“It’s too hot to talk of such things.” With that shameful phrase, Manuel Rosales refused to answer a question from a journalist who confronted him on Monday, July 23, about the meeting he held with Henrique Capriles, Henri Falcón and Henry Ramos Allup.
Rosales has never shown eloquence as a politician when it comes to answering uncomfortable questions —as evidenced in November 2017, when he avoided taking a stance regarding the National Constituent Assembly in an interview for CNN— but many hoped he’d be prepared to talk about that meeting, in view of the rumors that the opposition would be willing to retake the electoral line for municipal council elections in December, or perhaps try and negotiate with the government a new presidential election before the year was done.
Rosales has never shown eloquence as a politician when it comes to answering uncomfortable questions.
The veteran politician and Un Nuevo Tiempo founder, who faced Hugo Chávez in polling stations in 2006, getting 36.91% of votes, simply focused on listing all the problems affecting Zulian citizens, especially blackouts and protests.
This press conference, in which he claimed that governor Omar Prieto had turned Zulia into “the worst state in Venezuela,” seemed like a desperate attempt to return to public life, trying to take the lead in people’s dissatisfaction, after months of media silence.
The fact that Rosales is making headlines again shows the serious political crisis that opposition sectors are going through in the Zulian region, where mass demonstrations and marches against Nicolás Maduro have been reported all throughout 2017.
An article published by Panorama reports how members of the Zulian opposition leadership have been leaving the country little by little. “The apathy, the dissatisfaction and disappointment in the lack of a political leadership, as pointed out by respected analysts in the country, have made some opposition leaders in Zulia choose the way out to try their luck in countries such as the United States, Chile and Peru,” the newspaper said.
Members of the Zulian opposition leadership have been leaving the country little by little.
Perhaps that’s why Rosales is taking the chance to make news again. But he’s not the only one.
Juan Pablo Guanipa, the opposition politician who refused to be inducted by the National Constituent Assembly after winning the gubernatorial election in October, has been struggling these recent months to maintain his popularity, although this last decision is precisely what has undermined his support base. He doesn’t seem to regret this, because he seems convinced that in a hypothetical regime change, he’ll be the only MUD candidate in the elections who’ll be able to say with pride that he didn’t kneel before the dictatorship.
Guanipa gained relevance in Zulia state thanks to a regional TV show he started in 2003 called De acuerdo, where he used to visit the poorest communities with the aim of giving voice to their inhabitants. In recent weeks, he’s returned to those same communities to show his face and earn approval through protests against power cuts, especially on Fridays, on behalf of the so-called Frente Amplio (Broad Front).
His actions haven’t been ignored, because he’s constantly threatened, even with prison, by Prieto and his state secretary Lisandro Cabello, who frequently blame him for alleged sabotage against Corpoelec and calling for violent protests.
But still, it’s not enough. The Primero Justicia leader doesn’t have the same popularity he enjoyed for years, which led him to win a seat in Parliament and gave him 690,000 votes (51,06%) in the gubernatorial race.
Guanipa gained relevance in Zulia state thanks to a regional TV show he started in 2003.
With a demoralized Zulian opposition, a third group has emerged, although they don’t seem to have much rallying power either: dissident chavistas.
Since Omar Prieto took office, his administration has been at odds with former governor Francisco Arias Cárdenas, who was recently accused of being directly responsible for the electricity crisis. The former lieutenant colonel, who led alongside Chávez the failed coup d’état on February 4, 1992, has responded by visiting various media outlets to reject the accusations and fire back with his own.
But he’s not the only one. Prieto’s administration has also been criticized by Rodrigo Cabezas, who’s considered to be his political mentor, and Giancarlo Di Martino, former mayor of Maracaibo. With Cabezas, the rifts started with the removal of Regulo Pachano, former chairman of the Lía Bermúdez Art Center, while Di Martino published an article in Aporrea criticizing the authorities’ “lack of action” against the “mafias” controlling downtown Maracaibo, claiming that Maduro can’t be president and also governor of Zulia.
Prieto’s administration has also been criticized by Rodrigo Cabezas, who’s considered to be his political mentor, and Giancarlo Di Martino, former mayor of Maracaibo.
This is a bleak landscape for citizens of the fifth largest and traditionally oil-centered state in the country, in view of the apparent incompetence of its politicians to take the reins of dissatisfaction and materialize it in concrete actions.
We can’t underestimate the government’s role, both with Maduro and in Chávez’s time, on demoralizing the regional and national opposition, now lacking any form of rallying power. How can they have a competitive challenger if they control all State powers and resources, with a partisan justice system; when they steal elections and are willing to fire against anyone who breathes in their general direction?
The political opposition’s downfall is far from casual, because in a democracy, chavismo wouldn’t be in power and its authorities would’ve been, in the best scenario, tried by international tribunals.
Just like with blackouts, it doesn’t seem that light is coming any time soon.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.