I have been watching mesmerized the recent nightly rioting in mostly Parisian mid suburbs. Tonight I was watching on cable a debate on a show called “Ripostes”. TV5 is a French channel destined for overseas consumption and which integrates the “best” from France and other French speaking areas (last night a Canadian team made a report on Telesur and, well, they did not buy the official “impartiality” line).
What was striking to me was the quality of the debate that was held. The host had invited specialists from rundown suburban areas, and an assortment of public servants from all political sides.
First, the tone was clear, all tendencies were equally aware of the social gravity of the situation and none were trying to pin the blame on the other side. That is, both sides realize, fully I will dare to say, that the problem was born 30, 40 years ago, not under Chirac presidency. Perhaps French are so used now to political rotation that they have become gifted in recognizing such structural patterns, but the tone was sincere, these people were not posturing, they were trying to understand, they were listening to each other.
It went even far enough that a leftist person did not criticize interior ministry Sarkozy, saying that he was obviously doing his job and the social eruption was not his fault. Another one admitted that Sarkozy strong language was reaching some of those suburban people who are losing their cars, who feel in danger and who want law and order even if they tend to vote socialist.
But from the right the language was equally penetrating. There was genuine concern for these humble workers who need their cars to go to downtown Paris to work, or safe and abundant public transportation to reach their jobs, or that indeed the school system and economic integration was failing and that the present government response was not enough.
This did not stop them for an occasional heating up of the debate, from trashing Sarkozy trying to make some political gains in front of the cameras, to denounce some of the socialist polices that have not worked. Still, a democratic debate that would make proud any society that could nurture such a group of people.
Today in Venezuela it was a whole different scene. Chavismo called for a vigil to honor Anderson memory, just as apparently more and more unreasonable accusations and motives are floated around. Yesterday Isaias Rodriguez was declaring that he would not lose his dignity by going to Globovision to be interviewed. Cilia Flores and Nicolas Maduro from the National Assembly or the vigil denounced the sabotage, the media conspiracy, the same litanies to protect Isaias reputation sinking to new lows, as if it were possible.
Yet, tonight Globovision played the almost complete 1 hour interview that Isaias gave last night. Its arrogance did not require any commentary from the Globovision staff: Isaias revealed himself the petty arrogant hack he has become. Yet Ramos Allup was asking the Maduro and Flores to give hard data on the Anderson case, to jail whomever it needed but at least on legal basis and real proof that can be revealed to the public. Ramos Allup and Globovision were expressing what a real democratic government should naturally do.
The gaping divide was for all to see. Within the Venezuelan opposition there is still a certain taste for debate, even a certain desire to listen, to reach the other side, to chavismo. To reach over and try to agree at least on some common objectives for the country. Is it unreasonable to demand that a public servant, of the judicial branch, declares to ALL the media instead of pretending that Globovision has no audience, or not one worth going to talk to anyway? Is it unreasonable to expect the president of the National Assembly to have a discourse to explain what is going on with the country instead of repeating endlessly the now very worn out lines of the permanent attacks to the opposition, the constant equating of this one to terrorism, betrayal to the country and other assorted crimes?
Tonight as I was watching that small group of French people I realized how impossible it is to have such a debate in Venezuela. Chavez is indeed killing any weak democratic instinct that we might have left. His Manichean approach to life has forced his followers to wear blinders, to demise any opposing view, and slowly but surely to start wishing for the actual elimination of the opposition. If anything to be relieved from the constant urging to go and crush it. Chavismo, at least the one sector effectively holding the levers of power, has embarked in the task of reducing the opposition to nothing, of castrating the country of any original thought. It can express meekly with articles such as the weekly column of Mari Pili Hernadez in El Nacional who has reached a new height in imbecility when she describes what the opposition should do to become a good opposition. Or it can be the teeth grinding determination of the CNE to control the electoral process to discourage the opposition to even think about perhaps going out and vote.
When chavismo refuses to acknowledge that it has been in office for 7 years and that it must stop blaming everything in the past, you do realize that this is not accidental and that in ten years from now all that is wrong will still be blamed on the pre 1998 years. You also realize that it will be impossible to start any dialogue as long as some responsibility is not assumed by the Isaias and Maduro… It would be very easy to blame the opposition equally for that lack of dialogue. But my question is: in which terms could the opposition accept to dialogue with the government when any dialogue agenda is imposed by the government. The recent reception of FEDECAMARAS by Chavez was not a dialogue; it was recognition of the might of Chavez, a surrender, not to democracy but to the power of Chavez, by the private business leaders who are now even willing to accept the arbitrary actions perpetrated by the government on private business.
No, Chavez does not want to dialogue. His followers are forced into not wanting dialogue. Thus democracy dies.