Letting Go of my Venezuelan Transition Ideal

For a long time, we’ve been working toward regime collapse. But maybe the regime won’t collapse. Maybe transition is a messy, drawn-out, compromise-laden process.

What will it look like when Venezuela’s authoritarian regime finally loses power?

Do you picture protest crowds overwhelming the regime’s defenses and marching in to Miraflores at the end of a marcha sin retorno? Or do you picture a ceremony broadcast on cadena via radio and TV, as an old guard that’s run out of options hands over power, reluctantly but peacefully, to a new group of leaders?

Personally, I much prefer the first scenario: an East German/Romanian style regime collapse happening outside the control of the current leadership. A society-wide convulsion to cast off a toxic regime that’s laid millions of lives to waste, looted hundreds of billions of our common resources, separated countless families and imprisoned, tortured and killed in the name of a failed ideology.

I hate the fuckers who’ve done this to my country, and I want them to suffer: anyone with a modicum of democratic sensibility should, too.

Because I think regime collapse was the best option for us, I supported last year’s mass protest movement, the four months of incredibly brave street demonstrations were our last, best hope of provoking it. I cried bitter tears for our fallen day in and day out. Pernalete, Neomar, each of them.

That’s why I looked with nauseated horror in August, when I realized four months of sustained, vicious violence were going to succeed, that we couldn’t sustain the clouds of tear gas and arrests indefinitely. Nobody was going to jump after Luisa Ortega. For all of the kids’ heroism and spirit, it wouldn’t be enough. The defection cascade wouldn’t materialize. We weren’t going to be a Caribbean Romania.

At best, we might aspire to be a Caribbean Burma.  

Burma, in 2007, had thousands upon thousands of shockingly brave young people — mostly Buddhist monks — taking the streets to face down a regime way more violent than ours. They faced a repressive crackdown of shocking proportions, with dozens of Buddhist monasteries raided and thousands of monks sent to camps that make El Helicoide look like a Club Med.

It’s about bridging the gap between our goals and our capabilities, and that’s not a gap you can bridge via wishes or fond hopes.

The failure of the Burmese protests secured another decade in power for their genocidal junta. When the generals finally agreed to hand over power, it looked nothing like the regime collapse those young monks had dreamed of in 2007. It was, actually, just the opposite, a process designed largely around the needs of the military (not the people), which gave over nominal power to the civilian opposition, but left the military largely outside control of the new government. The nominal leaders of the country weren’t even able to stop the military when it pursued ethnic cleansing against one of its own minorities.

Burma’s transition to democracy has, in other words, been the polar opposite of inspiring. It’s been — let’s not mince words here — a cochinada, a deeply dispiriting display of realpolitik that’s ended up with calls to strip the opposition-leader-turned-ruler of her Nobel Peace Prize.

It’s hard to get excited about a “transition” in those terms. Guys, the old dream dies hard. The dazzling vision of an East German-style flameout, with a pure people turning out a corrupt regime, exacting justice from their former tormentors, well, it’s beautiful. To give up on that is to die a little bit inside.

Then again, politics is the art of the possible. It’s about bridging the gap between our goals and our capabilities, and that’s not a gap you can bridge via wishes or fond hopes. Politics is about taking a long hard look at your capabilities, your real capabilities, the ones you actually have, not the ones you wish you had or feel you deserve.

2017 showed pretty decisively that the regime is not going to collapse. It should, yes. If this was the Hollywood version, it would. But this is the grubby, disgusting reality, where murderous assholes can entrench themselves in power for decades and there isn’t a goddamn thing anybody can do about it.

At some point, once you fully internalize the reality of a regime that’s now encysted, you have to let go of the beautiful dream. You have to seriously consider that a transition will either be on their terms, or it won’t come at all.

You don’t have to like it. You’d be a monster to like it. But you do have to accept it.