Venezuela’s Opposition is on the Verge of Repeating its mistakes
Talks, dialogues, negotiations, mediation are not the problem. The problem is the terms.
Español – I am not Venezuelan. I have been called an ‘honorary Venezuelan’ on several occasions, and more often, Venezuelans thank me for my contribution to upholding human rights in their country. I always respond, saying, “It is nothing, I am reciprocating the favor of the seventies; Maduro is Videla.” Moreover, the destruction of democracy in Venezuela is a threat to democracy in the entire region. Therefore, we all should be concerned.
I am not from the right. I have never been. I am from a place where the military members of the “process” rounded up my classmates, young school children, and other minors. I have compared the motorcycle collectives to Ford Falcon without a license plate.
I have followed the events in Venezuela closely. I have close colleagues and dear friends. A few of these friends are like my family. I have followed the Venezuelan diaspora, exile, and migration. Also, I have accompanied Luis Almagro to Cucuta twice to see the situation upfront. I have participated in hundreds of meetings with democratic leadership and international leaders. I have also written academic papers and many opinion pieces about the Venezuelan tragedy.
I have prefaced my piece like this to say that I am going to be tough, with myself to begin with, but not only with myself. I believe that I have earned this right. I confess I have forecasted the imminent fall of Maduro multiple times only to realize that I was mistaken and make the same mistake again in a few days. I have insisted that my obstinate and misguided predictions were well-intentioned.
However, it is not enough. In a country with inflation over a million percent, the government falls. When a country’s economy shrinks more than 50% in five years, the government falls. When almost 90% of the population is below the poverty line in the same period, the government falls. In a country where food is scarce, the government falls. In a country where a kidney patient can’t access dialysis treatment, the government falls. In a country where there is no electricity, and consequently, there is no water, the government falls.
Now put all these tragedies in one country, and the government does not fall. It is paradoxical; and the country is Venezuela, where theory and history are defied every day.
Also, surely, we know very well why the government doesn’t fall. The government isn’t a political party, nor a coalition, nor a political or military institution. Instead, it ‘governs’ a transnational criminal organization that is holding the Venezuelan people hostage. Watch any movie featuring a bank robbery – my favorite one is Dog Day Afternoon starring the brilliant Al Pacino – to know that the heartless criminals don’t let the innocent people go free just because they asked nicely.
It is frightening and overwhelming how many times one has to sit down with them and have a civilized conversation. Well, is it naivety? I looked back in time and thought of the common thread in all the articles I have written. One word is constant: cycles. A fatal and inevitable disappointment eventually followed cycles of hope, mobilization of the masses, protests.
The continuous cycles of “dialogue” have caused frustration. Once again, I am putting dialogue in quotes. The pretense of dialogue is nothing but a blatant strategy to buy time for the dictator. The 11 points of Chavez in 2013, the conversations in Miraflores in 2014, the Pope’s envoy and the canceled recall referendum in 2016, negotiations in the Dominican Republic in 2017, and the conviction of several politicians for participation in electoral fraud in 2018 are all strategies to lengthen the tenure of Maduro.
Maduro has always operated with the advice of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. He has negotiated the house arrest of several prisoners, released a few, then arrested some more. The NGO Foro Penal has described the Venezuelan incarceration system as a revolving door wherein some political prisoners are released for strategic gains while others are arrested.
In an article titled Behind Guaido’s route, Orlando Avendaño has discussed the suspense of what is happening: the fiasco of 30th April, the discomfort of the Trump administration as a result of Leopoldo Lopez’ prominence over President Guaido, the confusion within the Guaido administration, and the absolute secretiveness of the negotiations to the extent that Julio Borges admitted that he was unaware of the meetings in Norway.
The confidence of the people and the credibility of the interim government among the international community of 56 countries that recognize Juan Guaido’s legitimacy have eroded. Talks, dialogues, negotiations, mediation are not the problem. The problem is the terms.
It will be useful to negotiate and to have negotiated with the regime, but it needs to be done thoughtfully. Basic knowledge about the politics of Venezuela is enough to know that bringing together two parties in the conflict requires building trust, which in turn requires gestures of goodwill. The regime has never engaged in gestures of goodwill, and the democratic camp has never demanded them either, neither earlier, now right now in Oslo.
It is not complicated. They want to calm down the protestors in the streets, and they want a photo because they want to free the political prisoners: the doctors, the journalists, the Twitter users, teenagers who have been subject to military justice, the third of the National Assembly that is either in prison or a foreign embassy. They are all prisoners of the regime. It is happening once again: the regime has achieved its objectives without conceding anything to the other side. This is not a negotiation.
The discreteness to the world and the very leadership of the national assembly is followed by confusion and a flood of contradictory statements. Representative Williams Davila says, “the opposition and members of the ruling party will travel to Norway once again to look for solutions. Maduro went from being the usurper to being the ruling party. Guaido said that he would himself go to Oslo the next week for three things: end the usurpation, establish the transitional government, conduct fair and free elections. Whether the events will unfold in this sequence is uncertain. Maduro has already announced parliamentary elections which will not be free, of course, but rigged.
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed that the Venezuelan delegations will return to Oslo to continue “the search for a solution that the parties can agree upon.” The three-step roadmap, which was the distinctive feature of Juan Guaido’s presidency no longer seems probable. One of the two parties in the negotiation is a usurper.
The selection of Norway is indicative of a fatal prediction of defeat and tremendous naivety. The Norwegians are good people; they have the innate Scandinavian social-democrat kindness, and they are the patrons of the Nobel prize for peace. The problem is that they talk to Havana; they speak to Havana all the time; and probably, therefore, don’t recognize Guaido’s legitimacy. If a European democracy has to facilitate the negotiations, it should be one among the 38 countries that recognize Guaido.
Also, now, what about Venezuela? It will be especially unfortunate if they go through all this only to witness the repetition of what they have already seen: another cycle of hope truncated by disappointment. Never before has Venezuela been so close to democratization as in the recent months, almost within the arm’s reach, almost as though democracy is on the other side of the Simon Bolivar international bridge.