Dialogue Live Blog

David Smilde

[Correction: a colleague has pointed out that what I state in paragraph 5 about diversity is not quite right. I failed to mention Liborio Guarulla the indigenous governor of the Amazonas State who spoke on behalf of the opposition (I confess to have missed most of his intervention as I took a break during the 6 hour marathon session). I would stick with the basic point that there was more diversity or at least heterogeneity on the government side than the opposition side and I think that is indicative of a larger tendency. However, it is important not to exaggerate these things as they easily fit into polarizing stereotypes.]

My impression is that the opposition gained more from this than the government. Both sides were on their best behavior and overall made good showings. However, given the government’s current edge in broadcast coverage and the opposition’s long term tendency to avoid sustained explications of their positions, this definitely gave them the opportunity to get their message out. In contrast, while government reps certainly provided robust defenses of their positions, these reach the country with much more frequency through broad reach of state media as well as cadenas (obligatory broadcasts).

The medium had some clear shortcomings. The moderators largely stayed on the sidelines and the government dominated the proceedings from Maduro’s forty minute opening and closing speechs to Jorge Arreaza’s editorial comments after each opposition speaker.

The opposition will likely pay a price for this vis-à-vis the skeptical opposition base carrying forward the protests (in fact it appears that the student protesters put out a call to shut down Caracas tomorrow in rejection of the dialogue.) Nevertheless, the optics were good for the opposition as they were able to sit across the table and present themselves as equals and as reasonable political actors (i.e. not fascists)..

Perhaps the biggest organizational shortcoming was the fact that each side had eleven speakers. As a result, instead of a sustained back and forth about specific issues, there were twenty two ten minute turns in which ambitious individuals were eager to make a mark. Most speakers covered the same issues without much depth.

One noticeable difference between the two sides was diversity. The government had a variety of classes, genders and colors while the opposition uniformly consisted of middle aged, light skinned men (I suppose with the exception of Andres Velasquez).

1:53 Maduro gets the first and last word. He runs through some statistics regarding the government’s achievements addressing hunger and inequality. Confirms that he supports the idea of another meeting on Tuesday. Calls for tolerance; calls for respect for collectives which are first and foremost community groups. Says stories of the collectives are the same stories regarding violence of Bolivarian Circles in 2002. Says he has condemned violence and they have legally pursued guilty parties. Affirms that they are not going to abandon their commitment to socialist revolution. Says he has invited students in to dialogue. Repeats invitation for Friday (to Federal Governing Council?). Says that Susan Rice, John Kerry and Roberta Jacobson have visited countries in the region saying Venezuela is headed for an economic collapse. He says there is nefarious plan to use sanctions against Venezuela. Ends by suggesting the need to consolidate a vision of coexistence.

1:10 Jorge Rodriguez with demagoguery and very little content. Focuses on opposition not recognizing the government.Emphasizes that principle entrepreneurs of the country have participated in dialogues. 

12:50 Unfortunately, Capriles spends first 5 minutes of his time on the April 2013 election and the incomplete audit. Continues on to suggest that the current political crisis derives from that conflict. “On April 14, this country changed.” Seems like a self-absorbed interpretation of recent history. Starts to gain stride speaking of crime and the economy.

12:38 Henrique Capriles gets his turn. Not sure how many people are still listening by now.

12:15 Henri Falcón shows perhaps the best oratory capacity among opposition reps (makes you wonder why they didn’t put him earlier). He suggests that the problem is economic improvisation not economic war. Focuses on economic difficulties. Started by suggesting that not everyone on the right is in the opposition and not everyone on the left supports the government. Points out he was with the government until recently. Speaks slowly, making clear and sustained arguments.

11:55 Nice contrast. Borges says Venezuela’s economy depends on foreign imports and domestic production has stagnated. Blanca Eekhout gives a doctrinaire anti-colonial speech.

11:25 Jose Pinto, representative of the Tupamaro. Suggests that opposition first tried to blame Tupamaros then collectives. Says previous government was more violent, privatized universities, close technical colleges. He praises collectives and their political work. Says opposition has blamed collectives but has not been able to name one. He invites opposition to visit them and get to know their work. Suggests the opposition that came to Miraflores to talk is a “collective.” Asks opposition to stop trying to blame the collectives for violence.

11:15 Barboza focuses on economic performance with a run through statistics. Would be a great presentation to a boardroom of executives, but not to a public he needs to convince.

11:05 Omar Barboza takes his turn. Like Ramos he has oratory skills. But seems like poor image making on the opposition’s part to highlight these two given their strong association with the old, pre-Chavez opposition.

11:05 Diosdado Cabello follows Ramos w almost 20 minutes of his own, He is a powerful but unpopular figure within Chavismo. Gives a sluggish but coherent talk focusing on opposition’s lack of recognition of Maduro. Ends by talking about armed collectives Says the only armed collectives are those from the opposition participating in violent protests. Maduro calls for people to be brief so that they can end by 2 or 3 AM.

10:45 Henry Ramos is pushing 20 minutes. Seems to be trying to provoke a strong reaction from chavismo. Started with an incoherent tangent on coup d’etats later scores some points talking about restrictions on protests and the constitutionality of demanding Maduro’s resignation. VP Arreaza handled it well.

10:25 Rafael Ramirez gives a soft spoken but very consistent and effective intervention. Reviews achievement of Chavez government, ends by talking of economic sabotage and war. The latter (but not the former) is complete nonsense in my view but polls show it plays well in larger public.

10:15 Relatively unknown Roberto Enriquez gives a very effective speech. He focuses on arguing the socialist model has failed economically, is unconstitutional and threatens basic rights. Ends with quotes from Pope Francis. Clear, consistent and memorable.

10:00 Next up Roberto Enriquez, Secretario General de COPEI. Unfortunate that there are so many speakers instead of several turns between smaller delegations which would have lead to more actual exchange.

9:55 Aristobulo Isturiz answers opposition criticisms of arrests of student protesters suggesting that those arrested were not engaged in “civic protests” but rather violent actions.

9:30 Elias Jaua’s turn (I’ll miss most of it since I am going on AJE by Skype in a couple of minutes. Original idea was to do a postmortem of the dialogue not a play-by-play).

9:20 Aveledo suggests the opposition has been requesting dialogue since January 2013. Touches on problems of media censorship and self censorship and “privatization of public media” in favor of partisan government messages. He also speaks of violation of rights and rules of the National Assembly. Effective intervention. However too many topics to be clear and memorable.

9:10 After 40 minutes NM says there are 22 speakers at 10 minutes each which will amount to almost 4 hours more debate! Ramón Guillermo Aveledo starts with a prepared statement.

8:45 Not a good start. Maduro has been holding forth with tendentious ramblings for 15 minutes.

8:35 Twenty minutes in and we’ve heard the Nuncio read a message from the Pope, from Vatican Secretary of State Parolin, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Patiño and now an opening speech by Maduro. Opposition reps are getting fidgety.

8:15 Maduro begins the meeting sitting at the head of the table, flanked by VP Arreaza and foreign minister Elias Jaua. Strikes me as unfortunate. Meeting should have been chaired by one of the moderators.

8:10: Television coverage has begun. First surprise is that opposition representatives include not only Caprlles, Falcón, Aveledo and Barboza but Henry Ramos, Andres Velasquez, Julio Borges and others. Government side is equally packed. Doesn’t seem conducive to a focused conversation. More participants, more posturing.

8:05 Indeed we are still waiting, although it looks like everyone has arrived to Miraflores. I’m thinking it will start shortly.

Venezuela has not even seen presidential debates since 1998, so this will be the first actual live encounter outside of the National Assembly between Venezuela’s political alternatives in 15 years.

The 2007 debate between opposition and pro-government students organized by the National Assembly never happened because the former walked out, objecting to the format. This has been the source of derision among chavistas who suggest the opposition either has nothing to say or is afraid to expose its opinions to public scrutiny. This perception is probably one of the reasons that the government was willing to accept the opposition’s demand that the dialogue be broadcast on national television. 

4:45 The dialogue between the government and the opposition is set to begin some time after 5 pm. Provided it actually happens and all of the technology works, I’ll be commenting it as I watch it.