Fear and Loathing in a No-RR Scenario

All of our eggs - not just all the opposition's eggs, but all of the nation's eggs - are now in the Recall Referendum basket. What if it fails? Do we fully realize that this is democracy's last shot?

A palpable sense of dread hangs over many of us. Scenes from last week of jubilant people smiling as they signed a petition to recall Maduro were offered momentary relief. Still, each day brings fresh horrors – whether it is news of starving racehorses, museums shutting down, gangsters gunned down, or public officials flaunting the law. Heck, now it’s a thing to kill pigeons to eat.

Bad as things are, we still have one thing offering some semblance of hope: the Recall Referendum. It ain’t much. It’s flimsy and precarious and may not save us in the end. But like passengers after a shipwreck, we’ll grab on to whatever bit of driftwood comes our way. It’s far from ideal, but what choice do we have?

Which makes it seem almost cruel to go through this scenario, but go through it we must: if the recall fails, what then?

After the Supreme Tribunal shot down the idea of a Constitutional Amendment, we knew that left the Recall as our last, best option. In all likelihood, it’s our last shot. The only other option, the Constitutional Assembly, is cumbersome – and a government willing to play rough enough to sink the RR is willing to play rough enough to sink the Constituyente.

Everything now hinges on the Recall Referendum – not only chavismo’s power, but also Henrique Capriles’ career, Leopoldo López’s freedom, Polar’s survival, and the lives of thousands of Venezuelans. Whether it’s those needlessly dying at the hands of unchecked crime, those who will suffer from tropical diseases that go untreated, the newborns dying in our hospitals, or the families beginning to show signs of starvation, the bottom line is: the longer chavismo stays, the more people will die.

This is the moral choice we face as a nation.

Let’s make one fact clear: the Recall Referendum should happen. We have the signatures, we have the votes, and time is on our side. There is no way that, in a fair and just Venezuela, Maduro survives a Recall Referendum held according to chavismo’s own rules.

But we know chavismo is re-writing the rules as they go along.

For all the optimism our leaders convey, there is a real possibility that the process will be shot down. Chavismo has many tools at its disposal to…dispose of us. The terrifying part is the realization that if a Recall does take place, it’ll be largely because the parts of chavismo who’ve come to see President Maduro as a long-term liability have outmaneuvered the parts of chavismo still standing by him. We do all the legwork and take all the risk, but the ultimate decision is going to stay in the hands of people who hate us, who would have us exterminated if they could.

What we know is that if Jorge Rodríguez, Tareck el Aissami, María Cristina Iglesias, Elías Jaua and the other leftwing extremists who still have Maduro’s back have their way, there will be no Recall Referendum.

If they get their wish, Venezuela would face a tragedy unlike any we have known. A society that’s been flirting with state collapse could cave in completely. Hyperinflation – the real kind with intra-day price rises for most products – could destroy the economy outright. Basic order – already badly compromised – could give way completely to anarchy amid complete institutional implosion. The cohesion of the Armed Forces would probably not hold.

And us? What exactly would we say?

What exactly do we want Henry Ramos Allup to say the day after a bunch of goons with guns turn up on TV reading a high-sounding communiqué about restoring the constitution and announcing they have Maduro in custody? What exactly do we think Chuo Torrealba’s game plan should be when the commander of the National Guard gives an order to go stop a looting episode in Cumaná and his troops and mid-level commanders just don’t pick up the phone?

If the Armed Forces act to end this disaster, what will we say?

We’ve grown used to the idea that, as much as defeats hurt, we’ll always have another chance. This time, we don’t. God knows we all need the Recall Referendum to succeed. The time is now. If this thing doesn’t happen, we only face a cliff.

We’d better have our parachutes.