Why Venezuela’s Opposition Is Losing the Battle against the Maduro Regime
By Guillermo Rodríguez González
In December, Venezuela’s opposition, an alliance of moderate socialist parties known as the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), obtained the congressional majority in the National Assembly needed to call a Constituent Assembly. Only months afterwards, the Supreme Court, appointed when the National Assembly was not in session, has driven the opposition into a corner.
The Supreme Court has allowed President Nicolás Maduro to rule by decree, to extend the state of emergency he brought into effect last May, and to single-handedly approve his own national budget. The court’s Constitutional Chamber has made the country’s legislative power practically inexistent.
Venezuela has a socialist government with totalitarian aims, so this judicial coup d’ètat was expected. Naïvely, some thought that the socialists in power would negotiate a power-sharing deal with the opposition’s socialists, establishing a leftist, social democratic consensus. That is precisely what the opposition’s socialists are after. The socialists in power, on the other hand, have other views. Revolutionaries never give an inch unless they are forced to do so. But the leaders of Venezuela’s socialist opposition refuse to accept that they are facing a totalitarian project that used democracy simply as a means of gaining power without giving up its revolutionary objectives.
At the highest level of government, the socialists in power have declared that they will not hold elections due to the country’s economic crisis. In other words, they don’t want elections they can’t win. From the beginning, they sought to bring about the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, of their own party, with the totalitarian state controlling all the means of production, even when what is produced is barely enough for subsistence. When the opposition complied with the constitutional court’s decision to prevent elected members from assuming office, the legislative power committed political suicide.
They believed that, step by step, the Chavistas would deliver guarantees to hand over the government first at the regional and then at the national level. They stated openly that Supreme Court judges would act with prudence out of self-interest. They could not have been more mistaken.
Venezuela’s problem is that, after more than a decade and a half of socialist revolution, the country is sinking in misery; it is destroyed in material but also in moral terms. In any other country, the opposition would have denounced a dictatorial government for giving itself the sole authority to legislate. But this hasn’t happened in Venezuela. Since they lost their congressional majority, Chavistas have turned to their revolutionary mysticism. Chávez himself, in fact, never counted with the support of more than 40% of voters, but this is a devastating majority if the opposition refuses to stand up for itself and abstains from campaigning.
Now that their support has been decimated, Chavistas are willing to lose elections only to then leave the elected authorities powerless. They have done so in the case of city mayors. Now they have done away with the authority of the entire legislative branch. When Julio Borges, an opposition leader, was asked what the MUD would do when the authority of congress was completely curtailed, he answered that such an unthinkable scenario could not take place. Now it has happened, and Borges himself was brutally beaten by Chavista thugs while demonstrating in front of the electoral authorities.
The socialists came to power in Venezuela via elections, but they are not willing to lose their power at the polling stations; their objective was always revolutionary totalitarianism. How can opposition socialists force the socialists in power to submit to fair and free elections, lose, and then hand over the reins of government?
According to Eduardo Castillo, head of a political marketing firm based in Madrid, there is a double pressure holding the MUD together. On the one hand, there is little electoral opportunity for any third force to challenge the regime. On the other hand, opposition politicians who rebel against MUD are quickly labeled as Chavista collaborators. María Corina Machado, for example, has criticised the MUD for failing to act as a proper opposition, but her party, the only non-socialist party within the MUD, is rather small. Her only option is to criticise.
Castillo adds that the Chavistas control the entire state apparatus. The MUD thought that its control of the National Assembly would allow them to negotiate a peaceful transition of power. Chavistas, on the other hand, play politics as a game of all or nothing. It’s not only about ideology for them; they also want to protect their leaders accused of numerous crimes in the United States.
Pedro Elías Hernández, a strategic consultant, says that only the MUD’s incompetence would allow the regime to establish complete totalitarianism. We have seen infiltration, double agents, and corruption, but that does not explain the opposition’s strategic errors. Neither can they be considered as government agents because they do not share power.
The opposition could obtain power by forcing the government to hold (and lose) regional and national elections within the terms established by the Constitution, rather than trying to have a referendum the government can delay until it loses all political effectiveness.
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It is no news to say that there are political prisoners in Venezuela and that the opposition is suffering from repression. What is new is that there is an overwhelming majority that rejects the government and that will vote against it whenever it has the chance. All it would take is an effective political opposition to act against such a weak government. However, Hernández concludes the MUD lacks that effectiveness.
I’m afraid he’s right. The socialists in power in Venezuela are so weak that they would have to hand over the government to an opposition representing a clear majority of citizens. But the revolutionary socialists would retain their power by controlling different institutions, from the armed forces to the Supreme Court, by force if need be. In its labyrinth, the Venezuelan government seems to have the opposition it needs to hold on to power. It won’t allow another opposition to emerge. So the opposition that is to defeat the regime will have to arise within the existing opposition which, failing to heed Sun Tsu’s advice, does not know its enemy.