Still searching for a narrative

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The economic armaggedon Venezuela is undergoing gives the opposition a golden opportunity to break myths and lay the groundwork for the Venezuela of the future. Sadly, and barring a few exceptions, I don’t see the opposition establishing a succesful narrative yet.

Here are two examples.

Yesterday, opposition legislator Julio Borges posed 10 questions for Maduro, along the lines of what we’ve been discussing recently: where did the money go? What happened to all our savings? What happened to expropriated companies? What about the land that was taken over?

The problem is that these questions do not constitute a narrative.

Posing questions is a pedagogical tool as old as Socrates. Posing a question creates a dialogue, a discussion from which answers can hopefully stem. Questions trigger curiosity, and that is the basis for learning. But throwing questions out in the public arena serves no purpose if it is not followed by a story – by a narrative as to what really happened, and how we can get out of this jam.

Everyone already wonders how it was that we got to this place. Everyone knows what the diagnosis is. Politicians who emphasize the questions or the diagnosis are simply wasting their precious time, as well as ours.

On the think tank front, it’s no different. Take the above video from free-market think tank Cedice.

The video is OK in that it poses serious questions about public spending, but after watching it, do you feel that you have clear answers?

How can a video that wants to explain what is happening forget to talk about the gasoline subsidy, or Cadivi? Instead, they talk about the $80 million supposedly spent on Hotel Alba Caracas … In fact, for all its ranting about the inefficiency of state-owned firms, not even Cedice dares to say upfront that they should be privatized! They hint at it briefly, but they don’t say it)

Instead, the main message is that we need … more accountability. I’m all for accountability, but I wouldn’t put it in the top five in the list of things needed to solve Venezuela’s financial problems.

Barack Obama once reportedly said that every crisis brings great opportunity. Unless the opposition provides a clearer narrative as to why we got where we got, and what it’s going to take to get us there, we will have wasted this mega-crisis to do away with old myths and forge some new ones.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Sorry Juan, but I think accountability is at the heart of our financial problems. If we had some semblance of accountability. Would the grand larceny that has occurred over the last 15 years not have been at least reduced!!!

    • Accountability in a democracy belongs to the voters who lack the time inclination or knowledge to be able to accurately judge and asses the performance of thoset govt measures involving complex issues of public policy which only well informed people can understand and judge . Moreover govts use informational blackout , propaganda misinformation and demagoguish largesse to make a mostly primitive electorate happy and win their support even if the policies and measures they are taking are seriously corrupt and flawed , they rile up ideological passions to make them adopt a govt narrative which is false but which is melodramatic and exciting and caters to peoples cheap biases .

      Creating a narrative which is coherent and offers a long term solution to most of the problems is not impossible , the probem is selling it to people who already have been brainwashed with a narrative which is false but exciting and picturesque to believe in .

      The problem is not the narrative but selling to the people that you have to sell it to !!

      • It’s worse than this–how do you sell a narrative that you’re going to suffer/be poorer in the future to a Pueblo that is suffering/poor in the present, especially when that Pueblo is so ignorant/uneducated? This is why nobody, Oppo included, wants to tell the Pueblo how to remove the elephant in the room. The Pueblo will have to do this themselves, ransacking the crumbs left by their depredadores, or, sink further into the Castro-Cuban societal mode.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. The opposition is stuck with its warnings about the ‘paquetazo rojo’, simultaneously demanding that Maduro solve the crisis and waiting to jump on him from a great height if he dares to announce the measures everyone knows are needed. So if the MUD were unfortunate enough to actually take power, it would immediately be exposed to (entirely justifiable) attacks for doing the same thing.

    The reality, however, is that that won’t change, however much we may deplore it. Since no one is willing to take the blame for the inevitable austerity package, the only kind of regime that can conceivably manage the crisis is a government of national unity, headed by someone with no further political ambition. That, or an outright dictatorship. Anyone want to bet which is more likely?

  3. It is impossible to disagree. The opposition has too many challenges and problems, communication is not a priority for them. One day I would like to read something about the communication skills of “el finado”. I think they were great and probably the biggest difference between the Spanish Podemos and chavismo is that Pablo Iglesias, his leader, is way below Chavez in that aspect.

  4. Educating the public about economics may not be the best use of political discourse. Part of the reason I did not get a phd in economics is because I realized that no matter how good a policy will be in growing the economy, you will always have someone arguing to do the exact opposite, and since most of the public does not know the difference, they utilize their own common sense to determine what they think is right…

    Net, we can argue all we want that gasoline subsidies are bad, that Cadivi makes the situation worse, etc. However, once an opposition politician takes that stance (especially on gas), you will instantly have the government ridicule that politician and use it to further highlight how out of touch with the poor the opposition actually is. Then the public at large makes up their own mind utilizing their own common sense (where logically I have been personally benefiting from lower gas prices, but may not benefit from another hypothetical program – and the rich just want to get richer anyway) and then unfortunately at that point we have just lost the argument…

    Corruption/incompetence is a much easier argument to understand, it is also true, and a winning argument with the public. Currency controls may be a winning argument (if you tie it to the corruption happening in the government), but it is difficult….the government will ridicule and talk about how it is used to keep prices/inflation low, currently being driven up by the evil/greedy upper class… The best counter argument to that is to point to other LA countries where there are no currency controls and much lower inflation, and shelves that are full…it is a gamble though as the opposition has very little access to media preventing that message from getting out…

  5. Well, I have been saying this for some time: a politician should NEVER let his opponents establish their narrative as a standard. To paraphrase Yogi Berra: politics is 90% narrative, the other half is hard work.

    Democratic parties in Venezuela still try not to contradict the defunct, even in the face of an economic collapse that bares naked the idiocy of his policies.

    They do not have a story, they do not propose solutions and more importantly they have not imposed their language. Instead, they try to copy a dead man.

    Look at HCR during his latest appearance: long, unclear sentences with a lot of rhetoric. Pandering to the feelings of chavistas (“with all due respect to followers of ‘president’ Chavez… etc”).

    Speaking bad Spanish and saying the public sector is untouchable has become the Venezuelan standard. It wasn’t always so. Actually our best years came before the nationalisation of the oil industry in 1976.

    Opposition figures seem to be, quite simply, unsure of whether they are Venezuelan enough to say: “Chavez’ and Maduro’s policies are one and the same pile of manure and they have caused this disaster. We will privatise, open markets, demolish currency and price controls, refocus PDVSA, clean-up the police and put the military back under strict civilian control, and in two years this country will be back on its feet”

  6. The narrative is all-important. It should touch the common people, be easily digested, brief, emotionally appealing. So far we havent had it. Back in 2012 we sent a deaclogo to MUD, based on their volumino=ous docuemnt that few would read. We never saw any intention of using this as a starting point.
    The decalogo was iuntended to be a draft of waht could eventually be done:

    1. Por un gobierno constitucional e institucional, descentralizado en su toma de decisiones y coordinado a nivel central, que sea honesto, eficiente y dispuesto a rendir cuentas al país. No un gobierno autoritario, violador de la constitución, enemigo de las instituciones democráticas.
    2. Por un plan coherente de desarme nacional y la existencia de cuerpos policiales profesionales y bien entrenados. Rechazamos la tragedia de 20.000 homicidios por año, 10 millones de armas de fuego ilegales y un índice de impunidad riminal del 91 por ciento.
    3. Por ver restituidos en la Fuerza Armada los conceptos de obediencia al poder civil y de lealtad institucional, así como los ascensos basados en el mérito y profesionalización de los cuadros . No aceptamos el deterioro de la institucionalidad militar.
    4. Por el respeto de los derechos laborales, de las asociaciones sindicales y la negociación colectiva. Pedimos complementariedad y coherencia entre programas de subsidios como las Misiones y los planes estructurales de bienestar social y de inversión en infraestructura. No aceptamos que 7 millones de trabajadores continúen sub-empleados, en condiciones salariales precarias y sin beneficios laborales.
    5. Por la descentralización del sistema educativo, el rescate de las escuelas públicas y una mejor calidad de educación a todos los niveles. No aceptamos un sistema educativo burocratizado y en desorden, con instalaciones deterioradas y fallas en la alimentación escolar.
    6. Por un sistema de salud integral, con instalaciones hospitalarias bien acondicionadas, promoviendo la participación del sector privado en los servicios de salud y en las actividades agrícolas y productivas que permitan una sana alimentación de los venezolanos. Rechazamos un sistema de salud deteriorado, sin hospitales adecuados y una agricultura de puertos.
    7. Por una industria petrolera autónoma, profesionalmente gerenciada, eficiente y despolitizada, limitando la actividad estatal a lo indispensable. No aceptamos ver más declinación en la producción petrolera, falta de transparencia, carencia de personal idóneo, contratos dados sin licitación, mal mantenimiento y la ausencia de entrenamiento e investigación.
    8. Por la plena libertad de expresión, limitar cadenas a lo realmente necesario y terminar con el uso político de los medios del Estado. Exigimos respeto a los medios, y el fin del culto a la personalidad presidencial . Nos oponemos a la confiscación de medios de comunicación o a la implantación de un modelo de pensamiento único.
    9. Por una política exterior profesional, fortalecer nuestras relaciones con los países vecinos, el combate al terrorismo y el narcotráfico, el apoyo efectivo a las organizaciones internacionales y el alineamiento con los países democráticos del planeta. No toleramos ambientes bélicos, la intervención en los asuntos de otros estados o la confrontación como política exterior.
    10. Por la plena vigencia de los derechos humanos, de las libertades públicas y el adecentamiento del sistema carcelario. Rechazamos la violación de los derechos humanos de los venezolanos.
    Este decálogo está basado en los Lineamientos para el Programa de Gobierno de Unidad Nacional (2013-2019), el cual fue escrito por expertos de la sociedad civil venezolana y suscrito por los lideres políticos de la democracia (MUD).

    • Sr. Colonel,

      With respect, the above “decálogo” is not something that fires the imagination of the masses. At best, this is a practical minimum political platform that the various Opposition parties can agree upon amongst themselves. To unify and motivate the masses of disaffected Venezuelans requires a simple and irrefutable narrative with emotional appeal.

      Paint a picture of a positive future that people can believe in. Venezuela needs its own version of the “I have dream…” speech.

  7. “Accountability” is not something to has any emotional appeal. No one puts their life at risk under the banner of “Accountability”. “Liberty” or “Freedom” work. Appeals to patriotism can succeed. Religious appeals can work in other places, but this would not work in Venezuela. I think the successful narrative for Venezuela would be an appeal for the future of today’s children. You might rally people around the banner of “Peace and Prosperity for our Children”.

    The fact is that Venezuelans will face hard times regardless of who is in charge. The only question is can it get better? If you lay out a plan for the future, honestly explain the cost, and give people hope for the future, maybe you can produce the narrative that will mobilize the population. But it HAS to start with honesty. Anything less than blunt and brutal honesty will sound like more political BS. But, if you honestly explain why Venezuela got where it is, along with the humility to admit that all of Venezuela including the Opposition parties took their own part in the sham, and produce a road map to eventually arrive at a better future, then just maybe, when and if you get into power, you will be able to implement it. But, if you start with lies, you will be lost before you even start. “And the truth shall set you free.”

  8. “The fact is that [we] Venezuelans will face hard times regardless of who is in charge. The only question is can it get better? ” ………. or something like that would be a good way to start a speech. Continue with we all want “Peace and Prosperity for our Children” and the only way to get there is …….. Hey, maybe Roy can be the speech writer for the opposition.

  9. Alejandro Katz of Argentina wrote a piece describing the Kirtchners political narrative which could very well apply to Chavez Venezuela …., the similarities are eery !!

    ……la política es reemplazada por el rito, …. la mezcla literalmente letal de descuido por la vida humana, negación de los problemas, desorganización e incapacidad en la gestión del Estado, se expande con normalidad. Ya no importan los fracasos y abusos , la inseguridad , el crimen desbocado ni sus victimas ni el dolor de sus deudos. Sólo importa cuidar del gran vacío designado como “modelo”, “proyecto” y “proceso de transformación”: puertas giratorias de una cantina de pueblo por las que entran y salen, sin solución de continuidad, valores y conceptos, aliados y enemigos, principios y negocios. Hombres de fe, creyentes, nostálgicos del Edén, los kirchneristas se cuentan una historia y recurren a la liturgia, al culto y a la iconografía para volver el mundo legible y seguro.

    Para que la necesidad de creer se convierta en creencia es necesario construir un relato, que es antes teológico que político: la unidad religiosa entre Dios, el hombre y el mundo se metamorfosea en la unidad entre el Estado, el gobierno y el pueblo, que forman así un nexo indisoluble. Un nexo que se funda, como observa Mark Lilla, en la renacida idolatría de la tierra y la sangre, en la histérica obsesión por el pueblo, en la glorificación de la violencia revolucionaria, en el culto de la personalidad. Un nexo que explica el radicalismo ferozmente antipolítico de un movimiento mesiánico que carece de programa, puesto que el objeto de su gesta no consiste en ocuparse de las condiciones de vida material de la sociedad sino del Destino del Pueblo, …. De allí la aspiración a una nueva Edad Dorada en la cual el individuo será por fin sustituido por el grupo y la sociedad por el Estado,

    Como en toda teología, la promesa fundada en la fe es más importante que la evidencia. Si la vida política gira en torno de la disputa por la autoridad, la vida del movimiento lo hace en torno de la comprensión de los propósitos del líder. Interpretar sus gestos -no sólo sus palabras-, sus estados de ánimo, sus fatigas y sus entusiasmos es el modo de obtener argumentos para dar validez a sus actos, sin interrogar de ningún modo sus intenciones. Al líder, enseñan, no se le habla: se lo escucha.

    Que un sistema de creencias religiosas se convierta en una doctrina de la vida política no es nuevo en la historia de Occidente. …… si los kirchneristas actúan movidos por la fe, sus dirigentes están guiados por el interés. Por el interés más elemental y más terrible: el del poder y el de la riqueza. Si de por sí nos parece incomprensible que las ideas teológicas todavía inflamen las mentes de los hombres provocando pasiones mesiánicas, …..

    • Pan, Tierra y Trabajo?

      Para el hombre y mujer del partido
      cuatro formas no más tiene el pan.
      Pan y escuela, su luz, pan y techo,
      Pan y tierra, su amor, tierra y mar.
      Y una forma de hacerlo… ¡Trabajo!
      Y una forma de darlo… ¡Igualdad!
      Y una voz de pedirlo… ¡Justicia!
      Y una forma en la voz… ¡Libertad!

      The adecos were successful in their narrative, alligned with he times of the mid 20th century Venezuela, turning urban and coming from years of Gomecismo pacificador. The new hopefuls, need to address the systematic destruction chavismo has promoted for half a generation, and their clear intent to continue blaming everyone else for their failures….

      The chaos will help people see the wrong of populism and Chavista ways only if the discourse is managed constructively by opposition nationalists. Big challenge ahead.

  10. What else can you expect? I mean, some “top” figures in the opposition have been flattering Chavez for a while and Capriles, arguably the one front figure the opposition had, said that he will keep the “missions”. That’w two strikes in a row: licking the boots of the guy responsible for the beatings and keep repeating the same mistakes on subsidies. CADIVI and gas will never be touched.

    And since all this firms “advice” political candidates, you can’t expect anything good. If tomorrow the whole government leaves, opposition is so lame that it wouldn’t be able to take or let alonee keep control of the government.

  11. Accountability is a necessary but not sufficient condition for recovery.

    And I agree that the time for diagnostics is over, the fact that everything “se fue a la mierda” is evident for pretty much all Venezuelans.

  12. You should apply your own advice. Not too long ago your focus was meritocracy/anti-populism. Even Thor acknowledged the fault in your/his (difference?) campaign:

    https://twitter.com/ThorHalvorssen/status/552447352137846784

    You also opened this year by writing about chavistas’ genius plot of depressing the opposition, implying you’re susceptible in a way not compatible with the “educated elite” idea you were peddling.

  13. I’ll just toss around the message Violeta Chamorro used in her successful campaign against 1980’s Sandinismo (which I find very similar to Chavismo):

    “Tenemos hambre, queremos amnistía, tortillas más baratas, fuera el servicio militar” (We’re hungry, we want amnesty, cheaper tortillas, end the military draft).

    It could be Venezuelanized as: “No mas colas, la plata no alcanza, abajo la inseguridad”.

    Some of you may think a whole story is needed, but I fear we might end with yet another brick sized decalogo.

  14. The narrative should not seek to cater to the die hards (which are a small minority anyway and will never be convinced) but to people who are disgruntled and have some capacity to understand how it happened and what needs to be done to fix it, with some specifics about how each specific problem can be tackled leaving a ray of hope that a better future can be built .

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