The Case for a Negotiated Transition


Plenty of Venezuelans —including, on certain mornings, the one that stares back at me from the mirror— regard the idea of a transition negotiated with chavismo as almost too ridiculous for words. So Abraham Lowenthal has his work cut out for him in arguing for such a thing in Foreign Policy. 

He does it deftly, though, by pointing to successful negotiated transitions in other countries with governments just as recalcitrant and anti-democratic as ours…and often much more violent:

In Brazil, Chile, Poland, Spain, and elsewhere, such leaders have inspired hope by articulating a positive and inclusionary vision of the future without arousing unrealistic expectations of immediate and total change. They have found spaces and means for informal dialogue to explore ways to move forward, such as the “talks about talks” between the African National Congress and unofficial representatives of the South African government or the Round Table discussions between the Communist government and Solidarity in Poland. They have encouraged those within an authoritarian regime who seek a safe exit that this might indeed be possible, while excluding those among the opposition who reject compromise or threaten the use of violence — as was necessary in Brazil, Chile, and Spain. They have improved electoral laws and created independent electoral authorities to build trust in the electoral process, as occurred in Mexico over several years.

Notably, successful transition leaders around the world — again, from both incumbent regimes and oppositions — have had to make compromises, even painful and unpopular ones, preferring modest advance to heroic defeat. In 1988 in Chile, Patricio Aylwin, leader of the united opposition to the Pinochet government, prevailed after bitter disagreement among opposition groups in securing the opposition’s participation in a plebiscite, despite the risk of legitimizing Pinochet. This decision made possible the dictator’s historic ouster. In Brazil in 1986, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and other key opposition leaders succeeded in dialing down the public clamor for “direct elections, now,” resisted by the military government, agreed to contest the elections under the military’s rules, named a civilian official of the military government as the opposition’s vice presidential candidate, and won the indirect presidential elections that ended military rule. And in 1989-90, the leaders of Solidarity and its democratic allies accepted the participation of the Communists in the first democratically elected government of post-Communist Poland.

The architects of previous democratic transitions learned the delicate art of mobilizing international support without being perceived as instruments of foreign intervention, as illustrated by the ANC in South Africa and, indeed, by skilled opposition leaders in each of the countries mentioned above. They asserted their commitments to constitutional freedoms while ending gross human rights violations, such as the detention of political prisoners and the threat of incarceration for legal protest. And they developed modes of documenting abuses, recognizing and sometimes compensating victims by appointing Truth and Reconciliation commissions or other such bodies, without seeking revenge or exacting full justice in the fraught conditions of a democratic transition.

They found ways to recognize each side’s contributions to national progress. And they worked together on necessary economic and social changes, as illustrated by Spain’s Moncloa pact among political parties, business organizations and trade unions. Often they cooperated with humanitarian relief programs and international financial institutions to begin the process of economic recovery. In most of these countries — and especially in Chile, Spain, and Brazil — opposition leaders invested time and effort to build unity among the democratic opposition, eliciting personal and party sacrifices to achieve shared goals and developing clear programs for governing.

All these challenges face Venezuela today. They are difficult, but they need not be insurmountable. The circumstances of South Africa, Chile, Indonesia, Brazil, and other countries were arguably much more hostile to peaceful democratic transition than those facing Venezuela, but creative approaches were found by those deeply committed to fashioning them.

I still think the most instructive case of this is the Polish transition, both because the pre-1989 Polish regime was exactly as economically self-harming as chavismo, and because to many Solidarity activists the prospect of sitting down and negotiating with those people —people who’d murdered thousands of their fellow activists and imprisoned thousands more for over a decade, in some cases — was every bit as stomach turning.

Amazingly, unbelievably, a negotiation with that government was made to work. And hard though it is for us to quite grasp it, their starting conditions were just as bad as ours.

I mean, seriously:


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  1. In Spanish you would,say “Casos peores se han visto” lets be moderately optimistic… Sept 01 will be an important milestone …

  2. No one in opposition, neither the “Pedro Pérezes” nor the MUD, has ever mentioned nor ever will think on starting witch hunts against the “base” chavistas, get that idea out of the drawer already.

    What we have to care about here, is the fate of the chavista high command, the fat fishes, the criminals with abhorrent records, the people that are popular to hate, yes, I’m talking specifically about the usual suspects: Diosdado, Maduro, the taliban Tareck, Silva, Reverol, Chacín, Padrino, Varela, Santana, Ramírez, Rodríguez, Osorio, Merentes, among others aka the worst of the worst; those guys that might get deported straight to USA so they get locked away for good and not even a single person would shed a tear for them, all of those I mentioned are hated and reviled by more than half of the chavistas already, they have null of near-zero people support.

    “But that’s fascist, vengeful, radical and anti-peaceful!” you might commnent, well, actually you’re wrong there, because in the other countries the worst criminals got persecuted and imprisoned in the end, and they rot in the cell until they died in many cases, as it happened with Pinochet and many nazis.

    “But the idea of the transition is that we must eat the sewer dreg that is letting go criminals unpunished in favor of the peace!”, in that case, we “let go” the lower cronies, those who would just extort bribes as a way of living, or the lower branches that got used to work in the black markets to suck money from other people as starving leeches, because the bulk of chavismo fandom is composed of those low-ranking criminals, and because it’s impossible to track and punish the crimes of every single bachaquero and extorting bureaucrat, only a couple of exemplary cases would send the message, the others would get offered the impunity in exchange for them to stop doing their crap and get a real job.

    In the cases you mentioned, Toro, the high bosses, the most notable figures of those regimes got their asses burned hard in the end, the transition is NOT what Santos is doing in Colombia now, letting the high command of the farcs completely unpunished and with all their political rights intact, outright denying justice for the broad of the colombian people because the media swallowed the ridiculous lie that it was a “revolutionary war” and not just a drug cartel slaughtering innocent people during decades. That’s what happened in the 60s with the pacification of the communist guerrillas in Venezuela already, we just can’t allow the same failure to be repeated thinking it would yield a different result this time, it’s suicidal for the country.

    And no, no one of the criminals I mentioned would put a single cent to finance a war against the post-chavista goverments, so take that idea out of the discussion too.

    What would be the “daring, unpopular and most stomach churning” initiative any post-chavista government might take? This, the ucranian example:

    Do I have to mention that communism is banned in Polonia as well and you can go to jail if you as much as wear a ché T-shirt there?

    • Yeah. As much as we dislike banning and shutting down, punishing, revoking and intruding, this infiltration stuff of counter-productive (destructive) “thought” has gone too far and is now destroying families by sexually perverting children. That’s how much they think of us.

      We are warned that fascistic elements are a danger. We see that. What we want is to be able to live and work in a peaceful and criminal-free environment, to conduct our own lives and morals and faiths without impositions. We want a clean environment – scum-free.

      Excuse my liberal use of “we” – this is an expression of what I observe in men and women working everyday not just to earn a living and prosper, doing so with a genuine desire to be of service – be it a mechanic who wants your car to run well, a banker who wants to provide the best financial services and convenience, a lawyer who genuinely wants what is right, or a doctor who has dedicated his life to helping others. I see it in children going through their private struggles as their body height doubles and triples and their mental capacity takes on the world and sorts out its confusions to find their productive base. And yes, these people deserve to be paid and deserve their prosperity and respect. And deserve honesty.

      Honesty is perhaps the hardest thing to earn, and carries the greatest rewards.

      We’re tired of suffering in silence the “liberal thinkers” who tell us we are fascists, homo-phobic, racist, politically incorrect, brain-washed, too-straight, inflexible, and a bunch of other bad things – while those who accuse us are themselves “free from blame” because they are “protected” by free speech and other [abuses of] basic rights.

      We don’t like to disrespect legitimate rights, but we have gone far enough in tolerating subversions of what is decent and proper in society. We do not seek vengeance – we know that doesn’t work, doesn’t produce. We seek a cessation of attacks and subversions of ourselves, our principles of work, honesty and decency, and even our children.

      I try to base my life on principles. I believe their is a right and a wrong. I expect someone may “intellectually challenge” that “in the interests of mankind”, and request or demand a “clarification”. The intent of that “challenge” is not discussion or clarification, the intent is not an open mind or the interests of mankind; the intent is to confuse and the mind “asking” has gone far beyond closed – it seeks to impose a useless anarchy of thought, an agreement to erosion and destruction. A man produces a good product and service. No one complains. That must be right, then – and enough with the questions.

      Allegedly three hundred billion dollars is “miscellaneous unaccounted for”. How about that money back from the “alleged” criminals who most disrespectfully in violation of trust stole it. How about an admission of wrong. How about respect for working men and women. How about freedom from oppression to satisfy the selfishness and blindness of those who destroy. How about some right, and a cessation of vile lies, for a change.

  3. When I was reading about the Bosnian War, there’s something someone said that stuck with me: “The saddest part of it all is that, for all their hardline talk and all their strongmen attitudes, the big leaders of both sides had to sit down anyway and negotiate about how to end the conflict. If they had done it five years earlier, all that blood could have been saved”.

    It’s absolutely worth a try, as much as we hate the notion.

  4. Its not that any reasonable person wouldn’t wish for a negotiated ´transition´, even at the expense of granting those we loathe for their crimes and abuses a kind of pardon , the thing is that there is on the part of the current regime (or main leaders) no one who appears the least bit willing to give negotiations a chance , they very clearly are of the view that granting the opposition any recognized participation in the fashioning of public decisions represents not only an existential threat but a a betrayal of their most cherished and inmovable principles, Their response is visceral and adamant, as Chavez said ‘ál escualido ni un vaso de agua !!

    Also they have proven in the past, whenever they simulated having negotiated an agreement (2002?) to be wholly unreliable in meeting their commitments and promises instead they attempt to confuse the world with clouds of rosy and fuzzy rethoric and then go on to either ignore or intentionally undermine whatever commitments they have made….’

    They are becoming more flagrantly dictatorial every day , their attempts at disguising their naked lust for a total and permanent monopolization of power are now paper thin , barely covered by a string bikini of farcical legality ….they can no longer fool anyone into believing that they represent a new progressive form of democracy…!!

    And yet , the oppo as a matter of principle must always remain open to a negotiated transition if ever the regime ( or at least some faction within it) shows a disposition to go beyond the appearances towards a settlement and conciliation that allows for the development of a truly democratic form of governance.!!

  5. Between Poland’s negotiation and Venezuela’s, there’s now the social media ravine. That one which makes so many more participate in the process, and which therefore makes the petit committee’s workings so much harder… and which have everyone nervous of being caught by their partisans, agitators or simply besserwisser, now or in some years or decades, with giving away too much to the other side.

  6. It is a good argument with a sound historical basis. However, I fear that there is divisive difference in the examples cited and Venezuela. None of the other countries had the levels of lawlessness and delinquency that Venezuela has today. Even if the leadership of the PSUV desired to negotiate, they could not speak for a very large fraction of their nominal constituents, nor would those groups accept any agreement made. At the end of the process, the vast swathes of sovereign Venezuelan territory that have been ceded will still need to be reconquered.

    • My exact thoughts. It’s been apparent to me for some time that no other model of transition could be aptly applied to us, simply because of the tremendous crime rates and levels of impunity we experience. While political accord can perhaps be achieved, the prans will still rule Peace Zones, the slums and the prisons. And they won’t go quietly.

      • Media bombing.

        Portait the prans, the mafia bosses and every single “dry skull murderous thug” (aka “malandro asesino coco seco”) as soul-less monsters, then drop the hammer on them.

        Of course, offer them a chance to surrender and turn themselves peacefully, so their right to live gets respected, if they insist into going in a bloody rampage, well, they chose their fate, afterwards, present them as the criminals they were to the public to avoid any consequences.

        • Uhu, I agree with Mr. Ulamog. Stop dealing with criminals as if they’re a beligerant faction, which is what PSUV, following the Marxist principle of “criminals are really a victim of capitalism”, always did.

          Treat them like criminals.

  7. “the idea of a transition negotiated with chavismo as almost too ridiculous for words.”

    First, there’s no real “Chavismo”. That’s just a mask, a lie. They are obviously not “socialists”, they are full-blown capitalists, and thieves. That’s all.

    Some still use Chavez’s name because much of “el pueblo” is still pro-Chavez.. go figure….. And because times were better with the oil bonanza then, even when they stole most of it. Almost everyone in the so-called “Chavista” government is simply an avaricious Thief. No real idealogy. No real “socialism”

    A ‘negotiated transition’? It ain’t gonna happen. Because they want to steal as much as possible, for as long a possible. And because they fear jail and losing stolen properties. Where’s a crook like Cabello gonna go after the MUD takes over? Germany or Puerto Ordaz? In Vzla, he would eventually get arrested, if there is a decent new government in place. Heck, very “chavista” politician deserves jail, for the atrocities committed. They’re probably just buying time to Bribe themselves out of trouble, which is what usually happens in Vzla.

    • How are they “capitalist”? Many chavistas have stolen a lot of money, and are now rich. But having money does not make one a capitalist. Capitalism is the process of private wealth being invested in productive enterprises and returning profits to the investors. What does chavista grafting have to do with that?

  8. I think a negotiated transition of some kind is inevitable. The key differences with the Polish example, as I see it, lie in the weaknesses of the opposition: they are not fundamentally unified, they are not organized and cannot mobilize people the way the Solidarity movement could, they have no leaders with broad based support (their core constituency remains the middle and upper class, groups which are themselves divided), and most importantly they have no economic lever: it is precisely that they have not been able to wage “economic war” (via strikes and similar boycotts), that they have a weak negotiating position.

    Maybe as conditions continue to rapidly deteriorate, there will be a collective reckoning and the opposition movement will coalesce. If it does not, then the negotiated transition will look more like a changing of the deck chairs than a change with longer term consequences.

    People can blame the crackdowns on the press, the violence, what some people think is the supposed evil genius of core chavismo (or the evil genius of its Cuban advisors) -all kinds of things for these shortcomings, but none of these factors was any better in Poland in the late 1980s. Conditions against democratic transition were much, much worse. Nobody predicted the fall of European communism when it happened. Even as it was in full swing, most “realistic people” talked about change happening over many years, the inevitability of a crackdown, etc.

    So when we talk about negotiated transitions, or instead argue for a “take no prisoners” approach, I think people have to ask themselves: where is the power – what is the lever- that is going to support their position? If they think that the opposition is going to just waltz in and take over once chavismo collapses on itself, which it probably will do, I think they are wrong. In that case, it would be no more viable for a current opposition leader to take over power than it would for me or anyone else on this blog. It just is not going to happen that way. Power vacuums do not give way to reasonable democrats with good backgrounds in law and economics. They tend to give way to monsters.

    One fundamental change has happened that makes the story in Venezuela different from the past: it’s not the CIA and the Marines who are going to bring in and secure this transition. Nor was it, as it turns out and as nobody could have predicted, in Poland.

    What scares me is that I don’t get a sense of a population in Venezuela quietly mobilizing for a transition, as we saw in Eastern Europe. Despite heroic efforts by a small minority of people -mostly young people and students- I get the sense of a population either lashing out in unproductive and violent ways, or just waiting for an intervention from God. Yes, people ought to study Poland.

    • You know, I’ve learned a lot from this guy Billy Kristol in the US elections, mostly that often the fiercest opposition institutions are the ones with most entrenched interests in protecting the state of things.

      • Ah yes, they thought the beast was their friend, and they thought they could control the beast. Well, indeed, some Venezuelans know about that mistake too.

  9. Unfortunately the situation in Venezuela is too complex for a negotiated solution. First of all, it is not at all clear who are the parties that should negotiate. The negotiations would be silly and useless if the military and the cubans are not represented In the government side and both of them wouldn´t like to be seen as entities formally exerting power in Venezuela. The PSUV is incapable to represent the interests of the Cuban regime in such an instance and the military would not accept such a proxy. In the cases of Poland and Chile each side had clearly defined political identities and forces.
    Then there is the question of what are the issues to be negotiated. The whole exercise is meaningless if it doesn´t aim at regime change. Thus, negotiating economic policy changes is not the agenda. It would be questionable if not outrageous to negotiate respect of the Constitution. Therefore, negotiating institutional recomposition of the TSJ, the CNE and so forth plus recognition of the two thirds majority in the AN, is out of the question. Theseare matters of just applying the Constitution which requires no negotiation whatsoever.
    In sum, the negotiation would seem to be reduced to convince the regime to abandon power, to respect the Constitutional process for the situation and to accept a new political process leading away from the Socialsmo Siglo XXI. Quite an endeavor!!! … In exchange for what? I suppose, for a promise of accomodated amnesty allowing them to keep the booty.
    As far as power of negotiation is concerned, the opposition has only the majority conquered on 6Dec in the AN and also the extremely favorable results of opinion surveys and polls and, hopefully, a population willing and ready to protest in the streets all of which remains to be tested as suficient. There for it is not clear what would compel the regime to negotiate at all. This in my opinion is a far from auspicious environment for a negotiated transition.
    I´ve written somewhat longer on this subjets. If you wish find it in

  10. Not everyone of these endeavors have proven successful. Take for example Zimbabwe in 2008 after the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change)’s odds at beating Mugabe in the presidential election were obliterated given Mugabe’s repression to the opposition and its withdrawal from the elections…He then offered Morgan Tsvangirai (leader of the MDC) and its party a seat in his government, naming him Prime Minister…nowadays Zimbabwe continues to be ruled by the ZANU-PF (Mugabe’s Party) and his dreadful rule lingers on.
    And in my opinion we’re still far from the point of a negotiation.

  11. Quico has a photo of food lines in Poland, which help illustrate points in common with Poland in the 1980s and Venezuela in 2016. Here are but two points in common: a government that many despise, and inept government policies which result in food shortages and food lines.

    It is of interest that in the era of food lines in Poland and in Sandinista Nicaragua, Bernie Sanders didn’t view food lines as a consequence of inept government policies.

    Bernie Sanders: “It’s funny, sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is, that people are lining up for food. That is a good thing! In other countries people don’t line up for food: the rich get the food and the poor starve to death.”

    That defense of food lines could have come from the mouth of a Chavista apparatchik.

    Yet Quico informs us that “To tar Bernie supporters with the ills of the Chavez era is to show the kind of slackjawed rightwing simplemindedness that brought us…well, that brought us candidate Trump.”

    As Bernie Sanders’s defense of food lines could well have come from the mouth of a Chavista apparatchik, I fail to see how it constitutes “slackjawed rightwing simplemindedness” to connect Bernie Sanders with Chavismo.

    Quico made a flippant statement for which he gave no proof whatsoever. I have made well documented comments to illustrate why connecting Bernie Sanders to Chavismo is far from “slackjawed rightwing simplemindedness.”

    Yet Quico refuses to deal with my comments. Repeatedly.

  12. Sort of OT:

    I spent some time this morning listening to Bloomberg Television. Right now, in the world, the business news is the most hopeful and forward looking message out there. The technologies that will be commercialized in the next five years include self-driving cars, various life saving and life extension medical treatments, new energy technologies that will likely begin to reduce oil demand, and integrated communications technologies that are already beginning to blur national borders and may ultimately make even the concept of nationalism obsolete.

    Meanwhile, Venezuela is struggling just to maintain a 20th century technological existence, with no thought at all given to how it will integrate itself into the evolving transnational paradigm. Sigh…

  13. Venezuela’s transition will be far more difficult then Chile, Poland, South Africa, or Brazil.

    1) Chavismo is up to its ears in looting and now drug trafficking. If they give up power, they risk prosecution for these crimes and the confiscation of their loot. None of the other regimes were looters.

    2) a) The South African and Polish regimes had lost all moral legitimacy. South Africa had been a pariah for generations. Communist Poland was always dismissed as the stooge of the USSR. Both had always been opposed by an overwhelming majority of the people, and faced physical destruction if they did not yield peacefully.

    Chavismo claimed power far more legitimately, and kept it more legitimately. They have asserted a moral claim to power (we take the wealth and give to the people) which had far more acceptance than South Africa’s white supremacy, or Poland’s Communism (dubious even in the 1940s). They retain far more international legitimacy than either. Also, more domestic support – many who despise Maduro and suffer in the current crisis still believe in the chavismo premise.

    b) The Chilean regime never claimed full permanent legitimacy; Pinochet came to power through extra-legal action during a national emergency.

    c) I don’t know much about Brazil’s history.

    3) None of the other countries were mired in extreme economic failure and social disorder. Whatever the flaws of the political regimes, the bulk of these governments were honest men and women who performed the routine business of the state as best they could. Chile, South Africa, and Brazil all had mainly private economies that functioned OK. Poland had been fully “socialized”, but in an orderly way, and its work force was ready to privatize.

    4) Chavismo has a “legitimate” claim to hold power till the end of the current presidential term.

    5) The Venezuelan transition portends to be far more drastic than any of the others. In Chile and Brazil, the army went back to the barracks. In Poland, the Communists went into retirement. Daily life didn’t change. South Africa threatened the most drastic change, but the incoming regime agreed to the physical safety and property rights of the white population – which they have largely lived up to.

    Venezuela’s economic crisis, chavismo’s aggressive state involvements, the incompetence of chavismo, and the criminality of many chavistas, will require far more immediate change, which armed chavistas will resist.

    So I don’t see a peaceful transition as possible.

    • That “only way out” will take Venezuela to the same path as Niracagua:

      1) Sandinists take power and destroy the country.

      2) When they’re cornered by their own destruction, they “negotiate a peaceful transition” with the other factors of society.

      3) Another people take the goverment, but thanks to the “peaceful negotiation” the sandinists hold ALL the actual power, and thus sabotage and block EVERYTHING the new government tries to do, making it to appear as bad in the eyes of the idiotic population.

      4) They return one term later to power, where they remain until today.

      So, “full impunity negociation” my ass, man, lock and deport every of the big honchos in chavismo, the only way to kill a hydra is to cut down ALL of its heads.


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