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The consequences of the recall's result in Venezuela, part V

By Daniel Duquenal

Part 5: The opposition that was. Using the past tense in the title is not an accident. On the early hours of Monday, August 16, the old traditional political class of Venezuela might have experienced its final blow. Indeed, fraud or no fraud, we are left with two hypothesis:

1- Chavez indeed won the referendum. The opposition message, no matter how justified it was, did not reach enough people to unseat Chavez.

2- There was an electoral fraud and the opposition had its putative victory stolen. In this case the opposition was rather incompetent in averting fraud and defending its victory.

It is certainly important to evaluate the options of the opposition and what future it does have in Venezuela. Or rather the future of the opposition leadership. Indeed, no matter what, the opposition counts with a hard core vote of at least 40% of the Venezuelan electorate that Chavez has not been able to dent. Furthermore a significant part of Chavez electorate is in for the ride, as long as it sees benefits coming its way. Nothing original in that, what is different here is the sheer determination of that 40% that opposes Chavez and that might never be wooed.

Before going into the opposition options it would be good to examine its components. In a next post I will speculate on the opposition future.

THE COORDINADORA DEMOCRATICA

The first important thing to realize is that the Coordinadora Democratica, CD, is not a political party: it is a loose coalition of political parties that go from the democratic left to the democratic right and a diverse set of Non Governmental Organizations, NGO. By its very nature it is a difficult group to manage with notable problems in establishing a clear line of command and political direction. On the other hand it is a very democratic where constant discussion of issues and strategies take place, something alien to chavismo where the word comes from above, period.

This loose structure was very appealing to many people, like this writer, who were tired of the autocratic atmosphere on the other side. But paradoxically it also repealed too many people that do like to follow a leader and never understood the need for protracted discussion that is at the core of the democratic process. Apparently this group weighs more in Venezuelan society than this blogger thought.

The CD must evaluate its function and make promptly the appropriate changes, otherwise oblivion might come earlier than expected.

THE NGO

Their worth is considerable. Their pull on the civil society is what has allowed the spectacular marches that dotted the Caracas landscape these last two years (1). One of chavismo failures has been unable to create NGO that are able to attract in significant number the middle class, the intellectual sectors, and even the student sectors. (2)

But NGO are also a weak link when an immediate and effective political response is needed. They are good at feeding political parties with ideas and people, but they can become a drag when action is required.

At a time when political resistance might become the order of the day, the role of NGO inside the CD, or whatever succeeds I, has to be reevaluated.

THE POLITICAL PARTIES

The traditional parties

There are three parties included in the CD that do come from the political past: Accion Democratica, AD, Copei and the Movimiento al Socialismo, MAS.

It is a safe bet to say that the 4 AM declaration on Monday 16 by the AD leader might have marked the last gasp of AD and Copei. These parties with an amazing electoral machinery in the past have shown themselves unable to recover the electors that hey have lost to chavismo (3). They also seem to have lost their past wiles at countering electoral fraud. They do remain still, for a few more months, in the National Assembly where temptation to negotiate with Chavez for a few token positions might prove too strong to resist. Just as their commitment to the CD was on occasion questioned. For AD and Copei the hour of truth has arrived. The regional election might be the end of the road, either by natural death or by transformation into their majesty’s opposition.

The MAS has a more ambiguous future. Its past support for Chavez which cost a severe internal division when it left the coalition gave it a different image. If it manages to deal with other leftist movements opposed to Chavez it could become a real social democracy option for Venezuela, not having been as tainted by the past as is the case for AD or Copei.

The fringe parties and individualities

The CD has an odd lot of political members. Small parties like the very leftist Bandera Roja (Red Flag)in favor with many trade union and student organization and particularly hated by chavismo.

Some personalities have escaped the curse of AD and Copei by becoming political entities on their own right such as the governors of Zulia and Miranda. This last one, Enrique Mendoza issued from Copei, has managed to become the closest approximation of a leader for the CD and might have become the candidate of the CD had Chavez been ousted. Unfortunately Mendoza has had a less than stellar role since August 15 and his career as a national leader might be fading fast. He might have to settle for an encore performance in Miranda before heading for retirement. Issued from AD, Zulia’s governor Rosales on the other hand might have a brighter future, in particular if he manages to articulate a social democratic option around him.

The new parties

Rather than examining individual parties it might be easier to contemplate general options.

On the democratic left. There we have see several groups that have emerged, in addition to preexisting ones. One that has been showing some dynamism is Un Solo Pueblo with William Ojeda, an articulate journalist , once a Chavez supporter and now a committed opponent, not afraid to expose himself to eh chavista violent fringe. Other leaders do work hard at seeding the popular areas with opposition organized groups, such as Carlos Melo. We should not forget Causa R who although originating in the early 90ies, can be considered as new. And it has significant strength in trade unions.

This is all in flux but the potential for a real social democrat movement including the MAS or not is quite real.

On the democratic right. There developments are interesting. Copei had failed to develop a democratic right option such as what is seen in Europe. Instead it opted for populism like AD and thus met the same fate. But the potential always existed in Venezuela where enough people wanted political organizations more worried about creating jobs and managing efficiently the public administration than worrying about populist electoral handouts that do not build a country. From all the Copei divisions emerged Proyecto Venezuela and Convergencia which are now strong regional forces whereas Copei seems on its last ropes except perhaps in Tachira. Their success has been from their ability to convey to the local “masses” the need of a well managed state as the best provider in the long run of quality of life.

Finally Primero Justicia, PJ, has been the big revelation these past few years. Their success can be measured by the intensity of the attacks to which it has been subjected by chavismo. Indeed, PJ seems to incarnate all that chavismo fails at, without chavismo being able to pin on them disregard for the welfare of the masses. Amazingly PJ seems to make inroads into the “barrios” while commanding perhaps half of al the middle class sectors. Polls give to PJ 20% and more, second only to Chavez party which is far from scoring what its leader gets.

Conclusion.

Diversity is the name of the Venezuelan opposition in front of the wished for Monolith that Chavez would like to install on his side. The question is of course how can the opposition find the formula that would bring back a true democratic state in Venezuela. That message should convince people that their well being relies on themselves more and not on state handouts that last only as long as electoral campaigns last. Gratifyingly, the opposition diversity should soon bring real answers. Soon the pernicious effects of Chavez outrageous populism should help. But before that comes we will need to examine the immediate options for the opposition.

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(1) Perhaps the NGO with the more visibility, to the point of looking like a small political party on its own is Gente de Petroleo, which has gathered the fired workers of PDVSA. This skilled group of workers has had a definite impact in the CD, as much at the organizational level as for garnering sympathies and enthusiasm.

(2) As demonstrated in the recent vote, chavismo has been more successful at organizing popular communities in the defense of the “misiones”. Other type of chavista NGO like structures seem not as spontaneous as one might want, and more politically set up and oriented.

(3) It is always good to remind folks that chavista voters did not happen by spontaneous generation. The bulk come from the AD electorate, more, considerably more, than any supposedly leftist electorate who historically never managed the 20% figure. We had to wait for Andres Velasquez in 1993 to see for the first time the 20% barrier crossed. And he is now in the CD…




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