Venezuela's political fault lines may swallow us all

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.

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