The Heart of the Issue: Accountability Inside MUD

Lifetime tenure for opposition leaders has brought MUD to the edge of annihilation. Is that what it’s going to take to get a debate on accountability going?

What would it take for Manuel Rosales to no longer be a front line national political leader? What would it take for Julio Borges to hand over the reins of Primero Justicia? And Leopoldo, and Henry, politicians now so entrenched at the head of their organizations I don’t even have to say their last names for you to know who we’re talking about?

You may like some of the politicians in that list (and despise others), but that’s categorically not the point. The point I’m making is a question of structure: the Venezuelan opposition lacks any credible accountability mechanism that would allow it to show failed leaders the door.

Famously, there isn’t even a proper Spanish translation for the concept of “accountability.” Philologists debate whether we lack the word because we lack the concept, or the other way around, but what’s clear is the absence of an accountability mechanism that’s able to renew the opposition’s leadership with real world consequences.

The opposition has spent much of the last four years stuck in a debate its leaders cannot resolve; it began in 2014 over #LaSalida, and pitted a section of the opposition determined to push for regime change then and there, against another sector that wanted to hold out for the electoral route. Intra-opposition politics since then have amounted to a never-ending, Groundhog’s Day of re-litigating the issue back and forth, never reaching a conclusion.

The Venezuelan opposition lacks any credible accountability mechanism that would allow it to show failed leaders the door.

But distance yourself momentarily from your position in this debate. Just stop, and look at it from the outside. The strategically relevant question isn’t so much “who’s right?” but “why does it never end?” Why is it impossible to draw a line under a debate that has been hobbling the opposition’s coherence throughout our most catastrophic years since the the 19th century? Why is it that, even today, on the verge of Hyperinflation and in the middle of a humanitarian crisis, the opposition’s energy is spent in reaching a position over December’s municipal elections?

The answer, I think, is two-fold: first, because the absence of accountability mechanisms that would allow some fresh faces to take over control of MUD means that it’s literally the same people having the debate today as it was back in 2014. It’s the same dudes rehashing the same arguments along the same lines of thought. Nobody resigns and fresh ideas never come to the fore. Piques, grudges and personal vendettas are given decades to fester. Nothing changes because nobody changes.

Second, nobody wants to rethink the dysfunctional structure of MUD. Founded as a coalition of nominally independent parties, each of which has its own decision-making systems, routines and structures, MUD’s byzantine internal structure is custom-made to guarantee sclerosis.

I talk to foreigners about MUD, often, and one of the questions they always ask is “Why don’t they just fuse into a single party with a single leader and a single hierarchical structure?” It seems like a no-brainer. If there was one opposition party, that party could come to a final decision on the Salidismo vs. Via Electoral, and the people on the losing side would just have to accept it and cooperate with the winning side which even they would have to admit would be preferable to the endless paralysis and division it has sown.

“Why don’t they just fuse into a single party with a single leader and a single hierarchical structure?”

I always struggle to answer when people ask me why this hasn’t happened. And I struggle because the honest answer is too tawdry to say out loud.

These guys and yeah, they’re virtually all guys would rather be a bigger fish in a smaller pond than help build up the opposition into a coherent organization able to really challenge the government. The reason is that AD exists first and foremost so Henry Ramos Allup can be the boss of something; the reason is that Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo López had a falling out over a decade ago and because there are no systems in place for either of them to bow out, that private fight keeps festering over the struggle against chavista autocracy.

The reason MUD’s structure doesn’t work is that MUD is designed to shield its leaders from accountability.

There’s no cosmetic fix to that problem. It’s not something you can solve with a pretty new logo or a nice jingle, or a family photo or a press conference. It takes the kind of real rethink that will have real costs for people. It’s a debate MUD has been putting off for, literally, years. One it was never likely to launch until it was clear the alternative was outright extinction.

Bueno, the alternative is outright extinction.