What’s a nice guy like Asdrúbal Oliveros doing in a negotiation like this?

Photo: 2001

My WhatsApp went crazy when news broke that Asdrúbal Oliveros was going to participate in the upcoming “dialogue” between the government and the opposition. Within seconds, people started texting me: what’s he thinking? Is he a Chavista now?

I know Asdrúbal well. He used to be my boss. I respect him immensely. I can’t and won’t try to speak for him: Asdrúbal speaks for himself (often via his twitter, @Aroliveros). But even the fact that people were asking that question says a lot about the credibility of the opposition.

For a few moments, I was perplexed. What on earth is Asdrúbal doing going to that “negociación”? There’s something disreputable about engaging dialogue with the most vile and corrupt government Venezuela has ever had, isn’t there? They’ve never ever negotiated in good faith with anyone before. Why go?

Before his presence was announced, I had little hope that any real progress will come from a new set of talks being held between the “malandro” government and our lame opposition. Neither side commanded the least bit of credibility. Personal political agendas seemed to dominate the meeting. The actual Venezuelan people the ones who are really suffering were an afterthought.

But Asdrúbal’s participation made me think twice.

I’ve always seen him as one of Venezuela’s most trustworthy, even-handed economists. He’s a patriot through and through, motivated by what’s best for the country. He understands that for a better future for all of us we all need to make some compromises, and not only in the way we decide as the “pueblo” how to govern the country, but in the way we as Venezuelans decide to live our lives.

Under the control of the dictator, what good could possibly come from providing the regime diplomatic cover like this?

Asdrúbal’s a straight shooter: the kind of guy who will point out the obvious and evident lack of common sense of Capriles’ economic proposals over twitter on the same day that he goes on TV explaining the economic crisis and the responsibility of the government for it. This makes him enemy #1 of a government that can’t stand a straight shooter in the economic war.

The first thing that he told me when I was his intern was: for us working in Consultancy, credibility is everything, it’s our biggest asset, without it we are worth nothing, so you had better be objective, honest, transparent and balanced. They’re words I still live by. Who’d want to be the crazy economist that no one listens to and who is obviously biased?

So I believe Asdrúbal, and for many reasons. But especially for this reason: he’s there, suffering the consequences of this economic disaster and the unravelling of our social fabric. In person. He could easily get a top job abroad with a few phone calls, but he won’t.

But doesn’t he face a conflict of interest? Asdrúbal makes money from providing market analysis and information. Is he just going to the D.R. to get his hands on inside information for his reports, or even for his own private benefit? What’s his game?

And then that same, gnawing doubt: with the country on the verge of hyperinflation, amid economic disaster, under the control of the dictator, what good could possibly come from providing the regime diplomatic cover like this?

He’s there, suffering the consequences of this economic disaster and the unravelling of our social fabric. In person.

The question has raged across my social media all week.

Like any good Venezuelan, and in keeping up with all the emigrant cliches, I’m in a number of WhatsApp groups. One of them, with two dear and honest economist friends, Gorka and Cristina, has been thick with discussion on this new dialogue. While we all want a better country, we differ in the “how,” and the conversation has been harsh and emotional.

For me, the only leverage the opposition has right now is the regime’s belief that MUD controls their access to external financing. In truth, there are far bigger reasons that will prevent Maduro’s government from successfully issuing new debt (and these will be explored further in future articles), but chavismo thinks the opposition has some control over it, and that matters.

Maduro has shown time and time again that he won’t cede any actual political power if he has any kind of choice. And then there’s the fact that they still don’t have complete control over the issue, as OFAC had some beautiful words when they laid out what they “would consider” (https://goo.gl/fNPJrT see 522 ) in granting licences for any trading in new debt or refinancing. I’m not a lawyer, but the ambiguity opens up many different possibilities.

And then there’s the fact that the opposition does not have popular support. After the disaster of the last election, would you go to protest for an opposition that you don’t believe in? Would you support part of a group that incorporates AD in all its macoyero glory?

There are far bigger reasons that will prevent Maduro’s government from successfully issuing new debt … but chavismo thinks the opposition has some control over it.

In the end, though, we all agreed that Asdrúbal’s presence at the meeting will be a good thing, especially if the alternative is just some other opposition lawmaker seeking his or her piece of what’s still not been looted or embezzled away.

But as we go through these permutations, we tend to leave out an essential, and much bigger question: is refinancing the debt really what Venezuela needs?

And if refinancing is the only card the opposition has left, how much of it are they willing to give away for a few rectores on the CNE? Does the opposition even still believe that democracy is the way to get rid of the government?

And most importantly: Do they still think they are just negotiating with other politicians? Or have they finally figured out that they are negotiating with malandros? Are they themselves just a rival gang of malandros?

There are more questions than answers, but I think a good starting point is to simply ask ourselves and politicians a very simple question: is this really what we need?

Do I support the latest dialogue process? No.

Do I think it will change anything? Probably not.

Do I want to believe I’m wrong? Yes, I really do.

Does Asdrúbal’s choice to take part make me think maybe I am? It sort of does, actually.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.