Why You Should Vote in Today's Opposition Primary

Voting isn't an act of protest, it's an act of tactical retreat. Tactical retreat is never fun. It's dispiriting, intolerable, bitter...and essential. Because the alternative is the end of organized opposition to the regime: the true Cuban scenario.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been holding on to a shameful secret. I’ve been hanging on to it, timidly, in that weary way you hang on to an unpopular odd-ball opinion. I’ve been going back and forth on whether to share it for days, fearing the backlash.

But the reality is:

I think people should vote in today’s opposition primary.

I do.

Here’s why.

All year, I backed the opposition’s street protest agenda. I thought militant street protests were the best chance we had to destabilize the regime. I thought they could set off the kind of defections cascade that, alone, will really change the game in Venezuela, with one pillar of regime support after another switching sides. I thought Luisa Ortega had a credible shot at becoming “the first domino”: the defection that opened up a wider split, one wide enough to genuinely make the regime’s hold on power start to slip.

I was wrong. We were wrong. Luisa jumped, and nobody who matters really followed. The cascade didn’t materialize.

But I knew it was a gamble. We all did. We knew the government had plenty of tools at its disposal to try to stanch the bleed. We knew they could threaten —credibly— and intimidate —credibly— and, deep down, we all knew it was far from given that we would be able to split them before they wore us down.

And the long and the short of it is as simple as it is bitter: I was wrong. We were wrong. Luisa jumped, and nobody who matters really jumped after her. The cascade didn’t materialize. The prospect of life in El Helicoide or Ramo Verde proved too scary.

The realization is crushing, dispiriting. But it’s also, now, an unmissable reality. We gambled. And we lost.

The protests didn’t end because Henry Ramos Allup stabbed us in the back. MUD isn’t responsible for the collapse of the protest strategy. The protests petered out because opposition activists realized that the defection cascade wasn’t coming: that they could keep tear gassing us indefinitely, that there was no upside to continuing to risk arrest and political prison to set off a regime crisis the government had under control.

That’s what happened. We misjudged how cohesive the regime was, and so we lost. Taking it out on MUD doesn’t help in any way.

It’s unfortunate —if understandable— that no one in MUD has had the fortitude to stand up and spell this out clearly. And it’s understandable that opposition supporters are hurt, confused, disoriented, depressed and demobilized by this absolutely dire reality.

The question that faces Venezuela now isn’t “what is it going to take to cause the regime to collapse in the short term?” That question’s been settled. The regime isn’t going to collapse in the short term. Criminal, jueputa, and utterly intolerable though it is, the regime has enough support from the people who matter to keep power. For now.

The question that faces Venezuela now is different. “Is the opposition to remain a viable, nationwide organized movement with some scope for independent action, or are we to become truly like Cuba: a country without an organized opposition, only atomized ‘dissidents’ with no capacity to mobilize and act collectively?”

To hope for MUD’s destruction is to wish for the dictatorship’s number one wish: to face no opponents, only dissidents.

That’s where we are now. The atomic rage now facing MUD from its own grassroots — that mix of hurt and disgust and despair— is both deeply human and profoundly dangerous. It’s the state of mind the government absolutely needs if it’s to liquidate the opposition entirely as an organized force in society. If you think Venezuela is hopeless now, just picture it without an organized political opposition at all.

There’s a certain morose pose out there in the oppo twittersphere that likes to play with the idea that MUD has been so hapless that we’d be better off without it. I don’t think there’s a more irresponsible view in today’s public sphere, or a more blinkered one.

For an opposition supporter to hope for MUD’s demise is to endorse for the dictatorship’s number one wish: to face no opponents, only dissidents. For all the loose talk about “cubanization”, that’s what the real Cuban scenario looks like. I don’t know if the people who hold it have genuinely stopped to mull the life of a dissident in an outright dictatorship — the utter isolation, the total irrelevance, the complete despair of that position.

MUD’s responsibility right now is to survive. To live to fight another day. It’s intolerable, but that really is our best case scenario now.

And that’s why I think you should vote today. Because MUD with a dozen governorships under its control is much harder to liquidate than a MUD with none. Not impossible, mind you — but harder.

Will it solve the whole problem? Will it get rid of el bigotúo before hallaca-time? Will it bring democracy back to Venezuela?

Of course not.

Grow up.

I know opposition governors won’t really be allowed to govern. I know they’ll face enormous pressures to bow to the Constituent Assembly. I know they’ll have parallel CorpoGovernorships set up alongside them to absorb most of their budgets and responsibilities. These things are all true.

The measure of how bad our strategic position is now that we’re better off electing them even though we know these things are all true.

Voting today is an act of tactical retreat. No one goes into tactical retreat por gusto. You don’t do it because you want to. You don’t even do it because it’s a good idea. You do it because you’ve just suffered a very bad set back and if you don’t keep your wits about it you’re liable to be annihilated.

That’s where we are today. The debate inside the opposition today amounts to “do we want to be liquidated, or merely battered and bruised?” I think we’re better off battered and bruised than wiped out as a political force. Hate me all you want for it.