After nearly fifty days of protests, it’s clear that a change of government will require a defection. Someone from within chavismo’s coalition —the Armed Forces, or the moderates who want chavismo to survive Maduro— to take a step to push out Maduro and the radicals who surround him. Without some new actor breaking the stalemate, it’s hard to envision how the opposition will manage to force a transition.
What can MUD do to entice such a game-changer? It can put forward a political plan for transition that gives chavista moderates a reason to defect, and disseminate that plan far and wide.
The opposition knows it needs to divide the regime; it’s the reason many of its leaders have welcomed Luisa Ortega Díaz’ shift, have lobbied publicly for Tarek William Saab to follow suit, and have significantly toned down their rhetoric towards the armed forces. No more insulting rants from Ramos Allup; instead, we get respectul pleas from Julio Borges to the military to take a step forward to defend the Constitution.
But can it do more? Yes it can.
Why a plan?
MUD can put forward an actual plan: a package of political measures that, among other things, offers, the promise of amnesty to chavista figures not directly involved in the worst human rights abuses. There are many ways to do this: it could be packaged in a constitutional reform passed by parliament that re-establishes the AN’s prerogatives, shortens the presidential term and forbids the reelection of the president. This reform would be put to the people in a Yes or No referendum, and if approved, presidential elections would be called.
For chavistas wanting to survive Maduro… this would be a way to get off the sinking ship as politicians, and not as wanted criminals.
The specifics of the plan are not the focus of this post. Whatever form it takes, the plan must be fair, within the constitution, and any deviation from the current legal framework must be put to the people for approval. It cannot be a coronation of MUD; it must enshrine an electoral solution, and be officialized through a fair election.
The plan is not an attempt to communicate with Maduro and his ruling clique of radicals: it’s a message meant for the rest of ruling coalition. It should convey that chavismo can survive as a political party, but only if it cuts loose Maduro, the human rights abusers in his inner circle, and its paramilitary armed wing (the “colectivos”.)
For chavistas who want to survive the failure of the Maduro presidency —both personally and as a political movement— the plan would offer a way to get off the sinking ship as politicians, and not as wanted criminals.
I think a plan like this would find many takers: the unrelenting nature of the protests, the anger shown by many protesters, the harassing of chavistas and their families abroad, the pitiful response by the government in terms of competing street demonstrations, all point to a tide that might be now impossible to turn back.
Unlike past protest cycles, there doesn’t seem to be a way back to “normal” now. The only two possible outcomes seem to be some sort of transition no later than early 2019, but probably before that, or an undisguised dictatorship that will forever put them at risk of prosecution and persecution. This is their chance to save themselves by hopping on the transition bandwagon, and try to steer it, even if just a little. Maduro is beyond saving.
A political plan for transition must make clear that the end of chavismo’s grip on power is not an existential threat to the thousands of PSUV figures who are not directly implicated in the worst crimes. It has to communicate that the transition is not the end of their careers, or of their freedom. If it doesn’t, the potential game-changers and those below them would be better off sticking by a Maduro dictatorship than being marginalised and persecuted by a MUD government.
The Next PSUV
The fight for chavismo’s remains is in full swing, and those fighting for their share won’t go along with a transition that annihilates their movement.
Details about transitional justice, whether we like it or not, will take time to settle. They will likely be part of the private negotiations that will surely take place once the end of Maduro’s government is a foregone conclusion. Other important, but potentially explosive matters will likely be settled then as well. Questions like: What to do with Maduro? And Diosdado, Freddy Bernal, El Aissami and Reverol?
These are tricky questions —but they involve a relatively small number of very high ranking people who’ve behaved very badly indeed. But it’s a mistake to equate all of chavismo with that tiny clique. After all, Luisa Ortega Díaz doesn’t want to join MUD; she wants to claim the scraps of Chávez’ project, and she’s not the only one.
Think of Rodriguez Torres, the military governors, Chavez’ family, the old civilian leftists and Marea Socialista. And those are only the most visible players; below them, there are thousands of minor but important chavista players.
Think of the 28 year-old llanero PSUV municipal councillor who dreams of being state governor, the mid-ranking military officials with troops under their command, or the middle managers in water or electric energy companies who could easily sabotage services.
There’s a whole generation of chavista activists who haven’t killed anyone, haven’t sold any drugs and don’t want an outright dictatorship: this is a plan aimed at them.
Because Maduro already made his offer: a Constitutional Assembly (ANC), with its members elected with rules tailored to guarantee a PSUV majority.
So you can think of this plan as MUD’s opening bid to the Armed Forces and the moderates within chavismo, showing them a clear way out of this mess. Even if they are now willing to break with Maduro, they won’t risk it until MUD lays its cards on the table. The plan would specify what MUD’s goals mean, how we get there, and what the future would look like for chavistas.
Because Maduro already made his offer: a Constitutional Assembly (ANC), with its members elected with rules tailored to guarantee a PSUV majority. Sure, it’s a high-risk, high-reward proposition, and it got a lukewarm reception even from chavismo, but its implications cannot be ignored. Maduro is offering to solve all of chavismo’s problems: the regional elections, the National Assembly, their inability to issue debt without congressional approval and, more importantly, the 2018 presidential elections.
An ANC controlled by chavismo could introduce Cuba-style indirect voting for presidential elections, and guarantee their victory in an election where their defeat is certain under the current system.
Maduro is thus offering not only to eliminate chavismo’s most important existential threat –votes– but also to solidify their grip on power way beyond 2018. Without a specific and realistic alternative put forward by MUD, this offer can be very tempting for chavistas, even if it means making the communist dictatorship official, and comes at a heavy price in terms of instability.
A Political Plan for Transition is not just about luring chavista defections. A second objective is to create a rallying point for those protesting in the streets. MUD’s current offer to its base is also unclear: unrelenting street protests, then something happens, and we restore democracy. A plan would explain to MUD’s base what’s that something, and would coalesce MUD’s four demands –humanitarian aid, elections, recognition of parliament, and the release of political prisoners– around a specific plan, for which people can fight and protest.
A political plan for transition would also show a fair and transparent solution to the crisis to those lukewarm about the opposition –at home and abroad– and even to chavista voters. Whatever the details of the plan, the solution could be distilled to the fairest way to solve disagreements in a democracy: “The solution is for you to vote in fair elections”.