Over the last three years, divisions within the Venezuelan opposition have gone from taboo to in-your-face, from elephant in the room to full-blown suppurating eyesore. And everyone seems to admit this, except for the opposition leadership.
I understand Chavismo’s need to resort to denial of internal dissent as a defense mechanism for unresolved daddy issues, but for the opposition, this cover-up ranks next to Ricardo Sánchez in the lameness scale. Especially since we’ve had a 15-year grace period to mature and prepare for this.
It has not always been so. The Venezuelan opposition did enjoy moments of genuine collaboration.
Remember 2010 parliamentary elections? Perfect unity, everyone worked together, it was sweet.
But then came elections in 2013, when after claiming fraud, then-Presidential candidate-cum-rockstar Henrique Capriles Radonski, anointed by a very united Mesa de Unidad’s primary election, went back on his calls for mass protests all around the country due to safety concerns. Critics claimed that a golden opportunity was squandered. But most remained loyal to Capriles and the MUD’s rally to vindicate national sentiment through regional elections later that year. These were an epic failure for the opposition, and some believed a game-changer was just around the corner.
This led to La Salida in early 2014: an opposition faction led by María Corina Machado, Leopoldo López, Antonio Ledezma, several political parties and civil society groups, called for street protests and town-hall meetings, which coincided with student-led demonstrations, based on the premise that a dictatorial government would never cede power based on elections alone, citing the urgency of regime change.
This “unilateral” initiative rattled the MUD (that is, Capriles’s Primero Justicia, Acción Democrática, Copei, Un Nuevo Tiempo, and other parties), which had set forth a clear electoral agenda for the next 5 years as a means of dealing with a “defective democracy.” Per the MUD, a dialogue with the government, rather than street protests, was the way to go. So a televised dialogue was staged, Leopoldo López was in prison, María Corina wasn’t invited, and a whole bunch of students were jailed and tortured.
Thus began the Great Opposition Rift.
Which is fine. Really, it’s fine: people in public life disagree. The rift in itself isn’t a problem.
It’s the catatonic denial of the rift that is absolutely corrosive.
For over a year, we in the opposition rank-and-file have been subjected to ludicrous public claims of “unidad” and “alternativa democrática,” while witnessing infantile, petty, and sometimes downright cruel pokes and jabs within the opposition coalition. Those of us close to the fire are told to keep our mouths shut, while Diosdado Cabello airs our dirty laundry on State TV every Wednesday night. Any sane person who criticizes this puerile behavior is deemed a traitor, a divisive radical.
And what most pisses me off is the glib smugness with which this is all handled.
When the U.S. State Department initiated proceedings to sanction individual Venezuelan officials who violated Human Rights during La Salida, Ramón Guillermo Aveledo confused the country and strengthened the government by describing the sanctions were universal. When Voluntad Popular had the initiative to start a signature drive for a Constituent Assembly, the MUD discarded it as a “unilateral initiative.” When María Corina along with 17 opposition parties started a movement called “El Congreso Ciudadano,” Capriles made a point to publicly state that he would not attend. When three notable former presidents came to Venezuela in support of the opposition cause, the MUD boycotted the event.
Backstabbing, discrediting, sabotaging. Yet every week MUD Secretary General Chuo Torrealba comes out to say publicly that Unity is as strong as ever.
And all the while, Venezuelans are forced to pretend to care about this useless back-and-forth when trying to make very-dire-ends meet, Every. Godforsaken. Day.
The most recent Mesa de Unidad communiqué, in response to Leopoldo López’s call for a street protest last Saturday, is the latest iteration of this farce. In it, the MUD pays requisite lip-service to political prisoners, fair electoral conditions and all that other stupid but necessary bullshit, before stating that they will, unfortunately, not participate in said event, due to “adverse circumstances” surrounding López’s unilateral initiative.
This, even though López recorded the video several days prior to its leak, hoping to get it sent to the MUD for consideration. The government seized his phone and published the video without his knowledge in order to preempt him. But they still need us to vote for them – God forbid them not getting their congressional seats!!
It’s the simultaneous disunity and catastrophic inability to acknowledge disunity and deal with it like adults that’s eating the opposition. If I enjoyed self-censorship, I’d have signed up for a PSUV card long ago. I happen to believe that a robust and energetic public debate is one of the tenets of a democracy, one of the things that we as an opposition supposedly fight for.
We, the oppo core voters, see right through your thinly veiled public feud, and would be better off if each political party within the MUD stopped bullshitting us, and treated us with a little more respect. If you would be forthcoming about your structural and completely legitimate political differences, you’d do much more to attract undecideds, who would see the MUD as a beacon of moderated debate instead of the disingenuous, stifled, insecure, power-hungry pricks that you are acting like.
One way Chávez undermined our public sphere was through his brilliant simplification of our political culture. It’s up to us as citizens to revert his legacy through the conscious elevation of our debate.
Electoral unity and political differences are not mutually exclusive. As long as the opposition continues to hold on to this obnoxious ideal of fake harmony, we will continue to show we’re not ready for primetime, and stay a blip in the radar of a crumbling, weakened, failed regime.