Prodavinci Interview: On Dialogue and Negotiation

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Yesterday Prodavinci.com published Elias García Navas’ interview with me regarding the Venezuela crisis. I probably would not have chosen “Dialogue failed, what’s left is negotiation” as a title, but those are indeed my words. Let me clarify my position.

I do not think it is possible to have another “dialogue” like the one that occurred in 2016 or 2014. First the politics surrounding dialogue make it unviable. On the one hand, it is highly unlikely that the opposition will go to another dialogue with characteristics similar to these previous efforts, since they paid a huge political prices for them. While they certainly could have handled it differently, in both cases the dialogue undermined their political momentum and left them emptyhanded.

On the other hand, the government could hardly be more transparent in their enthusiasm for dialogue because they know it is the best possible tactic to simultaneously demobilize domestic opposition and international pressure. If they could, they would install permanent dialogue sessions on every topic from the economy, to crime, to storm sewer placement.

And that gets to the crux of the issue and the second reason. As I said a year ago, a democratic state is essentially an institutionalized dialogue in which representatives of the people have legal attributions allowing them to discuss, debate and make agreements with the force of law. And voters can hold them accountable at the ballot box for those agreements and their consequences. The reason this institutionalized dialogue is not happening is that the Maduro government is using the Supreme Court to neutralize the democratically elected National Assembly, and the National Electoral Council to postpone elections. Now they want to change the rules by rewriting the Constitution and are proposing to do that without a referendum consulting the people beforehand if they actually want that to happen (polls show they don’t).

If the Maduro government is sincere about wanting to dialogue with the opposition, they simply need to recognize the National Assembly, put forward an electoral calendar, and desist in their unconstitutional effort to rewrite the Constitution. Instead what they continually propose are informal spaces of dialogue with no formal mechanisms for decision making, that will produce agreements that are not legally binding.

Of course reestablishing this institutionalized dialogue would not be straight-forward and would require negotiation between the two sides. Would presidential elections be moved up or scheduled for 2018? Would the 13 Supreme Court justices named in December 2015 remain? How could the impasse regarding the Amazonian deputies be resolved?

Reestablishing the institutionalized dialogue characteristic of a democratic state would also likely mean that Chavismo would be swept out of office. How can a witch hunt against government officials be prevented in a transition? How will the 20% who still support Chavismo be ensured political representation? These are points that need to be negotiated to give government officials assurances that a transition would not be personal and political suicide.

Of course none of this critique is directed at high level communication channels between the government and opposition, nor attempts by citizens to forge mutual understanding across political lines. These efforts at dialogue are always important.