How the Mexico Talks Impact the Opposition’s Internal Wars

Just like the primaries offer an opportunity to strengthen the opposition, the dialogue could signify a chance to increase its inner wars

A little over two weeks ago, we saw Nicolás Maduro’s representatives meet in Mexico with a team of negotiators sent by the Plataforma Unitaria Democrática (PUEDE). The outcome of that meeting was the signing of a “social” agreement between the two parties, which represents the second such agreement achieved in similar circumstances, after the one brokered to import medical supplies in the pandemic. This is significant, not only because it comes with tangible results, but because of the context we find ourselves in: the runup to the 2024 presidential elections.

It’s very clear that PUEDE’s biggest threat is Maduro’s regime, but the opposition itself is second on that list. PUEDE is just one of the many different sides that claims to oppose Maduro’s regime and the organization finds itself on complicated footing, trying to balance maintaining a fragile alliance with putting up a real fight for political power. In any case, restarting negotiations in Mexico has the potential to shake things up going into 2024, so it’s a good time to take a look at some scenarios of how things may play out.

Internal Pressure

There’s a massive difference in power between Maduro’s regime and PUEDE, which has left the latter at the mercy of international actors like the United States. Depending so heavily on a third party is a huge risk, as has been pointed out before, even if it provides PUEDE with its greatest advantage in the coming months. Beyond that factor, PUEDE faces three immediate threats: a crisis of legitimacy, a divided opposition, and a lack of internal unity.

PUEDE no longer seems to be perceived by the population as the one legitimate force to lead the opposition. In the 2021 regional elections, when anti-PSUV candidates achieved more total votes than PSUV but won just a few states and municipalities, we saw the rise of “new” players who claim to oppose Maduro, such as Alianza del Lápiz and Alianza Democrática, which draw votes away from PUEDE.

PUEDE itself is an extremely fragile alliance, which lacks cohesion and discipline. For example, Manuel Rosales leads a party that’s a member of PUEDE, but he seems to prefer going his own way. And three Primero Justicia members rush to stake their public claims as the party’s nominee instead of resolving the issue among themselves and their party. This lack of stability could lead to candidates losing PUEDE’s primary but launching their own presidential campaigns instead of rallying behind the winner. That would be the final nail in the coffin for the opposition’s chances to remove Maduro from power in the 2024 election.

So, how would PUEDE go about managing these threats?

PUEDE Needs Tangible Achievements

The only way PUEDE can manage the risk of their own candidates launching their own separate campaigns after losing the primary is to elevate the political cost of doing so. PUEDE can do so by fixing their legitimacy crisis and repositioning themselves as the “true” leaders of the effort to oust Maduro. In order to regain this legitimacy, PUEDE needs concrete achievements from their talks in Mexico with the government. A concrete achievement is one that hurts the regime, something that you can point to and say it’s because of you and despite your rival. Anything that fails to hurt Maduro will be seen as political smoke and mirrors agreed upon by two sides playing for each other. This would feed the accusations of collusion and cooperation that PUEDE’s rivals constantly hurl at them. 

The more concrete achievements PUEDE obtains, the less likely people voting for their all-talk rivals will be, and the higher the political cost of running outside the PUEDE system becomes for wild card individuals like Rosales and Henrique Capriles.

What would concrete achievements look like? Mass releases and pardons of political prisoners, blanket political rehabilitations, and the repealing of some unconstitutional laws could serve this purpose. These could be seen as actual progress, things taken away from Maduro. It would give PUEDE the appearance of wielding actual power.

The problem is that this doesn’t seem to be up to them, it’s up to the United States. Only the U.S. has what Maduro wants, sanctions relief, and is therefore the one in a position to really get something in return for PUEDE.

After the Primary 

If PUEDE secures some concrete achievements, then their candidates who lose the primary will be more likely to support the winner (or at least not get in the way). In a scenario where PUEDE managed to make it out of the primary with a good deal of stability, there’s a high chance that Maduro may go ahead and move the date of the presidential elections closer to early 2024 or even late 2023. Maduro may try this as a destabilizing measure, to try and shake up the opposition and cut the unitary candidate’s campaign short. 

If PUEDE gets to the primary with not much to show for, with their candidates dropping off left and right, Maduro will probably just leave the date as is. Why risk a decision that could anger the U.S. when you can simply sit back and watch your opponents destroy themselves?

All in all, striking meaningful agreements with Maduro’s regime in Mexico could help PUEDE regain their legitimacy, which is the only way they’ll stand any chance at all come the elections. If they come out of the talks with little to brag about, then we’ll see an election cycle with a ridiculous number of candidates who all feel equally legitimate, splitting votes and allowing Maduro to waltz into a new victory speech.