Dialogue, Actually [Spot the Difference edition]

003_eg_0273_1397182772

A general view shows a political meeting between government and opposition in Caracas, Venezuela October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Marco Bello

As tempted as I may be to invoke that cliché about the definition of insanity and trying the same thing while hoping for different results (oops), let’s objectively compare and contrast the two attempts at dialogue, with two years hindsight. 

Aside from the obviously worsened social conditions that are ravaging the country today, and perhaps, most notably, Capriles’ reversed position regarding protests, the similarities seem to outnumber the differences: We have an actively repressive government managing the optics and playing peacemaker, a divided (albeit, way more civil) opposition leadership grappling over conditions and bottom lines, schizophrenic messaging over MUD’s overall stance, little-to-no leverage that MUD can bring to the table, and on-the-record breaches of the very promises that the government agreed to keep while this process is ongoing (viejo coño de madre? so much for toning down the rhetoric).

Let’s just hope that we can add “resulted in positive outcome” to the list of differences this time around. 

Originally published April 10, 2014

quino1

Happy Dialogue Day, everyone!

Time to put aside all your petty personal opinions and curb your oft-misguided emotions – today is a day for serious, rational discussion on the objective topic of the greater good.

After two months of protests, dozens dead, hundreds wounded, three imprisoned opposition leaders (two of them acting mayors), one congress-woman stripped of her post, one university and several public transport vehicles set on fire, and what seems like hundreds of thousands of hurled tear gas canisters, Nicolás Maduro’s government and members of the opposition coalition Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) will sit down in a televised exchange. The debate, mediated by UNASUR and the Papal Nuncio, will be to talk about the Venezuelan crisis, and will supposedly be broadcast live.

The government (you know, the one that everyone was protesting against and being repressed by for doing so) is as happy as can be. They are now the true and only seekers of a peaceful resolution.

Meanwhile, the opposition is ferociously divided. Those who see this government as dictatorial, as evidenced by its gross human rights violations and blatant absence of separation of powers, criticize the MUD for legitimizing Maduro’s sheep-in-wolf’s-clothing charade. MUD backers, meanwhile, belittle the former camp as radicals, and espouse Capriles’s stance of “winning hearts and minds in order to build a majority coalition” as the proper path, one that, inevitably, implies dialogue.

The lead-up to dialogue was just as turbulent as the reactions were to its arrival: amid the violent repression that government forces unleashed against protests, Henrique Capriles, surprisingly enough, was the first to go on record with regards to dialogue in February, stating: “Maduro, you will not use me to wash your face.” He refused any notion of dialogue unless his signed list of 10 demands was met.

After Maduro convened, and the MUD rebuffed, a “Conference for Peace” in early March, the MUD released an official, if scatterbrained, statement detailing the 5 “fundamental elements” necessary for dialogue. These included (but were not limited to) freedom for political prisoners, justice for all victims of repression, disarmament of paramilitary groups, halting corruption, immediate reactivation of national production, repealing the laws that hinder production, fighting crime, fighting inefficiency, fighting long lines, a live broadcast through all public and private media of this dialogue, equal conditions, and transparency.

The MUD later clarified that all but the last bit about the live broadcast and transparency were “not preconditions, but items for the agenda” for eventual talks. Maduro followed by thundering on national TV that he wouldn’t accept any conditions from anyone, and that the MUD had been “kidnapped by a fascist minority.”*

(*more on fascism later)

In late March, a delegation of UNASUR foreign secretaries arrived in Venezuela to engage in preliminary conversations with Maduro over possible mediation, and left behind a scant set of recommendations, which included a “toning-down of the language.” They met with the Magistrates of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, the Ombuds(wo)man, members of the Church, HHRR NGOs, opposition and pro-government students, businessowners, and, finally, with MUD reps, who assured UNASUR that they would be open to dialogue with the Government if a “third party of good faith” was present. Maduro quickly criticized the MUD’s precondition of a mediator.

“Está bien, ustedes convoquen a su garante, su mediador y si quieren convocan a su jefe de verdad, que venga, no me importa, yo les voy a poner un garante mayor, que se llame a un notario público para que firmen, y se comprometan.”

Once UNASUR announced its follow-up visit for a second round of talks in April, the MUD eventually set forth another list of conditions for dialogue, this time fourfold: amnesty for political prisoners, the establishment of a “commission of truth,” reappointment of government officials with expired mandates (electoral council and TSJ magistrates), and internationally sanctioned disarmament of paramilitary groups.

Finally, on Tuesday, in a rare broadcast by State TV, Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, flanked by Un Nuevo Tiempo leader Omar Barboza, and Governor of Lara Henri Falcón, announced to the country that the MUD had “agreed to a dialogue,” so long as it was held “in equal terms and in front of the whole country.” In addition to the UNASUR delegation of Brasil, Ecuador and Colombia foreign secretaries, the Papal Nuncio would be present as a “third witness” to the proceedings.

So, there you have it: in order to solve this crisis, or to prevent more deaths, or to “save face,” as Juan put it, the MUD agreed to enter into dialogue with a government it recognizes as unjust, after being forced by idleness or inertia into reducing its preconditions from an initial and legitimate 10, to a questionable 1 1/2. It is a a game that presupposes equal conditions for both players but begins with one player being stripped by default of all its bargaining chips.

What will be the outcome of said negotiation, provided all parts – the abusive father that put on his Sunday best (the Govt.) to impress the fancy foreign neighbors whose membership at the Country Club he endorsed for the sake of remaining on their good side (UNASUR), who secretly hates but gazes fondly at the clip-on-tie-wearing child with the soiled napkin (that’d be our side) who must smile and nod and remain seen but not heard and cute for the guests just so he can enjoy his meal at the grown-up table – behave properly?

Well, precisely the outcome the government will allow the opposition to have, so that they shut up, give thanks, and go back to their daily business of not mattering. They will probably change around some TSJ magistrates, definitely some CNE members, create an umpteenth entity for “promoting national production,” and name some member of Cilia Flores’s family the head of it. They’ll probably make an example out of some GNB schmuck who kicked a student in the head, and hopefully, hopefully release Simonovis.

And then the UNASUR delegation will leave. Venezuela will remain a corrupt, non-democratic state, and if the opposition starts bitching and moaning after all this effort was made to appease them … well, that’s just rude! Except the opposition will celebrate this, just like it did the 2007 referendum (with all respects to the student movement), in which we didn’t really win anything, but rather avoided getting even more screwed than we already were (temporarily, anyways).

There is no such thing as a cuasi-revolution. Authoritarian presidents don’t negotiate. You know, the MUD knows, the government knows, hell, even UNASUR knows … this government is playing a zero sum game.  If someone really thinks that, in the bigger scope of things, dialogue will be anything other than a stalling static/escape valve/waste of time, by all means, drop me a line.

*Oh, and as for the fascists? Well, Jorge Arreaza got a head start on this generous spirit of giving, and admitted that calling the opposition fascist was too strong a word. He will  look into retiring this insult from the government repertoire in the near future. Maybe they’ll fall back on mariconcitos. See?

¡Que viva el diálogo!

 

 

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.