Venezuela's political fault lines may swallow us all

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Fault-Lines-Across-the-Planet-2Since Venezuela’s political arena moves with the price of oil, politics in our country is extremely volatile. Sometimes it can lead to one outcome, and in a matter of days it can shift to the opposite direction. A political leader can be here today, gone tomorrow, and only a lucky few remain relevant for a span of more than two decades. In light of the coming feces storm in our economy, we face the real prospect of all major players – government and opposition – being swept away.

The opposition has no idea WHAT to do, or WHERE to go from this point onward. Ever since the April election, there has been a void of proposals from the MUD bloc, sp the main attention has shifted to the protest movement and the so-called Guarimbas. Whether or not to engage in a dialogue session with the Government is just a side show, a distraciton from the opposition’s underlying problems. This represents an extremely worrisome omen not just for the opposition but for the entire country as well.

Playing aloof is definitely not an option at times of turmoil, but unfortunately we’re currently acting in that manner. To me, it’s irrelevant whether or not to engage in a dialogue meeting with the Government, or if the Guarimbas are the best strategy to confront the regime’s transgressions. The opposition is missing the bigger picture currently touching the lives of most Venezuelans. It’s like blaming the global financial crisis of 2008 on irresponsible greedy bankers, and not paying heed to the underlying distortions on the incentive structure of the financial system, which created the entire mess.

The protest movement needs to move toward establishing attainable goals in order to change the status quo, but it needs a political leadership that can help drive them there. This is the reflection of the people involved in the barricades (Guarimbas); they feel frustrated at seeing no strategy, no plot, not even a direction of where the opposition leadership wants to go.

Regardless of what pollsters are saying about the Guarimbas, what is really happening is a lack of leadership inside the opposition bloc. Guarimbas could be an opportunity not just to block streets, but  for political parties to appeal to supporters, create panels of discussions, generate ideas, organize civil society, or building your social capital for accomplishing your political goals. This point was made by a recent article from Moises Naim here. None of that is happening. No political actor is taking advantage of the organic guarimba movement.

The underlying problem, though, is that the opposition has failed to unveil its objectives, because it doesn’t have them. After fifteen years on the sidelines of power, it is not a trivial question to ask whether la MUD truthfully wants to overcome chavismo, or simply play along with them in a complacent fashion by legitimizing their power through elections that are neither free nor fair.

There is no “democratic deficit” or “sufficient majority” card; either we live in a democratic system or we don’t. If you still believe that there is some institutional framework where you can push your goals, then by all means go ahead. But if you’re feeling skeptical about this, then it would be foolish to expect a different outcome.

There is no way to identify what the MUD or the opposition movement as a whole represent. We’ve been against almost everything that chavismo has done or proposed; but what do WE propose? What’s our plan for fixing the economy? How can we better take advantage of our oil? What do we represent? Should we play the populist role or should we really appeal to the people with ideas, convictions and agendas? What is our ideology?

These unanswered questions may pose a bigger threat to the opposition than the Guarimbas. The worst part is that it may be too late. The economic crisis might displace not just chavismo, but the entire opposition movement as well, leaving the field open to anyone capable of harnessing public discontent towards Miraflores. After all, it was Hugo Chavez the one who gave the final blow to the Cuarta Republica political parties at the end of the 90’s. Back then, people werne’t just reacting to one or the other party – they were reacting agasint the system as a whole.

Unless the opposition really defines and commits itself to representing a viable governing solution to our troubles, we’ll be doomed.

1 COMMENT

  1. Well since Venezuela is a petrostate, the first short-term step should be to attract multinational companies (with their technological know-how) to develop Venezuela’s tar sands. Production needs to be augmented in order to bring in extra income and hard currency (I’d also eliminate non-oil regalos to neighbors). Long-term goals should be to diversify the economy.

    Ideologically is tough. But whether the opposition likes it or not, there has to be some continuity with the Bolivarian Revolution: anti-poverty measures and grassroots development/participation.

    • In the future, we might want to also consider the environment and not jump on the tar sands bandwagon. One of Capriles’ main platforms was that he would continue and improve las misiones.

    • “…anti-poverty measures and grassroots development/participation.”
      Then it would be even more oppossed to what chavism was (Damn, Bolivar’s rolling in his grave each time he’s associated to that fiasco…), remember, it was never their objective to pull people out of poverty and misery, giordani and héctor rodríguez said so loud and clearly.

      • Ralph, yes, but I you might be slightly missing the point.

        Fact: the consumption of everyday Venezuelans has increased. This should be maintained and/or augmented.
        Fact: poverty has been cut in half according to most statistics. I need someone, however, to explain to me how poverty is measured here.

        And from what I’m reading from other sources, lots of government supporters haven’t thrown their weight behind the opposition because they simply don’t trust them to keep their interests in mind: which is equality, social justice and participation. Never mind if the government is failing to do that, the perception is that the government is working on their behalf.

  2. I’m not sure I agree here. What kind of policy do YOU suggest that the MUD follow here? That would inspire people, that would allow any current Chavez supporter to see the light? Twenty first century politics has little to do with political ideals anymore, but everything to do with money. The Chavistas stole the piggy bank (PDVSA), held it aloft in front of roaring crowds, and bellowed to their assembled constituents that this new found money was now,…..THEIRS. Vote for US, and I’ll give YOU some of THIS. It’s that simple. Never mind that a LOT of that new money has been stolen and hidden away in Swiss bank accounts. As every true Chavista knows, public accounting in Venezuela is not very good, nor do most people care anyway. What is important, however, is that a vote for these people (Chavistas) brings about financial rewards. It’s always been about the money. Lofty political goals espoused by MUD will not help. What will help is that it’s quite obvious that the piggy bank is now empty. They gotta be VERY nervous about that…

    • You underestimate how bad is the situation now.

      The protest movoement got a lot of steam because the high crime rates and the scarcity are unavoidable problems for almost everybody on the country. All of the promises of a piece of the PDVSA pie won’t change that, specially since a lot of previous promices of said slices went unfulfilled.

      So, more promises of free stuff, specially after all of the repression, simply aren’t going to work anymore. The regime runs on fear, and they are also running out of that.

      • Like it or not, there’s a shitload of free stuff on the horizon….and TeleSUR English is going to cover all of it, 24/7!

          • Then why did you say promises? Can’t you bring yourself to admit that the government converts oil into free stuff for the poor?

          • Venezuelan governments have done that since 1937, Yoyo. You just lack the economic and historical knowledge to understand that. They could do less of that when the world oil prices collapsed in the nineties and the military started to spend more last decade…but since 2008 real purchasing power stagnated and has started to go down. And now the regime is getting into more and more debt and it is running out of option…in spite of the fact it still gets 8 times more dosh than in 1998…so much is what your leaders steal.
            Time’s up, Yoyo.

          • Read what I wrote again. The emperor has no clothes, aka PDVSA is too incompetent. There’s no more money for anybody, except the boli-burgeois.

          • For every dollar it converts into free stuff for the poor, how much would you estimate it converts into free “stuff” for the rich? $3? $5? $10?

            Los Boligarchos, including the esteemed Diosdado, Blue-Eyes, and El Presidente, the First Fighter and others are doing fairly well for themselves, I would suspect.

        • Yes, people are just lining up to watch TeleSUR English, Eva, Sean, Oliver and Danny. The Spanish version isn’t even available in most Latin American countries. Sad that the Venezuelan government resorts to such imperial measures: bankrolling Caribbean nations for support or creating a news channel that only serves to self-promote and attack successful L.A. nations.

    • MUD is putting every egg in the punishment vote basket: “Vote for us, because these guys suck”.

      But there’s hardly any fresh proposals. In fact, there are various areas were, according to the campaign, we can expect zero change, as in not scrapping the currency exchange control, not scrapping price controls, not raising gas prices, not ending noneffective social programs, not privatizing/killing wasteful public companies, not reevaluating subsidies, etc.

      – What’s MUD’s proposal to deal with inflation?
      – What’s MUD’s proposal to deal with the massive impunity in crimes? (no, more cops isn’t an answer because current cops have catched a lot of criminals that get out on parole and never go to jail, or have their cases dismissed, or serve less than a third of their sentence)
      – What’s MUD’s proposal to deal with the “extraction smuggling” (aka exports) of subsidized goods to Colombia?

      Some people require more convincing than “vote for us, because the other guy sucks”. MUD has neglected this constituency.

  3. The problem is not that people reedit the 1998 rejection to the system. The problem is what comes next. Hugo gave a blow last time. It could be someone potentially worse who comes later.

    • IMO, the system did not change at all Rafurb, only the players holding the pan.

      the system remains a petrostate, populist, corrupt, obscure and not accountable to the sovereign. Only Crumbs make it down to the many. Merit and effort are not rewarded, the values of el “vivo criollo” and “cuanto hay pa eso” trump.

      La 5ta is la 4ta pero peor!

      Antes” donde estan los reales?
      Ahora: donde estan los trillones de dolares?

      Cuestion de grado, no de naturaleza….

  4. The closest thing that I see to a leadership to the protest movement is Leopoldo López (and the rest of VP), MCM and Ledezma, and they are first on the line to Miraflores after a regime change. So is not an open field.

    And both the disgust against the military and the National Guard as a whole and the lack of desire of yet another “supreme leader” are deeply entrenched on the protest movement. So is not likely that another Chávez appears.

    The rest of the MUD….yeah, they seem on the way out. Is not a desire of “legitimize” anything, is simply not wanting to risk their positions as governors and mayors and their dirty business (this is with Ramos Allup). That puts them on the way since the goverment is set on jailing/killing/exiling any politician that is an actual threat.

    So, despite everything, I’m optimistic. The protest movement is learning from their mistakes, local leadership is surging, and people still believe on some political parties. The road is long and bloody, but it seems to be the right path.

  5. ‘What’s our plan for fixing the economy? How can we better take advantage of our oil?’ are interesting questions – if you’re facing an election campaign. And the MUD has addressed them at length in the past, although it may well be true that much of the electorate paid no attention. The current issue is rather different: how to restore the democratic framework in which such an election would be worth taking part in. The ‘La Salida’ folk believe that is best done by forcing the departure of the current regime (albeit by ‘constitutional means’. The moderate faction believes that is unrealistic without engaging in some form of dialogue with the regime, since (1) the regime is better equipped to win on the streets than it is to win a debate and (2) the ‘guarimba’ approach tends to force government supporters to circle the wagons and alienates the uncommitted. Regardless of who is wrong (I suspect both are partly right), the task for the leadership is to convince the latter that issues such as crime, inflation and scarcity can only begin to be addressed once democracy is restored. Not easy when you have little access to mass media.

  6. Excellent article.

    MUD definitely needs to shift “from opposition to proposition”, if you don’t mind the cliché,

    I divide possible MUD stances in 3 blocs:

    Backwards opposition: denounce common sense chavista measures like it’s CAP 2 all over again. Politicians in this category, get me wondering if they see Lusinchi and 2006 (the time of peso-bolivar parity) as some sort of lost golden ages. Some examples:
    – “I wouldn’t have devalued”
    – “we’re an oil country, therefore we shouldn’t raise gas prices”
    – “there’s so much oil money, we shouldn’t cut subsidies/raise public service fees/raise taxes/raise tariffs/devalue the VEF”

    Stagnant Opposition: denounce every new collectivist chavista measure, insisting we’re better off with the old chavista measure that is now the status quo. Chiguire dixit best “La oposición marcha a favor del currículo zamorano, porque el zamorano es peor”

    Forward Opposition: denounce the problems people are facing (not just the government measures) and propose some common sense (and hard to contradict) solutions. Examples:
    – Venezuela is subsidizing gas/food/medicines/dollars that are not consumed here, but sold by mafias in Colombia, bleeding the public treasure in the process. Government solution: ration consumption. Alternative solutions: scrap the subsidy OR shift the subsidy from the seller (cheap dollars, production subsidies, soft loans) to the buyer (vouchers, higher salaries, UCT, conditional CT, etc)
    – Venezuelans can’t afford food/housing/anything. Government solution: price control, currency control, substandard substitutes (mercal, misión vivienda, chinese cars, chinese appliances). Alternative solutions: raise all salaries according to inflation, put some order in public finance to curb inflation, greatly simplify the business registration/operation bureaucratic process, remove every obstacle exporters face, woo international investors to bring some export-related jobs

  7. This point was made by a recent article from Moises Naim here.

    Sorry, Carlos, but my iPad refuses to open that link. Could you, please, cite it by title, so I can google it.

    Thanks,

    CD

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