Chúo Torrealba cut a terribly lonely figure at Hotel Meliá Caracas yesterday, speaking all on his lonesome to a huge, empty room on behalf of people who clearly didn’t back what he had to say. Appearing an awkward few minutes after the papal envoy, Monsignor Tscherrig, had read his cazabobos communiqué, Chúo looked ill at ease as he confirmed participation in a ‘dialogue’ that clearly commands no consensus in the famously consensus-dependent MUD.
As the opposition works to mobilize its supporters on the streets in a show of defiance against a government it has already labeled dictatorial, the very worst visual possible is of one of its leaders getting clubby with the other side and a bunch of priests at a five-star hotel.
The snippet of his speech that really caught my eye was this bit:
Where Chúo announces proudly that from the very first meeting with the government, they’d agreed to keep tomorrow’s protest activities peaceful. The statement, flatly contradicts the rest of MUD’s contention that there had been no direct talks with the government side that day. More importantly, it totally undermines the spirit of tomorrow’s protests, which are supposed to be about facing down a dictatorship, not “playing nice” and staying within pre-agreed bounds.
Contrast Chúo’s let’s-talk-things-out-to-make-sure-nobody-gets-hurt note with Julio Borges — Julio Borges!! — a mere 24 hours earlier:
Those two clips, in juxtaposition, paint a picture of a deeply lost MUD, a MUD floundering badly as it tries to figure out what it actually means to face down a dictatorship on behalf of a severed hilo consitucional.
What’s clear is that the optics at Meliá Caracas were garishly bad. So it’s not surprising that the rest of the afternoon was a virtual stampede of MUD figures racing to distance themselves. Everyone from Henrique Capriles and David Smolansky to Luis Florido to Henry Ramos Allup claiming they’d first heard of this new National Dialogue on TV and wouldn’t back it.
(You gotta love HRA’s response — tongue, one suspects, firmly in cheek.)
AD dijo q si iban los partidos a diálogo promovido por Vaticano concurriríamos.Como ahora todos nos enteramos por tv nosotros tampoco vamos.
— Henry Ramos Allup (@hramosallup) October 25, 2016
Put it all together, and some detected a P.R. fuckup of genuinely hemispheric proportions.
Venezuela opposition announcing dialogue may be the biggest PR fail in LatAm this year, surpassing Peña Nieto´s hosting Trump.
— Anatoly Kurmanaev (@AKurmanaev) October 24, 2016
Of course, being MUD Executive Secretary is no bed of roses: the position is heavy on the “secretary” and light on the “executive”. It’s a job with much more visibility than power, amounting really to a glorified Press Secretary: a public face to put on statements agreed by the parties behind the scenes. Which, of course, is why they tapped Chúo — a journalist who cut his teeth as a Radio Talk Show host — rather than an experienced politico for the role this time.
But then, a spokesperson role makes it all the more important that you make triple sure that the things you say really have the support of the people on whose behalf you are talking. Caught off base by what seems to have been a last minute bait-and-switch by the government and the mediators, Chúo momentarily forgot that cardinal rule yesterday, and boy did he pay the price.
A more seasoned politico would’ve made sure to have his party heads flanking him right on that tarima, so they couldn’t claim to have been binge-watching TV later. As it was, Chúo’s loneliness made it enormously easy to throw him under the bus, which most opposition figures did with relish.
Capriles, for one, was not exactly ambiguous in his stance:
Listen, I understand what Chúo was trying to do. I can see how snubbing a papal envoy is horribly dicey. I can even see how trying to secure calm at upcoming protests and forestall a wave of arrests of opposition activists could seem like a good idea. A similar kind of agreement was quietly arrived at just ahead of the September 1st march, enabling it to go ahead without incident.
But it’s a question of timing.
Ten days ago? Maybe.
Now? No friggin’ way.
Today, Chúo must be considering his position. It’s hard to be a spokesman when everyone you ostensibly speak for has so publicly thrown you under the bus.
But Chúo’s hesitation only underlines the opposition’s broader confusion. MUD really, really needs to figure out if it wants to be this,
…because it can’t be both.
You can’t pre-negotiate your defiance, por Dios.
Active non-violence isn’t about cutting pragmatic deals to avoid getting your head bashed in. Gandhi wasn’t out negotiating no Comisión Conjunta with the British before he marched to the sea to make salt, coño. He went and did it, because it was the right thing to do. And he quietly welcomed the repression his action triggered because that repression — and his defiance when faced with such visible injustice — was an integral part of the plan to eat away at the regime’s support. That’s how this works, guys.
You’d think it goes without saying. Apparently not, though.