In the previous 5 posts of this series I have tried to write up a perhaps crude but to the point vision of what is at stake. In short: Chavez is pushing forward a constitutional “reform” whose sole objective is to give him the means to rule over Venezuela as long as he wishes, blocking any possibility for a valid opposition to rise and challenge him at some point. In other words, a return to the XIX century past, perhaps even worse. It is reactionary movement, nothing more.
The saddest part of the current situation is that in fact Chavez has already reached most of his goals and what he seeks is to make them legal while lifting the term limit restriction. Thus, since Chavez controls already everything the task to stop his last reach to absolutism is going to be very difficult.
However the Venezuelan opposition is not as helpless as it might look in spite of its inherent weakness due to its inner division and its lack of imagination. Curiously Chavez has made enough mistakes these past few months that this opposition might actually have its best chance since 2003 to stop Chavez hegemonic drive. So let’s start describing the opposition to Chavez today before we look at what it can do.
There are now two oppositions
Until May 2007 there was really a single opposition formed out of the agonizing old political parties, and the new parties unable to find a new language to counter Chavez. The highlight of that group, when there were still leaders willing to take some personal risks such as Enrique Mendoza, was the signature collection drive against Chavez in 2003-2004. At least it showed then that when you dare to stand up to Chavez, he backs down. A lesson that we would be well advised to remember, even more when we know it has happened more than once as Chavez is basically a coward hiding behind others. In February 1992 he was even reported to have shat in his pants. And in 2002 he was crying in the arms of Cardinal Velasco.
But that opposition failed miserably in 2004. And again in 2005 and again in 2006. In 2005 because it was unable to capitalize on the unexpected huge victory of the abstention. And in 2006 because its inexcusable delays in building a single candidacy against Chavez left it with not enough tine to organize a credible campaign. Yet, from that 2006 failure there was an important lesson to gain: when the opposition manages to unite behind a purposeful task, then it can obtain quite a lot. In May 2006 nobody gave the opposition much more than a 25-30%, split between 3-4 candidates. After barely two months o forceful campaign Rosales managed an official 37% which represented at least the recovery of morale.
But in 2007 Chavez started committing mistake after mistake. It started with his angry and threatening December followed by actual execution of this threats closing RCTV. A lot of economical problems such as scarcity of many food items did not help and these started bringing his numbers somewhat down. But the worse, the trigger was the RCTV closing, an event from which the Chavez administration is reeling continuously.
The consequence of that was the surge of a new opposition, totally unlinked to the past and even to the present opposition. In fact, the old opposition seems at times to be as annoyed about the large dissenting student movement that has hit the streets since the first week of June, with no sign of early demise even though we are on the summer vacation lull. To this we can add the beginning of a renewal of activity from NGOs, which if not yet as strong as the student movement seems to find its renewed strength from surging in part from within chavismo as the problems of personal security or the failure to provide hosing are finally starting to scratch the populist Teflon of Chavez.
I did write a post titled "the day the Bolivarian revolution died" and so far I have the pleasure to see it confirmed on a daily basis. On one side we have a now sclerotic and reactionary movement that cannot think of anything else but the indefinite Chavez reelection to preserve its new acquired privileges. On the other side we feel winds of a libertarian revolution starting to blow from the population itself, a movement careful to free itself from any great beloved messianic leader.
Now, what can do this opposition to counter the hegemonic goal of Chavez?
The conditions for any successful opposition résistance
Unfortunately before I narrate for the eager readers what I think could help in bringing a dent into Chavez megalomaniacal ambitions, I must dampen any enthusiasm by stating what is required from the opposition: unity and political will; steel political will at that and selfless unity to boot. These qualities are generally absent in the opposition camp except for some civilian groups such as the dissident students. In clear, the message for the traditional opposition leadership such as Rosales or Borges is that if they are not willing to open their shirt and risk to be shot, then they should consider stepping out, or at the very least stay out of the way. This time we are playing the last dice roll on the future of the Republic and it is not the time to posture. Going to jail during the next weeks is a real risk, and death is another one. But if risks are not taken now, jails will be even fuller in the future and much blood will be spilled. Time for action guys, not reckless action but conscious one knowing full well the risks ahead. Trying to compromise with Chavez will only alienate from you any little support you might have, and will give you at best a small stool in the far backbenches of power, and not for long.
What to do?
There are many things to do, all on the pacific nature but all in ways that can become rougher if needed. In case people are not aware, pacific sit-ins can turn very violent went the repressive state intervenes. But the cameras of the world will be filming: the end of the revolution will be televised.
The constitutional tools
Article 344 of the constitution is very clear: 5% of the people can sign up to demand that at least part of the Chavez proposal is split up and voted individually. That is, Chavez cannot force all of his goodies voted together with his ad infinitum reelection.
5% of the signatures are not that much: it is less than 1 million folks and there are enough people, including within chavismo, willing to sign up. Even the Tascon list threat would not play much there because there are enough folks like me who are already in deep trouble with chavismo that will have no problem in signing up again. What worse fate than a president for life could happen to us anyway?
This move has a major risk: if granted it would force the opposition to go and campaign and vote (unless the voting is made meaningless by the CNE depending how the split up of the vote is decided). But even then, it would be more difficult for chavismo to cheat on the vote counting since if cheating were to appear in the for-life ballot, it would be easily detected when the results of the other votes are too different. I am not personally very optimistic on this strategy but it is one that must be attempted anyway as it generates a movement whose result are unpredictable for both sides.
But there is another constitutional tool for which time might have finally come: article 350 of the 1999 constitution. That article allows people to stop recognizing the institutions or the government when it takes measures that attempt against the constitution. This article if of course of very confusing and difficult application but a case can be made that the Chavez proposal violates the constitution and thus civil resistance is required. This could for example be applied, with much courage and determination, to force the CNE to postpone any vote until the constitutionality of the proposal are duly reviewed and not just by Luisa Morales who already has emitted a personal opinion on the subject and thus must shut up her big mouth.
That 350, in this case, can also be used for a really effective boycott of the election if we must, a boycott that would imply people to protest in all streets of Venezuela on election day and force any observer to observe that there are more people protesting in the streets than at the voting stations.
But if constitutional tools are good, they still require a global strategy. As such it is of outmost importance that the opposition fixes its gaze on the unlimited reelection. All the goodies that Chavez is using to sugar coat his proposals with should be dismissed outright. It is NO and NO and NO to reelection (though on punctual and regional basis some of the other proposals can be used to counter Chavez). If the campaign threatens to go NO it would force Chavez to some compromise so as to have his other items discussed. For example a determined NO to reelection coupled with an equally determined “I do not care about the rest” could be enough to force the government to accept a safer vote counting and a partition of the proposals.
But mark my words, if any one in the opposition accepts to discuss the individual items on the same parity as reelection item, then we are doomed.
Once unity of message is obtained, once unity of action is decided, then we might start looking at other actions that could help a lot for the campaign. They are in fact mere details, important of course but not as important as the need for the strong message hammered over and over again. The objective in the next paragraphs is to blend electoral goals and image.
The electoral question
The CNE is a cheat box. Negotiations with the CNE are useless. After seeing how tenderly Ramirez was treated by the CNE for its 2006 electoral frauds and abuses (plural intended) it should be clear to anyone that any discussion with the CNE is a waste of time. It is my opinion that the CNE should be given a clear and simple ultimatum. If the ultimatum is not respected then the opposition withdraws from the election and takes to the streets using the 350. Assuming of course that during this time it has built enough credibility to convince the world on the why of the action, as we will see further down.
What should that ultimatum be? The CNE has been negligent at correcting all the vices inherent in the electoral rolls and others. Asking the CNE to solve this by December will be unrealistic, a waste of time and an illusion. Instead I propose that the opposition demands the following
50% of the ballots to be counted by hand BEFORE any result is announced. It was already granted in 2006 and there is no reason why it should be denied this time.
The opposition should be allowed to pick 25% of the electoral districts it wants and monitor them before and during election under the protection of the Armed Forces no matter what the sold out new Defense minister says (he has linked the Chavez proposals to a order threat the army must follow!!!). All sort of auditing tools should be allowed, including testing the indelible ink, the registration rolls, etc… Chavismo can chose of course the 25% it wants, but who cares? The objective in this action is that the opposition could marshal its meager resources safely for its observers in 25% of the districts, no matter how chavista these are. Preferably somber chavistas units where fraud has been alleged should be picked. This can even include the famed “23 de enero”. If the election is fair in the other 75% of the country there should be a similar trend.
And the CNE should be constantly challenged each and every time the government does something improper during the campaign: the opposition should do exactly the same if it can even if it goes against the CNE rules. Let see, for example, if the CNE will dare closing Globovision or El Universal during the campaign. After all we should all keep in mind that as soon as Chavez wins he will close Globovision, so why not go down fighting? The campaign will be terrible and it must be assumed as such by the opposition. This is war for survival now and playing nice will led us nowhere this time. It does not matter how much the law is broken during the campaign, the government WILL BREAK IT EVEN MORE. Or does anyone think that VTV will host a debate among Daniel Duquenal and any other chavista blogger?
The image question
The opposition in the past has been trying to take care of its democratic image, trying to atone constantly for the Carmona adventure even if 90% of us never approved it. We have been taken hostage by chavismo on that. Enough! A president for life system is WORSE than whatever Carmona intended and we should be bold enough to say it so aloud, constantly. “Chavez se volvió un Carmona cualquiera” could even be a nice slogan. Great good did us to play mister nice guy while even international observers saw live the campaign abuses of chavismo. So, what to do?
Forget some international observers. Say clearly why we do not want the Carter Center to visit. Demand that they account for their scandalous neglect of not making the 2003 agreement respected. Demand them to obtain the freedom of governor Lapi. Say bluntly that the Carter Center are a bunch of enablers and that from now one we will not meet with them no matter what. And make a constant noise out of it, even if they claim they were not interested in coming to begin with. This will bring us lots of good publicity on some parts of the world, trust me on that one. Besides we cannot allow them to once again validate a fraudulent Chavez victory while piously offering recommendations that they have no guts to demand and even less to enforce. During a campaign of the nature that the one that comes, sitting down with any Carter Center envoy is just a waste of time.
Set conditions to the OAS. The OAS is hardly any better than the Carter Center. Dominated now by countries who are on Chavez payroll (CARICOM, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua) and led by the ultimate wimp and coward that Insulza has shown himself to be, what can we possibly expect from the OAS? Be serious!!!!! If the OAS comes the delegation should be approved by the opposition otherwise out with the bums. It should be made clear that we consider people like Kirchner or Lula are considered as pimps of Chavez. The other ones we do not need to worry about as all know who they are.
Ask NOW for the EU to come. The European Union has been the only fair observer of Venezuelan elections, even when lead by an Italian leftist directing the delegation. Europeans are now all democrats and they do not buy anymore tall tales. The risk of course is that the CNE might not invite them. But then we will not recognize the observers they will invite and they do need observers to validate the monstrosity they want us to vote on. We do have leverage, more than what you think. The only problem is that the EU must be invited before September first.
Get new voices. Forget about Asdrubal Aguiar, about Timoteo Zanbrano and all the old school that have been representing the opposition for these past years without much success to their credit. Now the people who should talk to foreign observers, to visiting journalists should be new faces, moral journalists such as Milagros Socorro, brilliant students such as we have aplenty, bloggers, NGO directors, etc… All will tell exactly what is at stake, what somber dictatorship is about to fall on us.
Select the press you talk to. Play the international press. Deficient journalists such as the ones from the AP in 2006 should simply be ignored, boycotted by any campaign direction that might surge during this campaign. Create your reverse Tascon list about the journalists you can talk to and those you will not give the time of day. Let them understand in their own flesh what the Tascon list means, what humiliations Venezuelans journalists must suffer when they try to do their job with the Venezuelan government. Only then will they stat learning to report more accurately on Venezuela.
A few miscellaneous items for the people too afraid to participate, to concerned about their own interests to see how threatened they are now.
Keep a simple message to the Venezuelan people. NO to indefinite reelection. Stress that all the goodies ALREADY exist in the 1999 document but that Chavez never applied them. Thus he already lied to you and he is lying to you again.
Help the students as much as you can. Be involved, give time and money. If you are too afraid to go to the barrios to spread the message make an effort to support those who are willing to take the chance: pay them body guards, pay them armored cars, pay them bullet proffer vest, but CONTRIBUTE!!!!!
Start attending any activity called by the students. Start attending any activity called by the opposition groups that decided to unite to counter Chavez. You have the right to demand that Julio Borges walks ahead of the march and get the first bullet, but you must start realizing that the second bullet will be for you, sooner than later.
Talk to people everywhere, no matter what their social condition is. Tell them that Chavez president for life is a dictatorship, but tell them also that they have a right to misiones, that you have seen the light, that you apologize for the delay in recognizing the need. Bargain with them, tell them that if they vote against the proposal of the referendum you will become a moderate opposition to Chavez until 2012. But also tell them that after the referendum not everybody will have access to the misiones, only the PSUV folks.
If the opposition leadership and the students decide to go and vote, GO AND VOTE. Do not waste you time in sterile debates. Equally, if they decide not to vote, STAY AT HOME that day, or hit the streets in protest if it is demanded from you. Do not go to the beach or shopping that day and argue with anyone who might one to do it. Be militant for once in your life if you ever want to have the chance to be militant again.
And finally, for the political parties and their luminaries
No more Globovision, no more talk shows. Street, street and more street. Organize large groups and go to the barrios. Stand up to chavistas, be heroic. If you do not stand up to them now, even if on occasion they bet you up, you will never stand to them once they get their new Russian weapons.
For Marcel Granier. Get a bullet proof vest and go the barrios too. You are a political leader now and it is your duty to take this opportunity to start articulating a democratic right political party that is needed in Venezuela. You must also make the apathetic middle class go and vote
For Manuel Rosales. Forget about National Leadership: you blew it when you were not in Venezuela in December 2006 to reply to Chavez the day he decided he would close RCTV. Want to regain leadership? Make darn sure that the referendum fails in Zulia, Trujillo, Merida and Tachira. Even if in the rest of the country it passes, if it fails in these 4 states it will be a useless victory for Chavez. That much you can do.
To Ramon Martinez and Didalco Bolivar and PODEMOS. Your fate is sealed. You have to either do the Arias Cardenas flip-flop and become the laughing stock of all, in particular chavistas, or join the opposition against this constitutional abuse. Even if you were to try to be constructive you, of all people, know what Chavez will do with you come January first and he has become president for life. So grow up and smell the coffee and try to make sure that the referendum loses in Aragua and Sucre. That much the fatherland will thank you forever.
To Primero Justicia. Stop being the prima donna. You blew it when you were not able to avoid internal division. Now the two halves are limping miserably. Now it is time to promote unity even if you cannot lead it. Show by example. And make sure that the referendum loses everywhere in Caracas and in Carabobo and Miranda.
To AD. Shut up.
To all. Maletagate. President for life. Corruption. President for life. Who gets the cars? President for life. Corruption. President for life. Where is the milk, the beef, the black beans? President for life. Corruption. President for life. Until when you are going to keep giving to the Kirchners? How the president for life will solve crime? How the president for life will give us housing? How the president for life will give us job? Are we going to remain as we are for life?