Six months ago today, Bloomberg’s Ethan Bronner and Andy Rosati wrote a piece in BusinessWeek that set me off. Talking utter non-sense, they argued it was senseless to say Venezuela was “on the brink”. They said the opposition was flailing without a strategy and under an irredeemable leadership. They said that regime change was nowhere on the horizon. It was moronic:

From a distance, Venezuela, with its crashing oil prices and alarming shortages, appears on the brink of political upheaval. Almost 1 million people marched in Caracas on Sept. 1 to pressure President Nicolás Maduro into allowing a referendum for his recall. The overturning of leftist populism—sweeping across commodity-dependent South America from Argentina to Brazil to Peru—seems on its way here, the country where the movement had its most elaborate flowering.

But…the levers of power […] are firmly in the hands of the president. Among analysts and Maduro’s opponents, there is a tendency to overstate how near to collapse things are, out of understandable frustration and wishful thinking. Can a government, no matter how much oil it has underground, ignore the laws of markets, make a mockery of its institutions, spin half-truths, and pay no price? A reckoning must be due, these opponents insist.

Even as the suffering increases for the country’s 30 million inhabitants, the government appears—for now—secure. Barring a successful recall before the end of this year, the president won’t face a vote until 2018. Maduro has factions to balance and appearances to maintain. He faces open criticism. This isn’t a dictatorship like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But the boundaries of candor remain purposefully vague, and those who have profited from the revolution are holding on firmly while the opposition flails, unable to grab hold of a way to restore the ruling status many of its members enjoyed before they lost power at the end of the 20th century.

Yet the opposition, despite an overwhelming legislative victory last December, hasn’t gotten a single significant law past challenges in the courts. As pale follow-up demonstrations to the Sept. 1 march revealed, it remains splintered and disorganized. Life gets harder, but there’s little reason to expect a change soon.

The nerve! Didn’t they understand the way forces were building up to a late 2016 denouement where anger on the street would become unmanageable? Where the hell do these gringos get off blithely dismissing the obvious signs of state collapse?

It made me angry. I raged at Andy on Twitter. “We’ll see how this post makes you look six months from now, Rosati!”

I even made a Rage-google-calendar-reminder! “Six Month Mark, see how Andy’s piece did!”

…a reminder that…um…rang this morning…

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  1. Chavismo has mastered the art of soft dictatorship – of rope-a-dope. As long as the men with guns support them, they can hold power. That will continue until they do something clearly and radically intolerable. As long as they do things in small increments, they will avoid the reaction that would destroy them.

    The frog is boiled slowly.

    • Yes and at the end of the day, the frog is dead. Class 101 of parasitic behaviour is that one should never kill the host.

  2. Nice that you write this.

    But, in a way you *were* right. It’s one thing for BusinessWeek reporters form afar to write this way, oh-so-soberly. But, if Venezuelan activists such as yourself did as well, then you’d have been putting as muich cold water/capitulationism/defeatism on the agenda as th eoppo leaders ended up doing. Your objection to their assessment was actually a much needed advocacy, as I see it. (Not to advocate preaching false hope, etc.)

    What if the opposition had NOT stopped the people from protesting when Maduro et al killed the revocatorio? Who knows what would have happened.

    It is very possible there would have been massive repression and injuries … or a huge peaceful protest and perhaps big camp-out/sit-in at Mvaduro’s front door, and a movement around that for months, or whatever, but a mass oppositional movement of some sort.. Whatever, it would be a mass movement that might have perpetuated itself in protest after protest and resistance, or even provoked the military, or, more likely perhaps, another section of chavismo to oust |Maduro, … or caused him to simply run, … or not.

    But, it would be largely due to the mass movement, due to the protest movement of the people themselves.

    It was hard to imagine how far the opposition leadership would suddenly go in listening to the Vatican, and how adverse they fundamentally are to any real confrontational movement, in the streets, to real mass confrontation, when the time was very ripe for it.

    Now that opportunity point is past, and what might bring a time like that again, such an opportunity? Whatever it is, I hope the anger you showed in your critique back then is what comes to the streets, because that is the only way.

    • “Whatever, it would be a mass movement that might have perpetuated itself in protest after protest and resistance, or even provoked the military, or, more likely perhaps, another section of chavismo to oust |Maduro, … or caused him to simply run, … or not.”

      WRONG, wrong and wrong. Wishful thinking. You do not understand and you underestimate the thugs.

      • You are right – the armed gangs are a tremendous problem. But, aside from an armed resistance, the main way to diminish their leverage is by very massive actions. But, when the state uses the armed collectivo gangs and regular armed forces, the only chance is a massive sustained movement that gets a significant part of the military to somehow side with the movement or at least be demoralized enough about Maduro et al to stay off the streets (as in Iran in 1979).
        Last year, the opposition was making efforts with propaganda to reach out to national guard and military people also suffering from shortages, etc. That was important, and perhaps effective, but it seems to have ended with turn yo the dialogue.(?)

  3. Well, what do those far outsiders not living/having lived in Venezuela know about the Country, anyways–right?? I mean, all they have is logic….

  4. I think everyone wished that you were right. I do as well.

    But the MUD has collapsed into absurdity. Not through the choices of the Chavistas, but, because the MUD made too many poor decisions and under played their own hands. They are the poster child for “Snatching defeat from the mouth of victory” in every sense.

    I too was VERY nervous when they called for a march in September only to have nothing as a follow on action. I saw this as the beginning of the end of the MUD.

    I just hope there is a path forward for the opposition that does not involve more capitulation on the part of those suffering the most.

    I’m sure this will get blamed on President Donald J. Trump, some how… he has to be the root of all evil.
    [never mind the fact that the Pope in the tall hat was the one holding the dagger that stabbed the AN in the back]

  5. Six months ago, neither one of us would thought it possible that the MUD would be so idiotic as to kill the momentum and fall into the stupid “dialogue” trap.

    Maybe distance and impartiality let them saw things clearly. We were hoping for the leadership to realize it was the time to lead, it was obvious they just had to step up and people would have followed.

    Instead they have probably killed any possibility of change for the near future.

    • Exactly… The train had arrived at the station. All the MUD leadership had to do was get on. Instead, ran off to the sound of “dialogue” like children to the sound of bells from the ice cream truck. Who could have possibly anticipated that they would or could be so stupid?

    • ErneX, there was no hear my train a comin’. Yes, the RR was the last chance but do you really believe it was in the cards? Maybe it’s human nature to think so. My POV is different and I cannot espouse it here without taking a load of criticism and crap. Maduro is in power for now and the world is at its most dangerous. Venezuela does not represent an existential threat to the United States, much less a WMD or terrorist threat. You hear the Washington based opportunists (backed by Israeli $$$) touting this line weekly (Martin Rodil, Roger Noriega, etc). There are others on salary who are soft pedaling to perpetuate the regime (David Smilde for example). Things are not what they seem.

      Narcotics are the regime’s achilles heel but the U.S. under Trump probably wants the drugs to come in. This is very complicated and fucked up. I hope you understand.

  6. You have to have some power on the hands of the opposition to negotiate a political solution, and the MUD has to have some political acumen to do so. Chavistas know that, MUD has not gotten the memo yet. So instead of stepping aside and letting “non-political solutions” develop and search for alternative ways to get out of this mess. The MUD plays the hand of the government and block any possible solution to get rid of Chavismo. So, yes, or we get rid of the MUD and start thinking and acting out of the box or we are stuck with this shit for years to come.

  7. No worries though. We’ll just have to see if the country doesn’t implode until 2018. When we are supposed to hold presidential elections.


  8. Ricardo Haussman has pointed out that the MUD was launched to act as an electoral force , in which job it has been very succesful , but that once it had to deal with a regime that’s practically abandoned all democratic pretenses and begun to act more and more as a direct dictatorship , then the strategy they built their success on ceases to operate and needs to adopt a different stance , to movilize people to confront force with force so that without abandoning its claims to electoral legitimacy it can bring the govt either to the negotiating table or to break down and self destruction.

    The Dialogue option did not exclude the street option , it was meant to be a pause not a total abandonment of the street possibility …what happened is that while the anger was red hot the willingness of the people to take to the street was there but that once the dialogue was announced tempers cooled and the capacity of the MUD to call for street movilizations was lost !!

    An important part of the Oppo strategy is to gain legitimacy and strenght by canvassing offshore pressure against the regime , its been very succesful in doing this , never has outside pressure against the regime been so high , but that success was predicated on keeping those offshore forces convinced that the oppo was open to a dialogue if the govt offered it , The idea to stop the street action and go for a dialogue was not a MUD initiative , it was the consensus demand of all the offshore forces which could be counted upon to oppose the regime at an international level …including the US state dept, the govts of all our latam neighbors and of course the Vatican , To ignore those demands would involve the MUD deligitimizing itself before all those countrys govts….., besides internal polls showed that a huge mayority (then) favoured going for a dialogue…so the MUD fell for it not realizing how such conduct would affect the mood of tis followers ….!!

    Now that bridge is broken , we know that if a dialogue is ever attempted again it has to be against a background of conditions that make them really viable , the international community may talk of dialogue but only as a tactic to get to where they can act more decisively in weakening the regime ……they know the kind of dialogue they called for before is futile …

    A new strategy has now to be developed and implemented which allows a three pronged attack on the regime , on the electoral level to the extent conditions change allowing it to be used in the future.., on an international level , creating an ever greater level of international pressure on the regime …and at a street level because direct dictatorships only respond to the pressure of visible physical force confronting it with full power…!!

    • Very interesting, Bill.
      But it isn’t clear to me if just the first paragraph are Hausmann’s view, or if your entire comment is paraphrasing him?? And, can you point me to where he discussed this? Thanks much. Tom


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