CHAVEZ’S OPPOSITION REDUX
May 29, 2003
As the opposition is slowly coming to grips and prepares to sign the agreement promoted by Gaviria it is a good opportunity to talk a little bit of these guys (May 28 post).
The opposition is definitely a mixed bag. If its diversity is a source of strength it also a source of weakness when it opposes a single-minded guy such as Chavez. But this might not be its real problem.
The opposition strengths
The first strength of the opposition is of course Chavez failures. Some wits even say that Chavez is the real leader of the opposition as his blunders regularly revitalize them. Indeed in Venezuelan XX century history we have no example of somebody that went so high that became embattled so fast.
After initial setbacks the opposition has understood that it should be all-inclusive. It encompasses the enterprise owner associations, the traditional trade unions, political parties from the left such as Bandera Roja, historical and new parties like Primero Justicia, all sorts of NGO and some rather right wing groups coming from some retired military organizations for example. And a few unsavory personages that like to fish in troubled waters, many of them flushed out in April 11/12. This variety and unity is what has made the marches so successfully well attended, why Chavez polls felt below 50% after hitting stratospheric 80+%, why the opposition, in spite of all the foreign pundits dictum, is such a grass root movement that breaks all traditional political molds from the past.
My favorite quality within this heterogeneous group is that there is no strong leader. After the uber alles leader that Chavez is, it is refreshing to see that the opposition leadership needs to gather and discuss for a while before they can come to a conclusion.
But there is a price to be paid for diversity.
The opposition weaknesses
The first original sin of the opposition is the April 11 to 13 blunders. When Carmona managed to highjack with a rather unsavory cohort the rather unexpected Chavez resignation, it was clear that some right wing characters had been manipulating some of the action. This has offered a seemingly never-ending propaganda tool to Chavez. And it is sad to observe that many in the opposition have never came quite clear condemning some of these actions preferring the “I had nothing to do with it” lameness.
The second failure was not to promote sufficiently the CD, Coordinadora Democratica. This is the umbrella organization. Originally it had some significant successes. For example, its creation allowed the opposition to recover from the April tragedy and regain the initiative, in particular with the non-binding referendum petition drive. It also forced the government to sit down at the “mesa de Negociación y Acuerdos” presided by the OAS. But its loose structure did not allow it to control events when the general strike came in December. After a few days and a few provocations from the government, the strike leadership went to the business and trade union leaders, soon joined by the striking PDVSA. The CD seemed a passive follower and was not able to provide more realistic goals than the Chavez exit. Then again, who knew that Chavez would not hesitate to wreck the economy to maintain his power. The CD never quite recovered from that strike failure, while the leaders went into exile or into hiding. The consequence is the not very good agreement that the opposition is dragged to sign today.
A graver failure of the anti-Chavez crowd is to fail to understand clearly the nature of the opponent. Yes, now it knows that Chavez is a convenience democrat and that he will not balk at anything legal or pseudo-legal to remain in power. But this should have been accepted earlier. It would have probably given rise to a better opposition strategy confronting Chavez on the legal level instead of trying a direct showdown that he had a better chance to win. After all, since April 2002 he has been diligent in making sure that such a thing would not happen again. A non-violent opposition can fight a wannabe tyrant only if it accepts patience as its guiding principle and avoids hard but tempting confrontations for quick time results, confrontations which the other side thrives on.
This is probably due to the very Caracas nature of the leadership. The first strong rejection of Chavez came form the educated elite of Caracas, namely its Eastern side. Provinces were left to Chavez for too long and we had to wait for the December 10, 2001, first general strike to see some provincial participation. But April 11 was a Caracas event, and a Caracas speech. Many of the military that backed Chavez return were not from Caracas. The leadership sometimes think that just with Caracas they will kick Chavez out and that is a weakness making them underestimate some of the local strength that Chavez has. They might not like Chavez anymore in San Felipe but kicking him out to give the job to a Caracas “patiquin” is not very motivating.
Finally the more damming criticism is the personal ambitions that fluster the opposition. The success of February’s El Firmazo has made many a leader salivate at the prospect of all these votes that could congeal on his, or her, leadership. If this is a normal reaction, it was the CD’s failure not to be able to control it. This projected an image of disunion, a fight of personal ambitions while on the other side Chavez survival had made him the unquestioned leader.
Which brings to the real failures of the opposition, which have become clear in the last two months. The first one is its inability to offer a clear message to the people besides “We want Chavez out”. Yes, there are discussion tables, many projects, etc, and if Chavez were to leave tomorrow the country would not be rudderless. But this is no excuse not to have offered a brief governmental proposal, if anything as a transition program for a couple if years after an eventual Chavez departure. Maybe its heterogeneity refrains the opposition to agree on some basic principles? The other major need is to elaborate a strategy that will tie all the loose ends between the shantytowns, the Caracas middle class and the provinces if it hopes to succeed. These processes are unfortunately too long for some hotheads that cannot wait and thus offer an impatient and not very democratic image.
The other failure, which is now very worrisome, is the non-existence of a leadership functional structure. This is in part why some people have vented their presidential aspirations. If the CD does not think that naming a leader is appropriate right now, it could at least show that there is a mechanism to name a leader when the time comes. No serious discussion on that and this could be fatal since the electoral system is a winner take all set up and a divided opposition could let a unified pro-Chavez candidate squeeze by to office and allow Chavez run the show from behind. All the effort to oust Chavez would be lost.
The Venezuelan opposition in other words has shown itself incapable to rule its domain, just as Chavez is incapable to rule the country productively. It is time that Chavez adversaries put their act together. With no money, no army, and soon no media or no police to help, I wonder how they are going to get rid of wannabe tyrant if they keep bickering among themselves.
There is a saying that countries get the governments they deserve. I would add that they also get the opposition they deserve.