Considering that all is pretty well played out still does not excuse the opposition to Chavez from not doing something about it. After all it must develop a strategy to survive the dark night of chavismo until better days come and the country can be recovered from the hands of the thugs that rule it today. Any action must be carefully thought of and based on the knowledge and understanding of what Chavez really wants and what he does have in hand to achieve it, but also on what the opposition has and what does it want to achieve. No matter what, the opposition must first decide whether it has the will to fight back. Otherwise no plan will help and we might as well stay home and forget about the whole thing until someone comes to our Sleeping Beauty Castle to awake us. Unfortunately Shreck is more likely to land in Caracas to deliver us before Uribe or the Empire do.
Let’s go by parts to understand better what can be done. In the rest of this post let’s see first in a practical and pragmatic way what is facing the opposition, and in a final post I will suggest the few things the opposition could do.
What Chavez wants
As explained in previous posts on this topic, Chavez wants to be president for life. He also wants to rule as he wishes and to make sure no one can mount a real challenge against him. For this he has already occupied almost every nook and cranny of the country. At this point only a portion of the media escapes him, and some thinking institutions such as some university campus, the church and the intellectuals. The last remains of opposition political strongholds will be dissolved in no more than a couple of years either by attrition (some of the oppo figures will not be able to run again in any election) or simply by splitting up these strongholds so that they will become powerless.
The media and campus will be dealt with much ease once the referendum passes since Chavez will claim again a new mandate. This hollow claim will allow him to erase these last outposts even though the referendum was about a completely different matter. Campus will lose their autonomy and pro Chavez faculty will reach the top administrative positions to pervert the educational mission of these places. Globovision will be closed or at least sent into cable only mode. Newspapers will be forced to a certain amount of self censorship by further toughening of the penal code such as forcing the publication of any news sources for example. Investigative journalism will be all but impossible and with that the regime can still pretend that there is freedom of expression as only temperate Op-Ed pieces will survive.
The intellectuals? Well, deprived of the media to expose their message and under threat, many will start taking the roads of exile or to remain silent, dedicating themselves to literature in a country that does not read.
Within no more than two years the grip of Chavez will be complete and no opposition movement will be able to gather strength. It is that simple.
What Chavez needs
Unfortunately for Chavez, he also wants in his narcissist megalomania to be the leader of at least Latin America against the Empire. He needs to refurbish his image badly tarnished since last December and for that he needs that the referendum not only passes, but passes with a margin wide enough and with large enough participation. The kind of thing he is asking Venezuelans to vote for can only be stomached by foreign countries if he gets at the very least a 40% of the total population to vote for it. We must note that a 40% of the people when abstention is counted him will give him MORE than what he got in December. There is certain logic within chavismo: from election to election Chavez has insisted on increasing his share of the vote (greatly helped for sure by the mistakes of the opposition and the treachery of the CNE). The referendum result cannot be a mere 51%, not even 63% as in December. It has to be 64% or more.
In other words the vote result needs to be a minimum of 64% YES for an abstention no bigger than 37%. Do the math. He needs that number not to gain the admiration of the Western Democracies (he has lost it for good) but he needs it to silence them for a while as he removes his last internal obstacles such as the press and independent campuses. And if there lays the chance of the opposition to do some damage, there also lays the tricks that Chavez might use in the next three months as he needs to lure at least part of the opposition to go and vote NO.
You think I am divagating? Well, Chavez has already hinted at that! In his speech of last week at the National Assembly he has alluded to that one as lacking legitimacy because it was elected with less than 25% of the electoral vote! It took Chavez almost two years to recognize this damning fact, but he did recognize it. And why you may ask? Very simple: during the campaign, depending how things go, he could offer to dissolve the National Assembly and elect a new one with the democratic forces that participate in the referendum. He could afford to do that because even if the opposition managed to get 40% of the votes in a parliamentarian election the way the voting system works now it would get a most 20% of the seats. With the increased powers that Chavez is about to get, he could not care less if 20% of the National Assembly belong to the opposition. In fact, it would work at his advantage!
You can imagine that if Chavez were to do such an offer as dissolving the National Assembly, many opposition groups would fall in to the trap gladly, hoping for some small bench in the Assembly and the TV exposure that comes with it. Enough at any rate for Chavez to get the result he needs. Chavez will then be able to scream that Venezuela is a democracy because there are opposition members in parliament. And if some in the opposition are willing to enjoy a Sepoy status, why would Western Democracies do anything about it? Venezuela got what it deserved, they would think.
What Chavez already has
In addition of clever tricks such as dissolving the National Assembly let’s not forget that Chavez dispose of many other cards that have been detailed in previous posts. Just to refresh the memory of the patient reader. Chavez has unlimited funds to buy votes. He has extensive means to threaten people to vote for him or else they risk losing their job, their mision stipend, etc… He has a corrupted electoral system where in about half of the country we do not know who really votes. He has an electoral board that will forgive him any trespassing to any electoral code of conduct, amen to basic moral and ethical violations he will make along the campaign. He has an army who every day is looking more like a praetorian guard. He has plenty of Cuban advisers and revenge seeking folks willing to do all sorts of underhanded maneuvers to screw the opposition considering it a legitimate revenge (you can start with the vice President himself, Jorge Rodriguez, a “resentido social” if there ever was only one). He has a legal system that will not lift a finger to defend interests that go against those of Chavez. And more. I mean, how could Chavez lose an election?
Truly, quite a daunting task for the opposition. But still, as I will try to show in the next post, still some room to maneuver tightly under certain conditions.