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Venezuela: Opposition to the Opposition Part II

By Alexandra Beech,

If I could find one good, sustainable achievement in the Chavez government, I would probably be a Chavista. Opposition activism is not fun... Let me describe the different types of people in the opposition.

There’s the Oligarch Politico. Why not use Chavez’s favorite term? Venezuela has a tiny group of wealthy individuals who have traditionally exerted control over politics by financing campaigns. (This is your plain vanilla campaign donor in the US who gets to tell Bush what to do). The Oligarch Politicos might go to marches, protests, and signature drives, but they basically keep to themselves. They finance campaigns and projects, but they stay out of the media and the circus; perhaps because they feel superior to the fray, or perhaps because they have business interests to protect. However, they navigate their way through the world with endless ease. With access to world leaders, they quietly campaign against the government, though it is not clear what solutions they offer to the country’s problems. My guess is that they just want things to go back to the way they were. By the way, Oligarch Politicos often negotiate with the government to protects their business interests, so they have a lot more ties with the government than Chavez (or they) would like to admit.

Then there’s the Traditional Politico. Venezuela is stocked with these pudgy, chatty folk, who opine on television, radio, and everywhere else. They know that there’s a transition program out there somewhere, but they would rather talk about how horrible Chavez is, how poverty has increased, and how everything is so diminished. If you ask them, rather sheepishly, how they would combat poverty and fix the situation, they talk about creating jobs and security. The advanced ones might talk about tax reform, about restructuring PDVSA and hiring back the whole lot of fired workers. A lot of Traditional Politicos seem to afford very nice restaurants and cars with no evident source of income. They also sport expensive cell phones which they answer incessantly, whether sitting in front of a hot dog stand or the Queen of England. When they answer their cell phone, they adopt a serious tone, even when the call is from a cuaima*.

There’s also the Radical Politico. That person is quietly talking to military officers, trying to stir up trouble within the garrisons if Chavez breaks constitutional order. He has lost all hope, and focuses all his energy on a military solution out of the crisis. This might be a pipe dream, but he doesn’t see an electoral, democratic and constitutional way of the crisis. He describes the rest of the Politicos as idiots or dreamers. He becomes quiet and mysterious with time.

The new brand of Venezuelan politician is the Slick Politico, with just enough education to discuss the debt and the economy. These slick politicos are often bilingual and well-traveled. They are adept at debating, and often sound altruistic; in fact, many people confuse their tone for their intent. These Slick Politicos, not to be confused with the Oligarchs though some are wealthy, love a camera and a microphone. They love how their intelligence contrasts with the humble idiocy of the Traditional Politico. They often cite numbers and UN figures, and important authors, (just in case you grow bored with their political discourse). Some Slick Politicos have held important corporate or political posts, which gives them legitimacy and credibility, both domestically and abroad. However, beneath their slick veneer is also a slight hesitation to discuss political strategies and the future. Yes, they too are hungry for The Ring of Power, but they are too smart to admit it. These are the opposition folks to watch, because they will likely come to power and screw things up.

Finally, there’s the Idealist Politico. These politicians say they’re not politicians. They’re not, in the traditional sense. This category is usually well-educated and professional, and can see where all the other Politicos are blind with greed and ambition. They are activists in the true sense of the word, self-financed and highly critical of the government and the opposition. They are criticized by the other Politicos as “vitriolic” and “extreme”, because they don’t negotiate. They don’t negotiate because they don’t have a personal agenda and nothing to gain except doing the right thing. These folks move the process along, informing the world about Venezuela, in a rather passionate and sometimes arbitrary manner. Their limits are that they are constitutionally incapable of negotiating with corrupt or incompetent people, which desempowers them in the framework of Venezuelan politics. They will likely not figure in future governments, unless they are willing to bend, but they are great as promoters of ideals and truth. Though few in numbers, their contribution is priceless.

One of Chavez’s greatest strengths is that he capitalizes on the opposition’s weaknesses. He has negotiated with enough people to neutralize a large segment of the opposition. Looking at the current mayhem, one can’t help but wonder how many opposition politicians do not have blooming offshore accounts, compensated to generate confusion and entropy. Chavez has also capitalized on part of the opposition’s insatiable hunger for immediate power, and its complete inability to communicate a long term strategy that will attract all Venezuelans. Right now, for instance, the opposition is so focused on the referendum that it has not even addressed how the Central Bank is fighting to keep Chavez away from the international reserves or how he is spending his way to a victory. With the opposition intent on the referendum, Chavez is slowly and quietly changing the structure of the Supreme Court and the voting process of the National Assembly, all in his favor. Internationally, his acolytes are slowly gaining ground by joining every wayward group including women’s organizations and African - descendant activists, and invading the Internet with enough propaganda and apologia to make even St. Augustine repent.

If the opposition plans to beat Chavez, it needs to integrate its best and worst traits. To recover, all Venezuelans will need to participate in the process, in a transparent and innovative way. Chavez has excluded and victimized part of the country, which now wants him out of power. But for the first time, many Venezuelans who were once excluded now feel empowered and included. The opposition will have no choice but to find ways to include everyone, and to diversify its strategies to stop Chavez from gaining even more power. Otherwise, by the time a referendum does or does not take place, Chavez will win.

And then all of Venezuela loses.

* A cuaima is an annoying wife or girlfriend.

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