Venezuelan Dialogue Announcements Leave Opposition Coalition at Breaking Point

David Smilde  

Yesterday´s anxiously awaited announcements were anticlimatic and left the opposition coalition stretched to the breaking point. The five points were:

*Work together to combat sabotage of the Venezulean economy and prioritize measures for importation of food and medicines and promotion of production and monitoring of distribution chains.

*Overcome the situation of contempt of court of the National Assembly by resolving the situation of the Amazonian legislators and naming new Electoral Council rectors.

*Unanimity in the defense of the contested Guayana Esequibo territory.

*The adoption of a joint declaration to coexist in peace.

*The inclusion of one governor from each part of the dialogue as well as representatives of civil society.

The MUD immediately tried to spin the declaration. In his statement after the Vatican representative’s statement, opposition mayor Carlos Ocariz suggested they had also agreed to “the release of detained persons,” presumably referring to political prisoners.

The most contentious aspect of these agreements is what it left out. There was no mention of the referendum or national elections. An other point of contention is the degree to which it adopted the government’s language–using terms such as “sabotage” and “contempt of court.”

This created a storm on Twitter and in opposition blogs. Legislator from the opposition Voluntad Popular party Armando Armas said, in a tweet that was retweeted over a thousand times,”it was a mistake to sit at the dialogue table at this time and it is an error to pretend to show as acheivements things that really are not.”

Opposition blogger Francisco Toro, who has supported the MUD´s strategies in recent months, posted a piece with the title “MUD Betray’s Its Supporters” with a lead-in: “The interim agreement just reached at the Vatican-mediated dialogue is nothing short of a scandal.”

Not all reactions were so critical. Social psychologist and frequent media commentator Colette Capriles tweeted “the government ceded in several crucial points and the opposition did not cede in anything. But the government imposed its language and has provoked a crisis on Twitter.”

The MUD also clarified in a press release that they saw this as a step towards elections. “We will continue until we achieve the most important next step: national elections or the recall referéndum…We believe in dialogue as the way to reestablish Venezuelan’s constitutional rights, especially the right to pacifically, and democratically elect their destiny.”

On Sunday morning the Executive Sectretary of the MUD Chuo Torrealba published on the MUD’s web page a long explanation of the MUD’s strategy, framed by the idea that both dialogue and street mobilization are necessary and complimentary. In it he reinterprets some of the government’s apparent victories as “own-goals.” In agreeing to combat sabotaje and aggression against the Venezuelan economy, he argues, the MUD had cleverly turned the tables on the Maduro government. “Having admitted the inclusion of this paragraph in the accord amounts an involuntary admission by the regime, of their own guilt, because THEY ARE THE ONES WHO HAVE SABOTAGED THE VENEZUELAN ECONOMY.”

He goes on to say that the most important of the government´s own-goals was in having agreed to new policies to monitor and control mechanisms for acquiring and distributing food and medicine. This would threaten the web of mafias that currently control it.

But the opposition coalition is clearly fraying around its radical edges.

Maria Corina Machado and her party Vente Venezuela immediately responded on Saturday in openly negative terms suggesting it had been “a serious error to demobilize and demoralize the citizenry by demobilizing.”

Leopoldo López’s Voluntad Popular party, which declined to participate in the dialogue from the beginning, released a highly critical statement. “The dialogue between the regime and a sector of the opposition began as a consequence of the robbery of the recall referendum, but today we ask: what happened to the right to elect which is what began the dialogue? Where is the solution to that problem?” The statement ends with a calls for a “Great Civic Movement in Defense of the Constitution” which will again take up the political trial of Nicolas Maduro in the AN and fill the streets with people to acting on their constitutional right to protest.

Importantly, the main figures in the MUD seem to be maintaining a unified front. Julio Borges immediately defended. The Twitter account of Henry Ramos Allup shows scarce reaction to the accords, and no criticism of the dialogue.

Henrique Capriles also called for the immediate creation of an agenda for street mobilization across the country. However, he followed that with an immediate reaffirmation that “The table [dialogue] is another space for struggle!” This is essentially the same message that framed Chuo Torrealba’s article.

As has been suggested several times on this blog, not all opposition politicians are fully committed to a recall referendum that would lead to Nicolas Maduro’s removal, simply because it would mean the opposition would be required to assume the presidency of a country in crisis, assume the political costs of reform, and then face new elections a year or so later. Much more attractive would be a new general election that would lead to a full presidential term. The 2018 presidential election could in theory be moved up to the first quarter of 2018 without a constitutional change, and that is probably what will be negotiated next in the dialogue.