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By Daniel Duquenal

03.10.04 Birds of a feather? Since August 15, the Venezuelan opposition seems unable to get back its bearings. If reasons to be in shock abound for the opposition, it remains that this one seems to have a strange inability to recover, an ability it did seem to have after the setbacks of April 2002 and February 2003. But one thing is now different, a factor that one member of the opposition is trying to take advantage of: the end of unity.

The rallying point of the opposition was to oust a supremely incompetent and mostly disliked president, though the greatest politician now alive in Venezuela. Once the "misiones" demonstrated that these deficiencies were no handicaps for Chavez, the opposition lost the single item that could maintain it united from left to right. Not to mention that the authoritarian bent of Chavez seems duly appreciated by a large segment of the opposition (1) and any future talk of dictatorship might amazingly backfire even further, not matter how well founded!

Thus the break down of the Coordinadora Democratica since August 15. In all fairness, this was a death long foretold. The agony seems to have started fast on August 15. And the one holding the pillow to smother the ailing body might be Accion Democratica, AD.

This once glorious party has fallen on hard times, but still it holds all of its past arrogance. Originated in the 1930 student movements, brought to power in the late 40ies for the first leftist experiment in Venezuela, it engendered for Venezuela 10 years of dictatorship. This one ended in 1958 and a wiser AD finally learned to rule for two rather successful terms in office. It even "invented" its own opposition which was a more conservative version of AD in that it espoused the same populism as AD had created. Thus Copei and AD could alternate in Miraflores palace. A wit of the times wrote that a Copeyano was an Adeco with a high school degree. The end result was of course the creation of a net of corruption and disregard for the basic needs of the population that ended in Chavez, himself quite a product of the society created by AD, and in many ways its extreme representative.

Chavismo himself is composed by a bulk of ex-adecos and ex-copeyanos, contrary to popular belief overseas who would like to see chavismo as a spontaneous generation. Examples abound. The hard core Labor Minister, Cristina Iglesias, used to be on the staff of an important AD senator. The present chief of FOGADE, our banking deposits security agency, was a copeyano, and is apparently as obsequious and immoral as the most sycophantic chavista to be found around. Not to mention Chavez dad himself, a local Copei leader.

AD somehow thinks that not only it might return to power some day, but that possibility is a God given right. And AD has been behaving as such, even before the Recall Election process when it was rumored that AD was giving lip service to the whole thing. Proof came indirectly when AD decided on its own to ask for a signature collection process to revoke a few chavista assemblymen, a drive that in spite of its announced success floundered badly, to the point of not even drawing protest of fraud from AD. It is to be noted that most of the opposition did not support that AD initiative seen as AD taking advantage of the opposition work instead of contributing to it.

Sensing that AD had to be more proactive in the signature and referendum process, it decided to support more actively the "reparo" battle. In reality, the big motor in the signature process was Primero Justicia, PJ, seen as an upstart by AD, and an intolerable competition by chavismo. AD had seen with great disgust that PJ was the motor behind the September and October 2002 consultative referendum drive which collected more than 10% signatures! AD could just not be left out of the Recall Election drive. AD was probably relieved when the CNE organized a collection system that would make it difficult to figure who brought the most signatures.

Now that all the referenda efforts are exhausted, AD seems to breathe easier. After an initial discontent on August 16 at 4 AM, we had to wait a week for a new reaction and this time AD focused on the regional election. In fact AD has remained as far as possible from the fraud investigations, at least as far as possible to avoid loss of opposition electors. If it did not leave the CD yet, it is because that with Mendoza it was the party controlling it, using the CD to present a stronger image than what is the probable reality. One could say that AD might prefer to kill the CD from inside and put the blame on those who left.

In fact, since August 16 evidence is mounting that AD is trying to become for chavismo what Copei was for AD! "Farfetched!" the reader might say, but no. Let's look at the evidence.

Sobella Mejias is clinging to her seat at the CNE, using the same language of the party to which she is known to be linked: "Space cannot be ceded!" as if political space was a right never to be lost! Not to mention that she has been appointed, not even elected!

In recent weeks AD position has been toughening within the opposition, as AD candidates seem every day more reluctant to discuss unity, primary elections or other mechanism to present a united front. Fausto Maso writes on this in today El Nacional (2). It seems that AD is everyday closer to go solo on elections even if this might mean a general collapse of opposition local officials. Even AD support for Enrique Mendoza seems to be fading in Miranda and the latest news I had in Caracas was that he is now vulnerable while two months ago he was at more than 60%!!!

But is AD gambling without basis? Not likely. Chavez in the 1998 campaign made AD the culprit of all Venezuelan miseries. He even promised to fry adecos heads in lard. But times have changed. If El Supremo himself cannot go back on his words, he has underlings that can do the job for him. One of his brightest pens is Mari Pili Hernandez, ex head of VTV, tossed into a long internal exile and brought back to political life with the commando that succeeded in defending Chavez job in August (with great help from the CNE, of course). She has already dedicated a full article trying to convince AD to recover its past dignity and glory and leave the CD full of people that do not represent anyone. Translation: you AD do represent the democratic past of Venezuela! Unbelievable! And she persisted in her column last Thursday!(3) Of course rumors are rolling as to a possible "pact" between AD and chavismo where AD would get a couple of state houses and preserve a large number of town halls. Little you might say? No! The other guys would get close to nothing and AD would become the only opposition. A small opposition but all to AD!

How could AD play such a dangerous game? AD understands Venezuelan populism like only Chavez do. And AD knows that without a charismatic leader of its own there is no way they will beat Chavez at the populist game. If you cannot beat them, join them! They probably think that Chavez has gone as far as he will go in authoritarianism and that attitude can only be encouraged by a divided opposition. AD knows it needs at least half a decade to be able by itself to prepare a non ridiculous challenge. So, as the supreme pragmatist of Venezuelan politics adecos have absolutely no qualms in sacrificing the rest of the political opposition betting that in the end they will all have to flock back to AD. After all they have already survived a strong dictator, surely they can survive a weak one.

But the there is another reason. Adecos and chavistas share one thing: a profound dislike of Primero Justicia. PJ represents all what they are unable to deliver: an efficient public administration. Imagine that! PJ depends more on its actions to retain office than on populist demagoguery! A little personal anecdote. A relative of mine was asked a few months ago for a monetary gift to AD by an old friend of his, probably thinking that my relative is an adeco (not the case by far, but Venezuelans have learned long ago to be all things to all people). In the conversation my relative thought that the amount of money was not much for what they pretended to do with it, a small sports court in some community. The friend replied almost angrily that they had to try that approach because they "could not leave the jerks of PJ take control of the barrios".

AD and chavismo have a common enemy: PJ. Both attack it with gusto, chavismo openly even with homophobia (the infamous "patiquines maricones de PJ" of Juan Barreto now running for mayor at large of Caracas where he could well find himself with 4 out of 5 Caracas districts controlled by PJ or PJ supported mayors…) (4). AD and chavismo are closer than with the rest of the opposition who resents as much as the chavista base the misrule and disaster that AD brought upon us. Certainly, if AD has failed to do its aggiornamento, it would help a lot if they would at least apologize for some of their past errors, something not happening anytime soon. As things stands they run the risk to be sent into oblivion on October 31 along the rest of the opposition. But their arrogance might make them feel fine with it. Considering the alphabetization mision Robinson, a wit today could write that an adeco is a chavista with elementary education (5).


(1) A very interesting article was published last Friday in Tal Cual by Osvaldo Barreto about Tuñame, a high mountain village in the Venezuelan Andes. He describes rather well how a conservative area suddenly went for Chavez, mostly due on a few benefits of the "misiones" and the perception that Chavez knows "how to give orders". A wonderful combination of traditional Venezuelan conservatism and opportunism.

(2) Tal Cual and El Nacional are unfortunately by subscription. I only get Tal Cual as El Nacional is too expensive and too slow for my provincial internet connection. Thus I buy El Nacional as a paper, read El Universal on line, and purchase both on week ends. I like newspapers.

(3) Another possible media example of this AD/Chavez truce is Venevision, a network owned by the Cisneros group. Venevision has lowered its criticism of Chavez. Venevision was seen in the past as rather pro AD, and the Cisneros family made the bulk of their fortune under AD administrations.

(4) "Patiquines maricones" can be loosely translated by "yuppie faggots", an insult rather strong even with the political insult standards brought by Chavez.

(5) Un copeyano es un adeco con bachillerato; un adeco es un chavista con primaria.

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