We all love the scenes of political prisoners being released, hugging their families, calling their loved ones abroad. We’re relieved that they don’t have to suffer isolation, mistreatment, or torture anymore. We can only be happy for them, despite all the circumstances.
And Maduro knows this.
Maduro knows no political leader can say no to the release of a political prisoner. He knows he can use these prisoners to his benefit, offering them for political gain, knowing that in a week, a month, or a year, he can once again fill up El Helicoide, and play this trick again in the near future.
The release of political prisoners means everything to them and their families, and we must not take anything away from that. However, for the rest of us who want democracy in Venezuela, their release is a temporary joy, maybe a soft breeze of hope; it does nothing to change the reality on the ground. Their cases are a metaphor for the situation we’re in as a country: we celebrate and enjoy any improvement to an awful situation, but we’re still under control of chavismo. We’re not free.
A temporary joy is what I see unfolding, after Henrique Capriles went forward to admit he’s parting ways with Juan Guaidó and the supporters of the caretaker president’s proposal of a “unitary route” to pressure the regime, instead of taking part in the parliamentary elections. Capriles alleges that going to those elections is the only thing we can do and that better conditions to participate could be negotiated.
Their cases are a metaphor for the situation we’re in as a country: we celebrate and enjoy any improvement to an awful situation, but we’re still under control of chavismo.
Yes, improved conditions for the parliamentary elections on December 6th would be nice, although hard to imagine chavismo allowing months-long electoral observation missions, returning all parties to their rightful leaders, releasing all political prisoners, and allowing all currently barred politicians to participate as candidates, a good result there could bring a breeze of hope.
So, let’s imagine those elections happen in December, with some of the opposition taking part. What comes after? Knowing what we know since 2015 (or much earlier), what does a solid minority, or even a strong majority, in the National Assembly do to improve people’s lives?
How does it get us closer to our actual goal of removing chavismo from power?
This Is Not 1980s’ Poland
In his statement on September 2nd, Henrique Capriles said many hard truths: the caretaker government looks lost and the strategy launched in January 2019 seems to be at a deadend. But going to the parliamentary elections just because these guys haven’t figured out what comes next isn’t an alternative strategy. It’s just wishful thinking.
Capriles’s words may sound encouraging now, but his plan is filled with major hazards. A tough defeat on December 6th would sink the people’s hopes even further than they are today. If he miraculously obtains a good result, we would just go back to early 2016, investing time and effort in a recall referendum that will inevitably be blocked, only under a much poorer country, with a much more authoritarian government, and with an completely divided opposition. Seems like a poor environment for a Lech Walesa style revolution.
We tried the “ganemos espacios” strategy for at least a decade, and chavismo showed that it will not concede an inch of the real power in Venezuela, unless it’s forced to.
Removing chavismo from power is evidently not an easy task. And while Guaidó and his closest allies have failed in providing a new strategy, Capriles is taking a temporary detour that will inevitably bring him back to this same spot: a head-on confrontation with an ever-increasingly authoritarian government, that has blocked all electoral solutions, and can only be removed by a crack in the ruling coalition, be it through negotiations, pressure or force.
We tried the “ganemos espacios” strategy for at least a decade, and chavismo showed that it will not concede an inch of the real power in Venezuela, unless it’s forced to. Repeating the exact same agenda, cannot bring different results.
Guaidó and his allies need to present a new plan as to how to force a change in chavismo, after almost two years of an unsuccessful caretaker government, but the goal must continue to be the same: obtaining structural changes. Not just releasing political prisoners, but having institutions that can ensure no one is arrested for political reasons. Not just improving electoral conditions, but having free and fair elections, elections that bring consequences, that allow a governor to rule his or her state without a “protector” on top, and a National Assembly that’s capable of appointing Supreme Tribunal judges and CNE rectors. Otherwise, any minor victory that we obtain will always be at risk of being immediately taken away.
Since the elections of 2015, chavismo has blocked every potential democratic road, and forced us into the confrontation we’re now in. Capriles can try to take a detour, but in a few years he will find himself back in this same path.
Only with fewer companions to face the obstacles.
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