Their own unsuccesful efforts to lower the crime rate goes against that belief. It is time both sides put on the table two basic things: that the crime wave has gotten much worse, and that it can be lowered with the right mix of policies. We may disagree on exactly what those policies are, but we can’t continue talking with one side throwing their hands up in the air in frustration, while the other remains a victim of their incompetence.

What else? Are there any more things both sides agree on? Feel free to comment…