The Political Cost of Dialogue

A highly unpopular, narco-infused government ruling a country on the brink of starvation with corruption networks spreading in every direction faces an opposition that seems weaker than ever.

The latest Datanalisis shows the bottom falling out of MUD’s support: in September 2016, 46.9% of respondents self-identified as opposition. That number was down to 32,2% in January 2017: a shocking 14% fall in just 4 months.

Not surprisingly, the NiNi group (those who identify neither with the opposition, nor the government) scooped up most of that support, reaching a never-seen-before 40% of the population, Ninis have turned —for the first time ever in Datanalisis’s telling— the blurry “third way” into the most popular political alternative in the country.

“How is that even possible?” you may ask.

Well, because Venezuela is a weird, weird place.

It’s a slide that ought to give MUD’s leadership pause. Remember, back in November, when Henry Ramos Allup told us MUD was willing to “accept the political cost of dialogue”? Here you have it, bitches.

The death of the recall was a million times foretold.

Just 15 months ago, MUD was able to rally big majorities in the country. Throughout last year, so long as the recall referendum seemed a possibility, it could claim most Venezuelans’ loyalties.  MUD’s member parties managed their own differences quite effectively, focusing all their efforts on recalling Maduro, the chosen way to constitutionally ease him out of power. 

Everything changed when that route was shut down.

The death of the recall was a million times foretold. Still, the announcement caught MUD unawares, and unprepared. It was like a thermonuclear bomb lobbed at the opposition, sending their whole PR apparatus into absolute chaos. Several proposals were made to respond to that clear violation of the Constitution, but MUD went with the one everyone could see wouldn’t work: dialogue with the government.

After months openly dismissing engaging in talks with the chavista big fish; most opposition figures (with the remarkable exception of those from Voluntad Popular) turned on a dime and decided to place their bets in a shady, church-sponsored alternative. 

Henry miscalculated. Badly.

As we warned back in the day, MUD was taking a dangerous bet, and they seemed to underestimate the impact it might have on its own support. MUD tried to buck itself up telling itself “dialogue” always polls well. They never stopped to realize that engaging in such a process without any guarantees (or even good will) from the oppressor’s side could create irreconcilable differences with the activists base its whole mobilization strategy depends on.

As early as January, the impact of that not-so-feared distancing between MUD and its voters became impossible to miss, as calls for mass protests started to flop. First, the call to commemorate 23 de enero, and then almost a month later, on February 18th, led to bare marches made up of hardcore party activists and no one else.

Voters felt betrayed by an organization that promised so much more than it was able to achieve. Opposition supporters are willing to put up with a lot. A lot. But not with an opposition that submissively plays (and loses) by the government’s rigged rules.

MUD failed to understand that the ace up its sleeve was the capacity to mobilize broad masses of Venezuelans, and that that capacity is built on trust. Tossing that trust into the pyre of a doomed dialogue was just the latest own-goal from an opposition leadership that can’t afford any more own goals.