Where do we go from here?

As 2016 draws to a close, Ricardo Sucre gives us a balance of the MUD's shortcomings and opportunities, and how to move forward from the recall referendum that never was.

After the disheartening failure of the Recall Referendum, the opposition seems aloof and disoriented. Those on the ground feel there’s no clear sense of what comes next. Their leaders are running off in every direction, contradicting one another, and even themselves, even with their own tweets. Amid despair, Ricardo Sucre sat down for an in-depth interview with Cronica Uno to shed some light on our predicament.

Sucre, one of our leading intellectuals and political scientists, likes to swim against the current. Those that read him find him hard to accept, mainly because he offers a good dose of realism. He says it like it is. Most of the time I agree with him. But in this interview, I have some quarrels with his arguments. Not because they are negative, quite the opposite, he is too optimistic.

In a nutshell

Sucre accepts 2016 was a hard year for the MUD. It went into 2016 with an ambitious agenda, thinking it could do many things only to find out in a brutal way that it can’t. Legitimacy didn’t translate into real power. It was like a kid who learned the hard way that tying a towel around his neck doesn’t make him superman.  

Among the many shortcomings the MUD had, some were avoidable. Sucre singles out its weak outreach to the armed forces. Terms like milicos, narcogenerales, cartes de los soles, in his opinion, are counterproductive. The opposition has been very effective in alienating a crucial kingmaker and pushed it towards Maduro.

Sucre also makes a good point to those eager get rid of chavismo ASAP. The opposition, he says, has no ability to generate a crisis.

He’s right.

We don’t.

We don’t have a movement, we don’t understand civil disobedience (or insurrection, as he prefers to call it).

This is something that those who lead the MUD are clueless about and have made no attempt to incorporate those savvy and willing in non-violence.  

To me, our low capacity in this regard is the real crisis MUD faces, but it’s not surprising. MUD hasn’t seriously invested in that capability. That, I think, is the problem. Yet instead of seeing this as a call to action, Sucre takes it as a given: we don’t have that capacity therefore we can’t get that capacity or even worse, we don’t need that capacity. And that’s where the wheels come off his analysis.

The risk of ignoring risk

Sucre has an obnoxious habit of assigning specific numerical probabilities to each scenario. It annoys me because these numbers aren’t a product of a measurement or calculation. They’re plucked out of thin air, in an ill-advised reach for the appearance of numerical precision.

With that in mind, he assigns a 70% probability that Maduro serves through the end of his terms.

When considering the idea of opposition parties  becoming illegal, its candidates jailed or simply the cancelling of the elections, he immediately dismisses it. This is not only optimistic but terribly dangerous. This scenario is risky.

Risk in my training is a number. It is the product between the probability of something occurring and the cost of its consequences. The probability of a nuclear war may be low, but its impact is so dire we still call such a scenario highly risky.

Let’s say we agree with Sucre and say that the probability of chavismo going full Nicaragua or Russia is low: the question is, is it zero?

In the face of the incredibly high costs that this scenario would have, wouldn’t make sense to prepare for it?

Sucre thinks otherwise and here I think he gets it wrong. Badly wrong.

Let’s watch old games

I’m no football fan, but something I know coaches do all over is to study what the opposite team has done in order to anticipate what could it do in the next game.

So what has chavismo done when faced with losing an election:

  1. Minimized the consequences. They lost, they acknowledged it but then they stripped of all power that particular governing body. With the Metropolitan Mayor they created an appointed office that had all the budget and resources leaving the elected office with none. Similar things happened with governors. In the case of the National Assembly it got stripped of all use and its functions have been transferred to the TSJ or to the President.
  2. Avoided the election all together. This is evident with the recall referendum, but also with the upcoming regional elections. They seem like they are happening, but they have been postponed for reasons that haven’t been explained and we haven’t demanded an explanation either.
  3. Jailing leading opposition figures or banning them from running. This has happened in many instances, not only for high profile leaders but even activists.
  4. Banning parties. Most notable mentions are VENTE and Marea Socialista.

In the case of a 2018 presidential election, chavismo can’t minimize the consequences of losing like the have with the metropolitan mayor or the national assembly. The TSJ may resist, but given that all judges will be on a timer is unlikely. The executive is the king. For that you go all in. Since it won’t be able to deal with the outcome, it is likely, based on chavismo’s past plays that it will: avoid the election, arguing lack of resources to fund it (something that has been hinted for the RR); Jail the major leaders, such as HCR with made up charges of course; or my personal favorite, banning opposition parties, which are in the line for registering due to some arbitrary bureaucratic processes.

Sucre seems to think (and he walks in the company of many intellectuals) that chavismo will walk into an election, that it knows will loose, with results that will be forced to accept. This would be absolutely new in chavismo’s playbook and, in my opinion, wishful thinking.

Misunderstanding Insurrection

A problem we see with insurrection is that is perceived (and rightly so) by many as a way to get rid of Maduro at all cost, causing a crisis that would lead to a new April 11th and somehow who ever steps in this time will be wise and noble. That won’t happen and many are right to label guarimberos as loons.

There is different type of disobedience. One that wants to lay out a long term plan to enable us to reach common civic goals. A disobedience that is non-violent and that guarantees that Chavismo will play by the blue book and not by its playbook. This is not something that can be carried out in parallel with the electoral political agenda, It MUST be carried out in parallel. The goal of this disobedience is to have the ability to generate a crisis that chavismo fears more than going to a losing election. Sucre argues that Chavismo won’t have the strength to say no to that election, but why? If there is no threat of zaperoco, very little strength is needed.

Common goals

It is painful to many that we couldn’t get to a RR now. To me, only a real crisis could’ve forced the government to hold an RR, and MUD didn’t invest in the ability to generate a real crisis. Something that chavismo would fear more than actually going to the recall.

That’s an effort that needs to start now in order to meet our 2018 goals.

Why do so many intellectuals like Sucre shy away from MLK Jr.’s insight that to set off change you sometimes need to create tension? Are they too optimistic? Naive? Or do they fear irrelevance?

A dear friend, whose opinion I value a great deal, told me that resistance would leave out millions. He’s right. Only people with a very particular skillset and will should participate in it. But there is so much to be done in other areas. This has to be tackled in all fronts.

We need to entice all kingmakers, conquer new institutions and make sure that we have de courage and civility to keep chavismo in check. And we really need to pose a credible threat.

The 2018 election is around the corner. Clock is ticking.