Latin America Advisor Q&A on the Venezuelan Opposition

David Smilde

The Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor published a Q&A today on the question “Has Venezuela’s Maduro Defeated the Opposition?” with responses from Marc Becker, Roger Noriega, Diego Arria and myself. The full question and my response are below. Here you can read the full Q&A.

The Venezuelan political opposition on Jan. 10 officially ran out of time to hold a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro before the midpoint of his presidency, meaning any vote to recall him, held from now until the end of his term, will only result in Maduro’s hand-picked vice president taking power. What does this mean for Venezuela’s opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, coalition moving forward? What strategies might they attempt in order to diminish Maduro’s power? What is the outlook for Venezuela’s political climate in the year ahead? What significance do the recent arrests of legislator Gilber Caro and other critics of Maduro’s government have for the opposition?

David Smilde, professor of sociology at Tulane University and Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America:

“The MUD deserves credit for pushing for a recall referendum in 2016, despite the series of ludicrous obstacles put in their path by the National Electoral Council. While the referendum push ‘failed,’ it obliged the government to inelegantly postpone it, thereby exposing to the world the Maduro administration’s lack of commitment to electoral democracy. The MUD’s weaknesses were also on display last year. The aspirations of three or four leaders of the opposition, all with approximately the same amount of support, led to a lack of coherence and strategy. This was evident in their inability to capitalize upon the massive marches of Sept. 1 and Oct. 23, and their stumble into dialogue with the government in November and December. This year, conditions are such that a unified leadership and clear strategy would be unstoppable. The opposition needs to complement institutional struggle with scrupulously nonviolent street mobilization. But to actually mobilize more than the urban middle classes, they will need to put forward a vision of what they would do to turn the crisis around and address the needs of average Venezuelans—simply demanding the ouster of President Maduro is not enough. They also need to think concretely about what kind of negotiations could occur and what mechanisms of transitional justice could be put in place to lower the exit costs of the main figures of Chavismo. The dialogue process facilitated by Unasur and the Vatican could be an important space for this.”