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The Chavez Scenarios: one approximation to the days ahead in Venezuela

By Pedro M. Burelli

(!4.12.03) - President Chavez, however deranged and unpopular, is still the master of his - and our country’s - destiny. Hugo Chavez is not a man that can be easily dissected. Those who have dealt with him conclude that he is untrained and incapable of either negotiating or considering anything midway between black and white. At this juncture, such disposition probably makes him foresee humiliating defeat and surrender, or resounding victory and eternal consolidation of his self proclaimed revolution.

If we believe the above is true, we can conclude that Chavez must now be faced with the following alternatives:

1) Temp, or drag, (“push & pull”) his opposition into a confrontation that would justify a formal, or de facto, declaration of a State of Emergency and the start of an overtly authoritarian/repressive phase in the Bolivarian “revolution”. Likely outcome of this scenario is an unpredictable civil conflagration with no certain winner and the likelihood of long term negative aftereffect for Venezuela and the region. We call this the immolation scenario. Chavez’s puts himself in harms way – despite serious doubts about his real courage - and stays in the fight till his own bitter end.

2) Seek an exit were he can portray himself as the victim of a concocted conspiracy (“megafraud”, bla, bla) orchestrated by the “usual suspects”: the US, OAS, Aznar, CIA, oligarchs, the media, dissident generals et al. He would thus get out of harms way and position himself as a roving (“wronged but rich”) idol of the disenfranchised and oppressed in the region and beyond. In its simplest form this outcome can be triggered via a “pressured” resignation. This we have opted to call the surrender scenario, although it could well be called surrender to survive. If executed suddenly, and with sangfroid, this twist will catch the fragmented opposition of guard and one can assume that the underlying divisions within it will surface in a violent power struggle of unpredictable duration or outcome.

3) Attempt to avert the referendum using every trick in the book but never overstepping the fuzzy boundaries of his oft unobserved constitution. The likely outcome of this scenario will be his recall within the current timeline, i.e. sometime in the beginning of the second quarter of 2004. Given that in the process of holding on he is likely to suffer serious defections, legal tribulations and worsening economic and social pressures, we call this the implosion scenario and assume that he will emerge powerless, discredited and indictable…ergo this is the outcome he must seek, at all costs, to avoid.

Under the immolation scenario, he would rattle, imprison and eliminate his opponents, shedding his few remaining trappings of a democrat. Under the surrender scenario he would step aside and leave it to the strongest, most ruthless or better organized, to come up on top. Given the array of players and the presence of all kinds of extreme and armed elements in our society I will not place a penny bet on who would prevail in such power grab. He would use the consequent chaos to support the stinging argument that he should have never been forced out and that things were better off with him in office.

In order to avoid certain chaos, the opposition and the concerned -and well intentioned - component of the international community must strive to develop sensible and firm reactions to the two, most likely, scenarios. It is a grave mistake to ignore them just because they do not align perfectly to the naïve electoral, peaceful, constitutional, low-cholesterol formula concocted by the US State Department in order to avoid policy or delay action until it is too late. While a great deal of technical and legal shrewdness has to be displayed to defend the signatures and the right of Venezuelans to go to the polls (scenario 3), it is imperative that political acumen and common sense prevail over wishful thinking and complacency. If the chances of Chavez sitting still for the recall referendum to end his misery are slim to none, then the vigilance of the recall option must be left in the hands of legal wizards, political operators and international observers, while key governments must rally around the main opposition figures (sorry, no leaders yet!) of the country and persuade them to negotiate a transition solution that stops violence before it starts and not after. Reason must prevail, and nothing better than earnest planning and diligent execution to ensure it does!

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