I am not quite concerned about the outcome of 2012. The realization has come to me that even if the opposition were to win in December 2012, it will probably end up losing the battle anyway as I have strong doubts that it will be able to rule. The way the campaign has been developing so far is worrisome, but not because Chavez may yet implode or because the opposition is taking desperately slow but somewhat effective steps toward creating an electoral option. The thing, it seems, is that the opposition best shot is to be able to create an electoral option, not a ruling option. Allow me to explain.
I wonder what kind of mandate will the opposition gain. Will it be the necessary mandate to impose the necessary change in the country if we ever want to have a shot at stopping being a third world country with a semi fixed income? I doubt it. The Venezuelan opposition seems to be playing the "efficient Chavez card", that is, retain most of the chavista structure of the country but managing it with a criterion of efficiency, and less corruption. Hearing declarations, e.g., from Petkoff to Capriles Radosnski (to name those who went knee jerk to the defense of Iran dealing PDVSA) one would think that we are actually in a democratic systems, with its problems of course, but democratic enough that one can expect reasonable elections, reasonable chance of victory, reasonable transition, reasonable challenges for the next 6 years..
Well, it is not.
The leadership of the Venezuelan opposition does not seem to comprehend to which extent 12 years of chavismo have transformed Venezuela from a dysfunctional democracy into a kleptocratic beggary. The state country for a future non-chavista president will be a state where all have rights, none have duties, where a huge bureaucracy will be entrenched and unmovable and ruinous, ready to sabotage the actions of a regime that either goes against their interests, or for which they have little affinity to begin with.
The other day I was having lunch with one of my business partners, one that has a certain access to some of the regime employees. He asserted to me repeatedly that many in the directions of ministries despise Chavez and cannot wait to get rid of him. In fact, they went as far as saying that Chavez days were numbered, that he might leave before his term end (disease effect included, I suppose). Maybe. But does that mean that they would serve a Capriels Radosnki without misgivings, or that they much would prefer to serve a less destructive chavista such as Diosdado Cabello. My lunch date was strangely stumped by this observation, reflecting a certain denial inside the opposition as to our reality..
I am certainly willing to accept that many in the public administration, besides the political ministers and vice minsters, are tired of the chaos that the country is sliding into and they sure would like to be less worried about crime and blackouts. But I think the opposition is not taking in the whole picture, that these people might be tired of Chavez but might not be tired of chavismo as long as their paycheck keeps coming, with an occasional opportunity for an "extra" income which does not need be more than a bottle of 18 year old Scotch.
Maybe I am pessimistic but the example of Argentina keeps coming to mind. When Peron was overthrown eventually it was more because of what he was himself than for what he represented. The failure of Peron was not countered with a new model, a new type of country, the military that overthrew him preferring to act as if Peron was just another caudillo and not the society changing moment he presided, even though that might have been due more to Evita. We know what followed and today Argentina is still suffering the consequences of Peronismo, 60 years after the fact, no one apparently having been able to offer a real alternative model besides repression of Peronism.
For better or for worse, according to your point of view (worse for me of course) Venezuela has been deeply changed over the past 12 years and the damage is simply irreversible. People who have been mentally damaged by 12 years of state leeching are simply not going to go tomorrow as if nothing to open business where hard work is required to succeed, or the well paid jobs that may be associated with such business once they become reasonably successful after the hard work of the boss AND the employees. It is not going to happen. What we need is a strong proposal of a new country with new paradigms where chavistas may or may not join but where those sitting on the fence and those opposing the current system might unite in a way resistant enough to slowly but surely reverse the tide of chavismo. It will take at least a couple of decades. The moral compass, the political energy that is required for that cannot come alone on promising to be merely an efficient chavismo.
The opposition is afraid of such a proposal because it will more than likely cost it the election in 2012. And that is probably true. But winning under such conditions, without a clear mandate for change, will simply result in a huge march starting from Catia and 23 Enero that will go to Miraflorres and burn it down. Such a march will look nothing like the ones from the other side of Caracas in 2002.... The chavista lumpen has given ample evidence that they are not above burning up anything that stands in their way.
Great leaders or movements that have changed their country in democratic manners have had always something in common: a rather unpopular program that they stuck to until eventually one day they won the election. Then they had no problem advancing their program.
In France we have for example de Gaulle who was not afraid to leave power in 1946 to wait his turn in 1958 when the failure of the French 4th Republic that he had foretold did happen indeed. He was catapulted to office and today, 54 years later, be it from the right or form the left his system is still in place, with more stability and prosperity than any other constitutional system in French history.
The United States gives us a recent example of such leaders. Reagan stuck to his guns after his 1976 defeat to come into office in 1980 to create a system that only today is finally fraying. Same thing for England where Margaret Thatcher would have normally lost her elections had she not been helped by the economic marasm of her predecessor. But you can be assured that she would have kept fighting as if nothing had she not won when she did.
But examples from the left also exits if not quite as clear. Mitterrand in France had the vision of embracing the Communist party to get rid of it at the ballot box. He was vilified and had to wait until 1981 to finally make it. But he did and today the once mighty Communist party is mere embers. His idea was not to change the system though he hinted at that earlier. But he had the intelligence to understand the value of the Gaullist reforms and focused himself paradoxically in making them viable in the long term by bringing in political alternatives, something impossible as long as the Communists were raking 20% of the votes. Lula of Brazil, in a way, did a Mitterrand thing by losing enough elections until he made it to power not to dramatically change the country but to make it work for all. Inasmuch as I dislike him he have to acknowledge that he has changed Brazil much more than what people think he did.
I am not saying that a preliminary electoral defeat is a must for a new system to reach power. There are other factors such as deep economic crisis or sudden social malaise which can speed up things. What I am saying is that the Venezuelan opposition needs to establish a plank that will not sugar coat the reality that it will be facing in 2012 if they are allowed to step in Miraflores Palace. If they fail to do so, then they will fail at bringing the needed changes and our fate is the one of Argentina, an eternally polarized country unable to go to civil war but unable to correct its ills. That is, if we are lucky enough to avoid civil war.